Barbara Freethy - Some Kind Of Wonderful

"PLEASE. I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT BABIES."
Matt looked into Caitlyn's eyes with a hopeful expression. "I only
moved to town a couple of months ago, so there's no one else to call."
"I've been manipulated by the best," Caitlyn said dryly, "so I can
recognize a sob story when I hear one."
"I really would appreciate your help. This isn't an area I know how to
control."
And she had a feeling there wasn't much in his life that he didn't
control. "You're pretty good at getting what you want, aren't you?"
"That depends on your answer," he said, turning on that killer smile.
With the baby and Matt both looking at her with their big brown eyes
she was completely lost. She handed Matt the baby
and put a hand on his arm. The heat between them suddenly seemed to
sizzle. He looked into her eyes and she felt her
stomach clench. She'd meant to offer him a gesture of comfort, but
instead the touch had created awareness between them,
a connection, a sexual attraction.
Oh Lord. What had she gotten herself
into?
Some
Kind of Wonderful
Barbara
Freethy
To
the Ladies at the Peninsula Tennis Club,
who provide great tennis, great ideas,
and great friendship
one
Cool wet fingers of fog brushed against his face as Matt Winters walked
up the hill to his San Francisco apartment building. At the sound of a
siren, he automatically stiffened. He'd been chasing ambulances
for so long he couldn't help but wonder what new story was developing,
what tragedy was unfolding, what family was about to receive an
unwelcome late-night phone call.
As the siren drew closer, he glanced down the street behind him. All
was quiet. Parked cars, shadowy buildings, the light from the street
lamps broke the darkness, but nothing looked out of place. Still, Mall
felt Ihe prickles of uneasiness stab the skin on the back of his neck.
He felt like someone was watching him, and his instincts screamed
caution even though his brain couldn't figure out why.
Taking one last look down the street behind him, he moved to unlock the
front door of his apartment building. He frowned when he saw that the
door was ajar and the lock appeared to be jammed. Matt wasn't
particularly concerned about his barely furnished apartment or even his
own safety. He'd lived
in places far more dangerous than this. The broken lock aggravated his
sense that something was
wrong, but a quick look around the lobby revealed nothing amiss.
With a weary sigh, Matt pressed the elevator call button and rubbed a
hand across his tired eyes. He hadn't slept more than three hours in a
row in the last seventy-two. He'd been chasing a news story, following
a money trail that had led him straight up the steps of City Hall.
Tomorrow the rest of San Francisco would read about the corruption of
one of its supervisors in the morning edition of the
Herald.
His mission accomplished, Matt should have been feeling satisfied.
Instead he felt restless, once again reminded that no matter how many
truths he unveiled, no matter how many mysteries he solved, he couldn't
solve the one that mattered most.
Matt pressed the elevator button again, hating himself for not being
able to let go of the past. How ironic that he lived his life in search
of the truth, yet couldn't seem to accept it when it stared him in the
face.
That need for closure, the desire to stop the endless hunger, the
unquenchable thirst for answers had brought him back to San Francisco,
the place where it had started and where it had ended.
Finally, the elevator doors opened. A minute later. Matt stepped onto
the tenth-floor landing and walked down the hall to his apartment. He
let himself in just in time to catch the phone before the machine
picked up. "Winters," he said abruptly.
There was no reply, just the sound of someone breathing. A prank call,
an informant, a threat? He
didn't know which.
"Matt?" It was barely a whisper, so hushed he couldn't tell if it was a
female or a male.
"Who is this?" No answer. "Look, I don't have time to—"
The sound of a click, then the dial tone, told him the caller had hung
up. Out of habit, he wrote down
the caller ID number. It wasn't one he recognized, but he'd check it
out later. He was simply too tired
to deal with one more thing tonight.
Tossing his car keys onto the dining room table, he headed into the
kitchen, wondering if by some impossible chance there was actually
something edible in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, it boasted nothing
more than a couple of beers, some wilted lettuce, and molding tomatoes.
Popping open one
of the beers, he took a long grateful swallow, then walked back into
the living room.
It wasn't much of a room for living in at the moment. There was an old
black leather couch along one wall and a matching overstuffed armchair,
an oak coffee table that held his array of newspapers and magazines, a
stereo system, because he couldn't live without music, and a punching
bag hanging from a hook in the ceiling, because he didn't know a better
way to relieve stress than to beat the hell out of that bag. Boxing had
gotten him through some tough times, given him a sense of control over
himself and the chaos that had once been his life.
At some point, he'd have to invest in some furniture— or maybe not. Who
knew how long he'd stay in San Francisco? Who knew how long he'd stay
anywhere? His life had been a series of entrances and exits, new
places, new faces.
The phone rang again and Matt's muscles tensed. For a second he was
tempted to let it ring, but he'd never been one to run from a fight or
avoid a confrontation, although there had been plenty of people
in his life who had told him to do just that. He reached for the phone
again and said, "Winters."
"Congratulations," David Stern replied.
Matt relaxed at the sound of his editor's voice.
"I can't wait until the morning paper hits the streets," David crowed.
"Your story will rock this town."
"As long as Keilor doesn't file a libel suit."
"Let him try. You covered your ass quite well."
"Yours, too," Matt reminded him.
"That's why I pay you the big bucks."
"Yeah, right." Matt walked across his living room with the portable
phone in one hand. "What's next?"
"Why don't you take a break? You've been on this story nonstop since
you landed in town six weeks
ago. Take some time off. A few days in Lake Tahoe wouldn't do you any
harm."
Matt didn't want a few days off. Vacations were for people who wanted
to relax, to think, to philosophize, and he wanted to do none of the
above. Too much time on his hands would only make
him feel that much more restless.
"I'm fine. I don't need a break," he said.
"I figured you'd say that. By the way, that P.I. friend of yours
stopped by the paper today. Want to
tell me what you're working on?"
"It doesn't involve the paper."
"So it must have something to do with why you surprised the hell out of
me by actually accepting my
job offer and leaving Chicago," David said, obviously fishing.
"Could be."
"We've been friends a long time, Matthew. I'm going to have to pull
rank on you and insist on the truth."
Matt laughed. "You can try."
"I can do my own investigation."
"If you were any good at investigating, you'd be writing the stories
instead of editing them."
"Now that hurts. Did anyone ever tell you that you wield honesty like a
blunt instrument to the head?"
"And your point is?"
Matt's attention drifted as David launched into a long-winded reminder
of how any investigation Matt
was involved in could ultimately affect the newspaper. Matt didn't
bother to interrupt. He simply stared out at the lights of San
Francisco weaving like drunken sailors up and down the city hills. It
was a staggeringly good view, but most days he wondered what had
possessed him to take this tenth-floor apartment in Pacific Heights.
The burnished hardwood floors, the big bay window, the ultramodern
kitchen felt wrong. This wasn't him. He was back alleys and bad
neighborhoods, Chinese take-out
and cigarette smoke. But somehow David had convinced him thai a new
location might change his perspective.
"How's Jackie?" Matt interrupted, knowing if there was anything
guaranteed to distract David, it was
his wife.
"Whining about getting fat. She asked me today if she looked like a
glowing pregnant woman or a fat penguin."
"Tell me you chose glowing pregnant woman."
"Glowing penguin wasn't good enough?"
"I hope you like sleeping on the couch."
"It's warmer than our bed these days. Sometimes I wonder why I ever
wanted to have a kid."
"Well, you'll need someone to mow the lawn someday."
"Thanks for the reminder. That might get me through tonight's cravings.
Jackie usually gets hungry just about the time I'm falling asleep."
David paused. "You know, I must have babies on the brain, because
I can almost hear one crying."
Matt frowned and turned his head toward the door as the crying grew
louder.
"It's not your imagination. I hear it, too." Another shriek made Matt
pause. "I'll talk to you later." He put the phone down and walked to
the door. The only other tenant on this side of the L-shaped building
was a single woman he had yet to meet. He opened the door, but there
was no one there. Actually, there was someone there, way down there .. .
On the floor, in a car seat, was a tiny baby with a few strands of
fuzzy black hair on its head, red cheeks, teary eyes, and a mouth that
screamed in fury. "What the hell?" Matt looked around the empty
hallway, wondering where on earth the baby's mother was.
"Okay, just be quiet for a second, would you?" He squatted down next to
the baby and patted the baby's head, which only seemed to make him—or
was that her?—more angry.
"Where is your mother?" Matt asked, the uneasy feeling returning to his
gut.
He looked at the door across the hall and hesitated. There appeared to
be a light on, but it was almost midnight. Still, what choice did he
have? Leaning over, he pounded on the door. A moment later, a female
called out, "Who is it?"
"It's your neighbor."
"I can't see you," she said warily.
Matt stood up and looked straight into her peephole. "I'm here."
"What were you doing on the floor?"
"Looking at your baby."
"My
what?'
"Open the door, would you?"
"I don't think so."
"Look, we have a problem out here. Someone left a baby in the hall."
Silence followed, then she said, "All right. But I have my phone and
I've already dialed 911, so if you're trying something funny—"
"I'm not."
Another brief pause, then the door opened the width of a security
chain. A woman's face appeared in
the crack, a vision of blond curls, white lace, and some sort of filmy
veil.
Matt blinked rapidly, wondering if he'd conjured up a bride to go with
the baby on his doorstep.
The woman pulled the veil away from her face, and he saw that her
cheeks were flushed, her brown
eyes overly bright. "What do you want?" she asked, a breathless note in
her voice.
"Your baby is crying." He pointed to the infant, who made a liar out of
him by sitting quietly in the car seat, considering the two of them
with a confused expression.
The woman peered around him. "I don't have a baby."
"You must. It sure as hell isn't my baby."
"Who are you?" she asked suspiciously. "Why are you trying to get rid
of your baby?"
"It's not mine," he repeated. "And I live there." He pointed to his
door. "I'm your neighbor."
Her wary gaze traveled slowly down his body, and Matt became very aware
of his dirty black jeans, sweat-stained gray T-shirt, and black leather
jacket. Putting a self-conscious hand to his face, he could feel a
beard grazing his cheeks.
"I just got off assignment," he said. "I don't usually look like this."
"What do you usually look like?"
"Well, not like this," he said in exasperation. "Look, I need some
sleep, and you need to take care of
this kid."
"That's not my baby. I don't know what you're trying to pull, but—"
"Hey, wait." He instinctively stuck his foot in the space between the
door and the wall as she tried to retreat, wincing when she hit it with
the door. "I really am your neighbor. Matt Winters. I've got ID."
He reached for his wallet and pulled out his driver's license, holding
it up so she could see it. "I'm a reporter for the
San Francisco Herald
. And I'd be
happy to give you references if you'd just open
your door and help me figure out whose baby this is."
"That address says Chicago."
"That's where I lived until recently. Come on, you must have seen my
name on the mailbox over yours. The landlord's name is Rick Shrader. I
can give you his phone number. Help me out here."
She stared at him doubtfully, then the baby let out a howl of protest.
A second later the woman released the chain and opened the door,
allowing Matt his first full glimpse of his neighbor. Barefoot, in
faded
blue jeans, a short-cropped bright yellow sweater, and a lacy white
veil, she made quite an impression. But it wasn't just her crazy attire
that caught him off guard, it was her gold-flecked brown eyes and the
sun-streaked blond hair that cascaded halfway down her back when she
selfconsciously pulled off her veil.
"It's not what you think," she murmured.
"I wasn't going to ask."
She gave him an embarrassed half smile. "Good."
"So, wedding night fantasy with the boyfriend?"
"I thought you weren't going to ask."
"Sorry."
She stepped around him and knelt down next to the baby. "Oh, you sweet
little thing. Who are you?"
The baby began to cry louder, tiny fingers closing into fists as it
squirmed in its seat.
"I think it wants to get out," Matt said.
The woman undid the straps and slowly pulled the baby into her arms, a
somber expression in her eyes
as she looked at the infant, then at him. "Are you telling me that this
baby was just left here in the hall?"
"It sure looks that way."
"I don't understand."
Matt shrugged. He certainly didn't have an explanation.
"She's so precious," the woman murmured as the baby nuzzled into her
chest.
Matt cleared his throat as he realized he was staring at his neighbor's
breasts with fascination, and she
was once again regarding him with
suspicion.
"Are you sure you don't know who she is?" the woman asked.
"I wasn't even sure it was a she."
"Pink sleeper, pink blanket, pink socks. I think it's safe to say she's
a girl. Maybe one of your girlfriends left her for you."
Matt stiffened. "No way. That baby is not mine. I can guarantee you
that."
The woman patted the baby's behind. "One thing is for sure. She's
soaking wet. You should change her."
"Or you. After all, she's in the middle of the hallway, maybe even
closer to your door than to mine." He inwardly groaned at his lame
comment. "Didn't you hear her crying? Why didn't you open your door?"
"I was listening to music. I didn't hear a thing," she explained.
"Fine, I'll change her, but you're not going anywhere," she added as
she saw him edging toward his apartment.
She stood up with the baby in her arms. "Rick Shrader did tell me you
were an okay guy, so I guess you can come in. But I'm warning you I've
taken self-defense. So don't think you can try anything with me."
Matt had to bite back a smile. She was barely five foot three if she
was an inch. He had almost a foot on her, and he didn't doubt for a
second that he couldn't take her anywhere he wanted to go. But judging
by the fierce expression in her eyes, he'd be better off agreeing, so
he simply held up his hand in submission.

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