The Only Solution(8)

By: Leigh Michaels

“So early?”

Carrie shrugged. “She’s a bit young, but there’s a little swelling in her gum.”

Wendy put her fingertip into the baby’s mouth to check for herself, and Rory clamped down on it and gnawed as if the pressure felt good. “I see what you mean,” Wendy said wryly.

“You might pick up a teething ring so you have it on hand.”

Wendy went a few blocks out of her way in order to stop at a discount drugstore. Ordinarily she would have chosen the shop right on her route, but now every penny was going to count.

She tossed the gel-filled ring into the freezer to chill, took off Rory’s sweater, and put the baby down on a blanket in the middle of the bedroom floor so she could change from her suit into jeans and a cotton sweater. Wendy had learned the hard way why dry-cleaners loved babies. From now on, every item that entered her wardrobe was going to have to be washable.

Rory announced in no uncertain terms that she’d noticed supper was running late, and she didn’t approve. Still barefoot, Wendy scooped her up and headed for the nursery. Every piece of clothing Rory owned needed washing, and if she could take the first load down to the laundry room before she fed the baby, she might manage to be done before midnight.

But one look at Rory’s face told her the laundry would have to wait at least till after her bottle, so Wendy settled into the rocking chair. Once the baby’s initial hunger was satisfied, with the warm milk soothing the ache in her gum, she was contented and again ready to gurgle and play.

Wendy felt her own mood lighten a little in response. Don’t borrow trouble, she told herself. Maybe the Burgess creature wouldn’t show up after all.

Rory was more interested in blowing bubbles with her cereal than in eating it, and she managed to spread it so far that a bath was the only answer. Wendy was just drying the child’s hair – and feeling distinctly grubby herself – when the doorbell rang. The baby twisted around on the changing table, trying to locate the sound.

Wendy said, “Just stay still for another minute and you can see for yourself who’s out there. Though I don’t promise you’ll be thrilled with the results.”

Rory grinned at her and tossed her rattle off the table.

The bell had rung twice more – the last time long and impatiently – before Wendy reached the door. The man in the hallway looked her over slowly, from disheveled hair trailing in wisps from a tired french braid to bare toes twisting in the carpet. One dark eyebrow went up slightly.

Wendy wanted to hit him. So what if she looked a bit harried at the moment? The baby was clean and dry and contented; nobody could possibly say Rory was neglected!

Eventually he seemed satisfied with his inspection of Wendy and turned to study the baby. Rory stared back, wide-eyed and somber, and then ducked her head into Wendy’s shoulder.

“A little shy, is she?” he asked.

“Oh, she likes the people I like,” Wendy said before she thought. She bit her tongue hard as he stared at her, and then started over. “She seems to be cutting a tooth, so she’s a bit off-color today.”

The baby peered at him, her face still mostly hidden in Wendy’s sweater. He reached into the pocket of his trench coat and drew out a set of keys, big ones made of brightly colored plastic. He dangled them casually a foot from Rory’s face, and said, “Hello, there, sprout. I believe I’m your Uncle Mack.”

Wendy had known, of course, that he wasn’t likely to accept her story, but the words came as a blow nonetheless – and a surprise. “Mack?” she repeated. “I thought you said your name was–”

“Samuel MacKenzie Burgess,” he said calmly. “It’s a tradition in the Burgess family to name oldest sons after their fathers.”

“It would be,” Wendy muttered.

He smiled a little.

Rory took a left-handed swipe at the keys and missed. Mack Burgess moved them a little closer, but he was still watching Wendy.

“However, the confusion caused by having two Samuels in the house would be unbearable,” he went on. “Calling me Sammy would have worked till I was old enough to object, I suppose, or Little Sam – except I’ve been taller than my father since I turned sixteen. All in all I think my mother’s solution was a better one. Make her maiden name my middle one, and use it from the beginning.”

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