When Charlene Cooper was eighteen, she turned to Brand Bravo in desperation...and he couldn't get away fast enough. And then ten years later, Charlene was forced to turn to him again--this time with a baby in her arms and a burning question in her heart: are you this little girl's father?
At twenty Brand Bravo knew that he could never be the kind of man Charlene deserved. At thirty, he knew she was the love of his life, and he would do anything to get her back. Because, once again, she needed him, for herself and for the infant in her care. And this time, Brand wouldn't hesitate to be anything Charlene asked him to be. Husband. And father?
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April 30, 2007
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Excerpt from From Here to Paternity by Christine Rimmer
For Charlene Cooper, that world-shaking Saturday in April began like just about every other Saturday.
The alarm jarred her from sleep at five-fifteen. She rolled out of bed, yawning, and padded straight to the bathroom, where she shrugged out of her sleep shirt, hung it on the back of the bathroom door and climbed in the shower.
Twenty minutes later, she was dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt with the Dixie's Diner logo across the front, her blond hair pinned loosely up in the back. She took a minute or two to brush on a hint of blush, a little lipstick and mascara.
Since her bedroom and the only bath were both once having entered her living room or the kitchen beyond. She never ate breakfast before she left in the morning. There would be coffee at the diner, after all. And Teddy, the early-shift cook, would scramble her a couple of eggs on request.
She ducked back into the bedroom to grab her purse from the dresser and returned to the entry, where she reached for the doorknob.
At that exact moment, just before she turned the knob, her life changed forever.
With one tiny sound.
It was a soft, happy, cooing sort of sound. Like a puppy. Or a kitten. Or maybe a pigeon. It was coming from her living room.
A pigeon. In her living room?
There it was again--and no. Not a pigeon. Not an animal at all.
More like a--
Charlene let out a tiny cry of pure bewilderment and whirled for the living room, where she found something truly, completely impossible.
A baby all wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket, lying there on her antique mahogany and horsehair sofa, beneath the picture window that looked out on the deck--.
Charlene's purse hit the rug with a soft plop. She put her hands over her mouth, backed up to the ancient rocker that had once belonged to her greatgrandmother and slowly lowered herself to the seat. The rocker creaked softly as it took her weight.
And the baby on the sofa waved its fat little hands and cooed at the ceiling as if it didn't have a worry in the world. Not far away, on the floor at the end of the sofa, there was a battered-looking flowered diaper bag and a dingy blue car seat.
Somebody had broken into her house and left a baby, complete with car seat and diaper bag. Who would do such a crazy thing?
Slowly, as the baby made a goofy little noise that sounded almost like a giggle, Charlene lowered her hands and gripped the carved arms of the old rocker. "Hello?" she said aloud, her voice all strangled and strange sounding. Maybe the mother--or whoever had brought the baby--was still in the house. She cleared her throat and called more forcefully in the direction of the kitchen and the spare bedroom at the back of it. "Anybody here?"
The baby waved its fists some more, and the pink blanket made a rustling sound, a sound like paper crackling--.
Charlene shot to her feet again and approached the cooing infant.
There. Pinned to the blanket on the far side. A folded sheet of lined paper.
The baby gurgled and cooed some more, blinking its blue eyes, smiling up at Charlene as if it recognized her.
But that was impossible. This baby was tiny--too tiny to recognize anyone--at that age when they seemed to be smiling at you, but weren't, really. No more than they were actually waving at you when they wiggled their fat little arms in the air.
Hands shaking, Charlene unpinned the folded paper. She set the pin in a pinecone bowl on the side table. Her knees felt kind of wobbly, so she backed up again and sat in the rocker before she dared to unfold the lined sheet.
It was wrinkled, the note. She smoothed it on her knee, blinking in horrified disbelief as she recognized that sloppy, back-slanted scrawl.
"Oh, God," she heard herself whisper. "Oh, no--"
Meet your niece, Mia Scarlett Cooper. She is five weeks old, born on March 15. Isn't she beautiful? Takes after her mommy that way. And I need a little favor. See.