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Room 6. Happy Wanderer Motel and Campground. Stone Creek, Arizona.
The door stood open to the fresh high-country air, which was crisply cool on this early June night, but not cold, and the little boy—Steven's newly adopted son— sat on the cement step outside. A bundle—probably his favorite toy, a plush skunk named Fred, rolled up in his blanket—rested beside him, and the boy's tiny frame was rimmed in an aura of silvery-gold moonlight.
Something tightened in Steven's throat at the poignancy of the sight.
Poor kid. It wasn't hard to guess who he was waiting for. Matt was small, with his dad's dark hair and his mother's violet eyes, and he was exceptionally intelligent—maybe even gifted—but he was still only five years old.
How could he be expected to comprehend that his folks, Zack and Jillie St. John, were gone for good? That they wouldn't be coming to pick him up, no matter how hard he hoped or how many stars he wished on, that night or any other.
Steven's eyes burned, and he had to swallow the hard ache that rose in his throat.
Jillie had succumbed to a particularly virulent form of breast cancer a year and a half ago, and Zack had only lasted a few months before the grief dragged him under, too—however indirectly.
"Hey, Tex," Steven said, trying to sound casual as he sat up on the thin, lumpy mattress of the foldout sofa— he'd given the bed to the child when they checked in that evening. Steven shoved a hand through his own dark blond hair. "What's the trouble?" His voice was hoarse. "Can't sleep?"
Matt looked back at him, shook his head instead of answering aloud.
He looked even smaller than usual, sitting there in the expanse of that wide-open doorway.
Steven rolled out of bed, shirtless and barefoot, wearing a pair of black sweatpants that had seen better days.
He crossed the scuffed linoleum floor, stepped over the threshold and sat down beside Matt on the step, interlacing his fingers, letting his elbows rest on his knees. There was enough of a chill in the air to raise goose bumps wherever his skin was bare, so he figured Matt had to be cold, too, sitting there in his cotton pajamas. With a sigh, Steven squinted to make out the winding sparkle of the nearby creek, sprinkled in starlight, edged by oak trees, with night-purple mountains for a backdrop.
Matt leaned into him a little, a gesture that further melted Steven's already-bruised heart.
Carefully, Steven put an arm around the boy, to lend not only reassurance, but warmth, too. "Having second thoughts about turning rancher this late in your life?" he teased, thinking he couldn't have loved Matt any more if he'd been his own child, instead of his best friend's.
In the morning, Steven would attend the closing over at the Cattleman's Bank, and sign the papers making him the legal owner of a fifty-acre spread with a sturdy though run-down two-story house and a good well but not much else going for it. The rickety fences had toppled over years ago, defeated by decades of heavy snow in winter and pounding rain come springtime, and the barn was unsalvageable. Yet something about the place had reached out to him and grabbed hold, just the same.
The small ranch had been a home once, and it could be one again, with a lot of elbow grease—and a serious chunk of change. Fortunately, money wasn't a problem for Steven, which wasn't to say there weren't plenty of other things to chap his figurative hide.
Sometimes, he felt just as lost as Matt did.
Matt's mouth quirked up at one side in a flimsy attempt at a smile, all the more touching because of the obvious effort involved. "I'm only five years and three months old," he said, in belated reply to Steven's question, in that oddly mature way of his. "It's not late in my life, because my life just got started." The little guy had skipped the baby-talk stage entirely; he hadn't even tried to talk until he was past two, but he'd spoken in full sentences from then on.
"Five, huh?" Steven teased, raising one eyebrow. "If you weren't so short, I'd say you were lying about your age. Come on, admit it—you're really somebody's grandfather, posing as a kid."
The joke, a well-worn favorite, fell flat. Matt's small shoulders moved with the force of his sigh, and he leaned a little more heavily into Steven's side.
"Feeling lonesome?" Steven asked, after clearing his throat.
Matt nodded, looking up at Steven. His eyes were huge and luminous in the predawn darkness. "I need a dog," the boy announced solemnly.
Steven chuckled, ruffled Matt's hair, gleaming dark as a raven's wing in the night. Relief swelled inside him, flailed behind his chest wall like a living thing doing its best to escape. A dog was something he could manage.
"Soon as we're settled," he promised, "we'll visit the animal shelter and pick out a mutt."
"Do they have ponies at the shelter, too?" The question cheered Steven; Matt was pushing the envelope, so to speak, and that had to be a good sign.
They'd already had the pony discussion—repeatedly.
"You know the deal, Tex," he reminded the little boy quietly. "The fences need to be replaced before we can keep horses, and the barn, too."
Matt sighed again, deeply. "That might take a long time," he lamented, "since you'll be working in town every day."
Steven fully intended to settle down in Stone Creek, build a normal life for his young charge and for himself. And to him, normal meant showing up somewhere on weekday mornings and putting in eight hours—whether he needed the paycheck or not.
He'd had to fight just to get through high school, let alone prelaw in college, and then earn the graduate degree that had qualified him to take the bar exam—a frustrating variety of learning disorders had all but crippled him early in his life. Although they'd been corrected, thanks to several perceptive teachers, he'd had a lot of catching up to do.
Still felt as if he was scrambling, some of the time.
Steven ruffled Matt's hair. "Yep," he agreed. "I'll be working."
"What about me? Where will I be when you're gone?"
They'd already covered that ground, numerous times, but after everything—and everybody—the little guy had lost over the past couple of years, it wasn't surprising that he needed almost constant reassurance. "You'll be in day camp," Steven said. "Until you start first grade in the fall, anyhow."
Matt's chin jutted out a little way, the angle obstinate and so reminiscent of Zack that the backs of Steven's eyes stung again. Zack St. John had been his best friend since middle school, a popular athlete, excellent student and all-around good guy. Losing Jillie had been a terrible blow, knocking Zack for the proverbial loop—he'd gone wild and finally died when, driving too fast down a narrow mountain road, he'd lost control somehow and laid his motorcycle down.
"Couldn't I just go to the office with you?" the boy asked, his voice even smaller than he was. "I might not like day camp. Anyhow, it's summer. Who goes to day camp in summer?"
Steven sighed and got to his feet. "Lots of kids do," he said. "And you might just wind up thinking day camp is the greatest thing since 3D TV." He extended a hand. "Come on, Tex. Let's get you back to bed. Tomorrow might be a long day, and you'll need your rest."
Matt reached for the stuffed skunk, and wound up in the now-tattered blanket he always kept close at hand. Jillie had knitted that herself, especially to bring her and Zack's infant son home from the hospital in, but the thing had been through some serious wear-and-tear since then.
Steven supposed that Matt was too old to be so attached to a baby blanket, but he didn't have the heart to take it away.
So he watched as the little boy got to his feet, trundled back inside, took a brief detour to the bathroom and then stood in the middle of the small room, looking forlorn.
"Can I sleep with you?" he asked. "Just for tonight?"
Steven tossed back the covers on the sofa bed and stretched out, resigned to the knowledge that he probably wouldn't close his eyes again before the morning was right on top of him. "Yeah," he said. "Hop in."
Matt scrambled onto the bad mattress and squirmed a little before settling down.
Steven stretched to switch off the lamp on the bedside table.
"Thanks," Matt said, in the darkness.
"You're welcome," Steven replied.
"I dreamed about Mom and Dad," Matt confided, after a silence so long that Steven thought he'd gone to sleep. "They were coming to get me, in a big red truck. That's why I was sitting on the step when you woke up. It took me a little while to figure out that it was just a dream."
"I thought it was something like that," Steven said, when he could trust himself to speak.
"I really miss them," Matt admitted.
"Me, too," Steven agreed, his voice hoarse.
"But we're gonna make it, right? You and me? Because we're pardners till the end?"
Steven swallowed, blinked a couple of times, glad of the darkness. "Pardners till the end," he promised. "And we are definitely gonna make it."
"Okay," Matt yawned, apparently satisfied. For the moment, anyhow. He'd ask again soon. "'Night."
"'Night," Steven replied.
Soon, the child was asleep.
Eventually, though he would have bet it wouldn't happen, Steven slept, too.
Melissa O'Ballivan whipped her prized convertible roadster, cherry-red with plenty of gleaming chrome, up to the curb in front of the Sunflower Bakery and Cafe in downtown Stone Creek, shifted into Neutral and shoved open the door to jump out.
It was a nice day, one of those blue-sky wonders, so she had the top down.
Setting the emergency brake and then leaving the engine running, she dashed into the small restaurant, owned and operated by her brother-in-law Tanner Quinn's sister, Tessa, and made her way between jam-packed tables to the counter.
Six days a week, Melissa breakfasted on fruit smoothies with a scoop of protein powder blended in, but most Fridays, she permitted herself to stop by the popular eatery for her favorite takeout—Tessa made a mean turkey-sausage biscuit with cheese and egg whites.
"The usual?" Tessa grinned at her from behind the counter, but she was already holding up the fragrant brown paper bag.
Melissa returned the cheerful greetings of several other customers and nodded, fishing in her wallet for money as she reached the register. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a face she didn't recognize—a good-looking guy with dark blond hair, a little on the shaggy side, perched on one of the stools in front of the counter. He wore black slacks and an expensive sports shirt that accented the periwinkle-blue of his eyes.
For some reason Melissa couldn't have explained, she was suddenly picturing him in old jeans, beat-up boots and the kind of Western-cut shirt most of the men around Stone Creek wore for every day.
She looked away quickly—but not quickly enough, going by the slight grin that tugged at a corner of the stranger's mouth as he studied her. Who was this? Melissa wondered, while she waited impatiently for Tessa to hand back change for a ten-dollar bill.
Just somebody passing through, she decided, completing the transaction and noticing, somewhat after the fact, that the mystery man wasn't alone. A small boy sat beside him, busily tucking into a short stack of Tessa's incomparable blueberry-walnut pancakes.
Melissa accepted her change and her breakfast and turned on one high-heeled shoe, consulting her watch in the same motion. Her meeting with Judge J. P. Carpenter was due to start in just fifteen minutes, which meant she'd have to gobble down the sandwich instead of savoring it at her desk while she listened to her voice mail, as she usually did on Fridays.
Even without looking, she knew the stranger was watching her leave the cafe; she could feel his gaze like a heartbeat between her shoulder blades, feel it right through her lightweight green corduroy blazer and the white cotton blouse and lacy bra beneath.
Outside, Alice McCoy, the oldest meter maid in America, by Melissa's reckoning, had pulled up beside the roadster in her special vehicle, a rig resembling a three-wheeled golf cart. A yellow light whirled slowly on the roof as, ticket book in hand, mouth pursed with disapproval, Alice scribbled away.
"Not another traffic citation, Alice," Melissa protested. "I was only gone for two seconds—just long enough to pick up my breakfast!" She held up her sandwich bag as evidence. "Two seconds," she repeated.
Alice bristled. "This is a no parking zone," she pointed out firmly. "Two seconds or two hours, it makes no never-mind to me. A violation is a violation." She made a little huffing sound and tore off the ticket, leaning to snap it in under one of the windshield wipers, even though Melissa was standing close enough to reach out and take the bit of paper directly from the woman's hand. "You're the county prosecutor," Alice finished, still affronted. "You should know better." She shook her head. "Leaving your car running like that, too. One of these days, it's bound to get stolen and then you'll be piping a different tune, young lady."
Melissa sighed, retrieved the ticket from her windshield, and stuffed it unceremoniously into the pocket of her blazer. "This is Stone Creek, Arizona," she said, knowing this was an argument she couldn't possibly win but unable to avoid trying. She was, after all, a lawyer— and a card-carrying O'Ballivan. "Not the inner city."
"Crime is everywhere," Alice remarked, with a sniff. "If you ask me, the whole world's going to hell in a handbasket. I shouldn't have to tell you that, of all people."
Melissa gave up, climbed into the sports car and set her bagged breakfast on the other seat, on top of her briefcase. She drove to the single-story courthouse, a brick building that also served as the local DMV, town jail and sheriff's office, parked in her customary spot in the shade of a venerable old oak tree and hurried inside, juggling her purse, the briefcase, and her rapidly cooling sandwich.
Melissa's official headquarters, barely larger than her assistant Andrea's cubicle, opened off the same corridor as the single courtroom and the two small cells reserved for the rare prisoner.
Andrea, at nineteen, wore too much eye makeup and constantly chewed gum, but she could take messages and field phone calls well enough. Because those things comprised her entire job description, Melissa kept her opinions to herself.
Posted January 28, 2011
Wanting a safe place to raise five year old Matt St. John, guardian Steven Creed an attorney moves to Stone Creek, Arizona where he buys a dilapidated ranch. He hopes the small town with his McKettrick kin nearby is the right atmosphere for Matt, whose parents Zack and Jillie recently died. Zack being Steven's best friend asked him to take care of Matt if he should die as Jillie already had passed away from breast cancer.
Steven and county prosecutor Melissa O'Ballivan meet and are attracted to one another; feelings neither want at the moment. He needs to focus on fixing up the ranch and insuring Matt adjusts well; while she has not had a male in her life except in court in two years ago. As the adults fuss and fight, they begin to fall in love, but both remain stubborn. So a little sad-faced matchmaker, encouraged by senior citizens, abetted by Elvis the dog who demanded adoption and much more want Melissa in the extended family as the child's mommy and the guardian's wife.
The latest return to stone Creek is an enjoyable angst-laden contemporary romance starring a likable lead couple, Elvis, a pony and a confused grieving orphan serving as the catalyst of love. The story line is character driven from the moment Steven stops at the motel with his grieving ward and never takes an emotional respite. Fans of the McKettrick-Creed crowd will appreciate stopping in Stone Creek.
5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 3, 2012
Posted July 21, 2011
This story was so cute! I loved it. The story line was great. The relationship between Steven and Matt was one to pull at the heart strings. read this book you will not regret it!
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 4, 2011
Posted April 21, 2011
Steven Creed needs stability in his life now that he has Matt, his newly adopted son and after a visit with Meg McKettrick-O'Ballivan his long lost cousin he decides that Stone Creek has everything he's looking for, the one thing he's not looking for is sexy Prosecutor Melissa O'Ballivan. Mellissa wants what her sisters and brother have, a family and someone to love forever, she's lost at love before so she's not sure she'd know what love is if it bit her, well she's about to learn the hard way that when love takes it's bite it's sometimes painful, especially if you run into "A Creed in Stone Creek".
Linda Lael Miller is the Queen of western romance, she gives us the action, the wide open spaces and the down home goodness of small town America and she's given us another winner with this one. It's a storyline that her fans will recognize as well as they recognize both the famous families represented from her series. Her characters are as big as their ranches and boisterous to boot. Her hero and heroine are superb examples of deep rooted and good hearted people who just need a little help to get together and that help comes in a very small package, a 5 year old package by the name of Matt, who's heart is as big as Arizona and Ms. Miller did an expert job of portraying him. The romance is far from perfect in the script but perfection is what you'd call the way it all comes together under the expert pen of our author. The love scenes are hotter than Arizona in August.
If you've never read Linda Lael Miller's McKettrick or O'Ballivan novels, aliens must have kept you for years out of the range of a Harlequin romance especially this prolific Harlequin author. If you are a seasoned fan of her this will feel like a warm fuzzy robe and a pair of comfy slippers, like coming home, when you read it. Either way fall in love with the bigger than the sky McKettrick and O'Ballivan families.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 1, 2011
I did not care for this story. The conversation between characters was stilted and Steven and Melissa had no chemistry.
This almost felt like a Diana Palmer novel.
Good characters and romance? Try All of Robyn Carr's Virgin River series.
Then, maybe you'll understand what I am saying.
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Posted August 31, 2013
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Posted January 21, 2013
Posted May 5, 2012
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Posted December 22, 2011
Posted December 1, 2011
a creed in stone creek by linda lael miller - first book of a new trilogy
steven leaves the city and is awarded custody of his friends 5 year old son. they move into a ranch with a barn neighbors swing by to help get them settled by letting them borrow a tour bus to live in on the property as he makes repairs.
she is a lawyer that lives in town. they keep running into one another. shes to head the parade now and he's going to help.
Posted October 10, 2011
When Steven Creed accepted the responsibility of his best friends' son, Matt, after their death he was all in. He had no problem selling the sky-rise apartment with a great view and buying a run down farm not fit for inhabitants. He had no problem ditching the sports car and getting a pick-up. He had no problem dumping the great job at a prominent law firm and putting up his shingle in a small town. He had no problem walking away from the woman who wouldn't raise someone else's child as her own.
Now he's in Stone Creek and he is having a problem. He and Matt have fallen for the Prosecuting Attorney. Will their new relationship be able to survive a case to provide the security that Matt so desperately needs.
I liked this new series from Linda Lael Miller.
I was up for jury duty and they said to bring a book so I purchased Steven and Conner's books -- my first Harlequin books and I was hooked.
I'm not into the explicit scenes but there seems to be only about one per book which can easily be skipped and she does use the Lord's name in vain -- if you can skip over like I did the stories are solid and the characters are fleshed out well.
Light, fast, and entertaining reads.
Posted July 18, 2011
Posted July 6, 2011