Who knew he'd be assigned to a case where a verdict of arson could spell trouble for half the population of Tyler?

Who knew the daughter of his prime suspect, the mother of two toddlers, would be the woman of his dreams? Who knew her kids would have such a hold on him?

Who knew she'd be withholding evidence?

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The Reluctant Daddy

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Who knew he'd be assigned to a case where a verdict of arson could spell trouble for half the population of Tyler?

Who knew the daughter of his prime suspect, the mother of two toddlers, would be the woman of his dreams? Who knew her kids would have such a hold on him?

Who knew she'd be withholding evidence?

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781460319246
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 9/1/2013
  • Series: Hometown Reunion
  • Sold by: HARLEQUIN
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 559,745
  • File size: 487 KB

Meet the Author

Raye Morgan also writes under Helen Conrad and Jena Hunt and has written over fifty books for Mills & Boon. She grew up in Holland, Guam, and California, and spent a few years in Washington, D.C. as well. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. Raye says that “writing helps keep me in touch with the romance that weaves through the everyday lives we all live.” She lives in Los Angeles with her geologist/computer scientist husband and the rest of her family.

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Read an Excerpt

Bing Crosby singing about a white Christmas from the loudspeakers at Gates Department Store, sky the color of gunmetal and the crisp hint of an oncoming snowstorm in the air, bright lights blinking and people hurrying by with packages—Lee Nielsen shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and looked up and down the street of Tyler, Wisconsin, reminding himself that this was supposed to be the happiest season of the year.

''And also,'' he muttered as he crossed the street, heading toward Marge's Diner, ''a prime time for suicides.''

That made him smile wryly. No matter how bleak things got, suicide just wasn't his style. He was more the type to go out with a bang than a whimper.

After a ride out to the site of the fire and an early-morning tour of the area, he was hungry as a bear. Marge's Diner looked inviting, and even from halfway down the block he could see that it was full of townspeople having breakfast. Maybe he'd be able to slip in unnoticed and have a decent meal.

He stopped and let a couple of early shoppers pass in front of him. The two middle-aged women glanced at him, taking in his long, lean form and chiseled face. One of them did a double take, then grabbed her companion's arm and whispered in her ear, her gaze still on Lee. He nodded and went on. It seemed his hope of remaining anonymous had already been shattered.

But what did he expect in a community this size? Everyone knew everyone else's business ten minutes before they knew it themselves. He'd run into this sort of thing before, where people figured a stranger in town had to be the investigator called in to handle whatever crisis had occurred. He should have known folks in Tyler would catch on right away.

He looked across the street. There was the little, redbrick fire station, his destination after a cup of coffee or two. A couple of firefighters were polishing a bright red engine, and one poked the other with an elbow, then they both looked his way. Nearby at Carl's Garage a man was pointing him out to someone in a car.

Lee slowed his steps and squared his shoulders, automatically swaggering slightly. At times like this he got that old itchy feeling in the palms of his hands. He suppressed a grin. Here it was again, that sense of being a hired gunfighter walking down the center of the street in an unfamiliar Western town. All eyes were on him, the men watching with uneasy suspense, the women pulling their skirts out of his way.

He knew why they watched him with apprehension. At this point, a word from him could make or break the local economy. That didn't give him a feeling of power. No, the feeling was more like sadness, regret. He knew what it was like to have your hopes dashed, to lose everything. He didn't wish it on anyone, not even strangers. But he had to do his job.

Marge's looked like a refuge. The huge front windows were steamed halfway up from the conversation and cooking going on inside. From here he could see that the booths were filled, but there was still room at the counter.

Pancakes smothered in boysenberry syrup, he thought to himself. Sausages on the side. Black coffee and maybe some fresh-squeezed orange juice. And if he kept his head down and his voice low, maybe no one would notice him.

Pulling open the door, he looked in as a sea of faces turned to stare at him, expressions suspended in anticipation.

Ah, hell, he thought. It looked like he wasn't going to get through breakfast in peace. That was just the way it was.

Glenna Kelsey McRoberts looked like a teenager today, though she didn't know it. She'd wrapped her silky black hair into two short braids, and because of the misty morning she was wearing jeans and a navy-blue sweater she'd had since high school. Her deep blue eyes were sparkling and her cheeks had a winter pink that made more than one male stop and turn and look again. She didn't notice that, either. Right now she was stamping her sneaker-clad feet to get rid of the chill and looking up at the sky, wondering if it was really going to snow. She certainly hoped not.

''Wait until Christmas Eve,'' she suggested softly to whoever was in charge of these things. ''I have too much to do to get bogged down in snow just now.''

Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out another stack of flyers and looked speculatively down the street, wondering who her next victim would be. Aggie Lindahl, who worked in the drugstore, had just let her put one in their window, but Glenna knew better than to try Gates Department store. Nora Gates was a great supporter of most town causes, but her window displays, with their carefully crafted holiday scenes, were works of art. Glenna was the first to admit that taping up multicolored notices in them would be a criminal offense.

Forget the department store. But Carl would let her put some in the window at his garage, and Marge Phelps wouldn't mind at all. She encouraged local groups to advertise their fund-raisers in the windows of her cozy little diner, liking the community atmosphere it helped create. ''After all, honey,'' she would say in her friendly, jovial voice, ''that's what being part of Tyler, Wisconsin is all about.''

So Glenna headed in that direction. But in the meantime, how about putting some under the windshield wipers of cars?

The street was lined with parked vehicles. Yes, that would be a more direct approach.

She glanced at the flyer again, proud of the job she'd done on it. Christmas teddy bears cavorted across a snowy background in newsletter style. Bazaar Bargains Benefit Beautiful Babies, the headline read. ''Come find your perfect Christmas gifts and decorations. All proceeds go to support TylerTots Community Day Care.''

Two of those tots were her own. They were at the child-care center right now, playing and learning. Both of them loved going there, and enrolling them was working out well.

At least, Glenna hoped all was going well. She had to guard against showing anxiety around her children, but she was definitely worried about them. She'd always believed children needed an intact family, with two strong and loving parents. That was what she'd grown up with, and what she knew worked. When she'd married and started having children right away, she'd never dreamed her husband, Alan, wouldn't be around for the long haul.

But that was her current reality. So she did the best she could for her little ones, and right now they were snug and warm in their playroom at TylerTots, while she was out here in the cold, drumming up business. She shivered and began putting flyers under windshield wipers.

''Hey, Glenna!'' Her brother, Patrick, slowed his car to grin at her, his blue eyes laughing. His short dark hair was slightly mussed and curling, as though he'd just left a rowdy game of touch football in someone's yard. ''I'll take one of those.''

''I don't know,'' she said, looking at him with mocking eyes and pretending to hold the flyers back. ''Somehow I just can't see you at a ladies' bazaar, Pat.''

''Are you kidding?'' He thumped his chest with his fist. ''I'm a Renaissance man. I can do bazaars. I can do square dancing.'' He thumped again. ''And when I'm done with those, I can go home and plow forty acres.'' He gave his sister a teasing smile. ''There ain't nothing I can't do,'' he drawled. ''Just ask Pam.''

''Double negative,'' Glenna chided, laughing at him and thinking how good marriage to Pam Casals had been for him. ''Grammar is one thing you haven't got the hang of.'' She handed him a flyer just the same. ''And I don't believe all this Renaissance stuff for a second, even though I have heard Pam got you to try square dancing. But you can show the handout to her. She might be interested.''

Chuckling, he waved and drove off, and Glenna turned back to her chore. There were only a few flyers left when she rounded the corner and noticed the sleek, unfamiliar sports car with its lights on. She stared at the car for a moment, realizing someone had been out in the misty morning and forgotten to switch them off. She'd done so herself often enough. The vehicle was an old foreign model, a rag top, the kind that wouldn't have a warning for things like lights left on, and the kind you couldn't really lock. Glenna hesitated, wondering what she should do. It would be a shame if the out-of-towner returned to find his battery dead on a cold day like this.

She glanced up and down the street, but the only person she saw was old Mr. Worcheski, shuffling off in the opposite direction. Well, what if this were her car? Without another thought, she tried the door handle, pretty sure a vehicle this old wouldn't have an alarm. The door opened easily. Now all she had to do was lean in and find the switch….

Foreign cars didn't seem to have the light switch in the place she was used to. She craned her neck, trying to see across the steering column, and finally gave up and slipped into the driver's seat to get a better look. The car smelled of ancient leather and polished wood, the inside reminding her of a comfortable and rather elegant library, in contrast to the slick, macho image the outside projected. The seat was deep and well lived-in, comfortable as only leather could be and very masculine. Glenna found herself sinking in, enjoying it, slowly and sensually breathing in the scents and taking in the sensations.

But only for a moment. Suddenly, the door, which she hadn't closed but which had swung almost shut behind her, was yanked open, and a deep, angry male voice snapped, ''Okay, out of the car.''

She jumped at the sound and looked up, her deep blue eyes huge in surprise. ''What?''

''you heard me.'' The man looming over her, his face tough and unrelenting, made a jerking motion with his thumb, as if she needed sign language. ''Get out.''

Glenna blinked at him, truly nonplussed. She wasn't used to being talked to in that tone. People in town tended to smile when they saw her coming, tended to call out friendly greetings and ask if she needed anything. The grocer saved special chocolate samples for her, and the butcher gave her the best cuts of beef. Though Glenna tried to act like an independent, nineties woman, people usually responded by protecting her and treating her pretty well. With shock, she realized that this man didn't even seem to like her very much.

''oh, is this your car?'' she said faintly, still staring up at him. From where she was sitting, so low in the seat, he seemed awfully tall and awfully hard looking. And his light blue eyes seemed to glitter in the morning light. In response to her question, his wide mouth twisted with thinly veiled cynicism. ''What are you trying to tell me?'' he said shortly. ''That this is all a mistake? I suppose you thought the car was yours.''

She was puzzled by his acerbity. There wasn't any need for it. Slipping out of the car, she faced him, noting that her own five-foot-six frame came just about to his shoulder. She wanted to explain herself, to get him to smile instead of scowl. ''No, of course not,'' she said soothingly. ''Listen, I was just trying to—''

His blue eyes didn't change. ''I could see what you were trying to do.'' He looked her up and down for a moment and seemed to make a decision. ''Why don't you just stay put while I get a cop?''

Get a cop? For what? Without thinking, she grabbed the sleeve of his leather jacket. ''What? Why? What do you want a cop for?''

His expression became one of satisfaction, as if he were pleased she'd finally woken to the seriousness of this situation. ''I usually contact the police when someone is trying to steal my car,'' he told her evenly. ''Do you have a better suggestion?''

Her mouth dropped open and her own blue eyes began to spark with outrage. ''What? Are you crazy? I was not trying to steal your car.'' Where on earth could the man have picked up such a wild idea? It was insane. Glenna Kelsey, car thief. What a concept! She would have laughed if it hadn't been for the hostile way he was looking at her. So she said it again, just to make sure he was getting this. ''I was not trying to steal this car. Honest.''

''No?'' He was looking her over less coldly now, but still with a cynical detachment. ''Could have fooled me.''

She had to laugh, shaking her head. How could he be so wrong? ''I was just…listen, you left your lights on.''

''And that was a signal for you to hop in?''

She stared at him. He was determined to be a jerk, wasn't he? ''Look,'' she said finally, flipping back her braids with a defiant gesture. ''I don't know where you're from, but around here, we do neighborly things for each other. Like turning off car lights so the battery won't die.''

Lee's eyes narrowed, but only because he was beginning to find her attractive. The way she laughed, the way she tried so hard to be sincere, made her look cute as heck. Which was exactly why he should be even more on his guard, he told himself. But for some reason he wasn't listening. ''Like borrowing cars when you feel like a joyride,'' he said softly, but he was just baiting her now.

''Oh brother.'' She threw up her hands at that one, shaking her head. ''You're a very suspicious man, aren't you?''

He shifted his weight from one leg to the other and shrugged. He had just about decided she was telling the truth. Or that if she wasn't, he didn't care much anymore. ''Look, I'm sorry. I'm from the city and in the city, we suspect everybody of everything. You feel like you have to be on your guard at all times.''

She lifted her chin, glad to see him softening, but not ready to forget that he'd accused her of a major crime. ''Well, I'm from a small town, and here we trust each other until proved otherwise.''

''Ah yes, rural America. The heartland.'' The cynical tone was in his voice again, and it put her back up.

''You'd better believe it,'' she said stoutly, eyes flashing.

She could tell he wasn't going to call the police any longer, and she turned to go, remembering the stack of papers in her hand for the first time.

''Here, have a flyer,'' she said, stepping back to hand him the brightly decorated sheet. ''Why don't you come to the Christmas bazaar? It might get you in a more charitable frame of mind for the holidays.''

He glanced at it, then back at her. ''I'm not here for the holidays. But I'll keep it in mind.''

She gazed at him levelly, her blue eyes with their thick fringe of black lashes taking him in and deciding he was unsalvageable. ''Okay. Goodbye.'' She gestured toward the car. ''And hey, I never did get those lights turned off. Better check your battery before you try to go anywhere.''

With a casual wave, Glenna turned and started putting flyers under windshield wipers again. But she felt his gaze following her, and she turned toward Marge's, suddenly ravenously hungry.

The diner was warm and filled with people she knew. The moist air had steamed up the windows, giving the place a homey feel. Bright red upholstery met Formica tabletops, and scents of sausages cooking mixed with the rich essence of maple syrup. Marge's was a haven from the modern world, a place where small-town friendliness welcomed patrons like a comforting blanket.

Glenna pushed open the glass door and waved to a few people she knew, some in booths, some at the counter. It was the sort of place where everyone turned to see who had just come in, but she was used to that. She hesitated for a moment, then headed straight for the table where Nora Gates and Liza Baron, now sisters-in-law since they'd married brothers Byron and Cliff Forrester, were chatting over steaming mugs of coffee.

''Hi.'' Glenna slid into a seat next to Nora and looked at Liza across the table. ''I just met the rudest man. I figured he'd just been in here. Did you see him?''

''Did we see him?'' Nora rolled her eyes. ''You've got to be talking about that Lee Nielsen person. He's all we've been talking about.''

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