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Authors: Nora Roberts

Birthright (10 page)

BOOK: Birthright
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“You're going back?” Vivian demanded. “Oh, Callie, can't you stay?”

“I can't. I'm sorry. I love you. Whatever we find out, I'm still going to love you. But there's a woman who's in considerable pain over the loss of a child. She deserves some answers.”

oug didn't know the last time he'd been so angry. There was no talking to his mother—he'd given that up. It was like beating your head against the iron wall that was her will.

He was getting no help from his grandfather either. Reality, reason, reminders of the dozens of disappointments in the past did nothing to budge either of them an inch.

And to find out that his mother had gone to this Callie Dunbrook. Actually gone to her motel room—with family pictures, yet. Humiliating herself, tearing open scars, dragging an outsider into a personal family tragedy.

The way Woodsboro worked, it wasn't going to take long for the Cullen family history to be dug up, sifted through and discussed endlessly all over again.

So he was going to see Callie Dunbrook himself. To ask her not to speak of his mother's visit with anyone—if it wasn't too late for that. To apologize for it.

He wasn't going to get a better look at her, he assured himself. As far as he was concerned Jessica was gone. Long gone, and no amount of wishing or searching or hoping was going to bring her back.

And if she did come back, what was the point? She wasn't Jessica now. If she was still alive, she was a different person, a grown woman with a life of her own that had nothing to do with the baby they'd lost.

Whatever way it worked, it was only more heartache for his mother. Nothing he said or did could convince her of that. Jessica was her Holy Grail, the quest of her life.

He pulled over to the side of the road by the construction fence.

He remembered this spot—the soft ground of the field, the exciting paths through the woods. He'd gone swimming in Simon's Hole. Had once skinny-dipped there on a moon-drenched night with Laurie Worrell and had very nearly talked her out of her virginity in the cool, dark water.

Now there were holes in the field, mounds of dirt and rope lines strung everywhere.

He'd never understand why people couldn't leave well enough alone.

As he stepped out of the car to head toward the fence, a short man in mud-brown attire broke away from a group and walked to meet him.

“How's it going?” Doug said for lack of anything else.

“Very well. Are you interested in the project?” Leo asked him.

“Well . . .”

“It probably looks a bit confusing right now, but in fact, it's the early days of a very organized archaeological dig. The initial survey produced artifacts that we've dated to the Neolithic era. Human bones nearly six thousand years old were discovered by a backhoe operator during excavation for a proposed housing development—”

“Yes, I know. Dolan. I . . .caught the report on the news,” Doug added and scanned the people at work over Leo's shoulder. “I thought there was a Callie Dunbrook heading this up.”

“Dr. Dunbrook's the head archaeologist on the Antietam Creek Project, with Dr. Graystone as head anthropologist. We're segmenting the area,” Leo continued, gesturing behind him, “measuring off by square meters. Each meter will be given a number for reference. It's one of the most vital steps, the documentation. As we dig, we destroy the site. By documenting each segment, with photographs and on paper, we maintain its integrity.”

“Uh-huh.” Doug didn't give a flying fuck about the dig. “Is Dr. Dunbrook here?”

“I'm afraid not. But if you have any questions, I can assure you either I or Dr. Graystone can answer them.”

Doug glanced back, caught the look. Jesus, he thought, the guy thought he was some moron dropping by hoping to hit on a woman he'd seen on TV. Smoothly, he switched gears. “The only thing I know about this stuff is what I've seen in
Indiana Jones.
It's not like I expected.”

“Not as dramatic. No evil Nazis or chase scenes. But it can be just as exciting.”

Couldn't just walk away now, Doug realized. Questions were expected. And, God help him, small talk. “So, what's the point? I mean, what do you prove by looking at old bones?”

“Who they were. Who we were. Why they lived here, how they lived. The more we know about the past, the more we understand ourselves.”

As far as Doug was concerned, the past was over, the future was later. It was today that ran the show. “I don't feel like I have much in common with—what was it?—a six-thousand-year-old man.”

“He ate and he slept, he made love and he grew old. He got sick, felt cold and heat.” Leo took off his glasses, began to polish them on his shirt. “He wondered. Because he wondered, he progressed and gave those who came after a road to follow. Without him, you wouldn't be here.”

“Got a point,” Doug conceded. “Anyway, I just wanted to take a look. I used to play in those woods as a kid. Swam in Simon's Hole in the summer when I could.”

“Why do they call it Simon's Hole?”

“What? Oh.” Doug looked back at Leo. “The story is some kid named Simon drowned there a couple hundred years ago. He haunts the woods, if you're into that kind of thing.”

Lips pursed, Leo slipped his glasses on again. “Who was he?”

Doug shrugged. “I don't know. Just a kid.”

“There's the difference. I'd need to know. Who was Simon, how old was he? What was he doing here? It interests
me. By drowning here, he changed lives. The loss of anyone, but particularly a child, changes lives.”

A dull ache settled in Doug's belly. “Yeah. You got that right. I won't hold you up any longer. Thanks for your trouble.”

“Come back anytime. We appreciate the community's interest.”

It was just as well she hadn't been there, Doug told himself as he started back to his car. What could he have said to her, really, that wouldn't have made things worse?

Another car pulled up behind his. Damn tourist attraction now, Doug thought bitterly. Nobody ever left things alone.

Lana jumped out, gave him a cheery wave. “Hi there. Taking a look at Woodsboro's latest claim to fame?”

He placed her. Hers wasn't a face a man forgot quickly. “Bunch of holes in the ground. I don't know how it's any better than Dolan's houses.”

“Oh, let me count the ways.” Her hair tossed in the breeze. She let it fly and put her hands on her hips as she looked toward the dig. “We're already starting to get some national attention. Enough that Dolan won't be pouring any concrete slabs anytime soon. If ever. Hmmm.” Her lips pursed. “I don't see Callie.”

“You know her?”

“Yes, we've met. Did you take a tour of the site?”


She shifted slightly, angled her head. “Are you naturally unfriendly, or have you just taken an instant dislike to me?”

“Just naturally unfriendly, I guess.”

“Well, that's a relief.”

She took a step away, and cursing under his breath, Doug touched her arm. He wasn't unfriendly, he assured himself. Private was different from unfriendly. But rude was rude, and his grandfather was very fond of her.

“Look, I'm sorry. I've got some things on my mind.”

“It shows.” She took another step, then turned back quickly. “Is something wrong with Roger? I'd have heard if—”

“He's fine. He's just fine. Got a thing for him, do you?”

“A huge thing. I'm crazy about him. Did he tell you how we met?”


She paused, then laughed. “Okay, don't nag, I'll tell you. I wandered into the bookstore a few days after moving here. I was setting up my practice, I'd put my son in day care, and I couldn't seem to hold two thoughts together. So I went for a walk and ended up in your grandfather's place. He asked me if he could help me with anything. And I burst into tears. Just stood there, sobbing hysterically. He came around the counter, put his arms around me and let me cry all over him. A complete stranger who was having an emotional breakdown in his place of business.

“I've been in love with him ever since.”

“That's just like him. He's good with strays.” Doug winced. “No offense.”

“None taken. I wasn't a stray. I knew where I was, how I'd gotten there and where I needed to go. But at that moment it was all so huge, so heavy, so horrible. And Roger held on to me, and mopped me up. Even when I tried to apologize, he put the Closed sign on the door, took me into the back room. He made tea and he let me tell him everything I was feeling. Things I didn't even know I was feeling and had never been able to say to anyone else. There's nothing in the world I wouldn't do for Roger.”

She paused again. “Even marry you, which is what he'd like. So watch yourself.”

“Jesus.” Instinctively, he took a step in retreat. “What am I supposed to say to that?”

“You could ask me to dinner. It'd be nice to have a meal or two together before we start planning the wedding.” The look on his face was so perfect, so priceless, so utterly filled with male horror, she laughed until her sides ached.

“Relax, Doug, I haven't started buying place settings. Yet. I just thought it fair to tell you, if you haven't figured it out, that Roger's got this fantasy in his mind about you
and me. He loves us, so he figures we're perfect for each other.”

He considered. “Nothing I say at this point could possibly be the right thing to say. I'm shutting up.”

“Just as well, I'm running behind. And I want a quick look at the progress before I head back to the office.” She started toward the fence, glanced back with a brilliant smile. “Why don't you meet me for dinner tonight? The Old Antietam Inn. Seven o'clock?”

“I don't think—”


“Hell, no, I'm not scared. It's just—”

“Seven o'clock. My treat.”

He jiggled the car keys still in his pocket and frowned after her. “You always this pushy?”

“Yes,” she called back. “Yes, I am.”

oments after Lana got back to her office, Callie walked into it. Ignoring the assistant at the desk in the outer office, Callie looked straight through the connecting doorway to Lana's.

“I need to talk to you.”

“Sure. Lisa? Put off making that call for me until I'm done with Dr. Dunbrook. Come on in, Callie. Have a seat. Want something cold?”

“No. No, thanks.” She shut the door at her back.

The office was small, and pretty, tidy, female as a parlor.

The window behind the fancy little desk looked over a park. Which told Callie however low the real estate market in a town this size, Lana Campbell had enough money for a prime spot, and the good taste to use it stylishly.

It didn't tell her Lana was a good lawyer.

“Where'd you study?” Callie demanded.

Lana took a seat, leaned back. “Undergraduate work at Michigan State. I transferred to University of Maryland after I met my husband. He was a Marylander. I got my law degree there, as he did.”

“Why did you move here?”

“Is this a personal or professional inquiry?”

“It's professional.”

“All right. I worked for a firm in Baltimore. I had a child. I lost my husband. After I could think straight again, I decided to relocate in an area where I could practice with less pressure and raise my son in the way his father and I had planned. I wanted him to have a house and a yard, and a mother who wasn't obliged to be at the office ten hours a day and work another two when she got home. All right?”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Callie walked to the window. “If I hire you, whatever we discuss is confidential.”

“Of course.” Just standing there, Lana thought, the woman put off waves of energy. She wondered if it was exhausting to run on that vibrating loop.

Lana opened a drawer, took out a fresh legal pad. “Whether or not you hire me, whatever you tell me here will be confidential. So why don't you tell me so we can decide?”

“I'm looking for a lawyer.”

“Looks like you've found one.”

“No, another lawyer. Marcus Carlyle. He practiced in Boston between 1968 and 1979.” That much she'd been able to find out by cell phone on the drive back down.

“And after 'seventy-nine?”

“He closed his practice. That's all I know. I also know that at least part of his practice included arranging private adoptions.”

She took a folder out of her bag, leafed through and set her adoption papers on Lana's desk. “I want you to check on this, too.”

Lana noted the names, looked up. “I see. Are you trying to find your birth parents?”


“Callie, if you want me to help you, you have to trust me. I can initiate a search for Carlyle. I can, with your written permission, attempt to cut through some of the privacy blocks on adoptions in the seventies and get you some answers on your birth family. I can do both of those things
without any more information than what you've given me. But I can do them quicker, and better, if you give me more.”

“I'm not prepared to give you more. Yet. I'd like you to find out what you can about Carlyle. To locate him if possible. And to find out what you can about the process that led to this adoption. I've got some digging to do myself in a couple of other areas. When we have answers, we'll see if I need to take this any further. Do you want a retainer?”

“Yes, I do. We'll start with five hundred.”

ith the idea of picking up a few supplies at the hardware store, Jake cruised into Woodsboro. He'd been tempted a number of times that day to try Callie on her cell phone.

But since he knew any conversation would probably end in an argument, he saved himself the headache.

If she wasn't back in the field the next morning, they'd go a round. Getting her mad was a surefire way to unearth whatever was wrong with her.

BOOK: Birthright
6.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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