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By Marisa Carroll
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShe could see the sign as soon as the taxi turned the corner. It was halfway down the block in a row of sand-blasted brick storefronts. It was pink and blue neon, with a baby cradled in a diaper hanging from a stork's beak. The name Oh, Baby! hung beneath it. The style was nostalgic, in keeping with the twenties-era feel of the street. Trees in wooden planters with waves of red and pink petunias at their bases lined the brick sidewalks, and wrought-iron tables and chairs in front of coffee shops and German delis were shaded by green canvas awnings. People sat at the tables and strolled along the street looking in the windows of art galleries and vintage clothing stores, enjoying the unusually cool and clear early September day.
The neighborhood had a cozy, small-town feel. It was hard to believe she was only three blocks away from bustling Mayfair Avenue in the heart of downtown Austin, Texas, and the noisy lunchtime crowd at Austin Eats Diner.
"Park there, driver," she said, motioning. "In front of the baby shop." The taxi driver maneuvered into the space and waited for her to make up her mind.
He caught her eye in the rearview mirror. "You want to get out, ma'am?" he asked. He'd seen how difficult it was for her to open the heavy door when she went into Austin Eats.
"No, not yet."
She had given him fifty dollars when she got into the cab. She didn't want him to be tempted to leave her stranded somewhere along the route or to worry that she would stiff him for a large fare. "Just let me know when you want to go inside," he said, and settled back in his seat, content to wait.
She didn't know if she was going to go inside. She wanted to, she wanted to as badly as she'd ever wanted anything in her life. But if there was one thing LeeAnn Larrimore had learned in forty-seven hard years, it was that you didn't always get what you wanted.
Forty-seven. Not young anymore, but not old enough to die. She looked at her hands, clutching the cardboard box in her lap. They were skeletal, her wrist bones jutting below the sleeves of her shirt. Her whole body looked like that. She was dying of cancer and she didn't have much time left. But even that sense of urgency couldn't overcome the reluctance she felt at going inside her daughter's store.
What if Lana should recognize her? She didn't know how that was possible, though. The last time she'd seen her daughter, she had been an infant. For twenty-five years LeeAnn hadn't even known what had happened to Lana, or her brothers and sister, after she'd left them on the doorstep of Maitland Maternity Clinic with a note pinned to Garrett's shirt asking Megan Maitland to find a home for her babies.
It wasn't until she had been told her condition was terminal that she had given in to that ruthlessly unanswered need to learn their lot in life. It hadn't been hard. She had gone to the library and searched the Internet for news of Maitland Maternity. Not only the clinic's high-tech and professional Web site, but all the news outlets she could find. And there had been news, lots of it. Maitland Maternity, it seemed, had been embroiled in a scandal throughout the past year.
But none of that tangle of false identities and lost sons returned to their families had meant anything to her after she read of the shoot-out that had wounded Garrett Lord, the adopted eldest son of a prominent Austin family, and Megan Maitland's godson.
Garrett Lord, adopted son and godson. Garrett. Her son's name. Her long-dead husband's name. She had searched further. And there it was, a matter of public record. Four children, infant triplets and a toddler boy, had been adopted by Terrence and Sheila Lord, a wellrespected banker and his wife, twenty-five years ago.
God had answered a desperate young mother's prayers and given all four of them a loving home. More than that. He had given them parents who could supply them with all their earthly wants and needs.
But that wasn't enough now. She had to know if the Lords had also given them love. The kind of love that had driven her to give them up in the first place, rather than subject them to the hand-to-mouth childhood she had experienced. And that her circumstances dictated would be all she could offer them if they remained a family. A lifetime of secrecy wasn't an easy thing to erase. And she wasn't strong enough to face the possibility that her children, raised in affluence, wouldn't understand why she had done what she had.
So she had brought talismans with her. Three tiny sweaters, two pink and one blue, painstakingly embroidered with their names, Shelby, Lana and Michael. And a teddy bear, much worn and loved by Garrett, his daddy's pride and joy. But her reckless, handsome husband had crashed his Harley into a concrete light post one dark, rainy night, leaving her with four babies and a mountain of medical bills. So she had given her children over to the care of strangers and gone on with her life, never searching them out until her doctor had pronounced her fate.
Today she'd gone to Austin Eats to try to find Shelby. She had been there, red-haired and vivacious, behind the counter. LeeAnn had ordered a glass of sweet tea and watched her daughter direct the busy kitchen staff and still have time to charm each and every customer with a word and a smile. Then a man came in and sat down at the counter, and LeeAnn's breath had caught in her throat. Garrett? Or was it Michael? His coloring was the same as her dead husband's, hair so dark a red it was almost brown, olive skin and eyes that could see into your soul.
She sat there, hands trembling, for another fifteen minutes, torn between happiness and fear. When the man got up to leave he looked around the room, his gaze flicking over her, assessing and dismissive. It was then she began to realize her fantasy might not play out as she wished. The little love offerings she had kept all these years might not be enough for her children to make up for giving them away. She had gotten up and made her way painfully out of the diner. But she hadn't been ready to admit defeat. Going to Garrett's ranch outside the city was out of the question, but there was still Lana. Still her sweet little first-born daughter.
A young woman turned the corner and walked to the door of the shop. Was this Lana? She had LeeAnn's coloring, auburn hair and hazel eyes and a creamy tone to her skin that never seemed to tan. But LeeAnn didn't have auburn hair anymore, the chemotherapy had seen to that. She raised her hand and touched the inexpensive gray wig she wore. The young woman turned her head, and their eyes met. She smiled. LeeAnn reached for the door handle.
A couple approached. The woman was pregnant, and both husband and wife immediately engaged Lana in conversation about the display of furniture in the window. She was obviously going to be busy with them for a long, long time. LeeAnn's little store of courage gave out. She was so very tired. What if Lana didn't understand her long-ago desperation? What if she hated her for never contacting them?
But she had to let her children know she still cared. Once before, she had trusted in the judgment and caring of a woman she had never met. Her confidence hadn't been misplaced. One last time she would ask that woman to help her. She began to compose a note in her mind.
Excerpted from Baby 101 by Marisa Carroll Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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