Don't forget to stop in at the Mine today for our interview with Sandra Merville Hart!!
~ Chapter Twenty-Three ~
Justin reached over and patted Arianna’s shoulder, pulling her into his embrace. Kissing the top of her head with tender lips, he whispered, “It’s okay, babe. They’re going to try to get him here for you. That monster will never touch him again.”
With a strength that surprised Justin, Arianna jerked away from him and gazed into his eyes. She grabbed a handful of his shirt, twisted it in small hands and demanded, “Promise me that, Justin.”
Too late, he realized his mistake. He should never have promised something he wasn’t sure he could deliver. He stuttered, “I…pr…” he took a deep breath and admitted, “I can’t Arianna. I don’t want to lie to you.” Her face fell and misery rushed through him at her disappointment. “What I can promise is I’ll do everything in my power to make sure he doesn’t.”
She studied his eyes for a moment, gave a nod. “I know you will. Thank you so much for being loyal to me.”
Tipping her face with one long finger he brushed a kiss across her trembling lips. “You’re welcome.”
Arianna leaned toward him and he gathered her back into his arms. The rush of protectiveness flowing through him robbed him of words. How can I feel such love for someone I barely know? The answer eluded, but he didn’t loosen his tight grip.
The policewoman behind the counter gave a noisy cough. “They’re bringing the baby down in a few minutes.” She looked down at Arianna, her mouth a hard line of suspicion. “I can’t begin to tell you how bad it will be for you if you aren’t this child’s mother.”
“Well for your sake I hope you’re telling the truth.”
“She is, and she’s also very tired. Do you think it would be okay if we took a seat?” He gave a nod toward a scarred wooden bench sitting against the wall.
The policewoman waved one pudgy hand. “That’s fine.” Her head returned to a stack of papers in front of her and the three hastened to the bench.
Once settled on the hard wood, Arianna looked up at Justin, the look on her face indicating she had a question.
He raised one dark brow. “What?”
“Do—uh.” She gulped. “DO you think they’ll let me take him home since they’re going to let me feed him?”
He shook his head. “I just don’t know. You’d think they would, but it’s hard telling with these guys.”
Her face crumpled and Justin rushed to say, “Honey, don’t cry. I really don’t know. What I do know is Chance needs you. I read somewhere a long time ago babies can feel their mother’s stress. If you don’t want to upset him you have to pull yourself together.”
Arianna sniffled, brought a tissue to her eyes and dabbed. “I know you’re right, but it doesn’t make me stop feeling the over-powering urge to take him home with me. How can I leave him here with these people? He doesn’t know them.”
She had a point, but he had no answers. Instead of replying, he shook his head, pulling hers to rest on his shoulder. “Why don’t you try taking a nap until he gets here? You’re pale as a ghost.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
Mary Jo added, “That’s a good idea.”
Justin began to doze. People talked, sounding as if they were in a long tunnel. He fought the urge to sleep, but lost. The last few days had been so tiring.
A commotion at the desk woke Justin some time later. Popping his eyes open, he rubbed at them trying to look awake. He didn’t know why but didn’t want to look vulnerable to these people.
He sat up and cleared his throat. His eyes fell on the bundle in a blond woman’s arms.
“Is that Chance?”
The woman jerked toward his voice, looking startled. “Are you the father?”
He shook his head. “No, but this is his mother. He must be starving.”
The woman said, “He was earlier, but we fed him. He was screaming so loud it woke up some of the other children.”
Arianna’s arms reached for her baby. “Can I see him please? Is he okay?”
The woman smiled and settled him in Arianna’s arms. “There.”
Tears streamed down Arianna’s cheeks, but she seemed not to care.
Chance didn’t wake up, probably because he’d already been fed. Why had they brought him to her if he didn’t need to be fed?
Another commotion at the doorway caught Justin’s attention. When he looked up, his question was answered.
Arianna’s mother and father pushed their way through a growing crowd of reporters and people wanting to be part of the furor.
“Arianna,” Her mother cried, rushing to them.
Her father followed at a slower pace, as he was talking to an older man. He was tall, thin, and balding. When he came to stand in front of her, he said, “Come Arianna. It’s time to go home.”
Arianna’s face went through a barrage of emotions, and then settled on an angry glare. “My home is with Justin now.”
Her father’s lips turned up with a triumphant smile. “Not if you want to keep the kid, it’s not.” He reached down, trying to pull the sleeping infant from his mother’s arms.
Arianna screamed, “No, you can’t have him,” and tried to pull him out of her father’s reach.
The older man pushed a folded sheaf of papers toward Arianna. “I’m afraid you’re wrong, child.”
She opened the papers, keeping her arms tightly wrapped around her son.
Justin’s heart sank when he read the first line: Temporary custody is awarded to…