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Six Years Later
Sara opened the heavy oak door into Pine Grove Lodge, anxiety tightening her chest, her heart pounding hard. She wasn't sure she should be here, but she had to find out if Nathan Barclay's son was her son. He might not be. Her eggs might not have been instrumental in giving the Barclays a child. But the dates lined upher donation and Kyle's birth. She had to know for sure. Her accident and hysterectomy in June had devastated her until during her recuperation, Joanne, who'd left the fertility clinic a few years ago to take a more lucrative position elsewhere, had revealed Nathan Barclay's name.
Moving into the great room, Sara found no one standing at the long mahogany counter.
A door opened at the rear of the room and a tall, broad-shouldered man carrying an armful of logs came in and kicked the door shut with one booted foot. As he passed the floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace and caught sight of her, he smiled. But it was a forced smile that didn't light up his eyes, which were the same color as the gray November sky outside.
Sara recognized Nathan Barclay from the photograph she'd found in an article about him and his dad restoring this resort in their hometown of Rapid Creek, Minnesota. Still reeling from her mom's death from cancer a year ago, as well as the accident that had taken away Sara's ability to have children, she'd looked him up on the Internet, and she'd found more than she'd ever imagined. Most important, she'd learned he was a widower and had a son who was five.
She hadn't made an impulsive decision that could affect several lives. After her recuperation, she'd returned to her law firm, working seventy to eighty hours a week.But after two months, she'd decided to use vacation time, and had packed a suitcase, grabbed her laptop and headed to the Wisconsin Dells to think. Two days into her getaway, she'd found herself driving to Rapid Creek, searching for answers.
Now here she was, practically shaking in her sneakers.
"If you're looking for a room, I'm sorry, but we don't have any vacancies. This time of year we're usually full." Nathan Barclay's deep voice resonated through Sara, making her anxiety grab a stronger hold.
Straightening her shoulders and taking a breath, she waited only a heartbeat before replying, "I'm not looking for a room."
At her words his dark brows quirked up. Turning away from her, he lowered the armful of logs onto the hearth. Her heart pounded so hard she thought it would burst from her chest.
Finally, he brushed off his hands and crossed to her. Only two feet away, she noticed strands of gray at the temples of his dark brown hair, lines above his brows and around his eyes and mouth.
"If you don't need a room for the night, how can I help you?" he asked, looking puzzled.
"Mr. Barclay, I'm Sara Hobart."
He showed no recognition of her name.
State the facts. Make him understand.
"Almost six years ago, on January 23, I donated eggs at the Brighton Fertility Clinic in Minneapolis. I found out your wife benefited from that donation. I'm wondering I believe "
His firm jaw set. His stance became defensive.
Forgetting her training as a lawyer, and too personally involved to weigh her words, she plunged in and asked, "Did your wife conceive from that in vitro procedure?"
The man before her was on his guard. His eyes were dark with stormy outrage. "How could you possibly have gotten my name? That information is confidential."
"Mr. Barclay, I don't mean you or Kyle any harm"
"How do you know my son's name?" Barclay's voice was rough and he was looking at her as if he should call the police.
More determined than ever to find out if she was Kyle's mother, if she had a legitimate claim, she stretched out her hand in a pleading gesture. "I'm a lawyer. I have easy access to databases. If you'd let me start at the beginning"
"I don't want you to start anywhere. I want you to leave. If it's true you donated eggs at Brighton, then you also signed a release form relinquishing any rights. So if you think I'm going to pay you another cent, you're sadly mistaken."
She shook her head. "I don't want money. I I was in an automobile accident and had to have a hysterectomy. I looked you up on the Internet and found out you're a widower. When I searched public records, I discovered your wife died in childbirth and so did Kyle's twin brother."
"You had no right to invade my privacy!"
"I can't have children, Mr. Barclay. I'd like to meet Kyle. That's all." Her voice shook on the last word.
After a long, silent pause and a penetrating search of her eyes, he said firmly, "I'm not going to let a stranger just waltz into our home."
Trying to keep her composure, reminding herself calm reason could possibly make a dent in Nathan Barclay's armor, she took a folded sheet of paper from her coat pocket and handed it to him. "Here are my credentials and a brief background. I've also provided references. My friends and neighbors don't know why I'm here, but they can tell you anything you need to know about me."
He took the sheet of paper and glanced at it, then asked in a low voice, "What do you really want?"
"I want to meet Kyle. Afterward, I'll return to Minneapolis."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. I give you my word. I know I have no rights here. I just want to meet him." Because if she did, she'd know, wouldn't she? Wouldn't instinct tell her if Kyle was hers?
His gaze raked over her shoulder-length blond hair, her jeans, sneakers and rose, cable-knit sweater under her suede jacket. She knew he was trying to assess whether or not she was a danger to him. But his gaze passing over her made her feel self-conscious and warm.
"Miss Hobart, your word means nothing to me. You said you're a lawyer. If you are, you know the document you signed was valid."
Yes, it was. She didn't need a custody lawyer to tell her that. She motioned to the paper she'd given him. "I've written the name of the bed-and-breakfast where I'm staying on the back of my references. I'll be there until Friday."
Silence echoed from floor to ceiling in the large room. Finally, he asked, "And after Friday?"
"I'll be returning to Minneapolis." When his stone-cold expression gave away none of his thoughts, she added,
"Please put yourself in my shoes, Mr. Barclay. Since my accident, my life has been in turmoil. Actually, it's come to a standstill. I need to meet Kyle to move on."
After he folded the sheet of paper she'd given him, he shoved it into the pocket of his Western-cut shirt. "I think you should go."
Sara could see that nothing else she said would move him or change his mind.After a last look into his eyes, dark gray now with the turbulence she'd obviously caused, she gave a slight nod and retraced her steps to the front door. As she left Pine Grove Lodge, she hoped Nathan Barclay would try to put himself in her shoes and call her before Friday.
If he didn't, she might never meet Kyle and learn whether or not he was her son.
"What did Ben say?" Galen Barclay looked worried as Nathan hung up the phone.
"I have to check on Kyle." Nathan was still reeling from his encounter with Sara Hobart that afternoon. Calling his brother Ben, who was an assistant district attorney in Albuquerque, had seemed to be a good idea. But Ben's experience with women had left his brother cynical.
"Kyle will be fine for a few minutes," his father insisted.
"He's playing with his fire trucks in his room."
Ever since his son had been born early, at twenty-six weeks, Nathan had been protective of him. When he'd developed asthma, Nathan hadn't wanted him out of his sight. At his father's urging he'd relaxed a bit with all of his coddling, but he still kept a close eye on Kyle.
"So what was Ben's advice?" his dad asked again. "He told me not to worry. He assured me that if Sara Hobart signed a release form when she donated her eggshe believes the word donated doesn't apply, since she received $10,000 in exchange for themshe doesn't have a parental leg to stand on. He thinks she's simply a gold digger, and I tend to agree." Though that's what Nathan's head told him, he remembered the pain in the woman's eyes when she'd spoken of having a hysterectomy.
"You said she's a lawyer."
"Yes. I called one of her references, a neighbor. I also checked the roster of attorneys at the firm listed on her credentials. Apparently she is a lawyer in Charles Frank's firm. When I searched the Internet, there was an account of her accident this summer. A man in his forties who'd taken cold medication fell asleep while he was driving, crossed the highway and hit her head on. From the sound of it, she's lucky she wasn't killed. Everything she told me seems to be true."
After a reflective silence, his dad commented, "If she's a lawyer in Charles Frank's law firmit's the biggest and best in MinneapolisI doubt she's looking for a handout. You know Ben. He believes women are out for whatever they can get. This Hobart woman could be on the level. What if she is the one who enabled you and Colleen to have a child? What if she is Kyle's mother?"
Nathan's heart rejected that idea instantaneously. Colleen was Kyle's mother. Nathan had pictures of his deceased wife all over the house. He wanted Kyle to know her in some small way. He knew what it was like to grow up without a mother. His own had left him and his two brothers to pursue her career and live a life better than the one she'd found in Rapid Creek. She hadn't looked back. Unlike his own attempt to give Kyle a sense of Colleen, his dad had tried to wipe his wife's memory from all of their lives. After she'd left, Galen had never spoken of her again. Not until Nathan had asked questions when he'd graduated from high school.
"Son, Colleen is gone." His dad was always blunt when he wanted to make a point. "She isn't here to put her arms around Kyle when he needs a hug. He can't hear her voice in the middle of the night when he's scared."
Nathan's anger rose quickly, the same anger that had shaken its fist at fate when that force had taken Colleen and Kyle's twin, Mark, away from him. "I give him hugs. I sit with him when he has bad dreams."
"But are you enough? Am I enough? Is Val enough? None of us can take the place of a mother."
Nathan and Galen both depended on Val Lindstrom, the housekeeper Nathan had hired to look after Kyle when he was busy at the lodge or guiding tourists who stayed there. "Ben, Sam and I grew up just fine with only you to take care of us," Nathan said.
"Maybe you did and maybe you didn't. I don't think Ben will ever trust a woman enough to settle down with her. And that stems back to your mother deserting us. And Sam Maybe he chose poorly because I never taught him how to choose wisely."
Since his dad rarely brought up the subject of their mother's desertion, Nathan decided to take advantage of this opportunity. "Why didn't you ever remarry?"
"Because not many women could take on three boys and like it. I never met anyone willing to try." Galen picked up the paper on the counter that Sara Hobart had given to Nathan. "What harm would come from inviting this Hobart woman to meet Kyle? I'm sure he gets tired of just seeing you, me and Val."
"What harm?" Nathan couldn't believe his dad wouldn't acknowledge the obvious. "If she sees him, she might want to spend more time with him. What if she stays in Rapid Creek?"
Waving that idea away with a flick of his hand, Galen responded, "She has a first-class job in Minneapolis. She didn't go to school all those years just to give it up."
Something else troubled Nathan even more. "What if Kyle likes her?"
"And what if he doesn't?" his dad protested. "What if they don't get along at all? What if his asthma scares her?"
Even if he entertained that possibility, Nathan was unsettled by the idea of inviting Sara Hobart into his home. "I think we'd be taking a big gamble letting her meet him."
"Aren't you taking a bigger gamble never telling Kyle the truth?"
"He's not old enough to understand."
Galen's eyes were a steady gray, showing the wisdom of his sixty-four years. "When will he be old enough? When he's twelve? When he's sixteen?"
"You can't ignore the truth, even though you've tried. You've convinced yourself you and Colleen were the only two people involved."
Yes, he had. Ever since Colleen had been implanted with the embryos, they'd dismissed the donor. She'd been a means for Colleen to get pregnant, and that was all.
But now that donor had a facea very pretty face and green eyes identical to Kyle's. "I'm not sure we should let her into our lives."
"She's already in your life if she's Kyle's mother." That was a very big if.
Sara Hobart had given her word she'd go back to Minneapolis after she met Kyle. Could Nathan believe her?