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May 24 1:00—Lunch 2:00—Interview (It's the retired cop. Credentials in folder.) 2:20—Meeting with Rodney Pace. (Presentation schedule included in red folder on desk.) 6:30—Dinner with partners from Mr. Calhoun's firm. Hanrahan's.
Note: Proof Sheriff Lindsay's book. Sign checks and contracts before leaving. (In blue folder.) Further note: Don't forget to eat.
SARA CALHOUN SMILED as she read the final line Donna had jotted on the daily agenda, which sat atop a newly readied pile of folders on her desk at the National Organization for Internet Safety and Education early Thursday morning. The red-eye she'd taken from a PTA conference in Anaheim had just landed at Port Columbus International Airport half an hour before. She couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten.
If she'd gone straight home to shower without stopping at the office first to review the day's materials, she could have had breakfast with Brent.
Glancing at the plain gold watch on her wrist—a college graduation present from her parents—Sara sat, pulled the pile of folders onto her lap and started to read.
THE DOORBELL RANG just as she was finishing her makeup. Stroking a couple of coats of mascara onto her lashes, Sara quickly dropped the tube in the sectioned container on her dressing table and raced to the stairs. Maybe it was just a salesperson, but she couldn't stand to not answer.
She never let the phone ring, either.
It was five to nine. She'd spent so long at the office already that she was now late for work. But the sun was shining, May flowers were in bloom and an entire lovely summer stretched ahead.
Saraslowed at the bottom of the stairs, taking a deep breath to compose herself as she smoothed a hand down her slim brown skirt and brushed the pockets of her jacket. Dignity and class were her mantras. Always.
Brent expected this from her. "Can I help—" The ready smile froze on her lips. A cop was standing on her doorstep.
Something had happened to her dad. Or Brent.
The young man's mouth moved, but at this moment Sara couldn't concentrate sufficiently to make out his words. "What?" she asked, willing herself to hear what he was saying. "What happened?"
"Are you Mrs. Sara Calhoun?"
"Yes." She wished she weren't. Law enforcement officials never came to deliver good news. She ought to know. She'd grown up with one.
"You are." The young man's gaze deepened, studying her. "Yes," she managed to say, bracing herself.
And nothing happened. Officer Mercedes, according to the thin nameplate above his left pocket, just stood there, apparently at a loss for words.
"Can I help you?" she finally prompted, mystified. She was the one getting the bad news—wasn't she?
"I…uh…I've been planning this moment for a long time and I thought I was completely prepared. But now I have no idea what to say."
Planning this moment? One didn't usually plan to deliver bad news.
He looked so lost, so young, Sara's heart caught. "You're sure it's me you want to see? I'm Sara Calhoun, formerly Sara Lindsay. I'm married to Brent Calhoun. He's an attorney…."
Relief made her talkative. "Antitrust. Yes, I know," the tall, well-built officer said with a rueful grin. And a nervous twitch at the left corner of his mouth.
He ran his hand through his short sandy-colored hair, his raised arm drawing her attention to the belt at his waist—and all the defensive paraphernalia strapped there. That gun looked heavy.
"And, yes, you're the one I'm looking for." The kid was young, his green eyes switching back and forth between innocent and knowing as he stood there, shifting his weight. He couldn't be much more than twenty-one, which made her thirty-seven seem ancient.
"What'd I do? Forget to signal a turn? I have a habit of doing that, though I'm working on it," she said, brushing a strand of hair back over her shoulder. This had to be his first house call.
He frowned and then, glancing down, his face cleared. "Oh, the uniform," he said. "I'm not here on official business. I work the night shift in Westerville—just got off duty and finished my paperwork."
Westerville, a north Columbus suburb a bit west of the New Albany home she and Brent had purchased six years before. There was a park within walking distance of every home in their area. Barely thirty when they bought it, she'd still believed that her workaholic husband was going to agree to have the children they'd always said they were going to have.
"Speaking of work, I'm late," Sara said now, suddenly anxious to be on her way.
"I can come back another time."
"No." She shook her head. What could a young cop possibly have to do with her that would justify a second trip out? Or any trip? "I'm listening."
"And I'm finding that there's just no way to say this except outright."
She waited. "I'm your son."
The young man stood still, as if frozen in stone, while his words replayed themselves in her mind.
He'd just said he was her son.
He couldn't be.
Twenty-one years of fighting for dignity and grace served her well enough to keep her standing. Sara clutched the door with both hands, leaned against it, her gaze never wavering from the young man standing just outside it.
He shifted, his hands folded together as if in military or pallbearer stance. Had he ever been in the military, this boy who was standing there claiming to be the child she'd given away so long ago? The child she'd worried for, grieved over and daydreamed about ever since.
Had he, too, suffered the pain of losing one he loved? "Should I go?" "No!" "You're shocked. How could you not be?" His voice was deep, not at all that of the little boy she'd imagined so often that he seemed completely real to her.
This voice was filled with strength. Compassion. And a tremble of fear.
Or was she only losing her mind? After all these years, all the determination and trying, the counseling, all the self-flagellation, was the past finally going to undo her, anyway?
"I'm… I'm sorry," she finally managed, straightening. "I just…"
"I know," he interrupted, his hands still folded together. "I tried to come up with some easier way to do this, but I guess there isn't one."
No. Not easy. Nothing about Sara's life had been easy since the morning after this boy—if he was her son—had been conceived. Nothing had been quite real. She'd lost things then that she'd been too young to even know she'd prized.
"I… What did you say your name was?"
"I didn't. It's Ryan—Ryan Mercedes."
Ah. Yes. Officer Mercedes. Seemed like years ago that she'd read that name tag.
He was staring at her openly now. Counting the lines on her face? Finding her wanting? Wondering what kind of woman she was who would give away her newborn son?
Years of training drove her to respond. She held out her hand. "Nice to meet you, Ryan."
Was she insane? Nice to meet you? With a handshake? He glanced at her hand, looked up to her face. She thought he was going to refuse her offering. And then he reached out, took her hand and held on.
Sara started to cry.
AFTER A QUICK GLANCE behind him, Ryan reached with his free hand to wipe the tears from his mother's face—and his own. He'd imagined this moment, of course. Many times.
He'd just never thought she'd be such a beautiful woman. Or that she'd look so young. He'd known she was thirty-seven, but he'd pictured someone more like his mom. Harriet Mercedes. Fifty-one. Graying. Twenty pounds heavier than she'd been when he was little.
Brent Calhoun was a first-class fool.
Shoulders tensing as a car passed behind him, Ryan said, "May I come in?"
He didn't want her neighbors talking, asking her awkward questions. Didn't want to make life harder for her than he already knew it was going to be.
"Um, of course."
She turned and backed up, breaking eye contact with him. He was shocked at the loss he immediately felt. Of course, he'd expected to have some feelings for this woman—she'd given him life—but he'd imagined his reaction would be protective, rather than deeply emotional.
He had a mother and father whom he adored. They'd raised him, provided for him, loved him. They'd given him all the support and encouragement any kid could ever hope for.
He didn't need Sara Calhoun.At least not emotionally. She led him through a formal living room with carpet so plush that the sides of his black regulation shoes sank into oblivion—the maroon-trimmed cream silk furniture was obviously not used much—past a shining, stainless-and-granite kitchen to a large, more comfortable room at the back of the sprawling custom home.
Though they weren't millionaires, the Calhouns" yearly income more than doubled that of Ryan's parents. He'd never been inside such a nice house.
Or expected her to have such long, dark hair. Was the color natural?
"Have a seat." His birth mother was standing in front of a sliding-glass door that revealed an acre or more of freshly manicured green grass out back.
Ryan chose one end of the couch, not wanting to risk choosing Brent Calhoun's chair out of the three in the room. Assuming the man had a special chair. There was only one chair in the family room at his folks" house—his dad's recliner. His mom used the couch, as did the two Labs. That left him the floor or the love seat when he visited. He used both, depending on his mood.
His perusal of the room complete, he turned back to the woman who'd seated herself at the other end of the couch—and was leaning heavily on the arm. He almost wondered if she was afraid of him.
Kids were, sometimes. When he was in uniform. He didn't like it then and he didn't like it now.
He didn't want Sara Calhoun to fear him. He wanted her to like him, to approve of him.
And that's when he knew he'd been kidding himself. Pathetic as it was, what he needed was for her to love him.