Dr. Colton's High-Stakes Fiancée
Table of Contents
Title Page (#u1700c50f-df77-579d-95c1-cefe18239ebe)
Dear Reader (#u401324e6-5d8e-5047-8477-fd51b9cdf4cf)
Chapter One (#u53eefd2b-9551-577e-81bb-ba925c969352)
Chapter Two (#u29286735-72c7-5a4a-96b1-f9d50344fed9)
Chapter Three (#u61cc46ec-4f7f-5b54-ae40-e256703c6d34)
Chapter Four (#u0108a49a-92a7-5760-bed7-ff135a041d10)
Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo)
Welcome to the next installment in the ongoing adventures of the Colton clan! It has been a delight to write about this feisty and fun bunch. I couldn’t possibly write this letter to you without mentioning the real brown dog that is the inspiration for the canine hero in this story. Some years ago, a stray dog wandered up to our door, starved, injured and so frightened of humans he could hardly bring himself to ask for help. But ask he did. It took us months to touch him and two years to coax him into our house. With plenty of patience and love, he gradually regained his faith in humans.
I’m pleased to report that the real Brownie now lives a life of pampered ease as a member of my family and is known around here as the “love sponge.” He is the most loyal, gentle and grateful dog I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He had a rough start in life, but with courage and persistence he got his happy ending … just like Finn and Rachel.
May you and those you love be every bit as lucky in your lives.
This book is for all the generous and compassionate people who volunteer in animal shelters, rescue programs and animal protection programs everywhere. I am brought to tears often by your kindness and caring. All of our lives—both human and non-human—are made better by your loving work.
Rachel Grant sighed down at her chipped and dirt-encrusted fingernails. What she wouldn’t give to be at Eve Kelly’s Salon Alegra right now, getting a manicure and not staring at a shelf of toilet parts in a hardware store. But such were the joys of home ownership on a shoestring budget.
Whoever said that men didn’t gossip as much as women was dead wrong. But they would be right about one thing: Man-gossip left a lot to be desired in comparison to girl-gossip. Floyd Mason, owner of the hardware store, was gossiping with someone whose voice she didn’t recognize the next row over in Paint, and, of course, she was shamelessly eavesdropping. Floyd drawled, “Seems like there’s Colton boys all over town all of a sudden.”
The customer replied, “I hear Damien Colton’s back. The missus sent me over here to get a dead bolt for the back door because of ‘im.”
Bless Floyd, for he replied, “Why’s that? Damien didn’t murder Mark Walsh the first time around or else the bastard wouldn’t have turned up dead for real a few months ago.”
“Yeah, but fifteen years in a penitentiary … that’s gotta change a man. Make him hard. Mean. Maybe even dangerous.”
She might have her own bone to pick with the Colton family, but she bristled at the suggestion that Damien had become a criminal. She’d never for a minute thought he was capable of murder, not fifteen years ago, and not now. She had half a mind to march around the corner and tell the guy so.
Thankfully, Floyd drawled, “Ahh, I dunno ‘bout Damien bein’ dangerous. Those Colton kids might’a been wild, but they was never bad. At least not that kind of bad.”
“I hope you’re right,” the customer drawled. “Ever since Damien got outta jail, it’s been like old-home week over at the Colton place. Wouldn’t be surprised if they’s all back in town by now to welcome home the prodigal son.”
Rachel’s heart skipped a beat in anticipation and then just as quickly thudded in dismay. Please God, let it not be all of the Coltons back home. She really, truly, never needed to see Finn Colton again as long as she lived. He’d been the best-looking boy in the high school. Maybe the entire town. Smartest, too. Was so effortlessly perfect that she’d fallen in love with him before she’d barely known what had happened to her. Oh, and then he’d broken her heart for fun.
The bell over the hardware store’s front door dinged, jolting her from a raft of old memories. Very old. Ancient history. Water way under the bridge—
“Speak of the devil!” Floyd exclaimed. “Long time, no see, boy! You’re looking great. All growed up … got the look of your daddy about you.”
Rachel glanced toward the front of the store. It took no more than a millisecond for certain knowledge to hit her that a Colton had just walked through that door. The brothers were all tall, broad-shouldered, hard men who dominated any room they entered. And one of them was here now. A wave of loss slammed into her. Its backwash was tempered by bits of humiliation, fear, and a few specks of nascent anger swirling around like flotsam. But mostly, it just hurt.
Rachel ducked, wishing fervently that the shelves were at least two feet taller than their five-foot-tall stacks. Which Colton was it? Several of them had left town after high school and gone on to bigger and better things than Honey Creek had to offer.
It didn’t matter which Colton it was. She didn’t want to see any of them. And she especially didn’t want to see Finn. Her knees were actually shaking at the prospect. Lordy, she had to get out of here now. Preferably unseen. She randomly grabbed the nearest rubber toilet gasket and took off crawling on her hands and knees for the front of the store and the cash register. Pleeease let me make it out of here. Let me be invisible. Let me make it to the front door—
“Ouch!” She bumped into something hard, nose-first, and pulled up short. That was a knee. Male, covered in denim. And it smarted. She grabbed the bridge of her nose, which was stinging bad enough to make her eyes water.