- Pub. Date:
Anne Whitaker: Faced with an unexpected loss, Anne returns to the hot and sultry Mississippi Delta, leaving her husband, Buck, to ponder his futurewith or without her. Looking for distraction, she immerses herself in the history of Belle Pointe, the plantation house that has been home to generations of Whitakers, including her husband.
Buck Whitaker:A professional athlete, Buck is in an emotional tailspin when his career is jeopardized by scandal. Then his wife adds to his troubles by threatening divorce and fleeing to Mississippi, a place that holds bitter memories for him.
Victoria Whitaker: By marrying into the Whitaker family, Victoria has enjoyed a life of privilege and position as matriarch of Belle Pointe. But now her daughter-in-law Anne has unwittingly uncovered family secrets that Victoria does not want revealedsecrets that will change the course of Whitaker family history secrets that will change Anne's own life, as well.
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As it always happened at these events, the room was filled to capacity. Scanning the crowd, Anne Whitaker estimated the number at better than three hundred, well surpassing the goal of the nonprofit sponsor. Amazed that all it took for folks to plunk down five hundred dollars a plate was the appearance of the star pitcher of the St. Louis Jacks — who just happened to be her husband. Buck's name was a strong draw, so he was constantly in demand. Not only was he a gifted speaker and utterly relaxed in front of an audience, but he was genuinely funny. And, perhaps most appealing of all, he came across as modestly unimpressed with his superstar status.
Anne smiled politely and murmured in response to a comment from the baseball commissioner's wife seated on her left. With the din of voices and the music of a live band, it was impossible to have any real conversation. As distracted as she was, she wouldn't have been able to talk anyway. She was ten weeks pregnant and feeling distinctly ill. It wasn't the classic nausea that came with pregnancy, but something different and it filled her with panic. During the cocktail hour, she'd made no less than four visits to the powder room fearing the worst, but so far nothing. More than anything, she wanted to go home. But a glance at her watch told her it would be a while yet before that was possible.
When she glanced up to find Gene Winston, Buck's agent, watching her narrowly, she managed what she hoped was a natural smile. No surprise that Gene had picked up on her distraction. Even if he knew the reason she was distracted, he would be unmoved. Buck's public image was all he cared about. He never needed to remind her of her role at these events. She knew it and played it well.
Buck, finally sensing something, let his napkin fall to the floor. Leaning close on a pretext of retrieving it, he murmured in her ear, "You feeling okay, sugar?"
"I'm just a little...queasy," she told him, hoping against hope that what she feared wasn't happening.
"We'll be out of here soon." He squeezed her hand and turned his attention back to the commissioner.
She longed to lean against him just for the comfort it would bring but — again — not possible here and now. Even if she weren't okay, there was nothing to be done about it. The sponsor's spokesman would soon be up introducing Buck.
She shifted to allow a waiter to refill her water glass and caught the concerned look on Marcie Frederick's face. Marcie, wife of Monk Frederick, one of the Jacks' managers, had already commented on the odd fact that Anne was refusing wine lately. Although Marcie was a friend, she didn't know about the pregnancy. No one knew.
Not even Buck.
Which was the cause of much of Anne's agitation. She was going to have to tell him and soon. Probably tonight. But after the initial surprise, she told herself he was bound to be pleased. He knew she'd dreamed of having a baby for years. Time would tell if he'd be happy enough to forgive her for the way she'd gone about getting pregnant.
A waiter removed her untouched dessert, while another appeared at the table with after-dinner coffee. Anne put a hand over her cup to refuse just as sharp pain struck in her lower abdomen. She gave a small, involuntary gasp but, in the noisy ballroom, nobody noticed except Marcie. For a stunned moment, Anne didn't move, and then another searing pain struck.
Rising shakily to her feet, she murmured a distracted apology to the table at large. Buck looked a little surprised at her untimely exit. It had been barely fifteen minutes since she'd last left. But she was too intent on getting to the now all-too-familiar powder room to explain.
Flashing a strained smile to a waiter who courteously opened the exit door, she slipped out and dashed down the hall. Thankfully, the powder room was empty. Her heart thumping with dread, she entered the first stall.
Please, don't let it be blood.
But it was. Not much, but it was there. She closed her eyes and fought an urge to scream a denial. But no time now to panic. It wasn't so much that it signaled disaster, she told herself, but she would have to leave. She had strict instructions from her doctor if there was ever any sign of spotting.
Go to bed immediately. Feet up. Total bed rest.
She would have to ask someone to deliver a note to Buck so that they could leave. As for Buck's speech, he would just have to make some kind of explanation. Their baby's life was at stake.
A few moments later, she stood at the ballroom door and saw, to her intense relief, that Buck was not on the podium yet. But it would not be long until he was introduced. She stopped a passing server and thrust a note into the startled man's hand. "Will you give this note to Buck Whitaker, please?"
Slipping back out of sight, she watched as Buck was handed the note which he read without any show of emotion. He was good at that. He had plenty of practice keeping his cool under extreme pressure. No one who played major league baseball panicked easily.
Meanwhile, waiting for him, it was all she could do not to panic. With her insides in a knot and dread in her heart, she took a deep breath. The cramping was irregular, but every nerve in her body screamed at her to run to the escalator and leave. Which would definitely cause a stir. As it was, she was not going to be voted most popular when, because of her, the guest speaker had to bow out early, but there it was.
Their baby's life was at stake!
Another peep through the crack in the door and she saw Buck finally making his way toward the exit. The instant he reached her, she opened her mouth to tell him, but he shushed her with a look. Taking her arm, he guided her toward an alcove across a sea of hotel carpeting. Even then, before he said anything, he checked to see that they were well out of ear-shot of anybody. Facing her finally, he asked bluntly, "What's wrong?"
She struggled to keep a tremor from her voice. "Buck, we have to leave."
"What are you talking about? We can't leave. I'm on in five minutes."
"I know, I know, but we have to go. Now." She closed her eyes. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to tell you this way, but I'm bleeding."
His mouth dropped open. "Bleeding? What —"
"I'm pregnant, Buck."
With a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes, he said, "Are you kidding me?"
She couldn't keep the terror from her voice. "No! No, I mean it, Buck. I'm pregnant and I'm cramping and there's spotting."
He made a restless movement, turning away before looking at her again. "How could you be pregnant?"
She shook her head, impatient with the question. "Can we just not talk about it, at least not right now? Right now I need to go home and go to bed."
He rubbed at the side of his neck, still struggling to take in what she was saying. "I thought the Pills — I mean, they're supposed to be just about foolproof, aren't they?"
"Didn't you hear me, Buck? I'm bleeding!" Her voice rose frantically. "Something is going wrong. Bleeding is a warning that can't be ignored."
"Ah...I guess you've sort of caught me off guard here." He glanced back at the closed doors of the ballroom where three hundred plus guests waited. "Does...uh, this...uh, bleeding necessarily mean that something serious is happening?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm not willing to take that chance. Are you?" She'd had ten weeks to adjust to her pregnancy and he'd had less than ten minutes. Maybe he was entitled to a shocked reaction, but she didn't have time to deal with his feelings. "I'm telling you we have to go home, Buck, now," she repeated firmly. "We can't, Anne. Think about what you're saying. I'm the freaking guest of honor. I can't just up and leave. These people have paid a lot of money."
"Money? Money? I don't care about money! This baby is what I care about." She pressed her fingers to her mouth, trying to calm herself. "Don't you care at all, Buck?"
"I'm still trying to take it in that you're pregnant. But one thing I do care about is that I have an obligation to three hundred people waiting in that room."
What about their baby? Didn't he feel an obligation there? She felt her heart sink. To her mind, the threat to their baby overruled everything else, but he was worried about disappointing a bunch of people who, if he'd just go in there and explain, would probably understand what was at stake. But from the look on his face, that wasn't going to happen. His agent would be aghast and Jacks management wouldn't be too happy either.
"Be reasonable, Anne," he pleaded, looking at his watch.
"It's too late to walk out."
"And I'm sorry, but the baby —" Words caught in her throat as she sighed. "I just don't want to risk losing this baby, Buck."
"Jesus." He stood for a minute, thinking. Anne saw there was nothing on his face to reveal the gravity of their conversation. He had to be stunned to learn he was going to be a father, but he was so conditioned to keeping his feelings under wraps that she couldn't tell one way or another. "Can you hold on for thirty or forty minutes? I'll be done with the speech and as for the party afterward at the commissioner's house, I'll make some excuse for us to skip it."
"Oh, Buck..." Her voice caught and she fought back tears. She didn't have his expertise at hiding her emotions. "I know it's awkward," she said, pleading with him, "but I'm sure they'll understand when you tell them it's an emergency."
"But is it really? You said yourself you're not sure." He frowned, struck with another thought. "You don't need to go to the hospital, do you? It's not that serious, is it?"
"I don't know whether it's serious or not, Buck," she said, with bitter disappointment. "I just know my doctor told me if there was any spotting I was to go to bed immediately."
"And you will." He started back, taking her hand. "It'll be okay to delay it an hour or so, won't it? I'll cut the talk short."
She leaned into his shoulder and gave a dispirited sigh. "I guess another thirty or forty minutes won't make much difference."
"You'll be sitting down the whole time," he said, throwing a reassuring arm around her shoulders. He was already guiding her across the floor toward the doors. Before entering, he dropped a quick kiss on the top of her head. "C'mon, beautiful, let's knock 'em dead."
It was the longest forty minutes of her life. While waiting for Buck to make his excuses after the speech, she'd gone again to the powder room and found fresh spotting. Although it was still minimal, she was scared. Desperate to leave, she caught his eye across the ballroom and something in her face must have told him she was nearing the end of her rope. With a last quiet word to Gene Winston, he started toward her. She had to admire his skill in avoiding the many attempts to hail him in passing. Finally, he reached her and, with a flash of his famous smile, slipped his arm around her waist and whisked her away. "You okay?" Buck said, as they pulled away from the hotel.
"I'm not sure. I just need to get home."
"You can recline that seat," he told her.
At least she was now in a prone position, she thought. Buck was quiet, winding his way toward the interstate ramp. Once on a straight stretch, he opened up the Porsche with a roar. He liked speed and tended to exceed the legal limit, especially when he was upset. "How could you be pregnant? Did you forget to take the Pill?"
"No, it was nothing like that."
Hearing something in her voice, he glanced at her. "Then what?"
She thought about asking him to wait until they got home, but maybe it was best to get it behind them now. "It isn't an accident that I'm pregnant, Buck," she said quietly. "I quit taking the Pill."
In the muted glow of the dash, she saw his features darken in a fierce frown. "You quit? Just like that?"
"Not just like that." Her hand rested protectively on her abdomen. "I didn't do it on a whim. I thought about it a long time."
"I wish you'd thought to consult me." Not quite openly sarcastic, but close.
"I'm not proud of the way I went about it, Buck ,and for what it's worth, I apologize. We've gone round and round about this forever and you always come up with a thousand reasons to put off having a child. I knew what your answer would be if I told you." With both her hands cradling her abdomen, she longed to make him understand. "I'm thirty-four years old, Buck. The longer we wait, the harder it'll be for me to conceive."Article 02: Untitled
"I thought we agreed to put off having kids."
"For how many years? Another four or five? Eight? Ten?" She swallowed disappointment. She'd so longed for a joyous reaction from Buck, but she now had to let that wish go. "It was your idea to wait, Buck, not mine."
"So you just decided to ignore my wishes and go ahead with your idea."
She turned away. They were in open country now and she was looking at total darkness. "I guess that's one way to put it," she said quietly.