Read an Excerpt
Jenny Collins stood looking in the storefront window of the Blind Stitch, eyeing the new sign behind the glass.
Beginner's quilting classes starting on Wednesday and Saturday. Everyone welcome.
Okay, it was officialshe was in over her head. She was a highschool English teacher, not an expert on quilting. She never should have listened when Allison had told her to jump in with both feet. Unfortunately, Jenny didn't know any other way to do things, and it sometimes got her into trouble.
Yet, her friend had confidence in her. How could she let her down?
Even after Jenny's life had fallen apart, she'd got the manager's job, along with an apartment above the shop, thanks to Allison Casali. The job was hers as long as she wanted to stay in Kerry Springs, Texas. That was the milliondollar question. How long would she be staying?
The shop door opened, bringing Jenny back to the present, and Millie Roberts poked her head out. In her sixties, Jenny's parttime employee had short, gray hair cut in a flattering style. Petite and slender, Millie was energetic and friendly and, best of all, knowledgeable about quilting.
"We just got a delivery." She smiled. "It's the new fabrics Allison ordered."
Jenny followed her inside the store. "Good, we were getting pretty low on stock."
"Well, that's to be expected since you've sold nearly everything in the store."
They walked past several quilts hanging along the high walls, all custom designs by the shop owner and, most recently, Jenny's boss.
There were stands that displayed colorful bolts of fabrics in every print a quilter could ever want or need. A long cutting table divided the front from the back of the store. A cash register sat on the counter and beside it were several large delivery boxes.
"Oh, boy," Jenny said. "Allison must have bought out the entire wholesale house." She knew the company gave the quilting icon a good deal just to have their textiles associated with the name Allison Cole Casali. Her loyal followers would buy a lot of their products.
Jenny opened one box and started to remove bolts of colorful fabric. She and Millie were examining the new materials when a soft voice drew Jenny's attention. She turned around to see a small darkhaired girl standing in front of the counter.
The cute child was dressed in a pair of jeans, a pink shirt and white sneakers. Her large blue eyes widened as she gave a tentative smile.
Jenny walked away from the boxes and stopped in front of the girl. "Hello, I'm Jenny Collins."
"I'm Grace Anne Rafferty, but everybody calls me Gracie."
"It's nice to meet you, Gracie Rafferty. This is Millie."
"Hi, Gracie," Millie greeted her, then continued to sort through the boxes.
Jenny turned back to the child. "What can I do for you, Gracie?"
The little girl pointed to the window over her shoulder. "I read the sign. I want you to help me make my quilt."
Jenny glanced at Millie. "Well, Gracie. I don't know." How could she tell the child she was too young? "This class really isn't for children."
"I'm eight years old and I know how to sew. I even have a quilt started well, my mother started making it, but she can't help me anymore."
Jenny's heart went out to the child, seeing her sadness. "I wish I could help you, Gracie, but the class is for adults."
The child's shoulders slumped, but her blue eyes widened. "But I hafta finish it 'cause I promised her."
Jenny leaned down to the small child. "Then you and your mother should finish it together. What about if she joins the class?"
The girl shook her head, causing her ponytail to swing back and forth as tears welled in her eyes. "She can't, 'cause she's in heaven."
Evan Rafferty had searched up and down all the aisles of Sayers Hardware, but there was no sign of his daughter anywhere. He hurried outside to his truck, hoping she'd gotten bored and left. Gracie wasn't there either.
He glanced up and down the small town's main street. Where had she gone to? Dear Lord, could someone have taken her? No, not in Kerry Springs. He sent up a silent prayer as he hurried next door to the drug store. Maybe she'd gone in to buy candy. She wasn't there either. He couldn't slow the pounding of his heart, the dread that threatened to overtake him.
He couldn't even take care of his own daughter. Had Megan been right? Maybe he wasn't cut out to be a father.
He rushed past two more storefronts, then stopped suddenly when he saw the patchwork quilts in one of the windows. Gracie had said something about having to finish a quilt.
He pulled open the glasspaneled door and slowed his steps when he heard the sweet voice of his little girl. She'd been the mainstay in his life, the thing that had kept him focused over the past year and a half. The reason he got up every day when some days he wanted to walk away from it all.
Evan passed the rows of shelves stacked high with material until a blond woman came into view, talking to his daughter.
She swung around as her happy look suddenly turned to one of guilt. "Oh, hi, Daddy."
"Don't 'hi, Daddy' me. You know better than to run off." His voice softened, "I couldn't find you."
"I'm sorry," she said as tears welled in her eyes. "You were busy, so I thought I'd come and look at the quilts." She forced a smile that reminded him of her mother.
"None of that excuses you for going off by yourself."
"Mr. Rafferty, I'm Jenny Collins." The blond woman still stood next to his child. "I'm the new manager of the Blind Stitch."
He appraised the storekeeper with her fresh look and easy smile. She was tall and slender, wearing a blue blouse tucked into jeans, accenting a narrow waist and the flare of her hips. When his attention went to her large dark eyes he felt a sudden tightening in his gut.
"I'm sorry you were worried about Gracie," the woman continued. "I didn't know that she didn't have permission to come here."
He reined in his straying thoughts. "What did you think when a child walked in by herself?"
The woman continued to smile, but he could see a flash of anger in her brownsugar eyes. "I assumed her parent would be coming shortly." She looked down at his daughter. "Gracie, next time you come here make sure you have permission."
The girl nodded as she wiped away a tear. "Okay."
"Good. Now, why don't you go wash your face before your dad takes you home?" The store manager sent him a look as if daring him to challenge her.
An older woman came out from behind the counter.
He felt his cheeks warm as he recognized Millie Roberts. A retired teacher from the school, and a member of the church he'd once attended. He tipped his hat. "Hello, Mrs. Roberts."
"Why don't I take Gracie and show her where to wash up?"
After the two left Jenny turned back to him. "Could I just take a minute of your time, Mr. Rafferty?"
"What's the point? Gracie won't be coming back here."
"Why? Do you have a problem with her taking up quilting? Gracie explained to me that her mother was a quilter and she's been very unhappy since lately."
Evan didn't want to talk about his private life, especially not with a stranger. "That's not your concern. Besides, Gracie's too young."
Jenny studied this man. She hadn't figured him out yet, only that neither father nor daughter looked happy. From the second she'd seen Gracie standing in front of the counter she'd felt an instant connection to her. Her own childhood hadn't been the happiest, and seeing the girl's sadness nearly broke Jenny's heart.
"Maybe if you take the time to talk to her," she suggested.
"Look, I don't know what makes you an expert, but I'd appreciate it if you let me handle my daughter."
She nodded. "Your daughter walked in here and involved me in this. I'd like to help. Maybe we can come up with an idea to get her involved in something."
The last thing he needed was another person getting into his business. "No thanks. What I want is to be left alone."
He was grateful when his daughter came out of the restroom. Evan motioned for her. "Come on, Gracie. We need to get back to the ranch."
He headed for the door, Evan didn't know why he was being so rude, both to his daughter and to a woman he didn't even know. It was the woman, that was the problem.
He could understand why Gracie was drawn to her. He glanced back at the pretty blonde. He hated that he felt the same pull. He groaned. He needed to get out more.
"What a jerk," Jenny murmured. "Did you hear him, Millie?" She walked to the store window, not waiting for her coworker's answer. She watched as Mr. Rafferty walked to the curb and helped his daughter into a latemodel truck with a logo on the door for Triple R Ranch.
The rancher walked around the cab, giving her a view of his backside. The tall, looselimbed cowboy was a killer in a pair of jeans. His thighs were solid and so was his rear end. He had broad shoulders and muscular arms and thick sable hair under his widebrimmed Stetson.
She could still feel the heat from his smoky blueeyed stare. Great! For the first time in a long while she felt an attraction to a man, and he definitely wasn't her type. She'd known too many rude and arrogant men like him, including her stepfather. No, she wouldn't waste her time on someone like Evan Rafferty.
She thought back to what the girl had said about her mother being in heaven. Okay, so he'd lost his wife recently. She couldn't help but feel for both of them.
Jenny watched the truck pull away from the curb and Gracie looked in her direction. She waved at her and Jenny's chest tightened with longing. Admittedly the big cowboy had one thing in his favor. The sweetest little girl.
Millie came up beside her. "Don't be too hard on that young man. He's been through a lot." The older woman turned to Jenny, looking sad. "He lost his wife, Megan, a year ago last Thanksgiving."
"What happened?" Jenny found herself asking.
"She had cancer." Millie sighed. "I know she suffered terribly. Then, not only did Evan have to deal with her death, he's trying to raise a daughter and run his ranch. I don't blame him for being upset when he couldn't find Gracie."
Jenny nodded. She didn't have a child, but she knew what her friend, Allison, had gone through to get her daughter Cherry to walk again after an automobile accident that had nearly taken her life.
She'd probably be as protective if she had a child. She shook away the familiar longing that nagged her and put on a smile.
"Okay, we'd better get back to work," she told Millie. "The beginners' class is scheduled to start in two weeks."
She walked through the store to the new opening in the west wall that led into the building next door. Allison had bought that property when the old tenant had moved out, and the carpenters had finally finished the improvements to expand the shop.
Jenny stood in the doorway and looked at the empty space. They still needed to paint, but new cabinets and shelving lined the far wall. There was plenty of room for class supplies and fabric. And they could bring in the portable sewing machines from storage.
Jenny walked to the area right at the front window. "What do you think about getting a big round table and some comfortable chairs for this area?"
A bright smile lit up Millie's face. "Women can come here to socialize and quilt."
Jenny shrugged. "A lot of the customers are friends and neighbors. Why not make a place where they can come and work on their projects together, share ideas and tips. We can call it Quilters' Corner. What do you think?"
Millie beamed. "You won't have any trouble filling that table."
Jenny nodded. Good. She had one problem solved, but she was still being nagged by Evan Rafferty. Darn that man for stirring her up. The last thing she needed was a man to disrupt her life right now. She already had enough to deal with.
Yet, she couldn't stop thinking about his daughter. She wanted to do something to help Gracie. An idea suddenly hit her.
"Millie," she began. "If I moved the adult classes to Wednesday and Saturday mornings that would open up time on Saturday afternoons."
Millie hesitated. "What do you have in mind?"
"Maybe a girls' class."
The older woman studied her a moment. "That's a big undertaking because one little girl wants to finish a quilt."
Was that all Gracie wanted? Jenny wondered, thinking back to her own childhood. She had been overshadowed by her stepbrothers and ignored by her stepfather. The worst part was that her mother had let it happen. Maybe that had been Gracie's experience since her mother's deathmaybe she felt pushed aside. The big question was, was an eightyearold too young to join a quilting class?
Jenny looked at Millie. "Do you think some of our regular customers would help out with a mentoring class?
The woman shrugged. "Probably. Is this for any student, or are you talking about one in particular?"
"Maybe, but why can't we help a little girl finish her quilt?"
Millie nodded. "If we're talking about a quilt her mother started, it's not a simple matter. Megan Rafferty was pretty close to an expert quilter. She'd sold several at the local craft fair. But you're right. This could help Gracie, especially since she lives with a houseful of men." A slow smile lit up Millie's face. "All those Rafferty men are a handsome bunch."
Jenny softened thinking about Evan Rafferty, recalling the raw pain in those eyes. That was her clue to stay clear of the handsome cowboy.
Even without his bad attitude, he still belonged to someone else.
The next afternoon, Jenny headed over to Kerry Springs Elementary School, flyers in hand. She was hoping that the school principal, Lillian Perry, would help promote her class.
When the office door opened she was surprised to see a woman not much older than herself. The attractive brunette smiled as Jenny greeted her and they walked inside.
The principal closed the door. "Thank you for waiting, Ms. Collins."
"Please, call me Jenny."
"And I'm Lily."