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"I don't have the time to explain it to you, mister. Eve Warwick—that's who I need. And come hell or high water, I'm going to see her and I'm going to see her now."
After a full ten minutes of going round and round with the Warwick butler, who was blocking the doorway of the sprawling Warwick family mansion, Hunter Coltrane had reached the limits of his patience. He had the man by the shirtfront, his face no more than an inch from the butler's nose.
Hunter could see that the much smaller man's features were tightened into a mask of abject fear. But at that moment the butler's fear was nothing compared to the fear Hunter felt, and he was too desperate to care that he was scaring the man. If scaring him was what it took, he'd terrify the guy.
"She's about to leave for an appointment and she'll fire me if I let you or anyone else delay her," the butler informed him in a strained whisper.
"Then how about if you don't let me delay her? How about if you just tell me where in this damn mausoleum she is and I go find her for myself?"
"What do you think you're doing?" a grating female voice demanded from inside the house just then.
Without breaking eye contact with the butler, Hunter recognized the speaker. That voice belonged to Eve Warwick. He ungently moved the other man out of his way, stepped across the threshold and went into the foyer of the imposing residence that he and his late wife had visited on only one occasion a little over four years ago.
Eve Warwick was standing at the top of a grand staircase that curved in a full half-circle sweep to the second level of the three-story structure. She looked as outraged as she sounded, but Hunter would suffer that outrage and anything else she wanted to dish out to get what he'd come for.
He consciously tried to calm the unusual flare of temper that frustration had raised and forced himself to speak civilly.
"I don't know if you remember me or not. I'm Hunter Coltrane," he said. "My wife and I adopted your baby—"
"I know who you are and you have no business here," Eve Warwick decreed imperiously.
"It isn't 'business' I'm here for. I'm here for Johnny. He's—"
"I don't care what you're here for. You just need to leave. Now," she ordered.
Hunter ignored it. "Johnny—that's what we named him—needs your blood," he informed her.
But not even blurting that out had an impact on the perfectly coiffed woman in the haute couture pink suit. Her only response was to transfer her gaze to the butler and say, "Pixley, call security."
"Just hear me out," Hunter implored. "Johnny is in the Portland General Hospital emergency room and he needs blood. Your blood. You know he has AB negative—your rare type. There was a bus accident yesterday and a whole family with that blood was hurt. They depleted all the blood bank had stored. But Johnny needs a transfusion in a hurry, so you have to come with me to the hospital. Right now!"
Hunter realized that his voice rang with his own worry for his son, but he didn't care.
"I did the open adoption through the Children's Connection to be sure the child went to the right people," Eve said. "Not so that I could be bothered by those people at any time afterward. If you'll recall, you signed an agreement to that effect. I'm sorry your son is ill, but it has nothing to do with me. So please leave."
She didn't sound sorry. She sounded cold, aloof and absolutely unconcerned.
"Did you not understand?" Hunter said, his voice raising an octave all on its own. "I'm not here to bother you and under any other circumstances I would have abided by that agreement and we wouldn't have ever seen each other again. But my son is in danger if he doesn't get the blood he needs. Immediately!"
Eve Warwick again turned a hard, demanding eye to the butler who was still standing where Hunter had left him. "Pixley?" she said snidely, "You can't call security as you were told to do if you're standing there eavesdropping."
"Yes, ma'am," the butler answered, pivoting on his heels and hurrying out of the foyer.
"Look," Hunter said, trying to reason with the woman. "I'm no happier to be here than you are to have me here. I guarantee that it was as much my goal as yours for us never to have contact again. But my son is in trouble and he needs your help. All you have to do is come with me to the hospital and give blood."
"I don't like needles," she said, raising her nose in the air. "And I have an appointment with my manicurist that I cannot miss. I'm sure you or the hospital will find someone else who can help. Portland, Oregon, is not the end of the earth, after all. There's bound to be someone else with AB negative blood."
"There isn't time to find someone else!" Hunter shouted, his frustration once again rearing its ugly head.
"There will have to be, because I'm not doing it, and that's all there is to it."
"That is not all there is to it," Hunter shouted so loudly his voice echoed in the marble-lined space and made the crystal chandelier overhead tinkle like a wind chime. "Whether you gave Johnny up or not, we're talking about your own flesh and blood! That has to mean something to you!"
"It means you're making me late for my appointment. That's the only thing it means to me. The child is yours. He's not my concern."
Hunter and his late wife had not thought highly of Eve Warwick when they'd met her for the interview after applying to adopt the infant she was to deliver three months later. She'd given the impression that the baby was just some sort of debris to be disposed of somehow. But he still couldn't believe what he was faced with at that moment. No matter how much money she and her entire family had, no matter how much social standing, no matter how glamorous the life she led, how could she possibly be denying blood to any child, let alone the child she'd given birth to?
"Please, just come with me to the hospital," Hunter said, thinking that if she wanted him to beg, he'd do it. He'd do anything for his son.
But it didn't matter. Still sounding like a spoiled child vetoing her nanny's suggestion of a bath, she said, "No."
" No is not an option," Hunter countered, heading for that oversized staircase, thinking that if he had to throw the woman over his shoulder and physically take her to the hospital, he'd do it, regardless of the consequences he might have to face later.
But he hadn't even made it to the first step when two security guards rushed him. He got in a punch, but before he could do more than that, one of the guards yanked his arms behind his back to subdue him.
"Eve? What's going on?"
The female voice came from behind Hunter, at the front door, which had been left open after his unceremonious entrance.
He didn't recognize this voice, though. It was much more lilting and pleasant-sounding, in spite of the alarm it held.
"It's nothing, Terese," Eve Warwick said, as if the life crisis Hunter had just laid at her feet really wasn't worth the annoyance it was causing. "Nothing is going on."
"Something is going on," the other woman insisted as the butler returned to the foyer, and the security guard Hunter had hit shared the burden of restraining him.
The other woman came around Hunter then and he got a glimpse of her that confused him.
Unlike Eve Warwick, she wasn't wearing designer clothes. Instead she was dressed in a pair of jeans and a plain blouse with the sleeves of a sweater tied around her shoulders. Her burnished red hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail, and if she wore any makeup, it wasn't noticeable—all of which led Hunter to wonder if she was an employee, despite the fact that even the butler was more dressed up in his three-piece suit.
Yet the woman didn't show any signs of subservience as she stood in the center of the foyer surveying the situation and using a tone with Eve Warwick that was anything but obsequious or servile.
Her presence did prompt Eve to finally come down the stairs, however. As she did, she began to explain her version of what was going on. "This… person shoved Pixley out of the way and barged in. And I'm having him removed."
"How can you do this?" Hunter demanded through teeth clenched with rage.
"I can do anything I please," the haughty woman answered, barely sparing him a glance as if even that was beneath her.
The other woman paid him more attention, looking him straight in the eye when she said, "How can she do what?"
But before Hunter could answer her, the butler seemed to take some delight in doing that himself. "This man wants Miss Eve to go with him to the hospital to give blood for his son."
"The son she gave birth to," Hunter added pointedly, glaring at the heiress, who merely rolled her eyes in annoyance at that announcement.
But the jeans-clad woman didn't take that news in stride. "Eve's baby?" she said, as if everything had suddenly changed.
"He isn't a baby anymore. He's four and he's in trouble and he needs her blood," Hunter said, recapping once again for the benefit of the newcomer.
The fresh-faced woman stared at Eve. "Eve! You refused?"
"Oh, please, Terese, spare me. The man is overwrought and—"
"Overwrought?" Hunter said sarcastically. "You bet I'm overwrought. My kid is lying in the emergency room and I'm here jumping through hoops for something that a phone call should have accomplished—if you had taken one of the six I made to you before I came over here!"
The woman Eve had referred to as Terese turned back to Hunter. Or, more precisely, to the security guards who held him captive.
"Let this man go," she ordered them.
"He was coming after me," Eve said petulantly.
"Well, he won't come after you now because I'm going to take care of this," the woman named Terese said. Then, to the security guards who were still holding Hunter, she said more firmly, "I mean it. Let him go."
Hunter was released after the second command, though the guards stayed within arm's reach.
"I'm Terese Warwick, Eve's twin sister," the woman introduced herself.
For a moment Hunter stared at her in surprise.
There was a resemblance between the women, but not enough that he would have guessed they were twins.
"I know we don't look alike. We're fraternal twins," Terese Warwick said as if she knew what he was thinking.
"I'm Hunter Coltrane," he said, recovering from his shock. "My wife and I adopted your sister's baby."
"And he's in need of blood?"
"It's a freak thing. He took a little fall, nothing out of the ordinary. He was standing on a stool and it tipped over. But he hit his nose when he fell and it started to bleed. I did everything I could think of to stop it but when I couldn't, I took him to the emergency room. The doctors there couldn't get the bleeding to stop either. Now they're talking about hemophilia. But in the meantime, he's lost a lot of blood and he needs a transfusion, and your sister is the quickest hope for that."
"But you know how I am about needles, Terese," Eve said defensively, as if that were more an issue than a child's health.
"Sometimes, Eve, you amaze me," Terese said.
"Oh, I know, you're so much better, aren't you?" Eve countered contemptuously. "Why don't you just go do it then, Terese? If I looked like you do maybe I'd be a do-gooder, too. It is all you have going for you."
Terese didn't respond to that cutting comment. She returned her focus to Hunter as if it had never been said.
"It's okay," she told him. "I have the same blood type. I'll go with you to the hospital and do whatever you need."
"Come in," Terese called in answer to the knock on the hospital room door at nine o'clock that night.
After having given two pints of blood and staying long enough for the doctors to make certain that her blood sugar level was back to normal and that she was able to stand without getting dizzy, she'd finally received the go-ahead to be released. So she was sitting in a chair, expecting her visitor to be a nurse with forms for her to sign.
But it wasn't a nurse whose head poked through the door. It was Hunter Coltrane.
"Are you decent?" he asked in the deepest, richest male voice she thought she'd ever heard.
"I never had to do anything but roll up my sleeve," she informed him with a laugh. A laugh that was almost giddy for no reason at all except that she'd spent the entire time since she'd met the man thinking about him. Wondering about him.
"Come in," she repeated, trying not to sound as eager as she felt. She told herself she wasn't necessarily eager to see Hunter Coltrane in particular, just that after so many hours in that room she was eager to see anyone.
Hunter accepted a second invitation, stepping inside and letting the door close behind him.