But it got worse: her charismatic ex-boss, Brant Cadman, was raising her real son—and she his!
Brant made Annie an irresistible proposition—marry him. Annie knew both their sons needed their mom and dad. Plus, she couldn't deny the intense physical attraction between them because once they'd shared a night of love .
About the Author
Emotional intensity is paramount in her writing. "Times, places and trends change," she says, "but emotion is timeless."
Read an Excerpt
"NO, NO! It's not true! I don't believe you!"
Annie swung away, towards the window, her bare shoulders stiffening in rejection of the man's devastating statement. Beneath the dark strands of her fringe, bewildered brown eyes stared out on the small square of garden that formed the rear of her terraced London flat, at the low boundary wall where the long-haired tabby crouched, poised to eject any other exploring cat from its territory. "You've got to be joking. Tell me it's just some cruel joke. That you're making it up. You are, aren't you?"
"I'm sorry, Annie." Behind her, those deep masculine tones were soft, yet unrelenting. "If I could have found an easier way to tell you, believe me, I would have."
"Don't you think I'd know?" Her thick layered hair bounced against her shoulders as she pivoted to face the man again, disbelief and confusion stamped on the pale oval of her face.
For a few seconds her eyes read—what? Sympathy, in the green-gold depths of his? Some emotion that softened those angular features with their forceful jaw and that hawk-like nose which, with his sleek black hair and the immaculate tailoring of his dark suit, added up to an almost intimidating presence. "Don't you think I'd have realised if a mistake like that had been made? Do you think I wouldn't know my own child?"
"Annie. Annie..." His hand outstretched, he made a move towards her, but she recoiled from any contact, shivering suddenly beneath her scanty purple sun-top and jeans. "You're in shock." 'What do you expect?" she flung at him, backing away from any further attempt to console her. How could he offer any consolation except to retract what he had just said?
Broad shoulders sagged almost indiscernibly beneath the well-cut jacket, and his breath came heavily as he said, "Don't you think that this has been hard for me?"
She could see the lines now at the corners of those beautiful eyes, and the way his smooth, olive skin seemed stretched across his cheekbones from battle-scarring emotions made him appear even fiercer than when she had known him before. If, of course, she could claim to have known him before. She had, after all, been just a cog in the running of his empire.
Brant Cadman. Thirty-five years old and the driving force behind Cadman Leisure, whose name was synonymous with a whole chain of retail outlets, sports complexes and manufacturers of his own brand of sportswear, including the company where she had worked with Warren. But that was before she had paid the price of trusting someone. Before she had felt the need to leave her job, stung by the shame of everyone knowing. Before she had had her son.
And here Brant was, saying that the child she had raised for the past two years wasn't her child at all, but his. His and some other woman's. That the hospital where his own son had been born had found a discrepancy in their records which had only come to light following advisory blood tests after both he and the boy had been exposed to some viral infection during a recent visit to Spain.
Hot tears burned Annie's eyes now, the long strands of her fringe tangling with her equally long lashes as she shook her head in denial.
"No, no. It isn't true! Sean's mine! He's always been mine!" In all her twenty-five years she could never have imagined being dealt a blow like this.
As she swayed she saw Brant glance swiftly around, grab the chair beside the second-hand table where her paints and brushes and the miniature water-colour she was working on lay. He set it down beside her, exerting gentle pressure on her shoulder as he urged, "Annie, sit down."
Like an automaton, she obeyed, too numb to do anything else.
"When they told me, I didn't want to believe it either." His voice was raw with the intensity of anguish he had obviously suffered—was still suffering—because of it. "But as soon as you opened the door to me, there wasn't any doubt."
What was he saying? Her face tilted swiftly to his, pain warring with incomprehension. That the child he was raising, whose existence until a few moments ago she had never given more than a passing thought to, somehow resembled her? Was actually hers?
She shook her head again. It wasn't possible. The child slumbering in the next room, obliviously peaceful in his afternoon nap—he was hers. Sean was her baby.
"OK. So the baby you thought was yours and your wife's suddenly isn't. But what makes you think Sean's yours?" Numbness and shock were giving way to a challenging anger. "What makes you think you can come here and try to take my baby away? Did the hospital send you? Did they tell you to come here?"
"No." He slipped his hands into his pockets, his pristine white shirt pulled tautly across his chest, as though he'd taken a breath and forgotten to let it out. "And the last thing I want to do," he said quietly, "is take your baby away."
Annie took a gulp of air. She, too, was finding it difficult to breathe. "You can try," she dared him vehemently.
He chose to ignore the challenge. "The hospital called me in when they found Jack's blood type didn't match up with the record they had on computer. They confirmed from their records of Naomi's blood group and now my own that we couldn't have produced a child with the same type as Jack's. There was only one baby born that day two years ago whose details show up as having the correct blood type for any child of ours. Yours Annie. The only conclusion they could come to was that some time before our babies left the hospital, there had been a switch."
"No. It's all a mistake! They had no right to give you my name!"
"They didn't," he said, looking down at his feet. "They said they couldn't divulge the identity of our son's—as they called it—"biological mother"."
A low moan, that could have come from her own throat rang out from the direction of the garden. An ominous sound presaging a bitter conflict, a struggle from which only the strongest and most determined could emerge unscathed.
"So what led you here?" Had he known two years ago that Annie Talbot—poor jilted Annie, his ex-employee— had given birth on the same day as his wife? Because she hadn't. Not until afterwards. Not until a friend had told her that Naomi Cadman had died within twenty-four hours of producing a son. "No one's contacted me. Wouldn't they have done if these ludicrous assumptions of yours were true?"
"They should have. They said they were doing so." His hands dropped from his pockets. "And they aren't assumptions, Annie. I wish they were. It's fact—yet to be confirmed, but from the hospital itself."
"But...you said they wouldn't give out information, that it was against their—"
"They didn't. Not knowingly. When they called me in, I was left alone in the office for a short spell. The computer was on. I'd have to be superhuman not to have given in to the need to know."
"So you scrolled through the records?" Eyes accusing, she wanted to rush to the phone. Report him. Tell them he'd picked her name from a whole host of others who could have given birth that day.
"No, Annie. I merely strode over to look at it from the other side of the desk. Your details were on the screen. I suppose such carelessness is hardly surprising from an establishment that sends parents home with the wrong children."
The wrong children. His words, and the anger that infiltrated them, was bringing her to the slow and awful realisation that it might possibly be true. That Sean, whom she loved and cherished more than life itself, might not be hers. That she might suddenly find herself in a long, traumatic battle to keep him.
Through the open window came a sudden low chorus of howls.
"They didn't have your correct address on record. I only found this place through Katrina King." From his rather dubious glance around her modest little flat he didn't need to tell her what he thought about it. "I seem to recall you being close friends when you worked at Cadman Sport."
So he had remembered that. And he had gone to great lengths to find her, even looking up the only friend and colleague she kept in touch with from her old job.
"Have you had your son DNA-tested? Or whatever it is they do to ascertain parenthood these days? Is that why you're so certain your little boy's been mixed up with mine?"
She couldn't help the scorn in her voice, betraying the hurt and the anger she was suddenly feeling, not so much with him but with the hospital and those people responsible for placing her—placing all of them—in such a harrowing situation.
"No, I haven't." He looked down at his sleek black polished shoes again. "Yet." 'Why not?" The question seemed torn from her, but then she read the answer in those green-gold eyes. He wanted to know. Of course he did. But likewise, he didn't want to know. And it struck her then, in startling clarity, the implications that such a test could lead to. Because if his boy wasn't the baby that Naomi had given birth to...
She froze, staring at the table with her palette and her paints and all the colourful trappings that made up her world and provided her with an income and stability. She'd want to know, and yet would balk from the truth just as Brant was doing. She couldn't bear ever to know for certain that Sean wasn't her son.
A small sound from the adjoining room had her jumping up instinctively. Their voices—or the cat's howls—had woken him. But not for long. He was quiet again, still sleeping as she opened the brightly painted door to peer through the crack, then closed it again.
"Can I see him?"
She swung round, gasping at finding Brant standing right behind her. At five feet four she suddenly felt dwarfed by his six-foot-plus frame.
"No!" Her arms flew out across the door-well, and above her panicked response she heard a sudden skirmish outside. Bouncer defending his territory, protecting all he valued, all that was his. "No, not now," she enlarged in what she hoped was a more conciliatory tone.
The light from the window struck fire from the man's hair as he dipped his head. "I understand."
Did he? From the taut lines of that fiercely chiselled face she understood herself that he was exercising a formidable restraint. This close to him, she caught the elusive scent of the cologne he must have used that morning; could almost feel the tangible warmth emanating from his hard body. And rising through the trauma of the moment was the shocking recognition of his flagrant sexuality, the memory of how once, too inexperienced to resist it, she had made a total fool of herself with this man.
But that was ten lifetimes ago, she told herself. Before he had relinquished his glorious bachelordom and married the sophisticated Naomi Fox.
She wondered if he was remembering it too, or even if— heaven forbid!—he was aware of her raging emotions, before he took a couple of steps back, giving her space: cool, remote, detached. When he had telephoned earlier he had warned her that this wasn't exactly a social call, the simple statement assuring her, as it was probably meant to, that whatever had happened between them in the past was just that—in the past.
"I can get you counselling," he said. "It was offered to me."
But you refused it. Of course you did, she thought, certain that no one could direct or analyse the thoughts and feelings of Brant Cadman better than Brant Cadman himself.
She lifted her hands, palms upwards, as though she was fending off something threatening, saying disjointedly, "I...don't need counselling. I just...want you to go."
"I don't think you should be left alone." His face was grim with concern.
"I'm not alone. I've got Sean." Her chin lifted with determined ferocity. "I don't care if it's true—what you say. I won't be giving him up."
He seemed about to say something else, perhaps to contest her remark, but then his lips compressed on whatever it was, and he said, "I want what's best for Jack—as I'm sure you do for Sean. I appreciate that this has been a terrible shock and that you need time for it to sink in. But there are things we have to discuss. Work out. I'd like to come back tomorrow."
She knew she couldn't deny him that if what he was saying was true. Nevertheless, a deep, resisting fear showed in her velvet-brown eyes.
"It's all right, Annie." His gaze raked over the anxious lines of her face with its pert nose, softly defined mouth and the gentle curvature of her jaw. Briefly his eyes shaped the long line of her throat and the smooth slope of her shoulders, gently tanned from minutes snatched in the early-June sun, and, lifting his gaze back to hers, he said softly, "Are you going to be all right?"
She nodded, but thought, What does he care? He's only interested in his son. Or who he thinks is his son.
Panic brought her into the bedroom after she had shown him out.
In his little bed, Sean was stirring, wisps of nut-brown hair highlighted against the white pillow. The cats might have disturbed him earlier, but everything was quiet now. Through the little lace curtain she could see Bouncer preening himself further along the wall, smug in his obvious victory.
She wondered what her parents would think if they had been here today. But they were twelve thousand miles away in New Zealand.
Over three years ago, when her architect father had taken early retirement and he and his wife had decided to emigrate, they had wanted Annie to go with them. At the time, however, she had just fallen madly in love with Warren Maddox. It had been a whirlwind romance. A time of foolish dreams, planning for a wedding that was to take place only six months after their first meeting. When he had jilted her for Caroline Fenn, an up-and-coming model he'd met on one of the firm's promotional assignments only two weeks before the wedding, Jane and Simon Talbot had begged Annie to join them, but determinedly she had declined. She was fine, she had told them, wanting to carry on with her life, pretend nothing had happened. In truth, she had been dealt such a blow that she had just wanted to remain alone to lick her wounds.
When she had had Sean, however, against her protests, her mother had made the long journey to be with her, over-protective, fussing in her well-meaning way, so that it was with mixed emotions, two weeks later, that Annie had seen her off on her journey home. Six months later she had taken Sean and flown over to spend Christmas in Auckland with them, returning after a month. That was nearly eighteen months ago.
Now Annie had to quell the strongest urge to ring her parents, hear her father's understanding tones, but it would be the middle of the night in New Zealand and she had never been one to run for help at the first sign of trouble.
As Sean's hazel eyes opened and he gave her a wide grin, adoringly Annie picked him up. He felt cuddly and warm in his soft pyjamas.
Everything would be sorted out, she tried convincing herself. He had her father's ears, didn't he? And everyone said he had her cheeky smile and her colouring.
But as she looked at the child in her arms, reminding herself of all these things, all she could see was the strong, daunting features of Brant Cadman.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As other reviewers have said; it's a bit far fetched. But really, aren't most of these stories.
Okay not realistic at all...
Please read and enjoy.