Authors: Carol Burnside
By Carol Burnside
She was the incubator, nothing more
until the parents died tragically
Now she’s having
For Kate Morissey, becoming a surrogate seems like a great way to refill her tuition account and get the education she’s always wanted. After putting her life on hold to raise and educate her two brothers, she’s desperate for freedom and a college degree that will secure her future. Weeks away from realizing her dreams, a freak accident threatens everything.
Adopted as a boy into the safety of the Hawthorne family, Rio swore he'd never become a father. He won’t pass along his cruel legacy of abuse. When he inherits the last Hawthorne heir, obligation and duty dictates he abandon the challenges of guiding safari’s and become a parent. Convincing Kate to teach him infant care was the easy part. Proving his love isn’t her prison may be the hardest thing he’s ever done.
- - -
Nobody’s Baby has a Christmas holiday ending.
Published by B & R Bookery
Copyright 2014 Carol Burnside
All rights reserved.
Edited by Emily Sewell
Cover Design by Dar Albert of Wicked Smart Designs
This is a work of fiction. People and locations, even those with real names, have been fictionalized for the purposes of this story.
Discover more about Carol Burnside and her alter ego, Annie Rayburn at
This book is dedicated to Jason and Holly, forever my babies. Love, always.
our weeks to freedom.
Katherine Morrisey longed for the day her body wouldn’t be on loan anymore. Not that she’d been abused or taken advantage of. Her surrogate arrangement with James and Allie Hawthorne benefited everyone involved.
So why the quick summons to the Cherry Creek offices of Flynn, Squires, & Forbes, when her contracted duties were so close to fruition? Did the Hawthornes have some last minute stipulation so important it required her driving into Denver? They could have phoned. Until James and Allie had decided on one last adventure before their parental duties started, Allie had called daily for updates on Kate’s condition.
Hurrying up the steps of a squat brick building, Kate held her loose jacket closed against an October chill. That such little effort left her winded filled her with annoyance.
She attempted to shake off the gray cloud of doom that had clung to her since hearing the formal summons on her voice mail, but it stuck tight. Squires personally making the call was a bad sign, but his dour tone had added ominous weight to the word
Her hand closed around the heavy brass door handle as someone — a wide-shouldered someone — burst through the other side, sending her staggering backward.
“Sorry,” he muttered through clenched teeth before brushing past. A single tortured word, as if it were all he could manage.
Kate gripped the handrail at her back to regain her balance, shock and surprise silencing an indignant retort. In the split second before he’d obscured pain-filled eyes behind dark sunglasses, she’d spied a glimmer of moisture in them.
At the bottom of the trio of stairs, he halted, steadying himself with one hand on the rail. There was such raw power emanating from him, such rigid control, she doubted a tear would be allowed to breach his lashes.
Though she had an appointment to keep, the sight of his bare knuckles gleaming white against tanned skin held her mesmerized. Those were not the soft fingers of a desk jockey. They’d performed hard labor, and recently, from the evidence of a scraped knuckle and torn cuticle.
Her gaze raked over his large form, covered by a dark navy suit. He yanked at his russet tie, unbuttoned the pristine collar beneath it, and drew in a lungful of mile-high air and exhaust fumes. His nut-brown hair, cut close around the sides, hovered rakishly over thick brows that complemented rugged features.
Kate had seen better looking men, but he piqued her interest, nonetheless. Probably the result of months of abstinence and fluctuating hormones. Well over a year had passed since she’d felt a man’s hands roam her bare skin. All part of the contract.
When the urge to cover his hand with her own grew strong, she scurried inside, stepped into the elevator and jabbed at the fourth floor button. Yet another change in her life, this elevator business. Even as little as three months earlier, she would have taken the stairs, considering anything under ten floors a free workout.
One more month and she could follow her carefully laid-out plan. For the first time in years, she would have no responsibilities or obligations except her own. No brothers to raise, no self-absorbed mother to coddle through some imagined illness. She hugged her purse closer for comfort. The University of Northern Colorado acceptance letter inside soothed the ragged edges of her nerves.
Her first step toward becoming a child psychologist.
“Ah. Miss Morrisey. There you are. I was beginning to worry.” Jeremy Squires greeted her before she could step off the elevator, circumventing the check-in process they were usually such sticklers for. The receptionist averted red-rimmed eyes. Flynn and Forbes hovered in a nearby office threshold, their expressions sympathetic.
Kate placed a hand over the knot forming in her throat and swallowed. “I told you I’d come straight away. What’s the big emergency?”
He shot her a startled look, ushered her into his office and closed the door. “We’ll get to that. Give me your coat and take a seat.”
“I had to reschedule a doctor’s appointment and risked a speeding ticket to get here. Allie will have a fit.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Morrisey.” He cleared his throat and indicated a leather couch and chair nearby. “Please.”
His demeanor, the way the receptionist and he both avoided her gaze, combined with the closed door, and the fact they weren’t sitting at his desk but across the room made Kate take a step back. A sense of dread grew with the doom just like when ... no. Such a thing was impossible.
Her calves met cool leather. Throwing out a hand she braced herself on the arm of the couch and eased into a sitting position.
The air, fraught with tension, sucked her into memories of another place and time. She was seventeen again, standing in the living room of her parents’ home, watching two highway patrolmen approach with resolute faces.
Her daddy had driven an eighteen-wheeler. Kate didn’t have to be told why they were there. Inside her head, quiet screams accompanied their steps. She shushed her brothers and moved forward on wooden legs, needing to intercept the officers before they could ring the doorbell and disturb her ailing mother.
“But the partners ... Well, we didn’t want you to hear about this from any other source,” Mr. Squires was saying. The gravity in his voice made her wish for her coat again, though she hadn’t noticed the cold as much this year.
“Just tell me, whatever it is. You’re ... you’re making me nervous.” She blinked rapidly, shivering in the aftermath of old memories.
“I’m very sorry to tell you this, Miss Morrisey, but James and Allie Hawthorne were in a fatal accident two days ago.”
She blinked. Shook her head. Blinked. “What did you say?”
“Their bodies were found early this morning.”
Fatal. Bodies. Accident. The words pressed in on her chest like lead weights.
She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths, amazed at the stillness inside her belly. Perhaps the shock had permeated there too. Slowly, she rubbed a hand across her swollen stomach, soothing the live cargo within.
“This can’t be right. They were going skiing. Allie said so. Seven days and they’d be back. What happened?” Stupid question. What difference did it make? Dead was dead.
“Apparently they wanted to see the view along Trail Ridge Road before it closed for the winter. Their car slid off one of those hairpin curves close to the Alpine Visitors Center.” Squires recited the information as if he’d had too many opportunities to share what he’d learned.
Kate stabbed both hands into her cropped hair, though doing so did nothing to help contain her swirling thoughts. She’d traveled that very road in Rocky Mountain National Park, but never this late in the year. The sheer drop-offs weren’t for the faint of heart, even on a sunny summer day.
“What about their baby? They can’t just
. This is their child, their responsibility. Who’s going to raise it?” She jerked her hand off her belly and held it away from her, fingers splayed wide. Dismayed, she glared at the distended mound.
“We’re aware of the rather complicated situation this puts you in. Although I’m sure they never meant to orphan an infant, they’d recently changed their will to award custody of the child to James’ older brother.”
“I can’t believe this.” Kate squeezed her eyes closed, fat tears pushing to the surface. Shame rushed over her, that her first thought had been for herself and the impossible circumstances it placed her in. She couldn’t think about what this meant to Allie’s baby, couldn’t let herself start to have feelings for it. The lawyer’s words began to sink in, and she concentrated on the couple.
Gentle James with his smiling eyes. Gone. And Allie. Oh, God, Allie. So full of life and bubbling with happiness over this baby they’d created and placed within her for safekeeping.
Despite their best efforts to keep things on a business level, she and Allie had become friends. Sisters in this undertaking. Would their son ever know how much his parents wanted him, loved him? How eagerly they anticipated his arrival?
James’ brother must be a wonderful man for them to place such confidence in him. Surely he would honor their wishes. Oh God, what if he ...
“Have you talked with this man? He’s going to take it, right? My job was to be an incubator. Nothing more. I’m going to college next semester!” Kate slapped a hand over her mouth, as if doing so would stop the raging panic making her voice shrill and stifle the harsh gasps coming from her open mouth.
“Miss Morrisey, please try to calm yourself. No one is asking you to be responsible for the Hawthornes’ child.”
say. How do you suppose hospital personnel will react when there are no eager parents waiting for this baby and I tell them it’s ...” Her throat squeezed closed, and it was several moments before she voiced the frightening truth. “It’s nobody’s baby, Mr. Squires.”
“It’s Mr. Hawthorne’s now, Miss Morrisey.”
Sure it was. But did he have any legal obligation to take it? Would he?
She studied the gaunt man across from her, with his salt-and-pepper hair and angular face. Slightly stooped shoulders provided the framework for a dark gray suit. Nothing else about him suggested he wasn’t completely confident about his statement, until his lashes dropped under her scrutiny.
Kate’s heart plummeted into last week. “He hasn’t agreed to this, has he?”
“You have to understand. Riordan’s been mostly out of the country for several years. He recently returned from Africa. James and Allie planned on surprising him with the news upon their return, so everything came as quite a shock. He needs a few days to process this new reality.”
Kate refrained from comment, fervently praying Riordan Hawthorne was half the man his brother had been. She finally had a life, a bright future within her grasp, and she’d endured a lot to fill it with promise. This baby was her winning lottery ticket to a better future. One separate from the Hawthorne’s and at long last, her own. If this man refused to take the baby ...
“What about Allie’s family? Couldn’t one of them —” Kate’s throat closed over the words as Squires shook his head.
“She was estranged from what little family she had and assured me there was no one suitable for the task.”
So Riordan Hawthorne was her only hope. Kate could not and would not allow anyone to saddle her with their responsibilities again. Her life had been on hold long enough. If she didn’t finish her education now, she never would.
James’ brother had been dealt a terrible blow. In deference to that, she’d give him exactly two days to “process” his thoughts before she presented him with her rounded mound of impending fatherhood.
hese places were suffocating.
Rio stuffed sorrow and pain into a dark corner of his soul and tried to focus on choosing one of the crematory urns before him. Who knew there were so many choices? Regal ones, ornate ones. Some squat and Buddha-like. There were even some shaped like a treasure chest, a football and a guitar.
Since Allie didn’t have close family, her arrangements fell to him too. Picking one urn to house his brother’s ashes was difficult enough, but needing two for both husband and wife was ... obscene.
Together in life, together in death.
His gaze fell on a rather large pot-bellied container the color of fresh snow. “Will that one hold them both?”
The mannequin-like man who’d assisted him through this grizzly process inclined his head as though Rio requested something as common as a drink of water. “If that is your wish.”
Another scribbled notation and Mannequin Man offered him the pen with a small bow. “Initial at the X’s, full signature at the bottom and the arrangements are complete, sir.”
Rio complied and escaped into the kind of day Denver was famous for. Cotton ball clouds hovered over snow-capped mountains in the distance with the wide expanse of sky an intense Robin’s egg blue. He breathed deeply through his nose and whooshed it out through taut lips, expelling the stuffy, too-sweet funeral home air from his lungs. The high-altitude headache that had begun this morning persisted.
At least he’d accomplished the task without his mother having to get involved. She’d have a hard enough time dealing with the memorial service.
He returned to Hawthorne House in time to pay the airport shuttle driver and usher his mother inside the large two-story brick. Margaret Hawthorne embraced him as soon as he’d set her bag down, the familiar scents of Chanel No. 5 and Final Net hairspray as oddly comforting in their familiarity as his mother’s arms. At the same time, they were strangely irritating, as if they might cause his world to spin out of control.
Like it wasn’t already.
He waited until she’d relaxed her hold before he eased away and in doing so found his footing again. “You should have called me with your itinerary. I could have picked you up or sent a car.”
“You’ve had more than enough to handle, and I’m perfectly capable of fending for myself.” She canted her head to one side, cool gray eyes reproachful. “It’s good to see you too, dear. I’ve missed you.”