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Dear Baby Girl,
I know I usually write your letter on your birthday, but I wanted to share today with you. Today I marry the man of my dreams. My friends keep saying we're perfect together, and while you and I both know I'm anything but perfect, he is. And I feel as if he makes me a better person. And I'm hoping if we ever meet that's what you find a better person.
Sophie Johnston rounded the corner of the barn, getting her first glimpse of her fiance's surprise for her. It was a large white arbor, practically dripping with white flowers. Colton had wanted to do something special for their wedding, and she was willing to let him do whatever made him happy because there was only one thing she needed at this weddinghim.
Her two bridesmaids and best friends, Lily and Mattie, walked up the aisle, their slow step-pause gait making her crazy because, frankly, all she wanted to do was bolt down the aisle to Colton's side.
As Lily and Mattie continued their slow walk, Colton stepped into view and the sight of him in his tux took her breath away. He was not a tall man, but his five feet eight inches seemed more than ample considering she was five-two on a good-heel day. His dark hair was always cropped short, but he'd let it grow out a bit for the wedding, and had tamed it with gel or something, because it seemed to be staying in place.
As she waited for her friends to finish their laborious walk, moments with Colton flashed before her eyes.
Colton in his cowboy hat, walking by the plate-glass window at the diner. She'd been blatantly staring, and when he had turned and looked inside, their eyes had locked. He'd come in, strode over to her table and asked her out.
Colton taking her to the ridge on his farm. He'd made a picnic and they had sat in the Adirondack chairs he'd bought and placed up there for them. One blue, one yellow. They'd watched the sunset on Lake Erie. He'd told her that he loved her that night. She'd said, "Thank you."
He'd told her he loved her every day for weeks, and finally one night she'd admitted. "I love you, too." He'd said, "I know."
He'd known. He seemed to understand her in so many ways. Sometimes he understood her better than she understood herself. And there he was, waiting for her.
Mattie and Lily finally stood to the left of the altar. The guitarist nodded at Sophie, started to play the bridal march, and she finally began her own walk down the aisle.
Sophie tried to force herself to maintain the same sedate gait as her bridesmaids had, but she wasn't sure she was managing it. She was able to stop herself from running, but barely.
She was almost at Colton's side when he reached down and picked up a cowboy hat. He slipped it on his head. A white hat.
He'd told her he wore the hat to protect himself from the sun while he was in the fields or the vineyard. She'd teased him, saying he was a closet cowboy. All heart, honor and passion for the land.
He'd told her that his greatest passion was her.
Sophie stopped her headlong race down the aisle for a moment because she was laughing so hard. Colton adjusted the obviously new hat on his head and grinned at her.
This was the man she was about to vow to spend the rest of her life with.
The perfect man for her.
He laughed with ease, but more than that, he made her laugh, as well. He accepted her as she was, and had never tried to make her be something she wasn't.
He loved her.
He wasn't a talkative man, but his every action told her he loved her.
She took the last two steps and was at his side where she belonged.
Where she planned to spend the rest of her life.
She grasped the hand of the man she loved.
It was a perfect day. The sky was a brilliant June blue. The field next to the arbor was dotted with new green stalks that would be tasseled corn by the end of the summer. Behind her there were rows of borrowed chairs, all festooned with white ribbons and lace and occupied by most of the occupants of Valley Ridge, New Yorkher friends and surrogate family. The air was awash with the scent of flowers.
But none of that mattered to Sophie. It could be stormy and cold. The entire town could have ignored their invitations. The chairs could be old and ratty, and the arbor could blow down in the gale.
As long as Colton was next to her, it would still have been a perfect day.
All she needed was him.
He gave her hand a quick but solid squeeze, and Sophie knew a sense of rightness. Of wholeness.
"Dearly beloved," the minister said as tiny wind chimes, which hung from the corner of the arbor, tinkled in the light breeze.
The minister inhaled, and Sophie could scarcely contain her joy. She wanted to scream yes right now. Yes, she'd take this man for better or worse. Yes, she'd take this man for richer or poorer. Yes, she'd take this man for the rest of her life.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
She looked at Colton and whispered "yes" to herself at the same moment that someone from behind her shouted, "I object."
Sophie turned, as did Colton. As did everyone gathered in her beribboned chairs in Colton's field. A young girl with vivid blue hair stood in the back row of the chairs. "You can't get married yet. Not when I've worked so hard to find you. No. It's not fair."
"Do you know her?" Colton whispered.
Sophie shook her head. She had no idea what to do. When she was thinking about her wedding day, she had tried to make plans for every contingency. If it rained, they'd move the ceremony into the barn, where they had held their engagement party and where their casual reception would take place.
If the minister got ill, she knew a man at one of the wineries who'd become ordained online in order to perform weddings for his winery's new reception hall. She'd call him.
If the caterer's trucks broke down, she'd call in her friends and ask them to supply a quick potluck.
If her parents showed up and caused a scene, she had Valley Ridge's local police officer as one of her guests, and he could cart them off to jail, or out of town. She knew Dylan would take them somewhere. Anywhere that wasn't here.
Yes, Sophie was sure she'd thought of everything, considered every possibility. But she hadn't ever imagined someone objecting to her marrying Colton.
He took her hand again, and together they walked down the aisle to the girlat a pace much faster than the one she'd used walking toward Colton. Of all the catastrophes Sophie had imagined, having a blue-haired girl object to her wedding hadn't been one of them.
Colton motioned the girl away from the rows of chairs. "Who are you?"
"Tori." The name came out like a curse, filled with anger that vibrated on those two syllables. "Her daughter." She nodded at Sophie.
Daughter? Sophie started to shake. She felt as if there wasn't enough air to draw a breath. She felt lightheaded and clung to Colton's arm for support.
"That's right, Mom," the girl continued. "The baby you threw away has found you. Sorry to interrupt your day. Hell, sorry to interrupt your life."
Sophie studied the features of the tiny, blue-haired girl, and realized that the girl was older than she looked. Just about Sophie's five foot two inches. The girl Toriher features were her own. Tori's very blue eyes sparked with pent-up anger.
Then she searched her upper lip. There. The tiniest, faintest of scars. Something no one would notice unless they were looking for it. There was the scar.
Tori. Her daughter's name was Tori. The annual letters Tori's parents sent via the adoption agency never mentioned her name. They simply included a few pictures, and a page or two of their daughter's accomplishments and highlights of her year.
"Tori." Sophie whispered. It was the first time she'd ever said her daughter's name. Until now, she'd simply been Baby Girl, even though Sophie knew she was no longer a baby.
She gulped in air, trying to fill her lungs.
Colton said. "Sophie?" and she looked at him. She saw the moment that he realized this girl had spoken the truth. Tori was her daughter, and Sophie knew exactly three things about her. She was fourteen. She'd dyed her probably blond hair blue. And she was angry.
She was very, very angry.
"She's mine." she whispered, sure for more reasons than the girl's looks, scar or height. Something in her yearned to take this girl into her arms and hold her in a way she hadn't ever been permitted to. Something in her recognized the angry woman-child as her daughter.
"I don't know what to say." she admitted to both Colton and Tori.
Colton took charge. He led the two of them into the barn and away from the prying eyes of the wedding guests. The barn was strung with white lights, and there were makeshift tables covered in elegant white tablecloths set up with white china and linen napkins. Sophie loved the juxtaposition of the rustic setting and the formal place settings. The same contrast could be seen in the humble daisy and more formal white rose centerpieces.
The girl looked around the barn, and her anger seemed to grow. It radiated from her every pore like some hot, red aura.
Sophie wanted to say something to comfort her, but didn't know where to begin. "Tori, I"
The girl turned away. Sophie wasn't sure if she was crying or simply too angry to speak. But Colton obviously had a lot to say. He started with, "You had a daughter and you never thought to mention it?"
Sophie wasn't sure how to explain things to Colton or Tori. She didn't know anything about the girl's parents, but she knew that Colton's family was a loving, supportive one. They filled the first two rows of seats in the field. How could she make him understand what it had been like for her at that time?
And how could she explain to this girl why she'd given her up? What words could a mother use to make Tori understand something like that?
Sophie swallowed. "Fourteen years ago, I was little more than a child myself when I gave birth to a baby girl. I never held her, and caught only the barest glimpse of her as they whisked her away."
Tori whirled around and, rather than speaking to Sophie, she looked at Colton. "Yeah, she got rid of me. I was a burden. A mistake." She faced Sophie, and practically screamed at her, "Did you ever even meet my parents or did you just hand me over to the agency and let them pick? Did you worry that they might beat me? Maybe they'd be crazy. Maybe they would go on and have a bunch of their own biological children and remind me every day that I'm not really theirs."
Sophie knew that the girl had thrown those things out to hurt her, and even if none of them were true, Tori had succeeded. "I didn't meet your parents, but I picked them." She remembered that battle. She'd lost so many other fights then, but that had been one she'd been adamant about winning. If only the girl knew how hard Sophie had fought for at least that muchthe ability to pick the couple who would raise her daughter.
"And I know that your mother had a hysterectomy, so she couldn't have had any other children. Maybe they adopted more, but they didn't have any biological kids. That's one of the reasons I chose them. I wanted to be sure you were with people who would treasure you."
Her answer didn't mollify the girl. "Yeah, well, maybe they beat me."
"Did they? Do they?" Sophie asked. She couldn't begin to count the number of times she'd had a dream like thata nightmare. Her daughter was hungry. Her daughter was lost. Her daughter was hurt. And knowing that there was nothing she could do to help this child made it worse.
Tori was silent and finally shook her head. "No one beats me. My dad's a pacifist. He won't even kill flies."
"Oh." Sophie had so many questions. Fourteen years' worth of questions, but she sensed that the girl wasn't here to answer them. Tori wanted answers of her own.
And behind Tori. Sophie could see Colton. She could read him well enough to know that he was asking himself, if she could keep something that big from him, what else was she hiding?
She needed to explain why she hadn't told him. She hadn't lied, but she'd never told him. "Colton, I"
"I asked you," he said softly. "I asked if you had any family. It was our second month of dating and we'd gone to my parents', and I asked if you had a family. And you said. 'not anymore.'" He paused. "It was a lie."
"Not in the way you think." She didn't know how to make him understand. "My family is complicated. And when you asked, we'd only been dating a couple months, and I'd just met your very wonderful family. I didn't owe you answers about my less-than-wonderful one. Not then. And later ?" After that, he'd never asked again. And Sophie had been happy that she didn't have to explain.
He removed the new cowboy hat from his head and ran his fingers through his hair. She'd been righthe'd used some sort of gel in it. Sophie wasn't sure why that fact registered, but it did.
"Do you have family other than a daughter?" he barked.
"In a strictly biological way? Yes."
She waited, anxious to hear what he would say. He simply nodded. "I'm going to go talk to the caterer and we'll have them set up the meal at the diner. Then I'll tell everyone the wedding's off. You take Tori and go talk. It's obvious you two have a lot to say to each other."
He'd said the wedding was off. For today, or forever?
"What about us?"
Normally she could read Colton like an open book. But now, the book had slammed shut, and all he said was. "We'll talk later. In the morning. Right now, you need to deal with Tori. I'll send everyone home. Why don't you take your daughter, and slip out before someone corners you."
She'd hoped he'd say. Talk to Tori, then meet me in front of the minister, we'll work it all out. But he was calling off the wedding. They'd "talk" about it tomorrow.
Sophie had planned for any number of emergencies with the wedding, but not this. Not a returning long-lost daughter.
And not the man who was supposed to love her leaving.
There was nothing to do but nod at Colton and watch him stride back to their guests, her heart breaking into a million little pieces. She waited, silently pleading for him to stop and come back to her, but he didn't.
"Let's go to my house where we can talk." she said to Tori. Her daughter.