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By Felicia Mason
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGabriel Dawson definitely had a way with the ladies.
From her vantage point standing near a booth selling warm kettle corn, Susan Carter watched the minister work the crowd. Every gray-haired matron at the annual Labor Day picnic in the park managed to find her way to Gabriel. And with good reason.
The Reverend Gabriel Dawson, M.Div., former marine and current pastor of Good Shepherd Christian Church, undoubtedly claimed a spot as one of Colorado Springs's most eligible bachelors.
Every one of those mamas and grandmamas fawning over him knew it, too. In the time since she'd started her vigil, Susan had spied more than one matron slip the minister a business card or a photo, undoubtedly with full dossiers printed in miniature listing the many and varied accomplishments of their single daughters, granddaughters and nieces.
For just a moment, Susan considered approaching him about participating in the fund-raiser for the women's shelter. The event could use a bachelor in the auction who would guarantee active and high bidding. Her friend and co-worker Jessica Mathers had already secured a number of impressive date packages for the gala that would benefit the Galilee Women's Shelter. If he'd agree to it, Gabriel Dawson sure would be an attractive addition.
She assessed him. Handsome didn't even come close to describing the man.
Tall, at least six-three, and muscular, Gabriel was a big man who inspired confidence just by looking at him. Though named for the archangel devoted to God, the penetrating black eyes and well-groomed shadow beard and mustache of this earthly Gabriel gave him dark good looks.
No, Susan decided. When she called on the good reverend to lend his support to her cause, it wouldn't be for a one-night gig enjoyed only by a single highest bidder. She wanted far more from him than a smile and to see that powerful physique decked out in black-tie.
But my, my, my what a sight that would be.
Suddenly a little warm, Susan fanned herself with one of the programs distributed at the picnic entrance. She had to remember to stay focused on the mission. Reverend Dawson couldn't be a date for the shelter's fund-raiser. That would never do because Susan wanted something more from him - she was in the market for a long-term commitment.
From the corner of his eye, Gabriel watched Susan Carter scoping him out. She'd been at it for a while now, and he was mighty curious about what she was thinking.
"And I just think it would be wonderful to have you over for dinner after church this Sunday, Pastor."
"Yes, that sounds lovely," he answered Mrs. Hardy with a pat to the elderly woman's hand. With most of his attention on Susan, Gabriel lent just half an ear to sweet Mrs. Hardy, a longtime member of the church.
"We eat at four o'clock," she said. "And my lovely granddaughter Samantha will be visiting that day from Denver. Won't that be nice? She's a doctor, you know. A pediatrician. She loves children."
The not-so-subtle hint and definite accent on that last part gave him pause.
With a sinking feeling, Gabriel turned his full attention to Mrs. Hardy. Had he just agreed to have dinner with her and her family, including someone named Samantha?
By necessity, in his nine months at Good Shepherd, he'd gotten rather adept at avoiding the obvious setups from his parishioners. It seemed they all wanted to see him walking down the aisle with a bride they could claim as first lady of the church. He wasn't the first pastor of color for the diverse congregation, but he was the first single one they'd ever had. His lack of a spouse apparently didn't sit well with some. They wanted to see their pastor happily married, and from the look of things the last few months, there existed a never-ending supply of would-be brides.
The only problem with the plans laid out for him by others was that Gabriel had no intention of getting married that way. He firmly and steadfastly believed that a wife and children were in his future, but it would be in God's time. He would be equally yoked with the woman the Lord designated for him, not one offered up like a sacrificial lamb or an item at the all-you-can-eat buffet.
To date, he'd been presented with a dizzying array of blondes, brunettes and redheads of all shapes, sizes and ethnic backgrounds, from athletic tomboys to full-figured models. Counted in the number were teachers and lawyers, a florist, an Olympic gymnast, even a bestselling romance author.
For Gabriel, though, what a woman did for a living and what her outer package looked like didn't matter nearly as much as her inside.
Did she have a one-on-one relationship with God? Was she a prayer warrior, someone who understood the power of prayer? Did she put her faith and her walk with the Lord above all else? Those things mattered to Gabriel.
Once before, he'd almost made the mistake of marrying to please others. The engagement to Mikki Metz had lasted all of six weeks before they both realized they were about to make a really big mistake.
No, siree, he thought as he nodded at Mrs. Hardy. He'd dodged bullets and land mines in the first Gulf War; surely he could dodge a few well-meaning match-making members of his congregation.
But first, it looked like he'd be having dinner at Mrs. Hardy's home on Sunday afternoon.
"You won't forget now, will you, Pastor Gabriel?"
He smiled at the dear old lady, who was all of four foot eleven. "I won't. I'll make a note of it in my appointment book."
She beamed up at him. "Wonderful. I'm sure you and Samantha will have a lot to talk about. You have very much in common."
Gabriel doubted it, but kept that thought to himself as Mrs. Hardy bid him farewell for the afternoon.
Two more members of Good Shepherd, both of whom had single daughters, were making a beeline for him. Gabriel wasn't a coward by any stretch of the imagination, but today he decided retreat was, indeed, the better part of valor.
His gaze drifted to Susan Carter. Now, there stood a woman he could appreciate. Her bright smile and corkscrew curls appealed to him. Finding out why she seemed so interested in him today was preferable to sidestepping another offer of pot roast and apple pie.
Excerpted from Gabriel's Discovery by Felicia Mason Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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