Authors: Geeta Kakade
FAITH HOPE AND LOVE
Books We Love Ltd.
Copyright 2013 by Geeta Kakade
Cover Art Copyright 2013 by Michelle Lee
the Homespun Series
Book 1 – Faith Hope and Love
Book 2 – Project Valentine
Book 3 – The Long Road Home
Book 4 – The Old Fashioned Way
Book 5 – Mr. Wrong
Book 6 – Daddy’s Little Girl
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
The moment Luke saw her he knew he had won.
There was no way the judge would award custody of Gordie to this woman. Rachel Carstairs looked as if a breeze would blow her away...he'd seen will o' the wisps with more substance.
His gaze raced up patent leather shoes, slim ankles, nice legs, the anonymous drape of a raw silk suit and screeched to a halt.
The face. She looked as if she'd just been through the wring cycle of a washing machine. Twice. The pronounced pallor drew him to her eyes. Grey verging on black, their expression transfixed him. Lanced with strain. Lanced with something else he couldn't define. If he had to guess, he would put it down as acute apprehension. The blonde hair pulled back of
f her face accentuated her fragility. Her slimness underscored it.
Rachel Carstairs had aimed for poise and sophistication. She had achieved the look of a child playing dress up. She looked as if she needed taking care of herself...as if she wanted this to be over as much as he did.
What he saw, added to what he knew about her, equaled defeat. Hers.
The head on encounter lasted for one beat of a hummingbird's wings. In that second Luke absorbed signs of stress that grated on his already tense nerves. She was as taut as copper wire in a fuse box.
The sight of her belied his original thought that she was after money. Luke had inherited his grandfather's shrewdness in assessing people. The ability had never served him wrong. This child-woman was an innocent.
The thought that maybe in some curious way she wanted Gordie just for the baby's sake, was like sand in his eyes. Seeing her, put a face on an image he had found easy to hate. When he had been informed she was taking him to court over custody of his nephew he had been furious. Now the image her action had sketched, of a selfish conniving woman, had to be deleted. Rachel Carstairs looked as defenseless as his ten-month-old-nephew.
Her lawyer steered her a little to one side, talking earnestly. Luke's eyes flickered incredulously over her choice of legal representation and he let out a long heavy breath. The man looked as if this was his first case...as if he needed a hand to hold himself.
Babes in the wood, the pair of them. Instinct wove uneasiness into Luke's premise. The whole thing was turning into a farce.
Rachel looked at the broad back as he went into the courtroom. That was Luke Summers? He seemed capable of bringing up a dozen children on his own...and enjoying it. The epitome of sturdy dependability, he showed her up like light did flaws.
For one impossible moment when their glances had collided, she had felt he was offering her more than met the eye. Sympathy, understanding, friendship. Rachel shook her head to clear it. They were antagonists. Jet lag was affecting her hormones strangely. Strength and power reaching out to cocoon her had to be a figment of her overtired imagination.
Fear threaded through her overtired brain and she wondered if her urge to return, to fight for custody of Chris' son had all been one big mistake.
She'd imagined a man holding on to the child out of duty, resenting him as he grew, as her own father had resented her after her mother had left. She hadn't wanted that to happen to Gordie. Now intuition yelled that she had presumed too much. Rachel had a suspicion intuition was right.
Fatigue tugged at her like an insidious tide. Rachel fought the urge to give way to it. If she as much as closed her eyes now she would prove that human beings could fall asleep on their feet.
The plane from Bangladesh had been delayed in Hong Kong for twenty four hours. Purported as engine trouble, rumor heightened tension by hinting at threat of a bomb. By the time they had finally landed at Los Angeles Airport it had been six thirty this morning. The hearing was scheduled for eleven in Santa Barbara. She had called Dyan Jenks, her lawyer, from MRA headquarters in Bangladesh just before leaving the country. When she had wanted to know why the hearing couldn't be held in Los Angeles, he had mumbled something about jurisdiction and the law. The Diamond Bar where Gordie lived now was in Santa Barbara County, and so the hearing would be held in the Santa Barbara County Superior Courthouse.
Which meant her journey wasn't done at Los Angeles International Airport. Hurrying through Customs, Rachel had inquired about flights to Santa Barbara and rushed to a national terminal.
Her luggage hadn't presented a problem. She had none. Just a backpack, stuffed with toilet articles and a rumpled change of clothing.
It had taken forty
-six tense minutes airborne to get to Santa Barbara Municipal airport. Hurling herself into a taxi she'd explained the reason for haste to the driver. Tuning into her urgency with the enthusiasm of a man starved for adventure, he had made it in record time to the nearest mall and agreed to wait for her.
In the nearest store Rachel had grabbed the first suit she'd seen in her size, some shoes,
and a pair of stockings. Paying for them had eaten into her precious hoard of traveller's checks. Changing out of her travel stained pants and top had eaten into her precious time. But it had to be done. She had to project respectability.
Jumping into the waiting cab, Rachel had tried to breathe deeply, relax. The snarled up traffic didn't help. Her heartbeats measured each passing second aloud as her last conversation with her counsel, Dyan Jenks, came to mind. Calling him from Hong Kong had been an experience in itself. The conversation had been punctuated with static but the message had been clear. If she didn't make it, they would lose.
The cab had spilled her out at the steps of the courthouse at exactly ten forty five and her lawyer had introduced himself. Vaguely she had noted the exterior of the courthouse looked like a castle out of a picture book. She looked at Dyan now, and felt her fear increase. He was nothing like the assured woman with Luke Summers. He looked as nervous as she felt, his restless pacing and uneasy smiles not helping her waning self-confidence the slightest bit.
Myrna Hasting's hand on Luke's sleeve intimated it was time to go in. He wished the woman would stick to words to communicate with. He was in no mood for body language with its accompanying insinuation that his lawyer had a large hole in her private life that he would fill nicely.
Entering the courtroom Luke looked around. The judge had agreed to a closed courtroom, which meant at least they wouldn't have a crowd gaping at them, unwanted publicity.
The room wasn't very large. One glance encompassed the rows of seats, the wooden railing separating the principal players from the rest of the room, two large tables, four feet apart, facing the massive oak desk behind which the judge would preside. The flags of the United States and the state of California flanked the wall behind the judge's chair. The room reeked of judicial solemnity, the portent atmosphere making Luke even more restless.
What he really needed was air. Of the kind untainted with drama. He was just an ordinary man with an ordinary ideal. Live and let live. He had coped with his brother and sister-in-law's death, with the dramatic change in his lifestyle. He had taken to instant fatherhood though nothing in his bachelor life had prepared him for it. To accept what couldn't be changed took maturity not sentiment. He had plenty of the former and doing what had to be done came naturally. But this heaped helping of drama he could have passed up on.
The woman's assumption that she could walk in and take Gordie as if he was a box of chocolates had enraged him. As far as Luke knew Gordie's mother, his sister-in-law Chris, had seen this cousin only once when they were both children. Rachel Carstairs only communications had been brief scrawls on exotic postcards. She hadn't come to the wedding or visited Chris at the ranch.
What was the group she worked for called? MRA? It was some sort of relief organization. The thought that she wanted money for her good deeds had been the only other reason he had come up with for her claiming custody of Gordie. Imagination had sketched a picture of a missionary type with a pith hat, khaki trousers, leathery skin and a burning zeal to change the world.
Rachel Carstairs looked as if she couldn't change her shoes without help.
Luke let out another heavy sigh. There was no sense in getting riled up now. He needed to keep a clear head on his shoulders, say the right things. Turmoil wasn't like him. Neither was worrying over a perfect stranger.
The courtroom closed in on him. The collar of his one hundred percent cotton shirt irked him. The grey wool suit irked him. The whole damn world irked him. The designer tie felt like a choke chain. He wrangled with the urge to yank it off. Myrna had insisted appearances counted. He stood up, went outside for a breath of air.
Why should the future of a baby hang on a stranger's decision? What did a dealer in black and white justice know about emotions as delicate as spun silk? About a baby that looked at you with your dead brother's eyes? About commitment and honor. About last wishes that no one had thought necessary to legalize. About love.
Judge Erica Wentworth, Myrna had assured him, was the best. She wouldn't be swayed by the fact that he was a man and a single one at that. It was no longer taken for granted that women were automatically better parents. Rachel Carstairs would have to prove a great many other things first. He had so much more weighing in his favor. Commitment, dependability, affluence.
One could never be sure, though. Luke couldn't afford to take any chances where Gordie was concerned. Misgivings nagged like a strand of chicken caught in his teeth. In an unreachable spot.
Women tended to side with women. What if the judge didn't think a man was capable of nurturing an infant. What if Rachel Carstairs used her haunted eyes as weapons? What if the real issue was lost?
The real issue was love. He loved Gordie. The ten-month-old baby was all he had left of his brother. Luke's grief had emerged from the chrysalis of shock, as fully fledged determination. He wanted Gordie to grow up on the ranch, in the shade of his care. He wanted the child to know his heritage. He wanted nothing bad to ever touch Gordie's life again.
Myrna's smile of welcome as he returned to his seat put him in mind of a fat cat that gets to choose between a canary and cream. Any minute now she would start purring and washing her face.
"Did you get a look at her?"
His lawyer’s voice portrayed glee.
He had gotten two. The second one had shown her sitting apart from her counsel. Not talking. Not moving. Her counsel was saying something. Luke felt she wasn't listening.
For the first time since he had hired Myrna, Luke was irritated by her self-possession. The woman was a barracuda. She would show no mercy.
He wanted Gordie. Not blood.
The judge's entrance fast forwarded the drama. Luke detached himself from the scene, willed himself into the role of impartial outsider. It was the best way he knew to help himself.
Both counsels presented their cases. Both clients wanted the same thing. Custody of ten-month-old Gordon Summers.
He was called to the stand, reminded of the oath he'd taken. Myrna gave him an it's-in-the-bag smile and Luke realized he hated rapacious women with too white teeth. But then he'd wanted the best lawyer.
"Mr. Summers would you share with the court, the details of the twentieth of July?"
Luke cleared his throat. His eyes swerved to Rachel Carstairs. She sat on the edge of her seat. For the first time she was looking straight at him. Not through
him. The look in her eyes were twin drills, boring into his brain.
"I was spending the weekend on the ranch I co-owned with my late brother." The words conjured instant pain. "My brother and sister-in-law had decided to fly to Palm Springs for a charity gala." Another pause, longer this time. The muscle throbbing in his jaw made it hard to sound matter-of-fact. "Their plane crashed ten minutes after
takeoff. It exploded on impact. There were no survivors."
He looked her way again. Her stillness tugged at him. Both arms were wrapped around her body. As if she was cold. As if she wanted to shut out the scene he had just painted. In that moment Luke knew that she had loved Chris. The thought landed on the top of his already high pile of doubts, escalating his uneasiness.
They should have found another way of sorting out their differences.
"Thank you Mr. Summers. Did your brother ever mention writing a new will after the birth of his son?"
"No." Rob's joy had made him oblivious to the fact that death didn't respect happiness.
"So, Gordon Summers has no legal guardian?"
"According to the will your brother made after he got married, he left everything to his wife. In the unlikely eventuality of their dying together, he named you as sole beneficiary. Is that right?"
"Will you tell the court about the latest provisions you have made for your nephew Gordon Summers?"
Luke cleared his throat. They had gone over this so many times but still the dammed words stuck in his throat.