The doorbell rang. The long offensive peal of sound made Elaina McIvor jump and scrawl an unwanted line of red across the back of a zebra on her drawing board. Harrison arched his back and jumped soundlessly to the floor, then followed her as she slid from her stool and walked toward the door.
"Those kids," she muttered. "As flattering as all this is, I wish they'd get over their fascination with having me live next door." They were nice kids, she supposed, as far as kids went. Not that she knew a lot about children, in spite of the fact that they were the focus of her work. She knew even less about living in suburbia. But in the week she'd been here, her next door neighbors' two sons had disturbed her at work about twenty times a day. She was never going to get her current project completed at this rate, and then she'd be in trouble with the publisher who'd given her the job of illustrating the darned book. Oh, what the heck, she thought. Whoever had ever beard of a red-and-white zebra in the first place?
The bell was ringing again, a loud; irritating buzz instead of the nice, melodious chimes she'd had in her apartment. Maybe, she mused, she'd read those two little boys the story and threaten them with the same fate as its characters. That should put some distance between their visits.
She snatched open the door, ready to address her junior-sized neighbors, but instead her eyes met a pair of brown, bony knees. A large, over stuffed pink- and-blue plastic tote bag was bumping again them, with a baby bottle sticking out of the top. Those knees were connected to a pair of darkly tanned, muscular thighs with curling dark hair covering them right up t the ragged edges of a pair of cutoffs -- cutoffs that clung tightly to slim hips and flat belly. An expanse of bare skin extended above the faded denim shorts, terminating where the hem of cropped T-shirt covered it. An arrow of curling hair seemed to stitch the two garments together. A plump, pink baby sat perched astride that narrow waist, wearing a yellow sunsuit and happy grin. Elaina raised her startled gaze up and up and up until she encountered a pair of merry green eyes under dark brows. "Hi," said the owner of those eyes. "You Elaina McIvor?"
"Yes." She couldn't say anything else. The size of the man took her breath away. She was nearly six feet tall herself, and he towered over her. On his hip the baby looked ridiculously tiny. He smiled and said, "Oh, good. It's taken hours to track you down. "I'm Dr. Bradshaw."
At her blank look, he added, "From the University Hospital? Margo Lawrence is my patient so I volunteered to bring the baby." He thrust the baby into her arms. "This is Betsy. She's wet."
That was a perfectly redundant piece of information Elaina discovered as her arms went instinctively around the child. The man put the bag down at Elaina's feet and leaped off the porch, ignoring the three steps leading down to the walk.
"Wait!" she called out. "What is this?"
"A little girl," he said, slightly impatient. "Betsy. She's eleven months old. Oh! Didn't they call you yet?" He smacked his forehead with the heel of one hand. "And here I almost forgot. You must think I'm nuts;' This will explain things." He reached into the back pocket of his cutoffs and hauled out a folded envelope. Leaning over and stretching out an enormously long arm, he stuffed the envelope into the tote bag. Then be loped down the walk to the disreputable green van parked the wrong way at the curb.
"No! Wait!" Elaine called. "Come back here!" He slammed the driver's door and shouted out the widow as the van began to roll. "Later. I can't stop now, I'll be back."
Then the van was screeching away, lurching is it shot over to the right side of the street, leaving only a little cloud of blue smoke. When that was gone, she could almost believe that the van and the green-eyed man had been figments of her imagination -- except for one thing -- twenty pounds of warm, wet baby were riding astride her hip.