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A dying nurse confessed to a possible baby swap just hours before her death. Martha Belle Hayes called for hospital administrators and revealed that she may have mistakenly switched baby girls who were born two years ago on September 8. According to family members, at the beginning of October two years ago, Hayes had abruptly quit her job at the hospital to find work in a clinic.
"Former coworkers say that she 'd seemed troubled by something but never confided in anyone. Her mother said Hayes was unwilling to take this secret to her grave and this is why she finally unburdened herself. The state of South Carolina, in cooperation with the hospital, is investigating into how a switch could have taken place!'' Ryker DuGrandpre turned off the small, flat-screen television in the kitchen. The story of the baby switch had first broken last night and was the top story on all the news channels. Grateful that it had nothing to do with his family, Ryker glanced over at his two-year-old daughter, his heart filled with love. She sat at the table in a booster seat, patiently waiting for her breakfast.
Kai's presence gave him such joy. She made him feel a bottomless peace and contentment whenever she was around. Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding her birth, his daughter was all that was good in his life.
" she said. "Eat
"I hear you. Would you like some applesauce, Kai?"
Her features became more animated as she answered, "Yessh."
"Okay, little lady, but you have to eat your eggs," Ryker said, placing a small plate in front of her.
She glanced down at the plate and then shook her head. "Nooo."
"I thought you like scrambled eggs, princess. You eat them when Jordin makes them."
Scrunching up her nose and pointing to the eggs, Kai responded, "Me no like it."
Ryker chuckled. "Oh, is that your way of saying that you don't like my cooking?"
She grinned at him, her infectious smile echoing through his veins, making his heart sing with delight.
"How about some toast then?" he suggested. "You can't just eat applesauce."
"I guess I'm going to have to get Jordin to show me how she makes scrambled eggs," he muttered to himself.
Ryker smiled as he heard Kai singing to herself. She loved to sing. He stole a peek at her. Her tiny head was bobbing as she sang softly, and the warm brown spiral curls danced around her cinnamon-tinted face.
He took a piece of toast lathered in apple jelly over to her. "Here you go, sweetie."
"Tank you," Kai murmured.
Ryker planted a kiss on her forehead. "Eat up, Kai."
After they finished breakfast, he cleaned her up and helped her slip on a sundress.
He checked his watch and then said, "It's time to take you to day care. Hurry up and put on your shoes."
Kai rushed off and returned a few minutes later with a pair of pink sandals.
"Don't you want to wear the black ones?"
She shook her head no.
He decided it was better to let her win this round than to risk a tantrum at this point. He had to be in court this morning so he needed to get to his office early.
After dropping Kai off, Ryker drove the short distance to his office. He parked his SUV in his assigned space and hopped out. The May weather was already warming up; the sun was bright and the sky a calming hue of blue. He wanted to be anywhere but inside the law firm founded by his grandparents.
The DuGrandpres had been a solid fixture in Charleston since the 1960s, when his grandparents had relocated from New Orleans with their twin sons and opened the doors of the DuGrandpre Law Offices in the downtown business district.
His uncle, Etienne, and father, Jacques, had taken over the business after their parents retired. Etienne's twin daughters, Jadin and Jordin, were attorneys, as were Ryker and his mother, Rochelle DuGrandpre. Ryker's sister, Aubry, had chosen not to join the family business.
A world-renowned chef in her own right, she owned a restaurant near the Charleston waterfront.
"Jordin, what are you doing here so early?" he asked his twenty-six-year-old cousin as he walked into the office's kitchen. She normally did not come into the office until nine or ten.
"I needed to take care of some paperwork," she responded while surveying the selections of coffees, teas and hot chocolate packets for the Keurig brewer. "Why are you here at this hour?"
"I have court this morning."
"How's my sweet pea?" Jordin asked as she selected a coffee pod and placed it in the machine. "Want one?"
"I'll pass on the coffee, but Kai is great," he said with a smile. "This morning she decided to wear pink sandals with the orange and yellow dress I picked out for her."
Jordin laughed. "It's fine for her to express herself, Ryker. She is her own kind of beautiful. I like that."
"Oh, I need your recipe for making scrambled eggs. Kai doesn't seem to like the way I cook them."
"Cheese," she responded. "Kai likes shredded cheese in her eggs. She won't eat them if they're plain."
"I had no idea." Ryker released a short sigh. "I feel like a terrible father when it comes to things like this. I should know my daughter's likes and dislikes."
"Don't be so hard on yourself." Jordin retrieved her coffee and added sugar. "I only discovered it by accident. I eat mine with cheese and the weekend Kai stayed with me she had some and loved them."
"I was surprised that she wanted scrambled eggs in the first place," he said. "She saw me making some and asked me to share."
"That seems to be her new word," Jordin responded with a chuckle.
Ryker agreed. "I'm always reminding her that she has to share."
Jordin took a sip of her coffee. "She's growing up so fast."
"I'm not ready for it," he uttered. "That little girl is my life. I hate that her mother isn't here to see our daughter." Angela should be there to help him raise Kai. It had never been in the plans for him to be a single father.
Jordin gave his arm a gentle squeeze. "I know that this isn't easy for you, but I want you to know that you're doing a great job, Ryker."
He awarded her with a smile. "Thanks, cousin." They were words he wanted to hear but he wasn't sure he deserved them. He was still a newbie when it came to fathering skills.
"You know I'm here if you ever need me. I love Kai like she's my own."
"That's why I love you," Ryker told her as he checked his watch. "I better get to work. Talk to you later."
The only two ways Ryker had been able to deal with the death of his wife were lavishing all of his attention on his young daughter and staying busy as a managing partner in his family-owned law firm.
He strode with purpose into his corner office, anxious to start his day. It was going to be a long one.
Ryker sat down at his desk, turned on the computer and was soon engrossed in the notes for his upcoming court case. He studied the declarations of the witnesses, committing them to memory.
When he looked up at the wall clock, an hour had passed. Ryker had about another hour before he had to show up in court, so he relaxed.
Three hours later, he bumped into his other cousin at the courthouse. "What's up, Jadin?"
"Nothing much," she responded with a smile identical to her twin. "I'm waiting to meet with my client. He's not here yet."
"I'm on my way back to the office," Ryker announced. "I'll be glad when this day is over."
"Right now I'll just settle for some lunch," Jadin said. "I didn't have breakfast this morning and I'm starving."
Ryker pulled a Slim Jim out of his attaché case and handed it to Jadin. "Maybe this will tide you over. It works for me."
She embraced him. "Thanks, cousin. See you at some point this afternoon."
When Ryker arrived back at the firm, Jacques DuGrandpre met him outside his office. "Dad, do you need to see me?" he was inclined to ask.
Tall and solid in stature, his father was a well-respected member of the legal community.
"I just stopped by to see if you wanted to have lunch with me and your mother."
"I'm going to order something from the deli across the street," Ryker responded. "I have a lot of paperwork on my desk and I need to stay on top of it. Why don't we plan something later in the week? Maybe Aubry can join us, too."
Jacques nodded. "That's fine."
Ryker quickly walked into his office and closed the door behind him. He could have taken time to have lunch with his parents, but he was definitely not in the mood to be interrogated by his mother. He already knew the questions she would ask: Have you met anyone special? Don't you think it's time you developed a social life? His mother was on a campaign for him to find a wife so that Kai would have the love of two parents. Rochelle Harper DuGrandpre did not believe that a child could thrive without a mother and a father.
He was determined to prove her wrong. Ryker was not looking for a wifehe was still grieving the loss of Angela, although it would be three years in September since she'd been gone.
Ryker released a sigh of relief when the workday ended at five o'clock. He was looking forward to spending the rest of the evening with Kai. She made life bearable for him. She was truly his reason for living.
Garland Warner laughed in delight as she watched her two-year-old daughter dipping her tiny toes in the surf. They'd been walking hand in hand along the beach, enjoying the cool island breeze swirling around them.
"Yes, baby," she prompted.
Pointing, she murmured, "Wadda
"Very good, Amya," Garland said with pride. "There's a lot of water out there. It's called the ocean."
"Osen," Amya said, encouraging a grin from Garland.
Garland truly loved her life on Edisto Island. The beaches, saltwater marshes and low-country oaks draped in Spanish moss were a picturesque combination. Historical landmarks were prevalent on the island, providing the backdrop to a rich cultural heritage. The awesome beauty and rich history were why Garland elected to open her highend children's boutique there.
Garland and Amya usually came to the beach for a stroll before heading home. She found the daily routine a welcome break from the rush of everyday life. And she relished this quality time spent with her daughter.
Garland had desperately wanted to have a child before she turned thirty, so after her last relationship failed she'd decided to take fate into her own hands by using an anonymous sperm donor to get pregnant. Although she'd suffered complications in her pregnancy and during delivery, Garland had delivered a healthy and beautiful little girl.
She glanced down at her daughter and smiled. "C'mon, sweetie. I'm afraid it's time to go home."
Amya did not protest, provoking a soft sigh of relief from Garland. Her daughter loved the ocean as much as she did and often resisted leaving, but this evening was different. Perhaps she was tired, too.
Ten minutes later, they were in the car and on the way home, driving on streets lined with prime beachfront real estate, shops and boutique hotels. Edisto Island was a favorite tourist destination. Garland's shop was only one block over from the main street.
The Fairy Kisses Boutique featured exclusive designer children's dress-up clothes and accessories. Garland had always dreamed of being able to provide kids with outfits for creative, free play all year, along with formal attire for weddings, parties and other affairs. Her store, stocked full of everything from gorgeous and detailed princess and fairy gowns to wizard robes, capes and Native American headdresses, was very popular with the locals and tourists alike.
Garland had grown up in a home where money was tight, but her foster mother had encouraged open, creative play. She had kept a trunk filled with feather boas, hats, dresses, pants and all sorts of accessories to keep her two children occupied.
Having studied psychology and theater in college, Garland believed that pretend play through dressing up enhanced a child's social, emotional, language and thinking skills.
After they got home and had dinner, she gave Amya a bath and dressed her for bed.
"TV," her daughter mumbled, pointing toward the flat screen above the fireplace.
"Just for a little while."
Amya nodded and then turned her attention to the little bear in her arms.
"How is Boo feeling today?" Garland inquired.
"Fine. Her not sick no more."
Whenever Amya was sick, her little bear Boo got sick, tooAmya believed so anyway.
While her daughter watched television, Garland cleaned up the kitchen.
She had to drive to Charleston the next morning for a meeting. For the fourth year in a row, Garland had volunteered to be the chair for a children's festival. Tomorrow they would be discussing potential vendors for the upcoming event.
After getting Amya settled in bed, she strode into her bedroom and walked straight to the closet. She wanted to find the perfect comfortable outfit to wear. Garland pulled out three options, tossed them on the bed and then grabbed two more.
She chuckled at her actions. What did it matter what she wore? It was not as if she were meeting a man. Garland was just going to a meeting and then back to her shop to finish taking inventory.