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By Sharon Sala
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Sharon Sala
All right reserved.
"Isth you my momma?"
Molly didn't know what startled her more, the unexpected question or the touch of a child's hand on her bare thigh.
"What in the world?"
She spun. The food on her barbecue and her solitary picnic were forgotten as she stared down in shock at the small boy who waited patiently for an answer to his question. She was startled by the unexpected pain of his innocent question -- it had been years since she'd let herself think of being anyone's momma. But the child's expression was just short of panicked, and his hand was warm -- so warm -- upon her thigh; she couldn't ignore his plight just because of her old ghosts.
"Hey there, fella, where did you come from?"
Molly bent down, and when he offered no resistance, she lifted him into her arms.
But he had no answers for Molly, only an increase in the tug of his tongue against the thumb he had stuffed in his mouth. She smiled at his intense expression, and patted his chubby bare legs. Except for a pair of small red shorts, an expression was the only thing he was wearing.
His little brown belly was streaked with dirt, as was the rest of his body. Bits of mud and grass were caught between his toes, and hair two shades darker than his eyes stood every which way upon his head. The only thing clean about him was probably that thumb he kept stuck inhis mouth.
"Where did you come from, sweetheart?"
His chin quivered and then he tugged a little faster upon his thumb.
It was obvious to Molly that the child was not going to be any help in locating missing parents. She turned, searching her spacious backyard for something or someone to explain the child's appearance, but nothing was obviously different from the way it had been for the last twenty-two years when her parents first moved in -- except the child.
A car honked down the street, and two houses over, she could hear the sounds of kids playing in a backyard pool. However, from the looks of the dirt on this one, she doubted he'd recently been in any water.
"Isth you my momma?"
This time, his voice held a slight tremor as he slid a small, bare arm across the shoulder of her white halter top to secure himself more firmly within her grasp.
"Amazing! So that's how you do it."
Molly's remark was aimed at his ability to talk and suck his thumb at the same time.
"Are you lost, honey? Can't you find your mommy?"
His only response was a limpid look from chocolate-chip eyes that nearly melted her on the spot.
She frowned, patting his sticky back in a comforting but absent way and started toward the house to call the police when shouts from the yard next door made her pause.
"Joey! Joey, where are you? Answer me, son!"
Even through the eight-foot height of the thick yew hedge separating the homes, Molly could hear the man's panic. She looked down at the child in her arms and sighed with relief. If she wasn't mistaken, the missing parents were about to arrive, and from a surprise location. The house on the adjoining lot had been vacant for over a year, and she'd been unaware that anyone had moved next door.
"Hey! You over there ... are you missing a small boy?"
"Yes ... God, yes, please tell me you found him."
Molly smiled with relief as she realized her unexpected guest was about to be retrieved. "He's here!" she shouted again. "You can come around the hedge and then through the front door of my house. It's unlocked."
The thrashing sounds in the bushes next door ceased. Molly imagined she could hear his labored breathing as the man tried to regain a sense of stability in a world that had gone awry. But she knew it was not her imagination when she heard a long, slow, string of less-than-silent curses fill the air. Relief had obviously replaced the father's panic.
Molly raised her eyebrows at the man's colorful language, but got no response from the child in her arms. He didn't look too perturbed. But he did remove his thumb from his mouth long enough to remark, "My daddy," before stuffing it back in place.
"Well, really!" Molly said, more in shock for herself than for the child, who had obviously heard it all before.
She turned toward the patio door, expecting the arrival of just an ordinary man, and then found herself gaping at the male who bolted out of her door and onto her patio.
It had been a long time since she'd been struck dumb by a physical attraction, but it was there just the same, as blatant and shocking as it could possibly be. All she could think to do was take a deep breath to regain her equilibrium and then wave a welcome. That in itself took no effort, and it was much safer than the thoughts that came tumbling through her mind.
She saw the man pause on the threshold, as if taking a much-needed breath, and then swipe a shaky hand across his face. He was tall, muscular, and, oddly enough, quite wet. His hair lay black and seal-slick against his head like a short, dark cap, while droplets of water beaded across his shoulders.
He was nearly nude and his only attempt at modesty consisted of brief red jogging shorts that matched the ones the child was wearing. His pause was fleeting as he came toward her, his bare feet leaving a trail of wet footprints on the flagstone path as he ran.
Excerpted from Finders Keepers by Sharon Sala Copyright © 2007 by Sharon Sala. Excerpted by permission.
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