Authors: Carol Burnside
“He’ll come around. I think he just feels guilty that you put your life on hold for us.”
“You understand though, right? I don’t have a scholarship like you guys. This delivery will give me my chance.”
“I heard that.” Dean nodded and ducked his head.
Kate recognized the move. “What’s bothering you?”
“Not just me. Zach had the same thought. This is blowing up. If Mom sees the papers and realizes you’re connected to money, she’ll be calling with another sob story.”
“I wouldn’t fall for it if she did, but it’s unlikely she’ll see anything. Last I heard, she was cruising the Mediterranean on some rich guy’s yacht.”
A sound of disgust puffed from Dean’s lips as he checked his cell. “Time’s up. I have to get back for my next class. I’ll tell Zach you’ve got the Hulk standing guard and relay Mom’s situation so he can chill.”
“The Hulk has a name. It’s Toby, and we were just about to enjoy a morning walk.” She reopened the door. “Don’t be a stranger.”
Dean skirted around her as if her belly had cooties. “Same. See ya.”
He ran past the reporters, giving them little chance to catch his likeness with their cameras. Kate sighed. A year ago, he would have hugged her goodbye. Even though they were siblings, she, Dean and Zach had faced a lot more than teen angst together. They’d all grown up too fast, but hadn’t gone wild with the unexpected freedom from parental direction after their mom had taken off. Instead, they’d developed a system to dodge the child welfare workers as much as possible and, in fighting to stay together, formed a stronger bond than most.
This new distance had been her doing, with her practiced speech about abdicating her mom responsibilities and needing to live her own life separate from them. She’d botched the delivery, making it sound like she couldn’t wait to be rid of them. Zach, always the more volatile of the brothers, hadn’t taken it well and had practically cut all ties with her.
That wasn’t what she’d wanted at all, but didn’t know how to make it right when Zach refused to take her calls or see her.
The need for a bathroom break roused her from her regrets. Once that was done, she scooped up her keys and water bottles again, then locked the door behind her. “Toby, I’m Kate, and you’re about to earn your paycheck.”
“I need some exercise.”
“Where to, ma’am?” He edged in front of her, partially blocking her way as the reporters scrambled around and cameras clicked from the edges of her lawn.
“I go for a three-mile walk every morning about this time. I’m not going to get fat and flabby because some reporter wants a story, so let’s go.”
Toby complied with her wishes, and Kate was grateful for his presence. Cameras continued clicking rapidly as they passed by. Others stuck microphones in her face and followed, asking questions, some of them so ridiculous her mouth fell open.
Was the baby okay? Was it really the Hawthorne heir?
Did she have an affair with James? Was this really their love child?
Was she going to fight the Hawthorne’s for the baby or give it up for adoption?
Did she have plans to marry the baby’s guardian so she could be its mother?
Through it all, Toby guided her forward, parting the crowd like a bulldozer. At one point, she could swear he growled. When the group closed in behind them, he rounded on them and issued orders to back off. Kate tensed, but after several frightening moments, the crowd left
with cell phones to their ears, running to their vehicles to report ... what? She was afraid to guess.
When Toby took her elbow and they started her route, she was surprised to find her insides were shaky and her heart was thumping as if she’d already run the three miles at a fast clip. Now she needed the exercise to reduce stress levels before her doctor visit.
io?” His mom’s voice carried up the stairs. “Rio! Pick up the extension. The doctor’s office is calling about Kate.”
Hearing the alarm in her voice, he snatched up the home office extension, sending his mouse and papers flying across the desk. “I’m here.”
“Mr. Hawthorne, this is Liz at Dr. Krieger’s office.” She went on to explain that Kate’s agreement included medical updates to the parents, but ...
“I understand. I’m the baby’s guardian, so you can contact me from now on.” He winced, wondering how much detail Allie had required in the reports. “This is just routine stuff, right?”
“Yes, sir. Blood pressure, the baby’s growth progress, that sort of thing, and there’s usually nothing significant to report.”
Rio sat up straighter. “Usually. But this time is different?”
“Miss Morrisey’s blood pressure is somewhat elevated, and she’s showing signs of edema or swelling in her hands and feet.”
“Has she put the baby in danger?” Before, the idea of a baby had been nothing more than an annoyance, but James and Allie had entrusted the most precious thing in their lives to him. He couldn’t let anything or anyone — not even the woman carrying it — cause harm to their child.
“There’s no danger at this time, but Dr. Krieger feels Miss Morrisey should reduce her current levels of stress as soon as possible. We’ve seen the newspapers. Losing the baby’s parents suddenly was bad enough, but having the press hounding her is compounding the problem.”
Oh, hell, the press. Were they getting worse? He’d gone straight to his computer to take care of some business this morning, only stopping by the kitchen for a mug of coffee. “Tell Dr. Krieger I’ll make sure Miss Morrisey takes care of herself, even if I have to send her into seclusion.”
Liz thanked him and ended the call, leaving Rio sitting there wondering how difficult Kate was going to be about this. The woman was beyond stubborn. Getting her to cooperate could be like trying to herd feral cats.
He took the stairs at a fast clip and darted outside to retrieve the newspaper. Halfway down the driveway, he heard the buzz of people shouting. Rio stopped and stared, taken aback by two young guys draped over the iron gates, filming him. Others shouted questions so fast he couldn’t discern one from the other. Hyenas closing in for the kill.
All this over an orphaned baby. Granted, the circumstances weren’t ordinary, but this was nuts. No wonder his mother and Kate had thought him naïve. He’d been traveling the Serengeti too long, out of touch with the world.
It angered him to think of Kate having to endure this. Stubborn or not, she looked delicate, especially in her current condition.
Thank goodness for those locked gates and the two-way mail and paper slots in the stone wall that ran around the property. He grabbed the contents from both and returned to the house without acknowledging the pack outside the gates.
His mother hovered inside the front door. “Is Kate okay, and the baby?”
“For now, but the doctor is concerned about her stress levels. Those hyenas out there aren’t helping.”
“Hyenas?” Margaret glanced around his shoulder and frowned. “I see what you mean. Should we move Kate in here with us? I doubt her place has this kind of security.”
Have her live with them? That was something Rio hadn’t considered. “I doubt Kate would ...” He broke off, whistling at the headline.
dozens offer to adopt nobody’s baby
“Oh, my lord,” his mother said. “Rio, you need to put these stories to rest.”
She looked at him as if he’d suddenly sprouted feathers and quacked. “Call a press conference. Tell them James and Allie’s child already has a home with you.”
“That matter hasn’t been settled. I thought we could talk about this again, work something out between us.”
Margaret stilled, reproach in her eyes. “No. We can’t. I don’t understand your reluctance to honor your brother’s wishes. James readily split the Hawthorne fortune with you because he loved you and considered you his brother. If not for him and Allie and what they meant to our lives, then do it because of what Bear brought to your life. Honor his memory by being the same kind of influence in this child’s life.”
“And if I can’t?”
“You can.” Her eyes softened. “Son, you’re a good man, much more like Bear than Hank. Believe that.”
Rio wanted to, but memories of Hank’s drunken rages rose every time he got angry, reminding him how much of his old man he’d inherited. Even Bear’s strong influence couldn’t cancel out genes.
Margaret patted his arm. “You’ll see. Now that that’s settled, what are you going to do about Kate?”
Right. Kate. He didn’t like the idea of bringing her here to stay in this house with her scary-round tummy but had to admit it made some sense. The baby’s safety was his responsibility now. “I’ll go get her this afternoon.”
fter her doctor visit, Kate was exhausted and tried to nap, but her cargo decided it was time to play. She rubbed her swollen belly until he quieted, then dozed until intermittent thumping woke her, followed by the doorbell.
winging her legs around sent her head spinning. Sheesh. The Hawthorne heir was definitely having an impact on her equilibrium these days. Little brat. Kate patted her tummy in apology. Thank goodness all of this would soon be behind her.
Another muffled knock came from beyond her bedroom door.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming. Give a beached whale a break, okay?” she groused to the empty room without heat. She made it to the front door without further incident and opened it to find Rio standing there, his brows drawn together in a scowl. The fierce look didn’t go with his relaxed attire of jeans and a sweater. He absolutely had the body to carry off the thin mock-turtle look, damn him. She couldn’t wait to be svelte again.
“Why didn’t you answer the door?” he asked.
“I just did and might’ve sooner if I’d known you were coming.” She waved him in and shut the door, his neat appearance making her self-conscious. And because his presence shouldn’t affect her one way or the other, the feeling grated. “A phone call wouldn’t have killed you, although that would have woken me, too.”
“Since you showed up at my home unannounced, I figured you wouldn’t mind.” If anything, his scowl intensified. “Sorry if I woke you. It never occurred ... well, it doesn’t matter now. How are you feeling?”
“Fat.” Kate plopped onto the couch and waved an ungracious hand toward the armchair. “If you’ve come to tell me you’ve changed your mind about taking responsibility for this baby, don’t.”
A vein in his neck pulsed. “That won’t happen, and if I’ve given you the impression it might, I apologize. I still think James was crazy for doing it, but he entrusted his son to my care. I’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
That? Good grief, with his eyes all steely like that, he was worse than she was when it came to personifying her cargo. But his attitude was none of her concern. Kate shook off the remaining cobwebs of sleep. “It won’t be so bad. Babies have a way of worming their way into your heart before you know it.”
“If you say so. The problem is, I have zero experience with infants and haven’t the foggiest notion how to care for one. Women seem to have a sixth sense about these things. Me? Not so much.”
Kate fought the same urge she’d had the first time she’d seen Rio, of wanting to offer comfort or worse, help. He seemed genuinely worried about caring for a baby. How ironic that the first man to pique her interest in ages was the last man she should be attracted to. “Take a parenting class or hire a nanny. Either one can teach you the basics of feeding, bathing and diapering. It’s not difficult to master.”
“You sound as if you know from experience.”
“Babysat two younger brothers. I could do all those things by the time I was ten.”
He lifted his chin in a slow nod, his gaze remaining on her long enough to make Kate wonder if she had sleep marks on her cheek or bed head. She fluffed her hair and smoothed her maternity tee, but only succeeded in drawing his gaze to her protruding stomach. When she pulled a throw pillow in front of her, his gaze shifted to take in his surroundings.
Kate didn’t quite hide her laugh. “You don’t have to be polite. It’s a furnished, mid-century rental that needs work.”
“Yeah, but it’s well-built and a sight better than a tent in the African bush.”
His comment took Kate by surprise. She remembered Squires mentioning Africa but had assumed Rio traveled a lot when he wasn’t living as James had, in wealth and privilege. It had never occurred to her that he might not live like a Hawthorne. “Is that where you’ll raise your nephew?”
“No. I’m finished with the photo safaris. I have business ventures that will keep me here in Colorado.” He leaned toward two framed photographs on an end table. “Are these your brothers?”
“Yes. Those are their high school senior pictures.” Kate shouldn’t feel anything one way or the other about his plans to stay in Colorado either, but couldn’t help being relieved that the child she carried wouldn’t be on another continent. She felt way too much in connection with this man and the situation they both found themselves in.