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Carrie Summers paced the blue-and-white tiled general reception area in Children's Connection. Her husband was fifteen minutes late for their appointment at the agency, and she was afraid that meant Brian had changed his mind about adopting. They'd answered question after question and submitted to a home study that was now finished. This was their last meeting with the caseworker before they were put into the system.
Brian was never late.
He was a man of his word—a man she'd always been able to depend upon. But for the past three years of their five-year marriage, tension had built between them. When they'd married, Carrie had been so in love, so absolutely sure their wedding vows would be everlasting. However, she had a secret, and the repercussions of that secret were pushing them apart.
If only Brian could embrace the idea of an adoption wholeheartedly. If only Brian could accept an adopted child as his own.
"Are you ready?" a deep male voice asked.
She'd been watching the double glass doors leading outside to the unusually sunny January day. Rain always fell on Portland, Oregon, this time of year. Now she swung around and faced the man whose voice always vibrated through her like a heartfelt song.
"Where did you come from?" she asked with a smile, trying to hide her anxiety over his lateness.
"There was something I had to do before this meeting."
Brian Summers was six foot two, muscular, incredibly fit and more handsome than any man Carrie had ever seen. His thick tawny hair waved over his brow, and he kept it in a clipped style to suit his image—that of a real-estate developer on the go, a millionaire who cared less about his appearance than the powerhouse deals he brokered. When they'd first met, she'd known he'd spoken to her at that cocktail party because she'd looked like the model she'd been. Although her black dress had been demure and classic, his eyes had lingered often on her dark-red hair and the angles of her face, as well as her figure. Their attraction had been mutual, and that night she'd hoped Brian could see beyond her outward appearance. He'd seemed to, and that was why she'd fallen in love with him.
"You've had a meeting in the hospital?" Land development deals didn't usually begin at Portland General.
"No, nothing like that."
Just then, the door to the inner offices opened and a middle-aged brunette smiled at them. "Are you Carrie and Brian Summers?"
They answered in unison. "Yes."
"You'll be meeting with me today." She extended her hand first to Brian and then to Carrie. "I'm Trina Bentley."
"We've gone through this whole process with Stacy Williams," Brian said with a frown.
"Yes, I know you have. Stacy's out with the flu. Since this last meeting is simply a formality, I told her I'd take it for her so we can give you the official okay and find you a baby. Come on back to my office."
In their first years together, Brian had always been solicitous of Carrie, often showing affection by a touch of his hand on her shoulder, his arm around her waist. They hadn't touched as much recently, not since the in vitro attempts had failed. Now as they walked side by side, the sleeve of Brian's suit jacket brushed her arm. She felt the jolt of his close proximity through the sleeve of her cream wool dress.
Everything about Children's Connection was bright and welcoming, including Trina's office. It was pale yellow with a bulletin board on one wall covered with pictures of children from infants to teenagers.
The caseworker motioned to the two upholstered chairs in front of her desk. "Have a seat. I promise I'll make this as painless as possible."
Carrie stole a glance at Brian. He hadn't liked discussing the details of his life with a stranger. He was a private man, and he hadn't appreciated answering questions about his work habits, family history and finances. The poking and prodding into his personal and business life had rankled. Yet today he seemed calmer, more accepting about the whole thing, and Carrie wondered why.
Opening the folder on her desk, Trina glanced over the pages as if she were familiar with them. "I've read through everything including the home-study report." Leaning back in her chair, she focused her hazel eyes on Carrie. "You've been through a lot."
Panicking, Carrie felt her mouth go dry. Could this woman somehow know… ?
Trina went on, "You had the procedure to try to unblock your tubes, two in vitro attempts, and I suspect the usual temperature taking and ovulation charts before all this began."
"You must want a child very much."
Although Trina's gaze was kindly, she obviously had a mission today as she continued. "As the oldest of four sisters, you did quite a bit of mothering. Some women who have that responsibility thrust on them seem to run in the other direction. But the psychologist's evaluation suggests that although you haven't had much practice since then, you're a nurturing woman who can't wait to take care of someone again."
"That's true," Carrie agreed honestly.
"She also noted that you haven't modeled in three years. It seems you've filled your time with working for charities, volunteering at the hospital in the children's ward and being available whenever your husband needs you."
Now Brian shot Carrie a curious look. They'd interviewed with the psychologist separately as well as together. This had come up during her one-on-one interview.
"Why do you need to be available for your husband?" Trina asked.
Feeling Brian shift in his seat, Carrie knew his gaze was on her. She looked directly at Trina. "Brian has a lot of social contact with clients. We often give cocktail parties and dinners, and sometimes I go out of town with him."
"Carrie has always been an asset," Brian interjected. "She's good at public relations and is easy to talk to." His tone was even, but there was an edge to it, and Carrie knew he wondered where this was going.
"I see," Trina mused. "I guess I'm concerned how you'll feel about that when a child is demanding her attention and she can't fly out of town, or maybe even hostess a dinner."
The statement was akin to a grumble of thunder when the sky was still fair.
Finally Brian replied, "Dinners and parties are often held when a child would be asleep."
"But children don't always stay asleep, and they can be as unpredictable as the weather. I suppose I'm just wondering how you'll cope with that."
Carrie could practically see Brian's shoulders tense as he replied, "Miss Bentley, I don't know exactly how we'll deal with that, but we will deal with it. I want a child as much as Carrie does. No couple knows for certain how their lives will be impacted by a baby. I can assure you a child of ours will always have the attention and care it needs."
"When we began evaluating you as future parents, I think you had some doubts about adopting, didn't you, Mr. Summers?"
This woman was obviously leaving no stone unturned. Carrie's heart sped up.
"Yes, I did," Brian answered honestly. "Family has always been important to me, and I always imagined I'd have three or four kids."
"You grew up with your father."
Carrie held her breath, waiting for Brian's reaction. His childhood with Dutch Summers had been a difficult one. Dutch hadn't held one job any length of time or brought home a paycheck often. Usually he gambled it away.
"Yes." Brian's quick answer said he didn't want to go into all of this again.
But Trina didn't take the hint. "Your mother abandoned you and your father when you were seven. Miss Williams's report states your mother contacted you shortly after you were married but you have no contact with her now."
"There are notes here that the noncontact is your choice. Can you tell me why?"
"I told Stacy why," he responded gruffly.
"I know these questions seem prying, Mr. Summers, but extended family is important to children, too— grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, uncles, aunts. Your wife's family is still very much connected, but your father has passed on and your mother's not in your life. Do you see that changing?"
"I don't see it changing, at least not right now. My mother left and didn't call or write for twenty-two years. If we make contact and try to start over, she could drop out of my life and a child's again. As you said, my wife is still close to her family. We wouldhave an extended family."
Addressing Carrie, the caseworker asked, "How do you feel about your husband's lack of a relationship with his mother?"
Carrie was still close to her family, but her own relationship with her mom and dad was complicated, more so than even Brian realized. "I trust Brian's judgment," she said simply.
When Brian leaned forward, Carrie could feel the intensity in him. "I was almost late to this meeting because I made a stop at the hospital nursery to have a look at the babies. I've always dreamed of having a family because mine wasn't ideal. I never expected that would mean adopting a child. But as I stood there looking at the infants and their little hands, their big eyes, some of them crying, I knew I wanted a child with Carrie. If that means adoption, that's what we'll do."
Turning to his wife, he took her hand in his. "We'll have the family we've always wanted."
The tenderness in Brian's voice gave Carrie more hope than she'd had in months. For so long, she'd felt she was losing him. She couldn't tell Brian what had caused her infertility problems. If she did, he'd walk away… as Foster had. However, if they adopted, her secret would be safe and their marriage could become strong again.
Tears pricked in her eyes and Brian saw them. He squeezed her hand.
Their interview went smoothly after that. After they signed more papers, Trina assured them they'd be in the system by noon. If a birth mother chose them, she'd notify them immediately.
When Carrie emerged into the lobby again with Brian, her heart felt lighter than it had in years. She knew babies didn't "fix" marriages, yet their only problem had been her inability to bear children. This morning she'd almost felt close to her husband again, and that was what a baby was going to do for them—bring them even closer.
They stopped by the coatrack in the reception area and Carrie took her off-white winter coat from the wooden hanger. By her side, Brian lifted it from her hands and held it. When their gazes collided, she acknowledged again the one element that had drawn them together since the night they'd met—their attraction to each other. As she slipped one arm into the sleeve, Brian dipped his head and his lips were very close to her temple. His aftershave smelled of pine and woods, and a small tremble shimmered through her. She thought about tonight, holding each other, giving in to passion that never diminished between them no matter what else was happening.
As he helped her with her other sleeve, she asked hopefully, "Will you be home for dinner?"
Before Brian could answer, a lean man approached them. Everett Baker was an accountant for Children's Connection. Carrie had seen him now and then in the halls of the adoption agency, which was an annex to Portland General. A nurse who worked in the emergency room, Nancy Allen, often visited the children in pediatrics when Carrie volunteered there, and they'd become friends. Nancy and Everett seemed to have a friendship, if not more than that. She'd introduced Everett to Carrie soon after he'd taken a job at Children's Connection. While Nancy was warm, outgoing and definitely an extrovert, Everett was the opposite—reserved, almost shy. But he was good-looking with a square jaw, dark-brown hair and eyes. He'd never approached Carrie on his own before, though. He'd always hung back and let Nancy do the talking.
Now he looked purposeful as he came up to them. "Mrs. Summers," he said with a half smile.
"It's Carrie, Everett. I don't think you've met my husband, Brian."
The two men shook hands. Afterward Everett shifted on his feet as if he were uncomfortable, but then he began, "I don't want to hold you up. But Nancy told me you and your husband were thinking about adopting a child."
Their intentions to adopt weren't a secret, and Carrie had told Nancy about them a few weeks ago.
"We just finished with the final interview," Brian said. In his voice, Carrie could tell there was curiosity as to why Everett Baker was interested in what they were doing.
With a quick look over his shoulder to the adoption agency offices where no one was visible, Everett continued. "I know how long the adoption process can take. When Nancy told me you were seriously interested, I thought I might help out. I have a friend who knows a lawyer and he can make private adoptions happen faster. If you're interested in adopting out of the system, it would be something to think about."
One look at Brian's face and Carrie knew what he was thinking. Her husband was a by-the-book kind of guy and would have made a great police officer as he seemed to separate black from white easily, much more easily than she could.
Speaking for both of them, Brian handled the offer casually. "Carrie and I will think about it. This is an important step in our lives. Thank you for trying to help us."
Although this discussion was serious, Carrie almost smiled. Brian was so good at handling delicate situations. He'd managed to give Everett Baker a don't-call-us, we'll-call-you message without being rude.
"I know adoption is serious," Everett agreed. "Babies are serious." He looked troubled, and then the shadows passed from his eyes as he handed Carrie a business card. "You can reach me any time at that number."
"Thank you." Carrie tucked his card into her purse.
As soon as Everett walked away, Brian shook his head. "I don't like the idea of going outside of a reputable adoption center."
"I agree… for now. Let's just see what happens in the next few months. If it goes a really long time and we haven't heard anything or been chosen by a birth mother, maybe we'll want to call Everett then."
When Brian turned to face her, Carrie could see he'd already dismissed the encounter with Everett as well as the idea of a private adoption. "You asked me if I'll be home for dinner. I won't be. I have a meeting at the Hilton." Apparently she couldn't hide her disappointment because he went on, "I'll try to be home before midnight."
Carrie knew if Brian said he'd be home before midnight, he would be.
Her husband looked as if he wanted to say more, maybe do more. Public displays of affection had gone the way of holding hands and kissing in the car at stoplights.