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The Consequence He Must Claim(6)

By:Dani Collins

Cesar, she thought, and missed him all over again. She desperately wanted to be with her family when his wedding took place this weekend, not here in the hospital, nursing melancholy along with his baby.

Murmuring a tender greeting, she closed her arms around the delicious weight of the bundled infant. Hers, she thought. Not a Montero, just as she wasn’t a Shelby. “Enrique,” she added in a whisper. Cesar’s middle name. She would call him Ricky—

Wait. Something wasn’t right.

He was crying so earnestly the sound broke her heart. She instinctively wanted to do anything soothe him, but...

Distantly she heard Octavia say in a choked voice, “That’s—”

“Octavia,” her husband interrupted with an undertone of warning.

Sorcha wasn’t really tracking the other people in the room. She cocked her head, perplexed, as she tried to figure out why her feelings for this baby were protective, but not maternal.

“Just put him to the breast. He’ll latch. They know what to do,” Hannah urged.

“I don’t think—” Sorcha couldn’t even voice her thoughts, they were so bizarre. She found her gaze lifting and looked across to the baby Octavia was trying to soothe. Octavia rubbed his back and rocked him and for some weird reason, that boy’s cries went through Sorcha’s skin like rippling waves, moving things in her she couldn’t even name.

As Octavia held Sorcha’s stare in a kind of eerie transfixion, she lowered the baby so Sorcha could see his face.

Sorcha looked at the squalling infant. His brows were wrinkled in a way that she knew, like an imprint on a part of her that recognized its own kind. That frown of displeasure was all Cesar, and those miniature lips—they were a replica of the mouth she’d seen in the mirror all her life.

Horror washed over her in a clammy rush.

“What’s wrong?” Hannah asked as the other nurse blurted out something, but Sorcha wasn’t listening.

“How did you...?” she began, sharp suspicion rising. She cut herself off. It was beyond outlandish. People didn’t steal babies. They certainly didn’t sit across from you and taunt you with it. That was something from a psycho thriller film.

But her heart was pounding in terror. Confusion and certainty warred and she began to shake under the strain of it.

Baring the ankle of the baby she held, she turned the tag with a trembling hand. It read, Kelly.

But this wasn’t her baby. That was her baby. That woman held her baby.

Beginning to panic, Sorcha flashed her gaze to Octavia’s, not sure what she expected. An evil grin?

Octavia’s lower lip was trembling. “They wouldn’t believe me,” she said weakly.

“Believe what?” Hannah asked.

“My wife is confused,” Alessandro said, and moved between Sorcha and her baby, trying to take the infant Octavia held.

“Don’t,” Sorcha blurted, and understood the kind of irrational yet powerful instinct that drove animals to overcome self-preservation, confront dangerous predators and protect their young with every last breath in their body. “Don’t touch him.”

The baby she held was screaming her ears off and part of her wanted to comfort him, but that was her baby over there. That one.

She struggled to her feet and came across to Octavia. The other woman had tears on her cheeks.

“No one would believe me,” Octavia told her again. “I wanted to feed him, but he needs his own mama and they wouldn’t give me mine...”

They clumsily exchanged babies and the dizzying panic that had nearly overwhelmed Sorcha began to subside. Her heart continued to race and adrenaline burned up her veins.

“I believe you,” she said, smiling shakily now that her son’s sweet scent filled her nostrils. She kissed his cheek and clasped him against her chest, knowing with unequivocal certainty that this was her son. Cesar’s son. “Of course we know our own babies.”

What the hell had just happened? What the hell?

As if reflecting the emotions Sorcha felt, Octavia nodded, eyes closing as she bent her head over the baby she obviously loved and had been aching to hold.

How long had she been sitting here holding Enrique, trying to convince them to give her the right baby? In the face of that torture, Octavia had still tried to soothe Sorcha’s son.

A funny little bond formed between them even as Sorcha seated herself and brought Enrique to her breast. Silence descended as both boys finally received the meal they’d been begging for. Still very bewildered, Sorcha exchanged a teary smile with Octavia.

And became aware of profound silence.

“What are you doing?” Alessandro’s gruff male voice was astounded.