The Surprise Holiday Dad(2)

By: Jacqueline Diamond

His breath catching in his throat, Wade opened it.

His muscles relaxed. It confirmed that he’d passed the exam to earn his private investigator’s license. All he had to do was submit the licensing fee of $175.

Ouch. He’d been saving every penny he could, but that wasn’t easy, especially with child-support payments. Still, this license might help Wade find a job with a detective agency. While he’d prefer a position at another police department, layoffs throughout California made that unlikely in the short term.

Becoming a P.I. wasn’t what he’d dreamed of nearly a decade ago when he’d earned his degree in criminal justice. But if there was one thing Wade had learned in his thirty years, it was to focus on today and let the future take care of itself.

Invigorated by the sense of moving forward at last, he heated a beef dinner before scanning the other mail. Since he kept up with his bills and bank statements online, these were mostly ads. One long envelope, creased and marked with forwarding addresses, bore the logo of a law firm with a return address in the Southern California town of Safe Harbor.

Wade stiffened. The only people he’d stayed in touch with in his hometown were his father and, indirectly, a woman he’d rather not think about. Now here was a letter from Geoff Humphreys, attorney. According to the logo, the man specialized in family law.

No doubt this had something to do with Vicki Cavill. She’d driven Wade out of town by threatening to file false charges that could have derailed his law enforcement career. She’d also deprived him of the most precious thing in his life.

And, goaded by bad advice and his own immaturity, he’d let her.

No more running. Since the first of the year, she hadn’t cashed his child-support checks. The woman was hopelessly disorganized. This wasn’t the first time she’d gone for months before cashing a batch of checks, although it had never been this long.

Now she’d apparently hired a lawyer. Did she plan to shake him down for larger payments? If so, she’d have a fight on her hands.

He tore open the envelope.

* * *

“WHAT DO YOU mean he won’t waive his parental rights?” Dr. Adrienne Cavill stared across the desk at Geoff Humphreys. “My sister barely knew him, and he abandoned his son as an infant. Vicki’s will appointed me as Reggie’s guardian. Why should what’s-his-name have any rights?”

Hearing the shrillness in her voice, she stopped to take a deep breath. Working the overnight shift at Safe Harbor Medical Center’s labor and delivery unit wreaked havoc on her body’s sleep rhythms. And although the hospital’s attorney had mentioned there might be complications when he’d referred her to Geoff, she hadn’t anticipated any serious obstacles to adopting her nephew.

She wished now that she’d pushed harder to complete the adoption right after her sister’s death in a single-car crash last New Year’s Eve, but it had seemed little more than a formality. Also, between working long hours to pay off medical-school bills and providing a loving home for Reggie, Adrienne simply hadn’t had the energy.

“Matters were not exactly as your sister represented them.” With his receding hairline and calm manner, Geoff had a reassuringly paternal air. He was also the husband of a popular teacher at Reggie’s elementary school and a father himself. “He’s been sending checks to her at a post-office box. When I reached him by phone yesterday, he was wondering why they hadn’t been cashed since the first of the year.”

“He was helping support Vicki?” Adrienne hadn’t paid much attention to her sister’s messy finances, aside from the legal necessity of closing out Vicki’s meager checking account and paying off her bills after her death. Suffering from bipolar disorder and drinking heavily, Vicki had spent every penny she earned as a housecleaner, and more. “She described him as a deadbeat.”

“He emailed me copies of the canceled checks.” Geoff gave a sympathetic sigh. “He also says that he sent gifts for his son. I presume she gave them to your nephew without revealing where they came from.”

Adrienne could scarcely speak. “I had no idea.” She rallied quickly. “But he’s a total stranger to Reggie, and Vicki appointed me as guardian.”

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