Authors: Liz Botts
Tags: #romance, #contemporary, #western, #clean romance, #sweet romance, #blended family, #foster family
by Liz Botts
Published by Astraea Press
Copyright © 2013 LIZ BOTTS
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters,
and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to
actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental.
Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are
assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used
only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these
terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of
this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically,
constitutes a copyright violation.
A FAMILY NAME
Copyright © 2013 LIZ BOTTS
Cover Art Designed by AM DESIGN STUDIOS
In the Spotlight
The Hidden Door
Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?
For my husband, who always encourages me.
For my sons, who make me laugh.
For my daughter, who never fails to make me
Snow pelted the windshield along with
of ice. The wipers swiped at the build-up
ineffectively. Squinting through the haze, Charlotte Miller thought
that the light was at least yellow, so she tapped her brake pedal
to slow the car down. The wheels scrambled to find traction, and
Charlotte's breath caught as she felt the car fishtail before
righting itself. She eased herself to a stop just as the light
Charlotte breathed a sigh of relief. Just as
the air left her lungs the car jolted forward causing her to gasp
as her head slammed back against the headrest. Her brain reeled in
confusion as it scrambled to put together what had happened. Her
foster father, Clark's voice filled her head, telling her to pull
over to the side of the road and check the damage to the car.
As she complied with the silent advice, she
idly wondered if she would always hear Clark's words of wisdom in
tricky situations. On the one hand, it comforted her, but on the
other, it was… creepy. Charlotte maneuvered her car into a nearby
Cautiously stepping out of her car Charlotte
glanced toward the other car, which had followed her. Even from
where she stood in the driving sleet, she could see the other car
was unharmed. Slipping slightly on a slick patch of pavement,
Charlotte cursed her decision to wear high heeled boots when the
forecast had called for this infernal weather.
Her bumper was dented pretty badly but was
still on the car, so she allowed herself a sigh of relief. Not
wanting to risk breaking a leg hobbling across the icy parking lot,
she decided that she would wait for the other driver to approach
her. A burst of wind whipped powdery snow in a whirlwind around her
causing Charlotte to wrap her arms around herself and stamp her
feet for warmth. What was taking so long?
"Miss?" Charlotte jumped and found herself
looking up into the concerned face of the most handsome man she had
ever seen. "Are you all right? I'm so sorry."
Charlotte tried to collect herself but his
eyes distracted her to no end. They were summer sky blue. And on
this nasty, squally, wintery March day, those eyes were just what
"I didn't see the light turn red," the man
continued. He gestured back toward the intersection, and then
rubbed a gloved hand along the neck of his coat. "We should
probably exchange information. My car is fine, but I'll pay for any
damage to yours."
"M-mine's fine, too. Mainly," Charlotte said,
stammering slightly. She felt her cheeks grow warm and burrowed
deeper into her scarf so this handsome stranger wouldn't notice her
embarrassment. "I'm sure it'll be easily taken care of."
"Still…" the man said, reaching into the
pocket of his coat and pulling out a business card. He handed it to
her. "Call me when you get the quote."
William Wright. Charlotte stared at the card.
The name seemed too old for him. As if reading her mind, he said,
"Most people just call me Will. And you are?"
He let the question hang invitingly in the
cold air. Charlotte smiled to herself. "Charlotte," she
"Well, it's been a pleasure to meet you,
Charlotte. I wish we could have met under better circumstances."
The smile that curved along his lips filled Charlotte with a burst
of happiness despite the snow and ice.
Charlotte's gloved hand shook slightly as she
pocketed the business card. The wind was picking up again, and
sleet was making its way down the collar of her coat. She couldn't
figure out what had shaken her so badly: the accident or meeting
She shook her head to clear her thoughts;
Charlotte hurried back to her car and turned the heater up full
Charlotte's head had barely cleared when she
arrived at the home of the visit scheduled for the afternoon. As a
social worker, Charlotte saw so much heartbreak. Today's case
seemed to be no exception from what she had read in the case file.
As a supervisor, Charlotte hadn't been on a home visit in over a
year, but with one of her case workers out on maternity leave,
Charlotte was picking up some of the cases herself.
The house was on the outskirts of Rapid City,
and from the office took twenty minutes easily, but with the fender
bender Charlotte was now twenty minutes late. She hated being late.
Taking a moment to compose herself, Charlotte scanned the file one
last time. A thirteen-year-old girl in her tenth placement.
She steeled herself for the drama that
awaited her inside. Charlotte ducked out of the car into the swirl
of snow and sleet. Her heeled boots slipped on an icy patch of
pavement, and pain shot up her ankle as it wrenched to the side.
After she limped up the rest of the walk, Charlotte raised a hand
to knock on the door. Before her knuckles made contact, the door
swung open and a frustrated looking woman waved her in.
"You're late," the woman huffed by way of
greeting. She turned away from Charlotte abruptly and marched down
the short hallway.
Charlotte followed, confusion and irritation
warring within her. The house was sterile. That was the only word
that Charlotte could think to describe what she was seeing. Every
surface gleamed and was free of clutter or homey knickknacks. The
furniture in the living room sported crisp slipcovers, showing not
one crease. The woman, Carol Morton, gestured for her to take a
seat on one of the nearby chairs.
The seat crinkled as Charlotte sat. She
slipped her gloves off, and spread the case file out over her lap.
"How have things with Alexis been going?"
"Lexi," Carol Morton said. "She prefers to be
called Lexi, and don't you forget it."
Charlotte licked her lips and nodded. She
felt horribly out of practice at this all of a sudden. "How are
things going with Lexi?"
Carol sighed, and sat heavily down on the
sofa. "She's a Cain raiser, that one. Still, she's been through a
lot. I wish things could work out different. I wish I could keep
The words in the file swam before Charlotte's
eyes as unexpected tears pushed forward. So it was going to be one
of those meetings. Something in Charlotte's heart squeezed,
mourning the loss of this family for a girl she had yet to
"If you tell me what the problem is, maybe we
can find a solution. So that Lexi can stay here." Charlotte hated
the pleading tone in her voice.
Carol shook her head. "My husband lost his
job last week. He's heading up to the oil fields to look for work.
I have to look for work too. If I need to leave, I can't have Lexi.
This really has nothing to do with her. She's a trouble maker, but
she's a sweet girl. She needs a family that can be stable for
Charlotte shut the case file. Despite her
desire to keep the girl in her current situation, she understood
where Carol and her husband were coming from. "I'll need you to
keep her for at least another week while I find a suitable
"Of course," Carol agreed quickly. "I'll go
get her now so you can meet her."
The heavy footfalls of Carol's work boots
echoed down the hall. Charlotte could hear low murmurs that didn't
sound all that cheerful.
Charlotte briefly closed her eyes. Her
stomach tied itself into complicated knots. Dealing with a surly
teenage girl would just be the cherry on top of an already stellar
day. Reminding herself to be professional, Charlotte set the case
file at her feet beside her oversized purse. She smoothed her damp
hair away from her face and settled her hands on her lap.
The woman sitting in the chair looked all
prim and proper, and little Miss Prissy. Carol had warned her to be
nice, but Lexi didn't feel like being nice because, well, she just
didn't feel nice inside. Her whole world was crumbling and this
woman was here to rip a bigger hole in it. When Carol had caught
her using the computer to search for her birth mom's name, she had
made up some bull crap about needing to look for work.
Lexi just knew that if she could find her
birth mom, everything would be all right. She could forgive the
abandonment that created a hollow ache inside her chest with every
breath she took. Maybe her mom had been young, just a kid herself.
Now that Lexi was a teenager, she could understand why someone even
a few years older than her wouldn't be able to take care of a baby.
But now that Lexi was older, surely her mom would want her
"Hello, Lexi," the woman said with a voice
like warm honey. Immediately Lexi felt drawn in, despite her best
efforts to keep her distance. "I'm Charlotte."
Lexi felt her head bobbing up and down, and
she stuck her hand out stupidly. As Charlotte shook it, Lexi felt
the connection, and she wondered if Charlotte felt it too.
Charlotte's heart squeezed as she saw the
hopeful look on Lexi's face. How could she tell this girl, who
despite her teenage appearance was very clearly still a scared
little girl that she had to go to a new foster family? She quickly
scrolled through her options, none of them coming up any better
than the last.
Finally Charlotte said, "Do you know why I'm
Carol hovered in the doorway while Lexi sank
down onto the couch with an expression that hovered somewhere
between bewildered and resigned. "They're getting rid of me."
"Oh, honey, no," Charlotte said, leaning
forward, dismay coloring her vision. "They have complications.
We'll find you a fantastic family. I promise."
Lexi slumped lower, and shot a quick look at
Carol before fixing her stare on Charlotte. "I don't want a new
family. I want to find my birth mom."
Red flags and alarm bells filled Charlotte's
head. She'd seen this situation played out years before, right when
she had been a new case worker. That had ended so badly. The
outcome still haunted her nightmares.
Carefully Charlotte said, "Have you ever had
any contact with your birth mom?"
"No," Lexi replied sitting up a little
straighter. "I know what you're thinking, but I know she'll want
me. I'm thirteen now, not some little baby that has to be taken
care of all the time."
Charlotte fingered the manila file folder on
her lap. Torn between the desire to look up the information in the
file and her desire to build a connection with Lexi, Charlotte
hovered on the edge of indecision. When she glanced at the girl
again, she saw that her window of opportunity had passed. Something
had shuttered across Lexi's eyes, and Charlotte had no idea how to
bridge the gap.