Liz Kingston spends her life delivering babies and longs for one of her own. All she needs is someone with fabulous genetic material. Who better to ask than her sexy ex-fling, who has no interest in ever settling down or being a father.
International correspondent Grant Wilbanks loves danger and travelling the world. But nothing in all this Brit
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"I want you to be the father of my baby, but, of course, we wouldn't have sex," Liz Kingston said as she stood near the exam table in her ob-gyn office, crossing her arms and planting her feet to make her case. "You're the most decent guy I know."
Dr. Brett Stevens immediately got up and walked to the door, cracking it and taking a quick sweep up and down the hallway. Satisfied no one was eavesdropping, he shut it and returned to his exam stool.
Liz adjusted her lab coat a little nervously but made sure to use her most chipper tone of voice. "It wouldn't be stressful. We can do it the regular way, via test tube."
Brett rolled back his stool — and his eyes. "Liz, darling. I'm your best friend. You know I'd do anything for you. But a child ... I just think that would make our friendship awkward, especially since Kevin and I are thinking of adopting."
Liz nodded to show Brett she understood. She was genuinely happy that he'd found happiness with his longtime partner. She just didn't know anyone else she could ask for such a favor.
She made the teeny-tiny gesture with her hand. "I need a little bit of sperm is all. Hardly any." Brett had a pained expression on his face, a combination, she was sure, of discomfort and a genuine desire to help her.
He understood everything she'd been through the past couple of years. Her struggles to have a baby for over two years. Her divorce. The endometriosis thing. The fact that she was the only sibling in her family who didn't have kids or wasn't pregnant — and currently her two sisters were. She needed a fresh start, and she'd done her best to achieve that, with a new job, a new life back in her hometown. But the missing part was that she wanted a baby, desperately.
"You said yourself the endometriosis is bad and I'm running out of time," she said, trying not to tear up. "I'm just a little nervous using an anonymous sperm donor, someone I don't know at all."
"The sperm bank process is more controlled than you think. You can pick hair color and eye color and even height. I know the control-freak part of you hates not knowing everything, but you can actually select a lot of traits."
"I want more than that, things you can't list on paper. I want someone who's intelligent and kind, and who isn't a serial killer or a compulsive shopper — or, God forbid, who isn't a vegetarian. And someone who eats all-organic would be nice." She was half teasing about the last one but still ... you are what you eat, right?
Brett rolled his eyes. "You want non-GMO sperm? Isn't that asking a bit much?" He wheeled his chair closer and grabbed hold of her hand, which really did make her tear up. Outside the window, the rows of cherry trees along Main Street were in glorious bloom, the earth fully alive after the long winter. In her heart, however, she felt no such awakening. She took one look at the serious expression on her friend's face and braced for what was coming.
"You also want someone who loves big old houses and flower gardens, who would share a glass of wine on the wraparound porch, who would lie around and read thrillers on a rainy Saturday, and who loves one-eyed dogs no one else wants."
"I'm not adopting that dog," Liz said. He was referring to Gizmo, the shelter dog her sister kept wanting her to keep and who'd had no trouble falling in insta-love with her. If only she could find a man as faithful.
She thought she'd found a man like that once, thousands of miles away from their little hometown of Buckleberry Bend, North Carolina, during the year after her divorce she'd spent doing Doctors Without Borders, but he hadn't felt the same. Brett massaged the tension out of her right trapezius muscle. "Don't give up on your dream yet, kiddo. It's not too late."
"I'm thirty-two years old, divorced, and I have endometriosis. And I haven't had a date since my grandmother tried to fix me up with that guy whose first name was the same as my mom's maiden name. She kept trying to say we weren't related, but I knew better."
"Well, this is the South." Brett's mouth curved up in a half smile. "Can't blame a grandma for trying."
"The point is, we know what my prospects are for getting pregnant the natural way." She held her fingers up in a big, fat O. "I don't mind having some laboratory assistance to help me conceive. I just wish I could find someone normal to help me out with the, er, donation."
"Normal men are afraid of you."
She shot him a look.
"They are. You don't show soft edges around anybody."
"No one's going to take advantage of me again, Brett. Ever."
He threw his hands up in the air. "Okay, okay. After that scumbag of an ex- husband cheated on you, I believe that, sweetie, but it's okay to let people in once in a while. You can't find love if you're not open to it."
Ouch. That was a low blow, but she wouldn't let it take her down. "I'm never going to put my fate in the hands of another man as long as I live. I'm settled back in town, and I have a great job. And if I have to use a sperm bank, fine. I'll do it. Now's the time."
Brett snapped his tablet shut. "All right, then. It's your choice. I can help you to get in to see the fertility specialist in Charlotte for artificial insemination for your next cycle. You should probably go on Clomid for maximum success."
Liz smiled. "I'm going to do this. I'm going to take charge of my own future."
A nervous thrill ran through her, one that made her a little less apprehensive about picking a random sperm sample from a sperm bank.
She'd made her decision, then. She was going to control her destiny and do everything she could to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother. She wasn't going to wait for a man to come along.
Because time was running out.
Grant Wilbanks walked at a fast clip through JFK Airport, keeping an eye out for the nearest shop to grab a candy bar. He'd eaten his last real meal eighteen hours ago before he left Nairobi, a bowl of githeri, a traditional dish consisting of beans, corn, and other vegetables. It had been satisfying enough, but he'd only had junk food since: airport peanuts, trail mix, and bad coffee on the plane. He was craving a big, juicy cheeseburger with the works, but he barely had enough time to grab a Snickers and haul ass onto his final flight to Charlotte.
As an international TV journalist for a major network, he had a face that was instantly recognizable around the world, but he rarely took advantage of his celebrity. Except for now, when he was so hungry he thought he might just use a friendly smile and a nod of acknowledgement to cut a line and make his plane.
He'd just snagged a Snickers from the candy display and walked the short distance to the checkout line when a woman hauling a baby stroller with one hand and holding a little girl's hand in the other steered in front of him in line, effectively cutting off his straight path to the cashier.
He practically bumped into the stroller. In it was a bald baby sucking on the ear of a plastic bunny toy. Cute or not cute, he really didn't have an opinion. Babies were just ... babies. Fine for other people to cuddle.
"Oops, excuse me," he said.
The woman didn't hear him because the little girl at her side, who couldn't have been more than three or four, was tugging insistently on her arm saying, "Mommy. Mommy, I want this." She waved a little blue stuffed bear in front of her mother.
"Kimberly Marie, put that bear back right now. We are not getting that."
The cashier paused in ringing up the order, which Grant saw contained a large water bottle, a pack of gum, and a bag of peanut butter crackers.
"Mommy, I need it," the little girl said, on the verge of tears, waggling the bear by a leg. "I need it."
The mom bent down to talk to her child. "We have plenty of bears at home. We've got to get on our plane now, okay?"
"Delta Flight 1502 to Charlotte," a voice boomed from the speaker system. "Last call, now boarding at Gate 14."
Come on, lady. No more negotiating. He was so, so glad he led the life he did, traveling to report in dangerous, war-torn countries. The world was his playground. No one anchored him to one place. He was free to be himself, no ties, no strings, women whenever he wanted them without the messy complications of a relationship. And he loved it that way.
A typical day in the field involved wearing a flak jacket and helmet, and traveling with a convoy of soldiers heading from one war zone to another. The adventure and risk kept the adrenaline pumping and proved to him he wasn't meant for any other kind of life. Or maybe the constant adrenaline rush merely served to help him outrun his demons. Either way, his life was what it was, and he was content with it.
He just should not have risked taking that Kenyan family out of the work camp, even if it had been the only way to get their feverish, short-of-breath child to the hospital. How the hell did he know it would lead to an international incident that had damn near got him fired? He'd been penalized, pulled out, torn away from a humanitarian crisis and the reporting he could do to make the world aware.
His father, were he alive, would not be pleased. Arthur Wilbanks had been the best of the best, a world-class journalist himself who'd died in the line of duty. He'd be ashamed of the fact that Grant had interfered and was being sent home for punishment.
His father had played by the rules, but even that hadn't kept him safe. He'd been reporting on a story at the time of his death in a war-torn nation that surely would have garnered him a Pulitzer if he hadn't been killed by a random grenade. His mother, a photographer, had been with him. They'd died together, orphaning him instantly at the age of ten.
Grant understood the sacrifice it had taken to reach the upper echelons of his industry. It was a raw, gritty job that required the utmost dedication to his nomadic existence. And he understood the cardinal rule of journalists. Do not interfere. Well, he'd interfered, and now he was fucked.
"The bear's not for me," the little girl said, tugging on her mom's sweater in a last-ditch effort. "It's for the baby. He needs it, Mommy."
"Put it back," the mom said, giving the little girl a nudge in the direction of a large pyramidal display of bears in the center of an aisle, half blue, half pink.
The little girl stayed put and pulled out her lower lip. "You come with me."
"Honey, I can't. We're in line."
Grant glanced at his watch. Three minutes before they shut the cabin doors. He couldn't miss that plane. Not that he was in a hurry to get to the place where he was being exiled, Buckleberry Bend, North Carolina — a quiet, off-the-map town where no one would give a rat's ass who he was. Even his aunt, who was letting him hide out at her house, wouldn't be around — she was off gallivanting through Europe on a senior citizen tour.
And then he thought of her, and his heart lurched uncomfortably. Elizabeth Kingston. The sexy, gutsy doctor he'd met a year ago while she was on a polio project with Doctors Without Borders. She lived in that small town, too.
She'd interfered with everything. Insisted on doing everything in that little African village, going everywhere, leaving no person unfound, no child unvaccinated. She'd laughed at him when he'd told her the true job of a journalist was to observe, catalog events, report. He wasn't a damn missionary, for God's sakes.
What would she think of him now? He could hear her tinkling, sonorous laugh. See her gorgeous brown eyes dance with mischief, those gold hoop earrings she always wore catching the sunlight as she agreed with his punishment: banishment to East Podunk, North Carolina, to work on a crappy documentary over the summer until things settled down. She'd certainly have no pity for him after the unceremonious way he'd dumped her after their torrid affair.
But perhaps she could forgive him.
There was a time when he'd believed he could change and become the kind of man she wanted, the kind to settle down. She'd been the only woman who'd ever made him reconsider that policy. But in the end it came down to knowing himself, knowing he was meant to roam the world, doing the work his father began.
The little girl stomped her foot and let out a cry. Her mother looked desperate.
"Excuse me," Grant said, flashing a big smile. The mom looked up. He saw the moment recognition dawned. This was the typical pattern. Grant wasn't vain, but he'd be a fool not to know his looks turned heads. For now, he'd do almost anything not to miss his plane.
"Oh," the mother said. "why, you're ... you're Grant Wilbanks."
"Indeed, I am," he said, making sure his aristocratic British accent rolled off his tongue quite elegantly.
"I'm so sorry to disrupt your parenting," he said, "but I've a plane to catch that's going to leave the tarmac in a few minutes. Would you be so kind as to allow me to purchase the bear?"
"Oh no, I couldn't —"
"Please," he said, still sounding quite charming, if he did say so himself. "I insist." He turned to the little girl. "Tell you what. Run and get a pink one, too. Then you and your baby brother will both have one. If it's okay with Mummy."
The little girl looked at him with wide eyes. The mother stammered and put a hand around her daughter's shoulder. "Oh, fine. It's fine, sweetie. Thank you so much."
Grant paid for the candy bar and the bears and the woman's other things, too. He would've paid for a sirloin dinner with all the trimmings and a bottle of Dom Pérignon if that's what it took to get him the hell out of there. As he patted the little girl on the head, she smiled up at him sweetly and cuddled the bear to her neck. She was a cute little bugger, but like all children, the cuteness tended to fade into annoyance after a minute or two. He waggled his fingers at the baby, said good-bye to the frazzled mum, and sprinted for his plane, clutching his giant Snickers bar in his hand. And thanking God he'd never have any children of his own.
Liz shoved an organic frozen dinner into her microwave at the end of a long, ball-bust day. She'd delivered two babies, seen an afternoon's worth of patients, and attended a staff meeting at the hospital. It was great to be making a difference in her hometown and she was fortunate to be part of a busy practice. She loved being busy, but sometimes she felt as if her work were taking over her life.
Case in point: her refrigerator was not looking good. An apple, an old carton of half-and-half, and a bottle of wine she'd opened almost a month ago when Brett and Kevin brought takeout for dinner, stared back at her from the otherwise empty shelves. The microwave dinged, and she took her prepared meal into the living room, where she sat in an old beige recliner, the only thing she'd brought from her apartment with her ex because it had been hers before her marriage.
The chair was ratty but comfy. Actually, it was the only comfy thing in her place. It was also the only piece of furniture. But it was hers and that meant something. As she ate, she tried to picture what her place would look like with more things — a pretty couch, some bright pillows. The odds and ends and photos, maybe a plant or two, that make up a real life.
It wasn't so long ago she'd started a life like that, full of hopes and dreams. Until her husband, the man she'd dated since high school, cheated on her with Daphne Marie Henderson, who owned the pet grooming business in town. At the time, they hadn't even been married a year. She thought Parker was dropping off his mother's dog for a shampoo and cut, but he was clearly getting some other services performed as well.
She hadn't even suspected a thing until she'd come home early one day and found the bedroom door closed. In her mind, she could still hear the creaking of the bed. She'd made herself forget the other sounds she'd heard coming from behind that door.
That was enough for her to leave every single stick of furniture behind. All the wedding china and the pretty crystal wineglasses and the cute gadgets and appliances. As for those pretty throw pillows she'd picked out ... well, her ex could shove those somewhere dark and remote. She hadn't wanted one single thing he'd touched.
So her new life was a bit sparse. That was all right. It was simply the price for purging Parker — and all the attendant stuff — from her life for good.
Excerpted from "The Baby Project"
Copyright © 2017 Miranda Liasson.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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