"Pamela Browning has a gift for creating memorable characters and richly detailed settings." Romantic Times

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Chapter One, EVER SINCE EVE excerpt

December 2, 2013

"Wombs for rent"

And next thing she knows, Eve Triopolous is signing on the dotted line to carry a baby to term.

Eve is unemployed, down on her luck, and sole support of her disabled dad. When she spots an ad calling for a surrogate mother, she impulsively responds.

Money is important, but more compelling is the longing on the faces of Derek and Kelly Lang, who hire her to bear their child. Derek is a wealthy business magnate, and Kelly becomes Eve's closest friend. The Langs will be fantastic parents and their baby the luckiest in the world.

Then tragedy strikes, leaving Eve and Derek to decide what's going to happen to the precious small life that Eve carries beneath her heart. How can she convince handsome Derek that he'll be a wonderful father? And how can she prove that she is the best mommy for his little bundle of joy? Because by now, Eve has found the love of her life. The two loves of her life - and she's never letting go.

by Pamela Browning

Chapter 1

"I'm really sorry, Ms. Triopolous. You seem well qualified, but we've already hired someone else."

Eve swallowed her disappointment, shook hands with the interviewer, and escaped into the early spring sunshine of Charlotte, North Carolina. She’d hoped that this particular job in the public relations department of a large advertising agency might be exactly suited to her, and, in fact, it was. But she'd lost out on this position as she had lost out on so many others.

"You're overqualified," they'd tell her, or, equally exasperating, "Your experience is excellent, but unfortunately we don't have an opening right now." Even though Eve was a cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina, no one wanted to hire her. She'd lost her previous job as public relations manager of an electronics manufacturer over a year ago when the company moved to India.

"Cheap labor, that's the name of the game these days," her manager had told her when he delivered the news. "Nothing personal, Eve. You did a great job."

The sound of her heels on the pavement was muffled by the rundown condition of her shoes, a defeated sound that produced no echo. She retreated past houses with signs declaring Rooms for Rent.

Well, that was one thing she and Al, her father, hadn't tried yet—renting out the extra room in their tiny house. It was, she reminded herself, something she could keep in mind as a last resort if they weren't evicted first.

By the time she reached the nearby park, she admitted to herself that she had no other options but to find a lodger, and even the meager rent derived from renting a room wouldn't help much. She wished fervently that she would land a job, but she'd tried every ad in the newspaper and on Craigslist to no avail. She'd been searching for months and heard every excuse in the book: She was overqualified. She was under qualified. Their ideal candidate had a master's degree. And so on.

Eve eased herself down on a convenient park bench next to a bed of purple-and-yellow pansies, their quaint, kittenlike faces upturned toward the sun. She'd always been partial to pansies; violets and roses were too showy, too intense. I'm like a pansy, she thought with pleasure. Quaint, quiet, calm. Not flashy.

Nearby a small boy tossed bread into the water. Three white ducks paddled furiously across the tiny pond, racing each other for the food, furrowing the sparkling blue ripples into shimmering wakes. The boy squealed in delight and ran to beg more bread crusts from his mother, who tousled her son's curly hair before he danced out of reach. Eve smiled and inhaled a breath of balmy, fragrant air. The soft breezes of spring were sweeping away a long, cold winter, and she was glad.

Dire rumblings from the region of her stomach reminded her she was hungry. She shook a solitary plastic-wrapped sandwich from a brown paper bag. Someone had left a newspaper on the bench, and she unfolded it to read while she ate.

The ad fairly jumped out at her from the Personals section. In stark contrast to the other ads set in small type, this one captured her eye with bold capital letters:
Couple will pay $20,000 plus expenses to healthy woman to bear their child. Replies confidential. Call 555-4272.

Intrigued, Eve lowered the newspaper to her lap. Twenty thousand dollars!
Did it really say twenty thousand?

She scanned the ad again. Yes, it did. That was a lot of money to Eve Triopolous at this low point in her life.

With that much money, she could move her father out of their rented house.

With twenty thousand dollars, she could pay a hefty portion of Al's considerable medical expenses and keep up payments on her student loans.

But maybe it wouldn't be that easy.

She tried to remember what she knew about surrogate mothers. They were hired by couples who were unable to conceive a child. The surrogate was artificially inseminated with the husband's sperm, which united with the surrogate mother's egg.

The surrogate's job was to carry the baby to term, surrendering it to its father and his wife soon after delivery.

Could Eve become pregnant? She tried on the word for size. Pregnant. She didn't see why she wouldn't be fertile. Eve met the only qualifications stated in the ad. She was a woman, and she was healthy.

She hadn't caught so much as a cold in the past five years. Her body hummed along, breathing, digesting, doing all the things a body was supposed to do, even when she fueled it on a diet composed largely of bologna sandwiches, peanut butter, and junk food. Presumably her body could become pregnant, too. Pregnancy was, after all, merely another bodily process. And bodily processes were nothing to be afraid of. They were natural, normal.

She might as well face it; she'd tried everything else. Today, basking in the warm sunshine, sliding her tired feet surreptitiously out of her shoes because they were sore from walking from interview to interview to save gas, Eve was feeling truly desperate and to some extent hopeless. She remained unemployed even after applying for every job that seemed within the range of her wide capabilities, and her responsibilities at home weighed heavily on her narrow shoulders. Not the least of all, she was sick of bologna sandwiches.

Eve didn't stop to think about what her father, with his Old World ways, would say. She didn't care about anyone else's opinion, either. She wasn't afraid of being pregnant, and she didn't look for reasons why she shouldn't be a surrogate mother. At the moment, desperate as she was, there weren't any.

She fished through her purse for her cell phone. Then, after recklessly tossing the sandwich in a nearby trash can, she dialed the number in the ad.

Wombs for rent, she thought wryly to herself, and then she braced herself for the conversation to come. (more…)