Excerpt for The Would-Be Mommy, Safe Harbor Medical Romance Book 1 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Would-Be Mommy

Safe Harbor Medical® Romance, Book 1


Jacqueline Diamond

For Myrna, who brings sunshine into my brother’s life—and mine!

This edition published by

K. Loren Wilson

P.O. Box 1315

Brea, California

Copyright 2010, 2017 Jackie Diamond Hyman

First print edition published by Harlequin Enterprises Limited.

Cover design © Jackie Diamond Hyman

Cover photo © Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock

Safe Harbor Medical® is a trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by Jackie Diamond Hyman

Licensing statement

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

More information about Jacqueline Diamond and her books is available on her website, jacquelinediamond.com, where you can sign up for her free newsletter. You can also stay in touch with her on Facebook at JacquelineDiamondAuthor, and on Twitter as @Jacquediamond.

The Reviewers Say...

“Love, love, love the Safe Harbor series! I love reading series where the characters are followed through the span of time. This series draws you in and hooks you!”

—Michelle Wallace, online reviewer

“I loved The Would-Be Mommy. ...The perfect book for any romance readers, especially ones that enjoy a good medical romance read.”

—Marissa Dobson, sizzlinghotbooks.com

“Ms. Diamond writes a story that will have you rooting for Jennifer and Ian. I cried a few tears, but I was there every step of the way, hoping that both Ian and Jennifer would find true love.”

— Helen Slifer, writersunlimited

“The safe haven law, which allows parents to leave their children in a safe place instead of abandoning them, is showcased in The Would-Be Mommy. Ms. Diamond takes this premise and weaves a story of love, dedication and life lessons. Thank you Ms. Diamond for this brilliantly moving story.

—Donna Zapf, cataromance.com.

Author’s Note

In 2001 California passed the Safely Surrendered Baby Law, popularly known as the safe haven law, to encourage women to leave their newborns in a safe place, such as at a hospital or fire station, rather than abandoning them in a dangerous location. In 2005, the temporary legislation was extended to become permanent.

As a writer, I found myself imagining what if…

What if a young woman who’d lost her own baby has a chance to take one of these surrendered infants home temporarily and falls in love with it? What if she works at a hospital where, for some reason, young mothers in unusual numbers begin leaving their newborns?

Perhaps the circumstance arises because the press misstates the name of the facility, Safe Harbor Medical Center. I pictured the man behind that: a good-looking international reporter who’s never given much thought to having a family or child of his own. Suddenly drawn into a situation he inadvertently created, he learns some important lessons about life, himself and, above all, love.

Thus the unlikely love affair between Jennifer and Ian was born. As of this writing, the series has grown to 17 romances, each of which can be read alone, plus two mysteries. I hope you’ll enjoy the stories of Jennifer’s coworkers, their babies and their dreams!

—Jacqueline Diamond, Brea, California

Table of Contents

Author’s Note

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

About the Author

Chapter One—His Hired Baby

Chapter One—The Case of the Questionable Quadruplet

Safe Harbor Medical series

The Would-Be Mommy

by Jacqueline Diamond

Chapter One

Everywhere he looked, Ian Martin saw babies. Around the plush hospital lobby, giant photos of babies hung on the walls. Between the designer couches, life-size dolls beamed from their carriages at the throng of local press and small-town dignitaries. Now, if a few Uzi-toting toddlers in camouflage pj’s would burst in, that might be interesting.

As if he weren’t already on infant overload, Ian noticed two women in advanced stages of pregnancy posing for photographs. Presumably they’d both conceived with the high-tech help of the doctors here at Safe Harbor Medical Center, whose six stories of state-of-the-art equipment were detailed on a large wall chart.

Honestly. Didn’t these people have anything better to do? He certainly did.

Although Ian had covered wars from Africa to Afghanistan, his editor seemed to think he had a gift for human-interest stories. So, as he was already in Southern California with a free Friday evening, he’d been dispatched to cover the official reopening of this updated, expanded maternity hospital. He’d much rather be digging into his main investigation of a federal judge accused of taking bribes, or even poking into the Hollywood divorce scandal that was his secondary reason for descending on the area.

Across the room, he exchanged wry glances with cameraman Pierre Fabray, a coworker from the L.A. bureau of Flash News/Global. With a shrug, Pierre returned his attention to a mom-to-be who, judging by the size of her, must be pregnant with triplets.

Idly, Ian dropped a couple of entry tickets into the raffle box in front of a display of expensive baby furnishings. He’d parted with twenty bucks for them, since the raffle raised money for needy families, the kind that could never otherwise afford these luxurious surroundings. If he won—and Ian had remarkable luck—he planned to donate the gear to charity.

That task accomplished, he gazed around for power players he might be able to prod into saying something provocative. There had to be a story here somewhere. If Ian couldn’t find it, he’d stir one up by asking questions somebody didn’t want to answer.

First obvious player: hospital administrator Mark Rayburn, a father-knows-best-type obstetrician in his late thirties. Second possibility: a lady from the corporation that owned the hospital. From her spiked heels to her mask of makeup, she looked like she breakfasted on nails and spat them out machine-gun–style at anyone who crossed her.

Neither of them was likely to yield more than an irritable quote or two. Better to locate the inevitable gadfly. There must be a doctor who’d worked at the facility prior to its transformation from a community hospital and who was less than thrilled to see it turned into a haven for the moneyed.

Ian didn’t see anyone fitting that description hanging around, shooting his mouth off. He needed assistance, and from what he’d seen of the public relations director, talking to her wouldn’t be painful at all.

He located Jennifer Serra outside the auditorium. Dark hair tumbled appealingly from a knot atop her head, and the exotic tilt to her dark eyes intrigued him, as did a hint of sadness that made him wonder what secrets she harbored. But although he was known as much for digging into personalities as for rooting out facts, Ms. Serra wasn’t his target tonight. Too bad.

“Mr. Martin!” Her full mouth perked into a smile. “We’re almost ready to start the press conference.”

“Actually, I’d like to talk to someone first.”


“That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”

Her chin came up. “Anything I can do to help, I’d be glad to.”

She shouldn’t make tempting offers like that, Ian reflected. On the other hand, being helpful was her job. “Who’s the most ticked-off doctor at this hospital?”

“I’m sorry?” Her expression turned wary.

“The one who makes trouble.” Kind of like I do.

She swallowed. He’d scored a direct hit, Ian could tell. “We’re a team here,” she responded gamely.

“And it’s your duty to say so. But we both know better.” He stretched out an arm and leaned against the wall, deliberately fencing her in. She’d either have to retreat or duck beneath his arm to escape. “A giant corporation buys a community hospital and turns it into a money-making machine. That’s got to rub somebody the wrong way.”

His peripheral vision caught Pierre’s approach. Jennifer’s face tightened at the sight of the camera, but with what must have been considerable effort, she relaxed into another smile. “If anyone’s unhappy, you can hardly expect her to show up at an event like this.”

“Her?” So there was someone.

Jennifer adjusted the short, fitted jacket she wore over a figure-skimming dress. Ian assumed that bought her a moment to regain control and find the appropriate glib answer. Sure enough, here it came: “Mr. Martin, this is a wonderful facility that brings hope to couples struggling to start a family.”

“Of course it does.” He filed a mental note to sniff out the disgruntled doctor later, but tonight he needed another angle. “Do you have children?”

“No, not yet.” There it was again, that trace of sadness.

“If you ran into trouble having them, could you afford a place like this? Wait—I’m sure you have great insurance. But what about the ordinary infertile woman in Safe Harbor, California? Where is she supposed to go?” While Ian didn’t relish making such a pretty lady squirm, the corporation presumably paid her well to cross swords with rascals like him.

Annoyance flared in her eyes. “We’re always happy to work out payment plans, and we accept Medi-Cal clients. Plus, we don’t just provide fertility treatments. We offer a multitude of services, from routine preventive care to early-stage cancer treatment.”

Pierre was angling around, capturing all this for the video service Flash News/Global provided to its clients, along with still-photo images and stories. Personally, Ian wasn’t crazy about appearing on video. Digging beneath the surface of the news required an ability to blend into a scene, impossible to do if you became a celebrity. Nevertheless, this was a part of the job, like it or not.

“Is this live?” Jennifer asked Pierre.

“It is now.” He turned the camera on Ian. “Go!”

Deep breath. “This is Ian Martin for Flash News/Global, reporting from Safe Harbor, California. We’re at a newly remodeled fertility hospital, talking with public relations director Jennifer Serra. We were discussing how this place positively reeks of luxury.”

She narrowed her eyes at him in annoyance. Then, as Pierre swung toward her, she said brightly, “Safe Harbor Medical Center offers a full spectrum of services for men, women and their babies at all economic levels. We specialize in fertility care and high-risk pregnancies, with an emphasis on cutting-edge technology and techniques.”

Back to Ian. He seized his chance. “This place may be called Safe Harbor, but just imagine a frightened young woman trying to relinquish her baby under the safe harbor law. If she dared to show up here, I’ll bet she’d be whisked out the back door.”

That was the advantage that video had over writing. You could throw out preposterous ideas and see what kind of reaction you got.

Jennifer took the bait. “We don’t whisk anyone out the back door,” she snapped. “And that’s the safe haven law, not safe harbor. It protects desperate mothers from being charged with abandonment. We want them to bring their newborns to a safe place.”

“Safe haven, safe harbor,” Ian tossed off. “Are you saying scared young moms can drop off their babies at Safe Harbor Medical Center? Will they be placed in wealthy homes?”

“They’ll be placed in loving homes.” A muscle tightened in her neck as Dr. Rayburn and the lady in the power suit came into view.

He decided to push a little harder. “Would you take in a surrendered baby?”

“Me personally?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“I love babies.” Jennifer swallowed hard. “Every day I walk past our nursery and wish I could hold them all in my arms. But that doesn’t mean I could…”

Ignoring a twinge of guilt, Ian persisted. “So if a young mother walked in here right now…”

“I’d do anything I could to help her.” Tears sparkled in her eyes. “As would any decent person.”

In her face, he read a yearning so profound it twisted his gut. Damn, what wound had he reopened here? They’d gone beyond the usual game between reporter and publicist. Gone straight into her soul.

Live on the Internet.

Ian found his voice again. “Thank you, Jennifer Serra.” He squared off with the camera. “This is Ian Martin, reporting from Safe Harbor Medical Center.”

Nodding his approval, Pierre killed the feed. Dr. Rayburn and the executive, who’d apparently caught only the last few words, appeared pleased.

“Shall we start the conference?” the administrator asked.

“Absolutely.” Casting a final glare at Ian, Jennifer headed toward the lobby to corral the rest of the crowd. Too bad he’d just burned his bridges, Ian mused. It might have been fun getting to know her during the week or so he expected to stay in the L.A. area.

Anyway, she wanted kids, and at her age, which he guessed to be late twenties, was no doubt seeking a guy to nest with. At thirty-four, Ian was strictly a here-today-and-gone-tomorrow kind of guy, and preferred ladies who felt the same.

Yet something about Jennifer haunted him. Perhaps it was the irony that such a beautiful woman seemed so bereft.

Joining the crowd, he wandered into a wood-paneled auditorium with cushy, upholstered seats, raked flooring and, up front, an impressive display of electronic equipment. Other attendees were still nibbling miniature quiches and bacon-wrapped shrimp hors d’oeuvres, Ian noticed. He wished he’d grabbed a plateful while he’d had the chance.

The auditorium darkened and a slide show began, detailing the facility’s remodeling and its shining mission of mercy. There were scenes of beaming parents and earnest doctors in white coats bending over test tubes.

Hold on. Ian straightened at the sight of one slide, which showed a doctor wearing an out-of-place skeptical expression. “The head of our pediatrics department, Dr. Samantha Forrest, works closely with new parents,” enthused the narrator.

Well, Dr. Forrest, a capable-looking blonde, might care about the couple shown with her, but she clearly didn’t enjoy being on camera. What else did she dislike?

Ian trusted his hunches, and he decided to call on Dr. Forrest soon. Maybe he’d discovered his disaffected troublemaker.

The slide show ended and the lights came up on the TV-star-handsome Dr. Rayburn. Perfectly at ease in front of a microphone, the administrator detailed the new programs, some already in place, others just opening. The emphasis was on the latest medical developments, which, no doubt, were accompanied by breathtakingly high charges.

“Twenty years ago, the success rate for pregnancies with in vitro fertilization was ten to twelve percent,” he concluded. “Today, in younger women, we can expect to achieve a sixty to seventy percent rate. With older women, the rates are also much higher than they used to be, and this is just the beginning of the adventure. Now I’m happy to take questions.”

Ian didn’t bother to take notes as other reporters threw out inquiries.

“Delivering a baby is the most wonderful feeling in the world.” Dr. Rayburn responded to one question with passionate commitment. Where had the corporation discovered this guy—Hollywood central casting?

Ian flipped through the press kit an assistant had handed him earlier. In Dr. Rayburn’s bio, he saw no mention of a wife or children. If delivering a baby was fabulous, why hadn’t the great doctor produced any of his own?

That seemed too personal to ask in front of a crowd, though. Instead, Ian chose the ever-popular topic of multiple births. “Is there a limit on how many embryos you implant in a woman?” he demanded without waiting to be called on.

“We implant two or three embryos at most,” the administrator responded. “We try to avoid multiple births that can endanger the health of mothers and babies. Now, let’s hear from Medical Center Management vice president Chandra Yashimoto.”

The lady exec stepped forward to contribute a few words about the pride her company, based in Louisville, Kentucky, took in this new facility. The press kit listed neither an M.D. nor an R.N. after her name.

After finishing her remarks, Ms. Yashimoto yielded the microphone to Jennifer.

“I hope you’ll all stick around and enjoy the refreshments,” said the PR director, her voice pleasingly husky. “Also, we’ll be announcing the winner of our baby bonanza raffle shortly. Furniture, clothes, all the gear you need for a great start.”

After a breath, she plunged into an obviously prepared wrap-up. “Although the hospital has remained open during remodeling, our staff endured a lot of disruption over the summer. We were aiming for a September opening, and here we are, right on track. I now officially declare our doors open. Thank you all for joining us.”

A smattering of applause followed. As the audience got to its feet, Ian tried to figure out his next move. Technically, he’d done his job, providing Pierre with video and amassing enough material to write an article. A routine one, but Flash News/Global would move it out, since weekends tended to be slow for news without courts and legislatures in session.

All the same, Ian hated writing forgettable pieces. He craved an angle.

A sudden stir caught his attention. Willa Lightner, the middle-aged PR assistant who’d been distributing press kits earlier, had entered from the hall and was excusing her way up the center aisle toward Jennifer. The two met, conferred and hurried out together.

Something was up. Might be nothing more than a knocked-over punch bowl, but, his curiosity aroused, Ian strode in their wake.

He trailed them around a bend and into an alcove where half a dozen people had gathered. It took a moment to identify the object of their interest.

A young woman stood with her back against the wall, her arms encircling a blanket-wrapped bundle. Loose brown hair cascaded around a face in which determination warred with fear. In contrast to the moms-to-be Ian had seen earlier, she wore a threadbare smock and flip-flops. Definitely not part of the hospital’s show and tell program.

He took out his notebook and glanced around. Pierre was headed his way. Excellent.

In front of him, Jennifer parted the small group. “Hi. I’m the public relations director. Can I help you?”

The young woman thrust the bundle into her arms. “I know who you are, Mrs. Serra. I just saw you on the Internet.” Her voice trembled. “You said you love babies and you’d give them a home. Well, I want you to adopt mine.”

For a thunderstruck moment, nobody moved. Except Ian, who jotted notes on his pad.

He’d found his story at last.

Chapter Two

Landing this job at Safe Harbor six months ago had been an excellent career move for Jennifer and a major salary increase over her last position. So what if the constant presence of pregnant women reminded her of the baby she’d lost, the one she’d never dared mention to anyone?

Setting up Safe Harbor’s official opening, arranging the displays of baby photos and the raffle of baby goods, had darkened her spirits again and again. But she’d grown used to it. Toughened up.

That was what she’d believed until that Flash News/Global reporter threw her a curveball. Do you have children? Not an unusual question—people often asked it innocently enough—but something about his half-teasing expression had taken her unawares.

Well, she’d just been caught off guard again, by a tiny infant swaddled in pink. And by the sight of the young mother with red-rimmed eyes and a cracked lower lip. That might have been me, a dozen years ago. Except that Jennifer’s baby hadn’t survived long enough to be born.

When the mother thrust the bundle at her, Jennifer’s arms closed around it instinctively. The scent of talcum powder burst into her brain, and the subtle snuggling as the tiny girl adjusted to her grasp sent tremors through her nervous system. She could hardly tear her gaze from the angelic blue eyes and bow-shaped mouth.

For a moment, Jennifer couldn’t speak. It didn’t matter, because the young woman was talking again.

“Her name’s Rosalie. I can’t keep her. I want you to be her mother now.” Tearfully, the mother edged away.

“Wait! What’s your name?” Jennifer blurted.

“Sunny.” Another move toward the exit.

“You can’t leave yet.” Anxiously, Jennifer noticed the reporter, Ian, closing in, along with his cameraman and a news team from a local TV station.

“I have to go.” Sunny shielded her face protectively and, to their credit, the camera operators focused on the baby instead.

With relief, Jennifer saw a familiar face emerge from the crowd and approach the young mother. “Hi. I’m the hospital’s staff attorney,” Tony Franco told Sunny gently. “I need you to sign papers to release her. We just have to make sure she really belongs to you and to get a little medical background. Can you come with me?”

“I’ll wait here.” Sunny folded her arms, clearly unwilling to go anywhere with anyone.

Tony appeared to debate with himself, but he had little choice. “Okay, I’ll go grab the forms. Two minutes, I promise.” He headed off at a lope.

Still averting her face from the press, Sunny peered desperately at Jennifer. “You’ll take her yourself, right?”

She had to be sensible. “We’ll find a home for her.”

“Not just any home!” Panic edged the young woman’s voice. “You said on the Internet that you’d raise her.”

Jennifer was sure she hadn’t quite said that. But she’d learned in public relations that people often misinterpreted what they heard according to their own needs. “I doubt county Social Services will allow it. But there are lots of loving parents waiting.”

Sunny touched Jennifer’s sleeve. “Please. I’d feel much better if I knew she was with you.”

As if on cue, Rosalie let out a contented sigh that cut right through Jennifer’s resistance. If only…

Still, there were rules about adoptions, and taking in a newborn would be an incredible responsibility. More than that, Jennifer wasn’t even remotely prepared emotionally. To give her heart, only to risk losing the baby again if the authorities decreed otherwise, was unthinkable. “I’ll make sure she finds the right family. That’s the best I can do.”

Sunny appeared to be wavering, on the point of yielding. Good. She had to see reason.

Then Ian Martin addressed Jennifer. “Poor little kid. She’s already being abandoned once. Don’t tell me you’re going to abandon her again.”

If she hadn’t had her arms full, Jennifer would have been tempted to punch him. What did a shallow reporter—who’d probably been hired mainly for his dark blond good looks—know about raising a child, anyway?

“No one’s abandoning anyone,” she replied fiercely.

“What do you call it when you hand that little cutie over to a social worker?” He quirked an eyebrow, obviously enjoying the situation.

“You’re out of line,” Jennifer told him. “This isn’t a game, Mr. Martin. There are real people’s futures at stake here.”

He blinked as if she’d slapped him. Slapped him awake from his self-absorption for a second, anyway. She had no doubt he’d slip right into it again soon, but with luck, by then he’d be haring after some other hapless target.

Dr. Rayburn joined the group, his forehead lined with concern. Beside him, Chandra Yashimoto stared disapprovingly at the scene.

Painfully aware of the cameras trained on them, Jennifer realized she had to handle the situation before it turned into a media circus. “This is a private matter and we’d appreciate your respecting that,” she told the press.

No one stirred. Chandra cleared her throat, no doubt expecting the PR director to take further action.

Oh, for a distraction. The raffle! “Over the past few months we’ve sold enough tickets to collect roughly ten thousand dollars for charity,” Jennifer informed the crowd. “If you’ll follow my assistant, Mrs. Lightner, to the baby furnishings display, she’s going to draw the name of the winner. Afterward, I’ll be happy to take everyone on a tour of our facilities.”

Willa waved one hand eagerly. “This way, everybody! You shouldn’t miss this.” She linked arms with the startled Ian and tugged him forward. “Since you’re clearly devoted to children’s welfare, Mr. Martin, I’m sure you’ll tell the world about the winner and all the money we raised.”

She drew him and the other observers away with a combination of briskness and persuasion. You could tell she was the parent of teenagers, Jennifer mused.

When they were gone, she turned to Dr. Rayburn. “I’m sorry for letting things get out of hand.”

“Not your fault,” he said.

Ms. Yashimoto scowled. “This is awkward.”

“Who’re you?” demanded Sunny, who’d taken refuge behind Dr. Rayburn. “Don’t let her have my baby. I bet she eats them for breakfast.”

Biting down on a smile, Jennifer made introductions. “I have two grandchildren,” Ms. Yashimoto informed the young mother. “For your information, I haven’t eaten either of them yet.”

Sunny looked unconvinced.

Tony returned with the paperwork and some news. He’d called the county child welfare agency and learned that, due to a staffing shortage, no one would be available to pick up the baby until Monday.

“We could accommodate her in the nursery,” Dr. Rayburn suggested.

A tear etched a path down Sunny’s cheek. “I can’t leave her alone. Who’ll hold her when she cries?”

Jennifer couldn’t bear the thought, either. “I suppose I could watch her at home for the weekend,” she said. “If you really want me to.”

The young mom sniffled. “Thank you. You’ll fall in love with her. I know you will.”

Jennifer brushed a kiss across the baby’s soft cheek. “And I’ll stay on top of things until she’s placed. I promise.”

“Okay. I trust you.” Sunny snatched Tony’s pen and filled in the papers. She didn’t do a very thorough job, but apparently it passed muster with the attorney. “Have a beautiful life,” she whispered to her daughter. “Be good so the nice lady loves you.” Tears streaming, she rushed away.

Jennifer longed to call after her and suggest she seek counseling. Too late. The young mom was gone.

From the lobby, a burst of applause indicated the raffle winner had been announced. And Ms. Yashimoto’s scowl brought home the point that Jennifer ought to be tending to her duties, not standing there cuddling a baby.

“I’ll take the little one to the nursery for an exam.” Nurse Lori Ross, who’d hung back during the incident, came to Jennifer’s side. A good friend, she was a welcome sight.

“That would be wonderful. I’ll pick her up in about an hour,” Jennifer said gratefully.

“I’ll arrange for diapers and formula, too,” Lori promised. “If you like, I’ll drop by your place later and show you how to use them.”

Jennifer chuckled. “I used to babysit. But thanks.”

“See you later.” The nurse took the infant. Cool air rushed in where Rosalie had warmed Jennifer’s arms.

“I’ll get you a loaner car seat,” Tony added.


“Absolutely,” said Ms. Yashimoto. “Think of the liability if they had an accident!” She cleared her throat. “And of course, we don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

As the others departed, Jennifer slowed her breathing, struggling to settle her racing thoughts. Sunny’s pleading expression…that darling baby…How on earth could she have resisted?

By using your common sense, that’s how.

Babies didn’t stay babies. They grew into toddlers, and little girls, and then teenagers who required guidance and stability. They deserved two parents, or at least a mother who’d planned for them. Definitely not a mom who’d had an infant thrust into her arms because of a silly misunderstanding.

But this was only for the weekend. That was all she’d promised, and all she could reasonably provide.

Straightening her shoulders, Jennifer headed for the lobby. Judging by the buzz of voices, she gathered that people were scattering, which meant she’d better hurry and round up those interested in a tour.

Entering, she was pleased to see that Willa had cornered Ian. Keep that man busy. Just the sight of him frayed Jennifer’s temper.

Usually, she didn’t let reporters bother her, but he was uncommonly pesky and smug. And too much like the daredevils she used to find irresistible, before she grew up the hard way.

“Over here for the tour!” Jennifer called. “I promise, if anyone gets bored, I won’t be offended if you hop on the nearest elevator. But you won’t want to miss seeing our nurseries.”

“More than one?” inquired a city councilwoman.

“We have nurseries providing several levels of care, depending on babies’ needs,” Jennifer explained. “Also, did I mention there’s a helicopter pad on our roof?”

“I’m hooked,” said a man she recognized as the police chief. “Count me in.”

A cheerful group assembled. Jennifer was leading them to the main elevators when she spotted Ian’s cameraman, a trendy urban type with a shaved head and a tattoo peeking above his T-shirt, cutting across the lobby in their direction. Well, she could hardly object, since he was a member of the press.

Here came Ian, his long legs making short work of the distance. What a striking contrast to his associate: stylishly cut hair, careless but expensive black jacket, and a tie loosened just enough to tempt a woman to give it a tug.

Some other woman.

In the elevator, Jennifer wished she weren’t keenly aware of Ian’s sophisticated aftershave lotion. She must have noticed it before, subliminally, because she identified it with him instantly.

“Congratulations,” the councilwoman told him.

On what? Jennifer was about to ask when the doors opened on the third floor. She had to step out and shepherd everyone to the labor and delivery areas. From there, they proceeded to the nurseries.

Although the hospital wasn’t full, thanks to the low profile it had maintained during renovations, there were still a few babies visible through the nursery windows. As Jennifer detailed the state-of-the art equipment, a sense of calm replaced her earlier agitation.

She knew her job. And she knew this hospital. Whatever curveballs Ian Martin decided to throw, she could field them.

She didn’t have long to wait. A few minutes later, when she pointed out the on-call sleeping rooms for staff, Ian asked whether Safe Harbor doctors indulged in sexual shenanigans like the characters on TV doctor shows.

“Absolutely not. That would be unprofessional,” Jennifer responded coolly.

He grinned. Enjoyed provoking her, obviously. Well, his wire service didn’t often cover events in such a small town. With luck, she’d never see him again.

Continuing the tour, she showed off an operating room, a WiFi-equipped patient lounge and some of the overnight facilities for families. Several visitors commented on the convenience of pharmacies on every floor and a cafeteria with an on-site chef from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

“Do they serve vegetarian food?” the councilwoman inquired.

“Vegetarian and vegan,” Jennifer replied. “We offer diabetic and glucose-free menus, as well.”

After touring the rooftop helipad, they returned to the lobby. Her small group disbanded, except for Ian.

Just her luck.

“Is there anything else you need?” For heaven’s sake, how much attention did this man expect when she was eager to get upstairs to Rosalie?

“I was wondering where the baby will sleep tonight.” Penetrating blue eyes caught hers.

Without the camera aimed at him, surely he didn’t plan any more lectures about abandonment. “At my place,” she said tightly.

“In your bed?”

Of all the nerve! “You’ve just overstepped your bounds. I’ll say good-night.”

“Wait!” He caught her elbow, sending an unwelcome flare of heat through Jennifer’s arm. “That came out wrong.”

“Exactly what would have been the right way for it to come out?” She pulled her arm free.

He cocked his well-shaped head—the man was attractive, and knew it—and indicated the baby furniture on the far side of the lobby. “Guess you missed the excitement. I’m the big winner.”

Him? That explained the councilwoman’s congratulations, as well as his long conversation with Willa, Jennifer supposed. “If you’ll tell us where to deliver it, we’ll be happy to.”

He watched her as if waiting for a punch line. “We can deliver it ourselves in Pierre’s van.”

“Wonderful. If you’re donating it to charity, I’ll credit you in our press release.” Now go away.

“Guess I’m not being clear.”

“There’s more?” She steeled herself to keep from backing away.

“You really don’t like me, do you?” The words emerged more rueful than offended.

“It’s my job to be nice to you.” That was the most diplomacy she could manage.

“You hate me that much, huh?”

“I think you’re a…” Jennifer took a deep breath and slowly counted to three. “A reporter doing his job.”

“What I’ve been trying to say, rather clumsily, is that Pierre and I will haul the baby furniture over to your place. I’m assuming you don’t have a crib or a stroller or whatever else is in that lot.”

A changing table, baby sheets, receiving blankets, a diaper stacker and plenty more. Jennifer could recite the inventory by heart, having arranged with the stores that had donated it. She conceded that she’d misjudged Ian’s intentions. “Thank you. I’m not sure I need all that for two days, though.”

“Give it to charity when you’re finished,” he said.

“You really don’t need to—”

“How about letting me act like a nice guy for a change? I’d say I owe you a favor.”

He certainly did. If it weren’t for him, Jennifer wouldn’t be in this bind.

“I’d appreciate borrowing the baby equipment,” she conceded. “But anything that happens after we leave the medical center is off the record. No videos, no quotes.”

“Done.” He waved to summon Pierre. “How far do you live?”

“Less than a mile.” Close enough to walk to work occasionally, although she didn’t bother to mention that. Despite Ian’s cooperative attitude, Jennifer wasn’t about to trust the man. She intended to tell him as little as possible.

About anything.

Chapter Three

“I could video the outside of her building. A condo complex, she said?” Pierre mused as he piloted the van along a side street. “Maybe I’ll accidentally-on-purpose catch her carrying the baby inside.”

Ian dragged his gaze off the compact car they were trailing, which from this height looked awfully fragile to protect a woman and a baby. “I gave my word.”

“Ridiculous,” his companion muttered. “We’re newsmen, for Pete’s sake.”

“Ever heard of being off duty?”

“This from a man reputed to have taken a bullet in his shoulder in Baghdad, wrapped it in a scarf and finished his interview?”

“Greatly exaggerated.” Or so he preferred for people to think.

“If we aren’t working, what’re we doing here?” grumbled the cameraman.

“A good deed.”

“What’s that?”

Ian laughed. “Mr. Hard Nose.”

“Mr. Been in L.A. so long I can tell the gangs apart by their tattoos,” Pierre countered. “People in Safe Harbor have it easy. Big deal, she has to take care of a baby for a few days. It’s a story, man.”

“I promised her.”

“I didn’t.”

“Cross me and I can find a thousand ways to make your life miserable while I’m in town.”

“Threats, threats.” Despite his grumbling, Pierre meant to acquiesce. This wasn’t that big a story.

In truth, Ian wasn’t sure why he felt determined to help Jennifer. Guilt? Attraction? Curiosity?

Her remark had jolted him. This isn’t a game. There are real people’s futures at stake. Real people’s futures were at stake in Baghdad, too. And Istanbul, and Beijing and other places he’d covered. But until now he’d never provoked a turn of events through his own needling.

Still, the young woman—Sunny—would have left the baby somewhere. The video had guided her to this plush hospital and softhearted Jennifer Serra.

He didn’t owe anybody anything. Drop off the furniture, bid the lady sayonara and go toss back a few cold beers. That was the ticket. Yet his spirits sank at the prospect of lounging in yet another bar like a zillion others around the globe, except for the California smokeless air and transfat-free taco chips.

Why was he worrying about this stuff? Must be due to the approach next month of his thirty-fifth birthday. That forced a guy to stop and take stock. For about five minutes, Ian hoped.

The car halted at the curb in front of a stucco building. Through the compact’s window, Jennifer waved at the van to park behind her.

“Nice place,” Pierre muttered.

Ian noted a planter overflowing with petunias and, in a nearby unit, a greenhouse window filled with herbs. “Cozy,” he agreed.

“Typical Orange County.” The camera operator uttered the name as if it were an insult.

“Where exactly do you live?” Although they worked together whenever Ian was in L.A., he didn’t know Pierre well.

“A den of iniquity in Hollywood.”

“Sounds charming.” Ian pushed open his door.

“The rats like it.”

“You have pet rats?” he joked.

The man chuckled. “Okay, no rats. But no greenhouse windows, either.”

Jennifer awaited them on the sidewalk, the baby tucked into a stroller and her foot tapping impatiently. She wasted no time heading into her two-story unit, where, naturally, the baby furniture went upstairs, into an empty bedroom.

Ian and Pierre hauled in the changing table, crib and bureau. How could one little kid require this much stuff? Mercifully, it had all been assembled prior to being put on display. If not, Ian conceded, he’d probably have felt obligated to do the job himself.

At last they wedged their final load—a chest of baby clothes, shoes, toys and books—into a corner of the bedroom. According to Ian’s watch, it was a little past nine.

“Still early enough to keep my pressing engagement,” Pierre said as they descended.

“You have a pressing engagement?”

“I always have a pressing engagement,” he replied coolly. “How about you?”

“Only to file my story.” While it might be Friday night here, morning was dawning on the other side of the globe, and viewers of the baby-surrender video would be eager for more details.

On the living-room couch, Jennifer sat feeding the baby from a bottle. Idly, Ian noted the colorful decor: lemony walls, red-checked curtains and a splash of green from hanging plants. Plus, of course, the blue-and-pink portable bassinet and baby gear strewn across the coffee table.

“You okay?” he asked.

Jennifer nodded wearily. “I appreciate everything you’ve done.”

“No problem. You sure you’re fine by yourself?” He had no idea what had inspired this surge of protectiveness.

Tendrils of her once-artful hairstyle straggled down her cheeks as she nodded, and then she paused. “Oh!”

The single syllable froze him in the doorway. “Yes?”

From her pocket, she produced a set of keys. “If I leave my car on the street, I’ll get a ticket. Would you mind moving it? The parking space is in the carport around back, with my unit number.”

The exhaustion in Jennifer’s voice tugged at Ian. She’d worked hard today, and she no doubt faced a wakeful night due to his meddling. “No problem.”

“Also, Dr. Rayburn insisted I bring some of the leftovers from the reception,” she added. “If you could fetch those from the car, I’d appreciate it.”

“Glad to.” He caught the keys in midair and stepped outside.

“Man, hurry it up, will you?” Pierre growled.

“I think I’ll stick around awhile,” he said as they went down the walkway. “You go on without me.”

“You sure?”

“Might get a few more quotes for my story.” That made a convincing explanation. It could turn out to be the truth, if Jennifer agreed. Mostly, though, he wanted to make sure she got settled properly.

“You’ll have to walk back to your car,” Pierre warned.

Right. He’d left it at the hospital. “Only a mile,” Ian pointed out. In most places in the world, people thought nothing of hiking that distance.

“See you Monday. Or sooner, if anything breaks.”

“You bet.”

Jennifer’s car started easily, and Ian found the parking space with no trouble. From the trunk, he removed two large caterer’s boxes that, judging by the weight, held enough food for a small village. The scents of cheese and bacon reminded him that he’d forgotten to eat earlier.

He hoped she planned to share.

Swinging down a pathway through the landscaped courtyard, Ian registered the low chatter of TV sets, a pop song soaring out of an upstairs window and, from somewhere, a burst of male and female laughter. The sweet scent of jasmine drifted to him on a mild September breeze. For a fleeting moment, he imagined himself living in a refuge like this, returning home each night to comfortable furniture and a familiar, welcoming smile….

If he reacted this way to turning thirty-five, he shuddered to think what tricks his mind might play at forty. Nope, his imagination didn’t stretch that far.

After a sharp knock, he let himself into Jennifer’s unit. She hadn’t stirred from the couch, where she and the baby drooped as if falling asleep.

“Sorry to interrupt.” He hefted the boxes. “Shall I tuck these in the fridge?”

“Actually, I’m starving.” Gently, she lifted the infant and positioned her in the bassinet. “I was too busy to eat earlier.”

“I missed dinner myself.” As a consequence of an unpredictable schedule and frequent shifts of time zone, Ian rarely kept track of meals.

“You realize those are fighting words to a woman?” Jennifer teased. “I can’t let a man leave my home hungry.”

So she had a domestic side. That was hard to resist in his present mood.

When she lifted one of the white boxes from his hands, Ian registered that she just reached his shoulder. The perfect height for dancing, not that they were ever likely to. Or for gathering close and kissing, which seemed even less likely. Damn it.

He followed her into an airy kitchen enlivened by a yellow-and-white-checked tablecloth and a gleaming wood floor. He set his box beside hers on the counter. “Did you decorate this place yourself?”

“Every stroke of paint and stick of furniture.” She lifted blue plates from a cabinet. “I grew up in dingy rentals. Until I was over eighteen, I didn’t realize you could buy cookware any place but Goodwill.”

He’d assumed she came from a posh environment like the one where she worked. “Making up for lost time?”

“With a vengeance.” She opened the catering boxes to reveal hors d’oeuvres ranging from egg rolls to meatballs, plus the quiches and bacon-wrapped shrimp he’d spotted previously. “I could heat this if you like.”

“Cold is fine with me.” If he’d been finicky about food, he wouldn’t have lasted long at his job. “Do you have any cayenne pepper?”

“You like your food spicy, I take it.”

“Kind of an addiction.”

Jennifer fetched a small shaker from the spice rack. “Wine?” she asked as he heaped up a plate. “I have an open bottle of merlot.”

“Perfect. Thanks.” Ian couldn’t recall the last time he’d eaten a leisurely meal in a woman’s kitchen. Not since he last visited his sister.

“You live in L.A.?” Jennifer asked as she set down his glass. Beneath a hanging lamp, the wine glowed in the leaded, hand-cut crystal.

“Me?” Sometimes Ian forgot that he didn’t have “nomad” printed on his forehead. “I don’t exactly live anywhere. My news agency is based in Brussels.” In case her geography was vague, he added, “That’s in Belgium.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Some people assume it’s in the Netherlands or France.”

“Or in the middle of a field of sprouts?”

“That, too.”

She downed a bite of food before continuing. “If you don’t have a home, where do you store your personal records and stuff you plan to keep?”

“In my sister’s attic.” He dug into the meatballs. “These are great. I approve of your caterer.”

“Finding the best vendors is part of my job.” She sipped her wine. “Where does your sister live?”

“In Brussels. She’s married to my editor. I made the mistake of introducing them. Well, not a mistake, since they’re happy, but it’s a bit odd taking orders from my brother-in-law.” Although they didn’t always see eye to eye, he liked Viktor.

“Older or younger sister?”

“Same age. We’re twins.”

“That’s unusual.”

“Not for us.”

She chuckled. “You grew up in Europe?” The note of wonder in her voice reminded him that many people considered his upbringing exotic.

“I was born in a very unromantic spot known as Buffalo, New York,” Ian said. “Since Dad was in the import-export business, we served time in Italy, France and Shanghai.”

Jennifer regarded him wistfully. “I’ve always wanted to travel.”

“We lived in some beautiful places,” Ian conceded. “It was hard constantly leaving friends behind, though.” He rounded off with the obligatory disclosure, “I went to college in New York City. Columbia University. Journalism.”

“That’s impressive,” Jennifer murmured.

“What about you?”

“Cal State Fullerton. Communications.”

Ian had meant the rest of her background, not her alma mater. “Did you grow up around here?”

“Palm Highlands,” she said. “Out in the desert. About the most boring place on the planet, unless you’re fascinated by biker bars, run-down diners and motels with half the lights burned out in the Vacancy sign.”

“I’ve seen worse.”

“In France and Italy?”

“Afghanistan. Iraq. Somalia.” As he reeled off the names, Ian tried to blot the images of bombed-out buildings, the smell of smoke, the sound of wailing. Sitting in this comfortable kitchen, it was hard to recall why he’d been so eager to get back there.

“What on earth brings you to Safe Harbor?”

“My brother-in-law has this crazy idea that my real gift is human-interest stories.”

“Well, you’re pushy and ingratiating,” she teased. “I suppose that counts for something.” After scooting her chair back, she went into the living room to check on the baby. On her way back, she stopped at the counter.

“Pushy and ingratiating,” Ian repeated. “You’re blunt after a glass of wine. What happens after two glasses?”

“I try not to find out.” She refilled her plate. “There are cheesecake bites and brownies, or didn’t you notice?”

Amazingly, he’d missed them. “Count me in.”

They capped off the meal with a cup of decaf. Usually Ian would have stuck to wine or something stronger, but he had a walk ahead, followed by a long drive.

Across from him, Jennifer stretched stocking-clad feet onto an empty chair and licked a cheesecake crumb from her finger. Nice mouth, Ian noted once again. Under other circumstances, he might consider finding out how it felt beneath his. Or perhaps, if their moods mellowed even further…

“What comes next?” she asked.

His body responded instinctively to the possibilities. He could almost feel her heat against him, her sweet yielding. “Next?”

“Yes.” Her eyes widened as she caught his expression. “I didn’t mean that!”

Ian nearly choked on his coffee. “I’m sorry.”

A blush spread across her cheeks. “Are you all right?”

“Hold the Heimlich. I’m fine.” He stifled his coughing with another swallow. “Repeat the question, would you? I think I’ve returned to my right mind.”

“I meant, now that you’ve wowed your viewers on the Internet, where do you jet off to?”

“First I have to write tonight’s story. Then I’ve got a corrupt judge to investigate. And a Hollywood scandal, which isn’t serious, but for some reason people like to read about that.”

“You said something earlier about war zones.” An eyebrow arched skeptically. “And here I took you for just another pretty face in front of the camera.”

That was truly what she’d thought of him? “Thanks for the backhanded compliment. Always glad to be considered pretty.” Rubbing his jaw ruefully, he noted a bristly hint of stubble. “Would a beard improve my image?”

Her toes twitched. “No, but another round of cheesecake might. Men always look better when I’m on sugar overload.”

“At your service.” He transferred the platter of desserts to the table. “The truth is, covering the hospital debut was a way to kill a slow evening.”

“Well, smack me in the ego,” she said dryly.

If he weren’t careful, he might start to like this woman more than he should, Ian conceded. When in doubt, he did what he always did: got down to business. “Since I still have a story to write, is it okay if I mention that baby Rosalie is happily settled with you for the weekend? Inquiring minds will want to know.”

“Just don’t print my address.” Jennifer polished off another brownie. “That’s my limit, by the way. Take the rest of them with you. Brain food.”

“Dessert is brain food?”

“Late-night energy boost,” she explained.

Although being around her provided all the energy boost Ian needed, he had better judgment than to mention that. “I’ll take half in case you get hungry again. By the way, if my schedule permits, I might drop by the hospital next week for a follow-up on the baby.”

“If you’re too busy, you can always send that endearing cameraman. What’s his name—Pierre? If he ever gets laid off, I hope he’ll consider a second career as a hospitality hostess. It’s a shame for all that charm to go to waste.”

Lucky that Ian had finished his coffee or he’d have choked on it again. “You saw right through his surly facade.”

“Right into his surly heart.”

Digging into his pocket, he produced a business card. “Here’s my number. Call me if you find out Rosalie’s the secret love child of a rock star. Or if you need someone to run out for diapers and formula this weekend. I’m staying in L.A., but I like driving.” Although he wasn’t sure why he made the offer, he meant it.

“If an earthquake hit right now, we probably have enough diapers and formula to last for weeks.” She glanced at the card. “What does the R in your middle initial stand for?”

“Rascal,” he said.

“Not Rumormonger?”

“Robert, actually.” Getting to his feet, he did his best to brush a ridiculously large amount of crumbs into a paper napkin.

“That gives you three first names,” Jennifer observed lazily, as if feeling the effects of the wine. “Ian Robert Martin. Is your twin sister by any chance named Ina?”

“Close. Anni.”

“Anni Roberta Martin?”

“You’re wicked,” he said. “No. And her last name is now DeJong.”

“Nice to have met you, Ian Robert Martin,” Jennifer said. “The wastebasket’s under the sink.”

As he disposed of the napkin, it occurred to him that she hadn’t provided her cell number. Then he recalled that it was on the press release. The woman must live and breathe her work. A lot like he did. “Sleep well.”

“I’ll try.”

On his way out, Ian paused by the bassinet. Although Rosalie’s lids were shut, her little mouth appeared to be sucking, and she twitched. Dreaming, he thought, and wondered what babies dreamed of.

After checking that the door locked behind him, he set out toward the hospital. He relished the cool night air and the chance to think.

Tonight, for the space of a few hours, Ian had simply lived in the moment and enjoyed talking to a woman more than he had in years. He liked this place. He could understand how it might lure a man.

But he doubted he’d return, except for work. Over the years, he’d seen too many reporters go off track. They’d traded promising careers and opportunities to change the world for a peaceable life and the mediocrity that came with it.

That was not going to happen to Ian Robert Martin. For him, Safe Harbor could never be more than a temporary port.

Chapter Four

Twice that night, Jennifer awoke and went down the hall to the baby’s room. Each time, Rosalie drained her bottle and snuggled happily with her new, temporary mom in the borrowed rocking chair.

What circumstances had led to this birth? Why had Sunny felt obliged to give her up? Too bad Jennifer hadn’t had a chance to talk privately with the young mother.

At seventeen, Jennifer hadn’t been certain she’d be able to keep her own baby, but she would have tried. Had her son lived, he’d be twelve now, junior-high age. What would he be like? Would he be here, or growing up with an adoptive family?

It was useless to agonize over the past. Equally futile to imagine, as Jennifer did in these sleepy, vulnerable moments, that she might adopt Rosalie. Following impulses led to disappointment and sometimes actual harm. No one knew that better than she did.

Still, she was glad she’d yielded to Sunny’s urgent request, for as long as it lasted. Often in the middle of the night like this, loneliness squeezed Jennifer’s heart. Not tonight. For this brief reprieve, she had a baby to hold. For that, she was grateful.

This evening, too, she’d felt painful stirrings around Ian Martin. He was exactly the kind of man that used to attract her—intense, amusing, volatile. Men like that always let her down, though. And they always would, if she gave them the chance.

So she wouldn’t.

Jennifer returned the baby to the crib. She had a job she loved, along with two very dear new friends. And she’d better get to bed so she didn’t oversleep and miss their regular Saturday outing.

At nine o’clock the next morning, having polished off the remaining brownies and cheesecake bites for breakfast, she threw on jeans, a tank top and matching sweater and tucked Rosalie into the borrowed stroller. In front of the complex, they found Lori waiting, and together set out on their power walk.

“How’d the baby do last night?” The nurse peered into the carriage as they strode. “How about you? I heard the reporter loaned you the furniture he won. Did that go all right? He didn’t stay too late, did he? You look well rested.”

Although accustomed to her friend’s bubbly nature, Jennifer rarely saw her this chatty. “It was fine. And what did you OD on this morning?”

“Jared stayed over last night. He just left a few minutes ago.” That explained the flyaway state of Lori’s reddish-brown hair.

She and Jared Sellers, a staff neonatologist, had been dating for several months. Although hospital policy discouraged courtships at work, there were no rules against dating in one’s private life. Besides, technically the two didn’t work together. Lori assisted Mark Rayburn with his infertility patients, while Jared treated newborns. In fact, he was the doctor who’d examined Rosalie last night.

At the hiking trail, they found Samantha Forrest jogging in place as she awaited them. The pediatrician might be a few years older than Lori and Jennifer, but she kept in tip-top shape. “Whose baby is that?” she asked, angling for a better look.

“You didn’t see us on the Internet?” Jennifer asked. “For all I know, it made the eleven o’clock news, as well.” Ian hadn’t been the only reporter present.

“What made the news?” Samantha asked as they set out abreast. Luckily, no one was around to object to them blocking the path.

Jennifer explained about the evening’s events, with Lori throwing in excited comments. Her enthusiasm seemed excessive, since the nurse claimed not to be crazy about babies. The oldest of six girls, Lori had helped raise her younger siblings, and that, she’d declared, was all the parenting she ever cared to provide.

“She relinquished the baby in front of the cameras?” Samantha queried as they passed a bougainvillea-draped wall that obscured their view of expensive bluff-top homes. “I’ll bet Mark and that executive gave her the bum’s rush.”

Sam made no secret of her dissatisfaction with the hospital administration. She’d risen to director of pediatrics a few years ago when the facility served many poor families. It still accepted maternity patients on a sliding scale, but a clinic offering low-cost care had been closed.

“Dr. Rayburn was very supportive,” Jennifer corrected.

“And Ms. Yashimoto?”

“The less said, the better.” She adjusted the stroller’s hood to keep the sunlight off Rosalie’s face. The baby returned her gaze contentedly.

Don’t get too attached, sweetheart. I can’t keep you, she thought, and then wondered if she was aiming that reminder at the baby or at herself.

“Did you tell Sam about the reporter who won the contest? He’s cute,” Lori prompted, and hurried on to describe Ian’s rangy good looks and the generous loan of his winnings. Jennifer hardly had a chance to say anything, which was just as well.

She hadn’t told her friends of her reluctance to get involved with a man, because that might lead to revelations about her troubled past. Eventually, she supposed it would come up, but better later than sooner. Much as she longed for complete acceptance by these women, she knew that relationships took time to grow. For now, she preferred to tread carefully.

A breeze carried the scent of salt air, and she spotted a couple of gulls wheeling overhead. As the path turned downhill toward the harbor, Jennifer slowed to avoid jostling the baby. Lori trotted ahead, stopped and began hopping up and down impatiently.

“What’s gotten into you?” Samantha asked.

Instead of answering, Lori waved her left hand.

“Drying your nail polish?” Jennifer guessed.

A flash of light refracted from a diamond on Lori’s finger. Sam halted in her tracks. “Oh, my gosh! She’s wearing a ring!”

“Jared proposed last night. Doesn’t he have fabulous taste?” Lori cried. “I mean the ring, not me. Although he’s got good taste there, too!”

Jennifer wished this couple every happiness. Yet the thought of planning a future with a man she loved was almost too painful to contemplate.

Until last night, she’d believed her crushed dreams were safely locked away. Then Ian had filled her home with the deep rumble of his laugh and the challenging glint in his eyes. A reminder of what she’d dreamed of and lost.

With an effort, Jennifer broke through her memories. “That’s great,” she told Lori.

“Have you set a date?” asked Samantha, who’d already offered her congratulations.

“I’ve always dreamed of a Christmas wedding.”

“That’s only a few months off.”

“We’ll have a simple church ceremony,” Lori assured them.

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