Read an Excerpt
The Switched Baby Scandal
Scandals in San Sebastian, Book 1
By Theresa Meyers, Karen Grove, Lewis Pollak
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Theresa Meyers
All rights reserved.
"What do you mean she's not mine?" Taylor Lawrence's eyes narrowed and her heart slammed against her ribs as she reread the lab report. Twice.
But the words and numbers didn't change. They didn't even budge. The pungent, antiseptic odor of disinfectant that lingered in the air and the visually sterile white walls of the office only added to her discomfort. She pinned the young lab technician to his seat with an intense gaze. He squirmed like a specimen under the scrutinizing lens of a microscope before readjusting his glasses with the point of his index finger.
Folding his hands together, he audibly swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Well, Ms. Lawrence, the results of the test are conclusive within a 99.98% accuracy." He nudged again at his slipping glasses. "Not only is this child not Mr. Severin's, there is also no chance that she's yours, genetically speaking."
Was he out of his mind? He didn't know what he was saying. Of course Emily was her child. Even if her ex-fiancé, Michael, had turned out to be just a sperm donor in the situation, Taylor knew beyond a doubt that she and Emily were bound together.
The test was wrong. Period.
She squared her shoulders and crushed the paper in her palm, leaning in toward the tech. "Look, I spent eight hours in labor having Emily. I've sung her to sleep every night for the last four years. Of course she's mine!"
He nodded, pressing back into his chair, his eyes widening at her tone. It was obvious that he believed the results weren't lying and that she was on the verge of being a nutcase.
This wasn't like her. She was cool, calm, and collected, not a raging drama queen like some of her clients or an eccentric like her mother. She needed to get a grip. He wasn't going to tell her anything to help her if she came on too strong. Taylor took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of her nose to ward off the pressure building behind her eyes and reined in her exasperation so she could get some answers. The results were a mistake. It was the only explanation. She glared at the lab tech. "Look, there's something wrong with these results. Perhaps the samples were mixed up in your lab with someone else's."
The tech shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "We have procedures in place that keep that from happening." A little irritation leaked into his tone. "All I can give you are the results of the DNA test, Ms. Lawrence. I've really never run across this before. We performed the extra test free of charge only because the markers in the DNA and your daughter's were completely different when we did the sampling."
Taylor crossed her arms, trying to get a hold of the uncertainty now churning inside her like a bad case of the flu. There had to be something she could do about this. She'd saved for six months to be able to afford the testing. The attorney had said it was necessary to pursue the paternity case against Michael after he'd gotten married and refused to help support Emily any longer. Where would this leave her and Emily?
"What about running it again?"
"We did. We also sent your blood samples to another lab for comparison. The results have come back the same each time. I'm sorry, but perhaps the hospital where you had her can make more sense out of this than we can."
Taylor slapped her open palm down on the desk. "But I need to use these test results as evidence in court for a paternity suit."
He shook his head, his hands coming together to form a steeple. "I wouldn't use these results. The tests prove Mr. Severin isn't the father of the child and you aren't her mother. You'd be laughed out of the courtroom for trying to use them and likely raise issues regarding your legitimacy as her guardian."
Taylor could picture the scene in her mind with the judge and attorneys laughing and pointing at her. Worse still, a flash of them taking Emily out of her arms, tears streaming down her little girl's face, shot through her mind. She couldn't let that happen.
"We can run them again if you'd like, free of charge, Ms. Lawrence. But I'm certain the results will be the same. Perhaps the hospital made a mistake."
A mistake? This isn't just a mistake. This is a life-altering catastrophe in the making. She didn't want to believe it, but a small seed of uncertainty sprouted, taking root in her mind. What if it were true? Inside, her chest ached with the sheer weight of all she'd considered most dear to her being ripped away and proven a lie. No. Not all of it. The love she felt for her little girl was real. She knew that.
Still, Taylor fought against the idea that there may be truth to what the lab tech was saying. Mistakes like this didn't happen, especially in the sleepy seaside town of San Sebastian. She would have known if she had the wrong infant. Wouldn't she? Didn't a good parent know their own child? But if what the lab tech said was true, then what kind of mother did that make her? How could this happen? More importantly what was she going to do? She hugged her arms more tightly around herself. Fear, acidic and sour, slicked the back of her throat as the ramifications of the lab technician's words sunk in.
The test said her baby wasn't hers.
What if the state of California decided to agree and took Emily away from her because neither she nor Michael were the biological parents? And if they weren't Emily's biological parents, she had to have some, somewhere. Didn't she? What would they do once they found out? Would they try to take her back? Who was she kidding — of course they would. Her skin cooled as the blood drained from her face.
Her stomach pitched and heaved. She began taking deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. No one was going to take her daughter. No one. And Emily was her daughter. She repeated it to herself until she could slow her breathing and the faint buzzing in her head eased.
She glanced up at the lab tech.
Worry creased his brow. "Are you all right?"
My world is being thrown into chaos by some test-tube error. I'm just peachy. Rage hit the base of Taylor's skull in a pounding, blinding rush. She never would've had to deal with any of this if Michael hadn't thrown her and Emily away the moment he'd learned of the pregnancy, and then refused to even come to the hospital to see her delivered. They'd been engaged, but it all changed the minute she opened her mouth to tell him about the baby. He didn't want children. Ever. Selfish jerk.
Taylor huffed and mentally pulled herself together, stuffing down the hurt and anger so she could focus. She didn't need Michael or any other man in her life. She'd worked hard to become self-sufficient, financially and emotionally. They were managing on her income from her interior design business, but child support would make a big difference.
If the test was accurate, and Emily didn't belong to either of them, what had happened? Did the hospital already know about the mistake? Had they glossed over it and hoped no one would find out? Or, if they didn't know, would they take Emily away if she alerted the hospital? If she didn't say anything, would she ever know what had happened to her biological child? If she were happy? If she were loved? The unsettling swish of not knowing that settled deep in her gut was worse than the risk. Surely they'd see she'd taken good care of Emily. That would have to count for something. She needed answers and had an absolute certainty she sure wasn't going to get them here.
Peering at the technician across the desk, she murmured a thank-you and lurched forward out of the chair, making it screech in protest against the gray linoleum floor.
The key to beating anything was not to be beaten by it. She didn't know what had happened, or who was at fault, but she was determined to find out even if she had to tear the hospital apart one brick at a time to dig out the answers. Her hands squeezed into hard knots at her sides. Nothing was too daunting when it came to protecting Emily ... or the child she had yet to meet.
* * *
Reece Wallace shuffled in the door of the large, empty house and tossed his keys and the mail on the kitchen table. For an instant he thought he heard Alyssa's squeal. He suppressed the urge to dash into the backyard and instead cracked open the French doors and glanced outside.
From the other side of the fence came the whirring chop of a lawnmower. The green, lively scent of freshly cut grass hung heavy in the spring air, but his own yard was empty and the grass overgrown. Again the squeal of childish delight echoed in his ears, but it came from one of the neighborhood children playing nearby.
His shoulders sagged. He would never hear that giggle or feel those sweet, little-girl arms wrap around his neck again. He shut the doors and the emptiness of the house closed in around him.
He stared at the family portrait that hung in the downstairs hall. A happy family, almost alien to him now, smiled back. It all seemed long ago and far away. A dream, but certainly not his reality. Not now.
He briefly touched the glass, tracing over the faces of his wife and daughter. A burning sensation hit him behind the eyes and a tightness built in his chest.
"I miss you," he said, though no one heard him. He looked at his wife's kind brown eyes and turned away, the pain too sharp.
A few minutes later, Reece roughly wiped the back of his hand against his aching eyes and straightened his shoulders. His stomach growled, reminding him once again that he'd skipped too many meals that day.
He walked back into the kitchen, ignoring the cheery sunflowers on the wall and the lace at the window that still bore Becca's touch as if she had been there only a moment before.
The red roses still came weekly from the florist, filling the entryway with their scent, and he carefully arranged them in the crystal vase from their wedding on the entrance hall table, just as Becca always had done. Alyssa's stuffed animals sat untouched on her pink, ruffled bedspread, waiting for her to play. Only the atmosphere had changed. Though clean, the house was merely an empty seashell, beautiful to look at but void of the life it once held.
Sifting through the unopened mail piled on the oak table in the kitchen, an unfamiliar piece caught his eye. Clemens County Hospital. He tore the envelope open at one end with his finger. It was a letter, not a bill.
He slid the crisp, white stationery out and flipped it open. Confusion mixed with anger. His brows pinched tighter, giving him the start of a headache. A mistake. They'd made a mistake and wanted to talk to him about it. He picked up the cordless phone in the kitchen and punched in the number listed in the letter.
"Clemens County Hospital," a nasally female voice answered.
"Patricia Fairmont, please."
"One moment, sir. I'll connect you."
"Public relations, this is Patricia."
Suspicion lifted the small hairs on his skin. His eyes narrowed. "Miss Fairmont, this is Reece Wallace. I just got your letter about some sort of a mistake. I'd like to know what it's referring to."
"Oh, Mr. Wallace, I'm glad you called. We'd like to meet with you and your wife in person, if possible. Would you be able to come in tomorrow around four?"
His shoulders stiffened, and he gritted his teeth. Why would she be asking for Becca, too? She'd been dead a little over a year.
"May I ask why?"
The woman cleared her throat. "Well, I'd prefer to speak to you both in person rather than over the phone."
Deep-settled anguish that instantly caused a sour ache in his stomach made Reece squeeze his eyes shut to block the vivid memories. The blood. The crunched metal. He took a breath to steady himself. If she wanted to see him and Becca, he was damned if he was going to let her off that easy. "Miss Fairmont, let's be frank. I'm not going to be coming in for any meeting until I know why you'd like to see me."
"Mr. Wallace, it's a sensitive subject, and I believe I could give you far better answers in person."
"Is there a reason it can't be said over the phone?"
"No, I —"
"Then I suggest you tell me." He knew his tone was belligerent, but he didn't give a damn.
He heard her suck in a gulp of air. When she did speak, her smooth, feminine voice was ruffled with agitation. "It seems that there's a chance that you and your wife were given the wrong infant to take home several years ago. The other parent has already assisted us. We'd like your help in clarifying the matter so we can settle this investigation as delicately as possible for the children's sakes."
Reece stopped breathing, the sudden intense pressure on his sternum crushing the air from his lungs. His stomach flipped. The long silence between them was punctuated only by the occasional crackle of static on the line.
"Mr. Wallace, are you there?"
Her voice barely registered in his spinning head. "Y ... yes. Did you say four o'clock tomorrow?"
"If that would work for you and your family."
"I'll be there," he mumbled and hung up the phone.
His legs trembled, and he collapsed into a kitchen chair. My God. He scrubbed his shaking hands over his face and plowed his fingers through his hair. Could he really still have a child out there? Somewhere? He shoved away the hope. No matter what the hospital had done, it wouldn't bring Alyssa and Becca back.
He'd arrived at the accident too late. The mangled metal of the car was splattered with blood, the tang of it metallic, mixing with the odors of spilled gasoline and burned rubber. The emergency crew knew they couldn't get Becca out of the car in time and had let him go to her. Her breath was rasping and weak. She'd only asked for one thing — for him to take care of the baby.
Reece couldn't force himself to tell her the devastating truth. He was in shock, and she was too delirious with pain to realize what he saw with his own eyes: their baby had already died in the backseat. So in the end he had lied to her, telling her Alyssa was fine and that he would take care of their daughter. It was all he could do as he watched Becca's life ebb away.
His last words were a promise he could never keep.
A lie that would mark him forever.
Survivor's guilt was a terrible taskmaster that never took a holiday or gave a man a moment's peace. Every minute of every day he kept thinking there should have been something he could have done to save them, even though logically he knew it wasn't possible.
Reece glanced over at the letter still sitting on the table.
As much as the news of the hospital's possible mistake stunned him, the potential for fulfilling his last promise to Becca made some of the stabbing guilt wane. What if he could make a difference now? What if this was his shot at salvation and a new life without the silent burden he carried? Could there be a chance, a slim chance, that this child could change things? That he truly could keep that promise to take care of their child?
What if the child had Becca's chocolate-brown eyes and auburn curls? A turned-up pixie nose? He'd know if she was theirs the minute he saw her. It had to be a girl. Didn't it? The hospital wouldn't have switched infants of different genders. Would they? A spark of hope glimmered. He couldn't help it. For a moment he basked in the warmth that tingled in his limbs.
Becca had been such a good friend, and then she'd gotten pregnant, and they'd brought Alyssa home. That's when real love, brought on by his daughter, took him over for the first time. Together they'd become his universe. All that mattered was captured in two petite packages.
Excerpted from The Switched Baby Scandal by Theresa Meyers, Karen Grove, Lewis Pollak. Copyright © 2013 Theresa Meyers. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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