The Only Solution(10)

By: Leigh Michaels

“When there’s real danger, that’s understandable. But in this case, when you have no legal right to this child—”

Rory was getting restless. She had dropped her keys, and she didn’t want them back, and she was starting to whimper.

Wendy said, “It’s time for her last bottle and bed.” She was a bit surprised when Mack handed the baby over without comment. But perhaps he was the kind who only liked children when they were clean and charming and fun.

She dimmed the lights, wrapped Rory in a blanket and sat down with her in the rocking chair. The baby sucked thoughtfully and watched the twinkling multi-colored lights on the small Christmas tree.

“Why did you make that phone call, Wendy?”

She sighed and tried to minimize the damage. “I started thinking that it wasn’t right for Marissa’s family not even to know about Rory. But I wasn’t asking for anything.”

“That makes five.” He leaned back on the couch and crossed his legs. “Lies,” he added helpfully, as if there could be any doubt what he’d meant.

Wendy hadn’t counted, but she thought his calculation was probably low. She’d have done a lot more than lie in an effort to protect Rory, particularly since it was her own stupidity and panic that had created this problem in the first place. Rory shouldn’t suffer for that.

Still, though she wanted to declare that she had never intended to give the child up, she couldn’t quite bring herself to look straight at him and actually say it. Those ironic deep blue eyes of his seemed to look straight through her bones.

“No matter what you think,” she said stiffly, “Marissa did tell me she wanted Rory to be in my care.”

There was a long silence. “On the whole, and knowing Marissa, I can buy that.”

She was afraid to let herself think that she’d heard him properly. “You do believe me?”

“Let’s say, I can see how it’s possible. For one thing, it rings true for Marissa to tell you, not to ask. And considering the situation... you took the baby in sudden and shocking circumstances, feeling that Marissa hadn’t given you any other choice.”

“She didn’t give me orders,” Wendy objected.

He ignored the interruption. “Then when you had a chance to think about it, you concluded – quite sensibly – that Rory was too much responsibility. So you called for help, but once you got me on the phone, you chickened out and decided to keep her.”

“I discovered you weren’t the sort I wanted to turn a baby over to!” Wendy snapped.

“Or perhaps you decided that the bait had been taken and you’d get more by pretending to be unwilling to part with her.”

“I beg your pardon—”

“So that brings us to the moment. What do you want, Wendy?”

“I want the baby. So let’s just forget I ever called you, shall we?”

“That’s exactly what you can’t have.”

“It’s what Marissa wanted. She begged me to keep Rory.”

“But we have only your word about that, don’t we?”

Tears were stinging her eyes. He’d said he believed her, but now he was snatching away even that bit of comfort. “It’s true, damn it!”

“It may well be true, but it’s also beside the point. How do you think a judge would decide the question?”

Wendy didn’t even have to think about that. If Marissa had only left a will, it would have been different. But Wendy wouldn’t have a prayer in a court case, and she knew it. Even if she could afford a lawyer, she couldn’t battle the sort of ammunition the Burgesses could bring to bear. No attorney could change the fact that she was only a friend; they were Rory’s family. And it was her word against theirs.

He was watching her as if he could read her thoughts. His voice was almost soft. “You don’t think I’m going to just vanish, do you? I feel a responsibility for this little girl. She is my sister’s child.”

“You can’t expect me just to hand her over to you this instant.”

“Why shouldn’t I? You should have handed her over months ago, when Marissa died.”

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