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After twenty years it felt strange to be standing in the outskirts of the city she'd left behind. San Antonio, Texas didn't feel like home. Skylar Diamond was pretty sure it never had. She'd moved to New York City when she was only twenty and she'd never looked back. She'd embraced the New York high-fashion lifestyle completely, doing her best to erase any trace of her indigent Texas background.
Yet she'd never escaped the knowledge that here in this city she'd given away a vital part of herself.
Sky coolly surveyed the bustling airport. For weeks she'd been trying to convince herself that the past should stay that way. It wasn't too late. She could still turn back.
But she knew she wouldn't.
After all these years of wondering, she was about to find out what had become of the infant she'd given up at birth. Her breath caught as her heart rate speeded up. The concept was as frightening as it was exciting.
Gratefully, she handed her heavy laptop computer case to a skycap. He immediately offered to take her briefcase.
''No, thank you.'' She clutched the case a little tighter. ''I'll hang on to this myself.''
Inside were her working files for the new line. She'd already had one set of files disappear. Stolen most likely. Sky wasn't about to lose any more.
As she waited for the skycap to collect her bags, she noticed a man who'd been in coach on her flight eyeing her archly. Nice enough looking, but she recognized the type.
A ladies' man, probably married with children. He'd be in search of a little action to fill the evening hours before taking care of whatever had brought him to San Antonio. His winter suit was good quality, but off the rack and more suited to New York than Texas. She turned him off with a look Ted had claimed froze a man right down to the marrow.
The male of the species currently ranked right below cockroaches and fly larvae in her estimation. Too bad she hadn't used that look to intimidate her former lover when she first met him. She could have saved herself some trouble.
The stranger blinked and set his jaw. Obviously, he wasn't used to rejection. Too bad. She wasn't interested in anything he had to offer. The only thing of interest to her right now was the quest that had brought her back to Texas.
His lips tightened in a thin line and his eyes narrowed. He pivoted and headed for the men's room a short distance away. Good.
Sky glanced at the skycap. He reached out to snag yet another of the bags she'd indicated from the conveyor belt. She tried to relax, while mentally urging the luggage to hurry. A rising impatience beat at her soul as it had been doing since she got off the telephone with the woman from the Finders Keepers detective agency yesterday evening. It was still hard to believe that Lily Garrett Bishop had actually discovered what had become of her daughter in such a short time. The agency was as good as it was reputed to be.
A shiver skimmed down her spine. She was actually going to see her only child. Excitement was tempered by anxiety and her emotions continued their roller-coaster ride. She wanted to shout at these people to hurry along so she could get going.
Sky found herself tapping her foot and stopped, annoyed by her outward sign of impatience. She needed to calm down. Nothing would happen tonight anyhow, beyond checking into a hotel. She hadn't expected to catch a plane to Texas this quickly. She'd thought she would need a couple of days to get things organized. Had she known how smoothly everything would fall into place, she would have arranged to meet Lily this week instead of next.
Sky told herself it didn't matter. While she didn't have any details, Lily had given her the essential information. Once Sky knew where her daughter now lived with her widowed father, she hadn't been able to rest until she finally located Darwin Crossing, Texas. The search had taken perseverance. Darwin Crossing appeared to be a one-street town in the middle of nowhere. The place wasn't even on most maps. The nearest marked town was a small place called Bitterwater, and even that didn't have a hotel. What it had was a rooming house. Sky promptly made a reservation.
Tomorrow morning she would drive into Bitterwater, check into the rooming house, and search out Darwin Crossing. If the town was as small as it looked, she should have no problem locating her daughter.
Sky ignored the bustle of people around her while she waited for her bags to be collected. Dressed as always in New-York-style chic, she knew she stood out in the crowd. Her transformation over the years had been so successful that no one gave her a second look in New Yorkunless it was admiring. With a sigh she kept an eye on her laptop computer case as people jostled and shoved, vying for luggage on the spinning carousels. Her matched set was distinctive, but there was quite a bit of it. Five bags, to be precisenot including her computer and the briefcase. Since she didn't know how long she'd be staying, she'd packed nearly everything she owned when she walked out of her pricey co-op in Manhattan.
Vaguely, she wondered if she would ever return. She would finish the winter line, of course, but she was burned out and stressed to the max, as Ted was fond of saying. Her entire life hinged on the outcome of the step she was about to take.
She was in a strange mood, she admitted. Even for her. Maybe finding Ted in her bed with their next-door neighbor's twenty-three-year-old daughter had caused her brain to short-circuit. It had certainly made her angry enough to finally kick him out of her home and her life for good. She should have done it a long time ago. Habit had kept them together. Habit, and the fact that he was a perfect social escort whenever she needed one. No doubt he viewed her much the same way. He could hardly escort the little Lolita to his business functions.
Sky frowned. Other than making her feel annoyed, Ted's behavior didn't really matter to her anymore. Maybe her mood was due to the uncertainty of her quest. Finding the daughter she'd given up at birth twenty years ago was stressful enough to put a person in a strange mood.
Sky had no idea what she would do or say once she met her daughter face-to-face. And for someone as disciplined as she was, this uncertainty was a weakness that made her uneasy. Would her daughter hate heror welcome her?
She looked around for a new place to direct her thoughts as a ruggedly handsome man in a sheriff's uniform strolled past. Diverted, Sky found herself staring. Now, that was a man worth paying attention to. He carried himself with unconscious grace, radiating self-confidence and easy assurancea man who was comfortable with himself and the world around him.
Then she caught a brief glimpse of the vivacious young blonde on his arm. His large, well-formed body blocked the girl's features completely, but that hardly mattered, since he was the one who compelled her attention. He grinned down at his companion affectionately. Sky turned away.
What was it with older men and blond girls young enough to be their daughters? She found her perfectly manicured nails digging into the leather strap on her briefcase and forced her fingers to relax.
Another jerk. An extremely compelling-looking jerk, but a jerk nonetheless.
Unless the girl was his daughter. Sky froze at the thought.
Good news, Ms. Diamond, the woman from Finders Keepers had said. We located your daughter in a tiny town called Darwin Crossing. She lives there with her father, the town sheriff.
An eerie expectancy settled over her, leaving her momentarily deaf and unable to draw a breath. It couldn't be. Sky took a grip on her vacillating emotions and strained for a clear view, but too many people stood between her and the young woman.
Blood thundered in her head. She was shaking. Visibly shaking! This would never do. It couldn't be her daughter. Sky would look like an absolute fool if she went charging over there.
But what if it was? What if that was her daughter standing there only a few yards away?
Sky stepped forward, trying to follow their progress through the crowds. She felt hot and cold at the same time. If it was her daughter, what would she do? Oh, God, she wasn't ready for this. Her gaze flew to the man's features. Smile lines crinkled the corners of his eyes and bracketed his mouth. They softened the strong planes of his face as he leaned into the young woman, intent on what she was saying.
He really was an extremely good-looking man. More important, he didn't touch the girl like a lover, but rather the way she thought a caring father would do. Not that she had any experience of her own to base that judgment on. Still, her daughter had a man she called her father. This could be them.
But what if her daughter didn't know she'd been adopted?
Sky's heart continued its erratic thumping as she moved again, trying for a view of the girl's face, silently urging her to turn around.
But the girl turned in the opposite direction to speak to another young woman standing there. Sky watched the sheriff as he hoisted a heavy-looking bag without effort from the carousel. Unlike her former lover Ted, of the sagging middle and soon-to-be flabby forearms, this man had a lean, sleek grace and easy strength that hadn't come from any gym. He moved with the suppleness of someone who used his body in physical ways.
What would he do if she approached them? What if he denied her claim? What if this wasn't her daughter?
A large family group walked in front of Sky and came to a halt. Quickly, Sky moved around them, walking closer to where the couple stood. But other than the mass of long, shimmery blond hair, she still didn't have a view of the girl's face.
Sky's body felt brittle from the tension of not knowing.
A little boy broke away from his sister's hand and darted in front of Sky. The stroller he'd been pushing would have hit her if she hadn't jumped back in time. The boy's older sister screamed at him. The child screamed back. An adult stepped into the fray, scolding both children.
Sky tried to move around the group and found her path blocked momentarily. When she looked toward the sheriff and the girl, they were heading down the concourse, away from her. Sky nearly cried out in protest. The girl still had her back to Sky. She flipped her long straight hair over her shoulder and kept up a steady monologue of chatter.
''Ma'am? I think I got them all.''
''What?'' She stared blankly at the skycap who'd tapped her shoulder.
''Your suitcases. Is this all of them?'' reluctantly, impatience beating at her soul, she glanced over the contents of the skycap's long, flat cart. Her computer case now rested precariously on top and she mentally ticked off the seven bags.
''Yes. That's all of them.''
The girl and the sheriff were well down the concourse, moving briskly. The family was also on the move. The sister gave her little brother a smack when she thought no one would see. The tyke let out a wail and the group came to a halt again.
Sky exhaled a shaky breath of disappointment and turned away. Maybe it was just as well. This crowded, noisy airport was hardly the best place to meet her daughter for the very first time. Besides, it probably hadn't been her daughter. The coincidence would be far too incredible.
''You must be plannin' to stay awhile.''
Looking at the skycap's pleasant face, she forced a smile in return. ''Perhaps.''
She followed him outside, breathing deeply of the temperate weather while she tried to calm her jangled nerves. If only she'd gotten a decent look at the girl's face.
''Imagine our weather is a nice change after that cold, rainy slush they've been saying you New Yorkers are having.''
''What? Oh. Yes.'' She tried to focus on her companion instead of the rushing thoughts filling her head. ''They are predicting snow for New York City this week.''
He shook his head. ''I'll take Texas weather any day. Taxi, ma'am?''
His warm Texas drawl was a pleasant change from the frequent nasal snarls of busy New Yorkers. Her own voice held almost no hint of the twang she'd grown up with.
''Yes, thank you.''
The car company had suggested she check with them again once she landed, but even if they did have a luxury car available now, she wasn't up to dealing with driving at the moment. They could just deliver the car as promised in the morning.
''The Grand Hotel, overlooking the River Walk,'' she told the cabbie who leaped forward to claim her as a passenger.
The sidewalk was jammed with people and someone jostled her with force. She hit the cart full of suitcases, which were already shifting. Turning indignantly, Sky glared at the offender.
For an instant, her gaze locked with pale-blue eyes spaced too close together. The handsome man from the plane swept her with a chilling stare. Without a word of apology, he strode past clutching a black laptop computer case.
A ghost of unease made her watch as he hurried away. From out of the crowd, a uniformed security person followed quickly in his wake. The two were swallowed by a throng of people intent on their own goals.
Was security chasing the man from her plane? Come to think of it, she didn't remember him holding a computer case earlier when he'd offered her that come-on smile. Of course, she hadn't really paid him that much attention but no, she was pretty sure his hands had been empty. Suddenly, edgy, she turned back toward her own computer case, only to see the black bag being lifted by the driver.
''Did you want this up front with you, ma'am?''
Sky forced herself to relax and shook her head. ''No. You can put it in with the other luggage.'' She wouldn't be working tonight.
She turned back to the skycap, tipping him generously. She allowed him to open the taxi door for her and slipped inside. The unpleasant scent of stale food lingered in the air. Obviously the driver had eaten in here recently. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she was hungry, too. Well, the hotel boasted a five-star restaurant so she wouldn't have far to go once she checked in.
As she settled back into the seat, attempting to maintain the cool facade she'd perfected over the years, she decided what she needed was a long soak in the room's Jacuzzi tub to unwind and see if she could get her nerves to calm down. Maybe then she would enjoy room service overlooking the River Walk.
Very soon now, she'd learn what her actions all those years ago had wrought. She needed to stay calm and in control before meeting her daughter for the first time. It would never do to give in to the rising excitement bubbling inside her.