Rachel Belmore was jolted from a dream, awash with dread. "The baby!" the words crashed against her temples. Her breathing came in gasps.
Still groggy from the pill Wes had given her, she sat upright in bed and listened. No sound reached her. Wes, careful not to disturb her, must have slipped out of bed and closed the bedroom door she insisted on keeping open.
She dropped her head back on the pillow. Since Ellie's birth eleven months before, Rachel's sleep only skirted the periphery of dreams. The night before, she had lain in the dark next to the sleeping Wes, her ears attuned to any rustle coming from the nursery, her tense body ready to leap with the slightest new sound--or after a prolonged silence.
"How do you expect to keep up your strength without sleep?" Wes asked in the morning when she dashed out the door for a nine o'clock client meeting. She had been up since seven, feeding and playing with Ellie. "Certainly not with a full-time career."
Before bedtime, he handed her a vial of sleeping pills brought from his office. "Take one Saturday and Tuesday; I'll do all the getting up when no surgeries are scheduled in the morning," he said. "As your private physician, I order you to get a good night's sleep. Starting tonight."
In response, Rachel made a playful salute and clicked her heels. She loved to make him laugh; it made her feel witty, sprightly. Dr. Wesley Belmore's love for her was the mirror from which her own image reflected back at her, and where she saw a winner.
The whirring stillness of the room closed in on her. "The baby." The words continued to bang inside her head. Why hadn't Wes returned if Ellie was fine? Rachel pushed herself out of bed and rushed toward Ellie's room. In the dark corridor she nearly knocked over the sculpture stand.
At the door to the nursery she froze.
In the darkness, she could barely discern Wes's silhouette bent over the crib. To her disoriented mind, his body appeared contorted. A stranger's figure.
Was she hallucinating?
Rachel's muffled groan made Wes straighten. He turned slowly, and let out his low, throaty laugh, full of savoir-faire. Instantly, it wrapped her in its warmth.
"Are you okay, honey?"
"Is she all right?" she whispered.
His long fingers reached gently toward the soft hair on Ellie's head. "We have a beautiful baby," he replied, awe in his voice.
"What were you doing?--" Rachel clammed up. She moved closer to the crib and stared down. Ellie slept, her breathing dry and even. It was madness. Even if sleeping medication swam in her brain, she must be suffering from a protracted postpartum depression to even think--
Ellie's finely carved mouth puckered and moved in a sweet sucking motion. She stirred and brought her thumb to her mouth.
"She'll have buck teeth," Rachel said, still staggering in an air pocket of dread.
"Relax, honey." He drew Rachel to his chest and planted little kisses on her face.
"Relax?" she mumbled into his silk paisley robe. She breathed in deep. She adored his smell. "Who said, 'To have a child is to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body?'"
"She's fine." He drew her closer. "Remember, I've been through this before."
She hated to be reminded of his other daughter. Was it possible he loved another child as much as he loved Ellie? It had been several years since Stephanie's mother moved to southern New Jersey, two hours away, which made visiting with his child difficult. Whenever Wes spoke of it, it was with an atypical fury, and his eyes, pulsating with anger, scared Rachel. Accustomed to being in charge, Wes had no tolerance for events that took their own turn.
Grateful that he didn't bring up his former wife, Rachel allowed him to lead her back to bed. He spooned her in his arms. "I love you," he murmured, and rocked her to sleep.
Copyright Talia Carner 2002. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt please contact the author at www.taliacarner.com
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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