Clearwater Book Seven
Jessi Macis white-knuckled her car into the driveway of the Johnson’s household thankful she made it there. During parts of the trip she thought the snow would get the best of her little car. Just shy of eight months pregnant, she had no desire to get stranded by the weather. She wouldn’t let the blizzard stand in the way of the commitment she made to spend the holidays and last few weeks of the pregnancy with the child’s parents.
She pushed open the car door surprised no one had come outside. They should have been expecting her, especially since she was two hours late. There had been times she didn’t think she’d make it at all. The cold air whipped in swirling eddies sending shivers through her as she slogged through the snow to the house.
The large three-story house had huge white pillars lining the front, with large windows to take advantage of the beautiful setting surrounding the house. White Christmas lights trimmed the house giving it a warm feel without being over the top with the holiday decorations. To look at the house and realize the twins she would give birth two in just a few short weeks would grow in up that house was amazing. She never thought she’d do such a thing, but Jessi had agreed to be the surrogate for Doctor Michael Johnson and his wife Peg.
The feeling of giving children to a couple who could give them so much more than just love was a mixed blessing. She felt honored to help them have a family, but sad that in a few weeks she’d have to leave the children she had grown attached to as they grew in her womb.
Jessi stomped the snow from her boots, then rang the doorbell. Seconds passed and the entryway light didn’t come on. She pushed the bell again, before wrapping her arms around her body. Gosh, it was cold. Even if something had happened, the housekeeper should have been there.
When she was about to go back to the car, to the warmth of the heater, and call Michael, the door opened. He stood before her, his hair shaggy and tussled from dragging his hand through it. He gazed at her as if he didn’t recognize her, there was something haunting in his eyes. His clothes were wrinkled, the tie he normally wore was loose and just draped over his shoulders, while the first two buttons of his dress shirt lay undone. She had never seen him so disheveled, not even when he was an intern and worked the long hours at the hospital in Denver.
In that moment she forgot about the chill. “Michael, it’s me Jessi. Is everything okay?”
“Jessi?” He dragged his hand through his hair, pushing it out of his eyes. He shook his head, as if trying to focus and it seemed to push away the cobwebs. “Jessi, what are you doing here? You shouldn’t be out in this.”
“What? I’m here as we agreed upon. Michael what’s going on? Where’s Peg?” She looked past him, trying to see into the house.
“Come in. You’re going to catch your death out there.” Still in a daze, he moved away, allowing her to step into the warmth of the house.
Jessi pushed the door shut and shrugged out of her coat, before she unlaced her boots. Something was wrong with him and she was eager to get to the bottom of it. She touched her hand on his arm, to draw his attention. “Let’s sit down and you can tell me what’s happening.”
“I need a drink.” He moved from her touch and into the family room.
Somewhat taken aback, she followed. Even when Michael and her brother James were in medical school together he rarely drank. In all the time she had known him, she only saw him drink once, and that was at the graduation celebration she put together for them. He had a half of a glass of champagne for the toast, and not another sip through the rest of the party. Stepping into the living room was even more of a shock to her already overloaded system.
The normally spotless house looked—the only word she had for it was lived in. It wasn’t dirty, or even a mess, it was just lived-in. His suit jacket was flung over the back of one of the chairs, an open pizza box that was barely touched on the coffee table, with a large bottle of whiskey and glass next to it. A stereo played soft jazz in the background. Old memories pushed to the surface, Michael was the one that took her to her first jazz club, one night after his intern shift at the hospital. It was a night she’d always remember, it was also the night they shared their first and only kiss, provided by a few drinks.
She refused to let the memory of his lips on hers cling to her. Right now there were other issues that needed to be attended to. “Where’s Peg? Is Betty here?”
Michael poured himself a large whiskey. From the way his eyes seemed to gloss over, she was sure it wasn’t his first. “She’s gone.” He sank onto the couch, his shoulders slouched in defeat as he took a long drink from the glass he just poured.
“Gone? As to the store? To work?” It was highly doubtful that Peg, a lawyer, was called to work at this time of night. She mostly dealt with divorces and some family law. Why would she go out in a storm like this, especially when she knew Jessi was due to arrive? Even if Peg was out, it didn’t explain the absence of Betty.
“No, she’s gone for good. Divorce papers were served a month ago.”
“Divorce?” Her voice was so low she wasn’t even sure he heard. Running her hand along the curve of her stomach she couldn’t believe it herself. A month ago—that was right around the time of her last doctor’s appointment. He’d come to it alone. Had the papers been served then? If so, why didn’t he mention it? What would happen to the twins now? He was in no shape to provide for them, especially not alone. She became a surrogate mother because the child, or in this case children, that she delivered would have a family home. She wouldn’t have agreed to do this for a single parent.
He finished the glass of whiskey in record time, his head rested against the back of the couch and his eyes shut.
He’d be no use to her tonight, she’d have to head back out into the snow to get her luggage and find a guest bedroom, because the snow was now fully upon the sleepy town of Clearwater. Jessi got up from her perch and went to him. “Michael, wake up.” She shook his shoulder until his eyes opened just a crack. “Where’s Betty?”
“With Peg.” His eyes closed again and this time there was no waking him.
With her host passed out she was left to find her own guest room. “Guess we’re on our own.” She looked down at her protruding stomach and wondered what would happen now. She had no means to provide for twins, but she was damn sure that unless Michael got his act together she wouldn’t let him have them. She had to have some rights to stand on. After all it was her egg that helped create the twins. Besides, there was never any paperwork signed between them, it was all a verbal agreement. Before then it never struck her as odd, but now she wondered why Peg being a lawyer never forced the issue. She’d have to think about that later.
* * *
Michael woke to the chimes of the grandfather clock in the hall. It was after three in the morning. “Shit, Jessi!” He looked around the room. Had she arrived last night? He couldn’t remember anything after the pizza came. Flipping open the lid of the box he saw only the piece he started to eat last night was gone. If she had been there, she didn’t eat any of it, nor was there another glass to be seen. Not that she would have joined him in drowning his sorrows in whiskey. Jessi would have been left alone with his bottle of whiskey to mark the end of his marriage. Those damn divorce papers peeked out from under the pizza box as a faithful reminder.
The instant he stood from the couch his head spun. Too much alcohol on an empty stomach, he would feel worse in the morning. Now he had to see if his pregnant guest had arrived. He made it to the window before his stomach revolted. Through the thin curtains he saw her little red car parked in the driveway. Thankful she made it safely Michael stood there a moment giving his stomach time to settle before he tried the stairs.
He still needed to find out where she had settled for the night, and if by chance she was awake he owed her an apology. How could he be so stupid as to try to drink away his problems on the night she arrived? This was the woman who carried his children. He had to show her he was still fit to raise the twins even if he was alone.
Each step was pure hell, a clear reminder why he never drank. He couldn’t handle a beer without feeling its effects in the morning. What made him think half a bottle of whiskey would be better for him, he’d never know.
At the top of the stairs he skipped the first door, knowing it was just an empty room now that Peg had taken her things from her home office. That left three other guest rooms between him and the master suite at the end of the hall. He moved up next to the first door, it took his eyes a moment to focus in the dark room. The bed was undisturbed. Two more to go.
He made his way down the hall, his eyes unfocused because of the alcohol and the semi-darkness. The door was only slightly ajar, unlike the others that were open. It had to be the room she had chosen. It was the room he would have selected for her. It fit her completely, the large queen bed sat on an ebony frame, with a high headboard, the comforter was a rich shade of gold, and lighter gold and white pillows decorated the bed. It was also the larger guest room, with a private seating area and in-suite bathroom.
“Michael, is that you?” a sleepy voice called through the darkness.
“Jes, I’m sorry.” He stepped into the doorway so she could see him.
She scooted up so her back was pressed against the headboard. Even in the moonlight, he could see her long blonde hair cascaded around her shoulders.
“Come in.” When he did she patted the side of the bed for him to sit. “How do you feel?”
“I was so drunk I don’t even remember you arriving and you sit there asking me how I’m feeling.” He slammed his hand onto the bed, thankfully missing her legs. Pain coursed through his head from the sudden action. “Dammit, it was irresponsible of me. You could have been stranded, or worse yet, injured.”
She laid her hand over his. “But I arrived safely. Now tell me what happened.”
“There’s nothing to tell. Peg left.” He really didn’t want to talk about it, but she had a right to know the full story. This late at night wasn’t the time to get into it, if he could avoid it.
“Why did she leave?”
“Could we do this later?” Maybe never, he added silently.
“I think I deserve some answers, but since it’s late and I’m sure you have to work in a few hours I’ll let it slide for now.”
The way she stretched the word now, he knew she wouldn’t wait long. “I took tomorrow off. Unless there’s an emergency I don’t have to go in until Monday.” He sat there a moment before he decided to just tell her everything now. It might be selfish but he had no desire to go to bed to only lay there wondering how she would take the news.
“I want you to know I never deceived you. Peg and I didn’t have problems until recently.” He frowned, not able to help himself. Would things have been different with their relationship if he never wanted children? He wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t give up his dream of parenthood because she couldn’t have them, not when there were other alternatives. When they explored the surrogate mother option, she seemed completely on board, it wasn’t until months later he realized she wasn’t.
“Recently, as in when? You said the divorce papers where served a month ago, why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I didn’t know, I guess I should say I wouldn’t admit it until you were about five, maybe six months along. Looking back, Peg was distant from the time the pregnancy was confirmed, but I wouldn’t admit it to myself.” He hated that he didn’t recognize it sooner, if they had been patients of his he’d have seen it, maybe he could have prevented it. “She came back from a doctor’s appointment with you when you found out it was twins. That’s when it came out.”
“What did?” She leaned forward, at least as much as her stomach would let her, her hand in his.
“That she only agreed to the surrogacy because I wanted it. She tried, but she didn’t want a child that wasn’t hers. She couldn’t get past the fact the doctor wasn’t able to use her eggs, and in the end she couldn’t accept the babies.” He rose and walked to the window. He needed to look away from the very pregnant and beautiful woman lying in the bed wearing only a thin blue nightgown. “It’s better that I found out now, before the twins are born. This way I can provide a life for them, without the tension. The divorce changes nothing when it comes to the children.”
“Actually, I think it changes a lot.” She adjusted in bed to look toward him.
“What?” His head whipped around so fast, he felt the muscles pop and his stomach heaved. “What are you saying, Jes?”
“I agreed to this when I thought the children would be raised in a home filled with love and two parents. Michael, you work long hours. How are you, alone, going to provide the care to two infants?”
She had him there. He hadn’t actually worked that out. He got as far as a nanny, but that was it. A nanny wouldn’t replace an actual family but what choice did he have? “I’ll hire a nanny and I’ll cut back on my hours. Whatever I have to do.”
“Your practice is almost as important to you as children. Not to mention you’re the only pediatrician in Clearwater. What will your patients do without you?”
“A better question would be, what would my children do without me?” Anger rose but he fought it. His anger shouldn’t be pointed at Jessi. After all, things could have been so different if he would have expressed his feelings for Jessi long ago. She might have been his wife now.
“Not without you. Hell, I couldn’t raise these children on my own either. I’m saying you will need help and, to be honest, yes, this put doubt that I made the right decision, but as you can see it’s a little late now.” She pushed the covers away, exposing her stomach. “We got ourselves into it and we’ll have to figure out a way to provide for the children.”
He stalked to the bed, glaring down at her. “I will provide for them just like I said I would.”
“Michael, don’t start. You know damn well that I could fight you for the twins. I might not win in the end, because I don’t have the means to support myself and two children as you do, but I could make things hell for you. So let’s act like adults here and figure out what’s in the best interest of the babies.”
He took a deep breath, calming himself. He swore that he’d find a way to work things out with Jessi. What he didn’t need was to fight her in court, he had seen enough of lawyers and the legal system to last a lifetime.