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DUNCAN shifted his Mercedes into Park and switched off the ignition, but he made no move to get out. He stared at the ranch with its charming red brick facade and canvas-awning-covered windows. The place wasn't big. In fact, at twenty-five hundred square feet, it was the smallest one-story in their tasteful, older Grosse Pointe neighborhood. But he'd always liked the inviting look of it. Unlike his parents' mammoth Lakeshore Drive estate, this place had seemed like a home.
Not any longer, of course. No. Now it was just a house.
What am I doing here?
For the millionth time he wondered why he hadn't refused to come back, why he hadn't just said no when Reese had asked for his help. The answer he kept coming up with was not one he liked.
He still loved her.
Even though she had broken his heart with her accusations and had pushed him away with her single-minded obsession over the past several years, he still loved her. And so he was back, not as her husband but as her means to an end.
The adoption agency had called. A birth mother had picked the Newcastles as parents for her baby. Reese, of course, was elated, ecstatic even, and, not surprisingly, desper-ate. Neither the folks at Loving Hands Adoption nor the young mother knew that the Newcastles were living apart, their marriage in such shambles that they were heading for divorce. Reese had never notified their caseworker and Duncan certainly hadn't thought to call Jenny Lawford after he'd moved out on that bleak January night.
Hell, he hadn't told anyone that he and Reese were having problems, let alone con-sidering calling it quits. He hadn't said a word to his parents or his friends. Even his secretary didn't know hewas sleeping at a hotel, taking his meals at restaurants or ordering them through room service. Why broadcast failure? It wasn't, Duncan told himself, that he'd been holding out hope for reconciliation.
Of course, if he had been, Reese's pro-posal of the day before would have pretty much snuffed out that possibility. She'd dropped by his office unexpectedly in the late afternoon, and, he could admit, he'd been happy to see her, right up until the point she'd revealed the actual reason for her visit. She'd told him about the agency's call and then she'd asked him to move home.
She needed him to pretend that every-thing was fine for the six months or so it would take until the adoption petition was finalized in family court. After that, they would go before a judge againthis time for their divorce. In return for his help in securing the adoption she'd promised to cut him loose quickly and cleanly.
As Duncan sat in his car he rubbed a hand over his eyes, remembering how Reese had offered that up like some kind of damned grand prize.
"I'll make the divorce easy for you after-ward," she'd said. "I won't ask for anything but what I came into our marriage with. It goes without saying that I won't expect you to pay child support or have a relationship with the child in any way. I know how you feel about adoption."
Now she knew? Before, every time he'd tried to broach the subject, she'd cut him off or dismissed his concerns. He'd stared at her, wondering how it was possible for two people to talk to one another and yet fail to communicate. Not surprisingly, she'd taken his silence to mean something else entirely.
"You can even have the house."
"I don't want the damned house," he'd told her. Had she really believed it would sweeten the deal to throw in the deed to the place where he'd once known such joy?
"Then what do you want? Name it and I'll give it to you." God, she'd been so eager in her desperation that it had made his heart ache all the more. "This might be my last chance, Duncan. I'm begging you."
It hadn't escaped his notice that she didn't use the more inclusive "our" in referring to chances. And, in fairness, why would she? Adoption was her answer to their reproduc-tive problems. He'd never accepted it as their solution. He'd never given up on the idea of a biological child. He still wasn't sure he could feel for a baby what he should feel if the child wasn't of his blood.
"You could apply as a single mother," he'd reminded her, his gut clenching over the words. "There was an unmarried woman in the education classes we had to attend. Or you could hire an attorney and go the private route."
"I know. I know."
She'd looked so weary then and he'd understood why. Private adoption held its own set of perils, which was why they had ruled it out from the onset. Birth mothers could change their minds after expenses had been paid and after infants had been placed, and adoptive families had no recourse.
As for their agency, because it was so small it only allowed singles to adopt special-needs children or those who have been removed from their biological parents' homes for abuse or neglect.
"I want this baby, Duncan," Reese had said.
"I'm thirty-six, looking at thirty-seven in June.All of my friends are mothers. Even my younger sister is expecting. I can't keep waiting. I just can't. It's been so long already."
Her voice had broken and her eyes had filled. Duncan had known right then what his answer would be. He'd always hated to see her cry. It made him feel powerless, inade-quate. As they'd stood in the sterile confines of his downtown Detroit office, it had reminded him of the many ways in which he already had failed her. He was a man of action, a mover and shaker adept at making deals, at making things happen. Why, why couldn't he find a way to fix their fertility problem?
Sighing now, he thought, maybe I owe her. Maybe, after everything she's gone throughphysically, mentally and emotion-allyin their quest for a biological child, she deserves this chance.
He didn't know. The only thing that was clear was that he'd loved but one woman in his life and, even though he was losing her, even though she'd made it clear that their marriage was as good as over, he wanted her to be happy. Maybe then he could move on and find, if not happiness for himself, at least a measure of peace. He certainly didn't have either now.
The front door opened and Reese stepped out onto the porch. Other than yesterday, it was the first time Duncan had seen her in a couple of weeks. She looked pretty much the same as she always had, which meant she still managed to steal his breath. Studying her closer, though, he decided she was a little thinner than she had been before. Her high cheekbones seemed more pronounced, her chin slightly more pointed. Her wavy hair, a deep honey color shot through with chunky golden highlights, was scraped back into its usual messy ponytail, giving him an unfet-tered view of her expression. There were shadows under her brown eyes and he thought he saw questions in them. More than anything, though, he recognized gratitude in the nervous bowing of her lips.
Swallowing a sigh, he got out of the car and walked up the brick-paver path he'd helped her lay the second summer they'd owned the house.At the time, he'd wanted to hire out the job. She'd insisted they could do it them-selves, though, and they had, which explained why one side of it sloped toward the street. Reese had always claimed that imperfection gave it character. She'd been good at that, finding the positive where others saw only negatives. And she'd been good at talking him into doing things that were beyond his experience as well as outside of his comfort zonehis return now being a case in point.
Somehow, though, Duncan doubted that this time when their collaboration was through he was going to feel the same odd sense of ac-complishment he had with the pavers.
He stopped just before the porch. She tucked her hands into the back pockets of her jeans and canted one long leg to the side. The pose made her seem younger. It reminded him of the way she'd looked when they'd met nearly a decade before, except now she wasn't eyeing him with that frank apprecia-tion he'd always found so damned arousing.
No. Gratitude, he thought again.