Authors: Mary Anne Wilson
A ready-made family
Rafe Dagget is the suave, sophisticated CEO of his own security firm. But between the blind dates and blatant interest from husband hunters, it’s clear that in the meet-market, he’s the prey. So when the single dad is offered the chance to get his family out of town and go undercover in a case of industrial espionage, it’s only a matter of hours before he’s got a new home and a new name. All goes according to plan until he meets attractive lawyer Megan Gallagher—and now his fake identity is standing in the way!
Blonde, beautiful and driven, Megan is cruising in the fast lane with a rich fiancé and a high-powered career. Then she hits a roadblock in the form of an enigmatic security guard with a take-no-prisoners air. Can she give up glitz and glamour for a single dad with twins?
Home, family, community and love. These are the values we cherish most in our lives—the ideals that ground us, comfort us, move us. They certainly provide the perfect inspiration around which to build a romance collection that will touch the heart.
And so we are thrilled to offer you the Harlequin Heartwarming series. Each of these special stories is a wholesome, heartfelt romance imbued with the traditional values so important to you. They are books you can share proudly with friends and family. And the authors featured in this collection are some of the most talented storytellers writing today, including favorites such as Roz Denny Fox, Amy Knupp and Mary Anne Wilson. We’ve selected these stories especially for you based on their overriding qualities of emotion and tenderness, and they center around your favorite themes—children, weddings, second chances, the reunion of families, the quest to find a true home and, of course, sweet romance.
So curl up in your favorite chair, relax and prepare for a heartwarming reading experience!
MARY ANNE WILSON
Mary Anne Wilson is a Canadian transplanted to Southern California, where she lives with her husband, three children and an assortment of animals.
She knew she wanted to write romances when she found herself “rewriting” the great stories in literature, such as
A Tale of Two Cities,
to give them “happy endings.” Over her long career she’s published more than thirty romances, had her books on bestseller lists, been nominated for Reviewer’s Choice Awards and received a career achievement nomination in romantic suspense.
Mary Anne Wilson
for the joy she brings into my life.
Fort Worth, Texas
at the “perfect” woman across the table from him at one of the best and most intimate restaurants in the city. He wasn't so sure she was perfect, or even close. But Dave Lang, his friend who had talked him into this blind date, had been adamant.
“She's pretty, smart and she loves kids. She's perfect, Rafe, just perfect.”
Rafe had tried to get out of the date, but Dave hadn't given him a chance. “We all loved Gabriella, you know that, and there won't be another woman like her, Rafe.” Dave's slightly florid face had gone from intently concerned to being touched by a sad but knowing smile. “But, buddy, it's time. It's been two years. You need to get out and meet people. You have to move on with your life, for your sake and the sake of the twins.”
Rafe watched the woman talking to him, and part of him reluctantly agreed with Dave's assessment. His blind date was pretty, in a girlish sort of way, with an upturned nose, dark eyes, full lips and red hair cut into a stylish feathery cap. But perfect? He doubted that. As much as he doubted Dave's pronouncement that it was “time to move on.” Why did everyone believe that two years was the magic amount of time to get over a death that left rubble behind and a gaping hole in a life?
“I always thought four children would be perfect,” his blind date was saying earnestly, leaning toward him across the table, making intent eye contact with him. “Just perfect.”
Rafe reached for his water glass, breaking the contact when he realized how freely people tossed around the word
On top of that, he couldn't remember the woman's name. Felicia, Fanny? He swallowed a good half of ice-cold liquid before he put the goblet back down on the white linen cloth.
“Two boys, two girls,” she rattled. “Two years apart.”
“Hmm,” he murmured, because he was thinking that the restaurant, with its dim lights and soft mood music, suddenly seemed claustrophobic. He'd been here before, in another life when the world had been right. Then it might have been perfect.
He drained the rest of his water as his nameless date leaned closer to him across the table. Now he didn't know what she'd been saying and tried to pick up the threads of her conversation. She tapped her bare wrist. “And my biological clock is ticking. If I want to have children, I need to get started. Francine, I said to myself a few weeks ago, you're thirty years old, and you'd better get on with things.”
Francine. That was it. And Francine was dead serious about what she was saying. “Absolutely,” he said, buying time while he tried to figure out how to end this date as quickly as possible.
“Absolutely,” she echoed with an emphatic shake of her head. “As soon as I know that I'm having a child, I'm going to apply at the Briar School. Fantastic school. Do you know they vet everyone who applies? Quite hard to get your child into it.”
Rafe casually glanced at his watch. They'd been at the restaurant for only half an hour, but it seemed like a lifetime. “A good school is important,” he murmured, just to say something.
She grinned a toothy smile, as if she'd won a jackpot, and reached over to tap the back of his hand. “From what David told me about you, I knew you'd understand, that we'd be on the same page.”
Understand what, and what page? Then she answered without him having to actually ask the question. “David said you are a terrific father to your two little boys, so I knew you'd be up on the schools. So, what school do they attend?”
He shrugged. “They aren't in school yet.”
“But I thought David said they were around five?”
“They're four. They'll be five in a few months.”
“But at that age...” She shrugged, obviously bothered. “Surely they're on the list?”
“They're on the list for kindergarten in the fall,” he said. “And they're pretty excited about it, at least Greg is. Gabe isn't so sure he wants to go, but if his brother goes, he'll tag along.”
“Oh, what school?” she asked, her interest piqued again.
“The elementary school near where we live.”
“Public school?” she gasped, as if he'd said they were going into a labor camp. “Why would you do that?”
He drank more of the ice water that the waiter had just poured for him. “It's the school my wife and I planned on for them.”
Francine sat back, looking a bit flustered. “I'm sorry. That was insensitive of me. David explained about your loss, how your wife was...taken, and you were left with the two boys.” She reached out and patted his hand again. An action he knew was an attempt to show sympathy, but it felt intrusive and wrong to him, the way her words did. “I'm sure things would be different if she was still...here.”
If Gabriella was here, the boys would still be going to that school, and he wouldn't be enduring this stupid conversation with a woman who was looking for a husband. He moved his hand away and sipped more water before he said, “Yes, things would be very different.”
“How long has it been since she...she passed?”
Passed? Was taken?
“Since she died?” he asked bluntly, and wished he had more to drink.
“Yes,” Francine murmured somberly.
“Almost two years,” he said. Then his cell phone rang, and he took it out of the pocket of his dark suit coat as if he'd been thrown a lifeline. He glanced at the screen and saw that it was Zane Holden, the CEO at LynTech Corporation, and a man who had proved to be a good friend to him when he needed one.
“Excuse me for a minute,” he said to Francine. “I need to take this.” He put the phone to his ear. “Zane?”
“Yes, it's me, Rafael.”
Zane was the only person who ever called Rafe by his given name, except for his mother. He'd said it fit, with Rafe's naturally bronzed skin, the ebony hair, black eyes and high cheekbones. Rafe didn't know if it fit or not, but it felt right coming from a friend he'd known since the very early days of his career in corporate security. They hadn't seen each other recently, not since Zane had gotten married, but they kept in touch.
“What's going on?” he asked, ignoring the waiter setting plates of food before them on the table.
There was no friendly small talk. “I need to speak with you as soon as possible. When can we get together?”
“What's going on? You and Lindseyâ”
“No, it's business, and I need your help.”
It was a given Rafe would do anything for Zane personally or on a business level. Zane had been the one to drag him back into the land of the living when he'd needed it the most. He glanced at Francine, who was picking at her meal and trying to appear not to be listening to his conversation. He wasn't about to feel guilty, only relieved that he had the perfect excuse to leave. “I'll call you back in five minutes.”
“Five minutes,” Zane said.
Rafe ended the call and smiled apologetically at Francine. At least he hoped he pulled that off. “I'm so sorry, but a business emergency just came up. I need to go.”
“Oh, yes, okay,” she said, and would have stood, but he motioned for her to remain where she was.
“No, you stay and enjoy your dinner.” They'd come in their own cars, so that wasn't a problem. “Please, it's paid for.”
She hesitated, then sank back in the chair, obviously not happy, but not about to make a scene. “Okay, but call me?”
He nodded, not about to agree to a lie out loud, then left. He settled the bill on the way out, and exited into the softness of the Fort Worth night. He gave the valet his parking ticket, then stood off to one side of the entry door. The night was balmy and clear, with a huge moon hanging over the city. He was obscenely relieved to be done with his first and last blind date, and actually felt as if he could breathe again. Then he called Zane back. The CEO answered on the first ring.
“It's me,” Rafe stated.
“Thanks for returning my call,” Zane said, while Rafe watched a black Jaguar pull up to the restaurant.
“No problem. Now what's wrong?”
Two women got out of the sleek black car, handed their keys to the valet, then walked toward the entry. One was tall and leggy, the other shorter and more compact. Both were blonde and dressed to kill.
“A security leak at LynTech,” Zane was saying in his ear.
“Let me give you Hal Simmons's private number and he can take care of things.”
“No, I need you on it,” Zane said.
Rafe had been watching the blondes, and was taken aback when the tall one stopped about three feet from him and very deliberately gave him the once-over. Her eyes roamed every inch of his six-foot-two-inch frame, skimming over his dark suit, the white, collarless silk shirt, then met his gaze. She didn't even blink.
“I don't get involved,” he said into the phone to Zane, but realized he meant it with the woman, too. And she was waiting for him to say something to her directly, anything so she could come closer. But she'd have to wait until it snowed in July for that to happen. Not because she wasn't beautiful, but because he really wasn't interested in dating.
“I know you gave up working on the front line years ago, but I need you to come on down here and take a personal look at the situation,” Rafe was saying through the phone. “I need your input. Nothing against your people, but you're the best, and I need you to do this.”
“My people are good,” he said, and realized his SUV was being brought up to the curb right then.
“Of course they are. That's why you're our security company at LynTech.” Rafe listened as he straightened, then moved toward the blonde. She actually started to smile, but that didn't last when he walked right past her to get to his car. He thought he heard her mutter, “Whatever,” but he didn't bother to check.
“Then let my crew deal with it,” he said into the phone.
“No, no,” Zane exclaimed as Rafe slipped into his black SUV and handed the valet a tip before the man closed his door for him. “I'd come up there to go over it with you, but Lindsey's pretty sick with this pregnancy.”
Maybe if Zane hadn't mentioned Lindsey's sickness, Rafe would have tried to talk him into contacting Simmons. His friend's words stopped him. Rafe drove away from the restaurant into light traffic, remembering how sick Gabriella had been during her whole pregnancy with the twins, and how important it had been for him to be there for her. Despite being the head of Dagget Security, Inc., he'd stepped away from the hands-on operations of the company and started delegating and supervising so he could be with Gabriella. He'd never gone back to the day-to-day work and had never regretted his decision.
“It's that bad?” he asked as he headed west for home.
“Looks that way. We ducked the last disaster, but there's more coming. I can feel it. I'd hoped you could cover it yourself, maybe work out of this office for a few weeks.”
Rafe hesitated, knowing that at any other time he would have rejected that idea out of hand. But he didn't this time. The fact was, he didn't need to get out and date and meet women to get on with his life. He needed to get out, period. Out of Fort Worth and out of the office. He'd go to Houston, and he'd take a break. The boys weren't in school yet, and it wouldn't be too hard to take them with him once he opened the house he had down there. They could even have their horses if they wanted to.
“I'll have to make arrangements for the boys andâ”
“If you bring them along, why not use our day care center at the head office? It's top-notch and right in the building. Walker loves it there, and you'd be close if the boys needed you.”
Rafe had met Walker, Zane's two-year-old son, shortly after Zane and Lindsey had married. Now Zane was going to be a father again. Strange how people you never thought of as parent material took to having kids like ducks to water.
The traffic slowed a lot and Rafe eased along the street at a snail's crawl, then made his decision. “Okay, I'll give it a shot. I'm not sure when I can get there.”
“Just let me know. I'll set up a board meeting andâ”
“No, don't do that.” If he was going to handle this, he knew exactly how he'd work it. “I think I want to go in quietly and get the lay of the land. My men are already on your payroll for security, so I'll go in as one of them. No one would know the difference, and no one at LynTech would know me, except you and Lindsey. I can slip in easily.”
Zane didn't argue. “Okay, when?”
“I'll get myself hired as soon as I hang up now. I can be in Houston in a couple of days, start working at LynTech and get everything set for Carmella to bring the boys down later.”
He heard Zane exhale with undisguised relief. “Do you need me to do anything on this end?”
“Not yet. I'll let you know.”
“Okay, but I'll be in and out. Use my cell number. There's a huge charity ball LynTech is sponsoring to help the children's wing at the hospital and to fund the day care center. Lindsey's in the middle of it, and she's been so sick that I'm doing some of the footwork for her, anything to ease the burden on her. It's going to be huge.”
That gave Rafe another idea. “When's the ball?”
“Next Saturday. It's at the E. J. Sommers estate outside the city.”
“Who's doing security?”
“As a matter of fact, Dagget Security is donating their services. You're getting a huge tax write-off.”
Rafe hadn't been told about this charity donation, but he was glad someone in his company had thought of it. This would work perfectly. “Are your people going to be at it?”
“It's practically a command performance for all departments and their heads, along with the rich and generous in the city.”