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By Susan Kirby
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJackson Sign Company was headquartered in the little farming community of Liberty Flats, Illinois, behind the home of Kate Grisham. Kate's granddaughter, Paula Jackson Blake, co-owned the business with her brother Jake. She and Jake and her sisters were throwing a garden party for Gram Kate's birthday. Friends and family visited in cozy clusters on the sweeping lawn and deep porches of Gram's inviting arts-and-crafts home. But in the kitchen where Paula was chastising her daughter Joy, the mood was anything but festive.
Joy's sullen demeanor heightened Paula's concern over the widening gulf between herself and her preteen daughter. At issue this time was Joy's transgression against Shelby, who had driven down from Chicago to attend the party for Gram Kate. Jake intended to ask Shelby to marry him. A close-knit family, Paula and her sisters, their husbands and children - everyone in the Jackson clan - were holding their collective breath on Jake's behalf.
With the exception of Joy.
"You liked her at first," reasoned Paula. "If you would give her a chance, I'm sure you could like her again."
"The way you're giving Dad a second chance?" returned Joy.
"This isn't about your father," Paula reasoned with studied patience. "We're talking about you hacking into Shelby's story. You invaded her privacy and you put Jake in a difficult position. He deserves better. Why, he's like a father to you."
"Uncle Jake wouldn't have to play father if you'd just told Dad about me in the first place. When are you going to get over it and let my dad be a real dad?" Joy cried as she fled the room.
Paula might have gone after her if not for her friend, Antoinette Penn. "Easy does it, she'll come to her senses," Annie said soothingly.
"I've taken leave of mine, letting her talk to me like that," muttered Paula. "That's twice she's wreaked havoc on that computer. First with Colt and now this. And right under my nose!"
"You're not blaming yourself, surely. Who'd dream she'd sneak a peek at Shelby's writing much less track down her father without leaving home?" Annie wagged her head. "It's off the subject, but I can't help thinking what a shock it must have been to the man to learn he had a twelve-year-old daughter."
"Shock is a positive pregnancy test, and Colt long gone," countered Paula.
After all these years, the void created by her husband Colt having walked out on her before she realized she was pregnant continued to have enormous repercussions. Paula swept dark-auburn hair away from her throbbing temples.
"I know Joy's frustrated by my stalling," she reasoned. "But what if I let her get involved with Colt only to find out he isn't a fit parent?"
"Why wouldn't he be fit?" asked Annie.
Grappling with a shame she didn't want to feel, Paula blurted, "He's homeless, Annie!"
Annie's eyes widened. "No way!"
"It's true," said Paula, though she could hardly believe it herself. "Shelby volunteers at a homeless shelter in Chicago. Jake tagged along to help one afternoon. Colt was there for dinner, and I don't mean to serve it."
"Are we talking about the same Colton Blake? The Voyager?" cried Annie, incredulous.
"Yes, the Voyager!"
It was the name by which the world at large knew Colton Blake. He had begun modeling for Wind, Water and Sky Outdoor Gear several years prior to meeting Paula. The sporting good company's ad campaign depicted him as a rugged outdoorsman clad in denim jeans, flannel shirt and leather boots. But it was the red knit voyager cap he wore that accounted for his now famous moniker. He embodied the unfettered spirit, and not just on billboards and in slick magazine ads.
Wind, Water and Sky Outdoor Gear used that one enduring image of Colt as the centerpiece of their ad campaign. Business had sky rocketed. The company was now a global enterprise. Which made it all the harder to explain how Colt could be reduced to living in a homeless shelter. In response to Annie's questions, Paula could only recount what Jake had learned from the mission director, Mr. Weaver.
"It seems Colt's recovering from an accident."
"What kind of accident?" asked Annie.
"Mr. Weaver didn't say. But Jake said it left him badly scarred."
Annie winced. "That can't be good in his line of work."
Excerpted from Love Knot by Susan Kirby Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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