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High Meadow
By Joan Wolf

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 High Meadow

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High Meadow
By Joan Wolf
ISBN: 0446610437
Genre: Romance

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Chapter Excerpt from: High Meadow , by Joan Wolf

1

"Finish your milk," Kate said, and the doorbell rang. Ben started to get up, but she held up a hand. "I'll get it." The little boy subsided into his chair. "Can I have another cookie?"

The kitchen was redolent with the smell of the quick bake oatmeal-raisin cookies she had just made, and she helped herself to one as she answered, "One more, if you finish your milk." She looked at the German shepherd lying on a mat in the corner of the sunny kitchen, and said, "Cyrus, stay with Ben."

Before she left the kitchen, she glanced from habit out the window, which gave her a view of the stable. The wooden barn looked peaceful in the September sunlight, with a few horses' heads hanging out the opened top of the Dutch doors on their stalls. As she walked toward the front door of the old farmhouse, the doorbell rang again. "I'm coming, I'm coming," she muttered, put her hand on the knob, and opened the

door halfway.

The man outside had the kind of good looks generally associated with movie stars. His hair was streaked with blond, and his eyes were deeply and purely blue. He smiled, showing perfect white teeth.

Shit, she thought. Her fingers closed tensely on the doorknob. My God, he hasn't changed at all, the rat.

"Kate!" he said.

"What are you doing here, Marty?"

He shrugged. "I'm home, and I thought I'd come and see if Colleen was around."

"You haven't been home in eight years," Kate said. "We were all rather hoping you were dead."

"Kate," he said reproachfully. "I didn't walk out on Colleen, you know. She walked out on me. Anyway, as I said, I'm home, and I'd like to see her. Is she around?"

He can't see Ben, Kate thought in alarm, and she moved a little to block Marty's view of the hall. "Didn't you know? Colleen's dead."

His eyes widened. "What?"

Kate said bitterly, "You really must have cared about her, Marty. In all these years, you never once asked your parents about how she was doing?"

She started to push the door closed.

He wedged his foot against it. "How long has she been dead?"

Kate thought she heard the scrape of a chair against linoleum in the kitchen and replied rapidly, "Seven years. She died in a car crash. So you can go away, Marty. And don't come back. My mother will be even less happy to see you than I am."

She pushed the door again. She was a small, slender woman, but she had a lot of upper-body strength. Marty's foot held firm.

A clear treble voice said from behind her, "Who's that man, Mommy?"

Damn. Damn. Damn.

"Nobody," Kate said firmly. "Go back to the kitchen, Ben." Then, to the man in front of her, "Good-bye Marty."

Cyrus materialized at her side.

Marty looked warily at the dog, but held his ground. "Why are you so anxious to get rid of me?"

Kate's voice took on a sarcastic note. "That's easy enough to answer. I don't like you. You took my sister away from us, then you abandoned her. Get lost, Marty. We don't want you here."

"I told you, she left me," he repeated.

They stood at impasse, the door half-open between them, Kate acutely conscious of Ben still in the hall behind her.

Sensing her distress, Cyrus growled softly deep down in his throat, and moved closer to Marty. "You'd better go," Kate said warningly. "I can restrain him for only so long."

His eyes still on Cyrus, Marty said, "She left me for another man, Kate, but I was ready to let bygones be bygones, so I came to see her."

Kate's voice was contemptuous. "I guess she finally found out what a worm you were. Too bad she didn't listen to me and Mom before she ran off with you."

From behind her Ben said uneasily, "Should I call 911, Mommy?"

Still keeping her pressure on the door, Kate turned to give her son a reassuring smile. "No, Ben. That won't be necessary. The man is leaving."

Marty looked from the dog to Ben. "This is your son?" he asked.

After a fractional hesitation, she returned, "Yes."

He looked at her hand. "I don't see a wedding band."

From the hallway a small, strained voice said, "My mother died. Mommy is my mother now."

Once more she turned to Ben. His large, luminous brown eyes were very dark, and Kate felt a surge of fury that he had to be subjected to this. She said crisply, "Ben, go back to the kitchen. I'll keep Cyrus with me."

Ben hesitated, his eyes going from the man in the doorway to Kate, then back again to the man in the doorway. Suddenly, breathlessly, he asked, "Are you my father?"

The words hit Kate like a punch in the stomach.

"No, Ben," she managed to answer steadily. "Marty is not your father. Now do as I say and go to the kitchen."

Mercifully, Marty remained silent as Ben did as he was told and retreated to the kitchen. Cyrus remained beside Kate, his eyes focused unwaveringly on Marty, who finally spoke. "So he's Colleen's child."

His voice sounded oddly triumphant.

"He was Colleen's child," Kate said. "I adopted him after Colleen died. And don't get any ideas, Marty. He is not your son. Colleen was quite clear about that."

A muscle flickered in his cheek. "Who was his father then?"

"I don't know, and I'm not interested in finding out. Ben doesn't need a father. He has Mom and me, and he doesn't need anyone else. So go away, or I'll sic Cyrus on you."

Marty was carefully not looking back into the dog's eyes. "How old is Ben?"

"None of your business."

"I can get it from the Records Office here in town, Kate. Stop being so obstructive."

If Marty went to the Records Office, someone in the town clerk's office would be sure to find out what he was doing, and news would spread that he was Ben's father. Kate struggled to contain her rage that this scumbag had the power to disrupt her relationship with her son, and said coldly, "He will turn seven next month."

"Thank you." He removed his foot from the door. "Well it was nice seeing you, Kate. Say hello to your mother for me."

"Drop dead," Kate said, and slammed the door in his face.

She took a moment to pat Cyrus reassuringly and collect herself before she walked back to the kitchen to join Ben. He was sitting at the old oak table, his empty glass of milk in front of him, and his arresting dark eyes were troubled. He waited for her to speak first.

She sat at the table across from him. "That man was once a friend of your mother's. He isn't very nice, Ben, and I don't like him."

"Did my mother like him?"

Cyrus went to his mattress under one of the windows. Kate had opened it before, and the crisp white cotton curtains rippled in the breeze.

"She was fooled by him, but then she found out how bad he was, and she didn't like him anymore."

"Oh," Ben said.

Kate took a deep, steadying breath. "Ben, why did you ask him if he was your father? Haven't I told you that your father is dead?"

He made no reply, just regarded her out of those large, long-lashed eyes.

"Didn't you believe me, Ben?"

"Yes."

"Then why . . ." She broke off. She already knew the answer to her question. He was hoping. No matter what she had said, he was hoping that one day his father would come.

Damn.

She spoke in the most normal voice she could muster. "Soccer practice starts today. Nana will be home soon to take you. Why don't you go and change your clothes?"

"Okay."

He was so quiet and cooperative that he worried her.

Damn Marty Lockwood, she thought with helpless rage as she watched her son's small figure leave the kitchen. Damn him.

The first thing Marty did after he left Riverton Farm was to go to the Glendale Public Library. He sat at a computer, connected to the Internet, and typed in the keyword Daniel Montero. An hour later he left the library to return to his parents' Cape-Cod-style house. There he carefully composed a letter, which he mailed directly from the post office.

Two weeks later he received the response he had been hoping for. "May I speak to Martin Lockwood?" a man's voice asked when Marty picked up the phone on the third ring.

"I'm Martin Lockwood." Marty's heart skipped a beat. The man had spoken fluently, but his voice had a distinct Spanish accent.

"I'm calling for Daniel Montero. He would like to meet with you."

Marty's heart began to hammer. "That can be arranged."

"Mr. Montero lives in Greenwich. Would it be possible for you to come to his house?"

"Yes," Marty said smoothly. "Of course."

"Shall we say tomorrow at noontime?"

"Give me the address," Marty said, "and I'll be there."

He was still going over the speech he had prepared the following day as he walked up the flagstone path to the clapboard-and-stone single-floor house that belonged to the New York Yankees ace pitcher. The house was not lavish, for Greenwich, but the gardens framing it were magnificent. A small fountain played in the shrubbery-enclosed area that was surrounded by the drive.

I'm the one with the upper hand here, he told himself as he pressed the bell button. I have to remember that.

The door was opened by a slender, dark-haired man who looked to be in his fifties. Marty introduced himself.

"Yes. Come in." The voice was the same as the voice on the telephone the previous day. Marty stepped into a high-ceilinged front hall with polished bare wood flooring and yellow walls and looked around. "Come with me, please," the man said briefly, and Marty followed him out of the hallway and down a wide hall that led toward one of the wings. The man pushed open a door, said to the occupant inside, "Daniel, Martin Lockwood is here," and gestured for Marty to enter.

Marty strode forward and found himself in a comfortable and well-furnished office. It was a medium-sized room, with French doors giving a view of the gardens and a freeform pool outside. The large rolltop desk was golden oak, as was the computer station and the floor-to-ceiling bookcases. The man who was sitting behind the desk swiveled around in a large coffee-colored leather chair and Marty found himself looking at one of the most famous faces in all of American sports.

Daniel Montero said, "Stay, Alberto," and the man who had escorted Marty went to take a seat in a comfortable leather armchair. No one asked Marty to sit down: both men just looked at him.

Boldly, Marty stared back at the man he had come to see. The Yankee star's bronzed, clean-cut face was familiar from the newspapers, but the large brown eyes were even more remarkable in actuality than they appeared in photos.

"So," Daniel Montero said, "you wish to blackmail me."

Still nobody asked Marty to sit down, so he crossed his arms over his chest and replied with the words he had rehearsed, "As I wrote, I am in possession of information that you have a son who is being raised in ignorance of who his father is. If I inform the child's adoptive mother of your identity, she will most certainly demand a huge sum of money from you. What I am asking for my silence doesn't begin to compare with what you will have to pay in child support over the next eleven years."

Daniel Montero's face was calm and unreadable. "Why do you think this child is mine?"

"Because I know that eight years ago you had an affair with a girl named Colleen Foley." A trace of bitterness crept into Marty's voice. "I know this because she ditched me so that she could be with you." There was no flicker of recognition on Daniel's face at the mention of Colleen's name, and Marty continued defiantly, "Ten months after she started to sleep with you, Colleen had a baby. I saw him the other day. He looks just like you."

"Can this be true, Daniel?" the man named Alberto asked.

The Yankee pitcher's face remained calm and unreadable. "I remember Colleen. It was the spring training after I graduated from college. We were together until I left Florida to go to one of the Yankee farm teams. She told me she was going to go home." There was no trace of an accent in his voice.

"She did go home," Marty said triumphantly. "She went home and she had a baby. Then she was killed in a car crash. Her sister adopted the boy and is bringing him up. She doesn't know who the father is."

For the first time, a flicker of expression crossed Daniel's face. "This is difficult to believe."

Marty said, "I'm sure I can get some pictures. Once you see him, you'll know he's yours. Colleen had blond hair and blue eyes. This boy has straight black hair, like yours, and his eyes are like yours as well."

Marty brought out his pi?ce de r?sistance. "Once I give Kate your name, she can get the court to order DNA testing to prove paternity. Believe me, once that's done, you won't be able to get off the hook."

Daniel said slowly, "And you are telling me this because you think I will pay you to keep my identity a secret, so I will not have to pay child support to my son's adoptive mother?"

Marty smiled. "That's right."

"How fortunate for this child that he does not have you for a father," Daniel Montero said. "I, on the other hand, am perfectly willing to support him?and his mother?if it can be proved that he is in fact my son."

It took Marty a moment to digest the implications of this statement. The smile left his face and he stared at Daniel in outraged disbelief. "You want to pay for this child? But you don't even know him!"

"If he is my son, then I am responsible for taking care of him." He leaned slightly forward. "Where may I find him?"

Marty's brain churned frantically as he tried to find something to salvage from the wreck of his perfect plan. A glitter in Daniel's eyes alerted him to a possible alternate course. "It will cost you to find out," he said.

The glitter became even more pronounced. "You would blackmail me for this information?"

"Yes," said Marty, sure he was onto something now.

Daniel fitted his fingers together and said, slowly and deliberately, "In that case, let me tell you what I will do, Martin Lockwood. I will give your name to the police and tell them to arrest you for attempted blackmail. Then I will hire a private detective, who will search out the whereabouts of my son. You said that Colleen's sister is raising him, and that her name is Kate. I do not think it will be very long before he is located."

Shit. Marty thought furiously. I told him too much.

"Kate will refuse to see you," he said.

A straight black eyebrow lifted. "You told me she would sue me for child support."

"She's more likely to get a restraining order to keep you away from him," Marty said. "If you want, I can arrange for you to meet the boy away from her."

"A restraining order will avail her nothing if he is indeed my son. Nor am I going to sneak behind her back." Daniel stood up and the full force of his splendid physical presence dwarfed even Marty's good looks. "Now, are you going to tell me where I can find this Kate and my son?"

Checkmate, Marty thought bitterly, and gave Daniel Montero Kate's address.

Excerpted from High Meadow , by Joan Wolf . Copyright (c) 2003 by Joan Wolf . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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