Authors: Kathleen O'Brien
Tags: #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #Contemporary, #Adult
|The Homecoming Baby|
|Toronto ; Harlequin, c2004. (2004)|
|Tags:||General, Romance, Fiction, Contemporary, Adult|
It wouldn't be easy. But someone knew where she'd runâand probably that someone was her sister, Trish, the receptionist at the birthing center.
Somehow he would find out the truth, and when he didâwell, he wasn't quite sure what he'd do then. No point tackling that decision now.
Who would have thought that breaking down near a ghost town would get things off to such a promising start? He might have wasted days trying to meet someone connected with The Birth Place, someone who might be able to introduce him to Trish Linden.
And yet, all because of a broken hose, he'd met Celia Brice, who, it turned out, was the psychologist for the birthing center, and Trish's good friend.
It was as if the gods had conspired to assist him. Celia was open and welcoming, and she had already offered to show him around her beloved town.
A real find. A woman who had lived here all her life and knew everyone might just make this whole hunting expedition very easy indeed.
With a satisfied smile he picked up the phone. He'd start with dinner. She'd made it clear she'd love to hear from him again, and dinner conversations could cover a lot of useful ground.
And after thatâ¦
A witty Irish newspaper columnist named Flann O'Brien once said that the most important things in life are “food, money and opportunities for scoring off one's enemies.”
As cynical as that sounds, most of us probably have, somewhere along the way, nurtured a nasty little revenge dream or two. It might be for a small injusticeâa boss who wouldn't cough up a raise, a boyfriend who flirted with another girl. Or it might be something much bigger and harder to forgive.
But in spite of the columnist's clever comment, most of us discover that revenge feels rotten in the end. It is, strangely, as sour and destructive as the original offense! That's when we realize we should have put our energy into finding a way to forgive.
When Patrick Torrance comes to town, he is definitely looking for revenge. He has just learned the truth about his birthâthat he is Enchantment's infamous “Homecoming Baby.” Thirty years ago, while other high school girls were twirling in their boyfriends' arms at the homecoming dance, one lonely teenager was locked in the bathroom, giving birth to a son she could never acknowledge. Patrick's plan is to find that woman and make her pay.
Meeting Celia Brice is a lucky break. Patrick hopes he can use her to gain entrÃ©e to this close-knit community and unearth clues about the terrible night he was born.
He never guesses that Celia's gentle warmth might somehow change his plan or that Enchantment might begin to feel like home. I hope you enjoy their journey.
P.S. I'd love to hear from you! Please visit my Web site,
KathleenOBrienOnline.com. Or write me at P.O. Box 947633, Maitland, FL 32794-7633.
To Darlene Graham, Brenda Novak, Roxanne Rustand, C.J. Carmichael and Marisa Carroll, for bringing such rich, inspiring humanity to The Birth Placeâand to the time I spent within its adobe walls
927âTHE REAL FATHER
967âA SELF-MADE MAN
1047âBABES IN ARMS
1086âTHE REDEMPTION OF MATTHEW QUINN
1146âTHE ONE SAFE PLACE
OST OF THE TIME
Patrick Torrance liked nothing better than taking crazy risks with the millions of dollars he'd recently, reluctantly inherited from his beast of a father.
Adopted father, to be precise. An important distinction, at least to Patrick, who didn't particularly want to owe either his genes or his portfolio to Julian Torrance. Julian had been one brutal son of a bitch.
Several of Patrick's friends, navel-gazers who had spent way too many afternoons on psychiatrists' couches, had suggested that Patrick's reckless investments were classic displaced resentment. Angry young man trying to free himself from abusive father's memory by losing said father's money.
The number one problem with that theory was that it wasn't working. Patrick just kept getting richer. Movies that should have died quietly in art houses surprisingly lit up multiplexes. Companies drowning in red ink learned to swim. Oil rigs that had been spewing sand suddenly coughed up black gold.
No wonder he liked taking risks.
The one he was about to take right now, though, might just be a little too dangerous, even for him.
He stared down at white auction card he'd been holding for the past five minutes. Smoochy-Poochy it read in elegant script. Then he looked over at Smoochy himself, a patchy mutt who was wagging his tail and panting happily, apparently unaware that he was the single most hideous puppy in the entire history of puppies.
Patrick suppressed a shudder as Smoochy began to gnaw wetly at his own foot. Good God.
“Just fill in the number, sir,” the hired Beauty who was holding Smoochy, petting his wiry back with long, manicured fingers, said gently. “And of course your name.”
“Yes. I know.” Patrick knew, all right. In the two years they'd been dating, Ellyn Grainger had coaxed plenty of these little white cards out of him for one worthy cause or another. Over dinner last night he had promised her that he'd get the bidding started on Smoochy, who might be too homely to attract much attention from anyone else.
Gritting his teeth, Patrick filled in the card and propped it against the frilly blue basket. If he turned out to be the high bidder Ellyn had better have Plan B ready. He couldn't care less about the five thousand dollars, but he'd be damned if he was going to let himself get saddled with a dog.
Especially not one named Smoochy. No half-breed, mangy mutt was going to come home with him and pee all over his Beauvais carpet.
He avoided meeting Smoochy's gaze. Instead he scanned the estate grounds. Where was Ellyn, any
how? He'd had enough. If he could find her, he'd make his excuses and say goodbye.
He fought his way across the emerald-green lawns, but it was slow going. Ellyn's annual “Beauty and the Beasts” party for the Pet Adoption Society was always one of San Francisco's most successful fundraisers, and the place was packed.
All around him, gorgeous women in lacy costumes were gliding along, carrying three-legged cats with jeweled collars, walking one-eyed dogs on braided-gold leashes and even dangling gilded cages filled with squawking cockatiels. Every few feet the Beauties stopped him, as they stopped every guest, to introduce him to the animals, relate the sad story of how they came to be abandoned and suggest in throaty tones what marvelous pets they would make.
“Oh, I'm sorry, I've already bid on Smoochy,” he said when a blonde with a wriggling tabby cat strolled up. The sardonic edge to his voice was just thin enough that her face registered uncertainty. Apparently everyone knew who Smoochy was.
The guests slowed down his progress even moreâthe socialites, the businessmen, the social climbers, and, more rarely, the true philanthropists who, like Ellyn, were passionate about this cause. It was quite a gauntlet, and, though he caught sight of Ellyn once or twice, he never could make it to her side.
When he felt the tap on his arm, he assumed it was another Beauty, eager to interest him in some hideous iguana or hapless hamster.
“I'm sorry, I've really got my heart set on Smoochy,” he said as he turned around.
But it wasn't a Beauty. A man Patrick had never seen before was smiling at him quizzically, a strange sort of sympathy in his brown eyes.
Patrick knew immediately this man wasn't one of the guests. The guy wore an off-the-rack suit and loafers that had seen better days, which meant he didn't have thousands of dollars to spend playing at rescuing abandoned animals. The expression in his eyes set him apart, too. Instead of inward, self-absorbed and self-congratulatory, his gaze was intelligent, curious and gentle.
“Smoochy?” The man's smile was lopsided. “That's one of the abandoned pets? A dog, maybe? Sounds cute.”
“You think so?” Patrick raised one brow. “Well, you're in luck. If I win him, he's yours.”
The man shook his head. “Already got four dogs. And a cat. And a pregnant gerbil.” He grinned. “And six kids. I bring one more living thing into the house, my wife says she'll strangle me.”
Patrick refrained from observing that it just might be a mercy killing. He put out his hand. “I'm Patrick Torrance. Were you looking for me?”
The other man's handshake was firm. “Yes, sir, I was. Your secretary said you'd be here. I'm Don Frost. Frost Investigations.”
Patrick nodded, his attention sharpening. He'd hired Frost Investigations two weeks ago, but all their business had been conducted via e-mail, snail mail
and secretaries. He suddenly realized he'd done that deliberately. He hadn't wanted to think of a real live human being prying into his background, unearthing the sordid details of his adoption.
It wasn't that Patrick thought it shameful to be adopted. The embarrassment was more from being seen to care. It was pathetic, somehow, to yearn for a reunion with people who had abandoned you decades ago.
Not that Patrick longed for anything of the sort. If he craved anything, it was merely information. Julian Torrance wasn't his father, thank God, but someone was. And Patrick had a right to know who.
Don Frost was squatting now, scratching the ears of a black-eyed mutt who had come by for an introduction. The dog was licking his wrist, and the investigator appeared to be enjoying the experience.
Patrick waited for the Beauty and her Beast to move on, fighting back a prick of impatience.
He had left instructions that he was to be informed the minute the firm had unearthed anything concreteâbut he'd expected a call or e-mail. He wondered what it meant that Don Frost had felt the need to show up personally.
“It's nice to meet you, Don,” he said. He put on his best professional poker face. “What brings you here? I assume you have news?”
Don paused. “I think I do,” he said, and it was clear he was choosing his words carefully. “Is there somewhere we could go? Maybe sit down? Anywhere a little more private?”
Patrick considered his options. He knew the owners of this estate casually, but not well enough to confiscate their living room for a private meeting. Down by the waterfront was a rather pretentious Greek folly, a small white temple climbed around with Don Juan roses. It was a ridiculous thingâbut it had the benefit of being cold down there, and windy. They'd probably have the place to themselves.
“Come with me,” he said. Don Frost nodded and followed without question. Patrick made better progress this time. He moved too quickly to allow anyone to stop him for a chat.
When they reached the folly, which was close enough to the pounding ocean surf to prevent them from being overheard, Patrick turned to the other man and raised his eyebrows. Time to get to the point.
But the investigator still seemed uncomfortable. He dug his hands in his pockets and chewed on the inside of his cheek for a long minute before beginning.
“Okay,” he said. “Here it is. In this kind of investigation I usually mail the results to my clients, just the names and the dates and enough documentation to establish the facts. Ordinarily it's all pretty neat and tidy.”
Patrick leaned against one smooth marble column and smiled. “But this investigation, I gather, was not quite so tidy.”
Don met his gaze. “No, it wasn't.” He sat down on the curving marble seat. “At first it was fine. I traced the adoption itself fairly easily, to a small town in New Mexico. A town called Enchantment.”
Patrick smiled again. “How quaint.”
The investigator didn't return the smile. “Yes, sir. But the investigation got a little more complicated from there.” He began to chew on his cheek again. “You see, the accompanying paperwork doesn't include the full complement of information, and several relevant particulars, items of significance pertainingâ”
Patrick's hand twitched. “For God's sake, Frost. You sound like my lawyer, who thinks he gets paid by the syllable. Why don't you cut to the chase?”
The investigator hesitated. But he didn't need to be so miserable. Patrick thought he knew where this was heading, and he had of course already considered this possibility.
“Let me make it easier for you,” Patrick interjected. “Something's missing on the birth certificate, right? There's a blank where the father's name should be?”
The man nodded. “Yes, that's right. It's not at all unusual in these cases. Frankly, the name on that particular line is âUnknown' more often than not. But this birth certificateâ¦” He cleared his throat. “This oneâ”
Patrick waited. It really was cold out here. The ocean breezes whipped through his wool-blend jacket as if it were made of gauze. Though the wind blew his hair onto his forehead, tickling his lashes, he ignored it.
“This birth certificate?” he prompted.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen! May I introduce you
to Polly? Polly was found in Golden Gate Park on Christmas Day with a broken wing. She'd been abandonedâ”
Patrick turned with a sudden tension, but it wasn't just another hired Beauty soliciting bids. The smiling woman who stood at the foot of the folly, swinging a silver filagreed cage that held a ruffled blue parrot, was Ellyn.
“Hi there, stranger,” she said with a teasing note of remonstrance. “I wondered where you'd disappeared to.”
He smiled. “Sorry. Mr. Frost and I had some business to take care of. Ellyn Grainger, this is Don Frost.”
She smiled and shook his hand, but her face was troubled. An empathetic woman, she probably sensed that something wasn't right. She was also smart enough to sense that Patrick didn't want to talk about it.
Don Frost's gaze was openly admiring. Patrick looked again, seeing her through the other man's eyes. Yes, Ellyn Grainger was a prize, from her ivory skin to her wine-colored hair, from her flawless breeding to her generous heart.
As he had almost every day for the past two years, Patrick asked himself why he couldn't be sensible enough to fall in love with this very nice woman. And, as usual, he got the same answer. He didn't know how to love anybody. In that respect, at least, he truly was Julian Torrance's son.
“The auction is almost over,” Ellyn said to Pat
rick. “I just came down to let you know that Karen has outbid you on Smoochy, so if you wanted to place anotherâ”
Patrick had to smile. Ellyn was a terrible liar. She knew damn well he didn't want that flea-bag. “Oh, I wouldn't dream of being so selfish,” he said nobly. “Let Karen have him.”
Don Frost coughed suspiciously, and Ellyn's lovely hazel eyes twinkled. “All right,” she said. “But you won't be too long, will you? We're going to have champagne and strawberries on the patio. Do come, Mr. Frost. It's a very nice champagne.”
“Thanks,” the investigator said, though Patrick noticed he didn't commit to anything. Don didn't seem awed by the rich and beautiful, in spite of the scuffed loafers and tired jacket. “That sounds nice.”
Ellyn retreated gracefully, and as soon as she was out of earshot Patrick turned back to the investigator. “Go on,” he said.
“This birth certificate?”
The other man squared his shoulders and dropped his social smile. Back to business.
“This birth certificate doesn't name the father. But it also doesn't name the mother. On this one, both parents are simply listed as âunknown.'”
Both parents? How? Patrick felt the sudden need to sit down, too. But he overcame it. When you grew up as Julian Torrance's son, you learned early never to show the least sign of weakness.
“How is that possible, Mr. Frost?”
“Well, naturally I wanted to know that myself. I've been looking into it for the past week. I had hoped to
find out something that would make the news a little moreâ” His gaze slid to the side. “A little more tidy.”
“But I'm afraid this story just isn't tidy. That's why I came myself. I thought I should, in case you had questions.”
“I have nothing but questions,” Patrick said. “You aren't providing much of anything but riddles. Surely when a woman delivers a baby, she has to give the hospital her name.”
“She does if she
to a hospital. This mother didn't. In this particular case, the mother delivered her baby herself. The baby was subsequently found and sent to the local birthing center. The adoption was formalized from there.”
The baby was subsequently foundâ¦
Patrick sat down. He had no choice.
“I'm listening,” he said. “Just go ahead and tell me everything.”
The investigator nodded. “All right. At about 1:00 a.m. on the morning of November 25, exactly thirty years ago, the owner of the birthing center, a Mrs. Lydia Kane, received an anonymous call. A female voice told her that a newborn baby could be found in the girls' bathroom of the local high school. Mrs. Kane then went to the high school. The custodian was there late, cleaning up after the homecoming dance. He had already found the baby and called the authorities.”