Read an Excerpt
The Homecoming Baby
By Kathleen O'Brien
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMost of the time, Patrick Torrance liked nothing better than taking crazy risks with the millions of dollars he'd recently, reluctantly inherited from his beast of a father.
Adopted father, to be precise. An important distinction, at least to Patrick, who didn't particularly want to owe either his genes or his portfolio to Julian Torrance. Julian had been one brutal son of a bitch.
Several of Patrick's friends, navel-gazers who had spent way too many afternoons on psychiatrists' couches, had suggested that Patrick's reckless investments were classic displaced resentment. Angry young man trying to free himself from abusive father's memory by losing said father's money.
The number one problem with that theory was that it wasn't working. Patrick just kept getting richer. Movies that should have died quietly in art houses surprisingly lit up multiplexes. Companies drowning in red ink learned to swim. Oil rigs that had been spewing sand suddenly coughed up black gold.
No wonder he liked taking risks.
The one he was about to take right now, though, might just be a little too dangerous, even for him.
He stared down at white auction card he'd been holding for the past five minutes. Smoochy-Poochy it read in elegant script. Then he looked over at Smoochy himself, a patchy mutt who was wagging his tail and panting happily, apparently unaware that he was the single most hideous puppy in the entire history of puppies.
Patrick suppressed a shudder as Smoochy began to gnaw wetly at his own foot. Good God.
"Just fill in the number, sir," the hired Beauty who was holding Smoochy, petting his wiry back with long, manicured fingers, said gently. "And of course your name."
"Yes. I know." Patrick knew, all right. In the two years they'd been dating, Ellyn Grainger had coaxed plenty of these little white cards out of him for one worthy cause or another. Over dinner last night he had promised her that he'd get the bidding started on Smoochy, who might be too homely to attract much attention from anyone else.
Gritting his teeth, Patrick filled in the card and propped it against the frilly blue basket. If he turned out to be the high bidder Ellyn had better have Plan B ready. He couldn't care less about the five thousand dollars, but he'd be damned if he was going to let himself get saddled with a dog.
Especially not one named Smoochy. No half-breed, mangy mutt was going to come home with him and pee all over his Beauvais carpet.
He avoided meeting Smoochy's gaze. Instead he scanned the estate grounds. Where was Ellyn, anyhow? He'd had enough. If he could find her, he'd make his excuses and say goodbye.
He fought his way across the emerald-green lawns, but it was slow going. Ellyn's annual "Beauty and the Beasts" party for the Pet Adoption Society was always one of San Francisco's most successful fund-raisers, and the place was packed.
All around him, gorgeous women in lacy costumes were gliding along, carrying three-legged cats with jeweled collars, walking one-eyed dogs on braided-gold leashes and even dangling gilded cages filled with squawking cockatiels. Every few feet the Beauties stopped him, as they stopped every guest, to introduce him to the animals, relate the sad story of how they came to be abandoned and suggest in throaty tones what marvelous pets they would make.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I've already bid on Smoochy," he said when a blonde with a wriggling tabby cat strolled up. The sardonic edge to his voice was just thin enough that her face registered uncertainty. Apparently everyone knew who Smoochy was.
The guests slowed down his progress even more - the socialites, the businessmen, the social climbers, and, more rarely, the true philanthropists who, like Ellyn, were passionate about this cause. It was quite a gauntlet, and, though he caught sight of Ellyn once or twice, he never could make it to her side.
When he felt the tap on his arm, he assumed it was another Beauty, eager to interest him in some hideous iguana or hapless hamster.
"I'm sorry, I've really got my heart set on Smoochy," he said as he turned around.
But it wasn't a Beauty. A man Patrick had never seen before was smiling at him quizzically, a strange sort of sympathy in his brown eyes.
Patrick knew immediately this man wasn't one of the guests. The guy wore an off-the-rack suit and loafers that had seen better days, which meant he didn't have thousands of dollars to spend playing at rescuing abandoned animals. The expression in his eyes set him apart, too. Instead of inward, self-absorbed and self-congratulatory, his gaze was intelligent, curious and gentle.
"Smoochy?" The man's smile was lopsided.
"That's one of the abandoned pets? A dog, maybe? Sounds cute."
"You think so?" Patrick raised one brow. "Well, you're in luck. If I win him, he's yours."
The man shook his head. "Already got four dogs. And a cat. And a pregnant gerbil." He grinned. "And six kids. I bring one more living thing into the house, my wife says she'll strangle me."
Patrick refrained from observing that it just might be a mercy killing. He put out his hand. "I'm Patrick Torrance. Were you looking for me?"
The other man's handshake was firm. "Yes, sir, I was. Your secretary said you'd be here. I'm Don Frost. Frost Investigations."
Patrick nodded, his attention sharpening. He'd hired Frost Investigations two weeks ago, but all their business had been conducted via email, snail mail and secretaries. He suddenly realized he'd done that deliberately. He hadn't wanted to think of a real live human being prying into his background, unearthing the sordid details of his adoption.
It wasn't that Patrick thought it shameful to be adopted. The embarrassment was more from being seen to care. It was pathetic, somehow, to yearn for a reunion with people who had abandoned you decades ago.
Not that Patrick longed for anything of the sort. If he craved anything, it was merely information. Julian Torrance wasn't his father, thank God, but someone was. And Patrick had a right to know who.
Don Frost was squatting now, scratching the ears of a black-eyed mutt who had come by for an introduction. The dog was licking his wrist, and the investigator appeared to be enjoying the experience.
Excerpted from The Homecoming Baby by Kathleen O'Brien Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.