An abandoned baby in danger brings together the Coltons of Texas in this gripping series
Someone has left a baby on the porch of search and rescue expert Ridge Colton's log cabin. Who? And why? A loner, Ridge knows nothing about caring for an infant. But when the woman who broke his heart years ago shows up to help, he's reminded of everything he once almost had.
From a wealthy family, Dr. Darcy Marrow was dissuaded from loving the man whose name meant one thing in town: shame. But with a dangerous thug trying to kidnap the baby, Ridge discovers how far he'll go to protect the little one, Darcy and his long-guarded heart.
About the Author
Lara Lacombe is a recovering research scientist turned college professor who now spends her days writing and wrangling a toddler. She lives in Texas with her family and two entitled cats, and loves chocolate and her Crock Pot. She uses Facebook to procrastinatestop by Lara Lacombe Books if you'd like to chat!
Read an Excerpt
Ridge Colton climbed behind the wheel of his truck and tried to rub away the gritty, sandpaper feeling from his eyes. He'd been up and at it since before dawn, searching the woods around Granite Gulch with the rest of his team, courtesy of a middle-of-the-night phone call made by a resident. Archie Johansen, a retired school bus driver, had been woken by the sound of footsteps on his porch. A curmudgeon to his core, Archie had grabbed his shotgun and thrown open the door, determined to scare off whoever dared to trespass on his property. As Archie described it, the second he opened his door a dark figure scrambled off his porch and hightailed it for the nearby trees. The old man swore up and down the intruder was carrying a rifle, which had prompted his call to the police. The people of Granite Gulch were normally pretty tough, but with the Alphabet Killer still on the loose, suspicions were running high.
And so Ridge had been dragged from his nice warm bed to comb the area, looking for any signs of an armed and possibly dangerous person skulking around in the woods that surrounded the town.
They hadn't found anyone, which wasn't a huge surprise. Secretly, Ridge thought the older man had actually seen an animal snuffling about in search of dinner rather than an armed threat. After all, Archie hadn't been wearing his glasses at the time, and he hadn't bothered to turn on his porch light before flinging open the door to do battle. It was hard enough to see in the dark, and Ridge knew from experience that heightened emotions often made people see things that weren't really there. Still, they couldn't afford to take any chances. One of these days the Alphabet Killer was going to make a mistake and Ridge wanted to be there to bring him down.
I'll have to fight the others for the privilege, though, he thought with a small smile. With the exception of his brother Ethan and his youngest sister, Josie, all his siblings had gone into law enforcement and were currently focused on this case. In a way, it was kind of nice they were all working together, even if the circumstances of their reunion were less than ideal. Normal families didn't need the hunt for a serial killer to bring them together. But then again, their own father had been a serial killer, so normal wasn't exactly a word that had ever applied to them.
With a sigh, Ridge pushed aside thoughts of his father. Matthew Colton had no place in his life, and he refused to waste energy thinking about the man. It had taken him years to move past his issues with his parentage, and dwelling on a fact that couldn't be changed wouldn't do him any good.
A gentle touch on his arm snagged his attention, and he turned to find his partner, Penny, staring up at him with her soulful, dark brown eyes. "I'm okay, girl," he said, reaching over to scratch behind her ears. Penny, a chocolate Lab, was the best search and rescue dog on the team, and she was always very attuned to Ridge's moods. In truth, Ridge often felt closer to her than to other people. She didn't care who his father was, didn't whisper behind his back or ask awkward questions. She just stayed by his side, a true and loyal friend. She'd melted his heart the moment he'd found her as a lost and abandoned puppy, and he'd do anything for her.
"Ready to head home?" he asked. It had been a long day for her, as well, but she never complained. She let out a soft "ruff" in response, and he started the truck. Keeping one hand on Penny's head, he idly stroked the velvety softness of her ears as he drove. "How about a bath tonight?" After spending all day in the woods, they both smelled pretty bad, and he needed to check her over for ticks and other unfriendly critters. Might as well kill two birds with one stone.
Her ears pricked forward at the word bath. True to her breed, Penny loved the water. While she'd much rather swim in the lake or splash through a stream, she tolerated a bath and its accompanying shampoo with the long-suffering patience of a martyr.
His mood lifted as he pondered the evening's activities. First, cleanup for him and Penny. Then he'd build a nice fire so she could warm herself while he threw a steak on the grill. And after dinner, he'd get back to his book. Yes, that sounded like the perfect way to wrap up a disappointing day.
It took about twenty minutes before he turned down the long, single-lane road that led to his cabin. His older sister, Annabel, made no secret of the fact that she thought he was too isolated from everyone, but Ridge liked his solitude. It was peaceful out here with his cabin nestled up to the edge of the woods. And he much preferred the soothing sounds of the forest to the grating noise of town. Even though Granite Gulch wasn't a huge metropolis like Houston, it was a growing city complete with traffic, construction and plenty of people. He knew it was only a matter of time before the urban sprawl began to creep into his oasis, but Ridge was determined to enjoy the quiet while he still could.
He pulled up next to the cabin and shut off the engine, then opened the door for Penny. She jumped out with a graceful leap, but Ridge could tell by the set of her ears and the look in her eyes she was just as tired as he. A nice, relaxing evening would do them both a world of good.
After grabbing his bag and locking up the truck, he started for the back door. It took him a few steps to realize Penny wasn't with him. She'd stayed behind, her nose lifted as she sniffed the spring air.
Probably a raccoon, maybe a squirrel, he thought, pausing to watch her. Penny was a highly trained and very skilled search and rescue operator, but she was still a dog. When she was working, she maintained a laser-like, almost unshakable focus, but when she was off duty, she was just as susceptible to the taunting of small woodland creatures as any other dog. He'd give her a few minutes to enjoy herself outside, but then they really needed to get cleaned up.
He expected her to take a quick roll in the grass and rejoin him, but she kept her nose in the air. It was the same behavior she exhibited when she'd found the scent trail of a human, and Ridge felt the skin on the back of his neck tighten. Had someone been near his cabin lately? He had no neighbors for miles around, and there was no reason anyone should have come looking for him today. Why then was Penny acting as if she'd caught a trail?
After what seemed like an eternity, Penny dropped her head and met his gaze. She let out a short, sharp yip and cocked her ears forward, the signal she used to let him know she was on to something. Intrigued, Ridge gave her the command she wanted: "Find it."
She took off, racing around the corner of the house. Ridge followed at a slightly slower pace, but he wasn't worried about her running away. Penny would stay put once she'd found the source of her interest, and her bark would tell him exactly where she was.
As it turned out, he didn't have to go far. He rounded the corner of the house just in time to see her jump onto the front porch. She headed straight for the wooden bench that sat overlooking the drive, plopped her butt down on the weathered boards, and began emitting her characteristic "I found it!" bark with all the gusto of an opera singer.
Ridge bounded up the steps and joined her, placing his hand on her head to let her know he was there and she could stop barking. She immediately quieted, but kept her gaze fixed on the floor behind the bench. Ridge leaned forward, squinting into the shadows. The front porch faced east, and the thunderclouds threatening overhead obscured the last rays of the setting sun, making it nearly impossible for him to determine what Penny had discovered. He dug a flashlight out of his bag and flicked on the light, then nearly dropped it when he realized what he was looking at.
"Oh my God," he breathed, hardly daring to believe his eyes.
One of those big plastic carriers sat on his porch, the kind people used when driving around a baby. There was a blanket draped over the top, so he couldn't tell if the seat was occupied. But Penny wouldn't have signaled if the thing was empty
Ridge reached forward, his heart in his throat. He pushed the covering aside and bit back a curse.
How in the world did a baby wind up on his front porch?
What the hell?
Ridge stared down at the infant, now safely inside and sleeping peacefully. The little one had stirred at the sound of Penny's barking, but had drifted off again when Ridge had picked up the carrier and moved it into the cabin. He didn't know much about infants, but it seemed odd that this one was so quiet. Weren't babies supposed to cry a lot?
He glanced down at Penny, but she offered him no guidance. She looked from him to the baby and back again expectantly, and he realized he'd forgotten to reward her for her find. A spike of guilt pierced through his shock, and he moved quickly to dig her favorite toy out of his bag. "Good girl," he crooned as he presented it, giving her some extra ear scratches. Search and rescue dogs were motivated by positive reinforcement, and he'd never before forgotten to treat her right away after she'd done her job.
Of course, he'd never encountered a baby on his front porch, either.
"Where did you come from?" he murmured.
There had been no signs of anyone around his cabin, so he had no way of knowing how long the baby had been out there. His stomach twisted at the thought of the helpless infant left to the mercy of the elements, and a flash of anger warmed his chest. Who in their right mind left a baby on a stranger's porch? What kind of parent did that to a child? He glanced outside, noting the rotten-egg-green color of the sky. Bad weather was coming. A thunderstorm for sure, maybe even hail and a tornado. If he hadn't made it home when he did.
He shuddered, refusing to consider the alternative. Fortunately, he had come home. And even better, Penny had been there. Ridge didn't make it a habit to check his front porch, so there was no guarantee he would have found the child if not for his partner.
"Seems like your guardian angel is working overtime," he said, shaking his head at all the things that could have gone wrong tonight.
Ridge reached out and peeled down the light green fleece blanket to reveal an impossibly small body strapped into the car seat. The baby sported a pink long-sleeved, footed outfit, complete with small mittens. "I guess this means you're a girl," he said softly.
It took him a second to figure out how to extract her from the harness, but after a few fumbling attempts he was able to gently lift her from the carrier. Her head lolled back at the movement and she emitted a small squeak of distress, which sent his heart racing. Had he hurt her? What if she was already injuredwas he making things worse? Sweat broke out on his palms, and he feared she would slip right out of his hands and onto the floor.
"Don't drop the baby," he told himself, tightening his grip on the little torso. He could feel her heartbeat under his fingers, fast as a hummingbird's wings. Was that normal? Maybe she was stressed or sick.
He brought her to his chest and held her against his heart, his large hand spanning her entire back and extending to her head. She squirmed a little against him, and he was gratified to feel the warmth of her body through his shirt. Not too cold then. That was something, at least.
Now that he'd taken her out of the carrier, he noticed a folded piece of paper that had been left behind. It was slightly wrinkled and a little damp from its stay under the baby, but the message was still legible. Please take care of her until I can come back.F
Okay, then. It wasn't much to go on, but at least it was something.
If the note was to be believed, the baby's mother intended to come back for the child. So what kind of circumstances forced a woman to stash her baby on a stranger's front porch? Why not take the little one to the police station, or the hospital? After all, there was no guarantee the baby would be found, so the mother had to be truly desperate to resort to such an action.
Based on the signature, if an initial could even count as a signature, the mother's name started with the letter F. Was this woman worried she was the next target of the Alphabet Killer? Did she think she was in mortal danger, and had left the baby in a last-ditch attempt to save her?
It was possible, he mused. So far, the killer had targeted women in alphabetical order of their names. The latest victim's name had started with E, which meant an F name was next on the list. Maybe this mother knew the killer and had good reason to suspect she was the next target.
The baby wriggled against him, and he brought his other hand up to secure his hold on her. He lifted her off his chest and was rewarded with the sight of two dark eyes squinting up at him. Her movements had knocked her cap askew, so he tugged it off her head to reveal a light dusting of dark brown hair.
Just like the Alphabet Killer's previous victims.
A tingle raced from his fingertips to his chest. Was he holding a clue to the identity of the killer? If they could identify this baby and somehow find her mother, would that lead them to the Alphabet Killer? Maybe this was the break they'd all been waiting for.
"But why are you here?" he asked the baby. She smacked her lips together as if she was trying to respond, but otherwise gave no indication she'd heard him. Was her mother somehow connected to the mysterious armed subject he'd been hunting all day? Perhaps the Alphabet Killer had been playing hide-and-seek with the unknown F, and the mother had taken the first opportunity she'd found to get the baby to some kind of safety. That still didn't explain why Archie Johansen had heard someone on his porch, but it would account for why the baby had been left on his property.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 stars! I loved many things about Colton Baby Homecoming, which is the third installment of the Coltons of Texas series. I loved Ridge, who is such an alpha hero, but with lovable beta tendencies when it comes to babies. I loved Penny, Ridge's search and rescue dog, and the close bond they shared. And I loved Darcy, who was only human and broke up with Ridge when they were teenagers because her parents had engineered the breakup. But I really respected her for owning up to her mistake where Ridge was concerned, and fighting for what she wanted. All in all a wonderful, heart-warming story of second chances.
Very good book and continuation of the mystery of the Alphabet Killer, along with the mystery of an abandoned baby. Ridge and his dog Penny, a member of the local search and rescue group, came home from a call to find an abandoned infant on his porch. Worried first about the baby's condition, he takes her to the hospital to get checked out. There he encounters Dr. Darcy Marrow, his high school sweetheart, who had broken his heart all those years ago. Darcy is filling in at her hometown hospital while she waits for her new job in New York to start. She is surprised to find Ridge in her ER, especially with a baby. The story of how he got the baby doesn't really surprise her though, as she remembers Ridge's quiet, protective nature when they were teens. She regrets the way she let her parents break them up. She feels sorry for Ridge and his cluelessness about the baby and sends him home with some supplies for her. The attraction between Ridge and Darcy is still there, and both feel it, though both try to ignore it. Just seeing each other again brings back the memories of the good times and dreams that they shared. Darcy shows up at his cabin with more things for the baby and the intention of helping. When an intruder bursts in, intent on kidnapping the baby, they work together to fight him off. Darcy gets stranded there by a bad storm, and Ridge is determined to protect her and the baby. Over the next few days, as they work together to take care of the baby and protect her from whoever is trying to kidnap her, Ridge and Darcy find their feelings for each other growing stronger. Ridge is reluctant to risk his heart again, especially knowing that Darcy is planning to leave again. I liked Ridge a lot. He is the quiet one in the family, who coped with his family issues by pretending they didn't matter to him. He also worries that his father's "bad blood" could also come out in him. He is a loner, but also has a deep well of caring and compassion for others. This really comes out when he was taking care of the baby. I loved how quickly he bonded with her. There were several really sweet moments between the two of them. I also felt for him, as seeing Darcy again made him realize the things that he had given up, and that his life was lonelier without her. As his feelings for her grow, he has to decide if he's willing to try again. I also loved his dog, Penny. The bond between her and Ridge was great, and I loved seeing her interact with him. I also liked Darcy. She has followed her dream of becoming a doctor. She also has family issues, dealing with parents who never seemed to care about her. Instead, they were more concerned about appearances, which was why they disapproved of her relationship with Ridge. Now that she's older, she is better able to stand up to them. I loved seeing the way she still believes in Ridge's goodness, and how she tries to convince him. It was sweet to see the way that seeing him with the baby melted her heart. As her feelings for him grow, she realizes more about what has driven some of the decisions she's made, and must choose what she wants for her future. There's an interesting twist with her parents at the end that helps her see what her dreams really are. The ending with Ridge and Darcy at the cabin is really sweet and romantic. The suspense side of the story was great. The attacks on Ridge and Darcy, as the stranger tried to take the baby, were intense. The fights were realistic, as Ridge did not come away
A hot guy, who loves babies, dogs and reads for relaxation. Who could ask for more? I enjoyed the story and found the characters like-able. I enjoyed Ridge's interactions with his siblings. The plot was well laid out and leaves the reader hotly anticipating the next book. A good read.