By: Cat Johnson
He needs to escape...
Justin Skaggs is on the road to anywhere—as long as it's far from home—when fate throws a kindred spirit across his path.
She needs to get to Oklahoma...
Phoenix Montagno can't believe her luck when she runs into the hottie from the bar. He's the key to her getting everything she's always wanted, but she can't tell him that. Luckily he's not interested in learning her story any more than he is in sharing his.
Both have secrets they don't want to share...
It's the perfect arrangement. No personal details. No talking at all. Just two strangers sharing the cab of a truck heading the direction they both need to go . . . until they decide to share a bed, too
Phoenix turned her key in the lock and flipped open the metal door of the mailbox. She peered inside and saw the small box was stuffed full.
Knowing it would be mostly junk mail and the rest bills, she sighed as she reached in and grabbed the bundle. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about the junk mail or the bills.
She closed the door and pulled out the key before turning toward the stairs leading up to her apartment.
One flight up and another turn of a key—this one for her tiny apartment—and she was home. The new school year started in a week and a half and in preparation, she’d been at school almost every day this week, in meetings and setting up her classroom. All the things it took to prepare for another school year.
It was exhausting, but more than that, it meant her summer break was almost over. The same old feelings she’d had as a child hit her just as hard as an adult.
Phoenix wanted to hold on to the last days of summer, even as they slipped through her grasp. In that respect, students and teachers were no different.
Mail in hand, she flopped backward onto the sofa. Flipping through the stack, she was about to write the whole pile off as junk when she saw an official-looking envelope from Arizona.
She looked more closely at the return address.
Office of Vital Records, Arizona Department of Health Services.
It took a few seconds before realization hit. Her duplicate birth certificate. She’d applied for it close to two weeks earlier, long enough ago that she’d forgotten about it.
Tearing into the envelope, Phoenix held her breath, more than anxious to see what was inside. It could just as easily be a sorry, no-duplicate-for-you letter. But as she pulled out the papers, she saw the heading on one page and let herself breathe again.
Certificate of Birth.
She glanced over the document, across fields listing the county, state, and city of her birth. Date of birth. And mother’s name.
The name typed into that field stopped Phoenix in her tracks.
Her adoption had been closed, meaning she didn’t know her birth parents’ names and they didn’t know who had adopted her. All parties had agreed to no exchange of information during the adoption process and no contact afterward.
Phoenix had never even heard her birth mother’s name. It certainly hadn’t been listed on her original certificate. That one had listed her adoptive parents.
Though, now that she thought about it, that certificate must have been modified and the one in her hands was a copy of the real original, filled out by Phoenix Baptist Hospital at the time of her birth.
She looked closer at the rest of the information paper.
Instead of her name, she was listed as Female Martin, leading her to believe that her birth mother, Bonnie Martin, whoever she was, had given her baby away immediately. Even before she’d named her.
Why? What had inspired this woman to give up her baby so quickly? So completely.
The space for the father’s name was blank. That was probably the answer right there. Bonnie had been an unwed mother.
Phoenix had never been one of those adopted children who thought much about her natural parents. The people she’d called mother and father for as long as she could remember were her real parents as far as she was concerned. But seeing her birth mother’s name had her wondering about things. Asking questions she’d never thought she needed or wanted to know the answers to.
In the age of the Internet, it was easy enough to open a browser and do a search. Too easy.
Ignoring the overwhelming feeling niggling at the back of her consciousness that she could be opening a Pandora’s Box, Phoenix hauled herself off the sofa. She headed for the desk against the wall by the window and pulled out the chair.
Sitting, she stared at the closed laptop.
When she’d first walked through the door, she’d been planning to sort through the mail and then investigate what was in the fridge that she could use to throw together dinner for herself.
Hunger took a backseat to curiosity as, bracing herself for what she might find, she flipped open the laptop and hit the Power button. The screen came to life.
Drawing in a deep breath, Phoenix opened a browser and typed into the search field her birth mother’s name, followed by the city and state listed on the certificate.
It was a long shot, but she hit Enter anyway.
A page of search results appeared. As her breathing grew short and shallow, Phoenix clicked to open the page for the white pages residential listing of a Bonnie Martin in Phoenix, Arizona.
She stared at the screen, reasoning that this might not be her mother. Martin was a common last name. Not quite like Smith or Johnson, but common nonetheless. But the name Bonnie wasn’t so common. The combination of first name and last name, along with the listing in the city in which she was born made her feel this was very possibly her mother.
This Bonnie Martin, who lived on West Meadowbrook Avenue, could very well be the woman who’d carried Phoenix for nine months. The same woman who’d then given her nameless baby away to a childless couple whom she knew nothing about.
The reality of the situation began to feel overwhelming. She’d never cared that she’d been given up for adoption. Why should she? Her parents were wonderful. They had given her anything and everything she’d ever needed. She hadn’t missed out on anything growing up. But what would it be like to look into the face of her birth mother?
What would it feel like to possibly see eyes as blue as her own staring back at her? To have a stranger see them together and remark how much they looked like mother and daughter?
More, what would it be like to know her inability or maybe just lack of interest in staying organized was inherited and not just her own laziness, as her father so often insinuated?
Did her love of books come from her birth mother or father? And who was this man who’d contributed to her existence? Had her birth parents been young and in love?
Star-crossed lovers who could never be together for some reason she couldn’t fathom?
Jeesh. Now she really was letting her imagination run away with her. Chances were her natural parents’ love story was nothing like Romeo and Juliet. Her birth was more likely the result of a drunken frat party or a one-night stand lacking in birth control.
She wasn’t sure what clerical error had led to her having in her hand the very information she needed to meet her birth mother, but now that she had it, she had to decide what to do.
Did she honestly want to know the reality, the circumstances behind her birth, or was it best to leave things as they had been intended during the closed adoption—a secret?
The ringing of the phone made Phoenix jump in her chair. Dragging herself away from the computer screen, and the key to unlocking the secrets of her past, she stood and dove for the phone.
The ID listed her friend Kim’s name on it.
Phoenix hit to answer. “Hey.”
“Hi. Why do you sound breathless?”
“My duplicate birth certificate just arrived.”
“Well, hallelujah. Now you can apply for the passport and I won’t have to worry I’ll be in Aruba all alone. Of course then I’d have all the men to myself, so maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.”
Phoenix moved back to the desk and stared at the information her web search had unearthed. “Mmm-hmm.”
“Um, am I boring you?” Kim asked.
“No. Sorry. Um, it’s just that something was strange about my birth certificate.”
“Well, my original one—”
“You mean the one you lost?”
“Yes.” Phoenix rolled her eyes at the interruption, and the reminder she didn’t need or want. “Anyway, that one listed both names of my adopted parents and then my full name.”
“This one doesn’t show any of that. This paper lists a Bonnie Martin as my mother.”
“And is that your birth mother’s name?”
“I never knew her name. That’s the point. It was a closed adoption. Her name wasn’t supposed to be given to us even if we asked for it. Ever.”
“Oh, boy. Somebody at the department of records screwed up big-time.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. That first certificate—the one I lost—must have been the one for the adoption, but there was still an original from the hospital where I was born.”
“And that’s the one the person filling your request for a duplicate copied.”
“Exactly.” Phoenix nodded.
That was an understatement for how she felt about the whole thing. “So now what do I do?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.” Phoenix flopped against the chair back heavily.
“Well, do you want to meet her?”
“I think I might want to.” She’d never been interested in the past before, but now, staring at the name on the screen, things were different.
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A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Cat Johnson writes contemporary romance in genres including military and western. Known for her unique marketing and research techniques, she has sponsored pro bull riders, owns a collection of camouflage and western footwear for book signings, and a fair number of her consultants wear combat or cowboy boots for a living. For more visit CatJohnson.net
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