Read an Excerpt
Behind the Shadows
By Patricia Potter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2008 Patricia Potter
All rights reserved.
Kira couldn't breathe as she stared down at the paper in front of her. The world stopped whirling. At least, her world did.
No, not stopped. Turned upside down. Made night day, and day night.
The words weren't true. They just couldn't be true.
Some terrible mistake. A monstrous error.
The print ran together on the paper. She'd listened to the doctor, then demanded to see the results in black and white. The form looked official. The words made no sense.
"I want another test," she said.
"We ordered a second test to confirm. Different labs. Same results," Dr. Warner said from behind his desk. "I'm sorry." He paused, then added, "You didn't know you were adopted? I probably should have said something to your mother before giving you the results, but ..."
His words trailed off.
Kira knew, though, what he meant to say. Her mother was too ill to take any bad news.
She stared down at the results again. No match. No match of any kind. She couldn't be a donor. She'd been so sure ...
Then instant playback. You didn't know you were adopted?
Her heart pounded. She put a hand on the desk to keep standing. "I wasn't adopted. I know every detail of my birth. I had a hole in my heart ... There was surgery ... Eastside Hospital. I have a birth certificate with my footprint on it." She was babbling. But then so was he. His words ... his conclusions ... were incomprehensible.
She'd undergone a blood test just three days ago to determine whether she could donate a kidney to her mother. Every other avenue had failed. Dialysis was no longer doing the job. Infections occurred with increasing frequency. Her mother was on the transplant list, but they had been waiting nine months already, and she was nowhere near the top. When Kira offered to donate one of her kidneys, her mother refused to consider it, although she was in the end stages of kidney failure.
In desperation and without her mother's knowledge, Kira asked the doctor to make the tests to determine whether they were compatible. Then she would convince her mother to agree to it.
She'd been warned she might not be a match although they were mother and daughter, but this ...
"I'm sorry, Ms. Douglas. There's no doubt. You are not Mrs. Douglas's genetic daughter. I just assumed ..."
Not only were they not a match, they weren't even blood relatives. According to the test.
For the barest fraction of a second, doubt crept into her mind. Maybe that was why her mother was adamant about refusing a kidney donation from Kira.
But then she dismissed the idea. Her mother was honest to a fault. A lie never solved anything, she often said. She certainly would have known that adoption wouldn't have changed Kira's feelings toward her. It had been the two of them for thirty-two years. Katy and Kira against the world.
How could such a mistake happen? Maybe someone else's blood was sent by mistake to two labs.
"I want another test," she said. "I want blood taken today, now, and rushed to a third lab. I don't care about the cost."
"Believe me, we are very careful."
Anger boiled up inside her. It wasn't true, and she knew it. "Are you going to conduct another test? Or do I have to go somewhere else?"
There was nowhere else. She knew it, and he knew it. Her mother's insurance was limited at best. Memorial East was the designated hospital for the plan her mother had, and even then the insurance covered only some expenses. Duplicate blood tests at another hospital would definitely not qualify.
Kira closed her eyes for a moment, mentally seeing their checking account go down. Her mother's house had been heavily mortgaged as medical bills mounted. Kira had moved in with her to save money, and they were still in debt to the hospital.
"All right," the doctor finally said reluctantly. "I'll send in a technician for another blood sample."
"I have the birth certificate," she insisted again.
He didn't reply. He rose from his desk. "There are other patients waiting, Ms. Douglas, but I'll contact you the second the new test comes in."
He hesitated a moment, then added, "Stay here and I'll send in a technician for the blood." Another pause, then, "Kira, they've moved your mother up on the list."
Good news. Bad news. Good news she was closer to the top of the transplant list. Bad that she was worsening so quickly that they moved her up.
He left. Still trying to comprehend what he'd just said, she waited impatiently for the technician. She wanted to rush to her mother and ask questions. She wanted to look into her eyes and see herself in them. Disbelief still stunned her, but anger—raw and jagged—was building inside. She wanted to sweep the doctor's desk clean with her hands. She wanted to throw one of his many framed photos against the wall. He had been so calm, so matter-of-fact as he said words that made her life a lie and possibly condemned her mother.
The technician came in. She forced herself to be civil when she wanted to scream at him. How could they have messed up the last test?
When he left, she followed him out in a daze. She'd been given time off this morning for the doctor's appointment, but she had to cover a meeting at city hall. She couldn't lose her job now that medical costs were spiraling upward.
She paused outside the office door and looked down. The paper was crushed in her clenched hand. She carefully straightened it out, then glanced at it again. It was wrong. Someone had made a terrible error.
But if ... if ...
If she wasn't Kira Douglas, who was she?
More important, who would save her mother?
Dammit, she was Kira Douglas, and she could prove it. In fact, she would prove it.CHAPTER 2
Metal screeching, tearing. Blood. Pain. Mind-shattering terror.
She woke with a scream.
Leigh Howard fought panic. It was only a nightmare. This time. Only a nightmare.
But so real. Nothing was missing. Not the terrible argument. Not the screams. The excruciating pain. Her mother's blood mixing with hers.
Sweat drenched the bed. Leigh wearily sat up on the side of the bed, trying to shake the images that lingered in her mind.
It was still dark outside, but a night-light made the room visible. It was ridiculous, she knew. A thirty-two-year-old woman shouldn't need a night-light, but she couldn't sleep without one.
She stood, went to the window, and looked outside at the pasture. Maude, the rescue donkey and companion to her show horse, grazed in the pasture. She always grazed, a never-ending eating machine.
Leigh looked down at her hands. They still trembled. Deep breath, she told herself. Take a deep breath. The fear will fade. But she knew it would never entirely go away.
She glanced at the clock. Only four in the morning.
Yet she knew she couldn't go back to sleep. The bed would be wet. Not damp. Soaking wet with sweat.
She closed her eyes. If only ...
If only there were someone to call, to talk to. But there wasn't. Only Mrs. Baker, who lived a mile away. She certainly wasn't going to run crying to the family's housekeeper, even one who was almost a family member.
She went into the bathroom. Peered at herself. God, she looked a horror. Her eyes were red and tired. Her damp hair fell lifelessly around her face.
She padded down the stairs to the kitchen and turned on the light. A cup of hot chocolate might help. She heated some milk, poured chocolate syrup into it, and sat down at the large table in the sunroom. Think about the day. The horse show benefit that she chaired. She knew it was only an honorary position, but she wanted to show she could do more than "honorary." Maybe a cocktail party/silent auction to raise awareness of their cause.
She wanted this year's event to surpass every other one.
Maybe then she could convince Max that she could actually accomplish something important. Maybe he would loosen the strings on her inheritance.
It galled her no end that she was heiress to a fifty-million-dollar trust fund, but lived on an allowance supervised by a tight-assed lawyer. She blamed him for chasing off James Hallaway III as easily as he'd dispensed with her ex-husband. Maybe, just maybe, she and James could have made a marriage work had there not been so much interference. Dollars offered, and, she admitted painfully to herself, dollars taken.
God, could she ever pick them!
But even a gold-digging husband might be better than being so entirely alone.
She yawned. She'd had three hours' sleep at most.
She needed more. She needed to be alert and confident when she faced the lion in his den later today.
She would take a hot shower and use a bed in one of the guest rooms. Maybe the nightmare had gone away for the night.
Anger came in waves. It swelled to tsunami strength, then retreated, only to return.
Kira tried to tamp it down as she walked inside her mother's cubicle. She had rerun the doctor's words all day, even as she'd struggled through a city budget committee meeting. She'd returned to the hospital last night, but her mother had been exhausted from tests.
The words made no more sense today than they had yesterday. Either the hospital had made a terrible mistake and somehow mixed her blood up with someone else's, or her mother had lied to her for more than thirty years.
She pasted a smile on her face as she approached the bed in the critical care unit. Her mother was sleeping. Kira sat down in the uncomfortable chair next to the bed.
Katy Douglas had always been a small, slender woman who was constantly on the move. Now Kira studied her mother's features as she never had before.
Kira's build was larger. She was taller and had more curves. She'd always attributed her mother's slender size to the fact she worked so hard, right up to the moment she was diagnosed with renal failure. Even then, she hadn't stopped until she'd collapsed while cleaning a house when one of her employees didn't show.
Their eyes were both blue, although her mother's were a bright blue and Kira's were more of a smoky blue gray. Her mother's hair was a honey color, and curly, while hers was a dark mahogany shade and both straight and fine.
But they thought alike. Was that genes or environment?
Had her mother lied to her all these years?
How many times had her mother told her she was a miracle baby? That when she was born, everyone—everyone but Katy—said she would die within days. But she hadn't. She'd been named Kira, Latin for light, her mother said. She'd found the name in a baby book. She'd known Kira would live, that her light would glow.
Her mother's eyes flickered open. Even though her face was wan, she smiled. The open, delighted smile that always came to her face when she saw Kira. "How long have you been here?"
"You should have wakened me."
"You looked too peaceful," Kira said.
It wasn't true. Katy Douglas looked ravished by a disease that was draining her lifeblood. The doctor said she didn't have much more than a month to live unless she received a new kidney.
"You look tired," Katy Douglas said. "You aren't taking care of yourself. Go home and get some rest."
"I'd rather spend some time with you," Kira said.
Another smile. "A little while, then. What did you cover today?"
Kira made a face. "A budget committee meeting. Deadly dull. Give me a good political scandal any day."
A knock came at the door, and a tall, thin man entered then with a tray full of test tubes. The technician glanced at Katy Douglas, then Kira.
"My daughter, the newspaper reporter," her mother said with pride. "She works for the Atlanta Observer," she explained to the technician, who placed the tray on a table, then searched for a vein in arms that were mostly purple from numerous needles. He finally found one and drew blood.
The technician nodded at Kira and left the room.
"Tell me again about the day I was born," Kira said, asking the question she'd wanted to ask since the moment she entered the room. "It was this hospital, wasn't it?"
"The best day of my life," Katy said, her gaze fixing on Kira's face. "Your father was playing drums that night. We thought ... I thought you wouldn't come for another month. But then, you were always impatient. So impatient." Her voice started to fade.
"Was it a caesarean?" Kira asked gently.
"No. You were coming just as we reached the hospital," Katy said. "As I said, impatient. I just made the emergency room. The doctor ... he said he didn't have to work ... that I had already done everything. But then the pediatrician came in and looked at the baby. I ... knew something was wrong."
"But you wouldn't give up on me." Kira knew the story by heart, but she had to hear it again. Now.
"No," her mother said softly. "Not my Kira." Her voice had weakened in those few moments and her eyelids fluttered.
"Time for me to go," Kira said, even as she clung to her mother's hand, trying to force her own life force into her mother. "I love you," she whispered.
"I love ... you, darlin'," her mother replied in a voice already weakening from those few words.
Kira waited until she knew her mother was asleep, then stood. For a moment she couldn't move.
She knew one thing now. Her mother certainly believed that she had given birth to Kira. No one could relate the story with such loving remembrance unless she'd lived it.
Her mother believed Kira was her daughter, the daughter of her blood.
The hospital must have made a mistake. Then or now.
She hoped to God it was now.
Damn it. Damn the doctor. Damn the hospital. She knew her mother was slipping away, and Kira was being cheated of her chance to help. Perhaps her mother's only chance.
She'd been assured the doctor would call her the moment the new test results returned. She resisted the urge to pick up the phone and call him again. Persistence was a good quality for a reporter, but she couldn't risk alienating him at the moment.
She looked down at her hand. It was shaking. This time, the lab had to get it right.
Maybe if they were wrong about the genetic match, they were wrong about the compatibility as well.
Maybe there was still hope.CHAPTER 3
Max Payton raised an intimidating eyebrow. Leigh Howard met his gaze directly.
He was impressed. Usually, she avoided directness.
She held a strange place in his professional life. Not exactly his ward. Or his client. But someone whose life and future was entrusted to his care. The situation suited neither of them.
He was damned tired of being a heavy.
He owed the old man—her dead grandfather—but he was beginning to wonder whether this job was worth the aggravation. "Another horse?" he asked dryly. "You have Silver Lady or whatever the damned horse is named."
"It's my money," Leigh Howard said for the thousandth time.
"It's the trust fund's money," he corrected her as he had for the thousandth time. "And it financed Silver Lady." He knew his voice was edged with weariness. "You've gone through so many expensive hobbies that I would like to know that you're serious about this before investing fifty thousand dollars on another horse."
He watched her face turn to marble. Leigh Howard was a pretty woman. Maybe too pretty with the naturally blond hair and striking blue eyes. Most men would consider her lovely. But he knew her too well. She was more like a wayward younger sister to him than a desirable woman.
He liked her. He had known her since he'd been an assistant—more of a gofer—for her grandfather. He'd taken her to the zoo and driven her to dancing classes. She had always been polite except for a few tantrums, relying more on charm than temper to get what she wanted.
She exasperated him, just as she had her grandfather. She was smart; Max knew that. But underneath the polished exterior, she was still—in many ways—the six-year-old who almost died in the accident that killed her parents. That night had left more than the physical scars on her legs and arms.
"Max, just consider it. My riding instructor says I'm a natural in the show ring. She says I'm ready to start jumping."
He hesitated. "Jumping is dangerous. You know how you—"
"I'll be very careful," she broke in eagerly. "I won't take chances."
"If you get hurt again ..."
Her face clouded. "My instructor says I have a real talent, Max. A real feel for the horse. I'm a good rider. I really am."
"I know you are. I've watched you."
She looked surprised, and he kicked himself. Ed Westerfield never praised her for anything. Neither had Max. Perhaps he'd picked up more from the old man than he'd thought. He cleared his suddenly thick throat and continued, "You're good at most things you do. You just don't stay interested very long. And I know how you feel about hospitals and ..."
"I won't get hurt. The ... car is just as dangerous, and I drive."
But not easily. He knew how long it had taken for her to learn to drive. She still didn't like it, and after the accident, he didn't blame her. He also knew from Mrs. Baker about the nightmares that didn't go away, and the way her face stiffened when she had a doctor's appointment.
Excerpted from Behind the Shadows by Patricia Potter. Copyright © 2008 Patricia Potter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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