Baby Love (Kendrick-Coulter-Harringan Series #1)by Catherine Anderson
Desperate and determined, Maggie Stanley grabs her small baby and runs into the snowy Idaho night. In her loneliest, blackest hour, she unexpectedly finds a warmth and comfort she has never known in the tender compassion of a handsome, down-and-out stranger. In Rafe Kendrick, Maggie recognizes a soul wounded like her own—though she knows she must never trust
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Desperate and determined, Maggie Stanley grabs her small baby and runs into the snowy Idaho night. In her loneliest, blackest hour, she unexpectedly finds a warmth and comfort she has never known in the tender compassion of a handsome, down-and-out stranger. In Rafe Kendrick, Maggie recognizes a soul wounded like her own—though she knows she must never trust any man ever again.
Rafe is more than he seems—an enigmatic man of secrets who could give Maggie the moon, had he not vowed to spend his life alone. But sometimes love's flames can transform a cold world into paradise—and a man who's lost nearly everything, a woman who's forgotten how to dream, and the helpless child who needs them both can become that most wondrous creation: a family.
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Drifting in the misty unreality of dreams, Rafe Kendrick surrendered himself to the images that moved softly through his mind. As he sank deeper into slumber, the details gained clarity and seemed more lifelike. He smiled drowsily. He was down on the lakeshore, he realized, not far from the main ranch house. Through the stands of evergreen trees, he could see the sprawling expanse of ivy-covered brick that was his family home, three of its fireplace chimneys silhouetted against the summer-blue sky. On the gentle breeze, he heard the whinny of a stallion coming from the north pasture behind the stables.
Home. On some level he knew this was only a dream, but it felt wonderfully real, a vivid recollection of all that he'd lost. Small, water-worn rocks shifted under his feet as he followed the sweep of shoreline. The soft lapping of the water soothed him. He took a deep breath, identifying the smells that had once been so commonplace he scarcely noticed them. Fir and pine. Sunwarmed grass and fertile earth. A crisp edge to the breeze, even on a summer day, because the highelevation basin was ringed by snowcapped peaks.
His footsteps slowed as he crested a slight rise. Ahead of him in a shaded grove, he saw a sorrel mare and a buckskin gelding. They grazed contentedly, their reins loosely draped over the limbs of sapling oaks. Nearby two blanket-draped saddles rested on the green grass.
A sense of deja vu filled Rafe. He remembered this day. He and Susan had taken the kids for a short ride through the forest, and then they'd come back here for a picnic by the lake. They had enjoyed themselves, singing silly songs they made up asthey went along to entertain their three-year-old son, Keefer. It had been a near perfect outing, and they had ended it here because they loved spending time near the water.
He eagerly scanned the clearing, his yearning to catch a glimpse of his family so sharp that it made his breath hitch. Drawn by a red-checkered tea towel that fluttered in the breeze, his gaze came to rest on the wicker picnic basket first. The hinged lid was wedged partially open by the protruding neck of a wine bottle that their nannyhousekeeper, Becca, had slipped inside to accompany their meal.
Oh, yes...he remembered it all so clearly Susan, in snug faded jeans and a pink cotton blouse, her golden hair caught at the crown with a clip to spill in a silky cascade to her shoulders. He could almost hear the sound of her laughter rippling around him and smell the little-boy scent of his son, riding double in front of him on the buckskin. After coming here to eat, he had rocked his baby daughter to sleep while Susan set out the food, and he could recall exactly how his little girl's plump body had felt in his arms.
A slight frown pleated Rafe's brow. This was too real to be a dream. He could actually hear the water lapping and feel the breeze caressing his skin. With every step he took, the beach pebbles pressed sharply into the soles of his riding boots. Dreams weren't this vivid.
Oh, God. Could he dare to hope? Maybe a miracle had happened, and somehow he'd been hurtled back in time. Maybe, after all this time, his prayers had finally been answered and God was giving him a second chance.
Oh, yes, please...All he needed was just one more chance. This time, he wouldn't blow it. He'd put his family first. Nothing had ever mattered more to him than his wife and kids. Nothing. He'd just gotten so caught up in the everyday responsibilities and obligations of being a husband and father that he'd lost sight of what was really important for a while.
He'd never make that mistake again.
Wanting, needing to believe that this was all actually real, he clenched his hands into throbbing fists and eagerly scanned the clearing. Susan and the kids lay only a short distance away from the picnic basket. The three of them were taking a nap on a Navajo blanket he'd spread on the grass for them. Their snuggled forms were dappled with sunlight that filtered through the fir boughs above them. Susan lay on her back with a child on each side of her, her sweet face relaxed in sleep, her lush mouth curved in a slight smile of contentment. His son Keefer had fallen asleep with his arms around her neck, and he still clung to her, his baby-soft cheek pressed to her breast. The six-month-old Chastity was cradled in Susan's other arm, her tawny curls glistening like drizzles of honey.
Rafe walked toward them, a sharp ache stabbing his chest. Dear God, how he loved them, and it had been so long so very long since he'd seen them. Thank you, God. He wanted to shout and run to cover the distance more quickly. But no. He couldn't shake the feeling that this scene from out of his past might exist only in his imagination. A loud sound or sudden movement might shatter it like fragile glass.
As he moved closer to the blanket, Susan's face grew less distinct. He squinted down at her, wanting to see her more clearly. But no matter how hard he tried, her features remained an elusive blur, framed by a nimbus of golden hair. He came to a stop, staring so hard that his eyes burned. It was like trying to see her through a plate of steam-fogged glass.
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Catherine Anderson is a bestselling American romance novelist. She resides in the pristine woodlands of Oregon, is married to her high school sweetheart, and has authored more than 30 award-winning historical and contemporary romances. Throughout her career, she has made numerous bestseller lists, such as the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Ingram, Waldenbooks, and Barnes & Noble. She has received nominations for the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Awards, as well as being a RITA® Award finalist, and was given a Career Achievement Award by Romantic Times for Contemporary Romance.
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