Authors: Francis Ray
Lovingly dedicated to three men who had a tremendous influence on my life:
CLINTON RADFORD SR.;
CLINTON RADFORD JR.;
and my husband,
WILLIAM H. RAY.
It was always a comfort knowing your love and your support were unshakable. I'll miss you forever.
Monique Patterson, executive editor at St. Martin's Press; Holly Root, agent with Scott Waxman Agency; and Holly Blanck, associate editor at St. Martin's Pressâfor your support and encouragement in making this book a reality. I love having you on my team.
“It's a boy.”
Carlton James heard his wife's softly spoken voice, the tiredness, the regret. Somehow he'd known his first grandchild would be a boy.
His long fingers braced on the fireplace, trembled the tiniest bit as he stared into the flickering flames. In mid-March in Dallas, Texas, it wasn't cold enough for a fire, but he had needed to keep busy once Christine's labor started. That had been over sixteen long hours ago.
His hands fisted with anger, then unclenched. He had to be strong for his family. He'd failed once, never again.
“Christine?” he asked, knowing before his wife answered that if their only child and daughter had had any problems with the delivery, she would have come downstairs to tell him before now. It was her emotional state he inquired about and they both knew it.
Carlton felt every day of his forty-three years and then some. His first grandchild and he would never get to know him, to love him. Blowing out a breath, he slowly turned to see Lawanna. The joy and laughter that he was used to seeing on her pretty, open face wasn't there. Her lips were pressed tightly together but they still trembled. There hadn't been much to laugh about over the past six months.
He opened his arms and his wife rushed across the room, burrowing against his chest, her hands gripping fistfuls of his shirt. He felt the dampness of her tears, blinked back his own.
“Carlton, I hurt for her. We were supposed to protect her.”
Carlton's black eyes narrowed in anger. “I should have put a bullet in that no-good bastard the night she came crying to us.”
Lawanna sharply lifted her head, fear gleaming in her tear-drenched eyes. “No.”
Carlton's thumb brushed away the moisture from her dark lashes, then cupped her soft cheek. “He's taken enough from our family, he won't take any more.”
“You're sure about what you're going to do?”
He nodded. “I wish there was another way, but Christine has made it clear she wants the baby placed for adoption.”
Tears streamed down Lawanna's cheeks. “Carlton, he's beautiful with a full head of black hair and black eyes. He looks so much like your father. Maybe she'll change her mind in a few days. We've kept to ourselves since we rented the house. The few friends we have in the area don't know we're here.”
They'd rented a house in Dallas in an exclusive neighborhood for the last month of Christine's pregnancy. He'd taken a leave from his medical practice in Houston for the past three weeks, wanting Christine to know how important she was to them, how much they loved her. It hadn't seemed to matter. She could barely look them in the eyes, and when she did, tears always followed.
“Did she even look at the baby, ask to hold him?” he asked, hoping against hope.
Lawanna lowered her gaze. “No. She wouldn't even look at me.”
“She's ashamed when it should be that bastard. He thinks taking advantage of naÃ¯ve, unsuspecting women shows what a big man he is,” Carlton spat. “He doesn't care about ruining their lives or about the child he refuses to claim. He won't ruin Christine. She's too gifted and has too much to live for. She just needs time and love.”
Lawanna nodded. “I just wish there was another way.”
There was, but Carlton wasn't going to tell her. This was one burden he planned to carry by himself. “You go sit with Christine and send the nurse down with the baby. The social worker is waiting for my call.”
Lawanna bit her lower lip. “I don't mind telling you that once you see him I'm hoping you'll change your mind. We could tell everyone we decided to adopt.”
“If we did, we'd lose Christine. We don't have a choice.”
Tears sparkled in his wife's eyes. “We shouldn't have to choose. I hope that man finds a hell on earth. He's hurt too many people not to.”
Carlton kissed her on the cheek. “Send the baby down and I'll make the call.”
His wife nodded and then left the study, closing the door softly behind her. Carlton picked up the receiver on the desk and called his lawyer. The call was answered on the first ring.
“Is everything ready?”
“They understand and agree to the terms?” Carlton asked.
There was a knock on the study door. “Sir?”
“Just a minute,” he said, loud enough for the woman to hear. “The nurse is here. I'll bring him out.”
Disconnecting the phone call, Carlton opened the door. He told himself it would be best if he didn't look at the child, but the temptation was too great. He reached for the baby, felt the slight weight, heard the soft cry, and pulled back the soft blue blanket. His heart turned over. His chest felt tight. His wife was right. The baby did look like his father. He felt a fierce possessiveness, a fiercer love.
“If you don't need me, I'll go back upstairs.”
He shook his head, still staring down at the squirming bundle. “No. Thank you. You can go back upstairs with the midwife.” He heard the nurse move away, but his gaze remained on the now sleeping child. “I'm sorry. I wish there was another way.”
Stiffening his shoulders, Carlton quickly went to the front door and pulled it open. A slender woman in a black business suit stood on the porch. Before he could dwell on what he was doing, he thrust the baby into her arms, stepped back, and closed the door.
It was done.
He just hoped and prayed for all of their sakes he had done the right thing.
Sabrina Thomas clutched the leather-bound notebook to her chest and tried not to be impatient as the elevator in the south tower of Texas Hospital near downtown Dallas stopped once again on its climb to the eighteenth and top floor. But it was difficult.
Dr. Cade Mathis, the bane of her existence, would reach Mrs. Ward's room first and then there'd be hell to pay. Sabrina jabbed the button to close the doors as soon as the last person stepped onto the already crowded elevator. Evenings were always busy at the hospital with the staggered change of shifts and people dropping by to visit after work. Usually she didn't mind the crowd, but today wasn't usual.
Dr. Mathis wasn't going to be happy with Mrs. Ward's decision to postpone her surgery, and he wouldn't be shy about voicing his opinion.
The elevator finally stopped on the eighteenth floor. As soon as there was enough space to allow her to slip through the doors, Sabrina stepped off the elevator, excusing herself as she brushed by people trying to get on. Hurrying down the hall, she almost groaned on seeing Dr. Mathis's tall, imposing figure. At six foot three, he moved with a smooth, unhurried grace as he entered Mrs. Ward's room.
Sabrina increased her frantic pace.
Cade Mathis might be the best neurosurgeon in the country, but unfortunately, too often he had the disposition of a warthog in heat. And no one, at least as far as Sabrina knew, questioned him or went against his medical dictates. The hospital's board had gone all out to woo him from the Mayo Clinic. Housewife Ann Ward, in her mid-twenties, and her loving blue-collar worker husband a few years older, wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of standing up against him.
No one on the staff even tried. As patient advocate for Texas Hospital, it was Sabrina's job to try. Her eyes narrowed. She'd do more than try.
Two steps from the door she heard Dr. Mathis's clipped, precise voice that could be as lethal and as cutting as the scalpel he wielded so skillfully. She didn't waste time knocking, she just went in. What she saw confirmed her fears.
Ann, in a patient's gown, was sitting up in bed. Her husband's work-worn hands clutched hers as he hovered over her as if to protect her from Dr. Mathis. Unfortunately, it would do no good. Dr. Mathis was a law unto himself and listened to no one, but that wouldn't stop Sabrina.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Ward,” Sabrina greeted. “Dr. Mathis.”
The Wards' frantic gazes swung to Sabrina, clearly begging her to intervene. Dr. Mathis, hands on his lean hips, didn't even glance in her direction. Clearly he thought her insignificant. Tough. “Is there a problem?”
Ann nodded, swallowed a couple of times before she could get the words out. “I-I just told Dr. Mathis I want to postpone my surgery like I mentioned to you yesterday.”
Finally Dr. Mathis's gaze, cold and cutting, swung to Sabrina. Since she'd been subjected to his disapproval before, she didn't cower as most of the staff did. Her first responsibility was to the patient. A fact that had put her at odds with her last supervisor, and the reason she had made the difficult decision to transfer from a Texas Hospital affiliate in Houston to Dallas six months ago.
“You knew about this yesterday?” he accused.
“Yes,” she admitted, aware that her chin had jutted.
“And did she tell you why?” he asked, his tone no less cutting.
“Her daughter's birthday party is Saturday, the day after her surgery and she doesn't want to miss it,” Sabrina answered.
Dr. Mathis's midnight black eyes narrowed, then turned to his patient. “You have a tumor in the brain. Every second we wait to go in is a second too long.”
“I feel fine,” Mrs. Ward said, seeming to draw strength from her husband, who now had his arm around her shoulders. “The medicine you're giving me is helping the headaches and my other symptoms. Clarissa, my little girl, wants me there with her Saturday. I've missed so much because I was sick for so long and could hardly get out of bed, let alone play or take care of her. I can't disappoint her.”
“If you don't have the surgery, you might not live to see her have another birthday,” Dr. Mathis told her.
Ann's lips began to tremble, tears flowed freely from her big hazel eyes. She burrowed into the arms of her husband and sobbed. Her husband looked scared and angry.
“Dr. Mathisâ” Sabrina began, only to be cut off.
“The next time one of my patients makes a critical decision, I'd advise you to tell me and not wait for the patient to call me less than sixteen hours before the surgery,” he said to her, then strode from the room.
Sabrina considered throwing the notebook at his retreating back, then wisely went to Ann to try to console her.
“What kind of doctor talks to a patient like that?” Mr. Ward asked, his body trembling as much as his voice. “Don't listen to him, honey. You'll be there to dance at Clarissa's wedding. Isn't that right, Sabrina?”