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The Only Solution(5)

By:Leigh Michaels





       

Rory pushed herself away from Wendy's shoulder and reached for the keys.  She finally got her fist around one of them, and Mack released the toy  and slipped both hands under the baby's arms.

Wendy let her go. She could hardly treat the child as the rope in a tug-of-war. But she felt incredibly empty, lonely, and cold.

He'd said he was a connoisseur when it came to babies, and he'd been  right, she thought bitterly. That had been one of the slickest maneuvers  Wendy had ever seen. Absorbed in her new treasure, Rory didn't even  seem to notice that she'd been moved. And it had been pretty smooth of  him to chat about names to distract Wendy and kill a bit of time till he  could get hold of the baby.

"Now if you're satisfied about my credentials," Mack Burgess said politely, "can I ask about the baby? What's her name?"

"Rory."

He winced a little. "Well, at least it isn't Snowflake or something totally bizarre."

"Aurora Dawn, actually."

"That sounds like Marissa. It's completely redundant  –  but rather pretty. Shall we sit down and talk this whole thing over?"

She didn't realize till then that he was still standing in the hallway,  with the door open. It was rather clever of him to wait till he had  possession of the baby, she thought, and then ask to come inside. She  certainly wasn't going to ask him to leave while Rory was in his arms.

"Won't you come in?" she said sweetly.

He almost smiled at that  –  she thought, in fact, that he had to bite his  lip to prevent it. But he meekly followed her into the small living  room. Wendy thought she saw him take an appraising look around the room,  especially at the small Christmas tree and the tiny stack of gifts  under it.

He chose a place at the end of the couch. Rory didn't want to sit; she  braced her feet against his thighs and pushed herself upright.

"There's obviously nothing wrong with her physical development, is there?" he said.

"You expected there might be?"

His voice was almost gentle. "Sarcasm isn't going to get us anywhere, Wendy."

He was right, and she knew she was being petty. She twisted her fingers together and stared at them.

"It's obvious that this is Marissa's child," he went on, "and I wouldn't  have any doubt of it, even if I hadn't spent an hour at the department  of vital records this afternoon and found her birth certificate. Now we  have to decide what to do about it."

"There isn't anything to do. Marissa put her into my care." It was the  truth, but Wendy was uneasily aware that without a will which named her  as guardian, she had nothing to prove what Marissa had said, what she  had wanted. And she didn't think Mack Burgess was likely to take her  word for it.

In fact, he didn't even bother to answer. "What about the father? The  name on the birth certificate doesn't mean anything to me."

Wendy shook her head. "I know who he is, nothing more than that. He and  Marissa dated for a while. They'd broken up by the time Rory was born,  and he didn't show any interest in the baby. When Marissa was – " She had  to clear her throat. It was still difficult to think of the way that  young life had been snuffed out. "When she died, I called him, and he  just thanked me for letting him know and hung up."

"So you kept the baby."

"I told you, Marissa put her into my care."

"But of course you don't have any legal papers to that effect. Marissa didn't leave a will."

"No. But she told me that's what she wanted."

His voice was crisp. "Any witnesses?"

She shook her head, reluctantly. "We were alone, in the intensive care  unit. At least, as alone as anyone ever is in those places. You don't  believe me, do you?"

"I don't see why I should." His voice was low, but there was an  intensity about it which brought a lump to Wendy's throat. "I caught you  in four separate lies within half an hour this afternoon."

Wendy felt soft color rise in her face. "A woman will do anything to protect her young."                       
       
           



       

"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."                       
       
           



       

"Your family cared so little about Marissa that no one even came to Phoenix when she died!"

His gaze flickered a little. "Obviously we should have. But at the time,  the decision seemed very clear. She was gone, and the details didn't  matter."

Wendy bit her lip. She didn't agree with that, but she could understand  it. "Still, you can't just snatch Rory like this. What do you plan to  do? Check into a hotel tonight and demand a crib and a nanny and a full  range of supplies?"

"You don't think the Kendrick Hotel would be up to the challenge?"

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