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Authors: Ruth Logan Herne

Her Unexpected Family

BOOK: Her Unexpected Family
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A Family to Love

Emily Gallagher and Grant McCarthy are planning a wedding together—just not their own. Emily's well-structured life is turned upside-down when her company is hired to help Grant put together his deployed sister's nuptials. Because as Emily spends more time with Grant and his adorable twins, she can't help but daydream about being at the altar herself. But Emily's ex-beauty-queen status brings Grant memories of his children's appearance-obsessed mother—a woman who walked out on their family. For a future with Emily, can Grant escape the confines of his painful past? If he can, the next wedding they plan could be their own…

Her heart sped up.

She ordered it to stop that nonsense, right now.

Her heart had other ideas. When Grant climbed out of the car and crossed the drive, the sight of him, rugged and strong, dressed in working man's clothes, tugged at her.

“You're shoveling?”

“Just finished.”

“I'd have done this for you.” He reached out and tucked her hair back behind her ear, then indicated the walks with his gaze, but didn't move his hand. “It would be my pleasure, Em.”

The strength of his callused hand against her cheek, against her ear, sent warmth through her. “Grant, I—”

“You're beautiful with snowflakes in your hair.” He spoke softly, tenderly. “But you're beautiful without the snowflakes, too.”

“Grant…”

“Em.” He whispered her name then gathered her into a long, warm embrace, the kind of hug a woman would cherish for all her days.

“I'll see you in the morning, okay?” She stepped back, because if she didn't, she might linger in the yard forever, lost in the moment.

Multipublished, bestselling author
Ruth Logan Herne
loves God, her country, her family, dogs, chocolate and coffee! Married to a very patient man, she lives in an old farmhouse in upstate New York and thinks possums should leave the cat food alone and snakes should always live outside. There are no exceptions to either rule! Visit Ruthy at
ruthloganherne.com
.

Books by Ruth Logan Herne

Love Inspired

Grace Haven

An Unexpected Groom

Her Unexpected Family

Kirkwood Lake

The Lawman's Second Chance

Falling for the Lawman

The Lawman's Holiday Wish

Loving the Lawman

Her Holiday Family

Healing the Lawman's Heart

Men of Allegany County

Small-Town Hearts

Mended Hearts

Yuletide Hearts

A Family to Cherish

His Mistletoe Family

Big Sky Centennial

His Montana Sweetheart

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HER UNEXPECTED
FAMILY

Ruth Logan Herne

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

—
Ephesians
4:31–32

To my beautiful daughter Beth:
You are a blessing and a delight to us.
Thank you for being a constant source of
love, light and encouragement.
And the four grandkids are a total bonus!

Acknowledgments

A special thanks to Jean Cosgriff, Ed Hall,
Donna Kocienski and Kathy Pittaway for their
love and help during my years at Bridal Hall.
Your warmth and humor made it an
absolute pleasure to work there!
And to the constant efforts of the Town of Parma
Highway Department, always working to keep
roads safe and clear. Your example helped me
shape this delightful story. Every time you get
behind the wheel of one of those big plows or
machines, you're a hero to so many of us.
Thank you!

Chapter One

I
can't break this appointment again
, Grant McCarthy thought as he bundled the twins into their car seats. He'd already put the wedding planner off twice.

Timmy gazed up at him, round-eyed, then smacked him upside the head with a plastic truck. For a little guy, the two-year-old packed a mean punch.

Dolly squalled from the moment he started carrying her toward the car, as if being strapped in made her want to lash out irrationally. Being two and developmentally delayed, instant meltdowns had become a chronic reaction. While Tim looked on, Dolly blubbered nonstop, and pools of water seemed to come from everywhere.

“Dowwy's sad.” Timmy gazed across the backseat of the minivan. His lower lip quivered in sympathy. His eyes started to fill, and Grant knew he had to act fast.

“She's fine, Timmers, I promise,” Grant reassured his little son. He trotted around the front of the car, climbed in and started the engine. “She hates being tied down, that's all.”

He smiled at Tim through the rearview mirror, but didn't dare glance Dolly's way. She'd stopped crying for the moment, but if he made eye contact, she'd start all over again. It was bad enough that his aunt came down with the same virus the twins had shared a few weeks ago, but to get it today, when he was supposed to meet with the wedding planner for his sister Christa's wedding, spelled disaster. On top of that, Aunt Tillie had chewed him out for attempting to plan the wedding, take care of two babies and a house while running the town highway department. She told him he was downright foolish to even try.

At the moment, he was inclined to agree.

He drove into the shopping district of Grace Haven, New York, a quaint town tucked in the picturesque Finger Lakes region. He made a right turn into The Square. Originally a small-town hub surrounding a cozy central park, The Square was now a shopping destination beloved by tourists and locals. The predicted rain hadn't hit yet, and he hoped for a roadside parking space along the popular series of shops.

Unfortunately, not a single spot was free, and that meant he'd have to maneuver both kids through the back parking lot once he got them unlatched and he was already ten minutes late.

He hated when people held him up on his job. Time was money and expectations in local government were high, just as they should be. But here he was, doing the exact same thing to whatever Gallagher sister they assigned him. As he hopped out of the SUV, he hoped it wouldn't be the beauty queen. After his upscale wife had left him and two babies high and dry, he'd had enough of appearance-loving women to last a lifetime.

He snugged Dolly into his shoulder and ushered Timmy through the lot as fast as stubby toddler legs would go. The west wind bit sharp, a sure sign of the coming winter. Once wind and cold and snow hit full force, his road crews would work nonstop to keep the valley and upland roads safe for travel, a busy and sometimes frantic season for northern highway departments. And a wedding, on top of it—

But he was honored to help his sister. He loved her courage and tenacity. He loved her.

Timmy caught his foot on the edge of an all-weather mat as they stepped through the door. He sprawled onto the floor and burst into tears partially because he was brush burned, but mostly because it was nap time. The timing had seemed ideal when Kate & Company had suggested a weekend meeting. A Saturday afternoon, two kids napping, his aunt to babysit them and he'd take care of getting things going for his sister's special day.

Wanna hear God laugh? Tell Him your plans.
His mother's old adage hung true, especially today.

He bent low. Allison Kellor noticed him from the gracious, formal entry facing the street. She offered a sympathetic wince as he stood, gathering Timmy into his free arm. He strode forward, carrying both toddlers, and crossed the elegant entry as if he belonged there.

“Grant McCarthy?”

He turned toward the voice and took a deep breath. The beauty queen, of course, looking absolutely, perfectly put together from the thick auburn waves of hair to the designer outfit and red high heels.

Doomed
.

He didn't belong there. She did. And maybe Aunt Tillie was right—maybe he was stupid to think he could handle spinning multiple plates in the air. A wave of negativity rose inside him.

He forced it down and faced the beautiful woman descending the curved, open stairway and said, “We made it.”

“So I see.”

For a split second he was tempted to make a run for it. But then the redhead came closer. She held out her arms. Normally effusive Timmy ducked his head, probably struck dumb by her beauty.

Her good looks weren't lost on Grant. This woman was downright appealing and absolutely lovely. That gave him reason enough to maintain his distance. He'd spent years thinking appearances mattered, then one broken heart later, he learned they shouldn't really matter at all.

“Ba.” Dolly peeked up at the woman and did something she hadn't done in a long time. She opened her arms to someone other than him, Aunt Tillie and the occupational therapist that stopped by the day care facility twice a week. “Oh, ba.”

“Come here, precious.” The redhead didn't seem to care that Dolly's face was blotched from anger, tears and ghastly unmentionable things she'd smeared on Grant's coat. Her little jacket was dotted with something unidentifiable and had remnants of vanilla wafer crushed into the zipper, but when the former beauty queen took her, Dolly wove two tiny hands into the prettiest red hair he'd ever seen and chortled. “Ba! Ba!”

“Red.” The woman ducked her head while Dolly explored her hair, then peeked up at the girl and pulled a strand of that long, gorgeous hair sideways for the little one to see. “Red hair.”

“Wad!” Dolly laughed, amused, as if the wedding planner got her joke.

“Miss Gallagher, I'm sorry we're late.” He made a face of regret and nodded toward the clock. “We missed the first appointment because Dolly had that nasty upper respiratory virus that's been going around. Then Timmy got it. And now, my Aunt Tillie—”

“Tillie Gibson, right?” she asked, and nodded toward Allison. “My mom and Allison handled her daughter's wedding last spring. I heard it was wonderful.”

“They were thrilled with how it all came out,” he admitted. “And that's what made me think of Kate & Company for my sister Christa's wedding. She and her fiancé, Spencer, are both deployed, they're pursuing air force careers, and I wanted to make this wedding nice for her. I know these aren't exactly ideal conditions.”

The redhead frowned. “Not ideal conditions? Why?”

She acted as if she really didn't have a clue and that made Grant drag a hand through his hair. It seemed thinner on top right now, and why would he notice that at this moment? Was it because of the drop-dead beauty standing there, holding his precious child and looking up at him with the most amazing bright brown eyes he'd ever seen?

Yes, which was ridiculous because he'd been out of the dating game for years and it wasn't a game he ever intended to play again. “Well, the kids. With Tillie sick...”

“We'll talk around them.”

She had to be kidding. He looked beyond her to the classy office that smacked of good taste, not sticky fingers. “Do you—”

“I'm Emily.” She kept Dolly snugged in her arm, looking quite comfortable with the child as she extended her right hand. “The middle one.”

Oh, he knew who she was all right. He might be ten years older than she was, but the whole town had watched and cheered as Emily Gallagher brought home first prize in pageant after pageant as a teen, then as a woman.

He glanced around, doubtful. “You really think this will be okay?”

“Pull up a spot on the carpet.” He wasn't sure how someone could manage to sink to the floor gracefully while holding a messy toddler, but Emily Gallagher did it with finesse. Once down, she set Dolly on her bottom, then worked the cookie-crusted zipper from the jacket with nimble fingers. “Allison, can you do a quick sweep for anything reachable and breakable?”

“I'm on it. And here's a pen so you can do hard-copy notes. We'll transfer them later.”

“Post-babies!” She laughed, and when she did, Grant's blood pressure dropped to a more normal level even though his heart sped up.

She wasn't patronizing him. She wasn't treating Dolly different from Tim, and for reasons he'd never be able to explain, Dolly had fallen in love with Emily at first sight, and Dolly didn't like too many people.

“So.” She picked up the pen, flipped open the notebook and faced him as he and Timmy settled onto the floor nearby. “We talked about a February wedding on the phone. Is that still the plan?”

“January, now,” he told her as he worked Timmy's jacket off. “The second Saturday.” The minute he was free of his father's help, the little boy got up and raced around the spacious room.

“I'll keep an eye out from here,” Allison promised from her area. “You guys see what you can accomplish.”

“You told me on the phone that Christa and Spencer are regular, straightforward people. Neither one likes too much glitz and glamour.”

“No, ma'am. They're simple, hardworking types. Most of my family's the same way.”

He must have sounded brusque, because her left brow rose fractionally, but her voice stayed matter-of-fact. “While several of the local venues close for the winter, most stay open as needed, making a January venue fairly easy to secure.”

“Of course the problem is, we run into storms, then.” He frowned, because in his line of work, weather always took primary consideration. “There's no way around it, though. That's the only time they can arrange leave together.”

“Have generators waiting...” she murmured as she made a note on the pad.

He stared at her. “You're serious?”

“Of course. It's sensible, right?”

“Yes, but—” He looked around the beautiful trappings of her mother's business and shrugged. “You surprised me, that's all.”

She paused her pen, looked him in the eye and held his gaze. “Pretty doesn't mean nonfunctional.”

Ouch.

She'd nailed his opinion in one quick lesson, and while he was sure she meant well, he'd run the gamut with his wife of nearly nine years. Serenity had lived for appearances. Not so much at first. She'd been a local news anchor for the Rochester area and had been crazy popular. He'd thought she was happy.

She wasn't.

As their economic status rose, so did her penchant for success.

They'd put off having children because the timing had never been quite right. Her job, his job, education, job security... And then suddenly they were pregnant with twins.

Grant had been ecstatic.

Serenity had looked trapped from the moment the stick changed color until the day she piled her suitcases and a picture of Timmy into her car and drove to a new job in Baltimore. He pushed the image aside.

“Backup generators would be great.”

“Do we want a church for the ceremony?”

“Christa has always loved the abbey your uncle runs. I ran the new date by him and he said it was clear, so I was thinking a two o'clock wedding. Is that a good time?”

“Perfect, especially with the decreased daylight in winter.” She made a quick note as Dolly tried to grab her pen. “Hey, you.” She laughed into Dolly's sweet, round face and then up at him. “So that's Tim.” She pointed to the little boy. “And this is?”

“Dolly.”

“Perfect!” She laughed and made wide eyes at Dolly. Dolly shrieked in delight, clapped her hands together and giggled out loud. “She's like a little doll. Great name.”

“It's really Dolores Marie for my mother,” he said. “I thought Dolly would be a cute nickname for her. My mother died before she was born, so it's a nice way to carry on the family names.”

“It's marvelous.” Dolly stood up, looking steady, but when she went to chase after her brother, she stopped and went from happy-go-lucky toddler to instant anger. She stuck out her lower lip, stomped her foot twice and glared across the room at her twin. When Timmy ignored her, she stomped again, scowled at her father and burst into tears.

Grant stood and carried her across the room, then set her down next to Timmy. He came back, sat down and waited for Emily to proceed.

“What's she going to do when he moves?” Emily asked, and something in her voice tweaked Grant's protective juices.

“Crawl after him. Or get mad.”

“Oh.”

One word. One tiny, two-letter word, but it was like he'd just been tried and convicted in the court of Gallagher. “You have a better way?”

She looked from Dolly to him, then said, “Walking's always good.”

“She can't,” he explained and thought he'd gain sympathy because even though Dolly's chromosomal defects weren't blatantly obvious to others, they were real enough.

Emily Gallagher did a slow, thorough look of him, then his daughter, then back. “You mean she won't.”

“She's afraid.”

Emily's expression said she'd figured that out herself. “Won't stop being afraid until she does it, I expect.”

Irritation mushroomed inside him, like it did every time someone expected Dolly to be normal. She wasn't normal, not by society's standards. He understood that, so what was wrong with the rest of the world? “You have kids, Miss Gallagher?”

She shook her head.

“But you know everything there is to know about kids, I suppose? Especially kids with Dolly's condition?” He was tired of fielding questions from people who doubted Dolly's diagnosis of Down syndrome, just because her face looked more normal than most affected children.

“Actually, I do,” she answered easily as she flipped the page. “I spent summers here, helping my mother, but my off-campus job during the school year was working in a children's group home. I spent four years on staff there. We had several clients with limited abilities, some with Down syndrome, and I was honored to work with the wide spectrum of effect. I might have majored in business and fashion design, but I worked with therapists, clinicians and the kids. It's scary for a normally functioning kid to take those first steps, too, but parents don't discourage them.”

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