When yet another scandal rocked the Children's Connection, it was PR whiz LJ Logan to the rescue. Sharp and sophisticated, LJ was confident he could salvage the center's battered reputation. But Eden Carter, one of the Connection's most beloved birth specialists, wasn't so sure. Stung by the dazzling doula and her criticism of his creative campaign, LJ issued a challenge: You come up with something better.
To LJ's surprise Eden agreed. The one condition: LJ must care for the single mom's infant son for one week. One week? No problem. But when LJ began to play Mr. Mom, he didn't realize it was a role he might want to embrace for life .
About the Author
Wendy lives with her husband, Tim, and their dog, Chauncie, near the Pacific Northwest's beautiful Willamette River, in an area surrounded by giant elms, bookstores with cushy chairs, and great theatre. Their house was previously owned by a woman named Cinderella, who bequeathed them a garden of flowers they try desperately (and occasionally successfully) not to kill, and a pink General Electric oven, circa 1948, that makes the kitchen look like an I Love Lucy rerun.
Wendy is a two-time recipient of Romance Writers of America's RITA Award and was a finalist for Affaire de Coeur's Best Up-and-Coming Romance Author. When not writing, she likes to take long walks with her dog, settle in for cozy chats with good friends, and sneak tofu into her husband's dinner. She enjoys hearing from readers and may be reached at P.O. Box 82131 Portland, OR 97282-0131.
Read an Excerpt
It was going well.
Lawrence Logan, Jr., LJ to his family and friends, stood in the pastel-toned meeting room of the Children's Connection and managed, despite the overly cozy decor, to deliver a presentation guaranteed to knock the socks off the fertility and adoption clinic's board members and staff. He was about to save the Portland, Oregon business from going down in flames after a series of tough breaks and terrible publicity.
It felt good to be a savior. "The Children's Connection has taken hits on local news and in print. That can't be denied," he told his listeners in a smooth, authoritative voice that was neither judgmental nor commiserating. "Fortunately for us, there are more viewers watching American Idol than the local news at six. Via high-visibility commercial spots, a redesigned Web site and strategic interviews, we will redirect general awareness and reprogram public opinion. It can be done, ladies and gentlemen. Logan Public Relations is going to show you how." Like a proud coach, he smiled at everyone around the table. "Let me give you a taste of what we have in mind."
Taking two steps to a TV monitor, he prepared to start the video presentation he'd brought with him.
Behind him, chairs creaked as people angled for a better view. LJ's adrenaline surged.
As a New York public relations consultant who was good at his jobin the interest of full disclosure make that great at his jobLJ was used to winning his clients" trust and, eventually, their gratitude. He enjoyed the expressions of satisfaction and relief that relaxed their strained features when he presented a watertight plan to give their floundering businesses the spit-polished patina of success.
A new job was always a rush, but this one was different. This job promised less work but higher stakes. Winning this client's trust was critical to a bigger game plan. Ifno, whenLJ successfully bolstered the Children's Connection's flagging public image, he would be saving more than a business: he'd be saving a familyhis own.
Not a bad day's work for a thirty-seven-year-old man who considered himself something of a black sheep.
Adjusting a silk tie that was bloody uncomfortable, but worth the bother because of the taste and affluence it projected, he glanced at the people watching the ten-minute-long DVD.
His uncle's family on his father's side had founded and now ran the Children's Connection. They'd been visibly stressed since he'd arrived in town. Past rumors of a black-market baby ring, insemination using the wrong donor sperm, kidnappings, and most recently the resignation of Robbie Logan, director of the day care center, had hammered the business like an Oregon storm.
Now the board of directors, including his uncle Terrence and aunt Leslie, plus assorted employees, including his cousin Jillian, watched the video. It offered mock-ups of two separate one-minute commercial campaigns, shot specifically for the Children's Connection, and LJ saw his aunt and uncle glance at each other in pleased surprise. Satisfaction stirred in his chest.
As the first commercial ended, the door to the meeting room clicked openthough not on the first try.
LJ couldn't help but watch as a medium-height, lavishly curved blonde juggled a plate and the largest water bottle he'd ever seen. As the only occupant of the room facing the blonde's direction, he was also the only person present to witness her difficulty in getting a good grip on the door handle. He took a step away from the TV monitor, intending to walk to the rear of the room and hold the door for her, but she solved her own problem by sticking the water bottle between her knees, holding the plate in one hand, widely opening the door with the other, then snatching the water bottle from between her knees and racing in.
Several people heard her that time and turned to acknowledge her entrance. She smiled and offered a brief wave of the water bottle.
Stationing herself near the door, a solitary figure behind the board members and coworkers who'd arrived on time and were seated in a U configuration around the conference tables, she proved taller than LJ had first thought and stronger looking, too. he'd dimmed the lights for the video viewing, but could see clearly that the arms she bared in a sleeveless robin's-egg-blue sweater bore no resemblance to the willowy, verging-on-emaciated model's limbs he'd grown used to after years in New York. The woman at the door looked like a farm girl, healthy and rosy, teeming with life.
She scanned the room for a vacant seat, but before she moved to the table, the TV monitor caught her attention. Eyes bigger and softer than Bambi's focused on the screen. Her full lips pursed in concentration.
Everything about the womanespecially those lush lipsmade LJ hunger to taste her.
Whoa. Time for an intervention.
LJ shook his head a bit. he'd never been one to lose track of the matter at hand and he didn't intend to start now.
Commanding himself to rise above the distraction, he refocused on the monitor, but admitted that the blonde's presence amplified the anticipation rushing through his veins.
On-screen, a woman twirled a toddler in a dandelion-carpeted field. Carefully filtered lighting softened all harsh lines and strong colors. A soothing voice-over scored the shot:
"The Children's Connection of Portland. Helping singles become families." Music swelled. The mother pulled her toddler close, and they both tumbled, laughing, into the grass. "Pursue your dream."
LJ nodded imperceptibly. After the commercial the video continued with statistics, demographics. LJ knew, though, that he'd hooked his audience already. No parent with a soul could fail to be moved. Hell, even he felt a little teary, and he was about as paternal as Scrooge.
Without question, single women eager to have babies would consider the Children's Connection again as their first choice in fertility clinics. Though the commercial they'd just viewed was a mock-up, once it was shot at budget and aired repeatedly, it would seep into viewers'hearts like honey into warm bread. LJ had to force himself not to turn toward the blonde to savor her reaction along with the others". He written this spot himself.
There were times, like now, when he knew exactly what he was doing with his life.
That was Eden Carter's first reaction as she stood in the back of the meeting room and tried not to laugh out loud.
Only a man could possibly have come up with the pablum they'd just watched. More specifically, the man would have to be childless or someone who had never asked his wife a single purposeful question about her mothering experience.
The Barbie doll in the commercial looked as if she'd never missed a night's sleep, for crying out loud. Her face was gorgeous, her figure toned and perfect, her hair an überstylist's work of art.
Come to the Children's Connection, Eden thought, we'll help you have a baby who hardly ever cries and will never bite your boob while he's nursing.
Okay, so maybe she was cranky, but she'd missed lots of sleep lately. Whoever had written the syrupy commercial should have asked heror any of the single mothers who had been helped by the Children's Connectionwhat parenting an infant or toddler on one's own really looked like.
Shifting the arm that held the plate of cookies she'd brought to the meeting, she surreptitiously pressed her forearm against her right breast with its poor aching nipple.
Her beautiful baby boy, Liam, was currently adding a new tooth to the three he already had. he'd clamped down on her right nipple so hard this morning that she'd let out a shriek before she could stop herself. Her poor little guy had opened his blue eyes wide then started to squall. It had been a rough finish to a morning that had started late because she'd been up half the night applying a homeopathic teething gel to his swollen gums.
Liam wasn't the only one who depended on her availability day and night. As a doula, she was responsible for her patients anytime they needed her.
If she tried to twirl in a field like the gal in the commercial, she'd collapse from exhaustion.
Women who wanted to become parents, especially single parents, needed the kind of support and compassion that came from shared experience, and truth, not something soso."
When several people whipped around in their chairs to face her, she realized she'd spoken aloud.
"Do you want to comment, Eden?, Terrence Logan asked her with interest.
In her teens and early twenties, she'd had a bothersome tendency to speak first and think later. A committed yoga and meditation practice had soothed her jangled spirit and given her the discipline to insert a little lag time between her thoughts and her words.
Evidently she was suffering a relapse. "No, thank you. Very sorry," she said since she'd clearly spoken out of turn.
Her coworkers here knew her as the centered, hard-to-ruffle woman she'd become. She'd even Hypno-Birthed her way through an eighteen-hour delivery, thank you very much.
No one here was familiar with the Eden Carter who'd struggled through each painful day of her youth like a salmon slogging upstream. Back then her burdens had seemed to weigh more than she did, and sometimes she'd release her frustration by picking fights that weren't even hers.
Involuntarily her gaze met the speaker's. What was his name? He was one of the Logans, but belonged to a branch of the family that didn't have much to do with the Children's Connection, as far as she knew.