Empty Cradleby Karen Harper
Determined to conceive a baby she so passionately wants, a widowed TV anchorwoman turns to a fertility clinic for help. Located in scenic New Mexico, and run by a charismatic husband-and-wife team, the Santa Fe Evergreen Clinic seems to be the answer to her prayers. But all is not right here...and when she stumbles on the truth about this isolated facility, the scandal could rock the industry - and put her own life at risk!
Over 750,000 Signet copies of Karen HarperÆs books in print!
Karen Harper won the 1994 Romantic Times Award for Best Historical Novel for Wings of Morning
Both her novel River of Sky and her short story from
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By Karen Harper
MIRACopyright © 2006 Karen Harper
All right reserved.
April 20, 1994
Alexis McCall's eyes glazed with tears, but she blinked them back and stared up at the white acoustical ceiling tiles she'd been studying as if she could read some answer there.
"I can get you out of here pronto if you're not still sure about this," her friend Sandra insisted. She leaned closer to Alex's high, narrow hospital bed. They whispered in the draped cubicle since nurses and at least one other patient were nearby.
"I'm not sure," Alex admitted, "but I'm going to do it." She squeezed Sandra's hand so hard she winced.
"This is my last chance, so I have to take the risk."
"Then I'm here for you, like you were for me, chica." Sandra's dark brown eyes looked huge, even in a round face set in a riot of ebony curls.
"I don't know what I'd do without you, but I've never felt more alone or scared in my whole life -- at least since I lost Geoff." In the silence, her stomach growled as if in protest of the coming ordeal.
"That mariachi band's in there because they told you no breakfast," Sandra said, playfully poking Alex's flat midriff. "When this is over and I get you back to your place, I'm going to scramble you some of my special huevos rancheros."
"Anything but eggs today for obvious rea --" Alex began, but the swish and click of the opening curtain drownedthe rest of her words. Her nurse, Beth Bradley, appeared, looking much too perky and cheerful for the early hour. She gave Alex the tranquilizing injection she'd been expecting and stayed a few moments to take her pulse. She squeezed Alex's shoulder before she walked away. The soft squeak of her crepe soles sounded incredibly loud until they were replaced by the distant drone of an airplane.
It must be high above the mountains, Alex thought, probably a jet out of Kirtland, Geoff's air force base in nearby Albuquerque. For one crazy moment it was as if from high above he sent her his strength, but from such a fathomless distance...so far away and never coming back again....
Alex panicked, lifting both hands to press them, one on top of the other, over her mouth. Sandra jumped to her feet, bending over her like a worried mother.
"I thought you were past crying over airplanes," she said, her voice rough from trying to stem her own emotions. "This is what Geoff wanted as much as you, remember. I mean, maybe not that you keep the career in high gear but the rest of it, right?"
Alex slowly lowered her hands to grip them together on her stomach. She nodded, sniffling. Sandra gave her a tissue, and she blew her nose. "Besides," Alex said, "lots of TV personalities work on air right up to the minute they deliver. Lots of women do a good job as a single parent."
Sandra nodded jerkily, then stooped to give her a quick, hard hug. Her paper scrubs crinkled. Sandra Sanchez was sweet-faced, shapely, and plump -- a soft-looking woman. But her reputation in the four corners area near Albuquerque, which the TV station covered, was just the opposite. For one thing, she waved her pride in her Hispanic heritage like a bright banner. And she could be as hard and sharp as the designer acrylic nails she always sported. For KALB's top investigative reporter, the bigger and tougher the story, the better. One phone call from Sanchez and people start looking for cliffs to jump off, Alex had heard someone say last week.
"Alex, I know," she said, perching on the edge of the bed and emphasizing each word in her best on-air, authoritative voice, "this is going to work. In nine months you're either gonna be spending big bucks for a nanny or hauling diapers and formula to the station."
"I'm sure Mike would love that," Alex countered, referring to Mike Montgomery, their station manager.
"He's already furious with me for losing control of myself on the air. I wish I could tell him the real reason I was so upset, but this whole crisis -- this quest -- is my personal affair -- the last private thing I possess."
"I know, I know, chica." Sandra's gaze became distant. "Funny how we make a career of exposing other people's lives but fight like hell to protect a piece of our own." She bit her lower lip to halt the quiver of her chin. Alex knew she was recalling her own tragic loss before she tossed her head defiantly and looked back at Alex. "But I can just feel it," Sandra said as she smacked her hands together. "Just like the Holy Mother, you're gonna have an immaculate conception, but I don't want you to go over the edge trusting the man who's playing God today."
Alex forced a tight little smile. In her best moments she believed everything would be fine too. Despite terrible odds against someone with her ovulation and miscarriage problems, she had to trust the doctors and staff of this private high-tech clinic to do their brilliant best for her. And not only because her thirty-four-year-old biological clock was clanging. Frozen sperm didn't last forever, and Geoff had been dead for four years this month. But this was a time for new beginnings.
"You know," she told Sandra as she jumped back up to peek out through the drapes, "that shot I had, Versed, is an amnesiac, but I'm okay so far, I think. I want to remember all of this."
Alex sighed so hard she felt physically deflated. Maybe the drug was grabbing hold. Suddenly, she was so drowsy and limp she could barely move so much as a facial muscle. She did, however, manage a little yawn.
"On our way now," Beth told them as she whipped open the drapes. As she leaned over Alex, her warm, hazel eyes and wide, full mouth seemed to fill her heart-shaped face, framed by a chestnut pageboy with bouncy bangs. "Okay, Alexis, I'm going to test your mental reflexes," she said. "Can you tell me why it takes so many sperm to fertilize one egg?"
Alex felt so floaty that for a second she believed it was a serious question. But Sandra was grinning, so it must be a joke. She had to work harder to think because her mind was wandering.
"No, why?" she finally asked.
"Because they refuse to stop to ask for directions." Sandra gave a muted moan, but Alex could manage only a stiff grimace. Beth adjusted the bed and pastel blanket. Pale plum, Alex thought, just like this room and the curtain -- designer colors for designer babies.
Two other nurses appeared with a gurney, helped Beth lift Alex onto it, then disappeared. With Sandra trailing, Beth pushed Alex out of the prep and recovery area down a hallway lined with watercolors of flowers blooming in the desert.
"We're off to see the wizard," Beth sang, "the wonderful wizard of Oz."
Alex wasn't sure, but she thought she probably made that little hop-step Judy Garland did in her red sparkle shoes. Sandra laughed, but Alex only felt like Dorothy drugged in that vast field of poppies while the Wicked Witch pursued her.
She closed her eyes because the ceiling tiles and recessed lights flying by overhead made her dizzy. She tried to concentrate on Geoff's long-lost face, on his strength, but he kept fading. He was lost to her in the long corridors of passing days and the world's daring to go on without him. But that last night in bed together he had been so desperate over their continued failure to have a child.
She could hear his quick, impassioned voice now: Alex, swear to me that even if I -- I don't come back, you'll still try. Try to have our baby, a precious heritage, someone for you to love and care for...a piece of me to go on when I can't....
He moved against her, closer in the cocooned darkness of their blanketed bed that moved and rolled with their lovemaking. Yes, my darling, she had vowed. Yes, I promise you...
"Almost to the Land of Oz," Beth said to bring her back. "Dorothy, this isn't Kansas anymore."
They passed the hall door to the embryo lab and turned into what was called the transfer room. Suddenly, the soaring sounds of Handel's majestic Water Music washed over Alex. Other patients had said Dr. Hale Stanhope always played classical, but his wife, Dr. Jasmine -- whose nickname Alex heard was Jazz -- played Basin Street's best in her lab.
The large room bathed her in dim, greenish light. She floated on her back into a watery cave under the sea. Since eggs and embryos never saw the harsh light of day inside a woman's body, soft indirect lighting, machine displays, and the doctor's high-intensity headlamp would provide the only illumination of the area during this and other in-vitro fertilization procedures.
"Why don't you just stand on her other side, Sandra?" Alex heard Beth say, and Sandra swam around the end of the gurney to get out of the way. "The doctor will be right in," she told Alex, then hid her smile by tying her mask in place.
Beth and the anesthesiologist lifted her onto the table, then bent over her. Soon she was wired to machines. By just turning her head she could watch the rise and fall of her pulse and respiration tracked in amber and green waves on instruments. Yes, it had been wavy like that on their honeymoon when they went scuba diving in the Bahamas in that deep sea cave.
Sandra jumped and looked up at the ceiling as a woman's clipped, disembodied voice filled the room: "Good morning, Alexis. Dr. Jasmine here, waiting for those lovely eggs to mix with your husband's sperm in the embryo lab next door. Then, in just two days, transfer and, hopefully, implantation. Dr. Stanhope will be right in."
Despite their shared last name, only one person at the clinic was referred to as Dr. Stanhope, so his wife went by Dr. Jasmine. The queen of the Evergreen Reproductive Health Clinic reigned only in the lab across the dividing wall from her husband's O.R. The two rooms were linked by a hatch through which harvested eggs from hormone-ripened ovaries, or sperm, or embryos could be passed to be transferred.
Yes, she was ready for this, Alex thought. She had waited too long to try IVF again without Geoff. At least now she had learned to live without him.
Beth gently liftedAlex's draped legs into stirrups and washed her with an icy disinfectant. For the crazy cost of a complete IVF cycle, couldn't they warm that stuff?
Several pricks of slightly stinging pain followed -- a local anesthetic she was expecting, but it jolted her.
Even in her loggy state Alex started when the double doors to the hall opened with a resounding crack. "Good morning, Alexis," Dr. Hale Stanhope's somewhat monotone voice rang out. He was from Boston and, she thought, always sounded like those old news clips of President Kennedy. He said potly for partly and idear instead of idea.
Excerpted from Empty Cradle by Karen Harper Copyright © 2006 by Karen Harper. Excerpted by permission.
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