PAMELA BROWNING

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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.


EVER SINCE EVE
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:
—SURROGATE MOTHER WANTED—
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.

IT WAS ONLY FIVE DAYS after her phone call that Eve met the Langs.
A nervous Eve, still surprised to find herself there, waited in the cool, crisp, air-conditioned reception room of the Queen City Fertility Clinic. She tapped her foot impatiently. She had polished her shoes using the last of the navy-blue polish. She'd dressed conservatively in a suit and her best white blouse with the lacy frill at the neck, the same one she'd worn to all those job interviews.
Who were the Langs, anyway? That was the first question she had asked Diane Holtman, the clinic counselor, when Diane had called with the news that an infertile couple was interested in Eve and wanted to meet her.

"Mr. Lang is president and CEO of a well-known business in the city," Diane told Eve over the phone. "Mrs. Lang earned a degree in music and volunteers for several of the city's worthwhile charities." Other than that, all Eve knew was that like all couples who consulted the Queen City Fertility Clinic, the Langs were desperate to have a child.

Of course, Eve hadn't dreamed that she'd be called back so soon after taking a comprehensive psychological test and filling out the interminable eight-page form that had made her squirm with its in-depth questions.

"Why do you want to be a surrogate mother?" had been one of them. Eve thought about that one for a long time. Finally, she'd written, "For the money." And then, because it was equally true, she added, "Because I want to help somebody." Eve liked the idea that she and the couple for whom she would carry a child would be mutually helping each other.

"Eve?"

Eve looked up. The receptionist beckoned.

"Follow me, please."

Eve did, twitching surreptitiously at her skirt. She wanted to be perfect. She wanted the Langs to like her. And because her future, if they chose her, would be inextricably intertwined with theirs for as long as it took to create a baby, she wanted to like them.

Diane was waiting for her at the door to her office.

"Eve," Diane said, clasping her hand warmly. She drew Eve inside.

"This is Eve Triopolous," Diane said to the couple sitting on the couch.

With a nervous smile, Eve turned toward the couple, and the moment she saw them, her nervousness melted away. She thought, They're beautiful!

For the Langs were, if any couple could be said to be, a golden couple. Derek Lang was poised and perfect in his well-tailored pin-striped suit. Kelly Lang was blond but not brittle, and she was smiling as if she wanted to put Eve at ease. Derek's coarse butternut-brown hair was combed back from his face in a conservative style, neither too long nor too short. They both carried an indefinable look of the well-to-do.

While she was taking their measure, the Langs were taking hers. Kelly Lang thought in surprise, Why, how sincere and open she looks! Kelly had been initially concerned about what kind of woman would volunteer to be a surrogate mother. But thirty-four years of living had taught Kelly to trust her native intuition, and Eve's natural dignity reassured her.

Diane began to guide the three of them skillfully through the crucial interview, but all the while Diane was talking, Derek Lang paid little attention to what she was saying. His eyes were summing up Eve. Unlike his wife, who was thinking of the internal woman, Derek dealt solely in externals. He was uncommonly pleased with what he saw.

Eve Triopolous's black hair was sleek and shiny. She wore it straight in a blunt cut that emphasized her high cheekbones. Everything about Eve Triopolous was neat and precise. Milky-white skin. A small nose, honed to a fine point at the end, with nostrils that did not flare or spread even when she smiled. Eyebrows naturally dark and smooth and kempt, feathering across her brow like the tips of ravens' wings. Huge brown eyes, eyes you could burrow into, they looked so soft. He'd read on her personality profile that she was twenty-eight years old and had never married. He wondered why someone as pretty as Eve was still single.

"The thing is," his wife was saying earnestly, interrupting his perusal of Eve, "that the child would not be yours at all. We would be using my egg and Derek's sperm, which would be fertilized in a laboratory, and then the resulting embryo would be implanted in your uterus."

Eve had googled surrogate mothers and in vitro fertilization extensively, and she was well prepared for this discussion. "I had assumed that it would be my egg and the husband's sperm, and that the embryo would result from artificial insemination," she said.

"Often artificial insemination is the way it's done when perhaps for some reason the wife isn't producing a viable egg," explained Diane. "But in the case of the Langs, their infertility problem is that Kelly has had a hysterectomy—she has had her uterus surgically removed. She still has ovaries. Kelly's egg can be fertilized with Derek's sperm in vitro, but Kelly, of course, cannot carry a child because she has no uterus. That's where you come in, Eve. The implantation would be done at a hospital by a local gynecologist. You would carry Kelly and Derek's child to term."

Eve's head spun. But this was even better than she'd thought! Her only misgiving involved her mistaken assumption that the baby would result from her egg, would be half hers, part of her, and that she might very well develop emotional ties to it before it was born.

Now even that worry faded away. It would not be Eve's baby at all. She would shelter the child inside her body for nine months, she would bear it, she would turn it over to the Langs. And she would walk away from the experience virtually unscathed, pleased that she was doing a good deed, and not only that, but she would be twenty thousand dollars richer.

And then she would pay their bills, rent a little house in Wrayville where she and Al could live, and she would find a job. Close to home, if possible.

Eve swung her head around to study the Langs. She watched them thoughtfully, studying every detail.

Derek Lang leaned slightly forward in his seat, his clear gray eyes fixed on her in silent entreaty. Eve took in all aspects of him—the broad shoulders, the fine fabric of his suit, the ready intelligence of his expression. He must be a very special kind of man, she thought, to go through this painstaking process in order to have a child. A spark of empathy passed through them in that moment, unmistakable to the two of them. In that moment, Eve recognized the qualities she always looked for in a man—but never found. How fortunate his wife was to have him for a husband!

Kelly Lang gripped her husband's hand so tightly that her knuckles shone white. It was clear to Eve that the Langs were the kind of people who deserved to be parents. Any child of theirs would be a fortunate one indeed. And she knew that all their bright hopes of having a child of their own were pinned on her.

Her decision was made. She didn't have to think about it twice.
With an air of impeccable calm, Eve smiled at the two of them and said softly, "I'm willing if you are."

She was immediately gratified by Derek's beaming smile and the happy tears pooling in Kelly's sky-blue eyes.

Comments

  1. January 31, 2014 11:25 AM EST
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    - Pamela Browning