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A Family of His Own
By Liz Fielding
Mills & BoonCopyright © 2004 Liz Fielding
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Chapter One"SHE'S so beautiful, Jake." Amy Hallam gently touched the cheek of the newborn infant, then lifted her from the cradle and tucked her into the crook of her shoulder, breathing in the baby scent as she kissed the top of her downy head. "Her mother just left her on Aunt Lucy's doorstep? The poor woman must have been distraught ..."
"Distraught maybe, but she knew Lucy would take care of her. She left a note." Jake handed his wife a sheet of paper and then took the baby from her so that she could read it.
Amy flinched as she touched the scrap of paper, physically sensing the emotional turmoil, the very real fear of the woman who'd written it.
"Are you all right?" Jake put out a hand to steady her.
"Fine," she said, her mouth dry. But she sat down before she began to read.
Dear "Aunt Lucy"
You took care of me once and now I'm asking you to take care of my baby because there's no one else I can turn to.
She was born on the 26th September. She has no name - if I don't know her name I can't betray her - and her birth has not been registered. She is totally anonymous. It is her only hope.
I'm begging you, trusting you, not to tell the authorities about her, not to make any appeals through the media for me to come forward. That will only draw attention toher, put her in danger.
I'm leaving what little money I have to help you until you can find some good people to take her in, give her a good life. I love her, but she isn't safe with me.
Amy blinked, focusing on the shimmering image of her own infant son as he scooted around on his bottom, irrationally wanting to grab him close, just to let him know how much she loved him. Instead she reached out wordlessly, and clasped her husband's hand.
"Paranoia? Domestic violence?" he asked, trusting her instincts.
"I don't know, but this woman is terrified of something." Then, "You've only got to look at the handwriting," she said quickly as Jake quirked a brow at her, taken aback at her instant response. "Whatever the problem is, she's beyond reason. She must know what she asks is impossible, that it breaks every childcare law in the book, but her only thought is to hide the baby."
"We can't do that for long."
"No, of course not. But I'm not prepared to take any unnecessary risks. A week or two will make no difference."
"I'm not sure that the social services will see it that way."
"Maybe not, but if we could find her ..."
"She's placed her infant in what she believes is a safe haven, Amy. Surely she's going to put as much distance between them as she can?"
"Not until she's sure. She'll stay close until she's certain her baby is safe."
"How will that help? We have no idea what she looks like."
She frowned. "Maybe we don't need to. She's left all her money with Lucy. She'll be weak. Hungry. In a pretty bad way. We need to search the lanes around Lucy's cottage, Jake. There's no time to lose."
"If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries ..."
IT WAS hot for the end of September. A cloudless, still day with only the blackberries to warn that summer was almost over.
Huge glistening fruit that was infuriatingly out of reach.
Kay rubbed the sweat from her forehead, fanned herself with her tattered straw gardening hat and walked slowly back along the hedge, seeking out any that she'd missed, trying to ignore the long brambles lolling over the high wall that skirted the far side of the lane. Brambles weighed down by berries, but which still just evaded the reach of her walking stick.
"Come on, Polly, this will have to do," she said, after scanning the hedge one last time.
"Have you got enough?" her daughter asked, looking doubtfully at the pitiful quantity they'd gathered.
"There aren't any more. I'm afraid the harvest-supper pies will have to be more apple than blackberry this year."
Polly's little face wrinkled up in a frown. "But there are loads up there," she said, pointing at the top of the wall.
"I know, poppet, but I can't reach them."
"You could get them down from the other side. Why don't you go through the gate? No one lives there. Someone's put up a For Sale sign," she added, as if that settled the matter.
How simple life was when you were six years old! But Polly was right about one thing. Linden Lodge had been empty for as long as she'd lived in Upper Haughton.
From her bedroom window she had tantalising glimpses of the wilderness hidden behind the high walls. The roof of an ornamental summer house collapsing beneath the unrestrained vigour of a Clematis montana. Roses running wild. Blossom on trees where, year after year, the ripened fruit had been left to fall and rot in the grass. It was like a secret garden from a fairy tale, locked away, hidden, sleeping. Just waiting for the right person to venture inside, bring it back to life.
It would take more than a kiss, she thought.
When she didn't answer, Polly, with all the persistence of a six-year-old on a mission, said, "They're for the harvest supper."
Polly gave a huge sigh. "The blackberries, of course. Everyone in the village is supposed to give something."
"Oh, yes." That was the plan. Everyone contributed to the harvest supper that brought the whole village together in a celebration of the year; a tradition linking them back to the agricultural past of the village.
Her reluctance to try the gate was ridiculous, she knew. If she didn't pick it the fruit would just shrivel up. Which would be a wicked waste.
"You could put a note through the door to say thank you," Polly said.
Excerpted from A Family of His Own by Liz Fielding Copyright © 2004 by Liz Fielding. Excerpted by permission.
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