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Authors: Stella Bagwell

White Dove's Promise

BOOK: White Dove's Promise
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C
OMANCHE
B
LOOD

Welcome to Black Arrow, Oklahoma—the birthplace of a proud, passionate clan who would risk everything for love, family and honor.

Jared Colton:

He never hung around one place for too long, but the new town hero had gained the attention of the only woman who could tempt him to stay…at least a little while longer.

Kerry WindWalker:

She'd steered clear of Jared Colton because of his bad-boy reputation, but his heroic gesture had her wondering if the avowed bachelor could become a true family man.

Gloria WhiteBear:

Would the secret past of the Oklahoma Coltons' matriarch come back to haunt her grandchildren?

Bram Colton:

A man of honor and Comanche pride, the revered sheriff of Black Arrow had been kept busy since strange happenings started occurring in town….

Dear Reader,

There's more than one way to enjoy the summer. By picking up this month's Silhouette Special Edition romances, you will find an emotional escape that is sure to touch your heart and leave you believing in happily-ever-after!

I am pleased to introduce a gripping tale of true love and family from celebrated author Stella Bagwell. In
White Dove's Promise,
which launches a six-book spin-off—plus a Christmas story collection—of the popular COLTONS series, a dashing Native American hero has trouble staying in one place, until he finds himself entangled in a soul-searing embrace with a beautiful single mother, who teaches him about roots…and lifelong passion.

No “keeper” shelf is complete without a gem from Joan Elliott Pickart. In
The Royal MacAllister
, a woman seeks her true identity and falls madly in love with a
true
royal! In
The Best Man's Plan,
bestselling and award-winning author Gina Wilkins delights us with a darling love story between a lovely shop owner and a wealthy businessman, who set up a fake romance to trick the tabloids…and wind up falling in love for real!

Lisa Jackson's
The McCaffertys: Slade
features a lady lawyer who comes home and faces a heartbreaker hero, who desperately wants a chance to prove his love to her. In
Mad Enough To Marry,
Christie Ridgway entertains us with an adorable tale of that
maddening
love that happens only when two kindred spirits must share the same space. Be sure to pick up Arlene James's
His Private Nurse
, where a single father falls for the feisty nurse hired to watch over him after a suspicious accident. You won't want to miss it!

Each month, Silhouette Special Edition delivers compelling stories of life, love and family. I wish you a relaxing summer and happy reading.

Sincerely,

Karen Taylor Richman

Senior Editor

Stella Bagwell
WHITE DOVE'S PROMISE

To the two men in my life.
My husband, Harrell, and our son, Jason.

Books by Stella Bagwell

Silhouette Special Edition

Found: One Runaway Bride
#1049

†
Penny Parker's Pregnant!
#1258

White Dove's Promise
#1478

Silhouette Books

Fortunes of Texas

The Heiress and the Sheriff

Maitland Maternity

Just for Christmas

A Bouquet of Babies

†
“Baby on Her Doorstep”

Midnight Clear

†
“Twins under the Tree”

Going to the Chapel

“The Bride's Big Adventure”

Silhouette Romance

Golden Glory
#469

Moonlight Bandit
#485

A Mist on the Mountain
#510

Madeline's Song
#543

The Outsider
#560

The New Kid in Town
#587

Cactus Rose
#621

Hillbilly Heart
#634

Teach Me
#657

The White Night
#674

No Horsing Around
#699

That Southern Touch
#723

Gentle as a Lamb
#748

A Practical Man
#789

Precious Pretender
#812

Done to Perfection
#836

Rodeo Rider
#878

*
Their First Thanksgiving
#903

*
The Best Christmas Ever
#909

*
New Year's Baby
#915

Hero in Disguise
#954

Corporate Cowgirl
#991

Daniel's Daddy
#1020

A Cowboy for Christmas
#1052

Daddy Lessons
#1085

Wanted: Wife
#1140

†
The Sheriff's Son
#1218

†
The Rancher's Bride
#1224

†
The Tycoon's Tots
#1228

†
The Rancher's Blessed Event
#1296

†
The Ranger and the Widow Woman
#1314

†
The Cowboy and the Debutante
#1334

†
Millionaire on Her Doorstep
#1368

The Bridal Bargain
#1414

Falling for Grace
#1456

The Expectant Princess
#1504

The Missing Maitland
#1546

Because of the Ring
#1589

STELLA BAGWELL

Recently Stella and her husband of thirty years moved from the hills of Oklahoma to Seadrift, Texas, a sleepy little fishing town located on the coastal bend. Stella says the water, the tropical climate and the seabirds make it a lovely place to let her imagination soar and to put the stories in her head down on paper.

She and her husband have one son, Jason, who lives and teaches high school math in nearby Port Lavaca.

Chapter One

“L
unch at your desk. At this rate, you're going to have burnout before you reach the age of thirty.”

Unaware that anyone else had entered her small office, Kerry WindWalker jerked her head up from the promissory note she'd been typing to see one of Liberty National Bank's loan officers standing at the corner of her desk.

Smiling at the tall, gray-haired man, she said, “I'm behind, Clarence. It's Monday. Everyone seems to be broke on Mondays.”

With a rueful grin, he placed more work on the corner of her already loaded desk. “Reality hits when the weekend is over. But it doesn't mean you need to work through your lunch hour. Have you eaten anything with that?” he asked, inclining his head toward the half-empty soda bottle sitting near her typewriter.

Kerry shook her head. “Not yet. But I will. I have a sandwich waiting for me back in the break room.”

Clarence glanced at his wristwatch. “It's almost two,” he gently scolded. “Turn that machine off and go eat. Now.”

Three years ago, Kerry had returned to Black Arrow, Oklahoma, and, shortly after, landed a position there in the loan department at Liberty National. Back then Clarence had been the first to welcome her into the fold and make her feel at ease. It was her first important job after acquiring her business degree and his kind support had meant a lot to a young girl fresh out of college and desperately needing a paycheck. Since then the older man had become someone she could truly call a friend. For that reason she always took extra time to see that his loans were processed before anyone else's. “But Mr.—”

He waved a dismissive hand at her protests. “Mr. Whoever can wait. Including me.”

With a shrug of surrender, she switched off the power on the typewriter, then rose from her chair. “Okay, I'm on my way,” she told him as she absently brushed at the wrinkles in her slim, beige skirt.

The loan officer paused at the door to make sure she was following him out of the small office. Kerry was about to ask him if he'd stopped to have his own lunch when the phone on her desk rang.

“Forget it,” Clarence prompted. “It's probably Landers wanting to know if you've finished the papers on the Crawford loan. He can wait, too.”

The fact that Clarence considered her break more important than the wishes of the bank's vice president put a smile on Kerry's face. Since she'd started the job she'd oftentimes worked through breaks and beyond
office hours to make sure her work was completed punctually. It was nice to know someone appreciated her dedication, especially someone like Clarence who'd been with the bank for more than twenty years and pulled a considerable amount of weight with the president.

“I'd better get it anyway,” she told him. “After all, it's past my lunch break. I'm supposed to be at my desk at this time of the day.”

Tucking her short black bob behind her ears, she hurried back to the L-shaped desk and plucked up the ringing phone.

“Kerry WindWalker speaking.”

“Kerry! Thank God you finally answered! I thought you might be out and I don't know what to do!”

For a second, the frantic sound of Enola WindWalker's voice didn't quite register with Kerry. Her mother never called the bank and interrupted her work.

Kerry's smooth brow was suddenly furrowed as she anxiously gripped the receiver. “Mom? Is that you? Is something wrong?”

“Oh—Kerry—I don't know how to tell you this but—I can't find Peggy.”

Kerry's blood suddenly turned to ice water. Peggy was her three-year-old daughter, the very existence of her being.

Trying not to go into instant panic, she said, “Mom, take a deep breath and calm down. Surely, she's around there somewhere. Have you looked under the beds? In all the closets? You know how your granddaughter likes to play hide-and-seek.”

Kerry could hear Enola struggling to stifle a sob and the sound shot shards of fear straight through her. At fifty-six, Enola was a strong, steadfast woman. In fact,
Kerry couldn't ever remember seeing her mother rattled, even years ago, when she'd been dealing with an alcoholic husband. For her to be so close to breaking now was enough to tell Kerry that something was terribly wrong.

“I've searched the house,” Enola told her. “I've searched the yard. I walked down the road as far as I thought her little legs might be able to go and called to her. If she's hiding, she won't answer. It's been nearly an hour now since I missed her!”

Fear wadding in her throat, Kerry glanced up to see Clarence was still waiting in the doorway. From the anxious expression on his face, the older man had already sensed that something was wrong. “Peggy—my daughter—is missing,” she explained to him.

Grim-faced, the loan officer strode quickly over to Kerry's desk. “Have the sheriff's office or city police been notified?” he asked briskly.

Kerry directed her attention back to her mother on the other end of the telephone line. “Mom, have you called any sort of law officials?”

“Yes, I've called Bram Colton—he's not here yet. But most of the neighbors are already out hunting for her. I think—”

Enola continued talking, but Kerry ignored the rest of her words as she shook her head at Clarence and managed to choke out, “She's called the sheriff, but he hasn't arrived at my mother's house yet. Peggy's been missing for nearly an hour.”

“Get over there. I'll explain things here for you,” he said definitively.

As she watched Clarence hurrying out of the room, she said to her mother as calmly as possible, “I'm leav
ing the bank now, Mom. Just hang on and I'll be there in a few minutes.”

Outside in the parking lot, Kerry jumped in her car and headed home, to the west outskirts of Black Arrow. Shaded by two huge cottonwoods, the house was old, built in shotgun fashion with a wide porch running the entire width of the front. Throughout the years, the lapped wooden siding had been painted first one color and then another. Presently, it was a bleached-out yellow with equally faded brown trim. The shingles needed replacing, the front screen door was warped and one end of the porch floor sagged. But to Kerry the old place had always been home and so far it was the only home that little Peggy had known.

Even though the WindWalker property wasn't far from the city limits, the road running in front of the house had never been paved. Gravel spewed from Kerry's tires as she brought her compact car to a stop in the short driveway.

Watching from the porch, a petite woman dressed in jeans and a blue T-shirt with a single black braid lying against her back raced out to meet her daughter. Tears had dried on her cheeks, but were threatening to spill from her eyes once again as she grabbed onto Kerry's shoulders and hugged her fiercely.

“Oh Mom, what happened? Where do you think she is?”

Releasing her hold on Kerry, Enola wiped her eyes and began in a broken, trembling voice, “I'm so sorry, honey, it's all my fault. Peggy and I were outside—in the back at the vegetable garden. I heard the phone ringing and ran into the kitchen to get it. I told her to wait for me there—that I'd be right back. She seemed to be happy and preoccupied with pulling radishes and
I was only gone a minute. Two at the most. But as soon as I stepped into the backyard again, she was nowhere to be seen.”

Kerry momentarily closed her brown eyes and sent up yet another silent prayer for her daughter to be found safe and sound. “Don't blame yourself, Mom. We both know how adventurous Peggy is and you can't keep your eyes on her every second of the day.”

“Yes, but I should have made her come with me—”

Determined to hold herself and her mother together, Kerry took Enola firmly by the arm and led her toward the house. “Right now it won't do anyone any good for you to be worrying about ifs or should haves, Mom. Let's just try to figure out where she might have gone. Was Fred with her?”

The spotted bird dog was only twelve weeks old, but already he acted as if he were grown and would run off and hunt whenever the urge struck him. Peggy was infatuated with the little guy and Kerry had the sinking feeling her daughter had followed the pup away from the house.

“He was there with us when I went to answer the phone. Do you think she's wandered off with him?”

Kerry nodded, then drew in a shaky breath as another, more frightening thought entered her mind. “Unless, God forbid—you didn't see a car or anyone walking past here when you went to answer the phone?”

Enola shook her head emphatically. “No. There was no one. I would have heard a car and if anyone had walked near the house, Fred would have been barking up a storm.”

That much was true, Kerry thought with relief, then turned toward the sound of an approaching vehicle just
in time to see a white pickup truck with the sheriff's logo emblazoned on the side door wheeling into the driveway then halting beside her car. Immediately she recognized Bram Colton behind the wheel. The young Comanche County sheriff had already built a reputation for getting the job done. Kerry only hoped it held true in this case.

“There's the sheriff,” she said to her mother. “Let's go tell him everything you just told me.”

 

A quarter of a mile away from the WindWalker residence, Jared Colton studied the blueprints he'd rolled out on the hood of his truck. He'd been a petroleum engineer for close to ten years now and he'd encountered a few strange jobs now and then, but he'd never seen such a damn mess as this one.

Down through the years most townships had written laws into their civil codes forbidding oil or gas drilling to take place inside city limits. But in the case of Black Arrow, the ordinance hadn't come into being until after the town had grown around several already producing gas wells. A few weeks ago, a gas company had come in to lay new pipe to an old well, but shortly into the job something had gone wrong and the crew had somehow managed to cave in part of the city's drainage system along with blocking the flow of natural gas. Jared's job was to figure out how to get everything open and running as it should be without causing any more loss to city property.

So far he and his crew had slowly uncovered part of the damaged drainage pipes which would eventually be rerouted to miss the gas line. As for the natural gas well itself, it would have to be capped off, then re-drilled from a different direction.

Jared rubbed a thoughtful forefinger against one jaw as he lifted his head and surveyed the mess in front of him. Normally at this time of the day, the place would have been buzzing with workers and machinery, but yesterday's rain showers had made the ground too muddy to work. And even though it was a sunny afternoon today, he still wasn't all that certain the ground would be dry enough to work with any sort of heavy equipment tomorrow. Plus the fact that early May in Oklahoma was apt to produce thunderstorms at the drop of a hat. He'd be lucky if it wasn't raining again tomorrow.

Sighing, he lifted the hard hat from his head and ran a hand through his thick black hair. Being down a day or two wouldn't prevent him from finishing the job in the amount of time allotted in his contract and he'd already put in a hell of a week. Some rest would be good for him and the crew. He might even call Bram and Logan to see if his brothers wanted to have dinner with him tonight.

A fond smile teased the corners of his mouth. The two of them would probably think he was ill. It wasn't often he chose to spend the evening with his brothers rather than a female companion. Both Bram and Logan would find it hard to believe their skirt-chasing brother couldn't think of even one woman in the whole town of Black Arrow that he wanted to spend more than five minutes with.

Jared's thoughts about juicy steaks and brotherly companionship were suddenly interrupted when he felt something tugging on the hem of his jean leg.

Glancing down, he saw a red speckled pup chewing with delight on his leather workboot. “Well, where did you come from, little guy?”

The sound of Jared's voice distracted the pup from his chewing. The dog looked up at him, then backed away and let out a croaky bark. Jared squatted on his heels and with an outstretched hand invited the pup to come closer. “Come here, fella. Let's see if you have a name tag on your collar.”

Wary, but overcome with curiosity, the pup sidled closer, then wiggled with delight the moment Jared ran a friendly hand over his sleek head. Fastened to a black leather collar, a metal disc dangled at the front of the dog's throat. Jared angled the silver gray disc so that he could read the letters. Fred was written on one side. A local phone number was on the other.

Rising to his full height, which was just shy of six feet, Jared's gray eyes scanned the open fields around him. The nearest house was at least a quarter mile away. A long distance for a little guy like Fred to travel, he pondered. No doubt someone would be missing the dog soon and be out searching for him.

Jared's cell phone was lying on the truck seat. The least he could do was call the number on the pup's collar and inform the owner that the dog was safe.

He opened the truck door to retrieve the telephone, then realized he'd have to look at Fred's collar again to get the number. Slipping the fliptop phone in his shirt pocket, he turned back to grab the dog, only to find the animal scampering off toward the maze of open trenches.

“Fred! Come back here,” he called.

The dog ignored him, so Jared tried whistling. The sound produced a bark, but the dog still refused to return.

Muttering a curse under his breath and wondering why he was taking the time to bother with the animal,
Jared started after him. As soon as Fred spotted his approach, he began to bark with loud enthusiasm into the open trench as though he'd just treed a coon in a hollow log. Only this time the log was a smashed drainpipe.

“Okay, fella, I know you think you're out on a hunt, but you've got to go home, wherever that is,” he said to the dog.

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