Jay stared at the woman on his doorstep. For an instant he thought his dead wife had risen like a wraith to disturb his peace. Selfish, ego-entered and a thief. Delores had stormed off like a tornado ripping his emotions to shreds. His hands clenched sending arrows of pain up his arms.
“What do you want?” The sharpness of his voice made him step back.
“Don’t like him. He’s sour.”
The piping voice of the young boy diverted his attention from the look-alike. Was this woman attempting to pass off the boy as his? He knew the truth. Months after Delores’ departure and realizing she wouldn’t return, he’d sent a private detective to find her. He’d intended to present her with divorce papers. He had the report of her accident and death.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Maria Russo.” She pulled the boy forward. “This is Jamie, your son.”
Did she think he would fall for her line? Was she pushing her child as the baby Delores had aborted? There’d been no mention of a child in the report Amos Black had delivered. All there’d been was the article and a death notice from a small town newspaper. Delores had been the only fatality.
Jay rubbed his right hand with his left. By the time he’d read the report he’d been drunk. The scanty information had confirmed she’d had the abortion. No way was this child his.
The boy raised his head. Jay grasped the door frame. Eyes as green as the ones he saw every morning met his. This had to be a trick.
The young woman kept her hands on the boy’s shoulders. “Jamie, no tears. It will be all right.”
“He’s mean. I don’t want a mean dad.”
“We’ve surprised him. Remember what we talked about during our trip here?”
The child toed the stone landing. “Maybe he didn’t know about me.”
And true, Jay thought. He drew a deep breath. Though the boy had the eyes and seemed the right age, this Maria was Delores’ sister. She could have known about his eyes. He couldn’t commit himself until he knew more.
“What do you want?”
She met his gaze. “To talk.”
Her eyes weren’t the ebony ones he remembered. Flecks of gold made them appear to be dark honey. Her stance, though stiff, the way she held the boy, made her vulnerable. “Yes, let’s do that. I’m not convinced but the reports I saw contained no details.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You didn’t see much then.” She raised a folder. “I wouldn’t be here if there was no need.”
Her words held a ring of truth. “You have proof?”
He moved out of the doorway and gestured. As she entered, he noticed how her gaze roamed the foyer and glanced at the shrouded furniture in the living and dining rooms. Doing an appraisal? The question remained unasked. He strode down the hall past the front staircase toward the kitchen.
After placing the folder on the table, Maria pulled a red truck and a top from her huge bag. “Jamie, go play while I speak to your father.”
“Okay.” He pressed his nose against the screen door. “Can I go outside? I like the flowers. There are more than in Nana’s garden. Oh, there’s the cat.”
“You can see the garden but stay where I can see you.” She turned to Jay. “Is the cat wild?”
Jay shook his head. “Shadow’s tame and shy.”
Maria turned her chair so she could see into the garden. The boy stepped outside and sat on the ground and spun the top. Tinkling noises played a simple song.
Jay sat across the table. “If you’re after money, forget it.”
Her back straightened. “ Two weeks from today I start work at Fern Lake General.”
Jay tilted his head and studied her expression. “What does that have to do with me?” He scowled. “Where did you find the boy?”
Her dark amber eyes glinted with anger. “At
where the doctor’s took him from my sister’s dying body.” Branley Hospital
She was good. Her low voice remained steady. That was the hospital mentioned in the investigator’s report.
Delores’ angry thereat rose in his thoughts. “I’m getting rid of this thing and filing for a divorce. I’ll take you for all I can get.” The sultry voice that had enchanted him had turned harridan harsh.
He propped his elbows on the table. “Do you expect me to believe your story?” His doubt centered on the child’s resemblance to Delores and Maria. Except for the eyes.
“It’s the truth.”
The fire in her eyes raised a heat he couldn’t deny. He clamped his lips in a tight line. No way would another Russo woman play him for a fool.
She pulled papers from the folder and slid then across the table. “Marriage certificate, birth certificate, a copy of the hospital records and one of the police report. Check them out and note the dates.”
Jay glanced at the papers. They seemed legit but a good con artist would know how to obtain forgeries. “What do you want? Do you plan to go to court and sue me for child support?”
As she shook her head, her dark curls bounced. “I want nothing from you except the money to pay for Jamie’s pre-school so I can work to support us.”
“What did you do during the past four years?”
Sadness flared in her eyes. “Until three months ago, my mother watched him while I completed my Master’s and worked part-time.”
Jay tapped the birth certificate. “Father unknown. Why wasn’t I informed about his birth?” Knowing he had a son and caring for him might have kept him from escaping into alcohol and wandering the country. This had to be a scam. If he agreed to pay for pre-school, what would she ask for next?
She leaned forward. “My mother believed the stories Delores spouted about your vicious temper. She thought you didn’t deserve to know about the baby, especially when you had ordered Delores to have an abortion.”
“What?” Anger flared and brought an urge to yell. He pressed his hands against the table. Pain shot from his fingers along his wrist and his arm. “No way in hell. Your sister didn’t want a child. The thereat was hers.”
Maria edged back. “After Mama died we had to sell the house. I found Maria’s suitcase in the attic where the marriage certificate and some other papers had been stored. I began to doubt her stories so I looked you up and I located the other papers I’ve given you.”
Was she telling the truth? The possibility shook him. He needed time to think this thorough. “I’m a busy man and I have no idea how to raise a child.”
Her hands fisted. “I don’t expect you to physically have anything to do with Jamie’s care. Just a good pre-school with aftercare. I’ll even vet them.” She walked to the door. “Spending time with your son would be nice for him but the choice is yours.”
Though Jay wanted to deny the possibility of paternity what Maria said about the boy could be true. Wrapping his thoughts around the possibility stunned him. He had to call Amos Black and have the man check her story. He didn’t have time for this emotional barrage.
Marriage had meant family until Delores. He’d wanted a different family from the one he’d experienced as a child. No father pushing for his children to follow him on the concert stage. No mother more interested in charities that her children. No nannies or housekeepers to raise the children. Delores had agreed until she’d become pregnant. Then his dreams had vanished. For almost a year after she’d left, he’d turn inward with grief.
The day he’d learned of her death, he’d taken off and bummed around the country seeking something he couldn’t find. He’s finally reached Manon and his sister’s words had sent him back to
and the house he’d
inherited from his mother. During the past year, his muse had returned and he’d
emerged from the shadows. Fern
Deadlines faced him. The half finished movie score needed a uniting theme. The musical had barely been begun. Composing had saved him and blurred his grief over a child who had never been. Now there could be that lost child. He didn’t know what to do or say.
Maria turned from the door. “Will you help?”
“Is there no one else?”
“I have a brother.”
“Appeal to him.”
She laughed. "Not a good idea. Once he knows where you are, he will arrive and demand money for all he spent on Jamie.”
“Are you sure?”
She nodded. “If you refused he’d smear you in the tabloids. Famous Composer Denies His Child. I’m sure he and my sister had concocted a scheme to drain your bank account. She was on her way to
New York City when she had the wreck.”
His shoulders tensed. Pain curled his hands. “Did you steal the boy? Is your brother his guardian?”
His name is Jamie. I’m his guardian. Have been since the day I took him from the hospital. If you’d like I’d share him with you. He’s a special little boy.”
Jay drew a deep breath and caught the subtle scent of vanilla. Maria looked like a softer version of Delores. Her features lacked the sharpness of her sister’s. Maria’s laughter and her care of the boy made her more interesting. He liked the way her dark hair curled around her face and the liveliness of her dark amber eyes. She had more curves than his dead wife. What would…Whoa. He had no time for her and the boy but…In that instant he made a decision he might regret.
“Select a school. Call me with the name. I’ll handle the finances. Then stay out of my life.”
“Jamie’s your son.”
“Maybe but right now I don’t have time for him.”
She turned from the door. Disappointment shone in her eyes. “Write down your phone numbers. I’ll call.”
What did she expect? Did she think he would sweep the boy into his arms? He refused to do more until Amos discovered if the papers she’d brought were legit. He should ask for a DNA test but that could wait until the detective made a report. He didn’t want the emotions Maria Russo had stirred. He didn’t need another Russo woman destroying his ability to create.