Diego immediately took responsibility for the girl, whom he now assumed to be called ‘Maria’ from the inscription on her pendant.
He also thanked the fishermen and assured them he would do everything in his power to see that she lived.
Safe in the knowledge that he would be as good as his word, they set off once more whilst Diego instructed the captain of the Corrida to set a course for the nearest port. This turned out to be Sfax in Tunisia where Maria was transferred immediately to hospital by ambulance.
The hospital found her to have a broken arm and collar-bone, four fractured ribs a dislocated shoulder and numerous cuts and bruises which were all treated and re-set as necessary. However, Maria remained unconscious throughout and further tests revealed her to be in a coma. She had clearly sustained some kind of head injury and although not life threatening, the doctors could not say for certain when, or even if, she would regain consciousness.
Yet this mysterious girl provided Diego with a much-needed distraction from the grief of losing his father and it inspired him to put all his efforts into taking care of her.
So, in the weeks that followed, he had Maria transferred to Cadiz where he hired the very best medical staff to give her twenty-four hour care. He specified that she must have fresh flowers in her room every day and have her long dark hair brushed each morning and night.
As often as he could, but at least once a month, Diego made time in his busy schedule to visit her in Cadiz, always demanding to be notified immediately of any change in her condition.
Whenever he stopped by, Maria always looked the same, her beautiful face fresh and clean and her eyes closed as if she was merely sleeping. He would talk to her and share his thoughts, mostly about anything which popped into his brain; business, the latest hotel project; his purchase of the Hermes IV and progress of its re-fit. He somehow found it relaxing.
He would also discuss his feelings and over the weeks, months and years that followed he began to realise he was in love with her and that he probably had been since the very first moment he set eyes on her.
In time, he paid for a new wing to be built on the hospital for the care of victims of coma and their families; the ‘Del Toro Medical Centre’. Maria was given her own suite and her own personal physician, Dr. Miguel Degollado, a coma specialist.
Degollado was a good man and Diego was certain that Maria was in excellent hands. However, the doctor was not one to give false hope, so when he telephoned Diego in Geneva last evening, he knew the news he had been given was truly miraculous.
After seven long years, Maria had finally awoken.
Continues tomorrow or download the complete novel here