Authors: Delores Fossen
Ryan's first step was to convince Delaney to do the DNA test. The doors of his heart seemed to be opening, and Ryan had no idea how or why they were doing that. Or if he could even close them again. He took a few steps closer toward Delaney and stopped. It was best to keep some physical distance between them since he wasn't doing great in the emotional distance department.
“I got some news. The New Hope Clinic was located in the hospital where my son died.” Thankfully he'd managed to lay that out without too much emotion in his voice.
Still holding her son, Delaney made a sound of contemplation. “It doesn't prove anything.”
Ryan turned his head in the baby's direction and just like that, their gazes connected. His hair was blond. He kicked his chubby legs and grinned.
Ryan's breath froze in his lungs. He couldn't move. Couldn't speak. Because he knewâ¦
Imagine a family tree that includes Texas cowboys, Choctaw and Cherokee Indians, a Louisiana pirate and a Scottish rebel who battled side by side with William Wallace. With ancestors like that, it's easy to understand why Texas author and former U.S. Air Force captain Delores Fossen feels as if she was genetically predisposed to writing romances. Along the way to fulfilling her DNA destiny, Delores married an Air Force Top Gun who just happens to be of Viking descent. With all those romantic bases covered, she doesn't have to look too far for inspiration.
679âA MAN WORTH REMEMBERING
829âMOMMY UNDER COVER
âCould the donor embryo she used to give birth to her son, Patrick, be the cloned son of her enemy, Ryan McCall? Now, to keep her son safe, Delaney has to turn to this man she fears could ultimately claim her child, and her heart.
âDesperate for a second chance to raise his son, Ryan is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Delaney and their baby safe. But risking his heart is something he never expected.
âThe child Delaney always desperately wanted and the son Ryan thought he'd lost. But will Ryan lose Patrick again, this time to a killer?
Dr. Emmett Montgomery
âDirector of the New Hope fertility clinic and the man who possibly wants to cover up what happened with Delaney's donor embryo.
âDelaney's father. Is he so obsessed with getting revenge against Ryan and Delaney that he's willing to commit murder?
Dr. Bryson Keyes
âDelaney's doctor. He possibly performed illegal cloning experiments that resulted in Patrick's birth. Now he might want to eliminate any evidence of those experiments, including Ryan, Delaney and Patrick.
San Antonio, Texas
Looking through her rain-spattered windshield, Delaney Nash spotted Dr. Bryson Keyes in the doorway of the private entrance of the New Hope clinic.
Soon she'd get answers about what had possibly happened to her son. If Dr. Keyes or one of his associates had done something to harm himâ¦
But she couldn't even finish that thought.
Her baby had to be all right.
He just had to be.
Delaney blinked back the tears she'd been fighting and watched as Dr. Keyes popped open his oversize charcoal-gray umbrella. Ducking his head against the gusty April wind, he stepped out into the rain and walked toward his car in his personalized space of the parking lot. No doubt his daily routine. Except there was nothing routine about today.
The doctor hadn't changed much in the thirteen months since she'd last seen him. The same lanky build. The same receding orangy-red hair. Of course, now there was something disturbing about him. But before the questions, before the allegations, Dr. Bryson Keyes had simply been the fertility specialist who'd given her a son, Patrick.
Now, she had to wonder if that miracle was about to become a nightmare.
Delaney got out of her own car, hurrying, and under the meager cover of her own umbrella, she followed Dr. Keyes across the parking lot. The wind and drizzle picked up speed and spit at her, splattering her caramel-colored skirt and probably ruining it in the process. It didn't matter. Besides, it was a small price to pay to rid her of the questions and doubts that had been tormenting her for the past forty-eight hours.
The thought of the possible answers to those questions knotted her stomach. Again. It caused her heart to slam hard against her chest, and it robbed her of her already too-thin breath. Delaney choked back the worst-case scenarios that kept racing through her head and instead used her determined stride to eat up the distance between Dr. Keyes and her.
Her footsteps, or maybe something else, alerted him, because his head whipped up, and he spun around to face her. His entire body seemed to go stiff, and his wa
tery blue eyes widened with what appeared to be a combination of recognition and concern.
“Ms. Nash,” he said, his words muted because of the relentless slapping of rain on their umbrellas.
“Dr. Keyes.” It took Delaney several moments to tamp down the emotion just so she could speak. “I've been trying to get in touch with you for the past two days.”
He slipped his hand into his jacket pocket and extracted his keys. He checked his watch and gave an impatient glance around the parking lot. “I've been busy, and unfortunately I don't have time to see you now. You can call my office and make an appointment.”
And with that cool, attempted dismissal, the doctor turned to leave. But that wasn't going to happen. Not until she'd gotten what she came for. Delaney latched on to his arm and held on as if he were her last hope.
Which unfortunately wasn't too far from the truth.
“I've already tried to make an appointment. Several times. Your office claimed you were booked solid,” Delaney accused. “And I don't think it's my imagination that you're trying to avoid me. Guess what? It won't work.”
He didn't deny the part about avoiding her. Nor did he offer any polite excuse for why he hadn't responded to the dozen or so frantic messages she'd left with his secretary and answering service. What he did do was look again uneasily around the parking lot.
“This isn't a good place to talk,” he informed her.
It was a dismissal, one that riled Delaney to the core, and he no doubt would have left it at that if she hadn't dug her fingers into his arm and held on. “This might not be a good place to talk, but it'll have to do. Neither of us is leaving until you explain why a representative from a medical watchdog groupâPhysicians Against Unethical Practicesâcalled me.”
Oh, that stopped him cold.
Dr. Keyes met her gaze head-on. Gone were the dismissals and the annoyance at her interruption, and Delaney thought she saw some fear.
An emotion she totally understood.
Because she was afraid.
For her son.
And for what might have already happened to him.
“This group contacted you?” Dr. Keyes asked.
Delaney nodded and tried to keep her voice level. Hard to do with the storm of emotions swirling inside her. “They implied that the New Hope clinic would soon be under federal investigation for some kind of illegal medical practices. Is that true?”
And Delaney held what was left of her breath. Waiting. Praying. Hoping that Dr. Keyes would deny it or else explain it all away.
That didn't happen.
“What did you tell them?” the doctor demanded, and
there was no doubt that his question was a demand. His wiry jaw turned to iron.
“Nothing. Because I don't know anything to tell.” She paused a heartbeat. “But it's my guess that you do.”
He shrugged, not exactly the declaration of innocence.
Delaney stepped closer, and she was sure her jaw muscles were steely, as well. She also made sure some of that steel crept into her eyes. “Let's take a little trip down memory lane here. Fifteen months ago I came to New Hope when I found out I was infertile. I desperately wanted a baby, and you arranged for a donor embryo. It worked on the first try. I got pregnant, and I delivered my son four months ago.”
Because she had no choice, Delaney paused to gather her breath and her courage. Because what she had to say would take every ounce of courage that she could marshal. “Now, I've learned that the clinic might have done something illegal to the embryo that became my son. Maybe some cellular experiments. DNA manipulationâwhatever. Something that could perhaps make him sickâ¦or worse.”
No amount of strength could have stopped the tears that sprang to her eyes. Hot tears that burned against the cool rain speckling her lashes. Delaney fought the tears, and lost. The fear and dread were overwhelming.
Dr. Keyes or someone else at the clinic might have used her son as a guinea pig, and those experiments might have irreversible long-term effects.
“I have to think about this,” Dr. Keyes said. He gestured toward his car. “I'll be in touch.”
Delaney caught the front of his jacket and wadded up the fabric so she had a firm grip. “You'll tell me what you know
” she said through clenched teeth. “Did you do something to my son?”
He mumbled something under his breath. Cursed. And looked as if he would prefer to be in the deepest pit of hell rather than talking to her.
Seconds crawled by, with the rain pelting them, and Delaney wasn't sure the doctor would even answer her. She had no idea what she would do if he didn't. Still, she was desperate, and she'd use that desperation to get him to talk.
“Any idea if the watchdog group contacted Ryan McCall as well?” Dr. Keyes asked.
The question caused her stomach to land in the vicinity of her knees.
Of all the things she'd anticipated the doctor might say, that wasn't one of them.
“Ryan McCall?” Delaney managed to repeat. Not easily though. The man's name always seemed to stick like wet clay in her throat. “Why would they contact him about illegal medical practices at the New Hope clinic? He has nothing to do with any of this.”
Judging from the panicky stare that Dr. Keyes gave her, and from his suddenly wobbling Adam's apple, he thought differently.
Well, he was wrong.
Her old nemesis, Ryan McCall, had no connection to her son.
McCall was a different part of her past. A past she dearly wanted to forget. Of course, forgetting wasn't entirely possible. Every time she heard her father's accusing voice and saw his scarred wrists, she got a harsh reminder that Ryan McCall, one of the most affluent and ruthless businessmen in the state, had tried to destroy her family.
And in many ways, he'd succeeded.
Heck, he was
“Look,” Dr. Keyes grumbled. “Let's get in my car. It's probably not a good idea for us to stand out here discussing this. The watchdog group employs P.I.s. They could have followed you.”
Delaney stayed put. “Answers,” she demanded. “Now. And quit stalling.”
His suddenly intense, almost angry stare drilled into her. “You're really going to wish you'd sat down for this,” Keyes warned, his voice now a dangerous growl.
Delaney wasn't immune to the warning and that stare. Even though she hadn't thought it possible, it sent her adrenaline soaring even higher than it already was. Still, she didn't back down. She couldn't. No matter how painful this was, she had to learn the truth.
“Start talking,” Delaney countered, trying to show strength that she in no way felt. Her legs were shaking
so hard she was afraid she might lose her balance. “Because if you don't, I'm going straight to the police. I'll demand a full investigation, and I'll tell them to start that investigation with you.”
He stared at her. “And if I tell you what you
you want to know?”
“Then, it ends here.”
Mercy, it had to end here.
Dr. Keyes gave a curt, brace-yourself nod. “I believe an embryologist who used to work at the clinic might have done some experimental research on asexually replicated cells.”
Delaney mentally repeated that. She understood the individual words, but the term, asexually replicated cells, meant nothing to her. “Try that again in English.”
He opened his mouth and closed it, as if rethinking what he was about to say. Then he shook his head. “The embryologist, William Spears, died about three weeks ago. His records are apparently missing now, and I only got a glimpse of them beforehand, so I'm not exactly sure what he did. I'm not even sure if the embryo you were given was part of his research. In fact, I'm not sure of anything. I only learned what he'd done after he was deadâand that means I'm innocent of any charges this watchdog group might bring against the clinic.”
Using the grip she still had on his jacket, Delaney hauled him closer. “Frankly, I don't care what part you
had in this. All I care about is my son. I need to make sure he's all right, that someone didn't manipulate or mutate the embryo so that it could end up harming him.”
That improved his posture. “Is there something wrong with your son?”
“Not that I know of. That's why I'm here. I want to make sure there's nothing lurking in his DNA that could turn out to be a deadly time bomb.”
“No time bomb.” More hesitation. Another check around the parking lot. “I don't believe your son's DNA was altered.”
The breath of relief instantly formed in her lungs and then stalled there, because that wasn't a relief-generating look on the doctor's face. “Then what did you do to him?”
“Me personally? Nothing.” He groaned and kicked at the puddle of rain that was deepening around their feet. “Asexually replicated cells aren't mutated or altered. They're just thatâasexually reproduced.”
Delaney wished she'd paid more attention in her Biology 101 class at Texas A&M. She shook her head. “I don't understand.”
Dr. Keyes lowered his voice to a whisper. “Your son's embryo was cloned.”
She pulled in her breath. “Cloned?” The grip she had on the doctor's jacket melted away, and Delaney's hand dropped to her side.
“Yes. I only got a quick look at Dr. Spears's records,
but he claims to have taken the DNA from a six-week-old male infant who died two years ago right here in San Antonio in an automobile accident that killed both the baby and his mother.”
A sickening feeling of dread came over her.
Two years ago.
A car accident.
A child and mother left dead.
Delaney was positive there'd been plenty of other accidents, other deaths during that time frame. But only one incident came to mind.
“It's possible that you might have received the cloned embryo from that infant,” Dr. Keyes said.
Delaney felt herself stagger, and because she had no choice, she leaned against a nearby car.
An experimentally cloned embryo.
The genetic copy of a child who had already been born.
Delaney tried to respond, tried to question that. She tried to accuse Dr. Keyes of lying. Yes, that was it. He had to be lying. But she couldn't make herself say anything. Her throat clamped shut, and the tightness in her chest squeezed like a fist.
“If the information in that record is correct,” the doctor continued. He waited until Delaney's eyes came back to his. “Then, the child you gave birth to is Ryan McCall's son.”