Read an Excerpt
SHE was finally home."
Leah Keenan drew a shaky breath as she drove the narrow road that led up the mountain. To the safe haven of Destiny, Colorado, where she'd grown up surrounded by love and the security of her two sisters and their adoptive parents. it had been twenty-seven years since the day when she, Morgan and Paige had been left at the Keenan Inn.
But she wasn't the same idealistic, fun-loving girl who had left the small town three years ago. the cruelty of the world had managed to change her.
For the past month she'd fought the recurring memories, but with no success. Memories of the Middle East where she'd been photographing the horrors of war for Our World magazine. She'd seen so much horrorthe bombs, the gunfire, the death and destruction. She just finished filming the earthquake and seen the hundreds of thousands of homeless.
And, oh God, the children At the sound of a horn, Leah swerved just in time to miss the oncoming car. Shaken, she pulled her rental car to the side of the road and shut off the engine. In the silence Leah could hear the sound of her pounding heart. She had to get herself together.
After a few minutes, she climbed out and drew in a breath of clean mountain air. She slowly began to relax as she eyed the familiar area. White Aspen trees lined the road, their new growth and rich green leaves promising spring had arrived in southern Colorado. Her gaze rose to the San Juan Mountain Range, the Rocky terrain blanketed by huge pine trees. At the very top were patches of leftover snow from the previous winter. cotton blouse, pullover sweater, khaki pants and lace-up boots.
Grabbing her trusty camera off the seat, Leahmarched to the fence and a sign that read, No Trespassing. Since the landowner, John Rawlins was a friend, she ignored it. She easily climbed over the wire fence, decided the direction she planned to go and set out on the narrow trail.
Leah made her way through the trees toward the mountainside. A doe appeared in the grove of trees and she paused to snap a picture. the serene beauty of this place helped to soothe her. Eager to reach her destination, she picked up her pace. After another fifty yards, she could hear the sound of water.
In the shade of the trees it grew cool, but she let nothing slow her until she reached the clearing. She stared in awe at the sight and sound of water rushing over the sheer ledge of mountainside into the rocky bottom of the pond below. Years ago, she'd named this special place Hidden Falls. Since adolescence, this had always been her private retreat, her escape where she could daydream.
A sudden movement caught her eye. She glanced toward the base of the falls to find a small child squatting down on a rock and washing in the water. He looked about eight years old, she thought as she snapped a picture of him, then glanced around to look for anyone else in the vicinity. Like a parent.
Not another person in sight. Leah moved closer and the kid suddenly jerked around and caught sight of her. there was fear in his eyes as he stumbled backward, then regained his footing and took off.
"Hey, wait," she called after him. "I'm not going to hurt you. Are you lost? I have a phone in the car."
The kid didn't stop. He darted through the trees like a mountain lion. Leah followed, but the youngster was too fast. "it's going to get dark soon," she yelled, but the boy was gone.
Okay, he so wasn't going to come to her. Refusing to give up, she continued through the trees as she checked her watch. it was after three o'clock.
"He didn't even have a jacket," she murmured, knowing how cold it would get after nightfall.
then in the distance she spotted a figure on horseback. As he approached she could see he was a large man with a black Stetson pulled low over his face. Suddenly her attention was drawn to the rifle he held across his saddle horn. She suddenly felt fear, something she'd thought she'd left behind.
"Hello, maybe you can help me," she said a little too breathless. "there's a boy"
"you're trespassing," he interrupted. She blinked at his rudeness. "Not really," she said, trying to recognize the man, but his sandy-brown hair and startling green eyes were unfamiliar. "I know the landowner. I'm more worried about the young boy I saw. I think he might be a runaway."
"I haven't seen any kids," he insisted. To her relief, he slipped the rifle back into the sleeve. "So you need to leave."
"I said it was okay, I'm Leah Keenan. John Rawlins has let me hike here to take pictures for years."
"That's not going to be allowed any longer."
Leah wasn't used to people around here being unfriendly. "And why is that?"
"John died about six months ago." She was close enough to see something flash in his eyes, sadness, vulnerability."
Quick tears stung her eyes. "Oh, no, not John. I didn't know." the rancher had been about her father's age. He was also someone she'd loved and enjoyed seeing and talking to.
"Well, now you do." He shifted the big gelding and pinned her with startling green eyes. "So you can leave the property."
"I can't. there's still a lost child. He could be hiding out in one of the caves. That could be dangerous."
"then I'll ride around and check it out." His offhanded promise didn't reassure her. "I know where all the caves are around here. I could help you look."
"I don't need your help." Leah worked hard to hold her temper.
"there is no reason to be rude. I'm only worried about the child."
"That child is trespassing, and so are you. Now leave."
Her temper got the best of her and she jammed her hands on her hips. "Just who are you?"
Leah's gaze combed over the shadowed face, and finally recognized the strong jaw and the familiar cleft in his chin. the difference was the sandy-colored hair, and those piercing emerald eyes.
"John's son," she whispered. "I didn't know John had a son."
A bitter smile creased his wide mouth. "That makes us even. For years I didn't know I had a father."
Holt Rawlins slowly followed the intruder on horseback and watched as she made her way to the fence and climbed over it. Leah Keenan got into her car and finally drove off.