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Authors: Fern Michaels

Tags: #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #Contemporary, #Self-actualization (Psychology) in women, #Mothers and sons, #Contemporary Women, #Single mothers, #Family Life

Return to Sender

BOOK: Return to Sender
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Return to Sender
Fern Michaels
Kensington (2010)
Rating:
***
Tags:
General, Romance, Fiction, Contemporary, Self-actualization (Psychology) in women, Mothers and sons, Contemporary Women, Single mothers, Family Life

SUMMARY:
At seventeen, Rosalind “Lin” Townsend finds herself pregnant and alone. Her father, deeply religious yet cruel, throws her out of the house. Nick Pemberton, her baby’s father and the man she naively hoped might marry her, rejects her. Yet even at the lowest point in her life, Lin vows to succeed on her own terms, and to give her son, Will, all the love and happiness she’s been denied.Nineteen years later, Lin has made good on her promises. She’s the owner of a thriving diner in her Georgia hometown, and Will has grown into a fine, intelligent young man who’s about to start his freshman year and NYU. But when Lin visits New York with Will, she crosses paths with the one man she was sure she’d never see again – Nick Pemberton, now a millionaire CEO, the man who sent back all her letters unopened, marked “Return to Sender.” Seeing him fills Lin with anger – and she resolves to right the wrong he did to Will.Helped by Jason, a hired detective, and her best friend, Sally, Lin sets out to disrupt Nick’s life and his finances, with spectacular results. But the truth is more complex and surprising than she imagined. And soon Lin must choose – between the revenge she thought would free her, and the bright new future that’s about to be delivered to her door…

Return to Sender
Books by Fern Michaels:

Mr. and Miss Anonymous

Up Close and Personal

Fool Me Once

Picture Perfect

About Face

The Future Scrolls

Kentucky Sunrise

Kentucky Heat

Kentucky Rich

Plain Jane

Charming Lily

What You Wish For

The Guest List

Listen to Your Heart

Celebration

Yesterday

Finders Keepers

Annie’s Rainbow

Sara’s Song

Vegas Sunrise

Vegas Heat

Vegas Rich

Whitefire

Wish List

Dear Emily

The Godmothers Series:

The Scoop

Exclusive

The Sisterhood Novels:

Deadly Deals

Vanishing Act

Razor Sharp

Under the Radar

Final Justice

Collateral Damage

Fast Track

Hokus Pokus

Hide and Seek

Free Fall

Lethal Justice

Sweet Revenge

The Jury

Vendetta

Payback

Weekend Warriors

Anthologies:

Snow Angels

Silver Bells

Comfort and Joy

Sugar and Spice

Let It Snow

A Gift of Joy

Five Golden Rings

Deck the Halls

Jingle All the Way

FERN MICHAELS
Return to Sender

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

Return to Sender
Prologue

January 13, 1989
Dalton, Georgia

R
osalind Townsend, whom everyone called Lin, held her newborn son tightly in her arms as the orderly wheeled her to the hospital’s administration office. A nurse tried to take him from her so she could tend to the business of her release, but she refused.

After eighteen hours of agonizing labor without any medication, she’d delivered a healthy six-pound-eight-ounce baby boy. She wasn’t about to let him out of her sight.

She’d named him William Michael Townsend. A good solid name. She would call him Will.

Like his father’s, Will’s hair was a deep black, so dark it appeared to be blue. Lin wasn’t sure about his eyes at that point. She’d read in her baby book that a newborn’s eye color wasn’t true at birth. Nothing about him resembled her, as she was fair-haired, with unusual silver-colored eyes and milk white skin.

She gazed down at the securely wrapped bundle in her arms and ran her thumb across his delicate cheek. Soft as silk. He yawned, revealing tender pink gums. Lin smiled down at her son. No matter what her circumstances, she made a vow to herself; she would devote her life to caring for this precious little child.

Lin had spent the past seven months preparing for this day. During the day she worked at J & G Carpet Mills as a secretary. Five evenings a week and weekend mornings, she waited tables at Jack’s Diner. Other than what it cost for rent, food, and utilities, Lin saved every cent she made. She had to be conservative because it was just her and Will. She’d allowed herself a week off from both jobs so she could bond with her son, adjust to her new life as a mother. While she would love spending more time with her son, being the sole caregiver and provider made that impossible. She’d lucked out when Sally, a coworker at Jack’s and a single mother to boot, had asked her if she would sit for her two-year-old daughter Lizzie. In return, Sally would look after the baby on the days that she wasn’t working. Lin had agreed because she had to. There were still the days to cover, but Sally gave her a list of reliable sitters she’d used in the past. Dear Sally. Only five years older than Lin but so much wiser to the ways of the world. They were fast becoming good friends. Sally was the complete opposite of Lin—tall, olive-skinned, with beautiful brown eyes that had a slight upward slant, giving her an oriental look. Lin had called three of the sitters, two high-school girls and one elderly woman. She would meet with them later in the week. Lin was sure that if Sally approved, she would as well.

Sadly, there would be no help from Will’s father or her parents. Lin recalled her father’s cruel words when he learned she was pregnant.
May you burn in hell, you little harlot! You’ve disgraced my good name. Get out of my house. I don’t ever want to lay eyes on you again or your bastard child!

Lin had appealed to her mother in the hope she would intervene, but, as usual, her mother had cowered behind her father, accepting his word as law. Lin would never allow a man to intimidate her the way her father did her mother.

Never.

“Miss?”

Lin directed her attention back to the woman behind the administration desk. “Yes?”

“If you’ll sign here and initial here.” The woman slid a single sheet of paper across the desk.

Lin signed the paper, releasing the hospital from any liability. Since she had no health insurance and refused public assistance, she could afford to stay in the hospital only for twenty-four hours.

She’d spend the next two years paying a hundred dollars a month until her debt was paid in full.

The woman behind the desk reached into a drawer and pulled out a thick envelope. “Here, take these. You might find them useful.”

Lin took the envelope, peered inside. Coupons for diapers, formula, baby lotion, and anything else one might need. She gave her a wan smile. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Throughout her pregnancy, she had visited the local dollar store once a month. She’d purchased generic brands of baby items that were on the list of layette necessities she’d read about in the baby book given to her by her obstetrician. Lin didn’t have extra money to spend on a homecoming outfit for the baby, so she’d gone to Goodwill and found a secondhand pale blue sweater set. She’d carefully hand-washed it in Dreft detergent. Subsequently it had looked good as new. Someday, she swore to herself, her son wouldn’t have to wear secondhand clothes.

The orderly wheeled her back to her room, where she dressed in the maternity clothes she’d worn when admitted to the hospital the day before. She ran her hand across her flat stomach. Now she would be able to wear the uniform Jack required, thus saving wear and tear on her few meager outfits. She gazed around the room to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything behind. Had it been only twenty-four hours since the taxi had dropped her off at the emergency room? It seemed like a week.

Lin carefully removed the sweater set, which she’d placed in her overnight bag. With ease, she dressed her son, smiling at the results. Will looked like a little prince in his Goodwill blue outfit. Briefly, she thought of his father and their weeklong affair. What would his reaction be when he saw his son for the first time? After months of indecision, she’d finally written him another letter two months ago, the first one since she had been on her own, and mailed it to his parents’ address in New York, the only way she knew to contact him. She’d begged Nancy Johnson, a girl Will’s father had introduced her to, for his phone number as well, but she’d been adamant about not revealing more of her friend’s personal life. She’d told Lin that if Nicholas wanted her to have his phone number, he would have given it to her. The harsh words had stung, but there was more at stake than her raw feelings. She had a child to consider. She’d written a lengthy letter, revealing her pregnancy, telling Nicholas he would be a father shortly after the new year. Weeks had passed without a response. Then, just last week, she’d trudged to the mailbox, only to find the letter she’d sent unopened, marked
RETURN TO SENDER
.

What’s one more rejection?
she’d asked herself.

Her father hadn’t accepted her, either. Her mother had once told her that he’d always dreamed of having a son. At the time, Lin had been terribly hurt, but as the years passed, she learned to set those feelings aside. She’d been the best daughter she knew how to be in hopes of gaining some kind of approval, and maybe even a bit of love and affection from both parents, but that was not to be. When she told her parents about the decision to keep her baby, they were mortified and humiliated. She’d been tossed out of the only home she’d ever known with nothing more than the clothes on her back.

A soft mewling sound jerked her out of the past. “It’s okay, little one. I’m right here.”

With the quilt Irma, Jack’s wife, had made for him, Lin gently wrapped Will in a snug bundle. It was below freezing outside. Lin had halfheartedly listened to the local weather report as it blared from the television mounted above her bed. An ice storm was predicted. Meteorologists said it could be the worst in north Georgia history. With only two small electric space heaters, her garage apartment would be freezing. How she wished she could take Will to her childhood home. While it wasn’t filled with love, at least it would be warm.

But Lin recalled the torturous evenings of her childhood. She would rather die than subject her son to such a strict and oftentimes cruel upbringing. Every evening, as far back as she could remember, she’d had to pray while kneeling on the hardwood floor in the living room as her father read from the Bible.

A die-hard Southern Baptist who considered himself a man of God, her father had constructed a pulpit for himself in the center of the living room, from which he would gaze down at her with disdain, as though she weren’t good enough. Then, if that weren’t bad enough, he’d make her recite the names of all the books of the Bible in order. If she missed one, he would make her start from the beginning until she named them correctly. Once, when she was about seven or eight, she remembered spending an entire night on her knees, praying. She’d prayed hard, her father watching her the entire time. Little did he know, she’d been praying for his immediate death. Many times she’d wet herself while on her knees in prayer. Her father wouldn’t allow her to change her clothes or bathe afterward.

“The devil lives inside you, girly! Taking a shower ain’t gonna cleanse your dirty soul!”

She’d winced the first time she’d heard those words. After a while, she became immune to his cruel words. She’d even gotten used to smelling like urine. The kids at school were relentless, calling her Miss Stinky Pants. And she would do what she always did when she was hurting.

She prayed.

Every night that she knelt on that cold, hard floor, she prayed for her father’s death. Not once in the seventeen years that she had lived in her father’s house had he ever relented on this evening ritual. She had thick, ugly calluses on her knees to prove it.

When she left home, or rather when she was thrown out, she made a promise to herself: she would
never, ever
kneel again.

Freezing definitely held more appeal.

She checked the room one last time. One of the nurses waited to wheel her downstairs, where the hospital’s courtesy van would take her and Will home.

In the lobby the automatic doors opened, and a gush of icy air greeted her, smacking her in the face. She held Will close to her with one arm and carried her small overnight bag with the other. The driver, an older black man, opened the door and reached for her bag. “You best hop inside, Miss. This here cold ain’t good for the young’un.” He nodded at the bundle in her arms.

Shivering, Lin stepped carefully up into the van. Thankful for the warm air blowing from the heater’s vents, she sat on the hard vinyl seat and realized she was still very sore from the delivery. Her breasts felt as though they would explode. She couldn’t wait to get home to nurse Will. She’d be able to do so only during the week she was home. Then she’d have to resort to formula. She’d calculated the expense, and while it was very costly, she would manage. Unfortunately, she had no choice.

“Thank you,” she said to the driver as she placed Will in the car seat beside her. When Lin had discovered she was pregnant, she’d been frightened, fearful of having inherited her parents’ harsh and unloving manner. However, when Will was placed in her arms, the love she felt for him was the most natural thing in the world. Her worries had been for naught.

When mother and son were secure in their seats, the driver made his way through the parking lot. Waiting at the traffic light, he perused a stack of papers attached to a clipboard. “Tunnel Hill, ma’am?”

“Yes, just make a left on Lafayette, then take the second right.” Lin hated having to take Will home to a one-room garage apartment. Someday they would have a home with a big yard with flowers, a white picket fence, and lots of trees for him to climb. Will would have a swing set, and she’d watch him play. Yes, she would see to it that Will had a good home, and whatever it took, she would make sure he had an education.

Lin remembered her father telling her years before that it was foolish for women to go to college, a waste of money. He’d assured her then that he would not contribute to her education, so after she’d preenrolled at Dalton Junior College during her senior year of high school, she’d saved enough money for the first year.

Having spent three terrifying nights alone in a cheap motel after her father threw her out, she’d made her first adult decision. Instead of using the money for college, she’d paid three months’ rent on an apartment. In retrospect, her father’s attitude had worked to her favor, since it had forced her to save for her education. If not, there wouldn’t even be a place for her to bring Will.

The driver parked in her landlady’s driveway. She hurriedly removed Will from the car seat and took her bag from the driver. “Thank you. I appreciate the ride.”

“Jus’ doin’ my job, miss. Now scoot on outta here. That ice storm’s gonna hit real soon.”

“Yes, I know. Thanks again for the ride.”

Lin felt rather than saw the driver watching her as he slowly reversed down the long driveway. She didn’t feel creepy at all, because she knew he was good and decent and just wanted to make sure she made it inside safely. A stranger cared more about her well-being than her own flesh and blood. Sad. But she smiled at her thoughts. She had the greatest gift ever, right there in her very own arms.

Holding Will tightly against her chest, she plodded down the long drive that led to the garage apartment. She felt for the key in her pocket, then stopped when she heard a whining noise. Putting her bag on the ground, she checked Will, but he was sound asleep. She heard the sound again.

“What the heck?” she said out loud.

At the bottom of the steep wooden steps on the side of the garage that led to her apartment, Lin spotted a small dog and walked behind the steps where he hovered. Holding Will tightly, she held out her hand. Its brownish red fur matted with clumps of dirt, the ribs clearly visible, the poor dog looked scruffy and cold. He or she, she wasn’t sure of the animal’s gender, whined before standing on all fours, limping over to Lin, and licking her outstretched hand.

She laughed. “You sure know the way to a girl’s heart.”

“Woof, woof.”

With the ice storm ready to hit, there was no way Lin could leave the poor dog outside. She fluffed the matted fur between its ears and decided that the dog was going inside with her.

“‘Scruffy,’ that’s what I’m going to call you for now. Come on, puppy. Follow me.”

The dog obeyed, staying a foot behind Lin as she made her way up the rickety steps while holding Will against her chest.

Unlocking the door, Lin stepped inside and dropped her bag on the floor. Timidly, Scruffy waited to be invited in. “Come on, Scruffy.

You’re staying here tonight. Something tells me we’re going to get along just fine.”

Two unwanted strays,
Lin thought.

BOOK: Return to Sender
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