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His Forever Family(8)

By:Sarah M. Anderson

She'd never said those words out loud. Who would she have said them to  when she was a kid? Her foster parents? They had enough kids to worry  about. Her teachers? That would have only made them pity her more, and  she had enough of that. Her friends? Ha.

"I didn't realize," Marcus replied. "I'm sorry."

"It's no big deal," she lied because that lie came as naturally to her  as breathing air. None of it had been a big deal because she'd survived.  She'd thrived. She could afford to ignore her past now.

Or she had been able to. Right until she'd seen the little baby in the trash. Then everything had come back.

She swallowed and tried to get her voice to work right again. "He was  born with a lot of birth defects and didn't make it long." Which was a  version of the truth that was palatable for Marcus's refined taste.

An uncomfortable silence boxed her in. She could see Marcus thinking  and she couldn't have that because if he kept asking questions and she  kept having to come up with better versions of the truth, sooner or  later she'd either let the truth slip or be forced to tell a real lie.  So she barged into the silence and said, "I appreciate you coming with  me for this, but it wasn't necessary. You should be focusing on the list  I gave you."

"You mean the list I threw away?" There-they were back to their early-morning teasing and banter.

"I have other copies," she announced and was rewarded with Marcus  rolling his eyes and grinning at her. "You need to be focused on the  wedding and the meeting with the producers, not on taking me to see an  abandoned baby."

"Maybe this is what I want to do."

"Be serious, Marcus."

They hit another stoplight. "I am serious. You think you're the only one worried about that baby?"

She stared at him. "You are?"

"I can't explain it," he said in a quiet voice. "But watching you hold him..."

Oh. That was bad. The way his voice trailed off there at the end? The way he sounded all wistful and concerned?

Very, very bad. Damned bad, even.

She was not good for him. She could never be anything more than a  valuable employee who got up too early every morning to jog with him. "I  can't do anything for your reputation except drag it down."

Marcus didn't even look at her. He kept his attention on the road, but  she saw him clench his jaw again, just as he had in his office earlier.  "My reputation isn't everything."

She desperately wanted to believe that, but she knew that in his world,  her mere existence would be a scandal. "I'm not good for you," she said  in a whisper.

He pulled onto a side street and parked. "I'll be the judge of that."                       


That was exactly what she was afraid of.


Marcus got out of the car and looked around. He'd only ever lived in  the Gold Coast, with luxury high-rises and doormen and valets. He rarely  left the downtown area and when he did, it was to see the White Sox  play or catch a Bulls or Blackhawks game at the United Center-from his  owner's box, of course.

He looked up and down the street at the two-story buildings that stood  side by side with older bungalows. Most yards were mowed. Was this a  good neighborhood?

"This is nice," Liberty said, sounding shocked.

"What did you expect-slums?"

There was something about the way she avoided looking at him as she  laughed that bothered him. She stared down at the address on the  letterhead. He saw her hands were shaking.

"This one," she said, indicating a trim little bungalow. It was white  with a wall of windows framed in dark wood. The paint around the windows  was a little chipped and the white was grubby, but it didn't look bad.  He hoped.

"Ready?" he asked.

She took a deep breath and gave him an apologetic look. "You don't think this is ridiculous, do you?"

He had that urge to once again pull her into his arms and tell her it  was all going to be fine. But he didn't. Instead, he told her, "Coming  to see the baby? No. I want to do this with you."

Her eyes got huge again, but she didn't say anything. They walked up to  the front door of the house and knocked. And waited. Marcus knocked  again.

"She knows we're coming, right?" Liberty said. The panic in her voice was obvious. "Should we have-"

The door opened. "Mr. Warren?" Marcus almost grinned at the appearance  of the little old lady standing before him. Maybe she wasn't that old,  but she was petite, with a crown of white hair cut into a bob and a huge  pair of vintage-looking glasses on her nose.

"Mrs. Jones, hello. We spoke on the phone." He offered his hand but she  just nodded and smiled. "This is Liberty Reese. We found the child  together and we just wanted to see how he's doing."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Jones," Liberty said. She sounded stiff.

"How sweet of you to come. Please, call me Hazel. All my friends do.  Come in, come in. Shut the door behind you, if you don't mind." She  turned and began to climb up a short flight of stairs.

Marcus made sure to shut the front door behind him, which took a little  shove. The entryway contained another set of doors that led both  upstairs and downstairs, and he had to wonder if this was a  single-family home or if someone else lived in the basement.

Hazel and Liberty finally went through the upstairs door and Marcus followed, shutting it behind him. Then he looked around.

Wow. Once, when he'd been really little, he'd had a nanny who loved The  Brady Bunch. His parents didn't believe in television, so getting to  watch any show was a big deal to him. The nanny-Miss Judy-let him catch a  show if he got all his lessons done. She'd make a bowl of popcorn and  they'd snuggle on the couch and for a half hour at a time, he'd gotten a  glimpse at what normal might look like.

It'd been years since he'd thought of The Brady Bunch. But this was  like walking into the Brady house. Everything looked as if it was  original to the 1960s or '70s-the pine paneling, the vinyl covers over  the sofa cushions, the preponderance of autumn gold and orange  everywhere. Marcus leaned over to catch a glimpse through a doorway-yes,  there were avocado-green appliances in the kitchen.

This was one of the best foster homes in the system?

"He's in the nursery," Hazel was saying. "He's still napping. Oh, they  sleep so much the first week or so, but he's starting to wake up."

"Is he okay?" Liberty asked anxiously.

"I think he's perfect," Hazel said as she guided them through a small  dining room and past two doorways that led to a bedroom and a television  room. The third doorway was the nursery. "I understand your concerns,  though. I've had children who were coming off drugs or the like and he  doesn't seem to have those problems." She stopped and sighed. "His poor  mother. One has to wonder."

"Yes," Liberty said. "One does."

Hazel gave Liberty a maternal smile as she patted her arm. "It's good you've come. This way."

They all crowded into the small room. A metal crib was by one wall and a  larger, wooden crib up against another. There was a dresser with a blue  terry-cloth pad on it next to a worn rocking chair. Marcus had to  wonder how long Hazel Jones had had these things-since her own children  had been babies?                       


All over two of the walls were pictures of babies, he realized. Old  pictures, with the edges curling and the colors faded to a gold and  brown that matched the furniture in the rest of the house. There were  hundreds of pictures of little babies all over the place.

Next to a window was an antique-looking swinging chair that squeaked  gently with every swing. And inside the swing was the baby boy. He was  clean and dressed and Marcus swore he'd grown in the past five days, but  there was no mistaking that child. Marcus would know him anywhere. How  odd, he thought dimly.

Liberty made a noise that was half choking, half gasping. "Oh-oh," she said, covering her mouth.

Hazel patted her on the arm again. "You're his guardian angels, you and  your boyfriend. He would have likely died if it hadn't been for you."

"We're not-" Liberty started to say, but Hazel cut her off.

"It'll be time for his bottle in a few. Would you like to feed him?"

"Could I?" Liberty turned to Marcus, her brown eyes huge. "Do we have time?"

As if she had to get his permission. "Of course."

"I'll be right back." In contrast to her slow climb up the stairs,  Hazel moved quickly to the kitchen. "Don't go anywhere!" she jokingly  called out.

"Is this what you wanted?" Marcus asked Liberty as they stared at the baby.