Read an Excerpt
Emily was expecting a baby. In fact, she was expecting the little one to arrive that very afternoon, and every car that passed by on the road outside made her look up. She attempted to keep herself occupied by sorting through the boxes of decorations she'd taken from her kindergarten classroom the week before, but the distraction wasn't working terribly well.
Emily looked down at the laminated cards with big, colorful letters printed across them. As she absently arranged them and tucked them into an envelope to be used in September, her eyes flickered back toward the window. Her plan had been to get as much work out of the way as she could before little Cora arrived, but perhaps that had been overly ambitious. Pulling her dark waves away from her face with one hand, she dropped the envelope on top of a box of art supplies.
The crunch of tires on her gravel drive made her look up again, her eyes trained out the window. A police cruiser eased behind her SUV, and before the driver's-side door even opened, Emily pushed herself out of her seat and went to open the front door.
The police officer faced away from her as he leaned into the backseat. Broad shoulders tapered down to a strong back, and she half expected him to lift some heavy weight from the car. But then he straightened and turned toward her, a baby car seat in one hand, his steel-blue eyes moving over her matter-of-factly.
"Miss Shaw?" he said.
"Hi," Emily said. "Yes, that's me."
"Sorry I'm late." He walked across the last of the drive to the shade of her front door. His biceps flexed under the weight of the car seat, and he gave her a professional smile. "It's nice to meet you in person. I'm Chief Greg Taylor. We spoke on the phone."
"Yes, yes, absolutely." She stepped back to let him inside, and as he passed her, his arm brushing hers, she could just detect the musk of his cologne.
He was better-looking than she'd given him credit for during their telephone conversation. With close-cropped blond hair, going just a tiny bit gray at the temples, he had a calm and collected look about him. His blue eyes seemed to take in every detail as his gaze swung around the room. He placed the car seat on the couch, and Emily moved closer to the little bundle, bending down to peek at the tiny face.
The baby was sleeping, a baby girl so tiny that Emily was almost afraid to touch her. She had a downy frosting of red hair on top of her head, and her skin was so pale that Emily thought she was nearly translucent. The little thing lay there in the car seat, her small pink tongue sticking out in her sleep, and Emily let out a soft sigh.
"There she is." Emily touched one little hand, feeling the baby-soft skin. When she looked up, she saw Chief Taylor watching her thoughtfully.
"I'm sorry about your cousin." He pressed his lips together. "Were you close?"
"Not really." Emily felt slight embarrassment flush her cheeks. "I didn't know she trusted me this much you know, leaving me as guardian in her will."
"How long since you saw her last?" he asked.
"Years maybe five or six?" Emily tried to recall the last time she and her cousin had been in the same room. It had been some sort of family reunion, and she was pretty sure it was the time that one of her uncles broke his leg falling off the porch.
"She obviously thought a lot of you."
Emily nodded. "She was quite private. I mean, we were Facebook friends, but she didn't really post anything. I didn't know much about what was going on with her."
"It's understandable." He gave her a sympathetic smile and made a couple of notes on a pad of paper.
"I didn't know she was pregnant," Emily added. "She didn't tell anyone." She looked back down at the tiny baby and shook her head sadly. "But looking at Baby Cora, there is no denying who her mother was."
Emily bent down and unbuckled the harness. Cora wriggled as Emily slid a hand under her little rump and lifted her out of the car seat. The infant nestled into Emily's arms, snuggling close, and she felt a wave of tenderness for the tiny thing.
"Are you going to be all right?" he asked. "Do you need social services to come give you a hand with anything?"
"Social services?" Emily laughed softly. "Do we even have social services in Haggerston?"
"Well, social services consists mostly of Madge Mid-dleton. She's a foster mom who gives some pretty sound advice." He shot her a wry grin.
"My mother would be insulted. Don't you worry about me. I have a big family with lots of women just waiting to tell me exactly how to do things."
"Good." He seemed to relax. "You'll be fine, then. I probably know some of your family."
"In a place this size, it's hard not to." She laughed. "You graduated high school a few years before me."
"Really?" He eyed her with an amused look. "Are you related to Steve Shaw, by any chance?"
"Well, now I'm going to have to root out my old yearbook." He chuckled softly, the sound oddly comforting.
"Oh, don't. Ninth grade wasn't graceful." Emily rolled her eyes. "Trust me. I was entirely forgettable."
He gave a slow smile and tapped his notebook with a nub of a pencil. "Can I see your ID?"
"Policy. I've got to make sure you are who I think you are before I leave a baby with you."
"Oh, of course " She blushed and headed to the kitchen to grab her wallet. While she rummaged through her bag, she mentally chastised herself. He was here on business, not here to flirt with her. Finding her wallet with one hand and holding the baby in the other, she came back to the living room, determined to be nothing but professional herself.
"How are you doing for baby things?" he asked while he looked over her ID.
"I think I'm all right."
"The officers at the station brought in a few things from home, if you're interested," he said, raising his eyes from her driver's license and meeting hers with a steady gaze that made her cheeks feel warm. "The officers who have kids, that is."
"Oh, that's really nice," she said. "Thanks."
"Should I drop them by tomorrow, then?"
"Yes, thanks. I really appreciate this, Chief. Thank them for me."
Chief Taylor handed her back her license and gave her a formal smile. "Take care. I'll see you tomorrow."
With that, Greg Taylor, the handsome chief of police of Haggerston, Montana, trotted down her front steps and got back into the squad car. Emily looked down at the sleeping baby in her arms. Cora's little hands lay limply across her chest, and she let out a deep sigh in her sleep. She was a beautiful little thing, and looking down at her, she felt an involuntary wave of love.
Oh, Lord, she prayed silently. Is this real? Is she really going to be mine?
As she watched Greg's car pull out of her drive and disappear, she smelled something, and she laughed softly to herself. Well, one thing was very real tonight, and it was this diaper. It looked as though things were just beginning!
As Chief Greg Taylor walked back into the Hagger-ston Police Station, he stifled a yawn. It had been a long day, to say the least, and as he strode through the town's small station, the officers he passed glanced up and gave him polite nods. The station always looked busy, with telephones ringing, officers coming and going and the general hubbub that came with twenty-odd people focused on their own work. It might not be considered much compared to a city station, but for a place the size of Haggerston, it was something. It might look like chaos to an untrained eye, but to Chief Taylor, who had spent his entire adult career as a cop, it was a smoothly oiled machine or at least as oiled as discipline, training and several gallons of coffee could make it.
"Hey, Chief!" A sergeant waved a file at him. "Some paperwork from that 11-80 the other day. You want it on your desk?"
"I'll take it." Chief Taylor grabbed the file on his way by and headed around the desks toward his office at the far side of the station. He tossed the file on his desk and swung the door shut behind him. He stood in the relative quiet and glanced at his watch. Picking up the phone, he dialed the number to the Shady Pines Nursing Home.
"Shady Pines," the nurse's voice sang.
"Hi, this is Chief Taylor. I'm just wondering how my mother is doing."
"Hi, Chief, this is Fran. Your mom had quite a good day. She had her favorite dinner tonightSalisbury steak."
"Oh, good." He felt the smile come to his lips. "And how is she otherwise?"
"She's been confused." Sympathy entered the nurse's tone. "She wouldn't let us bathe her today, but we're hoping that by later this evening, she'll be calmer. Sometimes evening routines have a more relaxing effect on her."
Greg ran a hand through his hair. "Do you need me to come by?"
"You're always welcome, Chief, but she's been very wary around men again today. I'm not sure it would do much good."
He nodded, more to himself than to the nurse on the other end of the call. "Well, keep me posted. I'll call back later."
"Absolutely, Chief. You have a good evening."
He hung up the phone and picked up the file on his desk. His shift had been over for two hours already, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to go home. His mind was still on that 11-80.
11-80. It was easier to refer to it numerically than to voice the reality of the situation. It had been a terrible car accident with crumpled metal, leaking fuel and a gravely injured driver. The semitruck that hit the little car was relatively unharmed, and the truck driver was incredibly shaken, but in one piece, which was more than could be said for the occupant of the car. He tried to push the mental images out of his head, but the one that remained was the pleading face of the injured mother, her face covered in blood and her eyes filled with fear.
"Her name is Emily Shaw. She's Cora's godmother. You have to call her. Please. I don't want my baby with a stranger. You have to call her!"
He'd sworn that he would, and there was something about that young mother's intensity, her insistence that he take care of this, that stuck with him. Fourteen hours later, that little baby became an orphan when her mother succumbed to her injuries and passed away in the E.R., and the least he could do was fulfill that frightened mother's last wishes and personally bring the baby to Emily Shaw. Which he had done this afternoon. The baby was now settled with her godmother. Job complete, right?
So why couldn't he let it go? Why was Emily's face now swimming in his mind, too?
But the image of Emily Shaw, with her dark, wavy hair and her sparkling eyes, didn't bring up the same anxiety and guilt that the other images did. A young, dying mother, terrified for her baby. His own mother, suffering from Alzheimer's, unaware of who he was. A tiny infant, orphaned by a fatal accident. Yet there was something comforting in that calm kindergarten teacher with her disheveled papers and self-deprecating laugh. While he knew that his professional position didn't make a personal relationship with her very appropriate, thinking about Emily Shaw was infinitely more pleasant than the other options.
He'd pick up those baby things the officers had collected and bring them by. Maybe that would tie up this case in his head and let him move on.
The next afternoon, Greg pulled into Emily's drive in his unmarked squad car and parked. He sat motionless for a moment or two, listening to the background noise of voices on the police radio. Apparently, there was a 10-33a triggered security alarmfrom a locked store. Across town another officer was taking a Code 8a restroom break. Like most things, that just sounded better in a numerical code than to state the obvious. Greg's thoughts weren't on the voices, however. He found himself feeling somewhat nervous, something he didn't feel very often. He took a deep breath and opened the car door.
Emily's home sprawled just south of the small community of Haggerston. A bungalow-style rancher, it had a large yard hemmed in by a log fence. The effect was quite rustic, and he liked it. The well-maintained yard sported flower beds arranged naturally, as if little patches of flowers and leafy plants had just decided to push up around a rock or a tree, although in Montana, that sort of natural sprouting rarely happened without a good deal of loving care. Her front door had a woven twig wreath hanging on it, and he imagined that come the holiday season, it would be festooned with berries and holly. Her windows were covered with shuttered blinds that were open at the moment, letting the summer light in and keeping prying eyes out. As a police officer, he approved of her use of privacy.
In the trunk, Greg had several bags and boxes of baby things he'd picked up from the station, and he carried them to her front door before ringing the bell. He didn't hear anything for a few moments, and he was about to ring again when he heard the sound of footfalls. Her peephole darkened for a moment. Then the lock scraped, and she pulled the door open.
Emily stood in the doorway, her hair still damp from a shower, wearing a pair ofjeans and a loose, pink blouse that brought out the color in her cheeks. Her hair had left wet patches on her shoulders, and her face was makeup free. She looked fresh, albeit a little tired, the warm June breeze tugging at some wisps of hair around her face that were drying faster than the rest.
"Hi." She angled her head to gesture him inside. "Wow, that's a lot of boxes."
He looked at the pile next to the door and nodded his agreement.
"I've been assured that all of it is absolutely necessary," he said. "I took their word for it."
She smiled, her eyes meeting his with a sparkle of amusement. "I hope this isn't too far out of your way."
"We've all taken a personal interest in Cora." He gave Emily a shrug. "And you're her new mom."
"Well." A glimmer of something crossed her face, and she made a concerted effort to mask it. "I'm hoping, at least. I've heard that these things can be a bit complicated."
Greg nodded. It was true, and he wasn't one to give false reassurances. Custody cases could be incredibly complicated, and no one could say what would happen with this one. Instead of answering her, he put his attention into bringing the rest of the boxes inside, piling them neatly inside the door.
"How is everything going with Cora?" he asked instead.
"Surprisingly well, considering how little I slept last night." She gave him a wry smile. He had to admit, she looked pretty good for not having slept, but then, he probably wasn't noticing the same things she was. Emily Shaw seemed like the kind of woman who could look pretty good wearing a paper bag.
"Well, this is it." He nodded toward the boxes. "This should help get you started."
"Are you on the clock?" she asked.
"Not officially, ma'am."
"Did you want to come in for a cup of iced tea or something?"
Greg cleared his throat. He hadn't come over to shoot the breeze, but he had to admit that the prospect of an iced tea on a hot day with some beautiful company appealed.
"Unless you're busy" She blushed. "Well, I suppose a few minutes wouldn't hurt." Emily rewarded him with a brilliant smile and angled her head into the house.
"Come to the kitchen. We'll be more comfortable there."