Authors: Colette Cabot
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
“The storm didn't reach this far north,” said Mason, dialing the police. “I want to report a trailer full of camels as stolen,” he said clearly to the operator.
“Are you the guy with the camels?” she gasped. “You won't believe what a commotion that caused here at the station. They're at the animal shelter here in Spencer. Come and get 'em. Assuming you had some sort of emergency, you could leave them here for a while, if you'd like. I can notify them that you've been found. They are causing quite a sensation with the kids around here. They've been well fed and are receiving a lot of attention.”
Mason thanked her and felt very relieved, but he was anxious to get them home. Phillip and he spent the entire day getting the camels, dealing with authorities, and taking them back to the miraculously preserved barn in Nevada, Missouri. Phillip was a very good sport about getting camel slobber all over his business casual attire. It took quite a few attempts and a lot of instruction before he was able to lead a camel successfully from the trailer to its stall in the barn. It was early evening before they made it back to the library. Kathy Mae greeted them with joy in her heart and had become good friends with Dawn, Phillip Buggerby’s wife, during their absence.
“C'mon you guys,” Phillip motioned them to follow him out of there. Both Kathy Mae and Mason gave a puzzled expression to him as well as to each other.
“Phillip has rented a hotel suite in town,” explained Dawn, “and we are inviting you to stay with us. There's a pool. Although, I don't know about you, but I've somehow forgotten to bring along my suit.”
It was quickly decided that a nice little vacation would be most welcomed.
“Guess what,” Kathy Mae said grabbing her purse on the cot and raising it in the air, “Got my purse back. They have a lost and found set up in the basement. People are bringing in all sorts of personal items, and my purse was among them. I've also got a few changes of clothing courtesy of the local charities which have been helping out.”
Mason explained about the barn, the camels, and the fact that her job could continue from Nevada. She told him she had signed up to receive a FEMA trailer, but didn't know how long it would take before it would be delivered to the place where her home once stood. The ground would need to be cleared of debris first, as well as establishing safe utility connections. When Mason heard this, he decided not to mention his idea of living in the barn with him and the camels.
“I guess a FEMA trailer is all right,” said Mason, “but there must be insurance on your house. You could probably rebuild it even better than it was before. From what I heard about the chaos after Katrina, it might be faster than waiting on the government.”
Kathy Mae decided Mason was right, and when they got to the hotel, she called the authorities and canceled her order for the FEMA trailer. They assured her that it would go to the next family on the list.
Phillip's wife, Dawn, informed them that while they had been gone all day she had received word that Lois Wade had been located. She was in the hospital and recovering from surgery. Phillip decided that he would hire some young boys to help salvage equipment and retrieve files from the old office location in Borough. He trusted Kathy Mae to run the new office in Nevada and he was about to arrange a rental car for her before she informed him she did not have a license.
“You don't drive?” he asked with astonishment and disbelief. “How can you become a real estate agent and not drive?”
“I know how to drive,” she said, “thanks to a friend of mine a long time ago. But, I never took the test or got a license. I didn't need to, since I couldn't afford a car anyway.”
Mason and Phillip decided among themselves that they would find a car for Kathy Mae soon, and that all of them would possess vehicles within the next few days. They also decided that they needed to look through the rubble at both Mason's and Kathy Mae's old places to find paperwork related to the insurance and ownership of the properties.
Days later, Kathy was cleaning out the remnants of her old place in Borough. Mason was helping since he had already retrieved the necessary documentation at his old place. She found the old desk from the living room. Mason was glad to see that this would soon all be over, as he needed to prepare for his next trip up north to Minnesota. Kathy Mae had begun her classes, Aunt Anna had decided to move into a FEMA trailer with an old friend she had found at the shelter. It appeared that an old flame had been re-ignited between the two, and Kathy Mae was glad for that. It had been two weeks since the storm, and much was still in the process of recovery—including their relationship.
It crossed her mind when she went with Mason to the barn that the two of them could easily live there with a few minor rehab jobs to the structure. But, they hadn't reached that stage of commitment. Although they had made love nearly non-stop in the privacy of the hotel, they hadn't discussed any more permanent arrangement for themselves.
“You know, I'm disappointed,” said Kathy Mae, “but, I really didn't expect to find anything about the property here. If Aunt Anna had seen a copy of the deed, or anything pertaining to it, she would have known that my mother did not own the property. She wouldn't have kept making those payments throughout all those years.”
“So, what do you do next?” asked Mason. “You saw the original at the real estate office, right?”
“Actually, I saw it online,” she said. “They have a database. I need to get back to Nevada and do some more searching. I'm also going to the courthouse. It's very weird that neither my aunt nor my mother seemed to have a copy of my birth certificate. If not for the leniency of the DMV rules following the tornado, I probably wouldn't have been able to get my license.”
“If it had been me,” teased Mason, “they wouldn't have been so ready to accept that I am a U.S. citizen.”
“I think your ancestry would prove you more American than any of us,” she affirmed, taking his hand to help her climb over the rubble. Her ribs were still a little sore.
“So, your plan is to rebuild and live here by yourself?” he asked, sending out feelers about how she might be considering a future with him.
“I guess so,” she said. “Although, it could get pretty lonely, now that my aunt has a boyfriend. What about you? Of course, you have camels. Maybe I could come out and visit them, too—and you, of course.” She smiled suggestively at him, hoping he would know that she wanted to be with him.
His jeans were smeared with crap and dirt, and he smelled like the animals that were both his livelihood and devoted friends. In spite of his aroma, she still wanted him passionately every time he came near. Touching him drove her wild with desire, especially now that she knew full well what it was like to make love with their clothes off and with a real live man instead of a figment of her imagination. It seemed that every time her body craved him, he saw it in her eyes and responded in ways that gave her pleasures of which she had never dreamed. If they were unable for reasons of lack of privacy, he would touch himself, showing her what she had aroused in him. They embraced now standing on piles of torn pieces of drywall and broken furniture. She ran her hand over his erection and moaned with pleasure, gasping at the thrill of the way it swelled beneath her firm grasp.
“We are out here in broad daylight with not a single wall to go behind,” he whispered, but in spite of this, he wasn't objecting. Instead, he ran his hand up inside her shirt, cupping her breast within his hand while stroking her nipple with the gentle tips of his fingers.
“No bra,” he said. “So this was a plan,” he teased.
“None of the hand-me-downs I could find quite fit that area of my body,” she explained. “I might be small, but not there. Everything was too tight. I ordered something in my size online, but it will take a few days for them to get here.”
“Do you think we can make it to the truck before one of us explodes?” he asked.
“My legs are pretty wobbly already,” she said, “You know how I collapse into a helpless blob.” He picked her up and carried her to the truck.
“I want you all the time,” he gasped as he thrust himself into her on the seat. Their clothes in a heap hanging out the door and on the floor. “I love you, Kathy Mae,” he howled.
“I love you, too,” she gasped. “I love you,” she whispered into his ear, breathlessly, as they fell into each other nearly unconscious and completely exhausted.
“I want to marry you, Kathy Mae,” he said after they had both recovered and dressed. “I have no idea where we could live, but it'll be up to you—if that's what you want, too.”
“Of course, I want to marry you, too,” she said. “I've been yours practically since the day we met, really. But, I wasn't sure if you felt that way. It would be fine with me to live in the barn with you and the camels,” she said. “And, I'm serious about that.”
“I pictured us living there right after the tornado hit,” he said. “But, now that you have a career budding, maybe you shouldn't smell like camel dung in the office. We might find it tolerable, but I doubt your clients would agree.”
They laughed about this and began to make plans throughout the drive back to Nevada. Back at the hotel they changed clothes, and Kathy Mae brought in bundles of clothing retrieved from her old house. Phillip was waiting with news.
“I couldn't give up on finding your birth certificate,” he said. “That just didn't strike me as normal. Guess what, Kathy Mae,” he emphasized with a pounce. “There isn't one.”
“So, I wasn't born,” she teased, not understanding his attitude over a lost document.
“You weren't,” he said, surprising her, “not to Lolita Graves, nor Lolita Stooder, her maiden name. In fact, Lolita has never given birth to any child, ever. I got a copy of her autopsy, thanks to a friend of mine. That woman's ovaries and her uterus confirm that she had never been pregnant, never given birth.”
“What?” Kathy Mae said, astonished. “How can that be? I couldn't have been adopted. No one would give a child over to that woman—not for all the money in the world. Not that she had any, not that she would even want a child. This is crazy!”
“Well, how do you think she acquired you, then?” he asked, with a look on his face that said he already knew the answer.
“She stole me?” asked Kathy Mae. “Why would she do that? She didn't want a child, unless it was some kind of scheme to get money out of my aunt. But, I seriously doubt that was her plan.”
“Oh, money was a part of it all right,” he smirked, “why else did that woman do anything she did in life—it was always about duping someone out of money. But, the plan didn't work.”
“What plan?” asked Kathy Mae. “How did you find out about all this? You must be some kind of detective or a genius.”
“I noticed your birth date on your job application,” he said, “so I looked for birth records in this state for that exact date. There were twelve baby girls born that day. Two in this county. One which had been kidnapped—and never found til this very day.”
“Kidnapped?” gasped Kathy Mae, Mason, and Phillip's wife, Dawn, who had been listening.
“I spent all day in the archives,” he explained. “and, I finally found the clippings. Read the first article.”
It was dated 1982, the year Kathy was born. The headline read:
“Please Give Us Our Baby Back.”
The couple on the page looked distraught. The woman was sad, her eyes looked dark, but that was all Kathy Mae could make out because the picture was a printout from a microfilmed record. She scanned through the article, reading key parts:
“Mary Comstock is asking anyone with information on the disappearance of her baby girl to come forward. She is only 2 months old.”
“Mrs. Comstock begs for whoever has her to be caring.”
“The infant was abducted from her home in Kansas City, Missouri.”
“$500,000 is offered for any information on my baby.”
“That’s you Kathy Mae,” said Mason. “You are the Comstock baby. “If you do not believe it yet, turn the page,” urged Phillip.
Kathy turned the page, and saw a picture of a limousine driver smiling with the Comstock’s as they held their newborn baby. It was taken the day they brought her home from the hospital.
The headline read:
“Happier Times Remembered”
Kathy was confused.
“Read the caption under the picture,” said Phillip, barely able to contain his excitement. “Read it, read it out loud.”
“The Comstocks Come Home from the Hospital Driven by their Chauffeur, Andrew Graves.”
“You see your father was their driver,” said Phillip. “He had been a suspect, but there wasn't enough evidence to arrest him. It was about that time that Lolita Graves disappeared. Apparently, she dropped you off with her sister in the home where she lived with her husband in Borough, Missouri. They never collected the ransom money, and their only assurance at avoiding arrest was to keep you hidden until no one was looking for you anymore. The media wasn't as powerful as it is nowadays. They didn't have DNA. They weren't such sticklers about documenting children in schools and with medical records. People forgot about the kidnapping as time passed. It was assumed the child had been killed and disposed of or sold.”
“So, if my father isn't my father,” mused Kathy Mae, “then I don't inherit the house. I guess it will go to Aunt Anna after all—if I'm following the chain of ownership correctly. He died, leaving it to his wife, who is now dead. And, her only relative is her sister.”
“Well, it doesn't matter about the house anyway,” said Mason. “We're getting married, and Kathy Mae will be moving in with me.”
“Kathy Mae,” said Phillip, “it doesn't matter about the stupid house because you are set to inherit $107 million from the Comstocks. Your mother is still living, and she's worth a fortune. And, there is a trust for you from your father just in case you were to ever be found.”
Kathy Mae was stunned. So was Mason. They just kept looking at each other, then to Phillip in amazement.
“Now, I think that it is time to call your parents Kathy Mae,” he continued, handing her the phone. “The number is written at the bottom of those papers.”
“You know, the only proof I have is that my father was their chauffeur, and left their service around the same time. I mean, so what?” she said, doubtfully, hardly believing it was true herself.
“DNA will prove it,” stated Phillip firmly. “Don't tell me you don't believe it.”
“It just feels so strange,” she said. “I can easily believe Lolita whatever-her-current-name-is isn't my mother. But, a Comstock? A kidnapped child? This is a lot to take in.” Then she reconsidered, “Do you think the reward is still valid? If so, then you surely do deserve the $500,000. You've solved a 30-year-old mystery that no one else could.”
“Oh, I've already got that re-invested in the business,” he grinned, jokingly.
“Well, I hope you can spare some to replace my wardrobe blown away in the tornado,” piped in Dawn.
“Oh, didn't I tell you, honey?” he chuckled, “Pieces of your ensembles are showing up all over town. They are giving them away at the shelters. You need to run over there and get some of them.”
“Very funny,” she said, smacking him playfully. “Can you see what I put up with?”
“Yes, I can,” smiled Kathy Mae. “You have a real gem there. And, now I have one, too.”
She threw her arms around Mason, kissing him on the cheek by standing on her tip-toes.
“I can't bring myself to just call this woman out of the blue,” said Kathy Mae, with the phone in her hands. “She's liable to have a heart attack, or she might not believe it.”
“You're right, Kathy Mae,” said Mason. “Maybe we should contact the police, show them the information you found. They might want to take your DNA and even have it compared to hers before they get the woman's hopes up.”