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THERE was no sign of him.
Morgan Keenan stared out the bay window of her craft shop at the family Inn, willing the tardy Fortune 500 corporate CEO to appear. Not that she didn't realize what a long shot it was to get Justin Hilliard to even consider investing in her project.
She glanced up at the clouds gathering over the San Juan Mountains, knowing the forecast was for snow flurries later tonight. It was still early in the season, but it could be a blessing for the old mining town of Destiny, Colorado. Especially when she was trying to promote the perfect location to build a ski resort.
Since being elected mayor last year, Morgan had worked hard, pulling together a cost effective package and looking for investors. She'd received a few nibbles over the previous months, but it hadn't been until she heard from Justin Hilliard of Hilliard Industries, that she thought she just might have a chance to pull off this deal.
And today, the CEO was coming to see the town…and to meet her. Or was he?
With one last glance at the empty parking lot, Morgan walked to the back of the craft shop she ran in her parents' bed–and–breakfast, the Keenan Inn. A wooden quilting frame was set up in the turretshaped alcove. She took her seat facing the windows so she could keep an eye out for her visitor while relieving tension by working on the wedding quilt.
Morgan picked up her needle and took a measured stitch, a skill her mother had taught her years ago. It had been her salvation too many times to count. Lately the resort deal had been heavy on her mind, but after today, if Mr. Hilliard decided he wanted to invest in the resort she could breathe easier.
Busy with her intricate work, it took a while for Morgan to realize she wasn't alone. She glanced up to see a small dark–haired girl standing in the doorway. Dressed in a pink nylon ski jacket and matching bib overalls, she was too cute.
Morgan smiled. "Hi."
The girl didn't answer.
Since the Inn's guests didn't usually have children, Morgan decided the girl belonged to a day tourist. She glanced toward the front of the shop but didn't see anyone around.
"I'm Morgan," she said. "What's your name?"
"Lauren," the child answered softly.
"Pretty name. Do you want to see what I'm making?"
Her gray–blue eyes widened, then to Morgan's surprise, the little girl walked to the edge of the stretcher board.
Morgan ran her hand over the multiblue patterned fabrics already sewn into circles. "It's called a wedding–ring quilt. See the circles?" She outlined one with her finger. "They look like rings."
The girl didn't speak, but leaned in to look at the half–finished quilt.
"I like to use blue," Morgan continued. "It's my favorite color. What's yours?"
Those big eyes rose to hers. Morgan felt a tug at her heart. "Pink…" the girl whispered.
"You want to see if we can find pink in the quilt?" Surprisingly the little girl raised her arms to Morgan. She didn't hesitate to lift the child. A soft powdery smell emanated from her as she was tucked perfectly onto Morgan's lap. Morgan took a moment to savor the rare gift, because this would be as close as she would ever get to having a little girl of her own.
Justin Hilliard stood at the Keenan Inn's front desk. He hated being late. Punctuality had been a discipline drilled into him throughout his life. Even if it couldn't be helped because the company jet had a minor mechanical problem, and Lauren had fallen asleep. he'd decided that she needed the rest more than he needed to be on time.
"Sorry for the delay, Mr. Hilliard." The middleaged innkeeper had short gray hair and warm hazel eyes. "We put you in the suite on the second floor.
My husband is bringing in a rollaway to accommodate your daughter."
"Thank you, Mrs. Keenan. I apologize for not informing you ahead of time."
"It's not a problem at all." The older woman smiled. "We've all been looking forward to your visit but especially, my daughter, Morgan."
He checked his watch. He was ninety minutes late. "I was to meet with her today. I'm going to have to reschedule. I want to get Lauren settled." He looked behind him at the antique love seat, but his daughter wasn't there. He glanced around the large entry that served as a lobby for the three–story bed–and–breakfast.
He tried to stay calm. "Lauren?"
Mrs. Keenan came around the desk. "I'm sure she's probably close by, probably just wandered into the craft shop." The older woman led the way along a hallway and into a room that housed the usual touristy things, along with several quilts hanging on the walls. But there was no sign of his daughter.
Panic rose in his throat. Lauren stayed close by his side, especially since her mother's death. The innkeeper walked ahead, then she turned and smiled, motioning toward an alcove.
Justin froze as he spotted his daughter seated on a woman's lap. A protective hand rested on Lauren's, guiding her small fingers through the task of pushing the needle through the fabric. His chest tightened at the enchanting scene.
Then other dormant feelings raced through him as he took in the woman's long auburn hair brushing her shoulders in soft curls and encircling her heart–shaped face. Her pert nose wrinkled when she smiled. She had a fresh–scrubbed look that he found appealing.
"It seems your daughter has found a friend," Mrs. Keenan said, breaking into his thoughts. Then she turned and walked away.
Just then Lauren became aware of his presence. The joy in her eyes faded as she climbed down and hurried to his side.
Justin knelt and wrapped his arms around his daughter. "Lauren, you shouldn't have run off. I was worried."
"Sorry," she whispered.
"Just tell me the next time. Okay?" He rose and turned to the woman who'd managed to gain his daughter's trust. "I'm Justin Hilliard." He held out his hand.
"Morgan Keenan." They shook hands. "And I apologize. I had no idea that Lauren was missing, or that she was your daughter."
"She usually doesn't wander off." Or talk to strangers, he thought.
"Well, she's welcome here anytime." Morgan looked at the child and smiled. "As long as she asks for permission first."
Ms. Keenan was even lovelier close up. Her eyes were a deep emerald–green and expressive. Who would have thought the all–business mayor he'd talked with would turn out to look so soft…so feminine? His throat suddenly went dry. "I don't see it as a problem." "Good." Morgan brushed her hand against her long skirt. "I hope you and Lauren had a pleasant trip here."
"We had a few delays," he said, his hand on Lauren's shoulder. "I hope my tardiness hasn't caused problems for you."
Morgan shook her head, fighting her nervousness. Justin Hilliard was more handsome than in his magazine and newspaper pictures. Tall, with wide shoulders, he was dressed in jeans, boots and a coffee–colored, cable–knit sweater.
Her attention went to his steel–gray eyes. "I'd planned to spend the day with you… I mean I was scheduled to present the Silver Sky Canyon project."
He frowned. "I apologize. I need to reschedule our meeting." He raised a hand. "It will be at your convenience. Since I've brought Lauren along, I've decided to stay the week. I thought I would mix business with some pleasure time with her."
It was a good sign that a busy CEO like Justin Hilliard was going to be here all week. "That's wonderful. There is so much to see and do around here. I hope you brought some warm clothes. They're predicting snow this week. Probably just flurries, but it's still fun to watch." Why was she babbling? "But then you get snow in Denver." She finally shut her mouth when she saw his smile.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hilliard. As you can tell I'm anxious to tell you about the project."
"There's no need to apologize and, please, call me Justin." "And I'm Morgan." She was just happy he was here. She'd been afraid he'd changed his mind. "And yes, we definitely can reschedule our meeting." She glanced at the little girl. "And maybe after you rest Lauren, we can have a look around town."
With questioning eyes, Lauren glanced up at her father.
"I think we both would enjoy a trip around Destiny," he said.
At that moment, Claire Keenan rejoined the group. "Then, let's get you settled Mr. Hilliard. We can send sandwiches up to the suite."
"I don't want to be a bother."
She waved her hand in the air. "Oh, it's not a bother at all. We want you to feel welcome."
Justin looked back at Morgan Keenan. "I thought that was your job."
A delightful blush crossed her cheeks. "I'll do my part, but my mother's cooking is just one of the fringe benefits Destiny has to offer."
The look in his eyes sent a strange feeling coursing through Morgan's veins.
"I can hardly wait to discover the others," he told her.
Morgan walked into the big kitchen, the hub of the Inn and the center of the Keenan family activates. This had been where she and her sisters, Paige and Leah, grew up.
It was the heart of the home, where family problems were discussed and triumphs were cheered, tears shed and laughter shared.
Claire Keenan turned as her daughter entered. "Are they settled in?"
"They seem fine. Thank you, Mom, for handling things."
"It wasn't a problem…we had the suite available."
"I should have booked him there in the first place, but I thought he would fly in only for the day. That he'd fly home tonight." She frowned. "And bringing his daughter with him. That was a surprise."
Her mother smiled. "And she's so sweet. I wonder where her mother is?"
Finding information on Justin Hilliard hadn't been hard. Morgan had gone to her sister. Paige had lived in Denver for nearly ten years and knew all about Hilliard Industries' CEO, both professionally and personally. "he'd been divorced for over a year and has had custody of his daughter since his ex–wife was killed in an automobile accident six months ago."
"How sad," Claire Keenan said. "That poor little thing. So both of them are alone."
Morgan didn't like her mother's curious look. It could only mean trouble. Since Morgan had returned from college, she'd tried to fix her up with every eligible man who'd come to the Inn.
Just then her sisters, Paige and Leah, walked into the kitchen. "Is he here yet?" Leah asked.
Morgan knew who they were talking about. "Yes, he's here," she told them.
"Is he as handsome as his pictures?" Leah asked. The petite blonde couldn't hide the twinkle in her brown eyes as she held out a computer printout from the Hilliard Industries' Web site.
Morgan had to admit that she hadn't expected a hard–driving businessman to be so good–looking. That dark, wavy hair and those gray eyes were… She quickly pushed away the thought.
"His looks have nothing to do with the man building a ski resort here."
Leah frowned. "Now, I am worried. She doesn't even react to a gorgeous man."
"Why are you looking at other men anyway?" Morgan asked. "You two are married women." She glanced pointedly down at their rounded bellies.
"We're not dead," Paige informed her. The brunette's hair was perfect as was her makeup even though she was eight months pregnant. "Besides, Reed knows I love only him."
"As does Holt," Leah added.
Their mother joined in. "I love your father very much but Justin Hilliard even made me take an appreciative look. And that little girl of his…"
The two sisters turned back to Morgan. "He brought his daughter?" Paige asked.
"That's impressive," Leah added. "How old is she?"
"She's about five and adorable," their mother informed them. "Her name is Lauren and she's already gotten attached to Morgan."
Morgan covered her ears. "Stop it. None if this has anything to do with me getting the man to invest in our town. I haven't even given my presentation." "You'll ace it," Paige said confidently. "He was interested enough to come here. It's a good investment."
"I still have to convince him."
Morgan wasn't about to tell her family that the man brought it to the surface, causing feelings in her she hadn't felt in a long time. Since college, she'd managed to keep men at arm's length because she wasn't going to chance getting hurt again.
Justin Hilliard could make her change her mind. But for her own sanity, she refused to give that power to a man. Never again.