It was only supposed to be a temporary home… He interrupts her plans…
When police chief Anson Curry returns a lost little girl to her frantic mother, his only goal is to ease the single mom’s anxiety. But it doesn’t take long for Tess Harper’s amazing child to have Anson wrapped around her little finger—and for Tess to have him thinking about a possible relationship. As for Tess, she’s tempted—even though she had planned to be in Oak Hollow, Texas, only temporarily. But after losing her father and brother in the line of duty, Tess thinks Anson’s job poses too much of a risk to her heart. And Anson has no plans to get involved with someone who’s planning on leaving.
From Harlequin Special Edition: Believe in love. Overcome obstacles. Find happiness.
Home to Oak Hollow, Book 1: A Sheriff’s Star
ON-sale date: 10/27/2020ISBN: 9781335894922
Where’s my baby?
Tess Harper’s rib cage rattled with the abrupt drumming of her heart. “Hannah Lynn! Where are you? Answer Momma!”
This can’t be happening! I only glanced away for a second.
Blood pounded in her head with such force her vision wavered, and a hot, prickly knot wedged in her throat. She grabbed a rack of clothes, knocked items to the floor and forced herself to focus. No one had been standing near them to snatch her little girl. Her precocious child must’ve slipped into one of the stuffed, round racks to play her favorite game of hide-and-seek.
Please, please let her be okay. “Hannah Lynn, answer me!”
A store employee stood nearby folding T-shirts, unaffected by Tess’s cries.
“My daughter is missing! Can you make an announcement?”
“What does she look like?” asked the blank-faced teen.
“She’s four, blonde, has Down syndrome.”
“Over here, ma’am,” a deep, male voice called from across the women’s department. “I think I have who you’re looking for.”
Tess spun to see her daughter in the arms of a tall police officer. She ran, dodging obstacles and other shoppers, and pulled Hannah into her arms. The slight weight of her child was an immediate relief. She cradled her head of silky curls and kissed her smooth, broad forehead. “Don’t you ever run off like that again. You scared the life out of me.”
Hannah’s bottom lip poked out and she placed both hands on her mother’s cheeks. “I sorry, Momma.”
The waning adrenaline rush left her trembling and dizzy. A strong arm wrapped around her shoulders and she stiffened. “I’m fine.”
“Let’s find a place to sit.”
Allowing a strange man to touch her wasn’t typical behavior, but he was a police officer like her father had been, and at the moment, she welcomed the support. “I could sit for a minute.”
He guided them to a bench near the dressing room and sat beside them. “Can I get you anything? Water?”
Tess shook her head, too intent on hugging her squirming daughter and savoring her baby shampoo scent. “I can’t believe I let this happen. I only turned my head, and when I looked back, she was gone. What if…” Her throat tightened and burned with repressed tears, cutting off her words. Terrible scenarios scrolled through her mind, each one more horrifying than the next.
“Play hide-see, Momma.”
“Sweet girl, you have to promise to tell me before we start playing hide-and-seek.”
“Something like this happens to every parent at some point,” said the officer. “Don’t be too hard on yourself.”
She cut him a hard look, ready to argue that her slipup was completely unacceptable. “Are you a parent?”
His jaw tightened and twitched. “No.”
“Then you don’t know what this feels like.” Tess didn’t miss the spark of sorrow in the man’s blue eyes. His expression almost matched the strained one that often stared back from her reflection. She took a deep breath. “Thank you, though. Where did you find my daughter?”
“She found me. I was looking through the ladies’ robes when a little hand reached out and tugged on my pant leg.”
“Ladies’ robes?” She bit her lip. It was none of her business what he shopped for.
Color bloomed high on his cheekbones. “For my grandmother.”
Hannah wiggled off her mother’s lap and onto the bench between them. “Sheriff safe?” Her blue-green eyes cut back and forth between them.
“Yes, baby.” Tess glanced at his badge that read Chief of Police. “She thinks you’re a sheriff like one of her favorite cartoon characters.”
He smiled at Hannah, showing dimples almost hidden beneath a short-cropped, blond beard. “You sure are a smart little girl. How old are you?”
“I four.” Hannah climbed onto her knees and traced around the border of his badge. “Circle.” Her tiny finger poked through each of the holes surrounding the center star. “Sheriff star.”
“It means I’ve promised to protect and keep you safe.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small plastic star and pinned it onto Hannah’s pink shirt. “You can be my honorary officer.”
Her daughter—normally shy around men—flung her arms around his neck. “Tank you.”
Tess once again caught a quick flash of distress before he schooled his features and returned the hug. Watching her child interact with a “father figure” set off a familiar swell of sadness that rolled in like a tidal wave. Hannah’s father didn’t want to be part of their lives, but he was the one missing out on the unconditional love of a precious child.
His loss. Idiot, selfish bastard.
She shook off the dark thoughts and took a good look at the man wearing a tan cowboy hat. His movie-star-worthy face topped powerful shoulders and a chest that filled his uniform shirt almost to the point of bursting buttons.
What’s the matter with me? How can I notice a man’s appearance at a time like this?
Eyes squeezed closed, she turned her head to hide her emotions from a man who was way too attractive, and no doubt knew it. He probably had women fawning all over him. She did not need another man who’d play with her heart like a chew toy. Especially one with a dangerous job.
I can, and will, raise my child on my own.
Oak Hollow, Texas, might be a small town, but she made up her mind to keep as much distance as possible between her and this tempting officer. It wouldn’t be that hard. They’d only be here a couple of months before moving on to Houston to prepare for Hannah’s heart surgery.
Hannah plopped onto her bottom, little legs swinging as she admired her prize.
“Thank you for your help. I need to find our shopping cart and get groceries. I’m moving into our new place today and I don’t want to be late meeting the landlord.”
He cocked his head and studied her with a set of stormy blue eyes. “Is your new place by any chance the Craftsman bungalow on Eighteenth Street?”
Hair lifted on the back of her neck. “How’d you know?”
He stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Tess Harper. I’m your landlord, Anson Curry.”
You’ve got to be kidding me.