The Only Solution(4)

By: Leigh Michaels

But once a month or so, Marissa got mail from a place called The Burgess Group – expensive linen envelopes with the return address engraved in sleek script and her name crisply typed. No computer labels and no cheap ink-jet print. The contents frequently made Marissa swear, and that was what finally sent Wendy’s curiosity into orbit and prompted her to ask if there was a family connection, since it wasn’t exactly a common name.

“Just my father, damn it,” Marissa had said. “He likes to play with people’s lives as well as their money.” Then she stalked off.

In the year Wendy had known her, Marissa had said little more about her family or her origins. But after the accident, when the hospital started asking about next-of-kin, Wendy had been able to point them in the right direction. It had made her feel a little less inadequate. And now that she had to do something about Rory, at least she knew where to look for the child’s grandfather.

It would be better to contact Marissa’s father than her mother, she had reasoned. It was going to come as a shock to the Burgesses, months after their daughter’s death, to find that she had left a child they’d never heard about. But Samuel Burgess was a businessman, and Wendy was betting he’d be more level-headed about the whole thing than his wife could ever be.

The Burgess Group even sounded expensive. The telephone didn’t ring, it seemed to purr, and Wendy guessed that the receptionist had had the benefit of musical training. “How may I direct your call?” she asked.

Wendy took a deep breath. “I’d like to speak to Samuel Burgess, please.” She waited for the inevitable questions – who she was, what she wanted – but the receptionist merely thanked her, and the purring started again.

Of course, Wendy thought. There would be another layer or two of secretaries to screen her call; Samuel Burgess would not be likely to answer his own telephone.

The purring stopped, and a masculine voice murmured in her ear. She hardly registered what he said, because the voice was so different from her expectations. It was deep and rich, and yet soft – and the effect was like being wrapped in a warm blanket and lifted off her feet.

“Burgess,” he said again. There was a trace of impatience this time.

Wendy dried her palm on her denim skirt and shifted the telephone to the other ear, almost dropping it in the process. “Hello? Mr. Burgess, my name is Wendy Miller. I’m calling about–”

“Can you speak up?”

“I’m calling about–” She wet her lips. “I have to talk to you about your granddaughter.”

She had expected the instant of stunned silence, but she hadn’t anticipated the chuckle which followed. Like his speaking voice, his laugh was deep and rich and warm. “My granddaughter? I hardly think so, since I haven’t got one.”

Wendy cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, but there’s no easy way to put this. She’s Marissa’s daughter.”

“I think you’ve been misinformed.” All the warmth and charm had died out of his voice; what was left was steel-hard and icicle-cold. It made Wendy shiver.

“I know that Marissa’s dead,” she said hastily. “But—”

“And you’re trying to capitalize on the situation?” Each word was clipped and harsh.

“Of course not. I...” She stopped. He wasn’t even going to give her a chance.

Don’t let my parents get their hands on my baby, Marissa had begged. They’ll ruin her, too.

Wendy had thought Marissa must be exaggerating. Now she was beginning to understand. Little Rory was all sunshine and happiness – but how long would that last around this cold, harsh man?

You don’t know if he’s really like that, Wendy reminded herself. He’d had a shock; naturally he was suspicious. He’d been perfectly charming a moment ago. Of course, then he’d been expecting her to be a client, not a spot of personal trouble.

What am I doing? she thought in panic. She was giving away the most important things she possessed – a child more valuable to her than life itself, and her ethical standards as well.

A promise was a promise, and she’d been wrong to act so quickly. She’d assumed that Marissa was mistaken, that no grandparent could be anything but loving and nurturing to a darling like Rory. But she didn’t know the Burgesses. Marissa had known them – and with her dying breath she had begged.

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