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A Tender Touch
By Lenora Worth
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Clay Dempsey patted the big German shepherd on the head, then grinned down at him. "Good boy, Samson." Leaning close, he whispered, "We have to behave ourselves today. My brother is getting married. I'll take you out on the beach for some tug-of-war later, I promise."
Samson's ears perked up with interest, but the dog remained in a sitting position.
Clay glanced around. It was a crisp early September afternoon and they were standing in what looked like a marsh. Why Stone of all people had chosen to get married in this mosquito-infested Georgia swamp was beyond Clay's comprehension. Stone was more the country-club-wedding and extravagant-reception type. But then, his brother had changed. A lot apparently, from everything Clay had heard and seen since coming back to Sunset Island a couple of days ago. But then, everything in his own life seemed to be changing, too, Clay reasoned as he patted Samson's head and waited nervously for the wedding to begin.
Now he was about to be part of Stone's wedding to Tara Parnell. Clay was the best man and their older brother, Rock, who happened to be a minister and married to Tara's sister, Ana, was going to perform the ceremony.
"What a strange and wonderful world we live in, Samson," Clay said to the big dog sitting faithfully but alert at his feet. "I mean, here I am in a tuxedo, standing in a marsh, waiting for my brother to get married. This is the second wedding in our family this summer." First Rock and now Stone. Clay felt downright betrayed and bewildered.
He never would have believed either of his ornery brothers would get married and settle down. Especially Stone.
He stared down at Samson, wondering if the animal knew what Clay was trying to say. Things change, life goes on. But lately, things had been changing too much for Clay. Lately, he'd become restless and edgy. He needed this vacation, or at least according to his captain back at the police department in Atlanta, Clay needed some time away from the force. And both he and Samson needed some time to heal.
"I won't let you down, buddy," Clay said to the dog.
Samson did seem to understand that particular promise. He stared up at Clay with big, dark, doleful eyes, as if to say "I know you won't, partner."
Clay and Samson had been together for two years. They worked the K-9 Unit in one of Atlanta's worst areas. Searching out drugs and criminals mostly. Sometimes just search and find. Clay had seen too much death and destruction lately. And the last round had almost caused both Clay and Samson to become statistics. Nothing like a near-death experience to make a person stop and think about living. Really living.
"Hey, brother, you about ready?"
Clay turned to find Rock headed his way with a grin on his face. "Is it time?"
"It's time. And don't look so panicked. You're not the one getting hitched."
"Thank goodness." Clay relaxed, then gave Samson the signal to do the same. The dog plopped down, his big eyes looking disappointed, his big tongue hanging out. There was so much action out in that marsh, after all.
And a lot of human action around the quaint little chapel sitting by the still waters that came from the nearby Savannah River. Clay looked toward the chapel. "Is the bride ready?"
"Very ready," Rock said, slapping Clay on the back.
"She's hiding out in the tent Ana set up near Josiah's house. Between the bugs, the humidity and her nerves, however, I think the bride's going to be as wilted as a thirsty water lily."
"I bet Stone won't notice," Clay replied, thinking Tara Parnell was sure a pretty woman. And his brother seemed to really love her. "Explain it to me one more time, Rock. How exactly did Stone become a human being?"
Rock laughed, his Bible in one hand as they walked toward the chapel where both family and friends were crowded into the pews, waiting. The sound of the classic and romantic "Pachelbel Canon" filled the air as several white birds, startled from their nests in the cypress trees, lifted out over the water. Clay saw the bride coming out of her tent, her eyes wide and misty, her steps almost in perfect symmetry with the flight of the beautiful, graceful birds as she lifted her full-skirted creamy satin gown off the ground. They were about to have a wedding.
The rest of the Sunset Island inhabitants were patiently waiting back at Stone's turn-of-the-century hotel, Hidden Hill, for a big reception.
Rock held a hand toward the chapel. "We can thank the good Lord and the love of a good woman for that transformation, brother. Sir Walter Scott put it best -"For love is heaven, and heaven is love." A man can't miss with that combination."
Clay nodded, silently thinking that he'd never been able to find that particular combination in his own love life. Maybe because he wasn't a romantic or a philosopher like his older brother, Rock, nor a shrewd, aggressive businessman like his other brother, Stone. Clay was shy and quiet-natured, but direct when need be; focused and determined, but completely dedicated to his work. And therein lay the problem with his nonexistent love life. Too many nights out with Samson, searching for the lost, searching for the hidden, searching for something or someone to bring the life back to his own soul.
Excerpted from A Tender Touch by Lenora Worth Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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