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Dr. Owen Tartikoff adjusted his designer sunglasses against the glare of the July sun reflecting off the Mediterranean-style mansion. He had to admit that his half brother's harborside house looked impressive, but that didn't explain Owen's need to take a couple of deep breaths of sea air to calm his nerves.
He was about to meet the most important person in his life. He'd had no idea it would feel this way. Made no sense, really. The person hadn't even been born yet.
He took a moment to survey his surroundings. Beyond the mansion lay the marina that gave the town of Safe Harbor, California, its name. Row after row of yachts and other boats lay at anchor. At noon on a Friday, only a few sailboats dotted the water.
This place must be worth millions. He was glad to see Boone and his wife, Phyllis, doing so well with their investment firm.
Pushing his thoughts aside, Owen strode up the mosaic tile walkway to the carved double doors and pressed the bell. Chimes echoed through what sounded like a cathedral. Then he waited. When no one answered, he rang again.
At last, the slap of sandals inside announced a woman's approach. He braced himself. What did you say in a situation like this, anyway? Congratulations? Thanks? Or did you pretend you didn't notice?
The door opened to show a tumble of golden-blond curls and a surprised expression. His sister-in-lawwho had been a brunette the last time he saw her, a couple of years agoblinked rapidly before finding her voice. "Owen!"
"Boone did tell you I was stopping by to pick up the key, didn't he?" As an afterthought, Owen put in, "Sorry I haven't come by sooner, but this past week's been crazy."
"I understand." She stepped back, ushering him into an elegant foyer. Marble floor, peach-colored walls, Persian carpet, a mirror in a gilded frame.
Owen didn't care about the decor. He cared about the fact that, in a bare-midriff outfit that showed off her slim waistline, Phyllis Storey was obviously not three months pregnant.
With his baby. Or anyone else's. That troubled Owen more than he would have believed.
"Boone told me " He broke off. As one of the country's leading fertility specialists, Owen knew what a painful topic miscarriage was for a woman, and he didn't want to press her on the subject. But his sister-in-law was standing there with her head cocked, awaiting clarification, so he continued. "When I called a couple of months ago, Boone mentioned a due date in January."
Her mouth formed an O. "He didn't tell you we'd arranged for a surrogate?"
Gee, he left that part out. Come to think of it, Boone had bragged about the pregnancy at the start of the call, then dropped the subject once he learned his kid brother was moving out from Boston to head the new fertility program at Safe Harbor Medical Center. Boone must have assumed initially that Owen would never find out that his genetic donation hadn't gone directly to Phyllis.
A surrogate. Owen hoped they'd chosen the woman wisely. But that wasn't really his business, was it?
He felt a not-unfamiliar urge to go shake his sibling, whose deep voice he could hear faintly from a distant room. Growing up, Owen had idolized his eight years older half brother, but gradually he'd realized that Boone had his quirks. For one thing, he never told others more than was absolutely necessary, about anything.
"I wish he'd trust me more," Owen grumbled. "I was happy to help you have a baby, by whatever means necessary." He'd proved that by sending several donations, as needed, via medical courier.
"You've been wonderful." Phyllis gave him a million-watt smile. She'd been an actress and model before marrying his brother, and at age forty, hadn't lost her sparkle. "I'm delighted you're going to be living close by. Family's important."
"Yes, it is." Another thought occurred to him. "This surrogatedid you arrange for her through Safe Harbor?" Although the fertility program wouldn't officially open until September, the hospital had a number of obstetrician-gynecologists already on staff.
She tugged on the silvery bracelets piled along one slender arm. "We're using a clinic in L.A., remember?" That was roughly an hour's drive to the north.
"Oh, of course." That was where he'd sent his specimens. Still, Owen wished they'd decided to switch to a facility closer to home. He'd have liked to watch the pregnancy progress, just to make sure everything went as it should. "Well, congratulations."
His brother's voice grew louder, angrier. He must be on the phone, since no one seemed to be arguing back.
A vague gesture set Phyllis's bracelets jangling. "We have a major financial deal pending. You know how that goes."
Actually, Owen didn't. What money he'd saved after paying off his medical school bills was stashed in a bank, a mutual fund and half ownership in a house. Which brought him to the subject at hand. "About the key."
"The key?" she repeated.
"Boone promised to drop it off at my hotel. Apparently he forgot. My furniture arrives Monday and I'd like to figure out where to arrange things." The renter had recently moved out of the house Owen co-owned with Boone. That was convenient, since Owen had a lot more important things to do than search for a place to live.
"Which, um ?"
"I'll take care of it. Just point me toward my brother."
"This way." Phyllis scurried through one of several doorways opening off the foyer, and Owen followed. They passed an ornate living room full of silk-covered sofas, carved and glass-topped tables, and niches set with Greek-style sculptures.
"Nice place," he said.
"We like it." Again, that high-wattage smile. "Here you go."
Through an arched opening, they entered a large room with a spectacular view of the harbor. Judging by the array of printers, computers, file cabinets and fax machines, this was not only a home office but also the center of their business. On the wall hung an artist's rendering of what appeared to be a resort development.
From behind a vast desk, Boone glanced their way. At the sight of them, his brooding expression yielded instantly to a broad smile. Clearly he'd finished his phone call, because he sprang to his feet and came around the desk with hand outstretched. "Owen! Great to see you." Firm shake, and a clap on the back.
Although they were both close to six feet tall, no one would take them for brothers, Owen mused as he returned the greeting. At forty-five, Boone had deeply tanned skin and nearly black hair with a sprinkling of silver like his father, whom Owen had met a few times long ago. By contrast, Owen's russet hair, untouched by gray at thirty-seven, reflected their mother's Irish heritage, while his light complexion hinted at his father's Russian background. "Sorry to interrupt. You did get my text about picking up the key, right?"
"No problem." From a drawer, Boone fished a house key. "Right here."
"But that's " Phyllis hesitated.
"What?" Her husband shot her a puzzled look.
"You know I "
The phone rang. "Got to take this," Boone said without checking the display. "Glad you're here, Owen. I'm proud of my famous kid bro."
"Not as famous as I plan to be," Owen shot back.
A grin, a half wave, and Boone was lost in his phone conversation.
Frowning, Phyllis retreated into the hall. "Have you had lunch? I could scare up a sandwich out of the fridge."
"No, thanks. I'll grab something at the hospital." He needed to get back. Even a half-hour break was longer than he usually allowed himself. Although he'd been coordinating the fertility program long-distance from Boston, the most intense preparations for the official opening remained, and he'd spent a good part of the morning in the O.R. On arrival, he'd found a waiting list of eager patients and, while scheduling operations in addition to his administrative duties made for fourteen-hour days, performing surgery energized Owen.
"I should." Phyllis cleared her throat. "Have you met my little sister?"
He hadn't known she had one. "Afraid not." Usually, families got together at weddings, but when Phyllis and Boone eloped to Las Vegas, Owen had learned about it by phone.
"As a matter of fact, Bailey's a nurse at the hospital," she said. "She's twelve years younger than me, so I was kind of her second mother."
Owen didn't pay much attention to nurses unless they assisted him directly. "Which doctor does she work with?"
"Nora Kendall. Oh, wait, she got married. It's Nora Franco now."
Ah, Nora Francoone of the thorns in Owen's side. The ob-gyn made no secret of the fact that she disagreed with Owen's policy of moving full speed ahead with fertility patients. Instead of steering them into assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization as quickly as possible, Nora preferred to try old-fashioned approaches, one at a time, month after month.
Not only did that lower the hospital's conception rate, but it discouraged patients. Recently, two of Nora's patients had stopped their treatments to adopt babies. Owen preferred to help couples give birth to their own genetic offspring if that was what they wanted, and he expected cooperation from all the Safe Harbor ob-gyns, including those like Nora, for whom fertility issues composed only a part of their caseload. "I know Dr. Franco. We have a few things to work out."
"Well, Bailey's crazy about her," Phyllis said.
"As she should be." Doctors counted on their nurses' loyalty. "Listen, I'd love to stay and chat, but I'm interrupting your work, and I've got a long afternoon and evening ahead. Let's schedule some time together, the three of us."
"Oh. Sure. But"
"I'll give you a call." Owen didn't want to snap at his sister-in-law, but her fluttery manner was beginning to irritate him.
As he went out to his car, he had to admit he was also annoyed that they'd hired a surrogate without bothering to tell him. Not that he'd have objected, but depending on the nature of Phyllis's medical problem, perhaps she could have been helped to conceive on her own.
Until today, Owen had scarcely given a second thought to the fact that he was going to be a father. So why did he find himself wishing he'd asked Phyllis whether they'd used her own eggs or the surrogate's?
Either way, a stranger was having his baby. Well, so what? Inseminations with donated sperm were old tech, and the use of surrogates dated back to the Bible.
At the new laboratories being set up at Safe Harbor, all sorts of conceptions would be possible. He'd donated genetic material, that's all. Men did it every day, Owen told himself as he started the engine. What was done, was done.
Putting the car in gear, he headed back to work.
You could never tell about Friday afternoons, Bailey reflected as she plopped into a chair at the nurses' station, adjusted the expandable maternity waistband on her pink uniform and slid the shoes off her swollen feet. All too often, patients ignored their symptoms until they realized the weekend was at hand, and then showed up en masse without appointments.
Other days, like this one, patients cancelled appointments and nobody else stopped in. She supposed you could blame Southern Californians' love of going on vacation. You'd think people who lived amid palm trees and ocean breezes would stay put, but they didn't.
At four-thirty, Nora had instructed everyone to go home early. "Especially you," she'd told Bailey.
"I just need to clean up a few details," Bailey had protested. And here she was, half an hour later, with the office in apple-pie order. She hated to see her doctor arrive on Monday morning and find that the cleaning crew had missed some old coffee cups or that they'd run out of exam gloves in the right size.
Also, she wanted to take her blood pressure and check her baby's heart rate with the Doppler stethoscope. And she could only do that when no one was around.
She'd be horribly embarrassed to admit to Nora that she'd lied about having had her three-month checkup in L.A. last Saturday. The truth was, Phyllis and Boone hadn't paid the doctor due to a cash-flow problem and, while Bailey had fronted the money the first two months, her bank account was running low. These days, each paycheck was spent almost before she cashed it.
If only they hadn't insisted on using the L.A. clinic, which didn't accept Bailey's insurance. But Phyllis had felt they'd be risking their privacy by arranging the surrogacy at Safe Harbor. Bailey supposed that was a reasonable point, and she wanted Phyllis to be happy.
That's why she'd been willing to bear a child for her older sister, who'd essentially raised her while their irresponsible mom flitted from one man to another. It was a privilege to carry Phyllis and Boone's baby. And it was their baby, in every meaningful sense. Since Bailey figured she shared at least half her genes with her sister, that meant this little guy or girl was three-quarters the same as if they'd been able to have a baby on their own.
Still, Bailey couldn't help worrying. She was big for three months; most people assumed she was about five months along, like Nora, who was due in November. Bailey assured everyone she was fine, quoting her doctor in L.A. The one she hadn't seen for a month.
What if there's more than one baby?
That would be a blessing for Phyllis and Boone. But it meant Bailey's prenatal care and delivery would become even more complicated, and who was going to pay for that?
Well, she'd better get moving while she had the office to herself. If she stuck around too long, one of the nurses from an adjacent office might notice her late departure and wonder what she was up to. Gossip ran rampant at Safe Harbor, and Bailey was already too much of a target, thanks to her surrogacy.
As she eased onto her feet, leaving off the shoes that pinched like crazy, she heard the waiting room door open. Patients often got confused in the large medical office building and mistook it for the hospital next door. Dredging up a pleasant expression, she padded out. "Can I help you?"
An impatient glare swept over her, and then the lean, tightly wound man in the white coat returned his attention to some papers on his clipboard. After all the publicity about the new head of the fertility program, every employee at Safe Harbor instantly recognized Dr. Owen Tartikoff, and dreaded his infamously acid tongue.