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Authors: Nora Roberts

Birthright (8 page)

BOOK: Birthright
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The patient was treated for depression.

On December 16, 1974, they adopted an infant girl whom they named Callie Ann. A private adoption, Callie noted dully, arranged through a lawyer. The fee for his services was ten thousand dollars. In addition, another fee of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars was paid through him to the unnamed biological mother.

The infant, somehow it helped to think of it as
the infant,
was examined by Dr. Peter O'Malley, a Boston pediatrician, and deemed healthy.

Her next examination was a standard six-month checkup, by Dr. Marilyn Vermer, in Philadelphia, who had continued as the infant's pediatrician until the patient reached the age of twelve.

“When I refused to go to a baby doctor anymore,” Callie murmured and watched, with some surprise, as a tear plopped on the papers she held.

“Jesus. Oh Jesus.”

Her stomach cramped, forcing her to bend over, clutching her middle, hissing out breaths until the pain subsided.

It couldn't be real. It couldn't be true. How could two people who'd never lied to her about the most inconsequential matter have lived a lie all these years?

It simply wasn't possible.

But when she forced herself to straighten, forced herself to read through the papers again, she saw it wasn't just possible. It was real.

hat the hell do you mean she's taken the day off?” Jake shoved his hat back and fried Leo with one searing look. “We're at a critical point in plotting out the site, and she takes a goddamn holiday?”

“She said something came up.”

“What the hell came up that was more important than doing her job?”

“She wouldn't say. You can be as pissed off as you want. At me, at Callie, but we both know this isn't like her. We both know she's worked sick, exhausted, injured.”

“Yeah, yeah. And it would be just like her to flip off this project because she's ticked I'm on it.”

“No, it wouldn't.” Because his own temper was starting to spike, Leo moved in. Height difference kept him from getting in Jake's face, so he compensated by drilling a finger into Jake's chest. “And you know damn well she doesn't play that kind of game. Whatever problems she has with you, or with me for putting you here, she'll handle. But they won't interfere with the project. She's too professional, and she's too bullheaded to let it.”

“Okay, you got me.” Jake jammed his hands in his pockets and stared out over the field they'd begun to segment. It was worry that had anger gnawing at him. “Something was wrong with her last night.”

He'd known it, seen it. But instead of convincing her to tell him what was wrong, he'd let her shrug him off, scrape at his own pride and temper.

Old habits die hard.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I dropped by her room. She was upset. It took me a few minutes to realize it didn't have anything to do with me. I like to tell myself anything that gets under Callie's skin has to do with me. She wouldn't talk about it. Big surprise. But she had some pictures out. Looked like family shots to me.”

What he knew about her family would fit in one shovel of spoil.

“Would she tell you if something was wrong with her family?”

Leo rubbed the back of his neck. “I'd think so. She only said she had some personal business, that it couldn't wait. If she could, she'd be back before the end of the day, if not, she'd be here tomorrow.”

“She got a guy?”


He kept his voice low. Digs were always fertile soil for growing gossip. “Give me a break, Leo. Is she seeing someone?”

“How the hell do I know? She doesn't tell me about her love life.”

“Clara would grill her about it.” Jake turned back now. “Nobody can hold out against Clara once she gets her teeth in. And Clara would tell you.”

“As far as Clara's concerned, Callie should still be married to you.”

“Yeah? Your wife's a smart woman. She ever say anything about me?”

Leo aimed a bland look. “Clara and I discuss you every evening at dinner.”

Jesus, Leo, stop busting my balls.”

“I can't repeat what Callie's said to me about you. I don't use that kind of language.”

“Cute.” He stared off toward the pond, his eyes shielded by his dark glasses. “Whatever she's said, whatever she thinks, she's going to have to start making some adjustments. If she's in some sort of trouble, I'll get it out of her.”

“If you're so damned concerned, so damn interested, why the hell did you get divorced?”

Jake lifted his shoulders. “Good question, Leo. Damn good question. When I figure it out, you'll be the second or third to know. Meanwhile, short a head archaeologist or not, we'd better get to work.”

He'd fallen for her, and fallen hard, the first time he'd seen her, Jake admitted. Like a finger snap, his life had been divided into before and after Callie Dunbrook.

It had been terrifying and annoying.
had been terrifying and annoying.

He'd been thirty, unencumbered—unless you counted
Digger—and planning to stay that way. He loved his work. He loved women. And whenever a man could combine the two, well, life was as perfect as it was ever going to get.

He didn't answer to anyone, and certainly had no intentions of answering to some curvy little archaeologist with a mean streak.

God, he'd loved that mean streak of hers.

Sex had been nearly as stormy and fascinating as their bickering. But it hadn't solved his problem. The more he had her, the more he'd wanted. She'd given him her body, her companionship, the challenge of her contrary mind. But she'd never given him the one thing that might have settled him down.

Her trust. She'd never trusted him. Not to stick by her, to share loads with her. And most certainly she didn't trust his fidelity.

For months after she'd booted him, he'd consoled himself that it was her blatant lack of faith that had ruined everything. Just as for months he'd held on to the conviction that she'd come crawling after him.

Stupid, he could admit now. Callie never crawled. It was one thing they had firmly in common. And as time passed, he'd begun to see that maybe, perhaps, possibly, he hadn't handled everything quite as adeptly as he could have. Should have.

It didn't really shift the blame away from her, which was exactly where it belonged, but it did open the door to considering another approach.

That current still ran between them, he acknowledged. There was no question of it. If the Antietam Project offered him a channel for that current, he'd use it.

He'd use whatever came to hand to get her back.

And whatever was troubling her now, well, she was going to tell him. She was going to let him help her. If he had to tie her down and pry it out of her with forceps.

allie hadn't expected to sleep, but just after dawn she'd curled up on top of the bed in her old room. She'd
hugged a pillow under her arm, the way she had since childhood when ill or unhappy.

Physical and emotional fatigue had beaten out even the headache and the nausea. She'd woken a full four hours later at the sound of the front door slamming, and the bright call of her name.

For a moment, she'd been a child again, snuggled into bed on a Saturday morning until her mother's call stirred her. There'd be Cheerios for breakfast, with fresh strawberries cut up in the bowl and the extra sugar she'd sneak into it when her mother wasn't looking.

She rolled over. The aches of her body, the sick headache, the utter weight settled in her chest reminded her she wasn't a little girl any longer, whose biggest concern was sweetening her cereal.

She was a grown woman. And she didn't know whose child she was.

She swung her legs slowly to the floor, then sat on the side of the bed with her head in her hands.

“Callie!” Sheer delight lifted Vivian's voice as she rushed through the doorway. “Baby, we had no idea you were coming home. I was so surprised to see your car in the drive.”

She gave Callie a quick hug, then ran a hand over her hair. “When did you get here?”

“Last night.” She didn't lift her head. She wasn't ready to look at her mother's face. “I thought you and Dad were in Maine.”

“We were. We decided to come home today instead of Sunday. Your father was obsessing about his garden, and he has a full day at the hospital on Monday. Baby . . .” Vivian put a hand under Callie's chin, lifted it. “What's wrong? Aren't you feeling well?”

“Just a little groggy.” Her mother's eyes were brown, Callie thought. But not like her own. Her mother's were darker, deeper, and went so beautifully with the rose and cream skin, the softly curling hair that had the texture and color of blond mink. “Is Dad here?”

“Yes, of course. He's taking a look at his tomato plants
before he brings in the rest of the luggage. Sweetie, you look awfully pale.”

“I need to talk to you. To both of you.”

I'm not ready. I'm not ready, not ready,
her mind screamed, but she pushed herself to her feet. “Will you ask Dad to come in? I just want to wash up.”

“Callie, you're scaring me.”

“Please. Just give me a minute to throw some water on my face. I'll be right down.”

Without giving Vivian a chance to argue, she hurried out and into the bath across the hall.

She leaned on the sink, took slow, deep breaths because her stomach was clutching again. She ran the water cold, as cold as she could stand, and splashed it on her face.

She didn't look in the mirror. She wasn't ready for that, either.

When she came out, started down, Vivian was in the foyer, clutching her husband's hand.

Look how tall he is, Callie thought. How tall and trim and handsome. And how perfect they look together. Dr. Elliot Dunbrook and his pretty Vivian.

They'd lied to her, every day of her life.

“Callie. You've got your mother in a state.” Elliot crossed over, wrapped his arms around Callie and gave her a bear hug. “What's wrong with my girl?” he questioned, and had tears burning her eyes.

“I didn't expect you back today.” She stepped out of his arms. “I thought I'd have more time to figure out what I wanted to say. Now I don't. We need to go in and sit down.”

“Callie, are you in trouble?”

She looked at her father's face, into his face, saw nothing but love and concern. “I don't know what I am,” she said simply, and walked across the foyer into the living room.

The perfect room, she thought, for people of taste and means. Antiques, carefully chosen, carefully maintained. Comfortable chairs in the deep colors they both favored. The charm of folk art for the walls, the elegance of old crystal.

Family pictures on the mantel that made her heart ache.

“I need to ask you . . .”

No, she couldn't do this with her back to them. Whatever she'd learned, whatever she would learn, they deserved to speak directly to her face. She turned, took one deep breath.

“I need to ask you why you never told me I was adopted.”

Vivian made a strangled sound, as if she'd been dealt a hard punch to the throat. Her lips trembled. “Callie, where did you—”

“Please don't deny it. Please don't do that.” She could barely get the words out. “I'm sorry, but I went through the files.” She looked at her father. “I broke into the locked drawer, and the security box inside. I saw the medical records, the adoption papers.”


“Sit down, Vivian. Sit down.” He pulled her to a chair, lowered her into it. “I couldn't destroy them.” He stroked a hand over his wife's cheek as he might a frightened child's. “It wasn't right.”

“But it was right to conceal the facts of my birth from me?” Callie demanded.

Elliot's shoulders slumped. “It wasn't important to us.”


“Don't blame your father.” Vivian reached up for Elliot's hand. “He did it for me,” she said to Callie. “I made him promise. I made him swear. I needed . . .”

She began to weep, slow tears streaming down her face. “Don't hate me, Callie. Oh God, don't hate me for this. You were my baby the instant you were put in my arms. Nothing else mattered.”

“A replacement for the baby you lost?”

“Callie.” Now Elliot stepped forward. “Don't be cruel.”

“Cruel?” Who was this man, staring at her out of sad, angry eyes? Who was her father? “You can speak to me of cruel after what you've done?”

“What have we done?” he tossed back. “We didn't tell you. How can that matter so much? Your mother—your
mother needed the illusion at first. She was devastated, inconsolable. She could never give birth to a child. When there was a chance to adopt you, to have a daughter, we took it. We loved you, love you, not because you're like our own, because you
our own.”

“I couldn't face the loss of that baby,” Vivian managed. “Not after the two miscarriages, not after doing everything I could to make certain the baby was born healthy. I couldn't bear the thought of people looking at you and seeing you as a substitute. We moved here, to start fresh. Just the three of us. And I put all of that away. It doesn't change who you are. It doesn't change who we are or how much we love you.”

“You pay for a black-market baby. You take a child stolen from another family, and it doesn't change anything?”

“What are you talking about?” Elliot's face filled with angry color. “That's a vicious thing to say. Vicious. Whatever we've done we don't deserve that.”

“You paid a quarter of a million dollars.”

“That's right. We arranged for a private adoption and money speeds the wheel. It may not be considered fair to couples less able to pay, but it's not a crime. We agreed to the fee, agreed that the biological mother should be compensated. To stand there and accuse us of
you, of stealing you denigrates everything we've ever had as a family.”

BOOK: Birthright
11.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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