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Authors: Elizabeth Bevarly

Father Of The Brat

BOOK: Father Of The Brat
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Carver’s Head Was Spinning.

Standing at his front door was a beautiful woman who
said
she was a social worker. And clutching her by the hand was a twelve-year-old girl who looked jarringly familiar.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Maddy Garrett,” she replied matter of factly. “This is Rachel Stillman.”

“Rachel…Stillman?”

“Daughter of Abigail Stillman,” she said, as if that would explain everything.

“I don’t know anyone named Abigail Stillman.”

The bright smile Maddy had been wearing fell. “Hasn’t anyone contacted you about this?” she asked.

“About what?” Carver mumbled.

“About the child Abigail Stillman has—er—left behind. According to the birth certificate, you’re the girl’s father.”

“Ex-excuse me?” he stammered. “I’m what?”

“Congratulations, Mr. Venner,” Maddy said dryly. “It’s a girl.”

FROM HERE TO PATERNITY: These three men weren’t expecting to become parents—and fatherhood isn’t the only thing the stork delivered!

Dear Reader,

Can you believe that for the next three months we’ll be celebrating the publication of the 1000th Silhouette Desire? That’s quite a milestone! The festivities begin this month with six books by some of your longtime favorites and exciting new names in romance.

We’ll continue into next month, May, with the actual publication of Book #1000—by Diana Palmer—and then we’ll keep the fun going into June. There’s just so much going on that I can’t put it all into one letter. You’ll just have to keep reading!

This month we have an absolutely terrific lineup, beginning with
Saddle Up,
a MAN OF THE MONTH by Mary Lynn Baxter. There’s also
The Groom, I Presume?
— the latest in Annette Broadrick’s DAUGHTERS OF TEXAS miniseries.
Father of the Brat
launches the new FROM HERE TO PATERNITY miniseries by Elizabeth Bevarly, and
Forgotten Vows
by Modean Moon is the first of three books about what happens on THE WEDDING NIGHT. Lass Small brings us her very own delightful sense of humor in
A Stranger in Texas.
And our DEBUT AUTHOR this month is Anne Eames with
Two Weddings and a Bride.

And next month, as promised, Book #1000, a MAN OF THE MONTH,
Man of Ice
by Diana Palmer!

Lucia Macro,

Senior Editor

Please address questions and book requests to:
Silhouette Reader Service

U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269
Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

Father Of The Brat
Elizabeth Bevarly

With much love, for Dorothy and Harold Stucker
(aka Aunt Dot and Uncle Washie).
You’re the best second set of parents a kid could have.

Books by Elizabeth Bevarly

Silhouette Desire

An Unsuitable Man for the Job
#724

Jake’s Christmas
#753

A Lawless Man
#856

*A Dad Like Daniel
#908

*The Perfect Father
#920

*Dr. Daddy
#933

†Father of the Brat
#993

*From Here to Maternity

†From Here to Paternity

Silhouette Special Edition

Destinations South
#557

Close Range
#590

Donovan’s Chance
#639

Moriah’s Mutiny #676

Up Close #737

Hired Hand
#803

Return Engagement #844

ELIZABETH BEVARLY

is an honors graduate of the University of Louisville and achieved her dream of writing full-time before she even turned thirty! At heart, she is also an avid voyager who once helped navigate a friend’s thirtyfive-foot sailboat across the Bermuda Triangle. “I really love to travel,” says this self-avowed beach bum. “To me, it’s the best education a person can give to herself.” Her dream is to one day have her own sailboat, a beautifully renovated older-model fortytwo-footer, and to enjoy the freedom and tranquillity seafaring can bring. Elizabeth likes to think she has a lot in common with the characters she creates, people who know love and life go hand in hand. And she’s getting some firsthand experience with maternity as well—she and her husband recently welcomed their firstborn baby, a son.

Dear Reader,

When I first discovered I was going to be included in Celebration 1000, I experienced an immediate flashback to college, when I was living in my parents’ basement, reading my very first Silhouette Desire. I had received it after responding to a Silhouette ad in
Cosmopolitan
magazine (I was very cosmopolitan in college, you see), and after reading the last page of the novel, I thought, “Wow, where have these books been all my life?”

I was in my final year of earning a B.A. in English, Yet nothing I had studied came close to leaving me with the sense of contentment that I received from that single red book.

I started reading every Desire I could get my hands on. And eventually, because I had always wanted to be a novelist, romance was what came out when I sat down to write my first book. It amazes me still to realize that I’m now responsible for creating the kind of books that provided me with so much for so long—romance, adventure, escape…and those wonderful happy endings that even a degree in English couldn’t stop making me crave.

I’m so delighted to be included in Celebration 1000. I’m not sure I can adequately describe what it means to be keeping literary company with the novelists I’ve always admired, to be and writing for a publisher and a line of books I’ve always loved—-to be a part of the festivities surrounding the publication of the 1000th Desire… Somehow, it fills me with a sense of completion and satisfaction that I haven’t found anywhere else.

For years, Silhouette Desire has brought me unrivaled reading pleasure. Now the folks at Silhouette provide me with unrivaled writing pleasure, too. And I can only hope you enjoy reading my books as much as I enjoy writing them.

Very best wishes,

Elizabeth Bevarly

One

C
arver Venner was beat. In the last seventy-two hours, he’d logged over eight thousand miles on his frequent flyer account, had been slapped in the face, kicked in the shins, bitten by an angry cat and shocked by an electric fence. He’d been shot at—twice—and called a filthy, stinking capitalist, an imperialist dog and a lousy tipper. He’d survived a taxi ride in a town that had few—if any—traffic laws, had eaten food he’d been hard-pressed to identify—which in itself was probably a blessing—and had somehow stumbled onto a literal den of thieves. He had a stubbed toe and a throbbing hangnail, and he could scarcely remember the last time he’d slept.

Man, the life of a journalist hadn’t turned out to be anything at all like he’d thought it would be when he’d enrolled at Columbia University twenty years ago.

How he’d managed to make it back to his South Philadelphia apartment in one piece was some vague memory he knew he was going to have to write up tomorrow. For now, though, he dropped his battered, ragged duffel bag in the
middle of his bedroom floor and fell backward onto his bed with a sigh. Almost as an afterthought, he sat up to skim off his faded green polo, then found himself too exhausted to bother with the blue jeans and hiking boots he’d also been wearing since yesterday morning. Instead, he dropped onto his back again.

Sleep, he thought. Finally, finally, he could get some real sleep. He ran a restless hand over the three-day stubble of beard on his face, shoved his overly long, dark brown hair from his forehead and closed his eyes. He was just about to lose himself in the welcome relief of slumber when someone—someone who obviously had a death wish—launched into a ceaseless pounding on his front door.

“Dammit,” he muttered without moving. Maybe whoever the someone was would go away, and then he wouldn’t have to kill them after all.

But whoever it was keeping him from sleep did indeed seem to have suicidal tendencies, because the knocking just increased more loudly.

Carver sighed again, jackknifed up from his bed and staggered out to his living room. He flattened one big hand against the front door and curled the other over the knob, then stood with his chin dropped to his chest and one final hope that his visitor had gone away. But the rapping started again, even more annoying than it had been before, so he jerked the door open hard.

“What?” he barked. “What is it?”

A woman stood in the hall with her curled fingers poised at shoulder level. She was about to knock again, something that would have landed her fist in the middle of Carver’s naked chest, but she stopped herself just shy of completing the action and dropped her hand quickly back to her side. In the other hand, she carried a battered leather satchel not unlike the kind elementary schoolchildren had carried way back when Carver was young enough to have been one of them himself.

She was a good foot shorter than he, her black hair liberally threaded with silver and cropped shorter than his own.
She wore round, tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses that made her brown eyes appear huge, and a shapeless olive drab trench coat over a white, baggy, man-styled shirt and brown, even baggier, man-styled trousers. Her only concession to her femininity was a filigreed antique brooch pinned at her collar and matching earrings that dangled from her ears.

She was in no way the kind of woman with whom Carver normally associated. But somehow she looked very familiar.

“Carver Venner?” she asked in a no-nonsense voice of efficiency that immediately grated on his nerves.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“I’m with the Child Welfare Office. I’ve been assigned to your case.”

Okay, he was tired, Carver thought as he studied the woman harder, still trying to place where he might have met her. But there was no way he was so tired that he had forgotten about the presence of a child in his life.

“I beg your pardon?” he asked.

“Your daughter,” she clarified, aiding him not at all. “I’m here to assist the two of you—to help you get acquainted and settled in.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to wake himself from what was one of the most bizarre dreams he’d ever had. Unfortunately, when he opened his eyes again, he was still standing in front of his open door, and the oddly familiar woman was still staring at him.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

Her eyes widened for a moment in what he could only liken to panic, something that just compounded his confusion. Without replying, she lifted her satchel and flipped it open, shoved her hand inside and withdrew a pristine, white business card.

M. H. Garrett, L.C.S.W., it read in bold black type.
Caseworker, Child Welfare Office of Pennsylvania.
It was decorated with the official state seal and seemed to be legitimate.

M. H. Garrett, he repeated to himself. Nope, not a name that rang any bells. “What’s the M.H. stand for?”

“Mostly Harmless,” she told him without missing a beat.

He glanced up at the woman again only to find her staring back at him in silence, daring him to press the issue. Dammit, even her prissy voice was familiar. He was sure he knew her from somewhere, he just couldn’t remember where. It was about to drive him crazier than he already felt when he recalled that she had just accused him of having a daughter.

He smiled wryly. “I think somebody got their wires crossed somewhere, Ms. Garrett. I don’t have a daughter. In fact, I’ve never even been married, so it doesn’t seem likely that there’s a little Venner kid out there running around somewhere.”

M. H. Garrett, Caseworker, narrowed her eyes at Carver and stuck her hand back into her satchel, this time pulling out a very thick, very well used binder. She flipped through it easily until she found whatever she had been looking for, scanned a few pages, then looked up at Carver again.

“Rachel Stillman,” she said, as if those two words would explain everything.

Carver shook his head. “Sorry, never heard of her.”

Mostly Harmless Garrett eyed him warily. “She’s your daughter, Mr. Venner.”

“No, she isn’t.”

“Yes, she is.”

He chuckled, feeling more and more bizarre with every passing moment. “Oh, come on. She doesn’t even have the same last name as me. Boy, you folks at Welfare really are overworked.” He relented when he saw her lips thin into a tight line. “I assure you, Ms. Garrett, that I do not have a daughter named Rachel anything. Somebody at your office has sent you on a wild-goose chase.”

The caseworker glanced down at her notebook again. “Abigail Stillman,” she said this time.

Carver was about to tell her that he didn’t have a daughter named Abigail Stillman, either, when he remembered
that he did in fact know someone by that name. Or rather, he used to know someone by that name. Another journalist he’d met in Guatemala about ten or twelve years ago. The two of them had shared a very hot, very heavy, very brief affair. One week, he recalled now, unable to halt the lascivious smile that curled his lips. And what a week it had been.

“Okay, I do know an Abby Stillman,” he told M. H. Garrett, still smiling at his heated memories. “But I haven’t heard from her in years. Have you seen her recently? How is she?”

“She’s dead.”

His smile fell, and something raw and hot knotted in his stomach. “She’s what?”

“She’s dead, Mr. Venner. A car accident. Drunk driver. She was killed instantly.” The caseworker shifted from one foot to the other a little uncomfortably. “Uh, hasn’t anyone contacted you about this?”

Still feeling as if someone had just kicked him in the groin, Carver mumbled, “About what?”

M. H. Garrett pressed her free hand against her forehead and rubbed hard. “About Abigail Stillman. About the child she left behind—a twelve-year-old girl named Rachel.” She dropped her hand back to her side and studied him for a moment before continuing. “According to the girl’s birth certificate…um…you’re her father.”

Carver’s eyebrows shot up at that. “Ex…excuse me?” he stammered. “I’m what?”

M. H. Garrett bit her lip and tried—without much success—to smile. “Congratulations, Mr. Venner,” she said, clearly striving for a levity she didn’t feel. “It’s a girl.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” Carver objected, holding up his hand as if he could stop her announcement. “That’s impossible. I couldn’t…I mean, Abby didn’t…and I sure as hell…” His voice trailed off and he stared at the woman in the hall. “This can’t be happening,” he finally concluded.

“Maybe I better come in and try to sort things out,” the social worker offered. “Someone was supposed to have
contacted you by now, but obviously no one has. I’m sure you have some questions, and maybe—”

“Questions?” he sputtered. “Questions? You’re damned right I have some questions. Not to mention a few choice words.”

The woman stiffened immediately and pointed a finger at him. Somehow, even before she started wagging it at him, Carver was certain that that was precisely what she was going to do.

“Look, don’t take this out on me,” she said with a vigorous shake of her finger. “I’m just trying to do my job.”

He nodded slowly and tried to calm himself. “You’re right. I’m sorry. It’s just that this is a little…uh… surprising, to say the least. There’s obviously been some mistake. There’s no way I could be this girl’s father.”

M. H. Garrett eyed him thoughtfully for a moment before asking, “So you and Abigail Stillman never…?”

“Never what?”

The caseworker looked uncomfortable again. “Never… um, you know.”

“Know what?”

“Never had…relations?”

“Relations?”

The woman sighed fitfully, and he could swear she was blushing. “Of a, um, of a sexual nature?”

Finally Carver understood. “Oh, sure, we…uh…we had relations. Quite a few times if memory serves, but—”

“I see.” M. H. Garrett frowned her disapproval.

Carver didn’t like her tone of voice one bit. “No, you don’t see,” he insisted. “I’m not this kid’s father.”

The caseworker sighed heavily and tilted her head forward, toward the inside of his apartment. “Maybe I should come in and try to get all this straightened out. I can’t imagine why no one at Welfare has contacted you before now, especially with the child arriving tomorrow, but maybe—”

“Tomorrow?” he repeated. “This kid’s coming to Philadelphia tomorrow? But I’m not her father.”

“—but maybe we can get it all straightened out without too much trouble,” the woman finished as if Carver had never spoken.

He wanted to slam the door in her face, wanted to go back to bed for some much needed sleep and forget that this surreal encounter had ever occurred. Unfortunately, M. H. Garrett’s expression assured him she wasn’t going anywhere until this thing was settled. Reluctantly, he moved aside for her to enter. As she passed him, he caught a whiff of her perfume, a rich, floral fragrance that seemed an unlikely choice for her. He liked it, though, and was pretty sure it was gardenia. His sister, Sylvie, wore a similar scent.

Impulsively, he reached for his shirt pocket, where he kept his cigarettes, and when his fingers encountered only flesh and hair, he suddenly remembered that he was only half dressed. Feeling inexplicably embarrassed by the realization, Carver began a hasty retreat to his bedroom.

“Uh, let me just go put on a shirt,” he said, thrusting a thumb over his shoulder in the direction he was already headed. “I’ll only be a minute.”

When M. H. Garrett seemed to be relieved by his decision, he got the strangest impression that it wasn’t so much because she was offended by his lack of clothing as it was because she was fascinated by it.

Lack of sleep, he remembered, could give a person the craziest sensations.

He returned to the living room inhaling deeply on a much needed cigarette and buttoning up a well-worn, plaid flannel shirt that he didn’t bother to tuck in. The woman from the Child Welfare Office had discarded her trench coat on the coatrack by the door and sat in the middle of his couch with a number of official-looking documents spread out on his coffee table. Carver’s furnishings were sparse at bestsecond and third-hand castoffs he’d picked up at garage sales and flea markets. His things were inexpensive, functional
and no-frills. And somehow, the woman sitting among them fit right in.

“Can I get you anything?” he asked her as he headed into the adjoining kitchen. Although he felt as if a good, stiff shot of whiskey was probably more appropriate for the bomb she had just dropped, coffee was what he was craving most. “Coffee? Tea? Soda?”

“Whatever you’re having will be fine,” she said.

“I’ll just be a minute.”

While the coffeemaker wheezed and dripped laconically, Carver returned to the living room to find the infuriatingly familiar Ms. Garrett reading over a file. He wished he could remember where he knew her from, couldn’t quell the certainty that the two of them shared some kind of significant history. But her name was in no way recognizable, and she wasn’t at all the kind of woman he normally dated. He’d never had any cause to work with the Child Welfare Office, and couldn’t imagine anyplace else he might have met her. Maybe she was a friend of one of his sisters, he thought. Though even that seemed unlikely. She just appeared to be too straitlaced to be someone who would run around with Livy or Sylvie.

He stubbed out his cigarette in an ashtray after using it to light a second. “I’m sorry,” he said as he expelled an errant stream of smoke from his lungs, “but I just can’t shake the feeling that I know you from somewhere.”

The woman glanced up quickly at his statement, and he could almost swear she looked panicky again. Her reaction made no sense, but he couldn’t dissuade himself of the feeling that he’d put her on edge somehow. Then she frowned, waving her hand in front of her face to dispel the cigarette smoke he had inadvertently sent her way, and he understood her agitation. Mumbling an apology, he stubbed out the second cigarette, as well.

“And where might we have met, Mr. Venner?” she asked as she watched him perform the action. He could almost feel
her disapproval of what was only one of his many bad habits, and he wondered why he cared.

“See, now that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question,” he told her as he took his seat in a chair opposite the couch. “Can you help me out?”

BOOK: Father Of The Brat
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