Crystal Green Daddy in the Making

ISBN 13: 9780373657018

Daddy in the Making

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9780373657018: Daddy in the Making
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"Come here, cowboy."

Luminous gray eyes...long dark curls...come-hither smile. For months, Conn Flannigan was haunted by tantalizing images of a night he couldn't remember—and a woman he couldn't forget. He'd returned to St. Valentine to find her and recover his lost memories. The instant he spied Rita Niles, Conn knew he was in the right place. Could he prove he wasn't the footloose playboy he used to that he was going to be a father?

No more cowboys!

That was Rita's philosophy...until the single mom met that gorgeous Texas heartbreaker. Now she was having Conn's baby and the daddy-to-be wanted her to give him another chance. But who was the real Conn? Was she ready to trust her future to a man who could take off and leave her high and dry again?

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About the Author:

Crystal Green lives near Las Vegas, Nevada, where she writes Harlequin Blazes, Silhouette Special Editions and vampire tales. She loves to read, overanalyze movies, practice yoga , travel and detail her obsessions on her Web page,

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

"Are you sure you're ready for this?"

Connall Flannigan didn't answer his brother at first. He just kept staring at the three-story, gray-wooded St. Valentine Hotel with its lacy curtains peeking through the windows.

How many times had he seen flashes of this place in what was left of his memory?

As a few obvious tourists brushed by him, Conn looked down at his hand, where he'd been palming a necklace—golden, shiny, with a pendant in the shape of an R that separated into two pieces that never seemed to fit together. It'd been found in his pocket after the car accident, and he'd come to St. Valentine to find out why it might've been significant, and to fill the holes in his memory—the gaping spaces from the amnesia.

Conn wrapped his fingers over the necklace. "I'm not sure about much these days, but this?" He nodded. "I'm sure."

Emmet, who had the same blue eyes and black hair as Conn did under their cowboy hats, looked wary. "I don't know what you think you're gonna find here when the family can tell you everything you need."

Conn shook his head. What he needed was something to jar his mind back to where it should be—a place where he would be forced to completely remember just what had happened right before the accident and even previous to that.

A place where he could find himself again.

Once more, the flashes came back to him: this hotel. The name "St. Valentine." A truck bearing down on his pickup just before the world went into a tailspin. And...

He held his breath, waiting for the most puzzling and heart-clutching image of all. A woman. Dark brown hair, curling over her bare shoulders. Gray eyes full of affection as she looked up at him from where she was lying on the bed, her arms reaching up for him...

According to Emmet and his other two older brothers, Conn had enjoyed his share of women in the past. He'd never been the type to settle down, they said. Footloose, fancy-free and raising hell whenever possible. One woman on this livestock trip, another on that one.

Yet here he was, in search of this one woman who'd haunted his thoughts since the accident four months ago, flash by provocative flash.

But if there'd been so many women, why her in particular?

And why did he ache every time he thought of her? "I just want to see what's in here," he said to Emmet, gesturing toward the hotel. "There's got to be a reason I'm remembering this place more than any other. And a reason I'm recalling..."

"Her," Emmet said just before he chuffed.

Conn sent a sidelong glance to him.

"I've told you," Emmet said. "She's just one of many, Conn. Your time would be better spent on the ranch with your family, relaxing, not running off to a little town that you drove through one night."

"So you've told me." Over and over. Conn's brothers in particular had been pointedly direct with him about his habits—all the flirting, all the disappointed women he'd left behind. They told him that, even though he'd always made it clear that he wasn't in anything for the long haul, he'd always managed to make the ladies think that they were the ones, only to break their hearts in the end.

Conn had a hard time imagining he could be that callous, even if he was friendly enough about loving 'em and leaving 'em.

"Well," Emmet said, planting a booted foot up on the boardwalk. "If that's how you want to go about this, the sooner you get this done, the sooner we can go back home."

Conn grabbed onto the image of home, as if he was afraid of losing that, too. Home was the cattle ranch he ran with his brothers about a hundred miles away from St. Valentine, Texas. They told him that he went on business trips, such as for selling and replenishing livestock—the type of trip he'd been on when he'd had the accident. He'd felt a connection to home when he'd returned there, although there'd been something else, as well, along with the comfort, a yen to go somewhere beyond the ranch. And, months later, it'd turned out to be St. Valentine, for whatever reason.

He stepped onto the boardwalk, taking off his hat and running his fingers through his hair. His heart was beating a mile a minute.

Brown hair...gray eyes...

At the flash that kept coming to him every once in a while, his pulse jerked to a pause before jumping to a start once again.

He was just anxious about getting this over with, getting on with his life. That had to be it.

As he and Emmet walked toward the hotel, then entered the lobby, Conn took a moment to absorb the fringed lamps, the velvet-upholstered furniture, the scent of lemon polish and wood. Tasteful maroon-and-beige wallpaper lent some ease to the tone of the room, but Conn wasn't feeling so easy at all.

They moved to the reception area, where tourists lingered, reading framed newspaper articles on the walls about the so-called ghosts that haunted this Old West establishment—supposedly a gentleman and a lovelorn woman from the 1930s. There would also be articles about the town founder, Tony Amati, and that was why these tourists had come to town on a warm November weekday, Conn thought. They'd been lured by a new mystery that had been uncovered by a couple of town reporters who'd realized that old Tony, the former Texas Ranger, had died under a shroud of seeming conspiracy and strange circumstances.

To hear the tales, Amati, who'd settled in these parts and founded St. Valentine way back in the late 1920s, had started to matter more than ever around here after a man who was his spitting image had wandered into town over four months ago, before Conn had arrived. People had started looking very closely at the pictures of the town founder then, comparing them to the stranger, the cryptic Jared Colton. They'd started getting very interested in Tony, too—a man who'd done so much for St. Valentine, yet had managed to remain a puzzle all the same.

Both Tony and this modern-day stranger had certainly captured everyone's romantic inclinations and imagination. And the town, which had suffered through rough economic times, was now starting to benefit from the story, attracting more and more tourists. Just how had Tony died? everyone wondered. And why had he been so darn reclusive? Everyone wanted to poke around and solve the mysteries. Magazine articles and travel shows had been sniffing around town, too—there'd even been some kind of TV ghost show that had camped out in the St. Valentine Hotel, the papers said.

Yup, Conn had sure done all the research he could about St. Valentine before coming out here. Not that it had helped with his own mysteries.

"Any of it look familiar?" Emmet asked.

"Not really."

Emmet gestured toward the reception desk. "You want to find out if you checked in here that night?"

The hotel had wanted to see some ID in person before giving out that kind of sensitive information. "Yeah."

Conn took a step toward the long desk, then stopped in his tracks, stilled by a bolt of electricity.

A woman with brown curly hair pulled into a side ponytail that flowed past her shoulder, her torso covered by a white old-fashioned, high-collared blouse that was obviously a part of the hotel's uniform. She had a lush mouth in an angular face, and light-colored eyes that reflected the same blindsided attraction he was feeling.

All Conn could do was hold his hat to his stomach, which was flipping end over end, crackling with the tremors dancing through it. It was as if a bright light was blazing over his sight, a lightning strike that illuminated that night again.

White sheets on a bed...a woman lying down on them, her hair curled over the pale linen. "Come here, cowboy" she whispered...

She'd been in St. Valentine.

She was the reason he was here. Somehow, he knew that without a doubt.

When his vision cleared, she was still staring at him, just as if she'd seen one of the ghosts that this hotel was supposed to house.

Did his knees ever go this weak with all those other women he'd supposedly been with? It sure as hell hadn't happened with the nurses at the hospital. Then again, they hadn't looked like this brunette.

Besides, something inside him told him that this had never happened before.

But how could he know for sure?

Clutching the necklace until its edges dug into his palm, Conn left Emmet and went to the desk. The woman was still behind it, by herself, but from the way she looked away from him, down at the counter, Conn could tell that she wished she had any guest but him in line for some service.

In fact, as she glanced up again, her gaze had gone from thunderstruck to steely, all in a tumultuous second.

He didn't even have the chance to utter a hello before she said in a low tone, "So you're back."

Steely, all right. A gritted comment that nearly set him back on his heels.

This was the woman in his fragmented memories, right? The limpid-eyed lady who'd begun to appear to him recently at night, giving him pleasant dreams. The one who'd been so happy to be in his bed.

He showed her the necklace, the R split in half across his palm. She sucked in a breath, but then, as if she was real good at recovering quickly, that breath turned into a small laugh.

"You came here to return this?" She was still talking quietly enough so that her voice didn't carry. "Better late than never, I suppose."

Return it? Why had he taken it in the first place? He thought that maybe he should apologize about something, but he wasn't sure just what it was he would be sorry for.

"Can we talk?" he asked. "I need—"

"Talk? That's a good euphemism." She laughed again, taking up a pile of paper and neatly straightening it on the desk. "I'll te...

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