Read Minor Adjustments Online

Authors: Rachael Renee Anderson

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Domestic Life, #Genre Fiction, #Family Life

Minor Adjustments

Contents

Minor Adjustments

Rachael Renee Anderson

Bonneville Books

An imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc.

Springville, Utah

Also by Rachael Renee Anderson

Divinely Designed

Luck of the Draw

Minor Adjustments
is a charming romance with endearing characters and a story line that makes you ask yourself some hard questions. It’s a book you’ll remember long after you’ve read the last page.

Rebecca Talley,
author of
The Upside of Down

Talented author Rachael Renee Anderson has done it again.
Minor Adjustments
is a heartwarming romance, set in sunny Australia, that shows love can conquer all. Once you start reading,
Minor Adjustments
is sure to grab your heart and not let go.

Marlene Bateman,
author of
Light on Fire Island

© 2011 Rachael Renee Anderson

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever, whether by graphic, visual, electronic, film, microfilm, tape recording, or any other means, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief passages embodied in critical reviews and articles.

This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination, and are not to be construed as real.

ISBN 13: 978-1-59955-913-1

Published by Bonneville Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc., 2373 W. 700 S., Springville, UT 84663

Distributed by Cedar Fort, Inc., www.cedarfort.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Anderson, Rachael Renee, author.

Minor adjustments / Rachael Renee Anderson.

pages cm

Summary: Bachelor Devon Pierce is appointed guardian of the four-year-old son of an Australian exchange student who lived with Devon’s family ten years earlier. The boy’s father surfaces, causing complications, and a custody battle ensues.

ISBN 978-1-59955-913-1

1. Domestic fiction. 2. Custody of children--Fiction. 3.

Fathers--Fiction. 4. Mothers--Fiction. 5. Parenting--Fiction. I. Title.

PS3601.N5447M56 2011

813’.6--dc22

2011014522

Cover design by Brian Halley

Cover design © 2011 by Lyle Mortimer

Edited and typeset by Heidi Doxey

Formatted for Kindle by Simon Shepherd

For my clever and charming Devon. You give the best squishes in the world. I love you.

Acknowledgments

A hundred million thanks to Caroline Sterling, my brilliant, beautiful Australian barrister friend, who not only showed me around Australia but answered question after question after question. I couldn’t have written this book without her.

To the fabulous team at CFI. Jennifer, for putting up with me in her gracious way; Brian, for designing a gorgeous cover that I love; and Heidi, my talented friend and editor, for making the book shine.

To Marlene, Rebecca, Braden, and Don, my awesome critique group, for helping me polish this manuscript and see problems I couldn’t on my own.

And of course to my family. My mom, Linda, for being so willing and enthusiastic to read anything I write; my sisters, Lucy, Sarah, and Letha, for helping me with the plot and reading the choppy, earlier versions of this book; and Jeff, for his love, support, encouragement, and being so willing to help out when I need it most.

Chapter One

A baby.

Well, more like a toddler. Maybe. The boy appeared steady on his feet as he stood on a chair, doodling on a whiteboard, so Devon wasn’t sure how to classify him. At what age did kids outgrow the toddler stage?

“Can I help you?” asked an Australian-accented voice. An attractive blonde, businesslike in her dark tailored suit and high heels, stood on the other side of a gleaming, expensive-looking desk, a question in her blue eyes.

“Um, yeah. I’m looking for Stella Walker.”

“You found her.”

Devon had expected her to be older for some reason, with crow’s feet and frown lines. Ornery. The type of person who liked to mess with people’s lives. But Stella Walker looked young, maybe midtwenties, with a complexion devoid of any wrinkles. She neither smiled nor frowned—only scrutinized.

Well, scrutinize away. In twenty-four hours he’d be back on a plane and gone for good. “My name is Devon Pierce. We talked over the phone about a week ago.”

Stella studied him a moment longer before punching a button on her phone. “Tess, would you mind if Ryan colored on your whiteboard for a bit?”

“Of course not.” The accented reply was about an octave above Stella’s. “Send him on down. Tell him I have a lolly lying about waiting to be found.”

The boy grinned, dropped the marker, and hopped from the chair, barely glancing at Devon as he darted out the door. Stella watched him fondly, but when her eyes returned to Devon’s, the poker face was back. “Thanks for coming all the way to Sydney.”

“According to you, I didn’t have much of a choice.”

“You’re from the land of the free, aren’t you? You always have a choice.”

Devon wanted to shine a flashlight in her face—anything to make those blue eyes blink and look elsewhere. “You said it was imperative I meet Lindsay’s son and discuss this with you in person. You do know that imperative means—”

“I know what it means, but you still could’ve said no,” Stella said. “But I’m glad you didn’t.”

“I’m glad that you’re glad, but that doesn’t change my decision. I’m not in a position to be anyone’s guardian, so I’m clueless as to why I needed to fly out here.” Where was aspirin when Devon needed it? “Do you mind if I sit down? I’m still dealing with jet lag.”

Stella gestured to a green upholstered armchair. “Make yourself comfortable.”

“Right,” Devon muttered as he took a seat. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, willing his eyes to remain open. Having spent twenty-five-plus hours waiting in an airport and confined on a plane with not one, but two crying babies, Devon wanted nothing more than to sign whatever he needed to sign, get a decent night’s sleep in his hotel room, and fly back to America.

Devon massaged his temples, attempting to relieve the mounting pressure. “Okay, so now that we’ve established I’m here by my own free will, can we please get on with it?”

Stella sat down and opened a file on her desk. “I want you to take Ryan for two weeks.”

Headache forgotten, Devon practically shouted, “Two weeks? Are you out of your mind? I’ve already told you, more than once, that I can’t take the kid—not for two weeks, not for a month, and definitely not permanently. Nor can I stay in Australia for that long. I’m needed back in the States. It’s called a job—maybe you’re familiar with that definition as well?”

Stella continued to thumb through the file. “If, after two weeks, you still refuse to become Ryan Caldwell’s legal guardian, you can return to America as free and alone as you left it.”

The girl was insane. Did she really think he’d believe that? “You’re telling me I’m required to take the boy for two weeks? By law?”

“Yes . . . you are.” The hesitation in her voice belied her words.

“I’d like to see that in writing.”

A pencil twirled between her fingers as she avoided eye contact. “Australia has thousands of laws. It would take me days to track down that specific one. But I’ll be happy to let you see it as soon as I find it.”

“Or I could simply call another lawyer.”

“You mean solicitor,” Stella said, as if he were a student and she his teacher. “In Australia, we’re called either solicitors or barristers. Solicitors are mostly lawyers outside of court and barristers present cases in court.”

Devon blinked. Why would he possibly care about that? “Uh, thanks for the tutorial.”

“Well, I would’ve wanted to know.”

“Why don’t you push that button on your phone and get your friend on the line again. I’ll double check with her about that so-called law.”

Stella sighed. “Listen. For some reason Lindsay was adamant that you become Ryan’s guardian. She wouldn’t hear of anyone else. Not even—” Her knuckles turned white and Devon half-expected the pencil to snap from the pressure.

Or maybe it was Devon who was about to snap. “Why me? It doesn’t make any sense. Are you sure Lindsay was in her right mind when she had the will drawn up?”

The pencil finally broke, although Stella didn’t appear to notice. “Of course she was. She didn’t even hesitate when she signed the will either. She wanted you, and only you. Why can’t you even consider it?”

“Because I’m a single guy who knows nothing about kids and works hard for a living. I have absolutely no room in my life for anyone’s kid—least of all a stranger’s.”

Elbows came to rest on the top of the desk, and Stella clasped her fingers together. “Lindsay lived with your family for a year. How can you not remember her?”

“It was only nine months, and thanks to my sister, I do remember her now—vaguely. She was five years younger than me, staying with us as a foreign exchange student, and she hung out with my younger sister. I was in high school and hardly ever home, so forgive me for not keeping her memory alive.”

Stella glared at him.

Devon knew he could have been more tactful, but he didn’t care. Stella wouldn’t even look at the situation from his perspective. Instead, little Miss Chastiser sat on her throne and accused him of being selfish. It made him want to shake some sense into her, but he could only imagine the legal ramifications if he did that. Besides, they were getting nowhere, and Devon’s hotel bed was calling his name. Loudly.

So he decided to give reason one last chance. “Please try to understand. I’m the owner of a company and work eighty hours a week. I live alone in a studio apartment in a busy city—not the best atmosphere for a child. If Lindsay had only taken the time to contact me or look into my situation, she would’ve realized that I’m the last person in the world capable of caring for a small boy.”

Worry lines creased Stella’s brow as she played with the broken pencil pieces. “You’re right. Lindsay messed up. She should have called you, and I have no idea why she didn’t. One conversation and she would’ve known there’s no way you could ever make a decent—”

Again, Stella cut herself off, only this time Devon knew what she hadn’t said. It was obvious. And it hurt. Mostly because it wasn’t the first time he’d been accused of that fault.

“Father,” he said, his voice cold and hard. “There’s no way I could ever make a decent father. Right?”

“I was actually going to say guardian,” Stella admitted. “And sorry. I didn’t mean for it to sound that way, especially when I don’t even know you. I was referring more to the circumstances than your parenting skills.”

“Apology accepted.”

Stella searched his face with pleading eyes. “But the fact still remains that Lindsay chose you. All I’m asking is that you give it a try. Two weeks. Fourteen days.” She paused. “Please.”

Her confident, rigid demeanor was gone, and she sounded . . . what? Depleted? Worried? Troubled? He wasn’t sure, but suddenly he found it hard to say no. “There’s got to be someone else in a better situation who actually wants to take him.”

Stella winced at his words. “Even if there were, Lindsay insisted on you. She promised me that you were the right choice.”

The office phone beeped, and a deep male voice erupted through the small speaker. “Stella, could you come to my office?”

“I’m in the middle of a meeting, Gerald.”

“It’s important and will only take a moment.”

With raised eyebrows, Stella glanced at Devon. He nodded.

“I’ll be right there.” Then to Devon, she said, “Please excuse me,” before striding out the door. Her long, blonde ponytail swayed along with her hips as she walked down the hall and disappeared into another office.

Devon frowned as he absently clasped and unclasped his fingers. Her earnest “please” had been like a blast of warm water when he’d expected cold, and it bothered him that she could nudge his conscience so easily. Why couldn’t she have stayed brusque and demanding? The girl who made up fake laws and broke pencils? Instead she’d changed the rules halfway through the game. Cheated.

It wasn’t fair.

The truth was, Devon could take a couple of weeks off—even longer, if he wanted. But why? Was Stella hoping he’d change his mind? That two short weeks was enough time to convince him to keep Ryan permanently? Devon almost laughed at the thought. Maybe if he was married or in a better position to be a parent. But he wasn’t. And besides, he’d been told more than once that his world revolved too much around work and not enough around people and relationships.

Which was true. Devon lived, breathed, and practically ate work. It was his life, his motivation, his salvation. Without it, he’d have nothing but empty time. And time, without distractions, was an enemy to him. There was nothing worse than boredom.

But for some reason, Lindsay Caldwell had wanted him to be her son’s guardian. Why? When her hazy thirteen-year-old face had finally registered, Devon remembered that Lindsay had hardly spoken to him during those nine months. She’d never really known him, much less the thirty-year-old version of him. Why would she choose a near stranger to look after someone who was so important to her? And why did Devon now feel like he’d be letting down her, himself, and maybe even God if he didn’t try?

If only he could do away with his conscience. It had plagued Devon his entire life, grilling him to take back the Snickers bar he’d stolen when he was nine, making him feel bad for the chewed-up wad of gum he’d placed on a despised teacher’s chair in seventh grade, and forcing him to rat out a friend for doing drugs in high school.

And now that same conscience goaded him to take Ryan for two weeks, telling him it was the right thing to do, that he could leave with a better feeling in his gut if he only gave it a try.

Two weeks. Just two weeks. Fourteen days. Devon could handle the boy for that long, couldn’t he? At least then the stubborn and manipulative Stella would know from experience it wouldn’t work out.

“You’re still here,” Stella said as she walked back into the office. “I assumed you’d be long gone by now.”

“You didn’t dismiss me,” Devon said. “I was worried I’d be breaking another one of your many Australian laws if I left without your permission. With you being a solicitor and all, I figured I’d be rotting in some jail by nightfall.”

“I’m not a cop.”

“I’m sure you have connections.”

“True.”

“And I’m also pretty sure you’d be the prosecutor.”

Her lips twitched. “Actually, it would have to be a police prosecutor, but . . . never mind.”

The desire to argue seeped out of Devon. He knew he was going to cave, but not until he gave it one last pathetic attempt. “I’m not what you’d call father-figure material.”

“Obviously.”

She probably meant it as a joke, but it still hit a sore spot. Devon was tired of being told he’d make a lousy father when he’d never had the chance to prove otherwise.

Here’s your chance,
a voice whispered in his head.

Dang that conscience. “Okay, you win. I’ll take him for two weeks, but that’s it.”

“Really?” She let out a breath. “Thank you.”

“I mean it. Just two weeks. After that, no more guilt trips, okay?”

“Deal.” Stella’s smile spread across her face and enlarged her eyes. It was a good thing she hadn’t looked at him like that from the beginning or Devon wouldn’t have stayed strong as long as he had. At least now he could take some pride in the fact that he hadn’t given in without a fight.

“So . . . what now?” Devon said.

“I need to get some information from you and then I’ll introduce you to Ryan.”

As she shuffled through the papers on her desk, Devon said, “The boy who was coloring on your whiteboard earlier—he’s Lindsay’s son?”

“Yeah, that was Ryan.”

“How old is he?”

“Four.”

“So, uh, not a toddler anymore?”

The smile was back. “No, not a toddler. A darling little boy.”

Stella passed him a stack of papers that looked like an extensive job application. What was his name, address, phone number? Did he have a local address? And then a few more personal questions: Was he married? Did he have any children? What was his annual salary? Devon scribbled on the pages, answering all the questions briefly while he blinked and tried to relieve the sleep-deprived dryness in his eyes.

Signing his name, Devon handed the pages back to Stella. “Is that all?”

“For now. I’ll go and get Ryan.”

A few moments later she returned holding the boy’s hand in her own. Crouching beside him, she said, “Ryan, I want you to meet Devon Pierce.”

Dark eyes peeked at Devon under a mop of curly light-brown hair. “Hey, you have my same name.”

“Yes,” Stella said. “He does, doesn’t he? And that means that you two are going to be really good friends.” Turning to Devon, she explained, “His name is Ryan Devon Caldwell.”

“Really? Was he named after . . .” No, he couldn’t be.

“Yes,” Stella confirmed. “Lindsay may not have made much of an impression on you, but you definitely made one on her.”

Not knowing what to say, Devon opted for silence. Ryan, his namesake, shifted his weight from one foot to the other, as though the boy didn’t like standing still. Maybe he was like Devon in that respect, needing to move and stay busy.

Other books

In Too Deep by Stella Rhys
If You Wrong Us by Dawn Klehr
Ancient Eyes by David Niall Wilson
Passage of Arms by Eric Ambler
What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe
Unnatural Wastage by Betty Rowlands
The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer