printed copy

Mr. And Miss Anonymous

Fern Michaels

ISBN 9780821779576
Publish Date 12/27/2011
Format Paperback
Categories Women's Fiction, Zebra, Fern Michaels

“Fast-moving…Entertaining…a roller-coaster ride of serendipitous fun.” —Publishers Weekly

Hope Lies In The Past

Like many college students struggling to get by, Lily Madison and Peter Kelly help pay for tuition by making donations to a local fertility clinic. One day they meet each other at the clinic and find they have more in common than their mutual attraction, like the odd feeling all is not as it seems at the clinic. But their meeting is brief and Lily and Pete go their separate ways.

Twenty years later, Pete, now a wealthy entrepreneur, sees Lily in an airport and instantly falls for her all over again. While they enjoy their unlikely reunion, a story on the news captures their attention: the disappearance of two teenage boys may be linked to the fertility clinic Pete and Lily visited in college. In a shocking twist, one of the boys looks exactly like Pete…

“Thrilling.” —Booklist

“A page turner and one of the author’s best romantic suspense tales to date.” —Fresh Fiction

Prologue

University of California
Berkeley Campus, 1986

Peter Aaron Kelly stared out of his grungy apartment window not caring that he was running late. His roommates had gone home for the Christmas holiday, so he had the sparsely furnished apartment to himself. Maybe he should just blow off his appointment at the clinic and go straight to his job at the café, where he worked as a waiter for the three-hour lunch period. But, he needed the last payment from the clinic. Needed it desperately to pay the final installment on his tuition for his last semester. In the end, what the hell difference did it make one way or the other? He shrugged his shoulders, reached for his Windbreaker and baseball cap.

Thirty-five minutes later, Pak, as he was known to his friends, entered the Berkeley Sperm Bank thirteen minutes late. The unlucky number didn’t go unnoticed by him. For one crazy moment he wanted to bolt, but the last reminder from the billing office told him he had no other choice. He signed in using his donor number of 8446. He turned his baseball cap around so the bill could tickle his neck as he sat down and picked up a magazine. Like he was really going to read Field & Stream.

His eyes glued to the glossy magazine cover, he didn’t look up when a steady stream of guys paraded past him, some leaving, some entering. He’d done this gig eleven times. Everyone entered and exited this place with eyes downcast just the way he did. No one spoke, no one made eye contact. All they wanted was to get the hell out of there so they could try to exorcise their personal shame and spend the guilt money. He should know because he was one of them. He took a moment to wonder how many of the donors walking through the clinic’s doors went to the counseling sessions that were so strongly recommended each time a donor signed a contract. He took another moment to wonder who owned the place. Probably some very rich person. More guilt piled up on his shoulders as he waited patiently for his number to be called.

Pete shifted his mind to a neutral zone and closed his eyes. He thought about his family back at the farm in Idaho where they grew potatoes. They’d all be getting ready for Christmas. One of his brothers had probably cut down the tree by now, and it was sitting in the living room just waiting to be decorated. His nieces and nephews were probably driving everyone crazy to decorate the tree, but his mother would make them wait for the branches to settle themselves so, as she put it, her heirloom decorations wouldn’t fall off. He wondered what his mother would serve for Christmas Eve dinner. A turkey or a ham. Maybe even both. Five different pies. Well, probably just the turkey or just the ham, but not both. And maybe only two pies this year, he thought, remembering his father had told him it’d been a bad year with a blight that had hit the plants midseason. His mouth started to water at the thought of what he was missing. Oh, well, five more months and he could go home for a week or so before he started job hunting.

Pete’s thoughts shifted to his three-and-a-half-year struggle to get through college. He thought of the lean meals, the long days of work followed by all-night study sessions, and getting by on only a few hours’ sleep. So many times he wanted to call it quits, but something deep inside him wouldn’t allow it because he was determined to be a self-made millionaire by the age of forty.

The day he made his first million he was going to do two things. The first thing he was going to do was send his family to Hawaii and set them up in a nice house right on the ocean. The second thing he was going to do was buy this goddamn place, and the minute the ink was dry on the contract, he was going to burn it to the ground.

A chunky woman in a nurse’s uniform appeared in the doorway. “Number 8446. You’re up next. You’re late this morning, 8446.” Not bothering to wait to see if he would offer up an explanation, the woman said, “Room 5. You know what to do.”

Yeah, I know what to do, Pete thought as he brushed past the woman. He knew she didn’t approve of what went on there behind the numbered doors, but she worked there anyway, collected a paycheck. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t make it compute in his head. At one point he decided she was a hypocrite and let it go at that. He didn’t give a good rat’s ass if she approved of what he and hundreds of other guys were doing or not. He always stared her down when she handed him the envelope at the end of the session.

Pete entered Room 5. The setup was always the same. Small TV. Porno movie in the VCR. Dozens of what his father would call “girlie magazines.” Equipment. He argued with himself for a full five minutes. I don’t want to do this again. I can’t do this anymore. You have to do it. If you don’t, the next semester is gone. Just close your eyes and do it. No. Yes. In the end, he lost the argument. He unzipped and turned on the VCR.

In the building next to the sperm bank, Lily Madison entered the egg donor clinic for her last session. She looked at her watch, knowing she had only an hour. She hoped that today’s session would go as quickly as her others had. She closed her eyes, trying to imagine what she was going to feel when she picked up her last check for $6,000. Relief? Guilt? Satisfaction that her last semester was going to be paid for? Maybe all three. When she left after graduation, she would never, ever come back to this place. Never, ever.

Lily adjusted her homemade denim hat with the big sunflower on it as she walked through the swinging doors. For some reason, wearing a hat gave her confidence and courage. She’d tried to explain it to her roommates, but they just laughed at her. They said she wore hats because she hated her kinky, curly hair. Maybe it was both. Her head up, she marched up to the desk and signed in as Donor 1114. Within minutes she was whisked into an examining room.

When it was all over, Lily dressed and sighed with relief. She could leave the place and never come back. Her eyes filled with tears. How weird was that? She swiped them away as she walked toward the payment window. She handed the clerk the slip the doctor had given her and waited. She almost swooned when the check was in her hand. She thought about buying a bottle of wine and drinking it all, by way of celebrating the end of this . . . this . . . experience in her life. It was such a stupid thought, she chased it out of her mind. From here on, what had transpired over the past months was a memory. A memory she could think about or forget about. It’s no big deal, she told herself as she walked out into the late-afternoon sunshine.

Her thoughts all over the map, she didn’t see him until she landed on the ground, and a hand was outstretched to help her up. “You knocked me down,” Lily said inanely.

“I know, I know, I’m sorry. I mean it, I’m really sorry. Are you all right? Can I do anything for you?”

He smiled, and Lily was charmed.

“I like your hat!”

“I made it.”

“Wow! Are you sure you’re okay?”

He sounds like he cares if I’m all right or not. She nodded and held out her hand. “Lily.”

“Pak,” Pete said, electing to go with his initials instead of his real name. “Are you . . . what I mean is . . . did you?”

Lily nodded again. “I guess you did the . . . uh . . .”

“Yeah, it was my last session.”

“Mine, too.”

“This is embarrassing,” Pete said, offering up his megawatt smile.

“Yes, it is. Are you a student? Do you suppose that when we meet up at one of our reunions, we’ll remember this moment?” Lily asked as she jammed her hat more firmly on her head. Like she was ever going to go to a reunion.

“Yeah. I’m studying to be a teacher. I bet we do. Well, I’m really sorry. If you’re sure you’re okay, I have to get going or I’ll be late for work.”

“I’m okay. I have to get going myself. Good luck.”

Pete turned to walk away, then walked back. “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

Lily shrugged. “Try me.”

“Did you . . . uh . . . did you go to any of the counseling sessions?”

The expression on Pak’s face told her he was serious. “No. I wanted to go, but my schedule . . . No, I didn’t. Did you?”

“No. I hope neither one of us regrets it.”

“You sound like you regret it already. It’s not too late if you feel like that.” Lily wondered if what she was saying was true or not. “Hey, wait a minute. Let me ask you a question. That concrete building that runs across the back of the sperm bank and the donor clinic . . . what is it, do you know? Did you ever hear who owns this place?”

Pete shook his head. “I asked one time, and they more or less told me that it was none of my business. I walked around the block after . . . well, after, and thought it a little strange that the building doesn’t have doors or windows. Is there a reason why you’re asking? Some rich guy with tons of money probably owns it. Isn’t that the way of the world, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer?”

“The first time I went to the clinic, I sort of got lost and wandered down the wrong hallway and you would have thought I was going to plant a bomb. An Amazon of a woman shooed me away. I guess the building belongs to the sperm bank and donor center. I’m just curious by nature. Like you said, no windows or doors. I find that strange.”

“So, are you thinking something sinister is going on? That’s what I thought at first. Now I couldn’t care less. I’m outta here.” Pete narrowed his gaze as he waited for her reply.

Lily laughed, but it was an uneasy sound even to her own ears. “No. Just my womanly curiosity.” But she knew that it was not just “womanly curiosity” at all.

He didn’t know anything about “womanly curiosity.” It was Pete’s turn to shrug. “See ya,” he said, waving airily in her direction.

“Yeah, see you.”

A brisk afternoon wind whipped up. Lily clutched at her hat as she headed for her car, a rusty Nissan with over 150,000 miles on it. Before unlocking the door, she said a prayer, as she always did, that the car would start. To her delight, the engine turned over on the first try.

Lily drove aimlessly, up one street, down another, seeing Christmas shoppers out in full force. It was going to be her first holiday alone. Since her grandmother’s death earlier in the year, there was no reason to go back home to South Carolina. Her parents had abandoned her at the age of four to be raised by her grandmother, then left the country. She didn’t know where they were or even if they were alive. There had been no way to notify her mother when her grandmother passed away. Her eyes filled with tears. She was so alone.

Lily continued to drive and finally decided to stop at a café for a late lunch. She parked the Nissan, climbed out, and entered the cheerful-looking little restaurant, where she settled herself in a far corner. She was shocked out of her wits when she saw the guy with the beaming smile walk toward her table. She gasped. He stopped in his tracks to stare at her.

Pete took the initiative. “I’m not intuitive or anything like that, but do you suppose our meeting like this means something?”

Lily felt her face grow warm. “That we’re both embarrassed? How’s the tuna?”

“Too much mayo. Try the corned beef.”

“Okay. So you work here, huh?”

“Yep. Just the lunch hour. Three hours, actually. Then I pack groceries for three more hours. The jobs work with my schedule, but since we’re on Christmas break I log all the hours I can. How about you?”

“Okay, I’ll take a corned beef on rye. I waitress and tutor. I owe a ton of money on my student loans,” she blurted.

“Yeah, me, too. Coffee or soda?”

“Coffee.”

“I’m about done here, so I’ll bring your order and have coffee with you if you don’t mind. I get to eat here for free, that’s why I keep this job. That’s probably more than you wanted to know.”

Lily shook her head and smiled. Suddenly, she wanted to know everything there was to know about the guy standing next to her.

While she waited for her food, Lily looked around. Crisp blackand- white-check curtains hung on the windows. There was nothing fly-specked about this eatery. The floors were tile and exceptionally clean. The chairs had seat cushions with the same black-and-whitecheck pattern. Green plants were on the windowsills. On closer examination, Lily decided they were herbs and not plants. She wasn’t sure, but she rather thought the special of the day was meat loaf. The aromas were just like the ones she remembered from her grandmother’s kitchen.

“This is a nice place,” Lily said, when Pete joined her with his coffee.

“Two sisters own it, and they do all their own cooking and baking. Once in a while they try out new recipes on me.” He laughed.

Lily loved his laugh, his smile. An awkward silence followed.

Pete stopped drinking his coffee long enough to ask, “So, do you want to talk about it, or do you want to talk about . . . stuff?”

“By it, I guess you mean our donations at the clinic. I’d just as soon forget it. It’s no big deal, you know.”

Pete rolled the words around in his head. No big deal. He looked at her. Her eyes were telling him it was a big deal. “Yeah, right, no big deal. Well, I have to run. It was nice to meet you, Lily. Maybe we’ll run into each other again someplace.”

He wasn’t interested in her. For some reason she thought he was going to ask for her phone number or her address. “Yeah, right,” she said flatly before she bit into her sandwich.

At the door, Pete turned and waved. He didn’t think he’d ever forget the young girl with the sad eyes and the sunflower hat. I should have asked her for her phone number.

The minute the door closed behind Pete, Lily placed some bills on the table and left the café. It’s no big deal, it’s no big deal, she told herself over and over as she slid into the Nissan. Five more months, and I can put this all behind me. Just five months.

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she drove away from the café.

Little did she know how wrong she was.

About Fern Michaels:

Fern Michaels is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood, Men of the Sisterhood and Godmothers series, and dozens of other novels and novellas. There are over ninety-five million copies of her books in print. Fern Michaels has built and funded several large day-care centers in her hometown, and is a passionate animal lover who has outfitted police dogs across the country with special bulletproof vests. She shares her home in South Carolina with her four dogs and a resident ghost named Mary Margaret. Visit her website at fernmichaels.com.

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