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A selection from Their Very Special Gift

Reese Newcastle stood in the doorway of their home’s master bedroom and watched her husband of seven years pack his suitcases. She’d seen him do this before -- dozens of times in the past in fact, when his management position at the bank had required him to travel. But this was different. Duncan wasn’t going to some seminar or conference or out-of-town meeting. No.

He was leaving her.

His movements were economical despite being jerky from what she recognized as barely suppressed anger. It was the only emotion of his that she seemed to be able to identify readily these days, even though once upon a time she had known the meaning of his every gesture and glance.

In no time at all he had emptied the contents of his bureau drawers into one of the two large suitcases that were spread open on their queen-sized bed. Reese frowned at what she could see of the rumpled poppy-print comforter.

When was the last time they had slept in that bed together? When was the last time they’d made love or simply touched one another in kindness or affection? She couldn’t remember. Even their last civil conversation seemed a distant memory.

She rubbed her arms briskly through the wool turtleneck sweater she wore, feeling chilled. More than cold, she felt sick and scared and horribly, horribly hurt as the only sounds that broke the silence were the scrape and slide of empty drawers as Duncan shoved them closed with his knee.

The days and weeks of their ongoing cold war ran together in an indiscernible blur. Yet even now -- as her husband prepared to move out and her broken heart shattered into even smaller, more jagged pieces -- Reese’s pride kept her from offering an olive branch. She could not forgive him.

He was having an affair.

Oh, he’d denied at first, acting wounded and offended that she would even make such an accusation. The second, third and fourth times she’d brought it up also were met with vehement protestations of innocence. But tonight, when he’d arrived home late yet again and Reese had confronted him with her suspicions that his friendliness with the bank’s sexy new vice president went beyond either the professional or the platonic, he had not dismissed her claims of infidelity. No. He’d stared at her in stony silence, his expression an odd combination of anger and what seemed to be defeat.

Deny it, she’d begged silently.

But he hadn’t. Instead, he’d gone to the attic to retrieve his luggage. As far as Reese was concerned, he’d waved the white flag of surrender when he’d begun packing his bags. It was clear to her. He’d found someone else.

He stalked past her now to the room’s spacious walk-in closet. She heard a rustling of metal hangers accompanied by a few grumbled oaths. When he came out a moment later he had an armful of tailored shirts, which he shoved into the second suitcase, tucking them into every available corner without bothering to fold them.

“Your clothes are going to wrinkle,” she murmured absently.

Duncan stopped what he was doing and turned, glaring at her from beneath a slash of dark brows. The opaque blue eyes that had once lit up with mischief or merriment were as cold and remote as a shark’s.

“That’s what you’re worried about right now? You’re worried about my damned clothes?” He didn’t wait for her to answer before he added, “Well, don’t lose sleep over it, Reese. I’m sure there will be an iron where I’m going.”

“Breanna Devin’s?” She spat out the vice president’s name as if it were rotten fruit.

As she studied his face for clues, she thought she saw his jaw clench briefly, but once again he didn’t deny anything. Instead, he disappeared into the closet a second time. When he came out afterward he was holding half a dozen business suits, which he threw into the suitcase hangers and all.

“I guess I can understand the attraction. She probably has perfectly functioning ovaries,” Reese muttered.

Duncan whirled to face her. “God! That’s all you think about! I swear for the past six years you’ve had a one-track mind. Babies, babies, babies!”

“You want a baby, too.”

“I want …” His voice trailed off and he shook his head. The spark of anger she’d witnessed was momentarily snuffed out. Was that resignation that took its place? “Never mind what I want.”

“You want a biological child,” Reese supplied anyway. “You want a baby who shares your genes.” Her voice broke despite her best intentions when she added, “A baby I cannot have with you.”


He lifted one hand, almost as if reaching for her.

It fell to his side when she added, “But now you’ve found someone who can.”

Maybe she should have expected that he would look elsewhere. Medically, the problem was hers. She was the reason they were childless. She was the reason they had stopped trying.

Duncan had been pretty vocal in his opinion that they should continue with fertility treatments, despite the fact that the last two procedures had resulted in pregnancies that had ended in miscarriage. They’d both been devastated, but Duncan had not been deterred. A specialist in Chicago was having luck with difficult cases such as theirs, according to their doctor. Duncan had pleaded with Reese to go see the man, but she had refused.

Didn’t he understand, she’d wondered at the time? Couldn’t he see that she’d had enough? Couldn’t he see that her heart was too broken, her body too abused to endure more hormone injections, more egg retrievals and embryo transfers, especially when carrying a pregnancy to term seemed to be beyond her ability?

Adoption was their solution, their salvation, she’d told him. And so almost two years ago she’d talked him into making an appointment at a local agency that specialized in domestic infant placements. When they’d filled out the application, Reese had felt a measure of control and peace that she hadn’t experienced in years. Not since before she’d bought a basal thermometer a week after their first wedding anniversary and had begun to chart her ovulation cycles.

Duncan’s enthusiasm had never matched her own, even though he had dutifully attended the education classes with her and met with the counselor assigned to do their home study.

Then, one night as they had sat at the kitchen table selecting family photographs to put in the portfolio that birth mothers would view at the agency to help them pick adoptive parents for their babies, he’d asked quietly: “What if I can’t love a child who’s not really mine?”

His concern had shaken Reese to the core, but she’d dismissed it quickly. Fear had forced her to.

“Of course you can. You will.” She’d smiled brightly even as his brows had tugged together with worry.

Who couldn’t love a baby, whether it was biologically related to him or not? Even if Duncan thought he couldn’t love an adopted child, she’d been sure that once he held their baby in his arms all of his misgivings would disappear.

But as their wait for word from the agency had dragged on and the strain began to take its toll on their marriage, Reese had been forced to face the painful truth: Duncan’s support for taking this alternative pathway to parenthood was begrudging at best. More likely, he had manufactured it entirely for her benefit.

Now, his words underscored those facts.

“Yes, I want a biological child. I’ve never made a secret of that. I thought we should have at least met with the doctor in Chicago before giving up. But do you know what I want more than a child?”

More than a child? Reese frowned.

“I want a wife who is as interested in having a husband as she is in starting a family.”

The words landed like flaming arrows, searing her already wounded heart. It was not guilt, she told herself, that had her snapping, “So, my preoccupation excuses the fact you’ve turned to someone else?”

He closed his eyes briefly, shook his head and sighed. “If you believe that it must be true. God knows, you’re never wrong about anything, are you, Reese?”

Prove me wrong. She wanted to shout it. Instead, she crossed her arms over her chest, tipped up her chin and said nothing.

“If you need to reach me, call my cell or call the office. I’ll be back later in the week while you’re at work to get the rest of my clothes and pick up my mail.”

“Where are you going?”

His lips twisted as he zipped closed the bags. “Can’t you guess? I thought you had all the answers.”

A bubble of panic rose like bile in her throat. “If you go to her now, don’t come back to me.”

Duncan jerked the bags off the bed and started for the doorway, forcing Reese to retreat into the hall.

I love you. Don’t leave.

She swallowed the plea, though, as he strode past her. Her heart beat in time with the clipped cadence of his footsteps on the hardwood floor. Instead, the words that slipped through her trembling lips were: “I want a divorce.”

His stride hitched and for a moment he stopped. He stood with his back to her. God, how she wished she could catch even a glimpse his face so she could try to gauge his reaction. Just beyond his left shoulder, hanging on the wall, she could see a framed photograph of the two of them. It had been taken while they were on their honeymoon in Hawaii and in it he was smiling adoringly at her. Their past happiness mocked her now as Duncan once again started down the hall without acknowledging her request.

Reese rushed after him. She followed him out into the frigid January night and then stood in her stocking feet on the frozen brick pavers that led from the front porch to the driveway of their Grosse Pointe home in metropolitan Detroit.

“Did you hear me, Duncan?” Her voice rose shrilly as she repeated with a conviction she did not feel: “I said I want a divorce.”

This time, the hateful words didn’t so much as slow him. He kept going until he reached his car, where he hefted the heavy bags into the trunk, slammed it shut with unnecessary force and then walked to the driver’s side door.

Reese’s ragged breath turned white and hovered in front of her face a brief second before the wind snatched it away. All of her hope seemed to go with it. As she stood, shivering and miserable in their front yard, Duncan got into the car, gunned the engine to life and drove away.

Chapter One

Two weeks later …

Duncan shifted his Mercedes into park and switched off the ignition, but he made no move to get out. He stared at the ranch with its charming red brick facade and canvas-awning-covered windows. The place wasn’t big. In fact, at twenty-five-hundred square feet, it was the smallest one-story in their tasteful, older Grosse Pointe neighborhood. But he’d always liked the inviting look of it. Unlike his parents’ mammoth Lakeshore Drive estate, this place had seemed like a home.

Not any longer, of course. No. Now it was just a house.

What am I doing here?

For the millionth time he wondered why he hadn’t refused to come back, why he hadn’t just said no when Reese had asked for his help. The answer he kept coming up with was not one he liked.

He still loved her.

Even though she had broken his heart with her accusations and had pushed him away with her single-minded obsession over the past several years, he still loved her. And so he was back, not as her husband but as her means to an end.

The adoption agency had called. A birth mother had picked the Newcastles as parents for her baby. Reese, of course, was elated, ecstatic even, and, not surprisingly, desperate. Neither the folks at Loving Hands Adoption nor the young mother knew that the Newcastles were living apart, their marriage in such shambles that they were heading for divorce. Reese had never notified their caseworker and Duncan certainly hadn’t thought to call Jenny Lawford after he’d moved out on that bleak January night.

Hell, he hadn’t told anyone that he and Reese were having problems, let alone considering calling it quits. He hadn’t said a word to his parents or his friends. Even his secretary didn’t know he was sleeping at a hotel, taking his meals at restaurants or ordering them through room service. Why broadcast failure? It wasn’t, Duncan told himself, that he’d been holding out hope for reconciliation.

Of course, if he had been, Reese’s proposal of the day before would have pretty much snuffed out that possibility. She’d dropped by his office unexpectedly in the late afternoon, and, he could admit, he’d been happy to see her … right up until the point she’d revealed the actual reason for her visit. She’d told him about the agency’s call and then she’d asked him to move home.

She needed him to pretend that everything was fine for the six months or so it would take until the adoption petition was finalized in family court. After that, they would go before a judge again -- this time for their divorce. In return for his help in securing the adoption she’d promised to cut him loose quickly and cleanly.

As Duncan sat in his car he rubbed a hand over his eyes, remembering how Reese had offered that up like some kind of damned grand prize.

“I’ll make the divorce easy for you afterward,” she’d said. “I won’t ask for anything but what I came into our marriage with. It goes without saying that I won’t expect you to pay child support or have a relationship with the child in any way. I know how you feel about adoption.”

Now she knew? Before, every time he’d tried to broach the subject, she’d cut him off or dismissed his concerns. He’d stared at her, wondering how it was possible for two people to talk to one another and yet fail to communicate. Not surprisingly, she’d taken his silence to mean something else entirely.

“You can even have the house.”

“I don’t want the damned house,” he’d told her. Had she really believed it would sweeten the deal to throw in the deed to the place where he’d once known such joy?

“Then what do you want? Name it and I’ll give it to you.”

God, she’d been so eager in her desperation that it had made his heart ache all the more. “This might be my last chance, Duncan. I’m begging you.”

It hadn’t escaped his notice that she didn’t use the more inclusive “our” in referring to chances. And, in fairness, why would she? Adoption was her answer to their reproductive problems. He’d never accepted it as their solution.

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