Last week we announced that Michael’s Family, Just One Night & Finally A Family by Kathryn Shay are our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded Michael’s Family, you’re in for a real treat:
by Kathryn Shay
Once again, Kathryn Shay puts into words what she’s learned as a high school teacher. She also spent time with the public defender and a district attorney to research this book!
“Each page is pure seduction of the senses.” – Genie Romex Reviews
Three years after his wife’s death, Luke Rayburn is still struggling with loneliness and the challenges of being a single father. But when his son, Michael, decides he wants to meet his biological mother, Luke must face one of the biggest challenges of his life. Who knew, when they both meet the haunted, beautiful Meredith Hunter, their lives would get inextricably bound together? Full of hot passion and tender family scenes, MICHAEL’S FAMILY is sure to tug on your heart strings.
“Once again, Kathryn Shay blends realism and romance to flawless perfection. Her strength lies in her ability to capture the voice of children with thoughtful insight into how they think and what they feel. The love story is passionate and bittersweet. There’s no stopping this gifted author!” – The Literary Times, Inc.
“With brilliant characterization and sizzling sensuality, Kathryn Shay gifts us with an emotional powerhouse of a love story.” – RT Book Reviews
by Kathryn Shay
“A touching story about goals, emotional insecurity and the ability to grow and change unfolds in the remarkable and realistic page-turner. Ms. Shay has once again gifted us with a beautiful love story filled with hope, healing and the pursuit of happiness.” – Rendezvous Magazine
In this emotionally charged story, Annie Montgomery and Zachary Sloan have shared a complicated past. They met as young college students, married, and planned to live happily ever after. They thought they could deal with their differences, but they were wrong. A bitter divorced ensued, and they both started new lives. Or have they? When they meet during a crisis, Annie and Zach share a bed again. A month later, Annie discovers she’s pregnant. Since having children was one of the stumbling blocks of their marriage, Annie can’t believe Zach is happy about his impending fatherhood. Zach has to convince her he’s changed, and Annie must learn to compromise, because one thing is for certain–they never stopped loving each other!
* * *
by Kathryn Shay
A real life medevac helicopter unit, Mercy Flight Base in Canandaigua, New York, served as the basis for Shay’s research for this book. She is grateful for all the hours the dedicated pilots, paramedics and staff spent with her.
“One of the best features of this romance is the authentic air ambulance / search and rescue backdrop. I enjoyed reading this family focused romance.” – Muse Creations
Guardian Flight Base, a search and rescue air ambulance service, needs another helicopter and Alexis Castle has come to Catasaga Lake to see if her company, Castle Industries, deems them worthy of grant money. She soon finds out that they are very deserving, but not before she falls in love with their head pilot, Spence Keagan, a set-in-his ways, untrusting man. Both Spence and Alexis know getting involved smacks of impropriety, but they can’t help themselves. They’re further bound together when their two kids, both of whom are estranged from their parents, form a bond of their own. Complicated and intense, this relationship sets the stage for some high powered action and passionate love scenes.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt of “Michael’s Family”:
“HEY, DAD, do you believe that sixty-three percent of the men in this survey say they don’t have sex as often as they’d like?”
Michael’s sixteen-year-old voice preceded him into the den, where Lucas Rayburn sat, having just made one of the most difficult decisions of his life. He stared at the boy who was almost a man, and felt his heart constrict. God, he loved the kid.
“Yes, Michael. I believe that.”
Green eyes focused on Luke as Michael plopped his nearly six-foot body into the wing chair, rolled the magazine he held and tapped it on his knee. “What’s wrong, Dad?”
“You usually rib me about my project.”
“With good reason. I’m still wary of a year-long term paper on the sexual practices of the average American.”
“Hey, the new English teacher said we should choose a topic we’re interested in. It’ll make learning the research skills easier. Julie Anne’s doing hers on the rights of adopted children.”
Luke’s smile disappeared abruptly at the mention of the topic Michael’s best friend had chosen for her paper.
“I’ve decided, Michael.”
He watched his son grip the chair arm hard. “And?”
“I’ve thought about your request. A lot.” The words stuck in his throat, but Luke got them out somehow. “We’ll contact your biological mother.”
Michael swallowed, his youthful Adam’s apple bobbing. “That’s great.”
Great? It was obscene, that’s what it was. The fact that Michael had asked, weeks ago, to find the woman who’d given birth to him stunned Luke at first. Now it just hurt. He tried hard to keep his face neutral and concentrate on what was best for Michael.
“Listen, Dad, I promise it won’t change anything between us. You know, how it’s been for the last three years. Since Mom died. We’ll be buddies, like we’ve always been.”
Luke’s throat clogged. “I know you mean that, son. But you’ve got to realize that when we find her our lives will never be the same.”
Michael shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe our lives will be better.”
But Luke doubted it.
LUKE PULLED his Bronco into the parking lot next to a sleek silver Corvette, and took the time to admire its clean lines and subtle construction. It was not out of place here at the swank condominium complex in an upscale suburb of Romulus, New York. Michael’s birth mother must have done pretty well for herself.
He shut off the engine and leaned his head against the seat. He tried to quell his resentment but his effort was futile, as it had been on the interminable one-hour drive from Sommerfield to Romulus. The only thing his internal debating had achieved was to enhance the dull ache at his temples.
What did it matter how well she’d fared in the intervening years? When Michael was born, she’d turned him over to a family who could raise him better than she could, and Luke had thanked God for it then. It wasn’t fair to judge her now for what he had considered the greatest gift a mother could give her child.
“But she’s not Michael’s mother,” he said aloud, pounding his fist on the steering wheel. “Sara is.”
No, Sara was his mother.
Yanking open the door, and determined to leave the bitter feelings and morbid thoughts behind, Luke made his way to number thirty-four. Before he could change his mind, he reached up and rang the bell. Impatient now, he tapped his foot on the brick steps as he looked around at the lush greenery. Large maple and birch trees swayed in the early-afternoon breeze, infusing the air with the scents of fall. The grass and shrubbery were meticulously clipped, like the grounds of the golf course at the country club Sara had convinced him to join. He was about to ring again, when the door opened.
Luke froze. Staring up at him were Michael’s eyes. His son had the most unusual eyes Luke had ever seen—oval, with large black pupils, surrounded by light green or dark green—depending on his mood or what he wore—and rimmed in black. They’d always reminded Luke of the marbles he used to play with as a kid.
“Hello.” Her voice was strained, and she coughed to clear it. “Mr. Rayburn?”
“Yes. You must be Meredith Hunter.”
She nodded, then inched back to allow him in.
Luke couldn’t shake the feeling that once he entered this house, his life would change forever. But he’d promised Michael. He stepped through the doorway.
Softly she closed the door, and circled him in the large foyer. “Come on in here,” she said, her voice a little stronger. She preceded him into a huge living room.
He tried not to notice that her hair was light brown, and streaked the same as Michael’s with end-of-summer highlights. He tried not to observe that she was about five-eight, tall for a woman. It must be where Michael got his height. Oh, Lord, he told himself, he had to stop these comparisons, or he’d go crazy. He had to remember that this woman gave birth to his son, but he and Sara had given Michael everything else.
“Why don’t you sit down, Mr. Rayburn,” she said, standing beside an overstuffed white leather couch.
He sat. She perched on the matching chair across from him, and was framed by high, arched floor-to-ceiling windows. Vertical blinds allowed in afternoon sunlight which softened her somewhat formal outfit— a navy blue suit with a white blouse.
Stop staring and say something. “Nice place you have here.” Oh, now that was clever.
She scanned the room absently. “Thanks, I like it.”
“Lived here long?”
“Um, yes, about seven years. I was one of the original tenants. That’s how I could afford it.”
“Can I get you something to drink?”
He glanced down at her hands, clasped so tightly in her lap that her knuckles were white. It was the first time he noticed she was trembling. The small show of vulnerability thawed some of his resentment of her. “Not unless you have a magic potion that will make this any less awkward.”
She smiled then, a half smile that Michael often gave Luke when he’d done something right. “This is hard,” she said.
Luke sat back against the comfortable cushions and sighed heavily. “I don’t even know where to begin. I was hoping our mothers could be here to break the ice.” When she didn’t say anything, he added, “You know, because they arranged the adoption.”
Again, the wisp of a smile. “I wish they were here, too.”
“Bad timing that they’re both traveling.”
“Yes, it would have helped if they could have filled us in on the details of each other’s lives before we met.” Her eyes turned bleak. “And of…Michael’s.”
She said his son’s name reverently. Instead of impressing Luke, it irked him. He didn’t want to know how she felt about Michael, or what it had been like to give up her child. “What did my mother tell your mother?” he asked.
“Just that Michael wanted to meet me. And…that his…that your wife had died three years ago.”
“Yes, his mother died of cancer.”
Luke watched her carefully. She’d flinched when he called Sara Michael’s mother, but she’d repressed it immediately.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “For you and Michael.”
“You knew nothing about us?”
“No. I assume you knew nothing about me, either.”
He shook his head.
“I agreed with my mother that was the best way to handle the…adoption.” She paused again, and her hands clenched tighter in her lap. “Didn’t you want it that way?”
“Of course. I never thought this day would come.”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated.
“My mother said that she and your mother cut off all contact sixteen years ago—when they arranged the adoption—so she didn’t know how your life turned out.”
“My mother said the same thing. About you, and your life.”
Luke smiled in spite of the gravity of the situation. “We’re parroting each other. This is the stiffest conversation I’ve ever had.”
“It is awkward.”
“I always felt bad my mother gave up her best friend from law school for me.”
Meredith stared over his shoulder. “Me, too. They both made a big sacrifice for Michael’s welfare. I…appreciated it.” She smiled again. “Did you know that they were the only two women in their graduating class at Stanford?”
Relaxing, Luke nodded. “They got each other through, from what I heard. My mother talked about Lydia a lot before the adoption. She never mentioned her afterward.”
Luke sighed again, watching her. “Well, where do we start?”
“Tell me about him.” Luke thought he saw moisture glaze her eyes, but she blinked and it was gone.
He hesitated. It was hard for him to begin, but he knew he had to start the ball rolling somehow. “He’s a great kid,” he said finally. “He’s a junior in high school—gets good grades but doesn’t have to study much for them. Like most kids, he plays his music too loud, he’s addicted to Reality TV. He wears my clothes without asking. English is his favorite subject, and he writes a lot since his ninth-grade teacher got the kids to keep a journal.”
The intensity on her face reminded Luke of a POW starved for information about the outside world. He felt a pang of sympathy.
“Let’s see, his best friend is Julie Anne Sherman, who lives next door. They’re together most of the time, though he has a lot of buddies from the soccer team who hang around the house.”
Meredith Hunter bit her lip hard.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She took in a deep breath. “Yes, I, um…it’s all a little overwhelming. Finally…knowing about him.”
She’d either just lied to him, he decided, or hedged. He knew the signs well. She’d reacted when he’d mentioned soccer.
Nervously, she reached up and fingered the braid that fell over one shoulder. She wore no polish on her short fingernails; her hands were unsteady. “What else?”
Probing, to see if she would react again, Luke said, “He’s an excellent soccer player.”
Her shoulders tensed. “What position?”
“Forward. Do you know the game?”
“Yes. Does he drive yet?”
Luke nodded, but let go of the cross-examination. “We kept Sara’s car for him after she died. He uses that.”
“A nice legacy for a teenage boy.”
For some reason the comment angered Luke. “Sara gave him a lot more than that.”
“I’m sure she did.” Meredith swallowed hard. “Look, I’d like some coffee. I’ll be right back.” She fled from the room faster than a beaten dog.
Damn it. Luke hadn’t meant to hurt her. He hadn’t known what to expect—how she’d felt about giving up her son—so he hadn’t thought out his reactions to her. Hell, she seemed pretty controlled to him in general. Almost cold. But one thing was clear. It hurt her to talk about Michael, and about the woman she’d given him to. Luke didn’t want to deal with that. He had his own conflicting emotions to sort out.
So he got up and wandered around the room. Its tidy sparseness added to his impression that this was a woman in control. Everything was in its place, neatly stored or displayed. There were none of the springy plants Sara had populated their house with. Only two pictures graced the bookshelf: one of an older couple, the woman resembling both Meredith and Michael. The other photo was of two guys, arms linked, in football jerseys and shorts. Was one a lover? Michael’s natural father? All Luke knew about the man was that he had died before Michael was born, and that they had no health records from him like the ones he’d gotten from Meredith. Even recently, when Luke’s mother had told him the whereabouts of Meredith Hunter, she’d said that there would be no discussion of the man involved. Which was fine with Luke. Even mention of the guy made his stomach churn. He didn’t want to know any of this! He was Michael’s father.
In the kitchen, Meredith gripped the countertop and took several deep breaths. She reached over and cranked open the window, then splashed some cold water on her face.
Oh, God, this was hard. She’d known it was going to hurt, she just hadn’t planned on the details sucker punching her in the gut.
He was a soccer player. She had a brief flash of herself in the last game she’d ever played, booting in the winning goal from almost midfield.
Shake it off, Meredith. This is too important to fall apart now.
Taking out the canister and filter, she assembled the coffee machine, and watched it brew. Mr. Lucas Rayburn would have to wait until she got herself together. Judging from the looks he’d shot her, she was certain he wouldn’t miss her presence at all. Which was fine with her. Arrogant, intimidating men were her least favorite people.
Eight minutes later, she returned to the living room more composed, a tray containing their coffee in her hands. She found Luke standing in front of her music collection. “You have a lot of jazz.” He held up a Rippington’s CD. “Michael likes this group, too.”
Quelling a surge of joy at yet another shared interest, she set the tray down on the low, glass-topped table. “How do you take your coffee?”
“Black.” He came toward her then, and took a mug. A lock of hair fell across his forehead. It was the color of fall chestnuts. His eyes were slightly darker, she noted, allowing herself to look into them.
She wished she hadn’t. They were a deep, dark masculine brown—and they were filled with wariness.
Nothing you didn’t expect, Meredith.
When they were seated again, she tried to warm her ice-cold hands by circling them around one of the steaming mugs. He watched her.
“Mr. Rayburn, I know this is difficult for you. It’s hard for me, too. Would you answer a question?”
“How do you feel about Michael getting to know me?”
He set his mug down on the table, then linked his hands between his knees. For the first time she noticed he was dressed casually, in blue jeans and a gray T-shirt under a blue plaid flannel shirt. Her work suit, tailored yet stylish, seemed formal and fussy for this occasion. “I’m against it,” he said simply.
Oh, God, was she going to lose the boy a second time? She forced a calm into her voice, as she did in the courtroom when she was unsure of her facts. “Then why are you here?” she asked. Susan, her therapist, had told her to focus on what she needed from the situation.
“Because I’ll do anything for Michael. And he wants to meet you.”
Meredith let out a revealing breath. “So you’ll let us…him…see me?”
“Of course. Look, I don’t want to know anything about why you gave him up. All I really need to know is where your head is today.” He paused, then said, “Answer a question for me. Can you do this for him now? Do you want to?”
“Yes, I do. More than you could possibly know.”
“It won’t be easy,” he warned.
You don’t understand the half of it, Mr. Rayburn. “What exactly do you mean?”
“Michael’s a complicated kid. And he’s stubborn. He wants to get to know you now that Sara’s gone, and no one can convince him differently.”
“I’ve explored all the angles with him. Ultimately, it was his decision.”
“But had it been yours, we wouldn’t be here talking.”
“Absolutely not. I know my son. He’ll have some trouble with…with the fact that you gave him up.”
Meredith felt sick, but she forced herself not to react to his articulation of her worst fear.
“Are you prepared for that?” he asked.
“I honestly don’t know.”
“Why did you agree to this?”
Anger flickered inside her. Could he possibly think she didn’t want to know her own child? His eyes narrowed on her, so she must have reacted outwardly, something she took great pains to avoid doing. “I want this, too.”
“All right.” He sat back and picked up his coffee. “I’d like to know more about you, then.”
Meredith studied him. Know thy enemy. “I feel the same way.”
He smiled and she had the odd feeling it was a rare occurrence in his life these days. “You go first,” he said. “Give me the basics, then I’ll do the same.”
Wanting to relax, she eased back into the chair. “Let’s see. I’m thirty-five. I have an older brother, Nathan, and as you know, my mother is a retired attorney, living in New York City. My dad’s dead. I read and spend time with my best friend, Belle. I like jazz and have an interest in cars. I watch sports on television, but not much else. I work out at a health club four times a week. And I’m an assistant district attorney for the city of Romulus.”
His thick eyebrows raised when she finished. “I didn’t expect the last thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“We have something in common.”
“The law. I’m a federal public defender for the counties that include Romulus and Sommerfield.”
Meredith’s hands went clammy and her insides contracted. But she struggled to rein in her conflicting emotions. Luke Rayburn could never know about her bias against public defenders. Of everything in this whole emotional mess, that was the one thing that he could never, ever find out.
She’d go to the grave with that secret.
LUKE SUCKED IN AIR as he ran up the hill; he glanced over at his son, who wasn’t even breathing heavily. Ah, the advantages of youth. But he wouldn’t trade places with Michael today for anything in the world. When they hit the top of the incline, and Luke was able to talk again, he asked, “Nervous about meeting her?”
Michael’s pace slowed almost imperceptibly, and his face flushed. But he kept running. “Yeah. Stupid, huh?”
Not breaking stride, Luke reached over and squeezed Michael’s arm. “I’d be the same if I were in your shoes.”
“What if I don’t like her?”
I’d fall down on my knees and thank God. Not fair, Rayburn. Maybe the kid needs this. “Well, none of this is irrevocable, you know. You don’t have to continue any relationship with her if you don’t want to.”
“Would that be fair to her?”
Sometimes, good parenting came back to haunt you. You taught your kid to care about others, not to use or abuse them, and then at the worst possible times, they did exactly what you said. “Mike, we haven’t made any promises. We just decided to meet her and see how it goes. It will probably be hard for her if it doesn’t work out.” The memory of sad green eyes appeared before him. “But we’re going to do what’s best for you.”
The boy smiled weakly and picked up the pace of their jog. They ran about a quarter of a mile before he spoke again. “I know you want me to form my own opinions about her. But, ah…is she nice? What’s her personality like?”
Cold. Meredith Hunter definitely struck him as cold. Except when she spoke about Michael. “She seems very reserved to me. Very cautious.”
Another few yards. “She’s smart, though, right?”
Luke smiled, surprised at his son’s question. “I’d guess she’s very bright. Those articles I dug up from the Romulus Herald cited a pretty successful career.”
Once he’d discovered she was an assistant district attorney, he’d done some investigating and found Ms. Hunter had caused quite a stir in the Romulus law community during her seven years in the D.A.’s office. She’d taken the track most county D.A.’s did—putting in a stint of several months in city court, and about a year in town court. Then, she’d prosecuted nonviolent felons, and finally settled in the Major Felonies Bureau. “Champion of Women’s Issues,” one headline had called her, and another newspaper dubbed her as part of the “Sensitive Bureau.”
“And she went to Princeton, right?”
“Did you ever meet her when you were kids, Dad?”
“Once or twice. But we lived on opposite coasts so it was tough getting the families together.” Luke glanced at his son. “I don’t remember much about those visits.”
“What about as an adult? Your jurisdiction is Romulus, too.”
“Yeah, it is. But I never met her. That’s not unusual. When I was a county public defender, there would be little chance of meeting her since Sommerfield and Romulus each have about forty or fifty A.D.A.’s. No reason for me to come in contact with her. And I’ve only been with the federal department for a year, so it’s not unusual.”
“It’s strange, all the law connections, though.”
“No, son, it isn’t. You know that your grandmothers arranged the adoption. And they were both lawyers. Their children chose law.”
“At least Grandma will get to see her good friend now.”
Luke stopped running; Michael went a few paces before he realized his father wasn’t beside him, then stopped, too. “What is it, Dad?”
“Michael, it’s important that you don’t take responsibility for anything that’s happened here. Your grandmother made her own choices. She got you in the exchange, and never regretted it for a minute. As far as Meredith Hunter is concerned, she also made her own decisions. If this doesn’t work out—letting her into our lives—she’ll learn to live with it.”
Michael grinned at his father. “Okay, Dad, I get it. But can I at least have a minute to feel bad for them?”
Relaxing, Luke returned the grin and walked to Michael, encircling his son’s neck with his arm. “Sorry, kid. But I’m not going to let you get hurt by this.” Please, God, let me be able to do that.
Michael leaned into him for a minute.
“I love you, Mike.”
“Me, too, Dad.” Then he pulled away. “Race ya? Last one home gets to wear your new Broncos’ sweatshirt.”
An hour later, Michael, wearing Luke’s Broncos’ sweatshirt, lay sprawled in front of the DVD playing his favorite video game. Luke had just reached the bottom of the stairs when the doorbell rang. Michael dropped the controls and looked up at his father. For all his height and muscle, he seemed a child today. “Want me to get it?” Luke asked.
His son shook his head and uncurled his long frame. His body was rigid when he stood.
White-faced, he turned to Luke.
“Remember, this isn’t irrevocable,” Luke lied. “We don’t have to take it any further.”
Nodding, Michael crossed to the foyer.
OH, DEAR GOD, he looks like me. The thought came uncensored when Meredith saw her son for the very first time. She ground her heels into the concrete and gripped her purse strap. Mostly it was his eyes, but his other features resembled hers, too. And his hair was the same color.
“Hi.” His voice was raspy. Nervous.
Meredith watched as he scanned her. She’d changed clothes four times, and hoped the casual knit skirt and hip-length top were the right choice. This was really her son, standing here, looking her over.
And his eyes betrayed him. Used to reading people, she saw a myriad of emotions flood him: curiosity, wariness, pleasure and finally, some distrust, which reminded her of Lucas Rayburn—who materialized behind Michael.
“Ask her to come in,” he said gently.
The boy’s face turned red. “Oh, sure, sorry. Come in.”
Michael stood to the side, next to Luke, as Meredith entered the house. Trying to calm her churning stomach, she scanned the interior. Their home was lovely, if not her taste. A large, well-appointed living room sprawled to the right, dining room to the left. Ahead, a hallway led to the rear of the house.
“Come on back,” Luke said, heading down the hall. Michael waited politely for Meredith to go first, and his proximity made her dizzy. She could feel his presence looming behind her.
The family room was huge and airy, decorated, like the rest of the house, in expensive Colonial motif. Luke preceded her into the room, and as Meredith followed, she stumbled and lost her balance. She grabbed for the post that separated the dinette from the family room, as Michael grasped her to steady her.
“You missed the step down,” he said.
The breath went out of Meredith as she looked at the large masculine hand enfolding her arm. Her son’s hand. She struggled against the swell of emotion building within her. She’d promised herself she’d stay in control. Damn it, she wouldn’t cry. She’d handle this well. But, God, her son really touched her. If nothing else ever happened between them, she’d gotten more from him now than she’d ever imagined having.
“Sorry,” she said hoarsely, pulling her gaze away. “I’m not usually this clumsy.” Glancing over, she saw Luke staring at her, examining her. She knew that somehow he sensed what had just happened to her. The distaste in his eyes told her he didn’t like it—and that he felt not a whit of sympathy for her. So be it. She wasn’t going to let him stand in her way. Not if Michael wanted her in his life. You have some say in this now, Meredith, her therapist had said. Go for it.
“Have a seat, Ms. Hunter.” The ice in Luke’s voice confirmed her impressions.
Knees shaking, Meredith crossed to the blue plaid sofa and gratefully sank onto it. Luke leaned against a six-foot-long mahogany wall unit, hands stuck in his jeans, a long-sleeved gray T-shirt hugging his muscles. His whole stance was hostile. She turned from him to Michael.
He, too, was watching her from a distance. He stood by the step she’d stumbled over, head cocked, posture only slightly less tense than Luke’s. The sweatshirt he wore stretched across his wide shoulders.
“Can we get you something?” Luke asked, breaking the silence. When she stared at him, wide-eyed, a ghost of a smile played on his face. “A glass of water, or something? You look like you could use one.”
He’d broken the tension. Even though he hated her presence here, he’d done it for his son. Reluctant admiration swept through her.
“I am a little overwhelmed. Water would help.”
Michael’s shoulders relaxed as Luke walked by and squeezed his arm. Meredith bit her lip, moved by the supportive gesture. She was a bundle of nerves and needed to get control before she started to bawl in front of the Rayburn men.
Taking a deep breath, she focused on Michael. “This must be hard on you,” she said softly.
His eyes—the exact color of hers—watched her. Then he shrugged. “Yeah, it is. For you, too?”
She nodded. “But I’m glad that you wanted to meet me.”
“Yeah?” The grin that split on his youthful face gave her the encouragement to go on.
“Yes, I am. You’ll never know how much.”
Michael moved into the room, and sat down on a chair adjacent to her. “Okay, good.” He held eye contact. “So, how do we do this?” Meredith smiled inwardly at the similarities between his gestures and words and those of the man who had raised him.
Luke returned with the water, and Meredith hoped neither of them noticed the slight trembling of her hand as she took it. She gulped it down, then set the glass on a coaster on the fancy end table and turned back to Michael. “We’ll do this however you want.”
He glanced at his father, who’d retreated to the wall; Luke gave his son an encouraging smile and nodded.
“Dad thinks we might want to spend some time alone together.”
An unexpected gift. Pure joy shot through her. “I’d love that.”
Michael shifted in the chair and looked longingly out the window. “Want to go for a walk? We’re only a half mile from the high school. I could show it to you.”
“I’d like that.”
He scanned her outfit. “You gonna be okay in those shoes?”
Peering down at her one-inch pumps, she shook her head. “Probably not, but I’ve got my Nikes in the car.”
“Cool.” He stood. “Let’s go then.”
Meredith risked a glimpse at Luke. His face was inscrutable as he pushed away from the wall and followed them to the foyer. “You need a jacket, Michael?”
The boy tugged at his sweatshirt as he opened the front door. “Nah, I got to wear this, remember?”
A smile full of love and pride suffused Luke Rayburn’s face. It made him look young—and handsome, even if Meredith didn’t understand the exchange.
“Don’t rub it in, buddy,” he said gruffly. He turned to Meredith. The warmth drained from his eyes and he scowled. “How about you?” he asked. The strain in his voice told her he was trying hard to inject some concern into his question. “You got a jacket?”
“Ah, no. I don’t. I didn’t think…I was a little rattled this morning when I left Romulus.”
Luke’s features softened. “That’s understandable.” He reached over, opened a closet and yanked out a white nylon jacket. Meredith caught the Sommerfield blue lettering on the back. “Here, you can wear this,” he told her.
She felt the room sway as he placed the jacket over her shoulders. Her son’s jacket. She was actually wearing her son’s jacket. Michael stepped outside; Meredith was forced to follow, though she did so in a daze. A quick glance down to see Mike on the upper left almost destroyed her equilibrium completely. The subtle smell of after-shave surrounded her as the smooth material caressed her arms. She halted on the porch, closed her eyes briefly, savoring the scent of her child. Thank God both men were distracted by Michael’s comment, “Wow, Dad, look.”
Meredith watched Luke and Michael take the steps two at a time and stride to the Corvette parked in their driveway. Michael reached out his hand and smoothed it over the silver-metallic paint and chrome. Luke held himself back, but couldn’t take his eyes off the car. “What year is it?” Michael asked.
Meredith was about to answer, when Luke said, “A silver-anniversary edition, I’ll bet. 1977.”
This from the man who drove a Bronco—a late-model, pricey one, but still a family car. Interesting.
As the two men examined the car and traded comments, Meredith stuck her hands into the pockets of Michael’s jacket. She pulled out two movie-ticket stubs, a pack of gum and a dollar. She swallowed hard. Clues to her son’s life. Traces of his daily activities.
“Ready to go?” she heard him ask.
“Sure, as soon as I get my sneakers.”
She took the stairs carefully, not wanting to repeat her earlier clumsiness. Opening the passenger side of the car, she grabbed the shoes and socks, sat down and slipped off her pumps. When she was ready, she looked up to find Luke’s gaze focused on her legs. He tore his eyes away, like a kid caught doing something he shouldn’t, then cleared his throat. “Well, enjoy your walk.” Peering over the hood of the car, he stared hard at Michael. “I’ll be right here when you get back, son,” he said meaningfully.
Involuntarily Meredith winced at the term. On the other side of the car, Michael didn’t notice. But when she caught Luke’s eyes, she knew he had.
Damn, she’d have to be more careful around this guy. He saw too much. And it would be a cold day in hell before she’d let any man in on her vulnerabilities. Especially Luke Rayburn.
MIKE STRUGGLED to maintain a slow pace so that the woman beside him could keep up. He jammed his hands into his corduroy jeans and wracked his brain for something to say to her. How did you talk to a mother you’d never met? Man, he didn’t even know what to call her. Meredith, he guessed. His Interpersonal Skills Course never covered this one.
“My dad says you’re a lawyer.”
“Yes, I’m an assistant district attorney in Romulus.”
“You like it?”
“I love it.”
They walked a little farther. “It’s funny, you being a lawyer…Dad’s a lawyer and Grandma Rayburn and your mother are all lawyers.”
“It is a coincidence.”
“But I guess that’s how I got to…to Dad, right?”
She moved away from him, like Julie Anne often did when he pushed her about something she didn’t want to discuss. Must be a girl-thing.
“Yes, Mike, it is. My mother and your father’s mother arranged the adoption.”
His stomach went queasy at the topic. You can ask her anything you want, Dad had said, but don’t feel you have to get into things you’re not ready to discuss.
“Tell me about your job.”
He tried to listen as she told him about the case she was working on now. An eighty-year-old woman had been attacked and Meredith was prosecuting the alleged attacker. She had a strong voice, a lot like the news reporter on channel ten. His mother—Sara, his real mother—had had a soft, feminine voice. He could still hear it sometimes, calling up the stairs for him to come to supper, laughing softly with his father in the den, and in the end, telling him he had to be strong. God, he missed her.
The woman next to him was nothing like her. She was tall. His mother had been barely five feet. Meredith was healthy and athletic-looking. His mother had been sick for all of his life. And fragile. He remembered trying not to do anything to upset her because she was so vulnerable. When he did, he felt guilty about it for days. Just as he felt guilty now. For wanting to know this woman.
The school loomed ahead. Meredith had fallen silent as they walked toward the bleachers. Taking a seat on the first row, he stared out at the field.
“You’re a soccer player, right?” she asked, joining him.
“It’s a great game.”
He turned to her. “You know it?”
She smiled, the first real, unselfconscious one she’d given him. “Yep.”
“I used to play.”
“Really? What position?”
“No kidding, that’s what I play.”
“I know. Your father told me.”
“He didn’t tell me you played.”
She frowned. “I didn’t say much about it. It was a long time ago.”
“Wow, maybe you can come and watch a game sometime.”
He heard her suck in her breath. When he turned to look at her, her eyes were watery. Damn, he hoped she didn’t cry. The few times when Julie Anne had cried, it killed him.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She coughed again. She’d done that a lot. And cleared her throat. He figured she was pretty choked up about all this. Well, so was he.
“Yes, Mike, I’m okay. And I’d be honored to come and see you play.” She took another deep breath. “Am I going to get to do that?”
Was she? Good question. He wanted her to. He thought he did, anyway. Sometimes. Most of the time. Then there were times he never wanted to lay eyes on her.
“You know, I asked to see you.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Dad thinks it’s a mistake.”
“Did he say that?”
“No, but I can tell. He throws his shoulders back and shoves his eyebrows together whenever he doesn’t agree with something I want to do.”
“Well, that’s understandable. This is a difficult situation.”
“Is this really hard for you, Meredith?” Saying her name for the first time felt strange. When he looked at her, he could tell she sensed it, too.
“Very hard.” Her reply was breathless.
Something pushed at him from inside. He knew he should ignore it. He always knew when he should stop himself from doing things. Like when he was on the soccer field and had the urge to take the ball down alone. He always knew when he should pass. But he often went solo, anyway, believing he could score alone. So, knowing he was making an error in judgment once again, he asked, “Yeah, well, if this is so hard for you, why did you give me up in the first place?”