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Claiming His Family
By Ann Peterson
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAlyson Fitzroy stared at the television screen and ground her teeth together until the pain shooting along her jaw made her let up. A scene taped earlier in the day flickered on the ten o'clock news. Grinning broadly, Andrew Clarke Smythe swaggered to a waiting limousine, a small crowd of supporters cheering him on from outside the prison gates.
Andrew Clarke Smythe, the most notorious serial rapist in Dane County's history, was free. And the tests Alyson had performed in Wisconsin's State Crime Lab were responsible.
Since the day she'd received the order to perform the DNA comparison between blood found under the fingernails of a recent rape victim and the DNA of the imprisoned Smythe, she'd feared this would be the result. But she'd hoped the police would be able to shoot holes in the impossible theory that Smythe had a DNA clone out there committing rape-before he won his appeal for a new trial.
She'd never dreamed the governor would bypass the criminal justice system completely and give the Smythe Pharmaceuticals heir a pardon.
She wrapped her arms around herself. She felt sick to her stomach. But as sick as she felt, she knew it had to be worse for Dex.
As if echoing her thoughts, Dane County's new District Attorney Dex Harrington's face flashed on the television screen next. Outwardly he looked the same-the all-American male with hair the color of a sun-kissed beach and the square jaw and cleft chin of a superhero. But he'd changed in the past year and a half. She could read it in the hardness in his eyes, the rigid muscles along his jaw. He seemed even more judgmental than he had the last time she'd seen him. The time she'd been the one on whom he was passing judgment. The time she'd come up wanting.
She shoved the bitter memories from her mind. She couldn't waste her life being bitter. It wouldn't change anything. And looking at Dex's face on TV, the solemn line of his lips, the tortured squint of his eyes as he answered the reporters' questions, bitterness was far from her reach. She felt only regret.
Alyson pushed herself up from the couch and switched off the television. Wrapping her terry-cloth robe tighter around her, she padded out of her comfortable little living room on bare feet and started up the staircase leading to the bedrooms.
Reaching the top of the stairs, she strode past her own bedroom to the closed door at the end of the hall. She paused for a moment and listened. Hearing nothing, she turned the knob and pushed the door open.
Though Alyson had closed the windows against the humidity, the air still smelled like the fresh June night outside. She squinted her eyes against the darkness, the full moon obscured by drawn curtains. Only a feeble light from the hall chased away the shadows and revealed the white bars of the crib in the corner. The crib that held the most precious thing in her life.
She approached on stealthy steps and peered inside. Seven-month-old Patrick lay on his back, his head turned to the side. His little chest rose and fell with each breath. As always, a wave of love and gratitude surged through her at the sight of him. His peaceful face, his clenched fists, the tiny cleft in his chin.
Just like his daddy's.
She'd meant to tell Dex at first. Even after the blowup. After all, he'd had a right to know. She'd even telephoned him a few times, but he'd refused to take her calls. And whenever she'd forced herself to drive to his house, she'd invariably driven away without stepping from her car. She just couldn't make herself face him.
She'd kept seeing the scorn in his eyes when she'd defended her father, when she'd taken her first wrong step. She'd kept hearing Dex's bitter words the last night they were together, the night he refused her a second chance, the night he told her he didn't want her anymore.
She shook her head, shutting out his words, and focused on her child's innocent face. No matter what Dex had done to her, he still deserved to know he had a child. And if things were that simple, she would have found a way to tell him.
But things weren't that simple.
Leaning over the crib gate, she reached a finger to touch the soft blond down on her baby's head. He'd given her the strength to go on after Dex's rejection, after her father's crimes and his subsequent death from his co-conspirator's bullet. Patrick was her little man, her love, her life. He was everything she had.
She couldn't risk losing him.
A feeling crept over her skin. A feeling that had nothing to do with the child sleeping in the crib. A feeling of being watched by malevolent eyes.
She jolted upright. Too late. A hand closed around her throat. A sweet-smelling cloth pressed over her nose and mouth.
She held her breath. She couldn't scream. If she did, she'd drag the fumes into her lungs, she'd lose consciousness. She wouldn't be able to fight. She kicked back, connecting with a shin.
A guttural growl exploded in the darkness. "Damn bitch."
She flailed her arms, trying to hit her attacker, trying to loosen his grip. Swinging low with one hand, she hit his hip, her fingers grasping something soft hanging from his belt. A rope. Oh, God, he intended to tie her up. Or just slip the ligature around her throat. Once that happened, she didn't stand a chance. Panic bolted through her. She flailed harder. One fist connected with the side of his face.
Another curse erupted from his lips. The hand on her throat tightened, cutting off her breath. Cutting off her life.
She hit him again, trying to put more force into the punch, but he only gripped her throat harder. Her pulse beat in her ears. Dizziness swam in her mind. Her fist connected again. She needed air. She couldn't let herself pass out.
Suddenly the grip on her throat loosened.
She gasped in a breath. Then another. She tried to twist in his grip, tried to get away, but he held her fast, the cloth clamped over her mouth and nose. The scent of chloroform tickled her sinuses and filled her lungs. Her head reeled, dizzy, slipping.
Darkness closed over her.
Excerpted from Claiming His Family by Ann Peterson Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.