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Playing By The Baby Rules
By Michelle Celmer
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I'm telling you, Risa, all you need is a turkey baster."
Marisa Donato looked up from the new shipment of jasmine-scented aromatherapy candles she'd been shelving and shot Lucy Lopez, her moderately demented sales associate, a look of disgust. "Impregnate myself with a turkey baster? Tell me you're joking."
"I just figured, if you're so opposed to the idea of sex, why not?"
Marisa cringed as a pair of young women browsing near the push-up bras exchanged curious glances. Open talk of sex was probably common when the shop specialized in adult toys and pornographic videos. Since Marisa had transformed the store into Intimate Secrets, an upscale lingerie boutique, blatantly sexual merchandise was a thing of the past. Lucy's blatantly sexual language, however, was a habit Marisa hadn't yet broken.
Marisa lowered her voice. "I am not opposed to sex. Just that kind of sex. And even if I were to consider impregnating myself with a kitchen gadget, which I wouldn't in a million years, where am I going to get the, uh ... genetic material?"
Oblivious to the customers, Lucy shrugged and said loudly, "I don't know. A sperm bank?"
She was rewarded with a round of giggles from the back of the store.
Marisa dropped her voice to a whisper. "I don't think you can just walk in and say, "Hi, I'd like to make a withdrawal." Besides, the whole idea is too weird."
"Okay, so the turkey baster is out." Lucy chose a candle from the stock behind the counter and dug a lighter out of her jeans pocket. She lit it, and the spicy sweet scent of cinnamon drifted up in a curl of smoke.
"Why don't you just stick with your original plan and have it done artificially?"
"The doctor said the chances of the artificial insemination working are only ten to fifteen percent per cycle, and he's supposed to be one of the best fertility specialists in Michigan. With success rates like that, it could cost me a small fortune. He recommended doing it naturally."
"So you either find a small fortune or do it the oldfashioned way?"
"Exactly. And because of the endometriosis, it could take months to conceive."
Lucy leaned back, resting her elbows on the counter. "What you need is a man who would agree to unadulterated, no-strings-attached sex."
"More or less." The thought made her stomach pitch. Ironically, her mother would have jumped at the offer. Make it a different man every night and she would have been in her glory.
"My God, Risa, what man wouldn't agree to that? There has to be a couple hundred in Royal Oak alone who would jump at the chance."
That's what she was afraid of. The idea of meaningless sex with some stranger just seemed so ... sleazy. Unfortunately she was running out of options - and time.
What had begun as severe monthly cramping in her early teens was now relentless, stabbing pain. An annual checkup with her gynecologist revealed what she had already suspected. Radical surgery was inevitable. If she was going to have a baby, she was going to have to do it soon.
Artificial means had appeared to be the answer, until she'd learned the exorbitant fees and dismal success rates. Foreign and private adoptions were also far too pricey and domestic adoption for a middle-class, single working woman was practically unheard-of.
There was always the conventional "get married and have a family" routine. Collectively, her parents' eight divorces had taught her one important lesson - marital bliss didn't run in the family. By the time she left for college she'd lost track of how many "uncles" had come to stay with her and her mother. Uncles who, after Marisa had begun to develop physically, leered at her in a way that made her skin crawl. She hadn't dared sleep at night without a chair hooked under her doorknob. Just in case.
She would have given up on the prospect of children altogether, but lately, every time she passed a mother walking her baby in a stroller or pushing her toddler on the swings in the park, that twinge of envy she usually felt had turned into a dull, hollow ache. She longed to feel the unconditional love only a child could give, to share all of the love she'd stored up in her heart.
But sex with a stranger? Could she stoop so low when she'd deliberately spent her entire adult life avoiding that type of shallow existence?
"I don't know if I could do that," she told Lucy.
"And if I did, it would have to be someone I would want to have sex with, and even more importantly, would want to procreate with."
"There has to be someone." Lucy blew a spiral of springy red hair out of her eyes. "Give me an idea of what you would be looking for."
Gathering her long gauzy skirt, Marisa settled on the stool behind the register and propped her elbows on the glass-top display case. "Well, first and foremost, he would have to be healthy - no weird genetic diseases running in his family."
"That's reasonable. You just ask for a family history. What else?"
"He would have to be attractive. Not necessarily gorgeous, although that would be a definite plus, but reasonably good-looking. And he would have to be nice. I couldn't have meaningless sex with someone I didn't like."
"That doesn't sound so hard." She counted off on her fingers. "Cute, nice and healthy - who do we know that fits that description?"
The bells above the front door chimed and Marisa opened her mouth to greet the customer entering the store, then realized it wasn't a customer. It was her best friend, Jake. He was slightly disheveled from the midJuly heat, wearing a rumpled Hawaiian-print shirt, cargo shorts and sandals.
When he saw them standing there, he broke into a wide grin. "Hey guys, what's up?"
Marisa looked at Lucy, and Lucy looked at her, then they both turned and looked at Jake again.
"Risa?" Lucy said, her unspoken question more than clear.
Her and Jake? Yeah, right. The idea was nearly as preposterous as the turkey baster. They had been best buddies since the fifth grade. Sure, she'd had a hopeless crush on him at first. Every girl in school had a crush on big, bad Jake Carmichael at one time or another. It was a teenage rite of passage.
But she wasn't a kid anymore. She would never risk damaging their friendship. It was far too important to her.
Excerpted from Playing By The Baby Rules by Michelle Celmer Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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