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About the author:
Patricia Watters writes contemporary cowboy romances that feature courageous, self-assured heroes with endearing flaws, and the gutsy women who capture their hearts, women, these unsuspecting cowboys would lay down their lives for. These heartfelt, action-packed westerns are set in ranch country, where the vista goes on forever, and chivalry is alive and well! An author with Harlequin and Avon-Harper Collins in the past, Patricia has published twenty-two romance novels, which include her 13-book DANCING MOON RANCH series, a contemporary western series that spans thirty years and two generations. She invites you to visit her website at http://www.patriciawatters.com/ and check out the video trailers for both her DANCING MOON RANCH and her upcoming CAJUN COWBOYS series
What inspired you to write your book?
The inspiration for this book was an article in the newspaper about a mix up at a fertility clinic. The story so intrigued me that it turned out to be the first book in my 13-book DANCING MOON RANCH SERIES, a series that spans thirty years and two generations.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Crombie Fertility Clinic; Portland, Oregon
Hands folded across her rounded belly, Grace Templeton looked at the pregnant woman sitting across from her in the waiting room, then shifted her gaze between the two men on either side of the woman. The men were identical twins by features, but opposites in every other way. The man holding the woman's hand was freshly shaven, hair neat, clean shirt. The other man looked like he'd just come in from the range with his day-old stubble, worn and faded clothes, and dark hair in need of a trim. He was all male, from the heavily-muscled chest evident beneath his western-cut shirt to the corded forearms revealed by his rolled up sleeves. Even his scratched wide belt buckle and scuffed western boots screamed of bull riding, and bucking broncos, and hard-edged cowboys, and way, way too much testosterone.
She could not even imagine the quantity of sample the man would produce if he came in to donate. Or the potency. Millions and millions of squirming, assertive sperm, all aggressively nudging each other out while swimming around in search of that tiny egg to impregnate.
A smile tugged at her lips, causing the man to affirm her speculation by saying in a voice that was distinctly baritone, "Am I put together wrong?"
Grace was at a loss how to respond. She'd been scrutinizing the man from head to toe while speculating on the quality of his sperm, not a usual subject to address with a complete stranger. "I'm sorry. I wasn't smiling because of something about you. It was a silly thought, and I have this habit of looking through people when I'm thinking."
"Then I guess being transparent is better than being put together wrong." The man unfolded his crossed leg, leading Grace to surmise that if he were standing he'd top out at around six-foot-four inches of lean, solid muscle.
Feeling a thud in her tummy, she pressed her hands to it and felt the stirring of her baby. Five more weeks and Marc junior would make his way into the world. She hoped he'd have his father's blond hair, blue eyes and jovial personality.
The image of the child growing inside her quickly vanished when a woman swept open a door from the inner office, looked at the pregnant woman and two men, and said, "I presume you are Susan and Sam Hansen, and Jack Hansen?" The people nodded. The woman then turned to Grace. "And you are Grace Templeton?" Grace also nodded. "Dr. Crombie will be with you folks in a few minutes. Can I offer you coffee?" When everyone shook their heads, the woman said, "It shouldn't be long."
After the woman left, the untidy twin, who the receptionist addressed as Jack, looked at the others and said, "Isn't Dr. Crombie owner of this clinic?" The others nodded. Jack's face hardened. "This whole meeting seems pretty irregular, being called in on the weekend, the owner of the clinic present, certified letters."
Grace looked at Jack with a start. "I also got a certified letter setting up this meeting," she said, wondering if the reason for these people being called in was the same as hers, though she had no idea what that was.
"Then they apparently want all four of us here at the same time," Susan mused.
Trying to dismiss her own misgiving about the meeting, Grace said, "It probably has to do with making a documentary film. They were talking about it when I came in for the insemination procedure. They want to interview couples and individuals, both donors and recipients, and follow them through the birth. I'm a widow, and I was inseminated with my husband's sperm two years after he died, so they'd want to show that frozen sperm's as good as fresh. Did you hear anything about a movie?"
Susan shook her head. "No, but maybe you're right. They could be interested in us because we're having a child we hope will be a genetic match for our son, who has a rare blood disorder and needs a bone marrow transplant. If the umbilical cord blood of my baby is a match, our son will be able to lead a normal life, but because Sam is sterile from chemo I'm unable to have more children with him, but Jack—" she touched the arm of the untidy man "—being Sam's identical twin, gives us a chance of having a match. So thanks to Jack and artificial insemination, this baby will be almost as close to our son genetically as if Sam were the father."
Except Jack's child would probably have scruffy hair, a stubborn chin, sinewy jaw muscles, and be born with dirty fingernails, Grace was tempted to add as a touch of humor, but seeing Jack's sober face, decided he wouldn't appreciate the remark. "I'm so sorry about your son," she said to Susan. "I hope your baby will be a match."
Susan placed her hands on her belly. "We expect he will be. And I'm sorry to hear you lost your husband. It must be difficult knowing you'll have to go through the birth process alone."
"Oh, I won't be alone," Grace said in the cheery voice she'd become skilled at fabricating. "I'm giving birth at home so I'll have a midwife, and probably my sister, my parents, and every female cousin in the family." She exaggerated a family that wouldn't be there, but she hated the looks of pity she got when the subject of her widowhood came up, the same look Susan Hansen had given her moments before. But she could tell from the intense look in Jack's dark eyes as he stared at her, that she hadn't fooled him. She got the feeling he too had been blindsided by tragedy at one time or another, just as she.
Up till Marc's death she'd always felt she'd had some control over her hopes and dreams by setting into place the stepping stones that would get her there—complete her education, marry her perfect mate, work together and save so they could buy a home, and start a family that would include several kids and at least one cat. They'd been well on their way to reaching that dream when Marc died. After that, she found herself in an unending cycle of reliving the tragedy. She couldn't go back in time and change the course leading up to it, and she couldn't go forward, but after two years of finding herself imprisoned in a kind of self-pity limbo, she knew she had to somehow get through the tragedy or she was going to live in it for the rest of her life, and she refused to be a victim. So she devised a plan. Don't give up her dream.
It would have to be altered because the man who'd been the focus of her life was dead, but she still had some of the dream—his love in her heart, memories of their times together in her mind, the modest house they'd bought, a cat Marc had come to love, and Marc's sperm preserved in liquid nitrogen, a decision they'd made in the event Marc might be sterile after chemo. Having his child would bring some closure to his death, while at the same time she'd never truly lose him, and in just over five weeks, little Marc would arrive.
"Your first child?" Susan asked.
"Yes. It's a boy." Grace intended her smile to go to Susan, but her gaze slid to Jack, who assumed she was smiling at him. When he gave her a token smile back, her heart quickened. He was not a man most women could ignore. He was brawnier than his twin. Thicker shoulders, beefier chest, forearms knotted with veins, clearly the result of hard work, but unlike his twin, there was a shrewdness about his face that made him seem unapproachable.
Susan slid her palm down her husband's arm and took his hand. "I'm having my baby at the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy in Hackensack, New Jersey, where they'll do the cord blood transplant, assuming it's a match."
"New Jersey is a long way to go to have your baby," Grace said. "Isn't there a closer hospital where it can be done?"
"Yes, but because of the rareness of our son's blood disorder he'll be part of a clinical trial, which means going to New Jersey. Sam did all the research. It's our best chance, and the doctors are very hopeful that it will be a success."
Grace eyed Susan's belly, feeling a little sorry for her to be carrying Jack's child. It was certain to be a very large baby. "When are you due?" she asked.
"In five weeks," Susan replied. "February 20th, to be exact."
"That's amazing. February 20th is my due date. We must have come for insemination on the same day."
Susan looked at Grace's belly and frowned. "Your stomach's much bigger than mine. Your husband must have been a very large man."
"He wasn't, but my doctor assures me my baby's fine. Just a very big boy, so there's a large gene in the family somewhere." Grace found her gaze resting on Jack, who gave no indication he'd heard the exchange. Instead, his eyes were fixed on her belly, the expression on his face, weighty, which puzzled her.
The woman from the inner office swept the door open again. "If you will all come with me, we'll be going to the conference room."
After they were seated at a large table—Jack, Sam and Susan on one side of the table, Grace on the other—two men entered the room. One she recognized as Dr. Crombie. The other, she'd never seen, but he was wearing a dark suit, white shirt, expensive-looking tie, was carrying a black brief case, and had 'attorney' written all over him. She looked across the table at Jack, whose face was dark with concern, and at Susan, who sat clutching Sam's arm.
The man in the suit opened his brief case and removed a sheaf of what appeared to be legal documents. And Grace had a sudden urge to go around the table and squeeze between the brothers, or sit beside Susan and hold onto her arm the way she was holding onto Sam's arm. Nothing about this smacked of a documentary film.
When the man finished arranging papers, he introduced himself as Don Gray and said he represented the clinic in a matter they greatly regretted, after which he went on to say, "Cryopreservation utilizes liquid nitrogen as the storage medium for donor sperm, and the samples are carefully labeled and stored in small vials that hold up to one milliliter of sperm."
Grace stared across the table at the others, who looked as baffled with what the man was saying, as she. Clearly, he had not come to the part they greatly regretted, they being the fertility clinic, but was biding time before hitting them with whatever it was.
"Sperm introduced into the intrauterine cavity by artificial insemination acts the same as sperm introduced through sexual intercourse," Gray continued, somewhat cryptically, since it was information they'd all been given before signing the contract with the clinic. "In most cases the sperm donor doesn't become the legal father of a child produced through artificial insemination," Gray went on to say. "However, on occasion, the commissioning parent or parents may need to go through an adoption procedure."
At this point, Jack leaned toward the man and said in a curt voice, "What the devil's going on? You're giving us a fertility tutorial I suspect has nothing to do with why we've been called in, so why not cut the crap and get on to whatever this is really about."
Looking decidedly uncomfortable, Don Gray reached into a folder and removed three envelopes and set them on the table, and said, "In your contracts, each of you waived certain privacy rights regarding anonymity, so we called in everyone involved in order to disclose certain information you all need to know." He looked at Dr. Crombie, who gave a shrug of resolve.
"The thing is," Don Gray continued, "on the day of the insemination procedures there was an unfortunate misdirection of the sperm samples. The vials were accidentally switched, so your sperm, Mr. Hansen," he addressed Jack, "was injected into Mrs. Templeton, which means you, Mrs. Templeton, are carrying Mr. Hansen's child," the man said to Grace, "and your deceased husband's sperm was injected into you, Mrs. Hansen," he said, turning from Grace to Susan, "which means you are carrying the child of Mrs. Templeton's deceased husband. Unfortunately we're all human and subject to error, but the technician who made the error has been dismissed."
There was dead silence for a moment before the room seemed to explode.
Susan started screaming incoherently, Jack slammed his fist on the table and shouted at Dr. Crombie, Sam shoved his chair back and joined Jack, both of them threatening in terms, laced with colorful expletives, to shut down the clinic, and Grace found herself with her head on her folded arms against the table, her limbs weak. It was some moments before she realized she was saying over and over, "No, no, no," while pounding her fist against the table.
By then, Sam was holding Susan to calm her down, and Jack had Dr. Crombie by the lapels, his fist curled as if about to ram it into Dr. Crombie's face, when the attorney, also a large man, grabbed Jack's arm and said, "I don't think you want to do that. It'll cost you a lot of money and it won't solve anything."
When Jack backed off, Dr. Crombie said, while straightening his shirt, which was bunched where Jack had grabbed it, "Of course we can't begin to express our regrets for the mix-up."
Jack eyed the man with contempt. "You can't begin to express your regrets? Do you have any idea what's happened because of your mix-up? This woman's carrying my child," he shot a finger toward Grace, "and this woman's carrying the child of her dead husband," he pointed first to Susan, then Grace. "Do you have any idea what the ramification of that is, beyond the monetary settlement I'm certain you gentlemen have waiting in those envelopes?"
The attorney glanced at the envelopes and sighed. "Yes, there is a settlement, but the reason we called all four of you in together is because there could also be a remedy for this unfortunate situation." He placed two documents on the table. "These are agreements to switch the babies at birth. The infants could be delivered by induced labor on the same day so there would not be a bonding issue, and that way you, Mrs. Templeton, would have your husband's child," he said addressing Grace, "and the Hansens would have a baby that would be a close match to their son."
"Give up my baby?" Grace looked at the man, incredulous. "I would never give him up." Feeling suddenly lightheaded, she pressed her fingers to her temples and closed her eyes, imagining she was emerging from a bad dream. She'd awaken to find everything as it should have been—Marc hadn't died of cancer, they were expecting their baby in five weeks, he was a fine, healthy baby boy—but when she opened her eyes, she found Jack staring at her, as if absorbing the reality of it at the same time as she.
She was carrying his child. A child that came to her because of a mistake, just like her parents predicted the whole artificial insemination idea would be, although they'd been opposed to it because they wanted her to get on with her life, not have the child of a dead man, but her life was Marc's child. Or had been. Until now.
The baby inside her turned, and what felt like a foot moved against her belly, drawing a gasp from her, along with the feeling that she had to go to the bathroom. Pushing her chair back, she quickly stood, and feeling herself swaying, braced her hand on the back of the chair.
Jack came around the table and took her elbow. "You'd better sit down."
"I can't. I have to go." Grace started to pull away from him.
His hand remained on her arm. "Go where?"
She looked at him, miffed. "To the bathroom, if it's any of your business."
"It is. You're carrying my son and you're unsteady on your feet so I'll walk with you," Jack said, his hand still clamped around her arm.
Grace snatched her elbow from his grasp. "I may be carrying your son because of no fault on either of our parts, but you have no claim on him just because you deposited semen in a cup. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom since my son is resting on my bladder." She started down the hallway.
"Depositing semen in a cup holds as much sway in determining parenthood as sexual intercourse," Jack said, while following alongside. "I'm still your child's biological father."
Grace stopped in front of the restroom and turned to face the man. "I'm afraid your legal claim begins with the false assumption that a mix up at a fertility clinic equals a sort of quasi-property claim when in fact you have absolutely no claim on the child I'm carrying." She marched into the restroom and shut the door, locking it quickly to keep the man from coming in. She was certain it wouldn't bother him in the least to carry on an argument with a pregnant woman sitting on a toilet.
After she'd finished, Grace took more time than necessary to wash her hands, hoping Jack would have returned to the conference room, but to her annoyance, he was waiting when she opened the door. "I have a biological right to be connected with my son," he continued on the same treadmill. "If necessary, I'll sue to establish paternal rights."
"And I know about artificial insemination rights and they favor the mother," Grace snapped, although she knew nothing at all about insemination law, but she did know that this man would not be telling her how to raise her son. She quickened her pace.
Jack matched her strides while ramming his point home. "Oregon law doesn't favor the mother if the man is a father without consent and whereas I gave up my rights to my brother and sister-in-law, I never gave up my rights to a stranger!"
"Then get used to the idea because that's the way it's going to be!"
"The hell it is!"
Damn the man was persistent. Grace stopped and turned, her eyes sweeping the length of the man and returning to his face, which was the opposite of Marc's in every way. No blond hair. No blue eyes. No jovial personality. There was nothing of Marc in the child growing inside her. Tears welled and before she could stop herself she burst out crying. Jack put his hand on her shoulder, but she shook it off. "Don't touch me," she sobbed, and raced back into the restroom, closing herself inside until she was exhausted from crying.
After pressing a wet paper towel against her eyes and blotting another to her face, she blew her nose, sucked in a long breath to steady her nerves, and prepared to face the parents of Marc's unborn son, and the stranger who was now the father of her child.
She reentered the conference room and sat at the table, avoiding Jack's stare by focusing on the attorney, who was saying to Sam, "Under Oregon law, a man married to an artificially inseminated woman is the legal father, so the child your wife is carrying is your legal child."
"And the child Mrs. Templeton's carrying?" Jack asked. "Who is that child's legal father?"
"It can be difficult for a sperm donor to establish paternity if the mother doesn't want him involved since being a donor usually implies the man giving up all rights," the attorney replied, "but if you want to claim paternal rights you should submit a Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity with your district court, which demonstrates your willingness to be involved with your child, then file a Notification of Filing a Petition of Filiation. Filing documents establishes you as the father if the mother doesn't contest it, which will pave the way for visitation and custody. Child support will also be determined."
Grace caught Jack's eye long enough to realized that filing the papers the attorney mentioned was exactly what he intended to do, which meant she'd be forced to get an attorney to contest it. She also realized she had no claim on Marc's child, who was conceived with sperm that belonged to her alone, and since Marc turned in only one sample she'd never be able to have his child.
Her attention was diverted when the attorney offered the envelopes around the table. There would be a check inside like Jack predicted. How much would the loss of Marc's child be worth? And how much was the life of Sam and Susan's child worth? And Jack? He'd given up all rights to Susan and Sam, but now he was prepared to fight in court for the right to intercede in raising her child and make her life miserable.
Holding that thought, Grace opened the envelope and stared at a check for fifty-thousand dollars. At first she was tempted to take the check and walk out, but when Sam slapped his check on the table in front of the attorney, and Jack tore his up and tossed the pieces in the air, she reconsidered. The fact was, four people had been thrown into an impossible situation created by human error, and no amount of money could fix it.
And then the sharpest pain Grace could imagine gripped low in her belly. She clenched her jaws and clutched the armrests on the chair, but as soon as the pain subsided, she shoved the chair back and said, "I have to go. You know where to reach me."
Leaving the check on the table she grabbed her handbag, dragged her quilted down jacket from the back of the chair and left the room. Although unsteady on her feet she was determined to drive herself home on snow-covered roads, call the birthing center, crawl into bed, and wish that the world around her, which now included the stranger who was the father of her child, would just go away.