Read Birthright Online

Authors: Nora Roberts

Birthright (7 page)

BOOK: Birthright
12.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Were you adopted?”

“What?” With a sound that was part shock, part laugh, Callie shook her head. “No. What the hell kind of question is that? Who the hell are you?”

“Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?”

“Of course I am. Jesus, lady. Look—”

“On December 12, 1974, my infant daughter, Jessica, was stolen from her stroller in the Hagerstown Mall.”

She spoke calmly now. She had, over the years, given countless speeches on missing children and her own ordeal.

“I was there to take my son, her three-year-old brother, Douglas, to see Santa Claus. There was a moment of distraction. A moment. That's all it took. She was gone. We looked everywhere. The police, the FBI, family, friends, the community. Organizations for missing children. She was only three months old. We never found her. She'll be twenty-nine on September eighth.”

“I'm sorry.” Annoyance wavered into sympathy. “I'm very sorry. I can't imagine what it must be like for you, for your family. If you have some idea that I might be that daughter, I'm sorry for that, too. But I'm not.”

“I need to show you something.” Though her breathing was shallow, Suzanne opened the portfolio carefully. “This is a picture of me when I was about your age. Will you look at it, please?”

Reluctantly, Callie took it. A chill danced up her spine as she studied the face. “There's a resemblance. That sort of thing happens, Ms. Cullen. A similar heritage, or mix of genes. You hear people say everyone's got a double. That's because it's basically true.”

“Do you see the dimples? Three?” Suzanne brushed her trembling fingers over her own. “You have them.”

“I also have parents. I was born in Boston on September 11, 1974. I have a birth certificate.”

“My mother.” Suzanne pulled out another photo. “Again, this was taken when she was about thirty. Maybe a few years younger, my father wasn't sure. You see how much you look like her. And, and my husband.”

Suzanne drew out another photo. “His eyes. You have his eyes—the shape, the color. Even the eyebrows. Dark and straight. When you—when Jessica was born, I said her eyes were going to be like Jay's. And they were turning that amber color when she, when we . . . Oh, God. When I saw you on television, I knew. I
knew.

Callie's heart was galloping, a wild horse inside her breast, and her palms began to sweat. “Ms. Cullen, I'm not
your daughter. My mother has brown eyes. We're almost the same height and build. I know who my parents are, my family history. I know who I am and where I came from. I'm sorry. There's nothing I can say to make you feel better. There's nothing I can do to help you.”

“Ask them.” Suzanne pleaded. “Look them in the face and ask them. If you don't do that, how can you be sure? If you don't do that, I'll go to Philadelphia and ask them myself. Because I know you're my child.”

“I want you to go.” Callie moved to the door. Her knees were starting to shake. “I want you to go now.”

Leaving the photographs on the bed, Suzanne rose. “You were born at four thirty-five in the morning, at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, Maryland. We named you Jessica Lynn.”

She took another picture out of her bag, set it on the bed. “That's a copy of the photograph taken shortly after you were born. Hospitals do that for families. Have you ever seen a picture of yourself before you were three months old?”

She paused a moment, then stepped to the door. Indulged herself by brushing her hand over Callie's. “Ask them. My address and phone number are with the pictures. Ask them,” she said again and hurried out.

Trembling, Callie shut the door, leaned back against it.

It was crazy. The woman was sad and deluded. And crazy. Losing a child had snapped her brain or something. How could you blame her? She probably saw her daughter in every face that held any remote resemblance.

More than remote, Callie's mind whispered as she studied the photographs on the bed. Strong, almost uncanny resemblance.

It didn't mean anything. It was insane to think otherwise.

Her parents weren't baby thieves, for God's sake. They were kind, loving, interesting people. The kind who would feel nothing but compassion for someone like Suzanne Cullen.

The resemblance, the age similarity, they were only coincidences.

Ask them.

How could you ask your own parents such a thing? Hey, Mom, did you happen to be in the mall in Maryland around Christmas in 'seventy-four? Did you pick up a baby along with some last-minute gifts?

“God.” She pressed her hand to her belly as it roiled. “Oh God.”

At the knock on the door she whirled around, yanked it open. “I told you I'm not . . . What the hell do you want?”

“Share a beer?” Jake clanged the two bottles he held by the necks. “Truce?”

“I don't want a beer, and there's no need for a truce. I'm not interested enough to have a fight with you, therefore, a truce is moot.”

“Not like you to turn down a free beer at the end of the day.”

“You're right.” She snagged one, then booted the door. It would have slammed satisfactorily in his face, but he'd always been quick.

“Hey. Trying to be friendly here.”

“Go be friendly with someone else. You're good at it.”

“Ah, that sounds like interested enough to fight to me.”

“Get lost, Graystone. I'm not in the mood.” She turned her back on him and spotted her wedding ring on the dresser. Shit. Perfect. She stalked over, laid a hand over it and drew the chain into her fist.

“The Callie Dunbrook we all know and love is always in the mood to fight.” He sauntered toward the bed as she jammed the ring and chain into her pocket. “What's this? Looking at family pictures?”

She spun around and went pale as ice. “Why do you say that?”

“Because they're on the bed. Who's this? Your grandmother? Never met her, did I? Then again, we didn't spend a lot of time getting chummy with each other's families.”

“It's not my grandmother.” She tore the photo out of his hand. “Get out.”

“Hold on.” He tapped his knuckles on her cheek, an old
habit that had tears burning the back of her throat. “What's wrong?”

“What's wrong is I'd like to have some goddamn privacy.”

“Babe, I know that face. You're not pissed off at me, you're upset. Tell me what's wrong.”

She wanted to. Wanted to pull the cork and let it all pour out. “It's none of your business. I have a life without you. I don't need you.”

His eyes went cold, went hard. “You never did. I'll get out of your way. I've had a hell of a lot of practice getting out of your way.”

He walked to the door. He glanced at the cello case in the corner, the sandalwood candle burning on the dresser, the laptop on the bed and the open bag of DoubleStuf Oreos beside the phone.

“Same old Callie,” he muttered.

“Jake?” She stepped to the door, nearly touched him. Nearly gave in to the urge to put a hand on his arm and pull him back. “Thanks for the beer,” she said and closed the door, gently at least, in his face.

Four

S
he felt like a thief. It hardly mattered that she had a key to the front door, that she knew every sound and scent of the neighborhood, every corner and closet of the big brick house in Mount Holly.

She was still sneaking in at two in the morning.

Callie hadn't been able to settle after Suzanne Cullen's visit. She hadn't been able to eat, or sleep or lose herself in work.

And she had realized she'd go crazy sitting around a dumpy motel room obsessing about a stranger's lost baby.

Not that she believed she'd been that baby. Not for a minute.

But she was a scientist, a seeker, and until she had answers she knew she'd pick at the puzzle like a scab until it was uncovered.

Leo wasn't happy with her, she thought as she pulled into the driveway of her parents' suburban home. He'd blustered and complained and asked questions she couldn't answer when she'd called to tell him she was taking the next day off.

But she'd
had
to come.

Along the drive from Maryland to Philadelphia she'd convinced herself she was doing the only logical thing. Even if that meant going into her parents' house when they were away, even if it meant searching their files and papers for some proof of what she already knew.

She was Callie Ann Dunbrook.

The elegant neighborhood was quiet as a church. Though she shut her car door gently, the sound of it echoed like a shot and set a neighbor's dog to barking.

The house was dark but for a faint gleam in the second-story window of her mother's sitting room. Her parents would have set the security system, putting the lights on a changing pattern of time and location while they were in Maine.

They'd have stopped the newspapers, had the mail held, informed neighbors of their plans to be away.

They were, she thought as she crossed the flagstone walk to the big front porch, sensible, responsible people.

They liked to play golf and give clever dinner parties. They enjoyed each other's company and laughed at the same jokes.

Her father liked to putter around the garden and pamper his roses and tomatoes. Her mother played the violin and collected antique watches. He donated four days a month to a free clinic. She gave music lessons to underprivileged children.

They'd been married for thirty-eight years, and though they argued, occasionally bickered, they still held hands when they walked together.

She knew her mother deferred to her father on major decisions, and most of the minor ones. It was a trait that drove Callie crazy, one she perceived as a developed subservience that fostered dependence and weakness.

She was often ashamed of herself for viewing her mother as weak, and for viewing her father as just a bit smug for fostering the dependence.

Her father actually gave her mother an allowance. They didn't call it that, of course. Household expenses. But to Callie's mind it came to the same thing.

But if these were the biggest flaws she could find in her parents, it hardly made them baby-snatching monsters.

Feeling foolish, guilty and ridiculously nervous, Callie let herself into the house, hit the foyer lights, then punched in the code for the security alarm.

For a moment she simply stood, absorbing the feel. She couldn't think of the last time she'd been alone in the house. Certainly before she'd moved out and into her first apartment.

She could smell the faint drift of Murphy Oil Soap that told her Sarah, their longtime cleaning woman, had been there within the last few days. There was the scent of roses, too, strong and sweet from her mother's favorite potpourri.

She saw there were fresh flowers, some elegant summer arrangement, on the refectory table that ran under the staircase. Her mother would have told Sarah to see to that, Callie thought. She would have said the house enjoyed flowers, whether anyone was home or not.

She crossed the unglazed checkerboard of tile and started up the stairs.

She stopped in the doorway of her room first. Her childhood room. It had gone through numerous incarnations from the little-girl fussiness that was her first memory of it—and her mother's vision—through the eye-popping colors she'd insisted on when she'd begun to have her own ideas and into the messy cave where she'd kept her collection of fossils and old bottles, animal bones and anything else she'd managed to dig up.

Now it was an elegant space to welcome her or any guests. Pale green walls and sheer white curtains, an antique quilt on a wide four-poster bed. And all the pretty little whatnots her mother collected on shopping expeditions with friends.

With the exception of vacations, sleepovers at friends', summer camp and the summer nights when she'd pitched a tent in the backyard, she'd always slept in that room until she'd left for college.

That made it, she supposed, in whatever incarnation, part of her.

She moved down the wide hallway and into her father's study. She hesitated there, wincing a bit as she looked at his lovely old mahogany desk with its pristine surface, the fresh blotter in its burgundy leather holder, the silver desk set, the charming folly of an antique inkwell with quill.

The desk chair was the same rich leather, and she could see him there, as likely studying a gardening catalogue as a medical journal. His glasses would be sliding down his nose, and his hair, pale gold and shot with silver, would fall over his wide forehead.

This time of year he'd wear a golf shirt and chinos, over a very fit frame. He'd have music on—probably classical. Indeed his first formal date with the girl who'd become his wife had been a concert.

Callie had often come into this room, plopped down in one of the two cozy leather chairs and interrupted her father with news, complaints, questions. If he'd been really busy, he'd give her a long, cool look over the top of his glasses, which would make her slink out again.

But the majority of the time she'd been welcomed there.

Now she felt like an intruder.

She ordered herself not to think about it. She would simply do what she'd come to do. After all, they were her papers.

She walked to the first of the wooden file cabinets. Anything she needed to find would be in this room, she knew. Her father took care of the finances, the record keeping, the filing.

She opened the top drawer and began to search.

A
n hour later, she went downstairs to brew a pot of coffee. Since she was there anyway, she raided the pantry and dug up a bag of low-sodium potato chips. Pitiful, she decided as she carted the snack upstairs. What was the point in living longer if you had to eat cardboard?

She took a ten-minute break at the desk. At the rate she was going, it wasn't going to take her as long as she'd estimated. Her father's files were meticulously organized.
She'd have been nearly done already if she hadn't gotten caught up in the file dedicated to her report cards and grades.

Walking back through her own past had been irresistible. Looking through the school file made her think of the friends she'd had—the digs she'd organized in backyards in elementary school. Her pal Donny Riggs had caught hell from his mom over the holes they'd dug in her garden.

She thought of her first real kiss. Not Donny, but Joe Torrento, her heartthrob at thirteen. He'd worn a black leather jacket and Redwing boots. He'd seemed pretty sexy and dangerous to her at thirteen. Last she'd heard, he was teaching biology at St. Bernadette's High School in Cherry Hill, had two kids and served as head of the local Rotary.

There was her best friend and next-door neighbor Natalie Carmichael. They'd been as close as sisters, had shared every secret. Then college had come, and after a year or so of trying to maintain the connection, they'd drifted apart.

Because it made her sad to think of it, she got up again and began to go through the second file cabinet.

Like the school file, medical records were precisely organized. She flipped past the folder marked for her mother and the one marked for her father and drew out her own.

It was where she should have started in the first place, she realized, and certain the simple proof she wanted would be there, she sat again. Opened the file.

She noted the childhood inoculations, the X rays and reports on the broken arm she'd suffered at ten when she'd fallen out of a tree. There was her tonsillectomy in June 1983. The dislocated finger she'd earned trying to slam-dunk during a pickup basketball game when she'd been sixteen.

She reached for more chips as she continued to scan the paperwork. He'd even kept the basic stuff from every one of her annual checkups until she'd moved out of the house. Jesus, even from the gynecologist.

“Dad,” she muttered. “That's just anal.”

She didn't react until she'd gone straight through every paper. Then she simply turned the file over and went through every paper a second time.

But she found no hospital records of her birth. No paperwork from pediatric exams for the first three months of her life.

Didn't mean anything. She rubbed a fist between her breasts when her breathing quickened. He just filed them somewhere else. A baby file. Or he put them in with her mother's medicals.

Yes, that was it. He'd kept the documentation of her pregnancy and had kept his daughter's earliest records with that. To close the event.

To prove to herself she wasn't worried, she poured more coffee, sipped at it before she rose to replace her file and pull out her mother's.

She couldn't, wouldn't, feel guilty for going through papers not her own. It was only to put all this to rest. She scanned through, trying to pick up key data without actually reading what she considered her mother's private business.

She found the reports and treatment for the first miscarriage in August of 1969. She'd known about it, and about the one that followed in the fall of 'seventy-one.

Her mother had told her how they'd devastated her, had even sent her into a clinical depression. And how much finally having a healthy baby girl had meant to her.

And here, Callie noted with a shudder of relief, here was the third pregnancy. The ob-gyn had been concerned, naturally, with the diagnosis of incompetent cervical os that had caused the previous miscarriages, had prescribed medication, bed rest through the first trimester.

The pregnancy had been carefully monitored by Dr. Henry Simpson. She'd even been admitted to the hospital for two days during her seventh month due to concerns about hypertension, and dehydration due to continued morning sickness.

But she'd been treated, released.

And that, to Callie's confusion, was where all
documentation of the pregnancy ended. The next of the paperwork picked up nearly a year later with a sprained ankle.

She began to flip through more quickly, certain she'd find the rest of the documents mixed in.

But they weren't there. Nothing was there. It was as if her mother's pregnancy had stopped in its seventh month.

There was a knotted ball in her stomach as she rose again, returned to the files. She opened the next drawer, thumbed through looking for more medicals. And when she found no folder that fit, crouched and started to open the bottom drawer.

Found it locked.

For a moment, she stayed just as she was, squatted in front of the polished wooden cabinet, one hand on the gleaming brass handle. Then she straightened and, refusing to allow herself to think, searched through her father's desk for the key.

When she didn't find it, she took his letter opener, knelt down in front of the drawer and broke the lock.

Inside she found a long metal fire box, again locked. This she took back to the desk, sat. For a long moment she simply stared at it, wishing it away.

She could put it back, stick it in the drawer and pretend it didn't exist. Whatever was inside was something her father had gone to some trouble to keep private.

What right did she have to violate his privacy?

And yet wasn't that what she did every day? She violated the privacy of the dead, of strangers, because knowledge and discovery were more sacred than their secrets.

How could she dig up, test, examine, handle the bones of dead strangers and not open a box that might very well hold secrets that involved her own life?

“I'm sorry,” she said aloud, and attacked the lock with the letter opener.

She lifted the lid, and began.

There hadn't been a third miscarriage. Nor had there been a live birth. Callie forced herself to read as though it were a lab report from a dig. In the first week of the eighth month of her pregnancy, Vivian Dunbrook's fetus had died
in the womb. Labor was induced, and she delivered a stillborn daughter on June 29, 1974.

Diagnosis: pregnancy-induced hypertension, resulting in missed pregnancy.

The cervical defect that induced the miscarriages, the extreme hypertension resulting in the stillbirth made another pregnancy dangerous.

Less than two weeks later, a hysterectomy, recommended due to cervical damage, made it impossible.

BOOK: Birthright
12.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Foxmask by Juliet Marillier
Cupcake Club 04 - Honey Pie by Kauffman, Donna
Touching Evil by Kylie Brant
Alibi in High Heels by Gemma Halliday
His Sexy Bad Habit by Cheris Hodges
Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant
Face by Brighton, Bridget
Erotic Weekend by Cheyenne McCray