A Father's Secret

By: Yvonne Lindsay

  Paternity Crisis

There’d been a mistake at the fertility clinic. Now widow Erin Connell has to face the possibility that her baby son is not her husband’s child. And worse, that Connell Lodge, her son’s legacy and the only real home she’s ever known, may be lost to them both.

But billionaire Sam Thornton’s arrival at her bed-and-breakfast changes everything. Erin is stunned by the ferocity of her sudden attraction. Sam, too, is thunderstruck…and tormented. He’s come here for one reason only, and falling for the pretty owner isn’t it. He’s not leaving without her son—his son….





  “I Want You, Erin.

Tell me to stop now and I will. Or tell me you want me, too.”

“I want you, Sam,” she said. “But I don’t know what you want out of this.”

He knew exactly what she meant. They were each so emotionally raw in their own ways.

“I don’t know, either,” he admitted. “But I know I’ve felt alone and empty for too long. I think you know how that feels. I think we can make that emptiness go away, for a while, together. We deserve that, don’t we?”

“And in the morning?” she asked. “What then?”

“I won’t think any less of you, Erin. I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind since we kissed last week. I know you felt something then, just as I did. You even said it was what was right for us at the time. And so is this.”





  Dear Reader,

Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we plot a book. This story has gone through many incarnations both in my mind, in the planning stages and, recently, as I’ve written it. As a result of the threads that needed to be woven and unwoven then rewoven in the telling of Erin and Sam’s story, I would like to take this time to send a deep and personal thank you to the wonderful Toni Kenyon for her assistance in making sure the legalities of Erin and Sam’s situation were very clear to me. Interestingly, that situation meant uplifting my characters from their original New Zealand based setting to one on the shores of another lake I love, Lake Tahoe. As a result of this move, I would like to send another deep and personal thank you to Alan Mazer for the U.S.-based legal information provided. Any mistakes in the story are very definitely my own.

Through the years, I’ve seen many couples, in reality and in books or on film, struggle with infertility. It’s such a difficult issue to face as we are born with an instinctive desire, well most of us, to procreate at some stage of our lives. The battles fought and won or lost in the quest to have a child can be heart-wrenching for all involved, both directly and peripherally.
One

“What are you going to do?”

Erin looked from the worried face of her friend to the letter in her hand and shook her head. “I don’t know what I can do.”

“You have to find out more. At least then you’ll be better informed if you have to fight it,” Sasha said vehemently. “What did that letter the other day say? That someone had come forward to say mistakes had been made at the fertility clinic? And with nothing to back up their claims? Seriously, it could just be a disgruntled employee creating trouble.”

“Well,” Erin said, waving the letter she’d received from a San Francisco law firm out of reach of her baby son’s grip. “Clearly someone believes in it enough to follow it up. And besides, if it’s true, if the tests prove Riley isn’t James’s son, do I have any right to fight it?”

“You’re his mother, aren’t you? You have every right under the sun. This Party A—” Sasha sneered over the moniker “—is no more than a donor.”

“Sash, really? That’s a bit harsh. The man and his wife were obviously going through the clinic for the same reason James and I were. I think it’s a bit cruel to say he’s no more than a donor.”

Erin pressed a kiss onto Riley’s head, inhaling his special baby smell and relishing anew the wonder of the life she held on her lap.

Sasha had the grace to look shamefaced. “Well, either way, you’re Riley’s mother. No one can deny you that, and it means the odds regarding custody are firmly stacked in your favor.”

It was little comfort, Erin thought as she studied the letter again. She hoped to see something, anything, that would give her some recourse to refuse to submit Riley to a DNA test to prove exactly who his father was—her late husband James or some stranger. She adjusted Riley on her lap as her heart constricted painfully. The whole situation was impossible. Riley had to be James’s son. He just had to be. Their security hinged on it.

Mistakes like what they’d suggested simply weren’t supposed to happen. When she and James had won the IVF lottery, which had taken them from their Lake Tahoe home to San Francisco to complete the procedures that led to baby Riley’s birth four months ago, they’d never for one moment thought that the fertility clinic could make such a terrible mistake. Nor had either of them dreamed that the flulike symptoms James had experienced months later masked a bacterial infection—one that led to the congestive heart failure that had taken his life within two weeks of Riley’s birth.

She was now left to deal with this all on her own, and the reality of it threatened to overwhelm her completely. The sheet of paper in her hand trembled and she set it down on the well-used kitchen table in front of her—a table that had been used by generations of Connells. A table that could only be used by future generations of Connells, according to the terms of the estate’s trust. She’d thought that everything about her home was Riley’s by right, as James’s son. What if she was wrong? She smoothed the letter onto the worn surface and wished to God she’d never gone to the post office to collect her mail today—or ever, for that matter.

Sasha’s hand came to rest on top of hers. “Don’t worry, Erin. Riley’s your son, nothing can change that, no matter who his father is. Write back and request more information before you’ll agree to any testing. Nothing in the letter you got from the lawyers acting for the clinic has even been substantiated. It’s not as if they’ve sent you categorical proof that a mix-up happened at all—and this letter from the lawyers acting for the other guy is couched in terms of a request, not a court ordered demand.”

Erin felt her heart lift at Sasha’s suggestion. “You’re right. And, at least if I write to them, that’ll delay things a little longer, won’t it?”

“Atta girl.” Sasha looked at the kitchen clock and sighed. “Sorry, I have to go. School’s out soon.”

“You go, get your kids. Don’t worry about me. And thanks for coming over when I lost it before.”

Erin had been a trembling wreck when she’d read her mail. One call to Sasha had been all it took for her one true friend to drop everything to be by her side. In a world that had changed so dramatically over the past twelve months, having her friend’s constant and loving support had been a godsend.

“Hey, that’s what friends are for, right? Call me when you get any more news, okay?” Sasha gave her a quick hug. “What time is your guest due to arrive?”

“Not until five.”

“At least having a paying guest again will help out a bit financially. I still can’t believe that James didn’t leave you and Riley better provided for.”

Erin frowned at the censure in her friend’s voice. “He did his best, Sash. Neither of us ever expected he’d die so young. Plus, our medical bills after Riley’s birth and James’s illness—well, you know they pretty much cleaned us out.”

“I know, I’m sorry, it’s just so unfair…”

Erin swallowed against the lump in her throat. Yes, it was so unfair. After all they’d been through, all they’d survived. Erin felt the old familiar depression begin to creep back in and she gave herself a swift mental shake. Dwelling on the past changed nothing. She had Riley, and that was all she needed to focus on now.

After seeing Sasha off, Erin changed Riley’s diaper before nursing him and putting him down for his afternoon sleep. Once he was down, she grabbed the baby monitor so she could hear if he didn’t settle, and quickly went upstairs to check on the room for her new guest. It had been ages since they’d taken guests at Connell Lodge, and she was still suffering from pretty hefty doses of baby brain. She wouldn’t put it past herself to have forgotten something important.

But no. The room was perfect and, with the afternoon sun streaming through the steel-paned windows, welcoming. Fresh lavender-scented linens graced the wide bed, a selection of roses from the garden, casually arranged in a crystal vase, decorated the tallboy against the wall, and the wide-plank flooring gleamed with polish. The en suite bathroom was equally pristine, with fresh towels on the rail all thick and fluffy, and a newly dry-cleaned robe on a hanger behind the door with its belt neatly knotted. Soaps, shampoos, yes, everything was there in abundance.

She’d arranged for the room across the hall from this one to be converted into a study at her guest’s request. He was, apparently, working on a book and had expressed a desire for privacy during his stay. Well, there’d be no problem with that, Erin conceded. He would be the one and only visitor here for the duration. In fact, he would be the first visitor she’d had here in months. His enquiry through their website had come at just the right time.

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