Excerpt: Who's Holding the Baby?
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Let me do the talking…
“Hello. I’m Luc Salvatore, president of Salvatore Enterprises. What can I do for you…?” He checked the police officers’ name tags. “Officers Cable and Hatcher?”
“We’re responding to a report of an abandoned infant,” said Officer Cable. She glanced at the baby Grace held. “Is that the child?”
“This baby isn’t abandoned,” Luc stated firmly, moving to stand between Grace and the policewoman.
“No?” Officer Hatcher, a tall, sturdy man, stepped forward. “Is he yours?”
“He’s my nephew.”
The two officers exchanged quick glances. “I’m afraid we’ll have to see some identification,” Cable requested.
Grace could tell from their attitudes that they were taking this situation very, very seriously. Luc removed his driver’s license from his wallet and handed it to the policewoman. “Perhaps an explanation is in order?” he suggested with a quick smile.
Grace waited for Officer Cable’s reaction to that smile. It wasn’t long coming. She fumbled his license, effected a swift recovery, then made a production of recording the information on her clipboard. A spot of color appeared high on each cheekbone. Luc didn’t even notice.
Grace sighed. But then, he never did. He’d bowl them over like ninepins and never realize they’d fallen. To his credit, it wasn’t calculated, but simply loved women and treated every last one with a devastating courtesy and warmth, the way he’d explained earlier. Without question, she considered it his greatest charm.
“I think an explanation would be very helpful,” Hatcher interrupted, keenly attuned to his partner’s reaction. He strode across the room, firing a quelling glance at Cable. Somewhat chagrined, she reverted to a more professional demeanor.
“I believe you met my brother Brand Salvatore downstairs,” Luc began.
“He was the one involved in the altercation with the young woman?”
“A small family squabble,” Luc said dismissively. “We’re a very, shall we say, emotional household.”
“The young woman is…?”
Grace’s mouth fell open at the blatant lie, the first she’d ever heard him utter, and a tiny gasp escaped before she could prevent it. She stared at Luc in disbelief. He never blinked an eye. Nor did he look at her. But Officer Hatcher did. Grace quickly shut her mouth and focused her attention on the baby, but she suspected it was too little, too late. Sure enough, he approached.
“You have something to add, Ms….”
“Barnes. Grace Barnes. And yes, I do. Could…could you hand me that diaper bag? I believe we’ve had a little accident here.”
The officer’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t call her a liar to her face, which came as a relief. He bent down and picked up the bag. She took it with a grateful smile and gently deposited the baby on top of Luc’s desk, smack dab in the center of his leather blotter. Serve him right if she ruined it, she decided. He shouldn’t have lied to the police. She unwrapped the blanket around Tony and made a production of unsnapping the bottom of his jumper.
“To get back to the matter at hand,” Officer Hatcher continued. “The young lady we questioned, her name is…?”
“Carina Donati Salvatore,” Luc replied.
“And she left to go to the airport?”
“Yes, her mother in Italy is very ill. My brother asked her to wait until they could all fly together, but she wanted to get home as soon as possible. I’m sorry you had to be involved.” He shrugged. “It really wasn’t necessary.”
“About the baby,” Officer Cable interrupted. “You’ve been left with the infant until your brother returns?”
“It’s only for a few hours.”
Grace kept her head down and removed a fresh diaper, wipes and powder from the bag. She struggled to unfasten the diaper tabs. Tony seemed determined to fight her, his little legs plumping and churning away.
The officers conferred in low voices and she could tell they weren’t comfortable with the situation. So could Luc, for he sighed. “Look. I’m a responsible man, respected in the community. I’m babysitting my nephew for a few hours. Why is that a problem?”
Grace slipped off the heavy diaper, definitely wet, took one look at the baby, then glanced, wide-eyed at Luc. Uh-oh. If she didn’t move fast, something very nasty would hit the fan. Tossing the dirty diaper toward the trash can with one hand, she fumbled for a clean one with the other. To her horror, it slid to the floor.
“Would it help if I provided references?” Luc offered.
“You have someone who can vouch for your babysitting abilities?” Hatcher retorted. Clearly, he resented Cable’s less than professional reaction to Luc and intended to make matters as difficult as possible. “You look like a busy man,” he added, his gaze suspicious. “Are you sure you can provide adequate care?”
Grace saw the fierce expression on Luc’s face and froze. That look did not bode well for any of them. He glanced at her with grim intent, then at her left hand and she knew, before he even moved, what he planned to do.
Without a moment to lose, she whipped a new diaper from the bag, dropping it across Tony’s lower extremities the exact same instant Luc dropped a possessive arm around her shoulders. Fighting his embrace, she struggled to position the diaper to cover strategic areas.
“Cara,” he muttered. “Let me show them.”
“Not now!” she whispered frantically.
“Yes, now.” He grabbed her left hand and held it out toward the police officers. “Perhaps I should have said my fiancée and I will be babysitting little Tony.”
“Luc, the baby,” Grace whispered. He frowned at her, and she snatched her hand from his grasp. “I have to finish changing…him.”
Not daring to give the police time to come closer, she yanked open the tabs and taped them haphazardly across the plastic diaper. Praying the thing would stay in place for the next two minutes, she wrapped the blanket around the baby. Then she collapsed into Luc’s chair, lifted Tony to her shoulder and began to pat the baby’s back, as if a brisk burping commonly followed a diaper change.
“You’re engaged?” Officer Cable struggled to hide her disappointment. Hatcher shoved his hat to the back of his head and grinned.
Grace shot Luc a fulminating glare. “Yes,” she admitted, forcing out the lie. “I am.” Fortunately they didn’t ask the name of her fiancé. Lying to the police came low on her list of ambitions in life. Not that she hadn’t lied anyway, considering she wasn’t really engaged at all.
Cable gave a philosophical shrug. “I guess it’s a false alarm,” she said to her partner.
Hatcher wasn’t so accommodating. “We’ll be writing this up,” he informed them. Grace didn’t have a single doubt he suspected several vital details had been omitted from their story. “Next time I come here—and I will be back—I’ll be having words with the baby’s parents.”
“Of course,” Luc agreed.
He escorted the police officers to the elevators, leaving Grace and Tony behind. The minute they were gone, Grace returned the baby to the desk and quickly and efficiently repaired the droopy diaper. Tony fussed through the entire procedure, undoubtedly annoyed at having to suffer the same fate twice in less than five minutes.
Luc appeared in the doorway. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Changing the baby.”
“Yes, again. I was in such a hurry the first time, I didn’t get it right.”
She turned on him. “Do you realize what would have happened if Officer Cable came over while I changed the baby?”
Amusement sparked in his eyes. “She would have seen how a baby gets changed?”
“She would have seen that Tony is actually Toni.”
“I mean, Toni isn’t your nephew but your niece.” Grace picked up the baby and carried her to the couch, nestling her safely among the cushions.
Grace folded her arms across her chest. “Toni apparently stands for Antonia, not Antonio.”
“You’re kidding!” Luc grinned in amazement. “That’s wonderful. She’s the first female Salvatore in four generations. Or is it five?”
Grace struggled to control her temper. “You’re missing the point. If the police had discovered that you didn’t even know the sex of your brother’s child, the whole game would have been up. They’d have thrown us both in jail and taken the baby into custody.”
He shook his head. “I wouldn’t have let them.”
“You couldn’t have prevented it,” she snapped. She didn’t remember when she’d last been so angry. “How dare you?”
He stood, leaning against the doorframe, watching her intently. “How dare I what?”
“How dare you lie to them? I mean, when you finally cut loose with a fib, it’s a whopper. But did you have to start with the police?”
He shrugged. “It seemed appropriate at the time.”
“Great,” she grumbled. “So why involve me in your family problems?”
He grabbed her shoulders, hauling her close. “Our problems,” he reminded in a soft, deliberate voice. “We’re engaged. You even told the police that, remember?”
She shook her head. “No, I didn’t. I just agreed that I was engaged, not who I was engaged to.”
He cut her off. “That isn’t how they’ll recall the conversation.”
“But, it’s all a lie,” she protested. “Every bit of it. I’m not engaged to you. Bran and Carina aren’t married. Darn it, Luc, the baby’s not even a him.”
She saw the storm gathering in his eyes, saw the fury and determination lock his expression into a cold, taut mask. “Let me explain something to you. I will not allow the police or anyone else to take Toni from me. I will do anything, anything, to protect her.”