Catch up on the Prologue here.
My Last Hope
Almost ten years later
Marissa McMillan took a deep breath and made her way into Dr. Sam Fierce’s office. This was her last resort. She’d been emailing him and calling his office for months and finally got through.
Never in a million years did she see herself in this position in life. A single mother, a child with a medical condition and being told it was too risky to operate, but watching her son suffer wasn’t an option either. He wasn’t getting better and he might not if they couldn’t do this surgery.
If one more doctor told her to wait a few years while he grows, she might scream. Those doctors didn’t live with her son. They didn’t care for him while he got infection after infection.
“Marissa McMillan,” the nurse said. “Dr. Fierce will see you now.”
She got up and followed the nurse into Dr. Fierce’s office. Tommy was off having some tests done after his exam twenty minutes ago. Though she wanted to be with him, she was told she couldn’t go, that he’d be in good hands. So far everyone had been nice, even Dr. Fierce.
“Why don’t you have a seat,” Dr. Fierce said when she was led into his office. He got up and shut the door. “Why did you reach out to me?”
“Because I’ve had multiple opinions and I don’t like what I’m told. You’re one of the best there is and I’m hoping you can operate.”
“Tommy is young. The mass doesn’t seem to be growing or not much. I’ve looked over all his files.”
Oh no. Not again. She couldn’t do this another time and felt her eyes start to fill up. “He’s sick a lot. You see that. He gets infection after infection. If I didn’t push his doctors to run more tests they wouldn’t have even found that mass on his liver.”
“You’re right. They probably wouldn’t have. Why did you push?”
“He shouldn’t be getting as sick as he is. It’s like it came out of nowhere. He went from being this healthy energetic kid to always having a cold. A sinus infection. Stomach pains. Ear infections. It’s like his body can’t fight much. The pains in his side are what made me push the tests last year.”
No one wanted to believe her. They’d said Tommy was just a sick kid. A weak immune system. Some kids had them, but she refused to accept that answer.
Finding out he had this mass on his liver and it was now pushing against bile ducts gave her the answers she needed. But knowing no one would operate while Tommy continued to get sick made it worse.
“He had a biopsy done on it about eight months ago,” Dr. Fierce said. “It’s not cancerous.”
“No. But that doesn’t mean it’s not affecting his health. You can see his medical records. I feel like you are my last hope.”
Dr. Fierce sat back and crossed his arms. “Tell me the real reason you sought me out.”
She started to get nervous. “I told you. You’re the best there is.”
He laughed, not really a funny sound. “I am. But there is more to it.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think you do. What’s Tommy’s middle name? What does the R stand for?”
Crap. She knew this might come up. She’d hoped not, but once she got a look at Dr. Sam Fierce the odds were almost against her. He looked a lot like Ryder.
She wasn’t going to lie. It wouldn’t benefit anyone at this point. “Ryder.”
“Tommy is my nephew, isn’t he?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Really?” Dr. Fierce asked. “Are we going to play it this way?”
She started to cry. It was all just too much for her. “Yes. He is. Ryder Fierce is Tommy’s father. Tommy doesn’t know. No one knows.”
“Obviously not my brother either. Ryder might be a lot of things in life, but he’s not someone who would abandon a child. We weren’t raised that way. And if he even considered doing it, my brother and the rest of my family would kick his ass with me leading the way.”
“He doesn’t know. I never told him.”
“Tell me why and what happened.” When she didn’t make a move to speak he said, “I want to help you and I want to help my nephew, but this is a tricky situation. The least you can do is humor me and explain this.”
“Ryder and I were dating for a few months our last semester at Clemson.”
“He never said a word about you. I’d remember your name. I’d remember your face if I saw a picture. Trust me. I know my brother’s tastes and you aren’t anything like who he dates now and things are starting to make sense.”
She didn’t know if there was an insult in there or not but knew there was no reason to cover anything up at this point. She’d been caught and for Tommy’s sake it was time to let the cat out of the bag, even if all his claws were out trying to stay hidden.
She looked around and saw tissues on his desk, helped herself to one and blew her nose. She shouldn’t be upset Ryder had never told his family about her and it just reminded her again and again she never knew him that well.
That Ryder had said all the right things at the time and then turned around and broke her heart right before finals.
“He broke up with me the week of finals. Or the week before. He was harsh about it and I was devastated. He said he didn’t want to look at me let alone talk to me ever again. I didn’t even know I was pregnant until almost two months later.”
“It took you that long to know?”
“My parents were in a car accident two weeks after graduation. They were both severely injured and it wasn’t a good time in my life for a lot of reasons.”
She’d finally found a job and then got terminated because she missed so much work trying to care for her parents. Thankfully she’d found another one a month later and though her parents needed her help, she had to put the child she was carrying first.
Her brother, Cody, was home for the summer and he’d been a great help. Her parents were getting better. Her mother recovered and went back to work, her father a little slower as he needed more surgery to repair his broken back that never healed the way it should have.
“I’m sorry about that. But that doesn’t excuse why you couldn’t make a phone call and let my brother know he was going to be a father.”
“Tommy’s middle initial didn’t give it away. What did, Dr. Fierce?” she asked.
“I think under the circumstances you can call me Sam,” he said. No smile at all, not like when she first met him. He was pissed; she could see it and she couldn’t blame him. “And you have to know Tommy looks just like Ryder. The Fierce genes are strong. He’s almost the spitting image of my brother at that age.”
“I wouldn’t know. I just know he doesn’t look a lot like me.”
“He has the shape of your eyes,” Sam said. “But the blue of Ryder’s. Not even the light blue of yours, but darker like Ryder’s. Ryder is the only one in the family with blue eyes.”
She remembered those blue eyes of Ryder’s too. Much darker than her light ones. Sometimes they even came off as brown, but when he wore blue, they just stood out so much.
She’d been blown away that Ryder Fierce was interested in her. She thought she might be on the rebound from her breakup with Bryan and didn’t want anything to do with him when he approached her.
But he’d managed to convince her that he’d had a crush on her for weeks and when he found out she was single he wasn’t going to give up until she gave him a chance.
She stupidly fell for his good looks, charm, and smile. It bit her in the ass more than sitting on a mound of fire ants.
“I knew I was taking a risk coming here, but it was one I needed to take.”
“Once I get the scans and test results back today, I’ll make a final decision. I’m pretty sure I can operate, but you need to know the risks involved.”
“Thank you,” she said, crying again.
“I won’t know for sure until I get everything back. This is a risky surgery. He’s a child and though I understand why others have said to watch and wait, I’m also concerned that his bilirubin number was at the top of the acceptable range when he had blood work last. It’s not the end of the world, but knowing he has the mass against his liver and his frequent infections, it’s concerning.”
“I’m just glad you are seeing that.”
“I’d see it regardless of the patient. You weren’t going to the right specialists and I have to ask why. Is it an insurance thing? It says you work as a financial adviser.”
“I have a job. I have insurance, but it’s not the best insurance. I’m out of network for this visit and I don’t care. I’ll pay whatever it takes. I’ll deal with what I have to owe that insurance won’t cover. I don’t want anything from you or your family.”
“That’s just too damn bad,” Sam said. “Because you’re going to get it.”
“I don’t need anything other than you to help my son,” she said.
“Tommy is my parents’ first grandchild. They are going to freak out. In a good way. If you want my help that means you need to tell my brother he is a father. My family needs to know. And the first thing that will be done is adding Tommy to Ryder’s insurance which will cover this surgery.”
She wanted to argue, but knew it’d be stupid. Her pride had to be put aside. “I don’t want him or your family to think I’m coming after you for anything. I’ve got a good job. I can take care of my kid.”
“I’m sure you do and you can. But that doesn’t change the fact that Tommy is family and should have been a part of our lives for years. My wife is pregnant right now. It’s making me almost crazy thinking about not knowing if I had a child. Whatever your reasons were or are, you stole these years from Ryder and my family. That is going to be hard to get past.”
All the more reason not to tell Ryder or his family. She didn’t need them against her when she needed all the support she could get. But she’d made the decision to keep Tommy’s paternity a secret and she was going to have to deal with that when the time came. It seemed the time was now.
“I understand. I had my reasons. Whether anyone thought they were right or wrong doesn’t matter now. All that matters is Tommy.”
“What does Tommy know about his father?” Sam asked.
“Nothing,” she said. “That’s wrong of me. I know it. I just said that it was someone I used to date in college. When he was younger he didn’t ask a lot of questions. He doesn’t ask much now. He’s got my father and my brother in his life. I know when he gets older he’ll have a ton of questions.”
“And now he’ll know who his father is. Who his family is. How long are you in town for?”
“Just the day,” she said. “I planned on driving back home after this appointment.”
Sam didn’t look happy and pulled out a piece of paper and wrote something down. “Ryder’s cell phone number. I’d like you to call him before you leave. At least talk to him.”
“It might be best to not show up with his son at the same time. Not sure how to do that,” she said.
“You’ll need to figure it out,” Sam said. “If you want to wait until the end of the day, I can keep an eye on Tommy for you. If you trust me. Since you trust me to operate on him, I’d think you’d trust me to watch him for thirty minutes before you introduced the two of them.”
There was so much going through her mind right now. None of it was this. She’d known there was a chance Sam might figure this out, but she hadn’t planned on seeing Ryder today or introducing her son to his father for the first time.
Then again, there was so much in her life she hadn’t expected to happen either.
“I don’t know if he will even want to see me,” she said.
“He will.” Sam looked at his watch. “It’s three right now. He’s at work. You’ll be here another hour or so easily, I’m sure. I’m done with my appointments at four thirty. Ask if you can meet at his office.”
“Your family’s firm?” she asked. Talk about being outnumbered.
“Yes,” he said. “You can follow me over there and I can wait with Tommy on another floor. My father’s building is four floors and his firm takes up the top two. We can wait in the lobby on the first floor until you’re ready.”
“I don’t think I have much of a choice. If he’ll see me.”
“Like I said, he will.”