Carla Cassidy.

Waiting for the Wedding






Dear Reader,

To me, there is something intensely romantic about a heroine who experiences for the first time the wonder of lovemaking with the herothe man who will be her first, her last, her only.

Sherry Boyd is a special heroine, a woman who has given up her dreams of a wedding, a family and a future with small-town sheriff and ex-boyfriend Clint Graham. How wonderful it was for me to get to play matchmaker and see that these two loving people got their happily-ever-after.

I hope you enjoy their story and that you will find your own special happily-ever-after.

Best wishes,

Carla Cassidy

Waiting for the Wedding
Carla Cassidy


www.millsandboon.co.uk

CARLA CASSIDY

is an award-winning author who has written more than fifty books for Harlequin and Silhouette Books. In 1995 she won Best Silhouette Romance from RT Book Reviews for Anything for Danny. In 1998 she also won a Career Achievement Award for Best Innovative Series.

Carla believes the only thing better than curling up with a good book to read is sitting down at the computer with a good story to write. Shes looking forward to writing many more books and bringing hours of pleasure to readers.

To Kathryn and Carlee, I love you!

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Epilogue

Chapter One

The last thing Sheriff Clint Graham expected to see when he opened his front door on an early April morning was a baby on his doorstep. Yet, there she was, a bundle of sleeping baby wrapped in a pink blanket and resting in a car seat. Next to the car seat on the wooden porch was a small diaper bag.

Clint looked around. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, promising another glorious spring day. The light of a new dawn painted the tidy homes on his street in a lush, golden light. It was the kind of day that reminded him why he loved the small town of Armordale, Kansas.

He eyed the house on the left, then the house on the right. He knew his neighbors on both sides, knew they probably werent responsible for the surprise package. He studied the shrubs and trees, seeking the person whod left the baby.

Nobody. There was nobody around, no cars parked on the street, no strangers lurking in the shadows. Nothing seemed amiss. Except there was a baby on his porch.

Unsure exactly what to do, Clint carefully picked up the car seat and carried the baby into the kitchen. He set the seat on the kitchen table and stared at the cherubic little face.

Pale wisps of blond hair adorned the top of her head.

Her cheeks were rounded, her lips little rosebuds that trembled slightly with each breath. He had no idea who she was, how old she was or why shed been left on his porch.

It was then he noticed the white edge of a folded piece of paper tucked into her blanket. Gingerly he pulled it free, not wanting to awaken her.

He opened the note, frowning as he read.

Ive never asked you for anything since Kathryn was born. Ive never asked you to be a husband to me or a father to her, but now I need your help. Im in danger and must be gone for a week or two. Please keep her safe for me. When things are back to normal, Ill return for her, then she and I will once again disappear from your life.

His heart thudded to a halt. The note wasnt signed.

Was it possible? For a brief moment crazy thoughts filled his head.

No, surely not. Hed have heard something. Somebody would have told him. Somehow hed have known. He shoved aside his momentary, outrageous thoughts.

He stared at the letter again. It was written on plain white notebook paper. There was no clue as to who might have written it. He set it aside, his frown deepening.

Danger. The note said there was danger. Had the mother dropped the baby off here because Clint was sheriff? Before he had time to fully assess the situation, there was a knock on his door.

He hurried to answer, afraid the discordant noise would awaken the slumbering infant. He opened the door and held a finger to his lips.

Whats the matter? Andy Lipkin, Clints deputy whispered. He held two foam cups in his hands, steam rising from the hot coffee.

It had become routine for the two men to ride together to the sheriffs station. Andy bought the coffee in the mornings, and Clint bought the sodas on the drive home in the evenings.

Follow me and be quiet. Clint motioned Andy into the kitchen. Andy stopped short in the doorway as he spied the baby in the center of the kitchen table. On tiptoe, the big, burly man walked toward the table. Whats that? He set down the two coffees.

Looks like a baby to me, Clint replied dryly. She was left on my doorstep a little while ago. He handed Andy the note that had accompanied the surprise bundle.

Andy scanned the note, then handed it back to Clint. You know who she is?

I dont have a clue, Clint exclaimed.

So, what are you going to do?

I dont know, Clint replied. He stared thoughtfully at the sleeping little girl, then looked back at his deputy. He didnt even want to think of what would happen when she awakened. He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. You go on into the office, and Ill figure something out here. Ill try to come in by noon.

Andy grabbed one of the coffees, and together he and Clint tiptoed out of the kitchen. You going to call Social Services in Kansas City? Andy asked.

Clint frowned, thinking of that sweet little baby being swallowed by the system. It was possible if he turned Kathryn in to Social Services, Kathryns mother would never get the little girl back. Until he knew the mothers identity and the circumstances of the temporary abandonment, he hated to do anything so final.

Not immediately, he said thoughtfully. Id like to try to figure out whats going on before I go the Social Services route. This is a small town, and usually people know each others business. Maybe somebody will know whats going on with this baby and her mother.

Andy nodded. Okay, Ill get out of here. He walked to the door and opened it, then looked back at Clint. So, if anybody calls and needs you, I should just tell them youre playing nanny for the day? He grinned.

You tell anyone that, and Ill file the points off your badge. Now, get out of here, Clint said with a laugh. Ill call you later.

After Andy had left, Clint went back into the kitchen and once again stared at the baby.

Who was she? Kathryn who? Where was her mother? What kind of danger threatened her enough to leave her baby on a doorstep?

He couldnt very well play nanny for the next week or two. If he didnt intend to turn little Kathryn over to Social Services, then hed need to make other arrangements.

Sherry. The name instantly came to mind, bringing with it an enormous sense of relief. She would help. After all, she was his best friend.

Without giving himself a chance to think twice, he picked up the receiver and dialed her number.

She answered on the third ring, her voice deeper, husky from sleep.

Did I wake you? he asked.

No. The phone did, she said dryly. What time is it? He heard the rustle of sheets, then a squeal of outrage. Clint Graham, how dare you call me at seven oclock in the morning. You know I dont do mornings.

And you know I wouldnt have called if it wasnt important, he replied.

Again he heard the rustle of bedclothes, and, unbidden, his mind filled with a vision of her in bed. Her streaked blond hair would be tousled and flowing down her shoulders. Her cheeks would be sweetly flushed. Her vivid green eyes would be drowsy with half sleepsexy bedroom eyes.

Clint? Her voice held an edge of aggravation, letting him know shed probably called his name more than once.

He shook his head, dislodging the crazy image. Where had that come from? It had been a long time since Sherryd had long hair, and hed never actually seen her in bed. Hed stopped those kinds of fantasies long ago.

Im here, he said.

I asked you whats so important it couldnt wait until a reasonable hour?

Darlin, for most people seven oclock in the morning is a reasonable hour.

If you dont tell me in the next ten seconds why you called, Im going to hang up and go back to sleep.

Clint could tell by her tone of voice that she wasnt kidding. I have a sort of situation here, and I need your help. Can you come over?

Clint? Are you all right? Her irritation was gone, replaced by worry. You havent caught that nasty flu again, have you?

Im fine. Nothing is wrong, Im not sick and I really hate to get into it over the phone. Come over, Sherry. You havent even seen my new place. Ill make you a big breakfastbiscuits and gravy, he said.

I smell a rat in the house, Sherry exclaimed. The last time you cooked me biscuits and gravy you asked me to take care of a little of your laundry.

Clint laughed. I was sick, he protested. I didnt realize so much laundry had piled up. I promise this involves no heavy work.

Okaygive me half an hour and Ill be there, she agreed, then hung up.

Clint also hung up, and gave a sigh of relief. Sherry could help him decide what to do. He leaned back in his chair, his thoughts filled with the woman hed just spoken to.

It was odd. Five years ago hed believed she was the woman he would spend the rest of his life with, that they would marry and have a family and live happily ever after. It was odd that when their plans hadnt worked out, theyd managed to put love behind and hang on to friendship.

There was very little left of the Sherry hed fallen in love with years before. Shed undergone a dramatic transformation, one that had begun the day she discovered she would never have children of her own.

Clint frowned and stared at the baby. Maybe calling Sherry hadnt been such a great idea. As if in agreement, little Kathryns eyes opened wide. She took one long look at him. Her lower lip trembled, her face turned red. She opened up her mouth and wailed.

Sherry Boyd took a fast shower, dressed, then jumped into her car and headed toward Clints new place. Two weeks before, hed moved from an apartment into a nice three-bedroom ranch house on Main.

As she drove, she tried to think of what situation Clint had that would demand her presence, but nothing concrete came to mind.

Turning left on Main, she stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. Shed worked until three that morning, and her body felt the effects of too little sleep. Her eyes felt grainy, her feet ached from the long hours of waitressing, and a light headache pounded at her temples.

This better be good, Sheriff Graham, she said aloud as she spied his house in the middle of the block ahead.

She and Graham had lived in the same apartment building for the past four years, up until two weeks ago when this gem of a house had come up for sale. Within days Clint had bought the house and arranged his move.

It was a pleasant, white ranch with black shutters adorning the windows. Spring flowers were already pushing up, adding a splash of color against the white siding.

Sherry heard a baby wailing the moment she opened her car door and stepped out. Instantly she tensed and felt a wind blow through her, the desolate wind of barrenness, a mournful cry of what would never be.

The noise couldnt be coming from Clints place, she reasoned. It was just a trick of the wind. Probably one of the neighbors had a small child.

She reached the front door and knocked, the baby cry louder than before. Clint? she yelled. When there was no immediate response, she opened the door and stepped inside.

Clint appeared in the kitchen doorway at the same instant, a sobbing baby girl in his arms. Thank God youre here, he exclaimed.

For a few seconds Sherry merely stared at him, her mind working to make sense of the scene. Clints dark hair stood on end, and the front of his shirt was wet with what she suspected was either baby spit-up or slobber.

It was difficult to see exactly what the baby looked like. Her face was bright red at the moment, her features all scrunched up with her unhappiness.

Whats going on? Sherry asked. She remained standing where she was, refusing to hold her arms out for the baby, even though she knew that was probably what Clint wanted.

For the past five years, Sherry had made conscious choices that would keep her from being in the presence of children. Shed quit her third-grade teaching job and now worked as a waitress in the towns most popular tavern. She chose her friends carefully, usually people with either no children, or older kids.

I cant make her stop crying, Clint said frantically. As he talked, he jiggled the baby in his arms. Up and down, up and down, the motion made Sherry feel half-sick, and she had a feeling it wasnt soothing the baby at all.

Is she wet? Sherry asked, still not moving a single step forward.

I dont know. Im wet. She must be, Clint replied, raising his voice to be heard above the sobbing child.

Sherry could stand it no longer. Despite her reluctance, she moved to where Clint stood, and took the baby from him. The little girl snuggled against Sherrys chest, her sobs ebbing as if she was comforted by the feminine arms.

As the baby quieted, Sherry fought her impulse to scream at Clint, to vent the anger, the sense of betrayal that swirled inside her. How dare he! How dare he call her over here to help him with a baby.

He knew more than anyone the utter torment shed gone through when shed discovered she would never get pregnant, never carry a baby inside her, never have a child of her own. How dare he bring her here where a baby was present, knowing her own particular heartache.

Come on in the kitchen, he said. I think there are diapers and stuff in there.

Are you going to tell me whats going on? Who is she? Sherry asked as she followed him into the cheerful kitchen, where the morning sunshine streamed through the windows.

Her name is Kathryn, and thats about all I know, Clint replied. If youll take care of her for a few minutes, Ill start the biscuits and gravy.

Sherry sat at the table and waved one hand, dismissing the idea. Im not hungry. What do you mean, thats about all you know?

Clint leaned against the sink cabinet and plucked at his wet shirtfront. She was on my doorstep this morning. He pointed to the diaper bag. There should be stuff she needs in there.

Sherry didnt move. What do you mean, you found her on your doorstep? She felt ridiculous, echoing him in an effort to get answers.

She looked down at the baby and found herself staring into the biggest, bluest, most trusting eyes shed ever seen. Sherry flinched, her heart lurched, and she stiffened in defense.

She didnt want to be here. She didnt want to hold this sweet little bundle in her arms. It only served to remind her of her loss and aching emptiness and dreams shattered.

Clint raked a hand through his hair, again making the dark, rich strands stand on end. When I opened the door this morning, there she was. She was in a car seat, and a diaper bag was next to her. There was a note tucked inside the blanket. He gestured to a piece of paper on the table.

Sherry shifted the wiggling baby in her arms and picked up the note. She scanned the contents, the words creating a strange, new ache in her. She placed the note back on the table, then looked at Clint.

Is she yours? she asked softly. The question hung in the air between them.

Clints face blanched and he swiped a hand across his lower jaw. I dont know, he finally said. Ive consciously not thought about the possibility since the moment I read that note.

Youd better think about it now, Sherry replied, fighting the odd ache the note had evoked. Shed wanted Clint to have children of his own, thats why shed broken their engagement so long ago.

Its hard to know, since I dont know how old Kathryn is, he replied.

Sherry shifted the baby from one arm to the other. As she did, she felt the warmth of a soggy diaper. She stood and placed Kathryn on her back on the table, then reached into the little bag and withdrew a diaper.

Id say shes about six months old, Sherry observed as she wrestled to change Kathryn, who laughed and kicked her feet. So, who were you dating about fifteen months ago? she asked.

Clint walked from the sink to the window. For a long moment he stared outside, his broad shoulders blocking the warm stream of sunshine. When he turned back to look at her, his brow was creased in thought. It had to have been Candy.

Sherry grimaced. Candy. The sexy divorcee from Kansas City. Sherry had hated the attractive, flirtatious woman the moment shed met her. Well, the note says the mother is in danger, thats certainly not out of the question where Candy is concerned. Shes probably being threatened by some poor wife whose husband Candy was sleeping with.

The left corner of Clints mouth rose upward. You never did like Candy, he observed.

Thats probably the understatement of the year, she returned. She finished with the diaper, then set Kathryn on her belly on the floor next to the table. She was a man-eater, and you were her main dish. Sherry closed her mouth, not wanting to say anything more, aware that the woman she was talking about just might be the mother of Clints child.

Right now this is all speculation, Clint said, his gaze on Kathryn, who was on her hands and knees and rocking as if by will alone she could scoot across the floor. He looked up at Sherry. Its possible the mother chose to leave her here because Im sheriff, not because Im related in any way.

Yeah, and its possible tomorrow Ill be voted mayor of this town, Sherry replied dryly.

She stood, needing to escape from this conversation, from the little girl who sat looking up at her as if somehow Sherry was her salvation. Shes stopped crying now, her diaper is clean. Looks like youre on your own, Sheriff Daddy. She started for the kitchen door.

Sherrywait! His voice held a note of utter panic. Ive got a favor to ask you.

No. Whatever youre about to ask, the answer is no. You can cook me biscuits and gravy every morning for the rest of my life and the answer is going to be no. She left the kitchen and headed for the front door.

Sherry, please wait a minute. Hear me out, he called after her.

She didnt stop. She left the house and walked hurriedly toward her car. She had a feeling she knew exactly what he wanted, and there was no way, no how.

Shed just slid behind the steering wheel when Clint came barreling out of the house, Kathryn crying in his arms.

He raced to her open window. Sherry, I need your help, he said, once again having to raise his voice to be heard about Kathryns cries. I need somebody to help me with her until I can figure out whats going on. I need you to take off work a couple of days, stay here and help me out.

Youre crazy, she exclaimed, trying to ignore the plea in his gorgeous blue eyes. What do I know about taking care of a baby? she asked, trying to keep the bitterness from her voice.

You knew which end to diaper, he returned evenly. I imagine you can figure out which end to feed. What else do you need to know?

Sherry said nothing.

Ill pay you for your timewhatever your average earnings at the bar are, Ill double them. Sherry, Im desperate here. I cant stay home for the next several days and leave this town without a sheriff.

Sherry wanted to tell him it was his problem, that it was really none of her concern. She wanted to slam the car into reverse and escape, but she didnt. She sighed wearily and rubbed the center of her foreheada headache was just beginning to send tentacles of pressure around her head.

Sherry. Clint leaned down, so close she could see the silvery flecks that made his eyes so startlingly blue, close enough that she could smell the familiar scent of his pleasant cologne.

Sherry, please. If you care about me at all, do this for me. He lightly stroked the top of the babys head. Ifif she is mine, youre the only one Id trust to watch her.

Something in his eyes, something in their soft appeal, touched her in places in her heart she thought no longer existed.

In an instant of staring into his eyes blue depths, she remembered too many moments from the distant past, too many dreams that would never come true.

Damn him. She knew exactly what he was attempting to do. He was calling not only on their friendship, but on the love theyd once felt for each other.

And in that instant she thought she might hate him just a little bit, for knowing her well enough to be able to try to manipulate her emotions.

He reached out and curled his fingers around her wrist. His fingers were warm against her skinskin that she knew was frigid and achingly cold.

Please, Sherry, he entreated. Youll never know how much it will mean to me, he said. Ive never really asked you for anything before now.

She jerked her arm away from him, her anger returning to sustain her original decision. And you, of all people, should realize just what youre asking of me, she returned, trying to keep her tone cool and even. You, of all people, should know I cant do this. Im sorry.





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