Rob stared at Andi and Josh Patton. His hands clenched and he half-rose. She glanced toward him. Her glare pinned him in place. Though protests rumbled through his chest he clenched his teeth. He had no right to the emotions roiling through his head. Andi wasn’t his. He’d thrown away any chance by his blind obedience to a bully.
Seeing her again had fractured the concrete he’d mortared over his love and need for her. Being a coward had cost him a lifetime with the woman he loved.
Memories of evenings, of closeness, laughter, and of sharing visions of the future filled his thoughts. Months ago he’d achieved his dream of becoming an author. His excitement over the contract seemed flat now. Andi was the one he wanted to tell. He searched today’s unexpected meeting for a pinch of hope and failed to find even a grain.
Seeing Josh Patton embrace Andi had abraded his awakened feelings. The kiss had nearly caused him to react with a jealous explosion. A surge of possessiveness gripped him. Not possible. Andi wasn’t his to protect and love.
The closing door ended his vision of them. A knife twisted in his gut. The reaction though well deserved forced air from his lungs. He had no right. He’d thrown his chance away.
Rob straightened and stared at the television. Someone had changed the station from cooking to news.
Some time later the door leading to the treatment area opened. Andi and Josh stepped into the waiting room. They strode toward where he sat. Andi lifted the diaper bag and removed a bottle and a box. “Here’s the brand. I’ll take the bottle to the nurse.”
Rob’s gaze flowed along her long legs and followed the sway of her hips. He lowered his head hoping Josh hadn’t seen the lust in his eyes.
“Don’t,” Josh warned.
“Do a number on her again. She’s a good friend. I don’t like seeing a friend hurt.”
How good? Rob couldn’t halt the flow of envy. Was Josh hinting he and Andi were a couple? “I won’t step over the line she has drawn. Since I won’t be coming to town often we may not meet for months.”
“Are you leaving
?” Fern Lake
Rob shrugged. “Who knows? I’m living outside town and will be a hermit.”
Josh crossed his arms. “What about the baby?”
“Baby? Andi handed me this diaper bag, but I know nothing about a baby.”
“The infant Andi pulled from your sister’s car. The child is Patricia’s, unless she’s added kidnapping to her other offenses.”
Rob gulped a breath. “No kidnapping. Patricia has done many wrong things, but I doubt she’d want someone else’s baby.”
“The infant will remain overnight for observation. You can take her home tomorrow or have her placed in foster care. A social worker will speak to you about your decision.”
Rob’s hand clenched. Trust Patricia to complicate his life. Add Andi’s returning to compound the problem. “Do I have to decide right now? I haven’t heard anything more about my sister’s condition.”
Before Josh responded Dr. Reed strode into the waiting room. “Rob, thought I’d find you in the surgical waiting room. Someone told me you were down here. The news isn’t good. Patricia died during surgery.”
“Had she been drinking?”
“Blood alcohol zero. I found signs she’d been beaten recently. Bruises are too well developed for the accident to have caused them. A rib fracture. I believe that contributed to her death.”
“Did she say anything?” The few words he’d heard only added to the puzzle.
“She died moments after we opened her.”
“Is the baby hers?”
The older man nodded. “I’d say she gave birth two months or more ago.” Dr. Reed grasped Rob’s hands. “Sorry.”
Rob supposed he should feel more than numbness. But gathering any emotion seemed impossible. “I have some calls to make.” He lifted the suitcases and the diaper bag.
He stepped into the warmth of the afternoon. After storing the luggage he pulled his phone from his shirt pocket. The first call went to Fern Lake Funeral Home to arrange for Patricia’s body to be prepared for the funeral. Then he called
“Did something go wrong with the sale?”
“Went through without a hitch. Are you alone?”
“Why so mysterious? Hattie’s preparing lunch.”
He felt a surge of relief. Her cousin and companion would help with her grief. “Call her.”
“It’s about Patricia.” He heard a sharp intake of breath. He wished he was there. This was the third family death in a little more than a year.
“Hattie’s here. I have the phone on speaker so we can both hear. What has my daughter done this time?”
“She died following a car accident.”
“Was she drunk?’ His mother and Hattie spoke in unison.
“No. She must have lost control of the car. Dr. Reed said there were signs she’d been abused.”
“Who did that?”
“I don’t know. Mom, she had a baby. A little girl about two months old.”
“Did the child die?”
“She’s alive and fine.” He paused for a moment. “Would you like to have the baby with you?”
Silence hung until he feared she’d hung up. Finally she spoke. “I’m too old to raise a baby.”
“Then what should we do?”
“You can raise her. You need a family. You’re alone too much.”
He groaned. “What do I know about babies? I’m not sure I’m capable.”
“What about the child’s father?”
“Haven’t a clue. He might be the one who beat Patricia.”
If he could. Was there a clue in her luggage? “The funeral is Wednesday morning.”
“Hattie and I will come for the day, but I can’t stay.”
Rob told her what he’d discussed with the funeral director. “Service begins at ten. Let me know your flight data. I’ll pick you up and give you and Hattie beds for the night.”
“Where are you living?”
“At the cabin.”
“You know how I feel about that place. I’ll book a suite at Sulley’s Bed and Breakfast. I’ll hire a limo for a trip from the airport. The trip there and back is too much for an infant.”
Rob released a breath. “I’ll pick you and Hattie up for dinner Tuesday evening at Fern House. You can meet your granddaughter. On Wednesday I’ll take you to the airport.”
“You’ll need someone to watch the baby,” she said.
“On my to-do list.”
After disconnecting Rob shoved the cell in his pocket and walked to Pediatrics. A nurse at the desk directed him to the nursery. Three cribs jutted from the side wall. A table held diapers and some plastic bottles and boxes. He noticed a rocking chair near the window. He walked to the only occupied crib. He stroked his niece’s light brown hair. She curled her fingers around his thumb. He felt a connection that surprised him.
“You’re a sweet child.”
A woman wearing a white lab coat entered. “Dr. Grantlan, I’m Mrs. Ryder, social worker. Sorry about your sister? Will you take the baby home tomorrow of should I arrange for foster care?”
“Unless I can locate her father, I’ll be asking for guardianship.” Though he knew nothing about child care, the baby was family.
Rob thought of how his life had changed. The edits for his first book were due to arrive any day. He wanted to finish the second. Now he had a baby under his care. “Do you know of anyone who could work as a nanny five days a week? She would have weekends off.”
“I don’t, but if I hear of someone I’ll call you. You might consider calling one of the home care agencies. What is the little girl’s name?”
Rob shrugged. “I haven’t spoken to my sister for almost a year. She had drinking problems and left an alcohol rehab facility and vanished.”
“You should look for a birth certificate.”
“Once I go home I’ll look through my sister’s luggage.” He left the room.
As he rode the elevator to the first floor he listed the things he needed to buy. Though today was Sunday he hoped the children’s shop in town was one of the stores that remained open. Otherwise, he had to head to the mall twenty miles away. He started the car and drove to
Not only was the store open, but a sale was in progress. Businesses along the street had sidewalk displays. He skirted racks of children’s clothes and entered the shop. The mental list he’d composed vanished. What did he need?
A clerk approached. “Can I help you?”
Rob looked around. Cribs, high chairs, swings, and items he had no idea of their purpose filled one section of the massive room.
“Rob, what are you doing here?”
He turned and saw his cousin’s wife. “Shopping. I’ve become a parent who has no idea what is needed.” He explained the situation.
Dana chuckled. “Do you have a budget?”
“I’m good unless we hit a hundred grand.”
“We won’t go that high. How old is your niece? What’s her name?”
“Around two months and I have no idea what Patricia called her. Hopefully, there will be answers in the luggage I stowed in the trunk of my car.”
“We’ll start with the things you can take home.”
Before long the counter was piled with items Dana considered necessary. Rob felt like he’d morphed into Santa.
Dana grinned. “People usually buy these a few at a time rather than in bulk.”
Rob laughed. “The unexpected rules. What now?”
She led him to the section where cribs, dressers and changing tables stood. Rob fell in love with a swing and added that to the selection. He spotted a car seat that boasted he would never need to buy another. Dana added a stroller to the grouping.
When the clerk rang up the sale he gasped at the total. He slid a credit card through the reader and signed. He turned to Dana. “I need some place for her to sleep until the furniture arrives.”
“I’ve the perfect thing. Before Jenny was born your mother gave me a cradle. My daughter has outgrown it and the thing is gathering dust. I’ll have Simon drop it off tomorrow. We can make this a family heirloom.”
“I’d like that.” He drew a deep breath. “If I twist his arm would he help with the furniture assembly?”
“I’m sure he would. He likes tinkering.”
“Next step is to find a nanny. Revisions are due soon.”
“I know several women who might be interested, and I’ll ask among my friends. Simon and I will be at the funeral. I’ll have some numbers for you.”
Rob grasped her hand. “You’re great.”
She grabbed several bags. “Do you have a release date yet? Can’t wait to read the book.”
He gathered the remaining bags and the box with the car seat. “You might find yourself in the pages, but carefully disguised.” She and Simon were among the few people who knew about the contract.
They stuffed the items including the new car seat in his sports car.
“Spending your money was fun.” Dana winked. “You’d better think about a new car.”
“Once I arrive home, I’ll make a call to the owner of the dealership.” He turned the key in the ignition and waved. He drove to the cabin located five miles from town and turned into the tree-lined lane.
The log building had been used by the family as a summer retreat and a winter refuge. Over the years his father had added a stone wing with six bedrooms and five baths.
He grabbed the first of the bundles and carried them inside. A half-dozen trips unloaded the car, including the suitcases and the diaper bag. He dropped those on the long leather covered couch. He dialed the car dealership and spoke to the owner.
“Yes. You heard me. I’ll need a luxury four door and I’m not giving up the Jag.” He gave the reason for the need. “Just pick the best one you have. I’ll be by tomorrow to sign the papers and leave the car seat to be installed.”
His stomach growled. While a steak sizzled on the indoor grill he opened a beer and examined the diaper bag. He found a handful of papers. One was the birth certificate. Tamara was the baby’s name. Then he spotted the father’s name and laughed. Shame he had to wait until tomorrow morning to share the news.