Read Family Wanted (Willow's Haven Book 1) Online

Authors: Renee Andrews

Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #Inspirational, #Christian Romance, #Worship, #The Lord, #Home, #Small-Town, #Single Father, #Daughter, #Secret, #Heart Torn

Family Wanted (Willow's Haven Book 1)

A Place to Call Home

Isabella Gray has always longed for a small town to call home. Newly arrived in Claremont, Alabama, she might finally have the chance to find that—and more. Handsome Titus Jameson and his daughter, Savannah, immediately capture Isabella’s attention. The motherless child reminds Isabella of herself growing up, and she’s determined to help bring the little girl out of her shell. But Isabella has been keeping a secret from the man she’s fallen for—and she’s torn. She knows telling him the real reason she came to Claremont is the right thing to do—but revealing the truth could break everyone’s hearts.

“Isn’t this great, Daddy?”

“Yes,” he said, “it is.” And he made a mental note not to get too used to it. Isabella had brought Savannah home and then stayed to help watch her so he could work, something that probably most of his friends in Claremont would’ve done. He didn’t need to think anything more of it than that, and he shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying this time with her so soon after Nan’s death. She was a friend, helping them out by cooking a meal. That was it.

Isabella motioned toward the three place settings. “I kind of invited myself to have dinner with y’all,” she said. “Is that okay?”

He pushed Savannah’s chair in so she could reach the table better and then took a step toward Isabella. Titus assumed his emotions had been obvious, if she’d have even considered that he might not want her to stay. After everything she’d done for him, everything she’d done for Savannah, he wouldn’t ask her to leave.

Plus, he wasn’t ready for her to go.

Renee Andrews
spends a lot of time in the gym. No, she isn’t working out. Her husband, a former All-American gymnast, co-owns ACE Cheer Company. Renee is a kidney donor and actively supports organ donation. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling with her husband and bragging about their sons, daughter-in-law and grandsons. For more info on her books or on living donors, visit her website at
reneeandrews.com
.

Books by Renee Andrews

Love Inspired

Willow’s Haven

Family Wanted

Her Valentine Family

Healing Autumn’s Heart

Picture Perfect Family

Love Reunited

Heart of a Rancher

Bride Wanted

Yuletide Twins

Mommy Wanted

Small-Town Billionaire

Daddy Wanted

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

FAMILY WANTED

Renee Andrews

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold
of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

—Psalms
27:1

For Brother Wayne Dunaway, my preacher and the inspiration for
Brother Henry in all of the Claremont books. I appreciate your love for the Lord
and your willingness to share your vast knowledge, particularly with young and
upcoming preachers. We have been blessed that our sons have had the privilege of
studying with you.

Chapter One

Dear Titus, hurting you was the last thing I ever intended to do.

I
sabella Gray drove beneath the wooded canopy leading to the future home of Willow’s Haven, trepidation shimmying down her spine. An orphanage. The man she’d promised to see
had
to be building an orphanage. Oh, they might call it something different, a “child home,” but Isabella wasn’t fooled by the tender name.

She pushed aside memories of the past—dark rooms and muffled cries, a hungry stomach and filthy sheets—and focused on what she planned to do. She’d talk to Titus Jameson. Once that was done, she’d never set foot near another orphanage—or child home—again. Then she’d leave Claremont, Alabama, and go...

Isabella had no idea where to go. Certainly not back to Atlanta. But after she talked to this man, she’d start her new life. New location. She’d dreamed about living in a small town, a place where everyone knew everyone’s name and cared about each other. She’d read about those tiny towns, but Richard hadn’t thought them worthy of a visit. Throughout their ten years of marriage, Isabella asked repeatedly if they could take a trip to one, but Richard never understood her desire or the point. What would his colleagues think if he vacationed in some Podunk hole-in-the-wall town? He had an image to maintain, and he wouldn’t taint it trying to satisfy her whimsical idealization of small-town America.

But now that he had a new wife to help him preserve his image, Isabella could finally do those things she dreamed of. She’d get a job. She had a degree, after all. Surely she could find some form of employment, even if she’d never worked a day in her life.

The thickness of the woods shrouding the long, gravel driveway gave the impression that the trees were closing in, and the unwanted yet familiar trickle of claustrophobia seeped through Isabella’s veins.

The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

She breathed in, absorbed each word of the verse that had seen her through the scariest years of her childhood and continued down the darkened driveway. Ten minutes ago, she’d admired the brilliant sunshine of the June afternoon, the expanses of cotton, soy and corn fields bordering the road leading to Claremont like a patchwork quilt welcoming her in her quest to do the right thing. But now, as the trees closed in, she didn’t feel welcomed. She felt warned. And she considered turning the car around and leaving without sharing information with a man she’d never met.

But she didn’t want to break her promise to the woman who had provided Isabella with the dearest friendship she’d ever known.

She’d expected to find a construction crew working on-site, but there was no sign of anyone except a guy riding a bulldozer on the opposite side of the property. A trailer sat on its own to the right. She assumed that was the makeshift office. She parked beside a navy pickup with a Jameson Construction Company magnet stuck to the driver’s door.

Time to see Nan’s ex-husband. Her heart thudding loudly in her chest, Isabella climbed out and made her way toward the trailer, but a man in a baseball uniform opened the door before she had a chance to knock.

“Oh, hello, I’m Brodie Evans.” He waved her inside. “You must be here about the ad in the paper. Savvy said she got a couple of calls from people wanting to interview. Come on in. I’m heading out, but she’s on her way down from our place. She’ll talk to you about the job.” He motioned to the tiny living area. “Have a seat.”

Isabella sat on the sofa, not so much because she wanted to but because she needed to gather her thoughts and figure out what was going on. However, before she could ask questions, the door burst open and a teenage boy entered. “Hey, Dad, we’re gonna be late if we don’t leave now.”

“I know.” Brodie pointed to the teen. “This is our son, Dylan.”

“Hi,” Dylan said.

“Dylan, this is...” Brodie let the word hang. “I’m sorry. I didn’t get your name.”

“Isabella. Isabella Gray.”

“Nice to meet you,” Dylan said, holding out his hand.

Bewildered, she didn’t know what else to do but shake his hand. “You, too.”

Then the door opened again, and two little girls entered, their bright-eyed faces and blond pigtails so similar that Isabella wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart.

“Hey, Daddy,” they chimed, energy bristling as they bustled in. “Hey, Dylan.” Then they noticed her and one asked, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Isabella,” she said, as a blond woman and another little girl entered.

The third little girl was about the same size as the other two, probably the same age, but she had long dark hair and a solemn disposition, as if she’d gotten in trouble before they arrived.

“Isabella, this is my wife, Savvy,” Brodie said. “Savvy, this is Isabella Gray. She’s here about the job.”

“Hi. Let me get the girls situated and then you and I can chat.” She turned to Brodie. “Y’all need to get going, don’t you?”

He kissed her cheek. “Heading on out,” he said. Then to Isabella, “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too.” Isabella knew she’d need to set the record straight soon, but from what she could tell, Titus Jameson wasn’t in the trailer. Maybe he’d already left for the day and the company truck she’d seen had been driven by the guy on the bulldozer.

“One second.” Savvy held up a finger to Isabella and then turned to the girls. “Rose, Daisy, y’all take Savannah to the playroom and show her your new dolls.”

“Come on, Savannah.” One of the girls grabbed the quiet one’s hand and tugged her to the playroom.

Isabella didn’t get a good look at the third girl’s face, because she never took her attention from the floor as she walked, the same way Isabella had walked around the orphanage when she was about the same age. Sad. Lost.

What had happened to that little girl?

She couldn’t hold back her curiosity. “Is she okay? Savannah?”

“I can tell you’re going to be good at identifying the children who need special attention,” Savvy said, her voice barely above a whisper so the girls wouldn’t hear in the next room. “That’ll be important if you work here, even if you’re in the office. We want everyone to care about the children and understand that they’ll need plenty of love to make it through the hard times.” She glanced toward the playroom and sighed. “Savannah is visiting our girls today. Her mom left her and her dad a few years ago, and even though I wasn’t living here and didn’t know Savannah then, her father said she’s never been the same. She does seem to enjoy playing with Rose and Daisy, though, so I plan to keep inviting her over and offering to watch her whenever I can.”

Isabella nodded, glad that the little girl still had her father and that she also had friends in Rose and Daisy, and a tenderhearted lady like Savvy watching out for her. Isabella hadn’t had anyone watching after her back then.

She started to tell Savvy that she hadn’t come for the job, but before she could speak, a knock sounded and then the door opened. Isabella’s breath caught in her throat as a construction worker entered wearing an olive-green T-shirt with Jameson Construction on the left of his chest, well-worn jeans and boots. She’d seen construction workers before, but none had ever looked like this. In fact, she would say he was way beyond nice looking. He was riveting, in a rough-and-rugged, outdoorsy and all-out-masculine kind of way. His hair was dark, a little longer than she’d have thought she would like, but she did like it, very much. And he had the kind of fit physique that you’d expect to see climbing the side of a mountain in a Mountain Hardwear ad. Was
this
the man from the bulldozer?

Isabella didn’t know what was happening to her senses. She wasn’t the type of female to ogle a good-looking man. In fact, one of Richard’s complaints had been that she was too reserved, a little distant even, when she first saw or met strangers. And it wasn’t as if she was looking for a man to fill some void in her life. She
didn’t
want another relationship. At merely eighteen, she’d allowed her attraction for Richard and everything he offered to lure her into a marriage that never should’ve happened.

So she resolved that she’d get a firm grip on this sudden yet undeniable fascination.

* * *

Titus had been clearing land at the site for Willow’s Haven since sunup, yet he’d only finished the space intended for the first cabin. At this rate, it’d take him until the middle of July before he had the place ready to break ground. But he wouldn’t complain. He’d prayed for work, and God had granted his request in abundance.

This year, he’d take Savannah shopping for new school clothes come August, a luxury he hadn’t been able to afford last year due to the economy’s plummet and the limited span of construction needed in Claremont.

Entering the trailer, he glanced around and saw no sign of his little girl. Savvy, however, stood a few feet from the door.

“Hey, Titus.”

“Hey, Savvy. I’m done for today. Savannah been okay?” What he wanted to ask was if she seemed happy, if she smiled, or if she at least joined in to play with the girls.

“Of course. She’s precious.”

Not as much information as he wanted. This morning’s call from the latest child psychologist had informed him that the woman didn’t know what else to do for Savannah and that she believed Savannah would work her own way out of the depression. But, like all the others, she hadn’t told Titus anything about when or how that’d happen.

“I appreciate you watching her today, but we should probably be getting home now.”

Savvy’s eyes held a hint of sympathy, the same type of look he’d received often since Nan left. “Rose and Daisy enjoy playing with her. You bring her anytime. In fact, they’d love it if she came every day this summer while you’re working here. It helps me out when they have company because it keeps them entertained.”

He wondered how much entertainment Savannah could provide if she was as solemn as she was at home, but it would help him to bring her on-site, so he said, “Thanks, I will. And let Brodie know I finished clearing the site for the first cabin.” He paused for a moment, suddenly aware that they weren’t the only ones in the room. He’d been so interested in learning about Savannah’s day that he hadn’t noticed the woman sitting on the sofa in the living area. But now he couldn’t take his eyes away. She had long, auburn hair that fell in subtle curls past her shoulders. Though she was seated, Titus could tell she had petite features and wasn’t very tall, and she had eyes as vividly green as the forest in the spring.

Titus was around pretty women often in Claremont. Typically, he barely noticed more than their names. All of the women from town knew him as Savannah’s father and, more importantly, Nan’s husband. And as the man whose wife walked out on him three years ago. This lady didn’t know him, so she obviously didn’t see him that way, and yet there was something in her manner of looking at him—almost as if she could see directly to his soul and that she “got” what he’d been through. “Hello,” he said.

She shifted on the sofa, as though his greeting made her a little uncomfortable, which only intrigued him more. Then she moistened her lips and said, “Hi.”

“Oh,” Savvy said, showing her palms as she began her apology, “I’m so sorry. I forgot a proper introduction. Isabella, this is Titus Jameson. He owns Jameson Construction in Claremont, and he’s the best builder around. Titus, this is Isabella Gray.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said, with an inexplicable desire to know more about the stranger. “And if you want the truth, I’m the only builder around.” He’d hoped to elicit some response, but she merely stared at him, green eyes studying him with such inquisitiveness that Titus wondered how much she already knew. But Savvy had introduced him as though she hadn’t mentioned Titus.

Then why did he see so much compassion and a hint of confusion in the stunning lady’s eyes?

“Daddy?” Savannah entered the room carrying a piece of construction paper. “I made this for you.” She held it toward him, a crayon drawing centering the page.

“Hey, sweetie.” He took the paper, and his mouth tensed before he managed a slight smile. “That’s a good picture.” He pointed to the tall stick figure on the page. “Is that me?”

She nodded.

“And that’s you?” he asked, indicating the smaller figure with dark hair down her back.

Another nod.

“And that says...” He hesitated, pointing to the letters across the top—
MY FAMLE.

“My family,” Savannah said softly.

He tenderly brought his arm around her, pulled her close and kissed her cheek. “That’s a nice picture,” he said, his heart breaking at the lonely image on the page.

She didn’t smile but moved her head against his shoulder in agreement.

Titus suspected Savvy knew how the drawing affected him and—he glanced at Isabella again and saw that she looked as sad as he felt—it seemed Isabella also understood. How, he didn’t know, but the concern was evident on her face.

Titus wanted to talk to her, to find out why she seemed to care so much and also to determine why, when they’d barely met, he was drawn to her more than any woman in the past three years.

It’d been a long time, but Titus knew this feeling, remembered it well. Had missed it but also felt guilty having it.

Attraction.

* * *

Isabella watched the touching interaction between father and daughter and finally got the chance to see Savannah’s face, the younger face of her dear friend, and she knew she couldn’t go through with her promise.

How could she tell this man everything Nan had said about him and then also tell him that she’d never muttered a single word about their little girl? A little girl who reminded Isabella so much of herself at that age. Lost. Confused. Abandoned by someone who should’ve stayed, who should’ve loved forever.

Isabella barely contained her tears as she watched Titus and Savannah leave. But she held it together. She had to. Because while she may have come here to tell Titus what Nan had said, she had a different reason for being here now.

That little girl needed help. And Isabella knew how she felt, probably more than anyone else.

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