Montana Cowboy Daddy (Wyatt Brothers of Montana #3) - Jane Porter
The call came in the middle of the night, jolting Erika Baylor awake and then sending her dressing and grabbing her keys and purse to dash to her car.
She drove through the night to reach the Las Vegas police station, and during that long silent drive, her mind had raced, trying to grapple with everything that had happened. Her cousin April had been killed in a car accident. She’d left behind a baby. A baby Erika hadn’t even known about.
Where was the baby’s father?
Who was the baby’s father?
Erika had never thought of herself as maternal. She wasn’t one of those women that had grown up playing house, tucking in her dolls, and dreaming of being a mommy, not when her own mother had been sorely lacking in maternal love herself. But after arriving in Las Vegas and having social services place the soft bundle of a boy in her arms, explaining that April’s mother wanted no part of the baby and had already suggested Beck Wyatt Estes be placed in foster care, Erika vowed to do right by Beck, which in her mind meant finding the infant’s father, because maybe, just maybe, the father—whoever he was—would want his son.
She didn’t think further than that. She wouldn’t let herself think further than that as she was a full-time student, working on her dissertation for her doctorate in psychology, and she was stretched thin as it was, with little free time and next to no income. But an emergency was an emergency, and she took the baby, and April’s personal effects, and promised to remain in town for the next few days while arrangements were made for her cousin’s body and so forth.
Social services sent Erika off with a car seat and a diaper bag, along with April’s purse, which contained her wallet, some pill bottles, and a set of keys. Erika had helped buckling the car seat into the back seat of her car, and tucked the crying baby into the car seat, and then using April’s driver’s license, set off for April’s apartment, several miles off the Las Vegas Strip.
The baby was still wailing when Erika arrived at the complex and wailed as she lifted the car seat out and carried the baby, diaper bag, and purses upstairs. It took a number of tries before Erika got the right key in the right lock, but once she did, the door opened and she was in. Lights on, Erika’s gaze swept the small unit. The apartment was a mess, the sink filled with dishes, the bedroom floor heaped with dirty laundry, the small dining table was heaped with clean laundry not yet folded.
She jiggled the crying baby as she opened the blinds and then opened the windows to air out the stale air, and then, while Beck continued fussing, she went through the cupboards looking for his normal formula and bottles. Social services had sent her home with a few cans in a makeshift diaper bag, but surely April had something here for him. But there wasn’t much in the cupboards or the refrigerator. The tin of formula on the counter was empty and April, a dancer, seemed to have survived on fat-free yogurts, vodka, and cigarettes.
Troubled, Erika opened one of the cans of formula sent home with them, made a bottle, and sat down on the couch with Beck and let him drink his fill as she gazed around the apartment that clearly wasn’t much of a home. From the bottles of Xanax and Ativan in April’s purse, it was clear that she hadn’t been doing well. Erika wondered how she’d coped alone for the past several months.
Suddenly Beck’s hand reached up and his tiny fingers brushed hers. Erika glanced down and discovered he was staring straight up into her face, his dark blue eyes locking with hers. For the first time since she’d gotten the call about April’s accident, Erika’s eyes burned, and her throat swelled closed. For a moment, she couldn’t do anything but blink to clear her eyes, not wanting to cry on the baby. But it was heartbreaking. April—young, beautiful, talented, reckless, rudderless April—was gone. Killed in a horrendous accident that had somehow left her baby unscathed. But now Beck was alone, having lost his mom, the only person he’d ever known.
Erika’s gut cramped as she imagined April’s mental and emotional state these past few months. Why hadn’t April reached out to her? Erika would have been there for her. She would have moved April to Riverside,