C h e r y l     R E A V I S

EXCERPT FROM THE MARINE:

THE FIRST BOY I LOVED with the bonus book, THE MARINE

From the book, THE MARINE by Cheryl Reavis
ISBN: 978-0373230761
Imprint: NEXT
Copyright: 2009 by Cheryl Reavis
Copyright: ģ and ô trademarks of the publisher Harlequin Books S.A.

PROLOGUE

The woman wasnít going to let him touch the manila folder. It lay on the table between them, but she kept both hands on it, as if she thought he might try to grab it and run for the door. He kept waiting for her to say something, but this particular representative of the Department of Social Services was no more inclined to talk to him than she was to give him the file.

The room was small and stuffy. Apparently, the low-bid central air conditioning didnít quite reach the back side of the building. He couldnít see outside. The one window had been partially covered over with faded black poster paper to keep the afternoon sun out and the minimal coolness in.

He had been hopeful initially, because the woman had gone to the trouble of bringing him into a cramped conference room instead of dismissing him at the front desk. But his expectations were rapidly fading, and it occurred to him that this might be the room they used when they were unsure of how a person on a quest might react to disappointment.

He reached into his shirt pocket and took out his pen and a small spiral notebook, as if he expected to need it. He didnít actually. It was clear to him that this woman didnít approve of sharing adoption files no matter what the circumstances were or who had approved it and that she wasnít about to give him any information he didnít already have.

He could hear the not-so-muted voices of people milling around outside in the hallway, all of them in some degree of crisis because a want or a need had been thwarted by someone or something. Children who wouldnít behave. A broken copier. A missed cross-town bus. From time to time, he could hear a roll of thunder added to the commotion in the building.

A storm coming, he thought. In more ways than one.

A weak but noticeably cooler flow of air suddenly erupted from the air conditioning duct in the wall above the womanís head, and he realized she was wearing baby powder instead of perfume.

Insult to injury.

"I have a notarized copy of the birth certificate," he said, leaning forward slightly and holding it where she could see it in an attempt to force her to give him her attention. "It has my motherís name and address -- but not much else. I checked it out, but nobody there knew anything about her. Do you have any other information in the file you can give me?"

She gave the birth certificate a cursory glance.

"There isnít much here. Apparently we started a record based on only one visit. We didnít actually complete the adoption."

"Does it say why not?"

"Since she obviously didnít change her mind, I assume the adoption was handled privately."

"Maíam, could you at least look?" he asked. "Compare the addresses?"

She made no attempt to do so.

"If you could just tell me the name of the caseworker who opened the file. If I can locate her, she might remember --"

"Iím sorry. I canít do that."

He took a quiet breath. "Is there anythingípersonal in the file? They told me sometimes the birth mother will leave a note or a letter."

She stared at him across the table, then flipped open the folder. She had been telling the truth. There wasnít much in it. She began to thumb through the few pages.

"Iím sorry --"

"Is that a photograph?" he asked abruptly, catching a glimpse of something paper-clipped to the last page.

She hesitated, then looked up at him. "Yes."

"Can I see it?"

It took her a moment to decide. He held out his hand, realizing as he did so that his fingers trembled slightly.

The woman handed over the photograph. It was a fuzzy black and white snapshot. It had once been a picture of at least two people, but it had been closely cropped so that only a dark-haired girl with someoneís arm around her shoulders remained. She smiled directly into the camera. Somehow he hadnít thought of her looking like this. Mischievous. Happy. She didnít look like someone desperate enough to give away her baby.

"This is her?" he asked.

"I assume so," the woman said.

She looks so young, he thought. According to his birth certificate, she had been sixteen when he was born, but she looked younger than that. He wondered when the picture had been made and why it was in the file.

He realized suddenly that the woman was holding out her hand for the photograph.

"Iím going to keep this," he said quietly. It was not his intention to challenge her authority. It was merely a statement of fact.

"Iím sorry, but --"
"Iím going to keep this," he said again. "Itís not important now to anybody but me."

He stood and put the photograph into his shirt pocket. Thank you for your help, maíam.

He stepped out in the hallway, half expecting her to come flying after him, to yell for security, to pummel him over the head with the manila folder until he gave back the picture he had essentially stolen.

But she didnít. He walked briskly out of the building and into a hard summer rain, running the distance to his truck with his hand over his pocket to protect the photograph.

When he was inside the truck, he took it out again and stared at the girlís face. A flash of lightning illuminated everything around him. The rain beat down on the roof. He didnít know if it was the sudden exertion or the crime that left him so shaky.

Mother.

Mama.

Complete stranger.

The arm around her shoulders had some kind of tattoo, something military, he thought. An...eagle, maybe.

He turned the photograph over, working hard to suppress the unacceptable urge to cry. There was something written on the back, but the ink had smeared. He leaned toward the truck window, trying to see it more clearly.

After a moment, he could just make out the words.

Lizzie gone bad.


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