Meant-to-Be Baby(5)

By: Lois Richer

Ben didn’t understand Victoria’s frown nor the odd way she studied her aunts’ retreating figures, Mikey between them. “Is something the matter?” he asked politely.

“I’m not sure.” Victoria refocused on him. “But they have that look.”

“What look?” Confused, Ben tried to recall something in the ladies’ manner. “I didn’t—”

“No, you wouldn’t have.” She gave him a strangled smile. “What brings you to The Haven, Ben?”

“Um,” he blinked at the sudden switch in conversation. But there was no point in prevaricating. “I’m a peacekeeper with the United Nations in Central Africa. I became part of The Spenser sisters’ campaign to write to soldiers when Tillie’s first letter arrived about seven months ago. In every letter since, she invited me to The Haven. So I came. I’m hoping she can give me some advice. About Mikey.”

“What kind of advice, if you don’t mind me asking?” Victoria leaned forward in her chair, gray eyes widening with curiosity. She had the lush, long lashes his sister-in-law, Alice, had craved.

Alice and Neil. Gone. Ben’s stomach clenched as grief billowed inside him. Only through sheer force of habit honed by peacekeeping could he maintain an implacable expression.

“Are you all right, Major?” Victoria had the kind of voice that revealed what she was thinking. Right now it said she knew he was hiding something and was offering to share his burden. For a moment, Ben was tempted.

But a second look made him doubt the elegant Victoria, with her stylish red turtleneck, chic red leather booties and probably designer jeans, had ever messed up her life. She wouldn’t understand.

“Ben?” Worry now threaded her musical tone. “Doc Mendel said your pain might increase as the shock wears off. Do you have pain?”

Tons, but most isn’t from wrecking the car.

He exhaled. Get it said, man.

“I’m on leave. I was visiting Mikey and his parents, my brother and sister-in-law. They were killed in a home invasion just over two months ago, while Mikey and I were at the zoo.”

“Oh, no,” Victoria gasped and immediately her almond-shaped eyes glossed with tears. “I’m so sorry. Poor you. Poor Mikey.”

“Thanks. Anyway, now I’m his guardian and his godparent.” Would she understand that he had to do the honorable thing for his nephew? “Before I return to my job overseas, I need to find Mikey a family he can live with, parents who will lovingly raise him. I have to make sure he’s safe.”

Silence yawned. Victoria stiffened. After a very long time, she whispered, “You can’t raise him?”

Ben shook his head.

“Because?” She frowned, her wide, full lips tipping down in dismay.

“I’m nobody’s idea of a parent, Victoria,” he said when he could no longer remain silent. “I always fail at responsibility. Look at what happened today.”

“That was an accident,” she defended. “Not poor parenting.”

“No, I should have waited a day. But I’m desperate to figure out a solution. I wanted to get here and talk to Tillie. I thought I could outrun the storm.” Ben’s lips tightened. “That’s proof I’m not who Mikey needs.”

“What does a—what is Mikey—four? What does a four-year-old need?” She lifted her slim hand and ticked off her fingers. “Love, safety, security, a home. You can’t give your nephew that?”

It was a question without innuendo, and yet Ben felt her condemnation to the depth of his soul. But doubts about his parenting ability weren’t easy to purge.

“I don’t think I can. Not properly. Taking care of Mikey is a matter of principle for me. Mikey comes first. Having a soldier for a parent is hardly what a young kid needs.” Ben made a face. “And I do have to work.”

“You can’t find another way?” Victoria made a face. “Not that it’s any of my business.”

“It’s okay,” he sighed. “Believe me, I’ve tried. But I can’t think of how.”

“I see.” She leaned back in her chair, her oval face disapproving. It was clear to Ben that she didn’t see at all.

“I can’t compromise about this, Victoria. Neil wouldn’t want me to. He’d expect me to do my best for Mikey.” A fierce protectiveness swelled inside. “I have to ensure that he’s safe and cared for.”

“Good.” Was that relief on her face? Did she think he didn’t care about his own nephew?

“Mikey’s parents were committed to building their home and a happy family. I have neither to offer. Besides,” he blurted, desperate to erase the fear growing inside, the worry that whatever he decided, he would make a mistake that would hurt his brother’s precious son. “I’m not good with responsibility.”

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