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A baby's cry tore through Gwen Langworthy's small house. It only took a moment for her to realize the sound was coming from her sunroom!
Dusk had fallen and shadows were thick in the ranch-style house as she raced from the kitchen through the living room. As an obstetrical nurse practitioner, she was well aware of babies'cries. They always ripped a corner of her heart. She longed to have a baby of her own.
The first cry whimpered into a second as she reached for the ceramic light on the wicker table inside the sunroom and saw a blue plastic bin sitting just inside her sliding glass doors. Rushing to it, she hunkered down. An infant with sparkling dark eyes, who couldn't be more than a day or two old, stared up at her. Layers of newspaper lined the inside of the bin, but the baby was nestled in a pink blanket. A torn sheet of notebook paper lay at her feet with "Amy" written in block letters.
It was a little girl!
After pushing her auburn curls behind her ears, Gwen reflexively scooped up the child and cuddled her in her arms. Dreams of happily-ever-after and having the family she'd always wanted had evaporated like smoke after Mark had left her waiting with her dad at the white runner that was supposed to lead her to commitment and everlasting bonds. His abandonment still hurt, and she didn't think she could ever trust a man again.
"So your name is Amy," she murmured, the nurse in her already taking in every detail about the child's physical condition. Her maternal instincts led her to notice the baby's little sweater and hat fashioned of soft fuzzy yarn in variegated white, yellow and aqua. The set looked as if it had been hand-knitted. Someone had cared about this child.
And then abandoned her?
Gwen knew all about that kind of abandonment, too. Stepping toward the glass doors, Gwen slid one open. The evening's breeze swept in as she stared deep into her yard. A street ran to the back of it. Was that a car engine she heard coughing, then starting up? She couldn't see between the shadowed trees. Fall in Wyoming was closing in.
Little Amy wiggled in her arms, screwed up her face and let out another wail.
Hugging Amy close, Gwen went to the phone to call one of her best friends, who was a social worker. But she already knew what Shaye would advise her to do: call the sheriff.
Thinking about a sheriff who was more focused on his impending retirement than serving the residents of Wild Horse Junction, she decided if he didn't make progress at finding Amy's mother within a week, she'd take matters into her own hands.
She wouldn't let this child go through life not knowing where she came from never knowing why her mother hadn't loved her enough to keep her.
"Mr. Maxwell," Gwen called above the loud banging that made her cringe.
The noise suddenly ceased. In an instant Garrett Maxwell, if that's who he was, went from hammering a floorboard to a standing defensive stance, his hammer held almost like a weapon. With dark brown hair, he was tall, over six feet, broad-shouldered in a black T-shirt, slim-hipped in well-worn blue jeans. His presence totally overwhelmed the small backyard shed and in the dim light, his gray eyes targeted and held her at the threshold.
"Can I help you?" His voice was filled with icy calm and she instantly felt like an intruder.
"I hope so," she answered fervently and saw the interest in his eyes.
Garrett Maxwell had the reputation for being a recluse, working from his log house in the foothills of Wyoming's Painted Peaks. She'd known about his credentials because of an article she'd read in the Wild Horse Wrangler a few months ago — he had helped locate a missing child in Colorado. Before driving up here, she'd searched for information about him on the Internet and found several articles noting how he helped search-and-rescue teams with lost children and aided in child-kidnapping cases.
When he didn't move a muscle, when his strong jaw remained set, when he didn't invite her to tell him her reason for coming, she plunged in, anyway.
"Are you Garrett Maxwell?"
"Who wants to know?"
Although she wasn't sure if it was wise, she took a couple of steps forward.
His gaze raked over her lime-green blouse and khaki slacks. Even though this perusal of her took about a second, she felt as if he'd noticed every detail from the number of curls in her shoulder-length hair to her brown loafers.
Gwen was feeling as though she was poking her hand into a lethal animal's cage but she extended it anyway. "My name's Gwen Langworthy."
He didn't shake her hand; however, his grip loosened on the hammer and he dropped it onto the seat of the mower. "How can I help you?"
It had been five days since little Amy had been left in her sunroom. Gwen still didn't know who had left her or why, but she did know the sheriff hadn't gotten anywhere on identifying the infant. Impatient with him, she was now taking matters into her own hands. She didn't want Amy going through life never knowing where she came from. Gwen had carried that burden on her own shoulders — she'd been abandoned in a church when she was only two. She knew all the self-doubt that went with not knowing her birth parents the introspective questions no one could answer.
Quickly stuffing both hands into her pockets, she wondered why her stomach fluttered when she looked at the former FBI agent. Was she afraid of him? No. She was mesmerized by him. He reeked sensuality, power .
Grabbing on to her reason for coming, she explained, "I know you can find people. I need you to find someone for me."
"I don't find people."
"You find children."
Now he finally looked interested. "Did you lose a child?"
Was she imagining it or had his voice turned almost gentle? "No I didn't, but I need to find a child's mother."
The gruffness returned. "I'm not FBI, anymore." She wasn't about to give up without a fight. This man was good at what he did. He was the expert she needed and she would convince him that Amy needed him. "I know that. You have a security consulting business now. But you were an FBI agent and I need your help. Someone left a baby at my back door. I won't let that little girl grow up never knowing who her birth parents were. And I know that each day that goes by the trail gets colder."
His right eyebrow quirked slightly as if she'd finally made a dent in the shield he'd wrapped around himself. "Why do you care so much?"
She didn't hesitate. "Because I was adopted and never knew who my birth parents were. And neither did anyone else."
The September wind whistled through the lodgepole pines and Russian olive trees, then gusted through the door of the shed, sending leaves scattering.
After a few moments of thoughtful consideration, the ex-FBI agent said, "Let's go to the house." He motioned outside at the granite stepping stones that led to his back deck.
Although Gwen's surroundings might have taken her attention any other time — there was something primitively beautiful about the property — she couldn't keep her gaze from Garrett Maxwell's broad back or the way he fit his jeans. Something about him, maybe that innate sensuality she'd sensed, stirred a deep womanlike corner inside of her. It was a terrifically odd, exciting, confusing sensation.
They passed a gazebolike structure on the deck.At the back door, he stopped and stepped aside to let her precede him. He was scowling and she couldn't imagine why.
Inside his kitchen, the pleasing knotty pine atmosphere surrounded her immediately. A small round wooden table and chairs stood in a breakfast nook with windows overlooking the back of the property.
When she turned her gaze back to him, he was watching her. A free-fall sensation made her catch her breath as she looked into his very gray eyes.
He broke eye contact and motioned to the counter. "Coffee?" he asked as if he was aware he had to be civil to a guest.
Her mouth had gone dry and she needed something to wet her tongue if she was going to tell her story. She nodded.
Pouring coffee into two large mugs, he motioned to the counter. "I only have powdered creamer. Sugar's in the canister beside it."
When Gwen opened the stoneware canister, she found her hands were shaking. She'd never found herself in quite this situation before — highly attracted to a stranger and alone with him in his secluded house.
The lid on the canister flipped and clattered onto the counter.
Garrett Maxwell picked it up, held it and pinned her with his stormy eyes. "There's nothing to be nervous about. I'll listen, but I might not be able to help."
"I'm not nervous," she returned defensively. She was used to handling everything that came her way — her parents' divorce, her dad's drinking, her attempt at intervention to make Russ Langworthy finally face reality.
"Then you're doing a good imitation. How much sugar?"
She blinked, forgetting why she was standing at his counter.
"In your coffee." He nodded toward the mug he'd poured for her.
"A teaspoon." Her voice came out thready.
When he reached around her, his long arm brushed her hip. She swallowed hard, frozen for the moment.
Opening the drawer beside her, he pulled out a spoon and handed it to her.After he closed the drawer and leaned away again, she finally released her breath, took the utensil without allowing her fingers to brush his and spooned sugar from the cannister. He was watching her and she didn't like the idea that he was trying to "read" her.
With a half smile, he took a pack of creamer from a jelly jar. "One or two?"
"One is fine."
This time when he handed it to her, their fingers did brush. The expression on his face didn't change, but she glimpsed a sparklike flicker in his eyes. Could he be attracted to her, too?
So what if he was. She'd come to enlist his help, not to step into another romantic quagmire.
Maxwell let her precede him to the table in the breakfast nook. When she was seated, he dropped into a ladderback chair across from her, took a few sips of his coffee and assessed her over its rim. "So tell me what this is about."