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Authors: Nora Roberts

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BOOK: Birthright
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“You don't ask why I came here, why I looked in your files, why I broke into your private papers?”

Elliot dragged a hand through his hair, then sat. “I can't keep up. For God's sake, Callie, do you expect logic and reason when you throw this at us?”

“Last night, a woman came to my room. She'd seen the news segment I did on my current project. She said I was her daughter.”

“You're my daughter,” Vivian said, low and fierce. “You're my child.”

“She said,” Callie continued, “that on December 12, 1974, her infant daughter was stolen. From a mall in Hagerstown, Maryland. She showed me pictures of herself
at my age, of her mother at my age. There's a very strong resemblance. Coloring, facial shape. The damn three dimples. I told her I couldn't be. I told her I wasn't adopted. But I was.”

“It can't have anything to do with us.” Elliot rubbed a hand over his heart. “That's insane.”

“She's mistaken.” Vivian shook her head slowly. Back and forth, back and forth. “She's horribly mistaken.”

“Of course she is.” Elliot reached for her hand again. “Of course she is. We went through a lawyer,” he told Callie. “A reputable lawyer who specialized in private adoptions. We had recommendations from your mother's obstetrician. We expedited the adoption process, yes, but that's all. We'd never be a party to kidnapping, to baby brokering. You can't believe that.”

She looked at him, at her mother, who stared at her out of swimming eyes. “No. No,” she said and felt a little of the weight lift. “No, I don't believe that. So let's talk about exactly what you did.”

First, she stepped to her mother's chair, crouched down. “Mom.” All she did was touch Vivian's hand and repeat. “Mom.”

With one choked sob, Vivian lunged forward and caught Callie in her arms.


allie made coffee as much to give her parents time to compose themselves as for the need. They were her parents. That hadn't changed.

The sense of anger and betrayal was fading. How could it stand against her mother's ravaged face or her father's sorrow?

But if she could block out the hurt, she couldn't block out the need to understand, to have answers she could align until they gave her the whole.

No matter how much she loved them, she needed to know.

She carried the coffee back to the living room and saw that her parents sat together on the couch now, hands clasped.

A unit, she mused. They were, as always, a unit.

“I don't know if you can ever forgive me,” Vivian began.

“I don't think you understand.” Callie poured the coffee. The simple task gave her something to do with her hands, kept her gaze focused on pot and cup. “I have to know the facts. I can't see the whole picture until I have the
pieces of it to put together. We're a family. Nothing changes that, but I have to know the facts.”

“You were always a logical girl,” Elliot replied. “We've hurt you.”

“Let's not worry about that now.” Rather than move to a chair, Callie lowered herself to sit cross-legged on the floor on the other side of the table. “First I need to understand . . . about adoption. Did you feel it made you, me . . .
less valid?”

“However a family is made is a miracle,” Elliot responded. “You were our miracle.”

“But you concealed it.”

“It's my fault.” Vivian blinked at tears again. “It was my fault.”

“There's no fault,” Callie said. “Just tell me.”

“We wanted a child.” Vivian's fingers tightened on Elliot's. “We so very much wanted a child. When I had the first miscarriage, it was terrible. I can't explain it to you. The sense of loss and grief and panic. Of . . . failure. My doctor said we could try again, but that I might have . . . might have difficulty carrying a child to term. Any future pregnancy would have to be carefully monitored. And even though it was, I miscarried again. I was . . . I felt . . . broken.”

Callie lifted a cup, held it up to her mother. “I know. I understand.”

“They gave me a mood elevator to get me through the depression.” She managed a watery smile. “Elliot weaned me off the pills. He kept me busy instead. Antiquing, going to the theater. Weekends in the country when he could manage it.” She pressed their joined hands to her cheek. “He pulled me out of the pit.”

“She felt it was her fault, that she'd done something to cause it.”

“I smoked a lot of pot in college.”

Callie blinked, then found something rising unexpectedly in her throat. It was laughter. “Oh, Mom, you wild woman.”

“Well, I did.” Vivian wiped at tears even as a smile
trembled on her lips. “And I did LSD once, and had two one-night stands.”

“Okay then, that explains it. You slut. Got any grass in the house now?”

“No! Of course not.”

“Oh well, we'll get through this without blissing out then.” Callie leaned over the table, patted her mother's knee. “So you were a pothead floozy. Got it.”

“You're trying to make this easier for me.” On an uneven breath, Vivian rested her head on Elliot's shoulder. “She's so much like you. Strong, like you. I wanted to try again. Elliot wanted to wait a little longer, but I was determined. I wouldn't listen to anyone. I was, I suppose, obsessed. We fought about it.”

“I was worried about your mother's health. Physical, emotional.”

“He'd suggested adoption, brought me information on it. But I wouldn't hear him. I'd see these women, pregnant, with babies. I'd think it's my right, it's my function. My friends were having children. Why should they and not us? They felt sorry for me, and that made it worse.”

“I couldn't stand to see her so unhappy. So lost. I couldn't stand it.”

“I got pregnant again. I was so happy. Sick—just like the other times. I'd get horribly sick, then dehydrated. But I was careful. When they said bed rest, I went to bed. This time I got past the first trimester, and it looked good. I felt the baby move. Remember, Elliot?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“I bought maternity clothes. We started decorating the nursery. I read a mountain of books on pregnancy, on childbirth, on child rearing. There were some problems with my blood pressure, serious enough in the seventh month for them to hospitalize me briefly. But it seemed like everything was all right until . . .”

“We went in for an exam,” Elliot continued. “There was no fetal heartbeat. Tests showed the fetus had died.”

“I didn't believe them. Wouldn't. Even though I'd
stopped feeling the baby kick. I kept reading the books, I kept planning. I wouldn't let Elliot discuss it—went wild if he tried to. I wouldn't let him tell anyone.”

“We induced labor.”

“It was a little girl,” Vivian said quietly. “Stillborn. So beautiful, so tiny. I held her, and for a while I told myself she was only sleeping. But I knew she wasn't, and when they took her away, I fell apart. I took pills to get through it. I . . . Oh God, I stole some of your father's scripts and got Alivan and Seconal. I walked through the days in a fog, went through the nights like a corpse. I was working up the courage to take all of them at once and just go away.”


“She was in a deep state of depression. The stillbirth, the hysterectomy. The loss, not only of another child but any hope of conceiving again.”

How old had she been? Callie thought. Twenty-six? So young to face the loss. “I'm so sorry, Mom.”

“People sent flowers,” Vivian continued. “I hated that. I'd close myself in the nursery, fold and refold the blankets, the little clothes I'd bought. We named her Alice. I wouldn't go to the cemetery. I wouldn't let Elliot take the crib away. As long as I didn't go to her grave, as long as I could still fold the blankets and her little clothes, she wasn't gone.”

“I was afraid. This time I was really afraid,” Elliot admitted. “When I realized she was taking drugs in addition to what had been prescribed, I was terrified. I felt helpless, unable to reach her. Taking the meds away wasn't going to reach the root of the problem. I talked with her OB. He brought up the possibility of adoption.”

“I still didn't want to listen,” Vivian put in. “But Elliot made me sit down, and he laid it out in stark medical terms. Shock treatment, you could say. There would not be another pregnancy. That was no longer an option. We could make a life, just the two of us. He loved me, and we could make a good life. If we wanted a child, it was time to explore other ways of having one. We were young, he reminded me. Financially solvent. Intelligent, caring people
who could and would provide a loving and secure home. Did I want a child, or did I just want to be pregnant? If I wanted a child, we could have a child. I wanted a child.”

“We went to an agency—several,” Elliot added. “There were waiting lists. The longer the list, the more difficult it was for Vivian.”

“My new obsession.” She sighed. “I repainted the nursery. Gave the crib away and bought a new one. Gave away everything we'd bought for Alice so that this new child, when it came, would have its own. I thought of myself as expecting. Somewhere there was a child that was mine. We were only waiting to find each other. And every delay was like another loss.”

“She was blooming again, with hope. I couldn't stand the thought of that bloom fading, of watching that sadness come into her again. I spoke of it to Simpson, her OB. Told him how frustrating and how painful it was for both of us to be told it could be years. He gave me the name of a lawyer who did private adoptions. Direct with the birth mother.”

“Marcus Carlyle,” Callie said, remembering the name from the files.

“Yes.” Steadier now, Vivian sipped at her coffee. “He was wonderful. So supportive, so sympathetic. And best of all so much more hopeful than the agencies. The fee was very high, but that was a small price to pay. He said he had a client who was unable to keep her infant daughter. A young girl who'd had a baby and realized that she couldn't care for her properly as a single mother. He would tell her about us, give her all the information about what kind of people we were—even our heritage. If she approved, he could place the child with us.”

“Why you?” Callie demanded.

“He said we were the kind of people she was looking for. Stable, financially secure, well educated, childless. He said she wanted to finish school, go to college, start a new life. She had run up debts trying to support the baby on her own. She needed to pay them off, and needed to know her little girl was going to have the best possible life with
parents who would love her.” Vivian lifted her shoulders. “He said he would let us know within weeks.”

“We tried not to get too enthusiastic, too hopeful,” Elliot explained. “But it seemed like fate.”

“He called eight days later at four-thirty in the afternoon.” Vivian set down the coffee she'd barely touched. “I remember exactly. I was playing Vivaldi on the violin, trying to lose myself in the music, and the phone rang. I knew. I know that sounds ridiculous. But I knew. And when I answered the phone, he said, ‘Congratulations, Mrs. Dunbrook. It's a girl.' I broke down and sobbed over the phone. He was so patient with me, so genuinely happy for me. He said it was moments like this that made his job worthwhile.”

“You never met the birth mother.”

“No.” Elliot shook his head. “That sort of thing wasn't done then. There were no names exchanged. The only information given was medical and hereditary history, and a basic profile. We went to his office the following day. There was a nurse, holding you. You were sleeping. The procedure was we didn't sign the papers or pay the remainder of the fee until we'd seen you, accepted you.”

“You were mine as soon as I saw you, Callie,” Vivian said. “The instant. She put you in my arms, and you were my baby. Not a substitute, not a replacement. Mine. I made Elliot promise that we'd never refer to the adoption again, never speak of it, never tell you or discuss it with anyone. Because you were our baby.”

“It just didn't seem important,” Elliot said. “You were just three months old. You wouldn't have understood. And it was so vital to Vivian's state of mind. She needed to close away all the pain and disappointment. We were bringing our baby home. That's all that mattered.”

“But the family,” Callie began.

“Were just as concerned about her as I was,” Elliot answered. “And just as dazzled by you, as completely in love. We just set that one thing aside. Then, we moved here; it was easier yet to forget it. New place, new people. No one knew, so why bring it up? Still, I kept the documentation,
the papers, though Vivian asked me to get rid of them. It didn't seem right to do that. I locked them away, just as we'd locked away everything that happened before we brought you home.”

“Callie.” Composed again, Vivian reached out. “This woman, the one who . . . You can't know she's involved. It's crazy. Mr. Carlyle was a reputable lawyer. We wouldn't have gone through anyone we didn't absolutely trust. My own obstetrician recommended him. These men were—are—compassionate, ethical men. Hardly involved in some sort of black-market baby ring.”

“Do you know what coincidence is, Mom? It's fate breaking a lock so you can open a door. This woman's baby was stolen on December twelfth. Three days after that, your lawyer calls and says he has a baby girl for you. The next day, you sign papers, write checks and bring me home.”

“You don't know her baby was stolen,” Vivian insisted.

“No, but that's easy enough to verify. I have to do this. The way my parents raised me makes it impossible for me to do otherwise.”

“If you confirm the kidnapping”—Elliot's heart shuddered as he spoke—“there are tests that can be run to determine if . . . if there's a biological connection.”

“I know. I'll take that step if it's necessary.”

“I can expedite that, cut through the red tape so you'll have the results quickly.”


“What will you do if . . .” Vivian couldn't finish the sentence.

“I don't know.” Callie blew out a breath. “I don't know. I'll do what comes next. You're my mother. Nothing changes that. Dad, I need to take the paperwork. I need to start checking out everyone who was involved. Dr. Simpson, Carlyle. Did you get the name of the nurse who brought me to his office?”

“No.” He shook his head. “Not that I remember. I can track down Simpson for you. It would be easier for me. I'll make some calls.”

“Let me know as soon as you find out. You've got my
cell phone number, and I'll leave you the number at my motel in Maryland.”

BOOK: Birthright
12.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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