Protecting the Widow's Heart (Love Inspired Series)

Protecting the Widow's Heart (Love Inspired Series)

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by Lorraine Beatty
     
 

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To Love and Protect 

Ginger Sloan's had enough of heartache. She just wants a peaceful place where she and her son can start over and feel safe. Getting stranded in a lakeside cabin outside Dover, Mississippi, isn't part of her plan. Then again, neither is falling for the cabin's handsome owner. Injured on the job, detective Tyler Durrant retreats to his

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Overview

To Love and Protect 

Ginger Sloan's had enough of heartache. She just wants a peaceful place where she and her son can start over and feel safe. Getting stranded in a lakeside cabin outside Dover, Mississippi, isn't part of her plan. Then again, neither is falling for the cabin's handsome owner. Injured on the job, detective Tyler Durrant retreats to his cabin to heal. He's shocked to find the single mom and her son there. And surprised at the way Ginger affects his heart. For the first time in years, he has hope for the future, but can he convince Ginger that she can find safe haven in his arms? 

Home to Dover: A small town with a big heart

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781460327975
Publisher:
Harlequin
Publication date:
03/01/2014
Series:
Home to Dover
Sold by:
HARLEQUIN
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
146,228
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt

Ginger Sloan kept one hand on her son's shoulder and one on her small suitcase as they topped the wooden stairs hugging the side of the raised lakeside cabin and followed their benefactor, Mr. Nelson Cooper, across the wide deck. A patio table and chairs, two large rocking chairs and a big grill barely made a dent in the expansive space. All had been covered in heavy plastic to protect them from the weather. A quick glance past the railing revealed a large body of water sparkling in the moonlight. Its beauty escaped her. All she could think of was how isolated the place was, and what a fool she'd been to lose track of time.

Her seven-year-old son, Elliot, had begged for a break from the cross-country drive they were making from Shelton, Connecticut, to the small town of Spring Valley near Phoenix, Arizona. He'd been so good about being cooped up in the car for two days she'd wanted to reward him. So when they'd seen a sign for a Mississippi state park touting their expansive playground and a lake, she'd agreed to the small detour. But they'd lost track of time, and had made a wrong turn leaving the park, ending up on the far side of the lake after dark. Thankfully, she'd spotted some cabins and stopped to ask directions. But when she'd turned the key in the ignition, her car had refused to start, leaving them stranded and dependent upon the kindness of strangers for help and causing every nerve in her body to tighten in anxiety.

"I think you'll find the place real cozy." Cooper pushed open the door, smiling over his shoulder. "Let me get the lights for you."

Mr. Cooper, the owner of the cabin next door where she'd sought help, had been more than kind. He and his wife, Mae, had drawn her a map to I-55 and then, after her car wouldn't start, had offered to let her stay in the empty cabin next to them. While she was grateful, her fears far outweighed her gratitude.

"Mom, is that the same lake we saw before?" Elliot pointed to the water beyond the trees.

"Yes." She steered him into the cabin, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the light. The main room was open concept with an L-shaped kitchen along the back wall. A long island with bar stools separated it from the living area. A massive stone fireplace with raised hearth, perfect for cozying up to, dominated the far wall. Windows, rising to the rafters, afforded an unobstructed view of the lake from the front. At the moment, it only revealed darkness, but Ginger allowed a quick second of anticipation to override her fear. The view in the morning would be amazing.

Mr. Cooper had stepped from the room briefly, muttering something about a water valve. He returned with a broad smile on his dark face and rubbing his hands together in a gesture of accomplishment. "Well, I think you're all set. The lights are working, the water is turned on, though I'd let it run a few minutes to clear out the pipes, and the pilot light is lit, so you should have heat soon."

Ginger pulled Elliot against her chest, keeping her hands on his slender shoulders. Mr. Cooper seemed kind enough, but it paid to be cautious. "Thank you, but are you sure this will be all right with the owner? He might not appreciate strangers staying here without his permission."

The man shook his head and smiled more broadly. "Don't you worry none about that. I know Mr. Durrant, and he'd be the first one to offer you aid. Besides, he's never here much. I take care of the place for him. Mae and I live out here full-time now that I'm retired." He rested his hands on his hips and glanced around the large room. "Let's see. I doubt if there's any food in the place." He walked to the fridge and pulled it open, then checked the cabinets, as well. "I'm going to go back to the house and gather up some things for you and your boy to eat. You get settled in, and I'll be back in a jiffy."

"Oh, you don't have to do that. We'll be fine. I appreciate all you've done, Mr. Cooper."

He smiled and pointed a finger at her. "Now, no more of that Mr. Cooper stuff. You call me Nels. We're friends now."

His words eased some of her tension, but she kept her guard up. Over the years she'd been conditioned to expect the worst at any moment.

"Until we know what's wrong with your vehicle, you need a safe place to stay and some food. But right now, you get yourselves settled in. We'll get your car towed to Zeke's in the morning, and let him take a look at it."

Towed? "How much will that cost?" The seriousness of her situation slammed into her again. Money was tight. Really tight, and car repairs weren't in the budget. Neither was lodging or unexpected delays.

"Don't worry about that, either. Right now you and the boy get some rest. We'll tackle the big problems when the sun rises. Things always look better under the Lord's sunshine."

After Mr. Cooper, Nels, left, Ginger made a quick tour of the rest of the cabin. A master bedroom with attached bath was on one side of the cabin, a smaller bedroom was across the narrow hall with a full bath and laundry area next to it. She noted with interest that the small storage space beside the washer was stuffed full of sports equipment, which might come in handy to entertain Elliot tomorrow.

There didn't appear to be any other access to the cabin besides the front door. At least there was only one way in and one way out of this place. That gave her a measure of comfort. No one could sneak up on them unexpectedly out here in the wilderness.

"Mom, can I sleep in this room?" Elliot sat on the double bed in the smaller room, a big smile on his face. "It has fish in it." He pointed to the outdated wallpaper border along the ceiling depicting various kinds of fish flailing about on hooks. The bedspread was an ugly brown quilt with plaid fish in the center of large squares, and a brown-and-white checked border. Every item in the room reinforced the fishing theme. Only a man could appreciate such a decor.

"I think you'd better sleep with me tonight since we're in a strange place."

"Please? This room is way cool. There's even a fish lamp."

Ginger tugged on her hair. It was late. They were tired, and she didn't feel like arguing. She had too much to sort out. "Fine. But leave the door open so I can hear you in case you change your mind." Finding fresh sheets in the closet, she busied herself with putting them on the beds.

"Mrs. Sloan?"

The shout from the front of the cabin pulled a gasp from her throat and sent her heart thudding wildly. Nels. She'd forgotten he was going to return with the food. "Coming." She hurried out to the living area to find the older man and his wife busily unloading a box filled with a week's worth of food.

"Oh, you didn't need to bring so much. Milk and cereal for Elliot would have been fine."

Mae Cooper smiled and shook her head. "Nonsense. You might be here for a few days. I want to make sure you have enough food for that growing boy of yours."

Days? She hadn't thought that far ahead. What if the car couldn't be fixed? How would she get to Arizona then? Her head spun with the implications. Why did each new day of her life bring more unexpected problems? She'd spent the past two years living in fear of the next disaster.

"Now, then. That should hold you. We're going to get out of here and let you settle in, but if you need anything, anything at all, you come right next door and get me, all right?"

Mae smiled and patted her husband's shoulder. "Nels is a light sleeper, so he'll hear you if you call. I left our number on the counter for you."

After a quick bowl of cereal, Elliot scrambled into bed, eager to spend the night with the fish. Ginger returned to the kitchen to clean up, her glance falling on a tall, narrow cabinet in the far corner of the living room. Her throat seized up, trapping air in her chest. A gun case-rifles lined up in a neat row behind a glass door. Memories unfurled, yanking her back to the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant-she and Elliot waiting in the car as her husband, John, went inside. The strange popping sound. Realizing it was gunfire. The police. Sirens. Shielding Elliot from the horror. John being wheeled out on a stretcher. The hospital. Bullet to spine. Never walk again.

Ginger sucked in air, turning from the gun cabinet. Her life had changed forever that day. The surgeries, the complications that had dragged on, maxing out their insurance, forcing them to sell their home and destroying their credit. When John had died, she'd been left with over one hundred thousand dollars in medical bills and struggling to keep her head above water.

Slowly she turned, facing the cabinet again. She hated guns. Hated violence. A gun had destroyed her life and filled her with fear so deep and insidious she knew she'd never be free of it. Her only hope was to get to her mother's in Arizona. Maybe in the nice, safe town of Spring Valley she could rebuild her life and find peace.

Closing her eyes, she willed herself to calm down. She noticed a sturdy lock on the gun cabinet's door. She tugged on it, satisfied it was secure. She was safe. For the moment anyway.

Moving to the front door of the cabin, she locked it, checked all the windows and found them secured, as well. There was nothing else she could do. Back in the master bedroom she prepared for bed, trying to keep some perspective. The Coopers seemed like nice people. Kind and helpful. But she was stranded in the backwoods of Mississippi with strangers and without a car.

Reaching for her phone, she slid it open. She was almost out of minutes, but she had to call her mother and let her know where they were, and that they might be a few days late. "Mom?"

"Ginny, sweetheart, is everything okay?"

The sound of her mother's voice washed through her with a comforting warmth she'd long missed. Too many years had passed with no contact. Her fault entirely. Turning her back on the values and wisdom of her parents had seemed like freedom at the time, but only proved to be her downfall. But she intended to correct that now. "I've run into a little car trouble, and I'm spending the night at Shiloh Lake. It's near a small town called Dover, Mississippi. I wanted you to know in case."

"In case what?"

The concern in her mother's voice touched her heart. "Well…in case I have to stay awhile. I don't know what's wrong with my car yet. I'll find out tomorrow."

"Oh, dear. I hope you can still get here within the next week. I talked to my friend, and he'll hold off making a decision until he meets with you, but he really needs to fill the position as soon as possible."

"I know. I'll do my best."

"Ginny, you sound strange. Is anything else wrong?"

"No. Well, yes. There's a gun cabinet here in the cabin, and it brought back things I don't want to remember."

"Guns? Oh, sweetheart, are you safe there?"

"Yes, they're secured. But-" Tears sprang to her eyes and she swiped them away. "If only John hadn't put on that stupid uniform."

"I thought you said he liked being a security guard for that big office building."

"He did. But the police thought seeing John in his uniform is what set the gunman off. He thought John was the real police."

"Oh, Ginger. You never told me that. I'm so sorry. We have so much to catch up on. Hurry home to me. I love you, honey."

Her mother's words triggered more tears. "I will, Mom. Love you, too. I'm running low on minutes, so I'd better go. I just wanted to let you know."

"Sweetheart, I wish I could help you. I wish I had some money to send you but…"

"It's okay, Mom. We've met a nice couple who are helping us out. We'll be fine. Don't worry about us."

But worry was all she could do as she hung up, moved to the bathroom and prepared for bed. Rinsing the cleanser from her face, she stared at her reflection in the mirror. She looked pale as a ghost and tired. She couldn't remember looking any other way. Maybe, once she got to Spring Valley, she could spend a little time on herself. A stray lock of hair fell against her cheek. With an irritated grunt she grabbed a clip and fastened it in place. She'd tried everything to keep that cowlick at her temple under control. Cutting it off only made it stick out more. Curling and straightening never lasted more than an hour. As a result, it was forever hanging over her ear and brushing her cheek. Tugging it out of the way had developed into a habit. A professional stylist could probably help, but who could afford that?

Slipping between the covers, she turned her mind to getting some rest. The firm bed, with fresh sheets smelling like pine, wrapped her in comfort. The soothing combination beckoned her to let go of her fears and sleep. She could hear her son's steady breathing from across the hall. At least he would get some rest. She had too much on her mind. Such as how she was going to pay for car repairs, how she'd get to her mother's in time to take the much-needed job and how she was going to repay the owner of this cabin for using it. The Coopers had assured her there was no need, but Ginger knew firsthand the crushing burden of debt, and she refused to be indebted to anyone ever again.

Please, God. If You're listening this time, all I'm asking is to get to Mom's, so we can find a nice, safe place to start over.

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