Today’s excerpt is from my newly-reissued “sweet” romance, Ms. Maxwell and Son. It’s the story of an unexpected love between a pregnant and divorced cartoonist and her night owl musician neighbor, who ends up assisting in the delivery of her baby. Originally published by Harlequin Silhouette back in 1988, it’s been out of print for almost twenty years. Now, with a new cover, it has a second chance at publishing life….
This is it. This is really it. The baby’s corning. The contractions were thirty minutes apart now, and still nothing more than a vague cramping sensation in the lower abdomen. I have plenty of time, Katie Maxwell thought, brushing a strand of her short, dark auburn hair off her forehead. She willed herself to remain calm. Plenty of time to get to the hospital. Plenty of time. She drew in a deep breath and tried to focus her attention on the comic strip she’d been working on, but without much success. Deadline or no deadline, she couldn’t think of anything but what was happening inside her own body.
It was about time. Her due date had come and gone almost two weeks ago with no indication that her baby had even considered making his debut in the outside world. Just like your father, Katie thought. She immediately pushed the thought from her mind. Mustn’t think of Michael now. Not now. Michael’s not your father…not in any way that really matters. He was just my husband. Was. The man who made me pregnant. That’s all.
She looked at her watch. She had to keep timing the pains. This couldn’t be false labor. It just couldn’t be. It had to be the real thing. She couldn’t wait another day. Not after having waited so long already.
Her obstetrician had told her to be patient, that first babies often arrived late. But everyone’s patience had its limits, and Katie’s was no exception. She’d waited eight months already…eight long months since she took the home pregnancy test that had changed her life so drastically.
She got up from her drawing board and walked across the room to the windows, her left hand gently massaging her aching back as she moved at a slow waddle. In the past few months she’d begun to feel like an unflattering cross between a duck and an elephant. It was snowing.
She had no idea how long it had been snowing…she hadn’t looked outside in hours. She’d been struggling to meet her deadline when the first contractions came at just past midnight. She hadn’t had the TV on, so she’d had no idea there was any inclement weather in the forecast. God, why did it have to snow tonight, of all nights? Normally Katie loved the Connecticut winters. The countryside that was verdant green in summer and rich with reds and golds in autumn was especially beautiful after a freshly fallen snow—before that special beauty was marred by the snowplows and salt and cinder trucks. Normally Katie looked forward to that first snowfall, but tonight it only meant trouble. It meant she wouldn’t be able to drive herself to the hospital as she’d planned. It meant she’d have to call for a taxi…or an ambulance.
She settled down on the overstuffed couch and waited for the next contraction. When they were fifteen minutes apart, she would call Dr. Rowen and leave for the hospital. She decided it would be safer to call an ambulance than take a chance on a taxi that might not arrive in time. Katie frowned. No wonder her mother kept insisting a baby needed two parents. One to do the heavy labor, and one to drive to the hospital in case of nasty weather, she thought wryly. At least I haven’t lost my sense of humor—yet.
Another pain came, this time more intense than the last. Katie caught her breath and checked her watch again. Twenty-five minutes apart. They were coming closer together. She lay back against the couch and sucked in her breath. Had she made the right decision? she wondered for the hundredth time in the course of her pregnancy. Not that she’d really had any other options. Michael had made the decision for her the same day she told him about the baby. Michael had never had any desire to be a father—he’d made that clear from the day they were married. Still, Katie had always hoped he’d change his mind. He hadn’t. If anything, he’d become more adamant in his refusal to even consider starting a family. She’d never had to worry about forgetting to take the pill—Michael always reminded her. She recalled now how he’d reacted to the news of her pregnancy….
“You’re supposed to be using birth control,” he said evenly as he went to the bar to pour himself a drink. As he’d put it, he was sure he was going to need one.
She watched him for a moment as he poured automatically. Just the right amounts of vodka and tonic, two ice cubes, never any more, never any less, and just a small twist of lime. He could almost make it in his sleep. It never varied. It was almost as though all the glasses were marked and the lime cut in precisely the same size pieces. Katie realized for the first time how annoying that was. She searched his handsome face for some sign of emotion, any emotion. There was none.
“I was—that is, I am,” she said finally. “Something must have gone wrong.” She gave a helpless shrug.
“Obviously.” He lifted the glass to his lips, his expression now as cold as the ice in his drink. He took a long swallow, slowly, as if taking time to consider the options. “How far along are you?”
“About six weeks.” He was taking an interest, anyway, Katie thought, however slight. It was a good sign. A beginning. But her hope had been short-lived.
“Well, thank God for that,” Michael said with relief in his voice.
“I don’t understand—” Katie began.
“At least it’s not too late.”
“An abortion, of course,” he said as he put down his glass, as if the decision had already been made.
“I have no intention of having an abortion, Michael,” she told him. “This pregnancy may not have been planned, but there’s no way I’ll terminate it.”
His smile was cold. “Don’t tell me it’s against that Irish Catholic heritage you’re so damn proud of,” he concluded.
“Heritage or not, I don’t believe in abortion,” she said tightly, her fists clenched in the folds of her full skirt. She was fighting to control her anger. “This is my child, and I have every intention of keeping him.”
“Then you’ll keep it alone,” he said with barely controlled anger in his voice. “I told you before we were married that having children was one subject that would not be open for discussion. I didn’t want children then, and I still don’t.”
“And that’s all that’s ever mattered to you, isn’t it—what you want!” Katie exploded. “What I might want doesn’t matter to you at all, does it?”
“If you were so set on a life of home and hearth and sticky fingers and runny noses, you should have married a family man, Kathleen,” he said acidly. “You knew my position on this before we were married.”
“Your position? My God, Michael, you make this sound like a legal debate!” she responded incredulously.
He looked at her calmly. “We had an agreement.”
“No, Michael, you had an agreement. I had a marriage—or I thought I did, anyway.” She was fighting to control the temper that was very much a part of her Irish heritage. “What I wanted never mattered to you. How I felt never mattered to you. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that.”
“Then you’re determined to go through with this pregnancy?” he wanted to know.
“Yes. I am.”
He nodded slowly. “Fine,” he said finally. “Do you want to get the divorce, or shall I?”
“I think I’d better do it,” she said dispassionately. “As far as I know, pregnancy isn’t grounds for divorce in this state…but discovering I married a selfish jackass just might be.”
Katie’s thoughts returned to the present. Looking back on it now, she realized she shouldn’t have been surprised. Michael had never really liked children. She’d seen it when he was forced to be around her nieces and nephews for any length of time. He’d never showed any interest in even trying to learn to like them. He didn’t like children, didn’t want any of his own, and that was that.
At least he was honest about that much, she thought dismally. After the divorce she’d often wondered if he had ever really wanted to be a husband, either, or if marrying her had just been more convenient than having to go looking for someone to take care of his sexual needs when he felt the urge.
By three in the morning the snow had reached blizzard proportions and Katie’s contractions were fifteen minutes apart. Time to call the doctor. She picked up the phone on the table next to the couch and started to dial, realizing halfway through the number that the line was dead. “Oh, no,” she breathed, depressing the button on the cradle repeatedly, frantically. Nothing. The snow must have downed the lines.
Terrific, she thought. Now what? She searched her mind frantically for a possible alternative. She could have the baby right here, alone. She shook her head, dismissing that idea. She could just as easily fly to the moon on gossamer wings. Only as a last resort, she promised herself. Stay calm. She willed herself not to panic. It wouldn’t do any good. It might even make matters worse. Or would it? She remembered reading somewhere that anxiety could actually prolong labor. It might give her time to figure out how she was going to get to the hospital.
Good grief, what was she thinking of? Who in her right mind would actually want to prolong labor? The thoughts of a desperate woman, she decided. A very desperate woman. Who else in the building was home right now? she asked herself. Who might be able to help her? There were only six apartments in the converted Victorian manor. Two were vacant at the moment. Julie, her only real friend among the tenants, was away for the weekend.
“Don’t have that baby till I get back,” she’d told Katie jokingly as she was leaving yesterday.
“Don’t worry,” Katie had laughed. “I think he’s waiting for the spring thaw.”
I’d be happy if he’d just wait until morning—or at least until the phone’s working again, she thought now, ready to push the panic button. The Kellers, the elderly couple who lived upstairs, were off on one of those “Love Boat” type cruises. Even if they had been home, Mr. Keller was hardly physically up to a mad race to the hospital in this weather—and Mrs. Keller didn’t drive at all. The man who lived next door had just moved in two weeks ago. Katie had seen him on the stairs a couple of times, but knew nothing more about him than his name and the fact that he liked to play his piano in the middle of the night. She’d heard he was a real grouch, too. She considered her options, then got up off the couch.
It looked like the man in 2B was her only chance.
Jack Spangler tapped out a tune on the keyboard, then paused long enough to scribble some illegible notes on a music sheet on top of the old, scarred piano. Had he taken the time to look in a mirror, he would have seen a face that looked as if it had been without sleep in at least a week, one that probably had not known a razor in almost as many days. He would have seen bloodshot eyes shadowed by the effects of too little sleep, and thick, dark brown hair in desperate need of a barber’s scissors. He would have seen a body that was just a little too thin from skipping too many meals. But he would not have cared, even if he had taken the time to make those observations. There was only one thing on his mind, and that was his music. He was not a dedicated composer; he was an obsessed one. When he was in the middle of a composition, it occupied his every waking thought and haunted his dreams. He lived and breathed music. It was his mistress, his tempestuous, demanding mistress, possessing his soul as no mortal woman ever could. And unlike a woman, his music would never leave him; it would always be with him, always be a part of him. When he was composing, the rest of the world ceased to exist. And that was the way he wanted it.
He raked a hand through his thick, dark hair and took a long swallow of the cold coffee in the mug that had left a ring on his completed sheet music, making a face at the unexpected bitter taste. Time to make fresh coffee. He got up from the piano and walked barefoot into the too small kitchenette, mug in hand. After dumping its contents into the sink, he rinsed the mug, then filled it with hot water from the tap. No point in wasting time boiling water, he thought. He opened a jar of instant coffee he kept on the counter and spooned three heaping tablespoons into the water, stirring it as he scanned the shelf overhead for the individually wrapped crackers he always pocketed in restaurants. Finding the packets in an old cracked mug, he took two. “Hungry, Sam?” he called out.
“Sam’s hungry,” a large white cockatoo responded from his perch in the living room. He spread his wings wide and ruffled his feathers as if to emphasize the point.
“You’ve been on your best behavior,” Jack decided aloud as he returned with the coffee and crackers. “I guess you’ve earned these.” Putting the mug down on the top of the piano, he unwrapped the crackers and offered one to the bird. Sam took the cracker in one claw and started to eat it.
“Where’re your manners, Sam?” Jack asked as if he were speaking to a child to whom he’d just given candy.
“Thank you, Jack,” Sam answered on cue, immediately returning his attention to the cracker.
“You’re welcome, Sam.” Jack sat down at the piano and started to play again, but was interrupted by the unexpected sound of someone knocking at the door. At first he thought he was hearing things. Nobody in this quiet, very normal neighborhood could possibly be out and about at this hour. He’d begun to think they all went to bed at sundown.
Then he heard it again. He glanced at the clock on the mantle. Who the hell could be knocking at this ungodly hour? He’d thought he was the only living soul in this part of Connecticut who kept graverobbers’ hours. He dragged himself off the bench again and crossed the room.
“Listen, whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying—” he stopped short as he pulled the door open.
The woman standing in the hall looked familiar, but he couldn’t place the face. She was short, with thick hair cut to frame her face like a glossy red cap, a delicate, heart-shaped face and dark green eyes. She was, he decided in the seconds he’d had to appraise her, quite attractive. She was also either very pregnant or a Weight Watchers dropout. Even under her bulky winter coat, he could tell that her stomach was quite large.
“I’m Katie Maxwell,” she told him, clearly upset about something. “I live next door.”
So that’s where I’ve seen her before. On the stairs, Jack thought.
“I need your help,” Katie was saying.
He gave her a puzzled look. “Lady, it’s three in the morning—” he started.
“I’m in labor. I need someone—I need you, that is, to drive me to the hospital,” she went on.
“Where’s your husband?” Tact had never been Jack Spangler’s strong suit.
“I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” Katie said crossly, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I don’t have a husband—and right now, I don’t have any other way to get to the hospital. I can’t drive myself. Nobody else in the building is around, and I can’t call an ambulance because the phone lines are down.” She’d gotten it all out in one breath. Jack was still staring at her, bewildered.
“Will you help me?” she asked, almost pleading by now.
He hesitated for a moment, considering the alternatives. She could end up having her baby right there in his living room. He would have to deliver it. The thought of that made him feel a little anxious himself. “Yeah, okay,” he said finally, nodding in surrender. “Give me a minute to pull myself together, okay?” He dropped onto the couch and started pulling on his socks and boots. “You got a suitcase or anything?”
She nodded. “I’ll get it.”
He shook his head. “I’ll get it. Just tell me where it is.” In every TV sitcom he’d ever seen, they always rushed off without the suitcase and had to come back for it. He had no intention of coming back for anything.
Katie nodded. “It’s just inside my door, on the big chair.”
“Hey, good lookin’!” Sam squawked as Jack started looking for his coat.
“Shut up, bird!” he ordered as he walked out, closing the door behind him.