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Colton Baby Homecoming (The Coltons of Texas) Mass Market Paperback – March 8, 2016
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About the Author
I earned my Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology and worked in several labs across the country before moving into the classroom. My day job as a college science professor gives me time to pursue my other love--writing fast-paced romantic suspense, with smart, nerdy heroines and dangerously attractive heroes. I love to hear from readers! Find me on the web, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
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.
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Ridge has no idea what to do with a baby, but feels protective of the baby. When the baby cries, he thinks she's hurt, so takes her to the hospital. His former flame from 12 years ago, Dr. Darcy Marrow, happens to be working in the ER. All the baby is crying about is hunger.
Darcy is only at the hospital to help out as she waits to begin her medical career in NYC. She had no idea she'd run into Ridge again after all this time. Having no room at the hospital to take the newborn, Ridge steps up and says he'll take the baby home. Darcy warns him he has no idea how much work an infant is. He responds with "Sleep is overrated." So, he takes the baby home with formula and diapers from the hospital. then, the fun begins for him. He's up all night with the baby. Morning comes, and Darcy shows up at his doorstep to help.
Taking a break from baby duty, Ridge goes out to his barn that's under construction. Seeing Darcy again has him feeling things again. She dumped him all those years ago based on a lie. He shouldn't want to even be near her. On his way back to the house, Darcy's scream calls him into action. A stranger is in his house attacking Darcy and trying to take the baby. Bot of them are injured in the attack, but the intruder leaves. Now, Ridge calls in his siblings on the police force and his FBI brother. Why is someone after the baby and does she have something to do with the Alphabet Killer that is central to this series.
Ridge and Darcy take care of the baby together, trying to keep their attraction under control. The Alphabet Killer strikes again, but the baby isn't safe. Ridge is determined to protect this baby.
Darcy has a very complicated relationship with her parents who believe they're high society or something in this small town. When she learns the truth of why she broke up with Ridge years before, she has to question where she's going to go from here with her parents. She wants to try again with Ridge, but he's very standoffish. The spark is still there, but she believed a lie before. He has a hard time getting past that. Plus, she's leaving for NYC and he doesn't want a brief affair and he can't take the chance that she'll just up and leave. He barely survived her walking away the first time..
Another reviewer complained this book was too "vanilla" because they were having sex every other page. I didn't see it that way. This story had a base that wasn't just in the bedroom. The mystery behind the baby had a couple of twists and turns and there was still the element of the serial killer the series is based upon. Yeah, if you only want to read about people have sex, this book isn't for you. I enjoyed the story. The characters WERE compatible with chemistry and the author did make them more realistic than some romance couples.
In this book Ridge works in Search and rescue. He has a dog named Penny, that stole my heart. She was named Penny, because Ridge had found her tied to a tree out in the woods. He rescued her , and on the way to the vet, she was so hungry, she ate Penny's out of center console. The story starts out with Ridge, and Penny coming home. Penny alerted to something on the porch. It was a baby left with a note asking Ridge to protect the baby till the mother could come back and get her. Ridge brought the baby to the hospital, for a checkup. Sarah was fine, she was just hungry. Doctor Darcy Marrow was the one person Ridge lost his heart to many years ago. The two broke up, but the chemistry still burns between the two. I love second chance romance books. She taught Ridge how to take care of the baby. It just so happened the hospital nursery was full, and they couldn't admit the baby into the hospital. There was a snow storm that prevented CPS to come and get the baby. Ridge felt protective of the baby, and took it upon himself to care for the infant. I loved how the bond grew between Ridge, and Sarah.
The suspense, and action was good throughout the story. Someone kept attempting to kidnap the baby. My only complaint about the story, or what didn't make sense to me, was Ridge didn't carry a gun. His whole family was in law enforcement. Why in the world, would you grab a stick, to defend yourself? Ok, if that's all he had, but men, in and around law enforcement are all ways prepared. Anyways, that's just my opinion. It didn't affect my thoughts on the book. I still enjoyed it, and may read it again later on.
I loved how the relationship built and grew with Ridge and Darcy throughout the story. The two took care of the baby, and protected her against someone that wanted to take her. I loved the end where the mom came back. This really was a great book, that had it all.
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