Authors: Linda Barrett
Didn’t Dan know his grin was lethal? That he really had to keep it to himself? She quickly turned her head and scooped the baby from her play mat. “Time to go for a nice long walk, sweetheart.”
“I’ve got a little time.” Dan followed her to the door. “I thought I’d join you.”
That was the last thing Alexis wanted—Dan with her while she was trying to forget him. But she couldn’t say that. “Sure,” said Alexis, “you can push the stroller.”
“Great.” He leaned over Michelle. “Want Daddy to push your carriage, baby?”
Michelle’s eyes drifted closed, and Dan’s carefree laughter floated in the air. A musical sound that made Alexis smile.
“The ladies in my life sure know how to take me down a peg.”
Boston’s star quarterback could laugh at himself—a nice trait. It seemed there was a whole lot more to Dan Delito that Alexis had yet to discover.
One of the perks of writing is the research. I learn new things and for
I finally learned how to play football. Yes, football. I know it’s hard to believe that, although I’m the wife of a dedicated NY Giants fan and the mother of three grown sons, I never paid attention to the battle on the gridiron. My excuse is that my kids were into baseball. I spent years watching Little League games—and reading a romance novel between innings.
Football is complicated. The vocabulary is extensive enough to require its own dictionary. To the untutored eye, the players appear to fall over themselves in a messy pile. I watched games on television, subscribed to
and bought one of those
books. I memorized the positions and the vocabulary, and learned who certain key players were. It was worth the effort.
Quarterback Dan Delito had it all. Then his wife died and nothing matters to him after losing her. But his world is turned upside down by Alexis Brown and her baby niece. How she helps him reengage in the game of life was so fun to write.
I’d love to hear from readers. Please e-mail me at [email protected] or write to me at P.O. Box 841934, Houston, TX 77284-1934.
Linda has been writing for pleasure all her adult life, but targeted a professional career when she moved to Houston more than ten years ago. There she joined a local chapter of the Romance Writers of America and attended so many workshops and seminars, “I could have had a master’s degree by now,” she says. Five years later, in 2001, Harlequin Superromance published her debut novel,
Love, Money and Amanda Shaw.
When not writing, the mother of three grown sons (“all hero material like their dad”) helps develop programs for a social service agency that works with the homeless.
THE INN AT OAK CREEK
THE HOUSE ON THE BEACH
NO ORDINARY SUMMER
THE DAUGHTER HE NEVER KNEW
A MAN OF HONOR
HOUSEFUL OF STRANGERS
SUMMER AT THE LAKE
HARLEQUIN EVERLASTING LOVE
THE SOLDIER AND THE ROSE
To Elizabeth and Alexis, who always want a story time with Grandma. To Aaron, who never turns down a trip to the bookstore. And to Baby Jacob Ethan, who will soon discover the pleasure of a good book.
It doesn’t get better than this for a storytelling Grandma!
THE BOSTON GLOBE
Friday, July 6
MURDER–SUICIDE ENDS WITH BABY BORN
Sherri Brown, 25, and nine months pregnant, was shot and left for dead last evening in front of her sister’s apartment building in the Leather District. The assailant then turned the gun on himself and died at the scene. Ms. Brown succumbed in the ambulance, where her child was delivered by emergency cesarian section. Her sister, Alexis Brown, was with her. Preliminary investigation revealed the gunman to be a former boyfriend of the victim.
HREE MONTHS AFTER THE
tragedy, Alexis Brown deliberately removed the news clipping from her kitchen message board and placed it in an envelope for safekeeping. Reading wasn’t necessary; she’d memorized the article. The headline, however, still had the power to suck the air out of her. Even now, as she handled the clipping, her pulse fluttered when memories of that night tortured her like scenes from a well-made horror movie.
She remembered running downstairs after Sherri to return a child-care book her sister had forgotten to take. Arriving just in time to watch a man shoot himself, and to see Sherri lying on the sidewalk. Calling 9-1-1 on her cell phone. Watching the doctor and the EMT deliver the baby. Holding Sherri’s hand, straining to hear her last words, whispered directly into Alexis’s ear.
She shivered head to toe, her stomach cramping as she thought about the police report, the result of a first-rate investigation. She’d learned more than she’d really wanted to know.
Clasping a pen, she wrote Michelle’s name on the envelope, sealed it and filed the newspaper article with the baby’s other legal papers in the bottom drawer of her desk. When her niece grew up, she’d be entitled to read it.
When her niece grew up…Alexis tiptoed to the crib in the bedroom where Michelle napped peacefully, her little forehead unlined, her breathing strong and even. Beautiful, sweet and innocent. Exactly the way a baby should be, and the way Alexis had vowed this baby’s life would be. She wouldn’t fail Michelle the way she’d failed Michelle’s mom.
Leaving the bedroom quietly, Alexis returned to her desk in the main area of her apartment, a condo conversion. She loved the place, but she’d have to sell it, and the market was awful. Prices were falling in the depressed economy, and she’d be lucky to break even.
Money. Everything always came down to money.
She reached for the phone, hoping Roz would be available to brainstorm. Only a few years older than Alexis, the baby’s social worker had been supportive
from Day One, and Alexis trusted her as much as she could trust anybody.
With Roz’s cheery hello, Alexis sighed in relief. “How are you feeling about problem solving today?”
“Diaper rash or teething?”
“If only. I need a miracle, Roz, like hitting the day-care lottery.”
“Ouch. That’s a tough one.”
“You said it. Every place I visited downtown is way out of my reach. I can’t afford any of them, and I don’t qualify for reduced fees despite earning peanuts.” She felt panic start to build inside her. “I’ve got to return to work on the twenty-ninth. That’s only three weeks away!”
“Easy, Alexis,” Roz soothed. “Easy. I’m listening.”
“I know, but I’m stuck, Roz. Between the student loans and the mortgage, I don’t have a lot of savings. I’ve only been working for two years. My credit card is maxed out with all the baby stuff and…and…my normal expenses.”
“I’m listening to your every word, Alexis, but I didn’t hear you mention the biggest culprit of all, and certainly not a ‘normal’ expense. As usual, you’re being too hard on yourself.”
Alexis remained silent, fighting tears.
“Funeral costs are high,” Roz continued, “and you’ve shouldered that alone.”
“Did I have a choice?” Alexis whispered, her throat hurting. “Sherri would still be lying in the morgue if I’d depended on Cal and Peggy. You know how ‘parental’ they are.” She swallowed her sarcasm with a deep breath and regained her balance.
“I know all about them, and sadly, what you say is true,” said Roz. She sighed deeply, so deeply that Alexis heard the woman’s exhalation through the phone.
“Ironically, your sister would have qualified for financial aid, but you don’t. You’re off work right now, however, so I can give you vouchers for neighborhood food pantries…”
“Food pantries? Roz, I’m not
” She heard the horror in her voice. Even her family had never resorted to food pantries.
“Right,” said Roz. “And we’re trying to prevent that.”
Her palms began to sweat. “I can earn a living for Michelle and me. I worked hard to get through college, then law school….”
“I know that. You’ve impressed me from the first time we met, but I’ve got to speak honestly here,” said Roz. “You’ve got temporary custody of Michelle until it’s finalized in the courts. You are the baby’s closest and, in my opinion, most capable relative. But if you think you can’t handle the responsibility right now, we could go the foster route just until—”
“No! Please, no foster care. I’ll handle it. I’ll even use the food vouchers. And—and I’ll put the condo on the market. Today. The hell with the financial loss.”
Damn! She shouldn’t have called Roz after all. Give Michelle up? Never!
The baby already recognized her. She knew Alexis’s step, her touch. Since Michelle had started smiling a week ago, they’d laughed and played silly games all day long. They were a team. They loved each other. Michelle’s home was with Alexis. Period. In a few more months, Alexis would become Michelle’s legal mom. End of story.
Roz was still talking and Alexis tuned in again.
“There’s one other possibility,” said the woman. “I wonder…Alexis, when you packed up your sister’s apartment, did you go through her clothes, look in her pockets? Maybe letters, notes, phone messages?”
Alexis had returned to Sherri’s place two days after Michelle’s birth, once the police had searched for evidence and removed the yellow tape. Her sister’s belongings had been scattered about in her usual haphazard style.
“I bagged her clothes for donations, emptied drawers. Took whatever baby clothes and items she’d bought. What are you getting at?”
“It takes two people to make a baby, kiddo. Michelle’s father—”
“Did you find out who he is?” Alexis interrupted, her throat tight once more, her heart beating in double time.
“No, I didn’t,” replied Roz slowly. “I was hoping you might have discovered a clue, something in Sherri’s apartment maybe. DNA ruled out the guy who killed her. We know that much.”
The negative DNA results left the path open to someone else, someone Alexis had been able to target. She was not ready, however, to share that information. So she took a deep breath and lied to her closest ally.
“I didn’t find anything, Roz. Nothing.
I don’t know any more than you do.”
Protecting the baby was and would always be her highest priority. She would initiate a thorough investigation of the baby’s possible father on her own before she made her next move. She had two weeks to figure it all out, before she had to start considering bankruptcy to
eliminate some of her debt. Just like her own dysfunctional parents had done recently. The irony didn’t escape her.
quarterback for the New England Patriots, slouched in his favorite club chair, staring at the wallet-size picture of Kim that he carried with him at all times. Tonight would have been their ninth anniversary but for the breast cancer that had consumed her almost two years ago. He stroked a shaking finger across her beautiful face and down her long dark hair, wavy and soft.
Oh, baby, baby…I miss you so much.
It was so unfair. To her. To him. His gentle, loving wife had deserved better than virulent cancer cells and toxic chemo. She’d deserved a long life, with children and family and good times. He would have given her twelve kids if she’d said the word. Whatever she’d wanted, she could have had.
He eyed the bottle of single-malt Scotch on the table next to him. It was half-gone, and his empty glass stood waiting for a refill. No one could say he was a cheap drunk, that’s for sure. He grabbed the bottle and poured. The smooth amber liquid would make the pain go away.
“Danny? You didn’t hear the bell, so we let ourselves…Danny! What are you doing? Dear God, not again!”
He turned his head, glass to his lips. His folks. He took a swallow. “Come on in. Grab a couple of glasses and join me. It’s my anniversary, and we have to toast Kim. My Kimmy.”
He took another sip, watched his parents put down aluminum-foil-wrapped packages. The aroma from
them was delicious, homemade from his parents’ Italian deli, but his stomach suddenly rebelled. “Be right back.”
Ten minutes later, he found his folks in the kitchen, warming up some braciole. The marinated steak was one of his favorites. His mom served it in spaghetti sauce with a salad and warm bread on the side. He wanted it, but his insides threatened another revolt.
“I need some air.” He opened the back door and stepped onto the patio of his four-story town house. Kim had loved this place, and she’d turned it into a real home for them. Her presence lingered in every room, and that made him feel good.
He inhaled the crisp autumn air. Football weather. The best time of the year. Goose bumps popped out all over his body as he thought of this weekend’s home game. Another deep breath cleared his head, settled his stomach.
He sensed a big shadow behind him. His dad.
“You can’t go on like this, son.”
“I’m fine, Dad. Don’t worry. It’s because of the anniversary, that’s all.”
“And what was the excuse last week?” Nicky Delito wasn’t letting go.
“Last week, I knew it was coming,” said Dan. “Come on, Dad, we’re tied for the best record in the league. What more do you want?”
His dad equaled him in size, but suddenly loomed larger than ten linebackers, as he had when Dan was a kid.
“What more do I want?” Nicky bellowed. “I want a sober son again. I want your mother to stop crying over you. Praying on her knees every single night. Your brother…your sister…the kids. You’re always the topic
of conversation and it’s enough. You hear me, Danny-boy? I want a son I can count on. That’s what I want!”
“Nicky, stop yelling.” His mom stood in the doorway to the patio. Danny waved to her, but then addressed his father.
“You can count on me, Dad. On the weekends, on the field. I haven’t let the team down yet, and I don’t intend to. My coaches, the management—everyone’s happy with our performance so far, and we have a home game this Sunday.”
Nicky raised both arms up in the air and let them fall to his sides. He looked at his wife. “He doesn’t get it. Who gives a damn about a football game when his life’s a mess?”
“If I didn’t care about the game, Dad, I’d drink all the time. Now, I only drink in the middle of the week.” He clapped his dad on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. I can handle being a part-time drinker.”
“Maybe you should join a twelve-step program,” said Rita Delito.
“Are you kidding, Ma? Those programs are for
His parents stared at him.
Their silence continued.
“Oh, come on. I can stop whenever I want to.”
“Prove it.” His dad wasted no time. “No more drinking at all. Not even midweek.”
His mom looked so hopeful, her brown eyes wide and shining up at him. God, he loved these two people.
“Okay. I won’t have another drink for the next seven days.”
“It’s a start,” said Rita.
“I’m going to empty the liquor cabinet when we leave tonight,” Nicky said. “Just to make sure.”
Dan’s mind raced, picturing the rest of the house. Yeah, he’d brought a bottle to his bedroom last week.
“And I’ll check out the rest of the place,” Nicky added.
“No,” Dan replied quickly.
His dad was like that. Always knew what was going on in his kids’ heads, in their lives. Dan, Joe, Theresa—none of them ever got away with anything when they were small, and it seemed they wouldn’t as adults, either. Not even the quarterback for the New England Patriots.
“No?” repeated Nick softly. “I’ve done some research, Danny. That’s what a twelve-step sponsor would do with you. Together, you’d clean out the house. Your brother and I, we’re going to act like your sponsors.”
“No. You’re not.” He gulped for air. A face-off with his dad was an extraordinary event, but now he looked Nicky straight in the eye. “I’m over twenty-one, Dad. I can handle it.”
Stalemate. Until his mom’s soft voice interrupted. “What would Kim say, Danny, if she saw you like this?”
Mothers. He grabbed the back of a chair with two hands. “If I could have her with me again,” he replied, his Adam’s apple bobbing, “I’d give up everything. The bottles. The touchdowns. The career. The house. The money. Nothing I’ve got is worth a damn thing without her.”
Fighting the tears behind his eyes, he turned around, walked past his mother and into the house, opened the fridge and took out a longneck. “Anyone else?”
“There’s no talking to him,” said Nicky.
Rita sighed and banged a plate onto the table. “At least eat first. Today is only Tuesday. Do we have to come back tomorrow?”
have connected the crisp cool days and blazing autumn colors of New England with perfect football weather. In fact, she wouldn’t have noted the football season at all. Alexis was not a fan of the game, a game where grown men tried to kill their opponents and themselves. During the three months since Michelle’s birth, however, she’d made it her business to read the sports pages every day and track the progress of the New England Patriots. She’d focused mainly on one particular player: Dan Delito, starting QB and captain of the team. From what she read, the man obviously knew his business, worked hard and was leading his team in a winning season.
On Wednesday, two mornings after her phone conversation with Roz, Alexis noted the NFL schedule for the following Sunday and then headed toward her bedroom, where it sounded as though Michelle had awakened from her nap. As soon as the baby saw her, she flashed her magical baby grin, and Alexis’s heart melted one more time. Her love for this child constantly astounded her. In the beginning, after Michelle was born, Alexis had had no idea how awesome motherhood would be.