prologue March 1997 Borrego Springs, California The young woman stared at the well-dressed lawyer across the squalid room. A man in his late forties, he hadn't smiled once since she let him in. Nor had shenot since he'd offered her money for her baby. Wearing a three-piece suit and monogrammed socks that cost more than she made in tips on a good night, with shoes that dared to shine through a fine layer of Borrego dust, he was as out of place here as filet mignon at a fish fry. His crisp, spotless business card lay on the arm of the ripped love seat where she waited, mute and terrified, for him to stop talking. Arthur Litton, from the firm of Somebody, Somebody, and Some Other Lawyer, had made the three-hour drive from Long Beach to meet with herbut just now he was brushing at the knee of his suit. A waste of time when a fine coating of sand covered every surface in the room. Even the mute images of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz on the television cavorted beneath a dusty haze. The lawyer's voice was well modulated and cool, betraying no hint of emotion. It made the young woman's skin crawl. She watched his thin lips move, tried to concentrate on the words. "Now that you've heard the terms, are you willing to accept my clients' offer?" She opened her mouth, but didn't trust what might come out so she swallowed and tightened her arms around the six-month-old infant in her arms. Her baby boy. Her son. Her hands shook as she shifted Christopher to her shoulder. That morning she'd dressed him in pale blue sleepers with little brown bears romping over them. She wished it was still early instead of nearly noonwished she could turn back the clock and start the day over. "Let me get this straight," she said softly. "You came here tobuy my baby?" "That's putting it bluntly. His grandparents want him." "They expect me to just hand him over and walk away?" "They're willing to pay a seven-figure settlement for the privilege of raising their only son's child. They want nothing but the best for him and they want things their way." "You mean they want me out of the way. I'm hismother." "They could le a petition for guardianship." She didn't know anything about the law but enough to know she didn't want any part of a custody fightnot with her background. "We're prepared to prove the child will be better off with the Saunders." He paused, pointedly gazed around the room again. The place looked like a bomb had gone off inside it. Her roommate, Wilt, always said he "wasn't expecting f-ing Martha Stewart, and if people don't like the way I keep house, they can f-ing stop coming over." His old trucking buddies never minded the mess, and since this was Wilt's house, she never insulted him by cleaning. The living and dining rooms were full of pieces of cast-off furniture. Art supplies were strewn all overcanvases, tubes of paint, rags, and turpentine. A palette of fingerprint smears marred the door frames. Her own desert landscapes, from her earliest attempts to her latest, were scattered around the room. Smaller pieces hung on one wall in the dining room, just above a battered Early American table. A moonscape complete with a howling coyote and an eerie silver-blue glowWilt's latest passion was painting on black velvet&aLandis, Jill Marie is the author of 'Lover's Lane', published 2004 under ISBN 9780345453310 and ISBN 034545331X.