Fortune’s Secret Baby

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Thirteen steps.

The length of the baby’s room, from the crib near the bay window to the doorway at the opposite corner, could be covered in thirteen steps.

Cooper Fortune had been counting, repeatedly, for the last interminably long twenty minutes while the squirming five-month-old in his arms wailed loud enough to wake the dead.

Anthony, middle name still unknown, Fortune. His son. A child he’d only known existed for the last week and a half.

Probability of Paternity = 99.99%.

That’s what the laboratory had told him when they’d called with the results and in the blink of an eye, Cooper Fortune, wandering cowboy, had a child.

“Looks like you lost the parent lottery.” Cooper spoke above the baby’s cries as he paced the small room, cradling the flailing infant against his chest. “Welcome to the club, buddy. My folks were lousy, too.”

He had no memory of his father, and Cooper’s mother, Cindy Fortune, a former showgirl and wanna-be socialite, easily held the number one spot on the list of worst mothers in the history of the world.

“Of course, we still don’t know what happened to your mama,” Cooper continued, noticing the decibel level of the baby’s cries, not to mention the wiggle factor, had lessened as soon as he started talking. “But your Uncle Ross is on the case and I’m sure he’ll find her soon. I wish I knew why she left you and how the hel— heck you ended up here in Red Rock.”

And why Lulu never bothered to tell him she was pregnant.

He’d met Lulu Carlton at a local bar about a year and a half ago while working on a ranch in Rock Country, Minnesota. They dated for about six months, but when Cooper’s job ended, so had the relationship. Anthony’s estimated birth date was around the middle of December, which meant the child was conceived just before Cooper high tailed it out of Minnesota early last year.

And didn’t that make him feel like a loser?

As he stared down at the little bundle looking up at him with a curious gaze from familiar dark brown eyes, Cooper had no idea what to do next.

“This isn’t working out too well, huh partner? We haven’t exactly had much one-on-one time, until tonight. And usually you’re a bit quieter.”

Cooper watched the baby rub at his eyes with tiny fists. The crying lowered to a soft whimpering for a moment. Could the pacing and talking actually be working?

Cooper headed for the crib. Maybe he could get back downstairs before the end of the Red Sox/Rangers game he’d been watching in between reading a book that promised to tell him everything he needed to know about dealing with a baby. He leaned over the railing, making sure to support Anthony’s head like he’d seen Kristin do numerous times, but the moment the kid went horizontal, the screams returned.

“Okay, so you’re not ready to concede.” Cooper gathered the baby to his chest and started walking again, patting Anthony gently on his back. “Boy, you got some lungs on you. I don’t recollect you putting up this much of a fuss before.”

Cooper had slept in the spare bedroom downstairs for three nights before he’d heard a peep out of the kid after bedtime. At first he hadn’t known what the noise was, heck, it sounded a bit like a baby calf bellowing for its mama.

“But by the time I hightailed up here, Miss Kristen already had things taken care of, huh? Not tonight, though. Tonight it’s just you and me—”

“What going on? Is he okay?”

He turned toward the feminine voice. His cousin’s fiancée, Kristen Allen stood at the doorway. When Anthony let loose another howl, she crossed the room in a heartbeat and reached for the baby.

And Cooper let her take him.

His first instinct had been to keep hold of his son, but Anthony had stuck out his little arms for the petite brunette as soon as he saw her.
“Oh, sweetie, what’s all this crying about,” Kristen cooed as she held the child close. “It’s okay now, I’ve got you.”

Cooper crossed his arms over his chest, ignoring the pang in his heart at her words.

“He’s been bawling like that for close to a half hour now,” he said when she looked at him. “He calmed down some, but I guess that was just a rest before he revved up again.”

“Is he wet? Did you check his diaper?”


Damn! Cooper let his silence answer her.

Kristen walked to the changing table and laid Anthony down on the padded cushion. “What about a bottle?” she asked, her tone softer, matching Anthony’s now quiet fussing while making quick work of changing the baby. “It’s been a few hours since he last ate. Did you make up a bottle for him from the formula we left on the kitchen counter?”

Strike two. The thought of a bottle never crossed his mind. “I’ll go get one now.”

She paused in closing up a fresh diaper on the baby to look at him. “Cooper, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound so—”

“Don’t worry about it.” He waved off her apology and headed for the doorway. “Be back in a minute.”

Seconds later, he walked into the kitchen but stopped at the sight of his cousin, Jeremy Fortune, a can of powered formula and jug of filtered water in front of him, mixing up a bottle.

Cooper leaned against the door frame and fought not to react to the unnamed emotion bubbling up inside him at the sight of the doctor who looked so at ease fixing a meal for his son.

But life in general was easy for his cousin; being one of the good Fortunes made it so for him and his four brothers, all of whom had found success, both professionally and in their personal lives. Cooper and his siblings had never had it easy despite sharing the Fortune name, a name that carried a lot of respect and admiration, not only in Red Rock, but all of Texas.

Then again, Cooper’s brother Ross and their sister, Frannie, both had finally found happiness and love over the last year and his other brother Flint had made a name for himself as a fine arts dealer.

So where did that leave him?     

Up until a couple of weeks ago he’d lived a good life with a few simple guidelines. Always do the best job you can. A healthy bank account was more important than material belongings. Avoid stepping on another man’s toes where the ladies were concerned.

And no putting down roots, better to be a rolling stone than a moss-covered rock stuck in one place. That last one led easily to the most important rule of all.

Never marry or have kids.

No sense getting involved when his personal history made it clear he was never going to be any good at it. Being a wandering cowboy, moving from ranch to ranch, job to job, came as natural to him as breathing.

Happily ever after? Not for him.

Scrubbing his face with his hand, Copper pulled his mind from the past to deal with the here and now. He wasn’t angry, at least not with Jeremy or Kristen. They were only doing what they knew was right for Anthony.

Was he pissed at himself for not remembering the basics Kristen had tried to drill into his head for the last ten days? Or was it something more—a sense of defeat, of loss?

When Anthony had pulled away from him and reached for the woman who’d been taking care of him for the last four months he felt like he’d been kicked in the gut by a wayward horse hoof.

“Ah, I guess I beat you to bottle duty.” Jeremy finally noticed Cooper standing there. “We heard Anthony crying when we walked in. I told Kristen to let you handle things, but she lasted less than five minutes before heading upstairs. I figured having a second bottle ready to go wouldn’t hurt.”

Cooper smiled, hoping for the practiced grin he’d refined back in high school that had charmed everyone from cheerleaders to the local sheriff deputies. “You figured right.”

Jeremy secured a clear plastic cap over the nipple and tossed the bottle in Cooper’s direction.

He grabbed it midair. “Why don’t you take it upstairs?” Cooper said. “I figured I’d catch the end of the game.”

His cousin just shook his head. “He’s your kid, Daddy.”

That was the first time someone had called him that and it hit Cooper right between the eyes. Hell, he hadn’t said the word to himself yet.

“What?” Jeremy asked.

Cooper shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Look, I know this…this whole situation is the craziest thing we’ve ever had to deal with—”

“With this family?”

A slight frown slipped over Jeremy’s face. “Okay, the craziest thing you’ve had to deal with since you headed out for greener pastures twenty odd years ago, but you’re doing…you seem to be working hard at figuring everything out.”


His cousin put the jug of water into the refrigerator before turning back. “You know, finding out she wasn’t Anthony’s aunt was a bit of a shock for Kristen. She and her brother believed the baby was his after his ex-girlfriend left Anthony with them.”

Cooper had already heard this crazy story.

When they’d managed to finally find the ex-girlfriend, she admitted neither she nor Kristen’s brother was the baby’s true parents and that another man she was involved with gave her the baby to care for. Then the ex-girlfriend skipped town. The police were still trying to find her.

“If that gold medallion hadn’t been left with Anthony,” Jeremy continued, “who knows if we would’ve ever connected the baby to your side of the family.”

Cooper nodded. The medallion was one of four identical coins given to him and his siblings years ago as a Christmas gift from their mother. He hadn’t even realized it was missing from the inside zippered pocket of his duffle bag all these months.

“It’s been hard for Kristin, but she’s happy you two have found your way to each other. She just wants what’s best for everyone. What’s best for Anthony.”

And you aren’t it.

The words weren’t spoken, but Cooper got the message.

Loud and clear.


“Are you nuts?” Flint Fortune took a long swallow before returning his beer bottle to the table with a loud thud. “Moving out? Living alone with Anthony? You’ve been in the kid’s life two weeks!”

Cooper ignored his younger brother and concentrated on Ross, the older one, who sat across from him in a booth at Red, a celebrated family restaurant in Red Rock. Owned by Jose and Maria Mendoza, and Red was managed by one of their many offspring, Marcos, who’d sat the Fortune brothers in a corner booth allowing for a private conversation.

Ross eyed him over the rim of his own beer, one brow raised.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a few days,” Cooper answered Ross’s unspoken question, his thumb tracing patterns in the condensation on his glass of iced tea. “I know it’s the right thing for me. And for Anthony.”

Taking a mouthful of iced tea to soothe his parched throat, Cooper reminded himself again why he’d sworn off alcohol the night he’d found out about his son.

There was no way his child would ever associate the stale odor of booze with a parental touch. The few times Cindy had displayed half-hearted affection to Cooper the embrace always reeked of perfume, cigarette smoke and whatever drink she’d chosen as her favorite cocktail of that week.

“You’ve had a rough couple of weeks, first Anthony and then finding out Lulu had been dead all these months instead of just a runaway parent. You sure this isn’t misplaced guilt?” Ross finally asked.


“Identifying a former girlfriend’s remains in a morgue is something I never want on my ‘to-do’ list,” Ross continued. “And giving her a proper burial yesterday was a decent thing to do.”

“Lulu didn’t have any family. I did what needed to be done. I still wish I knew why she never tried to find me.”

“Well, we guessed she came to Red Rock back in January to see you because she’d read the news about William and Lily’s wedding.” Flint shoved a fork full of fajitas and guacamole into his mouth and quickly chewed. “The forensics report did say her car accident happened around that date.”

“That still doesn’t explain how my son ended up with Kristen’s brother’s ex-girlfriend. Or should I say with her lover? Unless Lulu purposely left the baby with him,” Cooper said.

“Or why Lulu didn’t try to contact you long before the baby was born,” Ross added.

“Not that you would’ve been easy to find,” Flint added. “Hell, you finally got your first cell phone a week ago. Welcome to the twenty-first century, bro.”

The device was a necessity now because of the baby, and Cooper still wasn’t used to the contraption hanging from his belt. Still, even if he’d had a cell phone last year, would he have shared the number with Lulu?

“Lulu wasn’t happy I was leaving town, but it’s not like she begged me to stick around.” Cooper pushed around the food on his plate, his appetite suddenly gone. “We both made it clear from the beginning neither of us was interested in settling down. You guys know me, my life is—was—about being a cowboy, being free to go where I want, when I want. Maybe Lulu figured it was best if I wasn’t in the kid’s life at all.”

“But now you are.”

He let the fork drop to the plate. “Yes, and I need one-on-one time with my son if we’re ever going to find our way.”

“You don’t plan on leaving town, do you?” Ross asked.

Cooper shook his head. “No. Red Rock is home. The Fortunes are here and they’re Anthony’s family.”

“Damn right we are.”