Found: One Baby
It wasn’t the first time Michelle Anderson noticed a ‘gift’ left on Thad Garner’s front porch. In the three months she had lived across the street from the sexy E.R. doc, a parade of hopeful single women had presented Summit, Texas’s most eligible bachelor with everything from baked goods and homemade casseroles to gift baskets and balloons. But this was the first time sh’ed seen what looked like an infant car seat, diaper bag and a Moses basket left there.
Aware the latest offering hadn’t been there when she had left the house for her early-morning run, Michelle wondered if the baby gear was supposed to be some sort of message.
If so, it was an interesting one, given that Thad Garner had the reputation of a player and the attention span of a gnat when it came to women.
The handsome thirty-three year old doc said he wanted a wife and kids. Sooner, rather than later.
But he rarely dated a woman more than two or three times before ducking out of her life as genially and politely as he had eased in.
“The chemistry just isn’t there—I’m hoping we can be friends,” was what he reportedly said, more often or not.
But that wasn’t what the women of Summit wanted.
They wanted the passion Thad declared lacking from his side of the equation.
They also wanted, Michelle thought with a sigh, what she wanted-- when the time and the man were finally right. Marriage, a fulfilling life together, kids. As well as a career. Realistically, she didn’t know if it was ever going to happen for her.
Professionally and financially, everything was in place. She was thirty-two. Partner in a law practice. Had her own home. She was even considering adopting a baby on her own and---
Is that the sound of a baby crying?
It couldn’t be, Michelle thought, as the high pitched sound sputtered, and stopped, and then resumed, now a frantic, all-out wail.
She scanned Thad’s porch and yard, as well as the street. At seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, the area was usually quiet. Not today. Not with the unmistakable sound of a crying infant.
Heart pounding, Michelle jogged across the street and onto Thad Garner’s lawn. She hurried up the steps to the covered front porch of his Craftsman-style home.
Sure enough, an infant, red-faced and upset, lay in the elaborately decked-out Moses basket. He—Michelle assumed it was a boy because it was swaddled in blue—couldn’t have been more than a few days old.
Heart going out to the tiny thing, Michelle knelt down on the porch. She removed the soft blanket covering the squalling child and lifted him out of the portable baby bed, and into her arms.
And it was at that moment, the front door jerked open.
Her too-sexy-for-his-own-good neighbor stared down at her.
And Michelle’s heart took another giant leap.
Thad rubbed his face with the palm of his hand and tried to blink himself all the way awake. “What’s going on?” he demanded, sure now he had to be fantasizing. Otherwise, his gorgeous ice-princess-of-a-neighbor would not be standing on his doorstep with a baby in her arms. “And why were you ringing the doorbell like a house afire?” he asked gruffly. He’d thought he dreamed it, and had gone back to sleep-- until he heard the infant crying.
Michelle Anderson’s glance trailed over his bare chest and low-slung pajama pants before returning to his face. A warm flush—at odds with the cool mountain air-- spread across her pretty cheeks. “I didn’t ring the bell,” she said.
Thad had no idea how long ago it had been when he heard the bell. Five minutes? Fifteen? It still felt like a dream. Except for the flesh-and-blood woman and tiny newborn in front of him. “You’re sure standing next to it,” he observed wryly.
“Only because I wanted to ask you what was going on,” she shot back.
Aware he probably should have grabbed a T-shirt before bounding outside, Thad studied Michelle and the newborn in her arms. He didn’t know why, but she seemed to be accusing him of something nefarious. “You’re the one with the baby,” he pointed out.
Michelle patted the baby snuggled against her. The protective note in her sweetly feminine voice deepened. “True, but I’m not the one who left said baby on your front porch.”
She sounded like a lawyer. “What are you talking about?”
She pointed to the infant paraphernalia next to her feet. “Someone left a baby on your doorstep.”
Single women in Summit had done a lot of crazy things to get his attention but this topped everything. “Someone should have told you it’s way too late for an April Fool’s joke,” Thad scoffed.
“I’m well aware today is April 6th,” Michelle replied coolly, “and if this is a ploy to get your attention, Dr. Garner, I assure you, it’s not mine.”
Thad looked into Michelle face. He rubbed the last of the sleep from his eyes. “Why would anyone leave an infant with me?”
Michelle motioned toward the piece of white paper wedged between the side of the baby bed and the mattress in the bottom of it. “Perhaps that envelope will tell you.”
Thad knelt down to get it. His name was scrawled across the front, all right.
He tore into it and read.
“What the…?” Thad muttered, scanning the letter once again.
Still trying to make sense of what it had said, he held it out so Michelle could read it, too. “Who are Brice and Beatrix?” she asked with a frown.
Aware the baby looked blissfully happy snuggled against his neighbor’s soft breasts, Thad said, “No clue.”
Michelle brought the blanket closer around the baby’s tiny body. “Candace?”
Thad shrugged and studied the wisp of dark curling hair escaping beneath the crocheted blue and white knit cap. The baby’s clothes looked expensive. “Also no idea.”
“Is most definitely my brother, and only living relation,” Thad replied, taking in the sweet cherubic features and fair skin. Was that his imagination or did William have the Garner nose? And Garner eyebrows? And chin?
He knew his older brother prided himself on his vagabond lifestyle, but could Russell really have turned his back on his own son? Or did he not know about ‘William’? Had the mother of this obviously unwanted child decided Russell was a bad bet as a father and put their baby up for adoption without consulting Russell? Only to have the adoptive parents back out at the last moment?
Michelle stared down at the baby, as if he were the most adorable baby to ever grace the earth. Thad knew how she felt—the kid was certainly cute enough to grace a baby food ad.
Michelle looked up at Thad. “Do you think your brother even knows he’s a father?”
Thad exhaled. “Hard to say.”
Irritably, he scooped up the diaper bag, infant car seat, and Moses basket and set them in his foyer. “Please come in,” he said gruffly.
Michelle did so, albeit hesitantly, warily.
Not that she had ever been particularly friendly with him, Thad thought.
Since moving to Summit some three months before, to take over the law practice of a retiring local barrister, she’d barely had the time of day for him. He wasn’t really sure why she was so aloof, at least where he was concerned. He’d never been anything but cordial to the attractive attorney.
Of course, they hadn’t encountered each other all that often. She worked nine to six Monday through Friday. His shifts were generally twelve hours, and varied according to the demands of the Summit, Texas hospital emergency room.
Nevertheless, he’d had a hard time keeping his eyes off the willowy strawberry blond.
Michelle Anderson carried herself with the self-confident grace of an accomplished career woman. On workdays she could usually be seen in sophisticated business suits and heels. On weekends and evenings, she was much more casual.
This morning, she was wearing a pair of navy running shorts that made the most of her long, shapely legs, a hot-pink-and-navy T-shirt that paid similar homage to her breasts. Her running shoes and socks were white. Her hair was caught up in a ponytail on the back of her head, and the few escaped tendrils were attractively mussed. Her peaches-and-cream complexion had a healthy glow, while her emerald green eyes held the skepticism of a woman who had seen and heard way too much in the course of her profession.
But then, Thad thought, walking over to snag a navy blue T-shirt off the back of the sofa and shrug it on, so had he…
“Well?” Michelle asked, bouncing slightly to comfort the now squirming newborn, as Thad slid on a pair of discarded moccasins and came back to stand beside her. “Does that letter make any sense at all to you?” she demanded.
Thad watched the baby root around, as if looking for a nipple. “Unfortunately, yes,” he admitted reluctantly, not proud of this part of his family heritage. Spying a baby bottle in the pocket of the infant seat, he plucked it out, unscrewed the lid.
The formula smelled fresh. He screwed the top back on and handed it to her. “My brother is as reckless and shortsighted as they come.”
“Meaning?” Michelle offered the bottle to William and smiled when he latched on immediately.
Thad frowned. “It’s possible Russell’s gotten himself in a mess and left me to clean up.” And that was all Thad was prepared to say until he had talked to his only sibling.