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Coming soon! The Lawman's Surprise Family by Patricia Johns will be available Feb 16, 2016.
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Patricia Johns writes from Alberta, Canada where she lives with her husband and son. She has her Honors BA in English Literature and has written in other genres under different names before coming to Harlequin. She loves prairie skies and time with her family.
The chances of avoiding Benjamin Blake in a town this size weren't in her favor, but it didn't stop Sofia McCray from hoping. If she could just get through today, she might be able to escape him until she was ready.
As she knocked on the police chief's office door, Sofia could make out the muffled voices of two men inside. After a moment, the door swung open to reveal a man with blond hair that was gray around the temples, an easy smile and a wedding ring. The Chief of Police badge shone on his blue uniform. He shook her hand and gestured her in.
"Good morning," Chief Taylor said. "Miss McCray, I presume?"
"Yes, from the Haggerston Chronicle" Sofia replied with a quick smile, mentally preparing herself for her assignment. She'd only started at the Chronicle a couple of weeks ago after returning to Haggerston, and this assignment meant that her editor was taking her seriously for now. She wanted to keep it that way.
"Let me introduce you to the officer you'll be riding along with." He gestured to the chair in front of the large desk.
A tall officer, dark and rugged, sat with his arms crossed over his broad chest. His dark hair was cropped short, his blue uniform setting off his obsidian eyes. He cocked his head to one side as her gaze lit on him, and a small smile turned up one corner of his mouth. Her heart thumped hard and then seemed to stop in her chest. He needed no introduction this was Benjamin Blake.
"You're late," Ben said, glancing at his watch. "Eight oh five."
She'd heard that he'd become a cop, but she'd had a hard time imagining her high school "bad boy" boyfriend in law enforcement. Looking at him in full uniform, his dark eyes fixed on her almost teasingly, she found herself tongue-tied.
She had some explaining to do, and she wasn't looking forward to it.
"Officer Blake says that he knows you already," Chief Taylor said. "So that should make working together for the next two weeks easier. We appreciate you being here, Miss McCray. Our new community watch program could use the publicity."
She finally found her voice. "Yes, absolutely."
"I just need you to sign a few papers." Chief Taylor passed her a clipboard with forms attached. Sofia took it numbly.
"Couple of days, I thought," Ben said to the police chief, and she glanced up from the papers.
"Or so " the chief replied noncommittally. She didn't miss the tension that rippled along Ben's jawline and realized he wasn't looking forward to this, either.
She scratched her signature across the bottom line, and when the police chief flipped to the next page, she did the same once more. Sofia attempted to keep her expression neutral, her eyes moving over the forms without absorbing any of the information.
"In case you get shot," Ben offered helpfully, nodding at the forms. Humor flickered at the corners of his lips, and for a split second, she saw the teenager in him again. His gaze held hers for longer than necessary, and her breath caught in her throat. She forced her eyes back down to the page, heat rising in her cheeks.
"Just accepting that a ridealong has risks," the chief said cheerfully. "And that you won't sue us if anything should happen." He took the clipboard from her and turned away. "Officer Blake is one of the leading officers in this program. We're focusing on domestic violence, child endangerment and driving under the influence. We have bigger problems here in Haggerston than most people realize."
"Yes, I was briefed on that," she said. "I'm glad to be a part of getting the word out."
"Do you have any questions before you leave?" Chief Taylor asked.
"Not at the moment," she admitted. She was still too distracted by Ben's unexpected presence to think of much else.
"Well, I'm sure Officer Blake can fill you in when questions arise," he said with a smile as he turned away. "Have a good day, you two."
Ben pushed himself up from the chair where he'd been reclining and gestured for her to leave the office ahead of him. The door closed behind them, the din of the bull pen enveloping her. Sofia looked up at Ben, noting the subtle way his face had changed over the years. He had lines around his eyes now. His jaw was clean shaven a change from the constant five o'clock shadow he used to sport. He still had those piercing dark eyes with long lashes, but he'd lost that familiar scent of leather jacket and cheap cologne. He was a man now, his teen years left solidly behind him. He seemed to sense her scrutiny, because he glanced down at her.
"It's been a long time," he said, his tone low enough for her ears alone as they made their way around the desks and toward the front door.
"Yes. Nine years." Nine years was a long time to carry a secret. She'd come back to Haggerston knowing that she'd have to reveal it sooner or later, but it wasn't going to be easy.
"Something like that." He nodded at another officer, and she felt the warmth of his hand touch the small of her back as he guided her past some desks. "How long have you been back in town?"
"Two weeks." They emerged past the front desk and pushed open the front door, stepping out into the cool spring air.
"So, what brought you back after all this time?" Ben asked.
She wished she had a flippant reply for that question, but she didn't. She felt her smile fade.
"My dad has cancer," she said, her voice low. "I'm here to help him through his treatment."
That was an understatement. She was also here to try and rebuild a relationship with her father after all these years. When her parents split up that summer that she graduated, she'd done what all the counselors advised against she'd chosen sides. Now that her father was facing cancer, she knew that she had a lot to make up for to him, as well. He'd met his grandson for the first time two weeks ago, and she truly wished she hadn't left it so long. This homecoming wasn't a victorious one by any stretch.
"I'm sorry, I had no idea." He reached toward her, but just before touching her arm, he pulled back.
"It's okay. We aren't really advertising it. Dad doesn't want anyone to treat him like he's sick." She touched the tingling place on her arm where he'd nearly touched her.
Ben nodded slowly. "I get that."
This was not going to be easy working with Ben. She'd thought she'd put all those butterflies behind her. She was a grown woman with responsibilities, for crying out loud, and she was smarter this time. Wiser. Older. Why couldn't that be enough? She stopped and turned around to face him. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"What, us working together?" he asked.
"Exactly. We have a bit of a history "
"I tried getting out of it," he interrupted. "It was no use."
"Oh." He'd tried getting out of it? Somehow, she thought she'd be the one with more reservations, but perhaps she was wrong about that. Benji had been her first love the bad boy with the motorcycle who swept her off her feet, much to her parents' chagrin. And she'd loved him passionately until he dumped her and she left town with her mother pregnant. She'd never told him about her pregnancy or her plans to leave, and while the guilt of that laid heavily on her shoulders, she'd honestly thought she was doing him a favor.
"I know this is complicated " she began.
"Yeah, a bit."
He angled his steps toward the parking lot, and she had to quicken her pace to keep up. Was he actually annoyed with her? It hardly seemed as though he had any right. She'd been the one unceremoniously dumped on the night of her prom. They'd been just about to go inside when she'd asked him the question that had been plaguing her for weeks: How would they stay together when she went off to college? It was a reasonable question, considering that Benji hadn't finished all the classes he needed to graduate that year, so he'd be staying behind. Somehow, that had turned into an argument that ended with Benji telling her that they'd never last anyway, and he'd driven off on his motorcycle, leaving her in the parking lot with a corsage and a broken heart.
"It looks like things have turned out well for you," she said, giving him an uncertain smile. "You look good."
It seemed like the polite thing to say, although what the social etiquette was in a situation like this, she had no idea.
"So do you," he said, ambling toward the row of squad cars. "Mind if I ask you something, now that I've got the chance?"
"Not at all." Again, that seemed to be the polite response, even though she wasn't exactly keen to face his questions.
"So how come you just disappeared like that?" He glanced down at her, his gaze fixed on hers for a moment longer than necessary, then he nodded toward a cruiser. "This one is mine, by the way."
Little did he know that the least of her sins was the disappearing act, but if she had to be honest, she'd disappeared because she was afraid to face reality. And he had no idea how much reality had been hanging in that balance.
"It was a complicated time," she said hesitantly. "My parents had just told me that they were getting a divorce. They'd been fighting constantly for months. Then, when my mom said she was moving out, I "
Her world had crumbled. She'd felt adrift seventeen, alone, pregnant and without the stability of her parents' marriage to buoy her up. She could still remember how she'd begged them to reconsider, to go for therapy, to do anything to keep them together. They hadn't, obviously, and their breakup had decimated her.
"So, what happened, exactly?" Ben asked. "There were rumors about your parents and why your mom left."
"What kinds of rumors?" she asked, irritation rising. Her father had stayed in Haggerston, and the town should have known what kind of husband and father he'd been not exemplary.
Ben unlocked her door and she got in. A moment later, he got into the driver's side and, without looking at her, said, "People said she met someone else."
"She wasn't cheating on my father," Sofia said dryly. "She'd just had enough. Sometimes women reach their limit."
"But you both left without saying goodbye to anyone," he said, finally looking in her direction. "I found out when I came by your place, and your dad told me you were gone. You never did answer my emails."
"We were broken up, if you recall," she said defensively. "I didn't just leave town without telling my boyfriend. I left without telling my ex-boyfriend. I was no longer your business."
"Technically," he replied evenly.
"What does that even mean?" she demanded. "We were seventeen. We were kids. Do you honestly think I owed you something after you broke my heart?"
She felt the hypocrisy of the words as they passed her lips. She'd left pregnant with his son of course she owed him something! But he didn't know that, and his argument right now was surrounding the fact that she'd left at all without telling him her plans. And while she knew that she had to tell Ben about his son and her son about his father she'd wanted to wait until the time was right, until she had full control of the situation. Now that she was working with Ben, she'd have to tell him sooner than she'd planned, and her stomach sank at the thought.
"Yeah, I think you did owe me something," he said, and the heaviness in his tone made her wonder if perhaps he did know more than he was letting on. "We weren't just a couple, we were "
She waited, but he didn't finish the sentence.
"We were each other's first loves," she concluded. "Even if that relationship was over "
"I still loved you. That hadn't ended for me."
Sofia froze, his words tickling something deep inside of her. He met her gaze, held it, then put the key into the ignition and the cruiser rumbled to life. So if he'd still loved her, why dump her? Why leave her alone in the parking lot of the community center in a tulle gown? That didn't sound like love to her; though something in his voice suggested that he still felt something for her, and she couldn't help the heat that rose in her cheeks.
"Anyway," he said, breaking the silence. "Like I said, it's been a long time."
Her cell phone rang, and Sofia glanced down to see her father's number. It was a welcome interruption right then, and she picked it up before it could ring twice.
"Hi, Dad," she said, trying to keep her voice casual.
"Hi, kiddo," he said, using the same endearment he'd used as long as she could remember. "We, uh, have a situation over here."
"What kind of situation?" she asked.
"Jack is sick."
"Sick? How sick? Does he have a fever?"
"I don't know. He's throwing up, though, and it's not stopping."
She sighed. "Did you give him the gluten-free cereal for breakfast?"
"With the almond milk, not the dairy?"
"Uh, yeah. I think."
She closed her eyes. "What else did he have, Dad?"
"A cannoli? You gave him a cannoli?" she demanded. "That's full of everything he's allergic to!"
"I thought he was like other kids. They've got the metabolism of rats."
"Well, he's not," she replied, attempting to keep her anger in check. She'd explained all of this to her father in detail this morning. He'd said he understood. But this was like her father had always been, doing it his own way. What did he think, that she'd just been being dramatic when she explained all of this?
"What do I do?" He sounded contrite.
"I'm coming home," she said, and without even saying goodbye, she punched the end button. Sofia glanced up to find Ben watching her, an odd expression on his face. When she looked over, he flicked his gaze back to the road ahead of him.
"You're a mom?" he asked after a moment.
"I am. I have a son Jack."
"Everything okay over there?" he asked.
"Not really. Look, I know this is an inconvenience, but could we swing by my father's house so I can check on my son? He has allergies, and my father " She shook her head. "I just need to make sure he's okay."
"Sure." He signaled a turn, and they headed back toward the main drag.
Sofia's mind was on Jack right then, his poor little digestive system in knots because of his grandfather's negligence. And because Jack didn't seem to take his own allergies as seriously as he should, either, if she had to be completely fair.
She glanced at Ben. She'd have to tell him soon she knew that. But not yet. She had this under control, and when Ben knew that he was a father, everything would change. Working together would be more tense than it already was, and she'd have no escape. She couldn't afford to lose this precarious balance just yet.
"Thanks," she said with a smile. "I appreciate it."
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Book Description Love Inspired, 2016. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P11037381898X
Book Description Love Inspired, 2016. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB037381898X