Bargaining for Baby

By: Robyn Grady


Jack Prescott wandered out from the public hospital room, his senses locked in a mind-numbing daze.

He’d received the call at ten that morning. He’d immediately jumped in his twin engine Piper Navajo and had flown to Sydney with his heart in his mouth the whole way. He and Dahlia hadn’t spoken in three years. Now he’d missed the chance to say goodbye.

Or I’m sorry.

Through stinging eyes he took in the busy corridor. The air smelled of antiseptic and, beneath that, death. As of today, he was the last surviving Prescott and there wasn’t a soul to blame but himself.

A passing doctor, deep in conversation, knocked Jack’s shoulder. He swayed, braced his legs then spread out his remarkably steady hands to examine the calloused palms. How long before the nightmare truly hit? Before he fell to his knees and cursed this godless world? Where was the mercy? Dahlia had only been twenty-three.

A woman in the crowded waiting room caught his eye, her fair hair streaming over one side of a red summer dress. She held a bundle. A swaddled child.

Jack rubbed a gritty eye and refocused.

Beneath fluorescent lights, tears glistened on her lashes, and as she gazed back down the corridor at him, Jack wondered if they’d met before. When her mouth pressed into an I’m-so-sorry smile, his gut hollowed out.

One of Dahlia’s friends.

But he wasn’t sure he could put words together yet. Those token pleasantries like, “Oh, you knew my sister. Yes, she was very beautiful. Sorry, but I have to leave…make arrangements.”

When the woman continued to wait, her pale hand supporting the baby’s head, Jack couldn’t avoid a meeting. He forced one leaden foot in front of the other and, an eternity later, stopped before her.

“You’re Dahlia’s brother, aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re Jack.” Her flushed cheeks were tearstained, her nails bitten to the quick and her eyes…

Her eyes were periwinkle blue.

Jack sucked in a breath. When was the last time he’d noticed something like that? He wasn’t sure he even knew the color of Tara’s eyes. Perhaps he should take note when he got back. Not that theirs would be that kind of marriage. Not from his perspective, in any case.

After the death of his wife three years ago, Tara Anderson had spent increasing amounts of time at Leadeebrook, the Queensland sheep station where he lived. Jack had been slow to appreciate Tara’s company; he wasn’t much of one for talking these days. But as close as his deceased wife and this woman had once been, so he and Tara had become good friends, too.

Then, last week, Tara had offered more.

He’d been straight. He would never love another woman. His wedding band was threaded on a gold chain that never left his neck while his wife’s ring lay at the foot of a photo he kept on his bedroom chest of drawers. Sue had not only been his wife, she’d been the other half of his soul. The better half.

Still Tara had put her argument forward. He needed someone steady in his life, she’d said. She needed someone to help manage her property. That had gotten Jack’s attention. Twenty years ago, Jack’s father buckled under hard times and had sold half his land to a neighbor, Tara’s great-uncle. Later, he’d tried to buy the land back but Dwight Anderson wasn’t interested.

After Sue’s death, Jack’s life had seemed pointless. He’d found no joy in occupations that had once caused the blood to charge hot and fast through his veins. Even throwing a saddle over Herc and giving his stallion free rein down a beloved Leadeebrook plain had seemed a chore. But the idea of fulfilling his father’s dream of regaining those choice acres had offered Jack’s darker days a glimmer of meaning.

Tara was a good woman and attractive by any man’s standards. Perhaps they could help each other out. But before he married again, a matter needed sorting.

The human race relied on the power of maternal instinct—women wanted children and Tara would make an excellent mother. But he had no wish to become a father.

He’d made mistakes—one error unforgivable. He thought about it often and not only when he visited the tiny grave which lay beside his wife’s in the Leadeebrook family plot. Having your heart ripped from your chest once was enough for any man. He wouldn’t tempt fate by siring another child.

If Tara wanted a marriage of convenience, it would be without plans of a family. Although she had acquiesced with a nod when he’d told her as much, the mist in her eyes had said that she hoped he’d change his mind. Not tomorrow. Not ten years from now. On that point he was firm.

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