The Billionaire's Christmas BabyBy: Victoria James
To Andrew, my husband. You are my partner in life, my soul mate, my hero. All my love, always.
Hannah hated Thursday nights.
All she felt like doing after counseling a group of single, unemployed mothers was changing into her penguin flannel pajamas, and having two glasses of wine and a large bag of fat and calorie-laden potato chips while watching mind-numbing television.
Luckily for her waistline she had nixed that habit after the first two months of the workshop when she spotted an emerging muffin top over her favorite jeans. Now she only allowed herself the indulgence once a month. And she had switched to half-the-fat organic chips. There was no point in killing herself one chip at a time just because she couldn’t save the world and every child who ended up in foster care—or so she kept telling herself. Nights like this tested that theory.
Hannah jiggled the key until she heard the lock click shut on the ancient church door. She swung her bag over her shoulder and tread down the shallow stairs two at a time, her mind preoccupied by the woman who hadn’t attended the meeting tonight, Louise. Her pace faltered on the last step and she paused despite the chilly wind. Something felt off. She slipped her BlackBerry out of her pocket and glanced down at the display. No messages. She bit her lower lip while she stared at the lit screen; she had expected a phone call from Louise. Maybe she’d stop by her apartment on her way home.
Hannah pulled her collar up, but instead of walking toward her car, she put her keys and BlackBerry back in her pocket and slowly turned to look at the church. The old stone structure stood like a comforting beacon, illuminated in the yellow glow of the old-fashioned street lamp. Snow fell like powdered sugar through a sifter and the faint scent of cedar was laced through the crisp late November wind. She knew this scene perfectly.
But something was different tonight.
A small cry rang out as clear as a singing bird at dawn. Hannah’s eyes followed the sound. Her heart jerked when she spotted a Moses-like basket with pink lining sitting on the stone porch. Had she walked right by it? The massive oak doors towered over the tiny bundle like a giant tree protecting a nest of baby birds. Hannah tried to swallow past the painful ball of dread in her throat.
She knew that basket. She had bought it.
The distraught cries from the baby lying in the basket snatched her from the present and catapulted her back to a past she rarely dared to visit. She stared at that basket, its image becoming blurred by her tears. She fumbled back up the steps with trembling legs and knew with every ounce of her being and in every goose bump that taunted her arms whose baby that was. And what it meant.
Hannah took a deep breath and looked down into the basket, struggling for control. She stumbled onto her knees before the baby, the stone steps tearing through her sheer nylons, but she didn’t notice and didn’t feel a thing because her eyes were on the baby. Pink blanket, pink fuzzy sleeper, pink hat; the ones she had picked out for her and given to her when she was born.
Her skin was pale with blotches of red from her crying and the chill of the winter air. Hannah struggled to peel off her gloves with fingers that felt like rubber. She reached out and picked her up and felt a surge of relief when Emily stopped crying. Hannah held her close, with shaking arms, enveloping the infant in the folds of her coat. She rubbed the baby’s back, nestling her own face into the tender spot of impossibly soft skin at the base of her neck. She took deep breaths and let the baby’s angelic purity calm her.
Snow swirled around them as Hannah sheltered and warmed the baby. Minutes trickled by slowly, until Hannah finally stopped rocking Emily and looked into her wide, porcelain blue eyes wondering what had brought her here, but deep down she already knew. Louise was gone. Emily’s mom was gone.
Hannah rose slowly, knowing she’d have to notify the police and knowing that she was going to have a hell of a battle on her hands with the child protective services office tomorrow. She wasn’t going to play this one by the books. She had been there when Emily was born, and she was going to do whatever she could to make sure she didn’t go through the foster care system.
She cradled the baby with one arm, ready to take out her BlackBerry and call her contact at the police station when she spotted something attached to the inside of the basket. She crouched down and read the note. It was scribbled on the back of a grocery receipt, in thick, black marker:
“I’m sorry, Hannah. I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard. This life is too hard. Please find my brother, Christopher James. Please find Emily’s uncle. He will raise her.”
Acid burned her throat and Hannah fought the bile that threatened. This couldn’t be happening. She had just spoken with Louise yesterday. How had she missed the warning signs?