Baby in the Making
Really, it wasn’t the blood stains on the shirt and pants that troubled Hannah Robinson most. It wasn’t even the gaping hole in the shirt that some of the blood was surrounding. She’d seen worse. No, what troubled her most was how little Yeager Novak seemed to be bothered by the six tidy stitches binding his flesh just north of the waistband of his silk boxers. Then again, the “worse” she’d seen before had also been Yeager’s garments. Such was life when one sewed for a tailor whose most profitable client made his living cheating death, then brought in what was left of his clothing after the most recent near-miss to have them mended. Or, in the case of the shirt, completely recreated from scratch.
Yeager towered over her from her current position kneeling before him, tape measure in hand. But then, he towered over her when she was standing, too. Shoving a handful of coal-black hair off his forehead, he gazed down at her with eyes the color of sapphires and said, “I’ll never let a bull get that close to me again.” He darted his gaze from the stitches on his torso to the garments on the floor. “That was just a little too close for comfort.”
Hannah blew a dark blond curl out of her eyes and pushed her reading glasses higher on her nose. “That’s what you said last year when you ran with the bulls.”
He looked puzzled. “I did?”
“Yes. It was the first time you came to see us here at Cathcart and Quinn, because your previous tailor told you to take a hike when you brought in one too many of his garments to be mended.” She arched a brow in meaningful reminder. “Except when you were in Pamplona last July, you escaped into a cantina before the bull was able to do more than tear the leg of your trousers.”
“Right,” he said, remembering. “That was where I met Jimena. Who came back to my hotel with me while I changed my clothes. And didn’t get back into them for hours.” His expression turned sublime. “I probably should have sent that bull a thank you note.”
“Or at least sent Jimena a text that said, Adios.”
He grinned. “Hey, don’t worry about Jimena. She got what she wanted, too.”
I’ll bet, Hannah thought, her gaze traveling to the elegant bumps of muscle and sinew on his torso. Yeager Novak might well have been sculpted by the hands of the gods. But the scar left behind by his latest stitches would be in good company, what with the jagged pink line marring the flesh above his navel and the puckered arc to their left. He had scars all over his body, thanks to his extreme adventurer ways. And thanks to his total lack of inhibition when it came to being fitted for clothes, Hannah had seen all of them.
“So you think you can fix the shirt and pants?” he asked.
“The pants will be fine,” she told him. “They just need a good washing. But the shirt is a goner.” Before he could open his mouth to protest, she added, “Don’t worry, Mr. Novak. I can make a new one that will look just like it. I learned pretty quickly to keep all of your patterns and cut enough fabric for two garments whenever I make one.”
He smiled in a way that was nothing short of devastating. “And I love you for it,” he told her.
She smiled back. “I know.”
Yeager told Hannah he loved her all the time. He loved her for making him clothes that fit like a glove. He loved her for mending them when he thought he’d ruined them. He loved her for being able to remove blood stains, oil stains, pampas stains, baba ghanoush stains, walrus stains… Well, stains from more sources than any normal human being saw in a lifetime. And, hey, she loved Yeager, too. The same way she loved cannolis and Luna moths and sunsets—with a certain sense of awe that such things even existed in the world, because they were too rich, too scarce or too ephemeral for any normal human being to relate.
She went back to measuring his inseam, pretending the action commanded every scrap of her attention when, by now, she had Yeager’s measurements memorized. There was no reason he had to know that, was there? Sometimes a girl had to do what a girl had to do. Especially when said girl was between boyfriends. Like eight months between boyfriends. None of who had had torsos roped with muscle or who had smelled like a rugged, windswept canyon.
“Have you ever been to Spain, Hannah?” Yeager asked.
“I lived for a while in what used to be Spanish Harlem,” she told him as she penned his inseam measurement onto the back of her hand. She lifted the tape measure to his waist. “Does that count?”
He chuckled. “No. You should go to Spain. It’s an incredible country. Definitely in my top five favorite places to visit.”
Hannah would have told him her top five were Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island, since she’d never ventured outside the five boroughs of New York. For fifteen of the first eighteen years, it was because she’d been a ward of the state, and even though she’d been shuffled around a lot during that time, she’d never landed outside the city’s jurisdiction. For the last nine years, she hadn’t had the funds to pay for something as frivolous as travel. What part of her paycheck didn’t go to keeping herself housed and fed went toward funding the business she’d started out of her Sunnyside apartment. Things like travel could wait until after she was the toast of the New York fashion industry.
“What are your other four top favorite places?” she asked Yeager.
She was going to go out on a limb and say that, to a man who’d built a billion-dollar company out of creating extreme adventure vacations for other Y-chromosomes, Sunnyside and what used to be Spanish Harlem probably weren’t going to make the cut.
He didn’t even have to think about his response. “New Zealand, Slovenia, Chile and Iceland. But ask me tomorrow, and it could be a whole different list.”
Hannah jotted down the last of his measurements onto the back of her hand with the others, returned the pen to its perennial place in the bun she always wore for work—mostly because it and her shapeless smock were required by Misters Cathcart and Quinn, as if their sole female employee was a remnant of the Industrial Revolution—and stood. Yep, Yeager still towered over her. Then again, since she stood five-two, and her idea of high heels was one-inch—which she never wore, anyway—most people did.
“All done,” she told him. Reluctantly, she added, “You can get dressed now.”
He nodded toward the clothes on the floor. “Thanks for taking care of this.”
“No problem. But you know, you could save a lot of money on tailoring if you stayed in New York for more than a few weeks at a time.”
“There’s no way I can stay anywhere for more than a few weeks at a time,” he said. “And I won’t apologize for being an adventurer.”
Hannah would never ask him to. She couldn’t imagine Yeager sitting behind a desk punching a keyboard or standing on an assembly line screwing in machine parts. It would be like asking Superman to work as a parking attendant.
“All I’m saying is be careful.”
He flinched. “Those are the last two words somebody like me wants to hear.”
And they were the two words Hannah lived by. Not that she was a fearful person by any stretch of the imagination. You didn’t survive a childhood and adolescence in the care of the state by being timid. But after nearly a decade on her own, she’d carved out a life for herself that was quiet, steady and secure, and she was careful to not jeopardize that. Oh, blissful predictability. Oh, exalted stability. Oh, revered security. She’d never had any of those things growing up. No way would she risk losing them now.
“Your pants and new shirt will be ready a week from today,” she told Yeager.
He thrust his arms through the sleeves of a gray linen shirt Hannah had made for him and began to button it. “Great. That’ll be just in time for my trip to Gansbaai. South Africa,” he clarified before she could ask. “I’m taking a group to go cage diving with Great White sharks.”
“Of course you are. Because after nearly being gored to death by a gigantic bull, why wouldn’t you risk being bitten in two by a gigantic shark? It makes perfect sense.”
He grinned again. “After that, it’s off to Nunavut with a couple of buddies to climb Mount Thor.”
“I would love to see your passport, Mr. Novak. It must be as thick as a novel.”
“Yeah, it is. Like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix size.”
And the stories it could tell were probably every bit as fantastic.
“Well, have a good time,” she told him. “I’ll be at home, inventorying my swatches and organizing my bobbins.”
He threw her one last smile as he reached for his charcoal trousers—also fashioned by Hannah. “And you say I live dangerously.”
The bell above the shop entrance jingled, making her turn in that direction. “Excuse me,” she said as she backed toward the fitting room entrance. “Your claim check will be at the register when you’re ready.”
The minute Hannah disappeared through the fitting room door, Yeager Novak’s mind turned to other, more pressing, topics. When your life’s work was creating extreme adventures for other people, you had to make plans, sometimes, years in advance. In putting together vacation packages, he had a million things to consider—a country’s culture and politics, its potential safety, its seasonal climate, how many people needed to be bribed for all the requisite permissions… The list was endless. And whatever travel packages he designed for his clients, he always undertook himself first, to be sure they were doable without risk to life or limb.
Well, without too much risk to life or limb. No risk kind of defeated the purpose.
He knotted his tie, grabbed his suit jacket, and headed for the register. Hannah had her blond head bent over her receipt pad as she wrote in her slow, precise hand, a few errant curls springing free of the prim little bun she always wore. Nice to know there was at least some part of her that wanted to break free of her buttoned-up, battened-down self. He’d never met anyone more straitlaced than Hannah…whatever her last name was.
As if she’d heard him say that out loud, she suddenly glanced up, peering over the tops of her black half-glasses with silver gray eyes. She did have some beautiful eyes, though, he’d give her that. He’d never seen the color on another human being. But the rest of her… The shapeless jacket-thing she wore completely hid her gender, and if she was wearing any makeup, he sure couldn’t see it. He guessed she was kind of cute in a wholesome, girl-next-door type of way, if you went for the wholesome, girl-next-door type—which he didn’t. He liked talking to her, though. She was smart and funny, and man, did her clothes make him look good. He knew nothing about sewing or fashion, but he knew excellent work when he saw it. And Hannah Whatshername definitely did excellent work.
“A week from today,” she reiterated as she tore the receipt from the pad and extended it toward him.
“Thanks,” he replied as he took it from her. “Any chance you could make a second shirt like it by then? Just in case?” Before she could object—because he could tell she was going to—he added, “There could be an extra hundred bucks in it for you.”
She bit her lip thoughtfully, a gesture that was slightly—surprisingly—erotic. “I’m not allowed to take tips.”
“Oh, c’mon. I don’t see Leo or Monty around.”
“Mr. Cathcart is on a buying trip to London,” she said. “And Mr. Quinn is at lunch.”
“Then they’ll never know.”
She expelled the kind of sigh someone makes when they know they’re breaking the rules, but they need cash for something badly. Yeager was intrigued. What could Ms. Goody-Two-Shoes Hannah need money for that would make her break the rules?
With clear reluctance, she said, “I can’t. I’m sorry. I just don’t have time to do it here—we’re so backlogged.” Before he could protest, she hurried on, “However, I happen to know a seamstress who does freelance work at home. She’s very good.”
Yeager shook his head. “No way. I don’t trust anyone with my clothes but you.”
“No, you don’t understand, Mr. Novak. I guarantee you’ll like this woman’s work. I know her intimately.”
“You could even say that she and I are one of a kind. If you know what I mean.”
She eyed him pointedly for a moment. And after a moment, Yeager understood. Hannah was the one who did freelance work at home. “Gotcha.”
“If you happened to do a search on Craigslist for, say, ‘Sunnyside seamstress,’ she’d be the first listing that pops up. Ask if she can make you a shirt by next week for the same price you’d pay here, and I guarantee she’ll be able to do it.”
Yeager grabbed his phone from his pocket and pulled up Craigslist. He should have known Hannah would live in Sunnyside. It was the closest thing New York had to Small Town America.
“Found you,” he said.
She frowned at him.
“I mean…found her.”
“Send her an email from that listing. I’m sure she’ll reply when she gets home from work tonight.”
He was already typing when he said, “Great. Thanks.”
“But you’ll have to pick it up at my…I mean her place,” she told him. “She can’t bring it here, and she doesn’t deliver.”
He sent the email then returned his phone to one pocket as he tugged his wallet from another. He withdrew five twenties from the ten he always had on him and placed them on the counter. Hannah’s eyes widened at the gesture, but she discreetly palmed the bills and tucked them into her own pocket.
Even so, she asked, “Don’t you want to wait until you have the extra shirt?”
He shook his head. “I trust you.”
“No, thank you. That was my favorite shirt. It will be nice to have a spare. Not that I’ll be letting any sharks near my clothes, but you never know when you’ll meet another Jimena.”
She nodded in a way that suggested, actually, she did know when she would meet someone like Jimena—which was never, since there was no way in hell she would let someone like that get near her, because she was way too buttoned-up, battened-down and straitlaced, regardless of how beautiful her eyes were or how erotically she bit her lip. Hannah, he was certain, only dated the same kind of upright, forthright, do-right person she was herself. To Yeager, that would be a fate worse than death.
“I’ll see you in a week,” he said, lifting a hand in farewell.
As he made his way to the door, he heard her call after him, “Have a great day, Mr. Novak! And remember to look both ways before you cross the street!”
A few days after telling Yeager when the shirt she was making for him on her own time would be ready—which happened to be that evening—Hannah was in the back room of Cathcart & Quinn, collecting fabric remnants to take home with her for… Well, she’d find some use for them. She always did. Everyone else had gone home, and she was counting the minutes until she could begin closing up shop, when the store’s entrance bell rang to announce a customer. Hoping it would just be someone picking up an alteration, she headed into the shop.
She didn’t recognize the man at the register, but he had the potential to become a client, judging by his bespoke suit from somewhere else. Aponte’s, she decided. It looked like Paolo’s work. The man’s blond hair was cut with razor-precision, his eyes were cool and keen, and his smile was this just side of dispassionate.
“Hello,” Hannah greeted him as she approached. “May I help you?”
“Hannah Robinson?” he asked. Her surprise that he knew her must have been obvious, because he quickly added, “My name is Gus Fiver. I’m an attorney with Tarrant, Fiver and Twigg. We’re a probate law firm here in Manhattan.”
His response only surprised her more. She didn’t have a will herself, and she knew no one who might have included her in one. Her lack of connections was what had landed her in the foster care system as a three-year-old, after her mother died with no surviving relatives or friends to care for her. And although Hannah hadn’t had any especially horrible experiences in the system, she could safely say she’d never met anyone there who would remember her in their last wishes. There was no reason a probate attorney should know her name or where she worked.
“Yes,” she said cautiously. “I’m Hannah Robinson.”
Gus Fiver’s smile grew more genuine at her response. In a matter of seconds, he went from being a high-powered Manhattan attorney to an affable boy next door. The change made Hannah feel a little better.
“Excellent,” he said. Even his voice was warmer now.
“I’m sorry, but how do you know me?” she asked.
“My firm has been looking for you since the beginning of the year. And one of our clients was looking for you long before then.”
“I don’t understand. Why would anyone be looking for me? Especially when I’m not that hard to find?”
Instead of answering her directly—again—he said, “You did most of your growing up in the foster care system, yes?”
Hannah was so stunned he would know that about her—few of her friends even knew—that she could only nod.
“You entered the program when you were three, I believe, after your mother, Mary Robinson, died.”
Heat splashed her belly that he would know about her past that precisely. But she automatically replied, “Yes.”
“And do you remember what your life was like prior to that?”
“Mr. Fiver, what’s this about?”
Instead of explaining, he said, “Please just bear with me for a moment, Ms. Robinson.”
Hannah didn’t normally share herself with other people until she’d known them for some time, and even then, there were barriers it took a while for most people to breach. But there was something about Gus Fiver that told her it was okay to trust him. To a point.
So she told him, “I only have a few vague memories. I know my mother was a bookkeeper for a welding company on Staten Island and that that’s where she and I were living when she died. But I only know that because that’s what I’ve been told. I don’t have any mementos or anything. Everything she owned was sold after her death, and what was left in her estate after it was settled was put into trust for me until I turned eighteen and was booted out of the system.”
Not that there had been much, but it had allowed Hannah to start life on her own without a lot of the stress she would have had otherwise, and she’d been enormously grateful for it.
“Is your mother who you inherited your eyes from?” Mr. Fiver asked. “I don’t mean to be forward, but they’re such an unusual color.”
Hannah had fielded enough remarks about her singularly colored eyes—even from total strangers—that she no longer considered them forward. “No,” she said. “My mother had blue eyes.”
“So you at least remember what she looked like?”
Hannah shook her head. “No. But I take back what I said about mementos. I do have one. A photograph of my mother that one of the social workers was kind enough to give me before I went into the system. Somehow, I always managed to keep it with me whenever they moved me to a new place.”
This interested Mr. Fiver a lot. “Is there any chance you have this photograph with you?”
“I do, actually.”
Hannah had carried it with herself her entire life, since it was the only evidence of her mother she had. The photo was creased and battered by now, but it was a very good likeness, having been pared to wallet size from what had probably been an eight-by-ten studio portrait. In addition to the bland background, there was a shoulder of someone who had been seated next to Mary Robinson in the original picture.
“May I see it?” Mr. Fiver asked.
Hannah was about to tell him no, that this had gone on long enough. But her damnable curiosity now had the better of her, and she was kind of interested to see where this was going.
“It’s in my wallet,” she said.
He smiled again, notching another chink in her armor that weakened her mettle. “I don’t mind waiting.”
She retrieved her purse from beneath the counter, withdrew her mother’s photo from its plastic sheath in her wallet, and handed it to Mr. Fiver.
“And your father?” he asked as he studied the picture.
“I didn’t know him,” Hannah said. “He’s listed as a Robert Williams on my birth certificate, but do you know how many Robert Williamses there are in New York alone? No one ever found him. I never had any family but my mother.”
Mr. Fiver returned the photo to her. “The reason we’ve been looking for you, Ms. Robinson, is because we have a client whose estate we’ve been managing since his death while we search for his next of kin. That’s sort of our specialty at Tarrant, Fiver and Twigg. We locate heirs whose whereabouts or identities are unknown. We believe you may be this client’s sole heir.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Fiver, but that’s impossible. If my mother had had any family, the state would have found them twenty-five years ago.”
He opened his portfolio again and sifted through its contents, finally withdrawing a photo he held up for Hannah to see. It was a copy of the same photo from which her picture of her mother had been cut. And it was indeed a formal eight-by-ten studio portrait. Except it was intact, and it included the person attached to the shoulder beside Mary Robinson—a man with blond hair and silver-gray eyes. It also included a baby who was sitting in her lap. A baby who had the exact same coloring as the man. The exact same coloring as Hannah.
Her gaze flew to Mr. Fiver’s. But she had no idea what to say.
“This is a photograph of Stephen and Alicia Linden of Scarsdale, New York,” he said. “The baby is their daughter Amanda. Mrs. Linden and Amanda disappeared not long after this picture was taken.”
A strange buzzing erupted in Hannah’s head. How could Gus Fiver have a photo of her mother identical to the one she’d been carrying around since she was a toddler? Was the baby in her mother’s lap Hannah? Was the man her father? What the hell was going on?
All she could say, though, was, “I don’t understand.”
“One day, while Stephen Linden was at work in the city,” Mr. Fiver continued, “Alicia bundled up ten-month-old Amanda and, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, left him.” He paused for a moment, as if he were trying to choose his next words carefully. “Stephen Linden was, from all accounts, a…difficult man to live with. He…mistreated his wife. Badly. Alicia feared for her and her daughter’s safety, but her husband’s family was a very powerful one, and she worried they would hinder her in her efforts to leave him. So she turned to an underground group who was active in aiding battered women, helping them escape abusive situations by providing them with new identities and forged documents and small parcels of cash. With the assistance of this group, Alicia and Amanda Linden of Scarsdale were able to start a new life as Mary and Hannah Robinson of Staten Island.”
By now, Hannah was reeling. She heard what Mr. Fiver was saying, but none of it quite registered. “I…I’m sorry, Mr. Fiver, but this… You’re telling me I’m not the person I’ve always thought I was? That my whole life should have been different from the one I’ve lived? That’s just… It’s…”
Then another thought struck her, and the air rushed from her lungs in a quick whoosh. Very softly, she asked, “Is my father still alive?”
At this, Mr. Fiver sobered. “No, I’m sorry. He died almost twenty years ago. Our client who initially launched the search for you was your paternal grandfather.” He paused a telling beat before concluding, “Chandler Linden.”
Had there been any breath left in Hannah, she would have gasped at that. Everyone in New York knew the name Chandler Linden. His ancestors practically built this city, and, at the time of his death, he still owned a huge chunk of it.
Although she had no idea how she managed it, Hannah said, “Chandler Linden was a billionaire.”
Mr. Fiver nodded. “Yes, he was. Ms. Robinson, you might want to close up shop early today. You and I have a lot to talk about.”