Chet knew her type. The mission house down the street from his office was filled with do-gooders thinking their efforts with the derelicts and vagrants was going to make a difference. Chet felt sorry for them more than he did the street people they struggled to reach with their message.
Then why couldn’t he stop thinking about her? The hell if he knew. The hell if he cared. One consolation, he wasn’t likely to run into her again.
“Of course I remember you, Mr. Lundberg,” Mrs. Burchell, the caseworker from New Life Adoption Agency, assured him over the telephone. “It’s good to hear from you again.”
Andrew rolled the mechanical pencil between his palms, praying he was doing the right thing. “I’d like to know how difficult it would be for my wife and me to resubmit our application.” He leaned against the back of his chair. Leah had been on his mind all day and he was worried about her.
It was so unfair that they couldn’t have children. What troubled him most was that there didn’t seem to be any physical reason. They’d spent years, and thousands of dollars, working with fertility specialists. Leah’s life was governed by that ridiculous book she kept. He swore she’d documented her temperature every morning for the last seven years.
Perhaps if they’d been able to pinpoint the problem as his, Leah might have been able to accept their situation.
“I have your file right here,” the caseworker went on to say. “I know you and your wife were terribly disappointed when Melinda Phillips decided to rescind the adoption of her infant son. It doesn’t happen often, but unfortunately these girls do change their minds.”
“I understand,” Andrew said, not wanting to rehash the details. Having the birth mother change her mind had been much harder on Leah than on him. They’d gone to the hospital, their hearts filled with joy, only to return empty-handed an hour later. Afterward Leah had sat for hours alone in the nursery they’d so lovingly prepared. Nothing Andrew could say reached her. He’d been disappointed too and for a while there’d been a strain between them. Then one day he returned home from the office and discovered that Leah had dismantled the nursery. She calmly announced that she’d withdrawn their application from New Life and that they’d simply wait for her to become pregnant and bear a child of their own. She refused to subject them to that kind of torment again.
“I’ll be happy to resubmit your names,” Mrs. Burchell said, “but I must warn you there are fewer babies available for adoption now than before.”
“How long would you predict?”
The caseworker hesitated. “I can’t really say. It’s different with every couple.”
“What about the Watcombs?” Andrew asked. “We went through the orientation classes with them three years ago.”
“Ah, yes, the Watcombs. Jessie and Ken, am I right?”
“Yes. Has their adoption gone through?”
“Not yet, but we’re hopeful we’ll have an infant for them soon.”
Andrew’s hopes plummeted. The Watcombs were special people and he couldn’t imagine any young mother not choosing them to rear her child.
“You were in the same orientation class as the Sterlings, weren’t you?”
Andrew allowed the name to filter through his mind. “He was a fireman as I recall.”
“That’s the couple. They adopted a baby girl last October.”
“I thought you’d be pleased.”
He was, of course, but a small part of him couldn’t help being envious. Leah desperately wanted a child, and in an effort to reassure her he’d downplayed his own desire for a family. He loved his wife and would give anything for them to have a child.
“Do you still want me to resubmit your name?” Mrs. Burchell asked after a moment’s silence.
“Please,” he said, his hand tightening around the receiver. If it took another five years or more, then that was just how long they’d need to wait. That he was doing this behind Leah’s back didn’t sit well with him, but some action needed to be taken, and this seemed the most logical choice. If they were chosen by a birth mother again, then they’d make the necessary adjustments. A child was welcome into their lives at any time. Love guaranteed.
For the life of her, Monica hadn’t been able to forget the private investigator. Heaven knew she’d tried. He was little better than an alcoholic, drinking beer in the middle of the day. Not only that, he’d been arrogant, rude, and curt with her. He’d treated her as if she were a senseless child when she’d tried to help him.
Monica didn’t understand what it was about this one man that intrigued her so. She’d gone to bed that night and dreamed of him. She’d woken breathless, her heart pounding double time. A woman had no control over her dreams, Monica assured herself. If she had, Monica certainly wouldn’t have allowed that . . . man to touch her. The very idea was appalling. No, Monica corrected, closing her eyes and shaking her head, that wasn’t the truth. It was the problem. She had thought about him touching her, kissing her. Her untamed imagination had taken over and she’d allowed it to happen in her dreams.
“There you are,” her father said, strolling into the living room. “I’ve been looking for you.” He settled down in the leather chair by the fireplace and reached for the evening paper. “I’m afraid I’m going to need you tomorrow afternoon.”
“For what?” He seemed to forget she had a job and even if she did work as the church secretary it was a demanding position. Her father would cover for her if necessary, but she would rather he asked first instead of volunteering her services, which was something he often did.
“Mrs. Ferdnand just phoned and she can’t be a bell ringer for the shift she signed up to take last Sunday.”
“But, Dad.” Standing on a cold street corner and collecting charitable donations was the last way Monica wished to spend an afternoon. An hour never lasted so long and by the end of her shift she’d be frozen solid.
“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t necessary.”
“I know.” It was useless to argue with him. The man had the patience of Job and an answer for every argument.
“It’s downtown so you’ll be sure to get plenty of traffic,” her father added, reaching for the sports section of the newspaper and folding it open.
“Great.” She stabbed the needle into the fabric and set aside her needlepoint. After working on this Ten Commandment project for weeks she was only on the fourth commandment, which meant she hadn’t a prayer of finishing before Christmas. She studied the tiny stitches. Ironically the one she was currently stitching stated Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. God must have worked it out that way, sealing any argument she might have given.
“Are you all right?” her father asked her unexpectedly, momentarily setting the paper aside.
“I’m fine,” she said, then amended, “a little tired perhaps.”
“I thought as much. You don’t seem to be yourself lately.”
“I know this thing with Patrick hurt you and . . .”
“Patrick is a friend, Dad. He was never anything more. I don’t know why you insist upon dragging his name into every conversation.” It was a white lie to suggest she hadn’t cared about Patrick, but sometimes she found those necessary, although she was never comfortable stretching the truth.
“I noticed Michael talking to you the other day. He’s a very nice young man.” He eyed her speculatively as if waiting for her to comment.
“Very nice,” she agreed. But Michael didn’t stir her blood, he didn’t make her heart throb and the thought of him kissing her produced not so must as a whit of excitement.
Her father was right, there was definitely something wrong with her.
The following afternoon, Monica was dressed in her dark blue suit, standing on the corner of Fifth and University, ringing her little heart out. Surely there was a reward awaiting her in heaven for this.
A man dressed in leather and wearing enough gold to strangle himself stopped and inserted a ten-dollar bill in the bright red pot. When Monica thanked him, he insisted upon “giving her five.” It took her a good three minutes to realize what he intended. He was simply looking to slap her hand. He ambled away, suggesting she get with it, whatever or whomever “it” was.
Okay, so she wasn’t cool, if that was the current vernacular. Nor was she hip or groovy or several other words that came to mind. She was God’s willing servant. All right, she wasn’t so willing just then, but she was doing her part and that was all that mattered.
Her ears were cold and her fingers had lost their feeling and she had another half hour to go when it happened.
It was him.
The man who’d caught her in his arms three days earlier, the one she’d attempted to restrain from entering the Blue Goose. He was standing on the other side of the street waiting for the traffic to pass so he could cross. Everyone else would wait for the green light and the walk sign, but not him. Oh, no, he was too impatient for that.
She stopped ringing the bell, then started again with a vengeance, closing her eyes, hoping with everything in her that he’d simply walk past and not notice it was her.
Monica should have realized that would have been asking too much.
“Well, well, well,” he said, strolling all the way around her. “And who do we have here? Monica, am I right?”
She ignored him and stared straight ahead, jerking the small bell back and forth for all she was worth, her shoulders so stiff they ached.
“It’s mighty cold to be standing outside for any length of time, isn’t it?”
Monica didn’t deign to answer him. A lady in a fur coat walked past and dropped a few coins into the red kettle. “Merry Christmas,” Monica said from pure habit.
“The same to you,” the private investigator answered.
“Please leave me alone,” she whispered.
“It seems to me I asked the same thing of you recently and did it help? Oh, no, you were convinced I needed to be saved.” He flung his hands into the air. “Hallelujah, brother.”
“Please.” She tried again.
“Not on your life, sister,” he responded.
“If you continue to pester me you’ll leave me no choice but to contact the police and have you forcibly removed.”
“Threats?” He folded his arms over his broad chest and arched both brows in mock terror. “So you want to involve the authorities. Fine. Good luck finding a cop walking his beat. In case you weren’t aware, the city’s seriously understaffed, and this time of year is busier than most.”
Monica knew God was looking out for her when a city cop turned the corner just then, casually sauntering down the sidewalk. “Officer, Officer,” she called, wasting no time. “This man is bothering me.”
The policeman, who was tall and burly beneath his thick coat and cap, was casually swinging his billy club. “You troubling this young lady, Chet?”
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