Never had Meg Dawson dreamed her trip home would lead to a whirlwind romance with the town's charismatic sheriff. But Logan MacDonald's past was still on his mind, and Meg knew their relationship couldn't lead to anything permanent....
Until the stick turned blue!
Meg wanted this baby more than anything, yet she dreaded telling Logan about his impending fatherhood. She knew he'd offer marriage out of a sense of duty. But Meg vowed to say yes only when the sheriff's proposal was made for the sake of love.
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July 01, 2010
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Excerpt from The Sheriff's Proposal by Karen Rose Smith
Sheriff Logan MacDonald's office phone rang making his heart ache and pound at the same time. At the Willow Valley sheriff's office, a phone call could mean a life-and-death situation or, more likely, a few cows had escaped their fencing and blocked a county road. A call could also bring Logan news of his son.
But now after four months, when he answered a call, he tried to keep his heart from racing and his hopes from rising. Still, an insistent voice inside him whispered, This could be the one. Maybe it's news of Travis.
He snatched up the receiver.
"Doc Jacobs, Logan. I'm on my way over to Lily and Ned Carlson's. They found a migrant couple in their barn. The woman's having a baby, and they don't want the rescue squad. But I might need some backup."
Logan's heart rate slowed, and his hopes hit the ground. Then Doc Jacobs's words sunk in. The rescue squad in Willow Valley, Virginia, took care of the small town and the surrounding rural area. The closest hospital was a half hour away in Lynchburg. "I'm leaving now."
Logan snapped down the receiver and tried to push thoughts of his sixteen-year-old runaway son out of his head.
Although it was midmorning, the steamy, end-of-August heat blasted him as he hurried to his car. The temperature would probably hit a hundred by three o'clock. He could have sent one of his six deputies to the Carlsons' place, but he preferred taking some time out from his administrative duties and getting into the thick of things himself.
The inside of the sheriff's cruiser was as hot as blazes. He flipped on the air conditioner full blast, letting the panel air hit him in the face. He tried to forget that his hopes had been crushed yet another time, that he still didn't know whether his son was alive or dead. Four months. Four long months to agonize over every mistake he'd made as a parent.
Logan brushed his black hair from his brow as the cool air fought the intense heat, and he switched on the siren. The stores on Main Street flashed by, then the corner grocery. A few teenagers stood out front, reminding Logan that school would be starting in a week. And Travis...
Travis. Logan's chest tightened.
He had moved his family to Willow Valley five years ago in large part because of Travis. Logan had wanted more time with his son in a wholesome country environment, rather than on the streets of a big city. His career as a cop had always added tension to a marriage that had been troubled from the start. Even Shelley had agreed that moving might help--that a job as deputy sheriff in Willow Valley and the surrounding county could make a difference in their lives. But their son had hated leaving the familiar--his school, his friends.
And Shelley? She'd never had any intention of starting over. Once they were settled in Willow Valley, Logan had figured they'd all have a chance at a fresh start. But he'd figured wrong. For his marriage. For Travis.
The farmland surrounding Willow Valley zipped by as Logan sped toward the Carlsons' farm west of town. The green pastures, the cedars, the trees in abundance, usually filled him with a sense of peace. Even now he felt it, although his surroundings blurred as he pushed down the accelerator.
Logan drove down the lane to the Carlsons' barn and parked on a patch of gravel beside Doc Jacobs's SUV. He didn't recognize the blue compact beside it, though he guessed it might belong to the Carlsons' niece. He'd never met her, but he'd heard she was in town for a visit. As small towns go, anything happening in Willow Valley was everybody's business, and rumors, as well as accurate information, traveled faster than the rescue squad with its siren blaring.
He rushed to the open barn door and stepped inside. The smell of hay and old wood wound about Logan. But when he heard a woman's moans, he forgot about his surroundings and hurried to the far corner. Although he'd learned CPR and emergency-aid training as a police officer, he'd never delivered a baby. He'd been out on patrol when Travis was born. But if Doc needed help, he'd do whatever he could.
The tableau Logan found was one he wouldn't forget for a long time. The woman in labor held on to her husband's hand. A second woman kneeling beside her spoke to them both in a low voice. Her fluent Spanish was melodic and soothing, a calm in the midst of a strange situation. She looked vaguely familiar. The observer and investigator in Logan noticed every detail--from the slight tilt of her nose, the silkiness of the brown hair swinging along her cheekbones, to her eyes, which were a rich chocolate color that deepened as she suddenly realized someone else was in their midst. Her gaze slid over his uniform. Logan's body responded to her figure in denim cutoffs and blue-and-white cotton blouse. He almost smiled. That hadn't happened in a very long time.
Again she spoke to the woman lying on a blanket, patted her hand and explained something in Spanish. But it wasn't her talent with the language that mesmerized Logan. It was her tone of voice, her smile. She was so kind, so compassionate. Then her gaze rested on Logan's again for a moment. As it did, the place inside of him that hurt so badly suddenly felt a glimmer of sunshine.
"How can I help?" he asked, his voice husky. He cleared his throat.
Doc Jacobs looked up from his position at the woman's feet. "We're letting nature take its course. Hold her shoulders for her, Meg, or tell Manuel. This last push ought to do it. Come on now, Carmen. Give it all you've got."
As Carmen moaned and another contraction gripped her, the young woman beside her translated what the doctor had said. Logan had a limited working knowledge of Spanish, and he could catch a phrase here and there as Manuel held his wife, and Meg coached and soothed.
Logan forgot his purpose, that he was the law-and-order keeper in Willow Valley. Rather, he got caught up in the drama before him. It brought back so many memories, both good and bad. He'd never forget the day Travis was born, the sense of pride, the overwhelming wave of protectiveness and responsibility that had washed over him the first time he'd held his son in his arms. He'd never regretted his decision to marry Shelley when he'd found out she was pregnant. He did regret the interests they'd never shared, the conversations they'd never had, the barrier that had grown between them until Shelley had felt deception was her only option. Most of all, he regretted the night of their worst argument--the night she'd rushed out of the house and...
Carmen's face contorted in pain, and she squeezed Meg's hand. Her husband spoke to her, and Logan heard, "Te quiero tanto." "I love you very much." His throat constricted.
Logan absorbed all of it--the love between the couple, the soft, caring voice of the woman acting as interpreter and coach, the tears in her eyes as they all heard the first cry. And then it was over, yet in most ways it had just begun.
The doctor suctioned the baby's mouth, wrapped him in a towel and laid him on his mother's stomach. Manuel kissed Carmen, and they gazed at their child.
Doc said, "Meg, why don't you get some fresh air?"
"I'm okay, Doc."
"Yes, I know you are, but I'm not going to need you again until after I clean up the baby," replied Doc Jacobs, who tended to act as if he were everyone's father. "I'll call you if Carmen and Manuel want you. Now, scoot. Go get Lily. I know she'll want to help, too."
Logan waited for the woman who could speak Spanish as fluently as she spoke English and walked with her to the door. Close to her in the hay-baked heat of the barn, he smelled the faint scent of roses. Perfume? Shampoo? Whatever it was, along with her lovely smile and gentle voice, it packed a wallop.
He let her precede him outside. His shirt stuck to his back, but except for the swath of pink on her cheeks, she didn't look as if she'd just helped deliver a baby.
He extended his hand to a woman whose smile could make him believe the sun would come up tomorrow. "I'm Logan MacDonald."
Meg had heard a little about the sheriff over the past few years from her aunt and uncle. Not much, just that he was a widower and he ran his jurisdiction with an iron hand. Yet he was well liked by the constituents who'd gotten to know him as a deputy and had elected him sheriff because of his reputation and career in law enforcement. She'd been aware of his presence as soon as he'd walked into the barn. Her experiences had led her to be acutely aware of her surroundings, the tiniest inflections and mannerisms. All were elements of communication.
What Logan MacDonald had come upon in the barn had affected him deeply. She could tell from his expression, the huskiness in his voice.
The birth had affected her, too. Though early, this baby had been no accident. Manuel and Carmen didn't have much, but they already had a nurturing love for this child, the kind of love Meg had only felt from Aunt Lily and Uncle Ned.
As Meg placed her hand in Logan MacDonald's, she was aware that his physique in his uniform spoke of authority; the open top two buttons of his dark brown shirt told her he was impatient with the heat. He was sleek and muscled--tall with black hair and green eyes that seemed to be searching hers for something. He looked almost fierce in his concentration.
"Meg Dawson," she returned as he gripped her hand. The touch of his skin against hers made her that much more conscious of the intensity in his green eyes. She felt warm and more than a little bothered.
Releasing her hand, he snapped his fingers. "That's it. Now I recognize you. Margaret Elizabeth Dawson-- the interpreter. Your picture was on the front page of most newspapers in the country not so long ago. I didn't realize you were Lily and Ned's niece."
She'd shied away from the Willow Valley Courier and their attempts to persuade her to do an interview after the initial wire-service story ran. She'd wanted to recover and forget.
But Logan remembered the details. "You were taken hostage in Costa Rica with a diplomat and wounded when your kidnapper started shooting. Finally you talked him into letting you and Pomada go in exchange for a plane. He didn't even get off the runway before the officials nabbed him. You should have been given a medal!"
She could feel her face turning pink. She hadn't even blushed when the president of the United States himself had shaken her hand. Of course, she might have still been in shock then. Part of her still was. "We got out alive. I didn't care about a medal," she said softly.
Her heart rate increased as Logan studied her. Standing in the shade of the barn, she noticed the strands of silver along his temples, the slight beard shadow that she guessed would grow darker as the day progressed, the male scent of him that tightened her stomach in an exciting way. She willed her pulse to slow. She didn't feel strong enough yet to get involved with anyone, let alone with a man like Logan, who exuded authority, intensity and a quality that told her he was hurting right now for some reason. She'd seen it on his face before Carmen's baby had arrived. She could see it now as she looked into his eyes.
"Did you come to Willow Valley to hibernate?" he asked with a perception that rattled her.
There were so many reasons she'd come back. But she simply answered, "I feel safe here."
Before Logan could respond, Doc Jacobs emerged from the barn. "Meg, ask Lily and Ned if they can put Manuel and Carmen up for a few days."
Meg looked concerned. "Do you think Manuel will agree?"
"For Carmen's sake, I hope so. We'll work on him. Logan, any word on Travis?"
The same pain Meg had glimpsed on Logan's face earlier shadowed his features again. "No."
"Your P.I. have any new leads?"
"No. Nothing. But I have to believe he's still out there somewhere."
Doc Jacobs grasped Logan's arm. "I know you do. And this whole town's praying." He ducked back into the barn.
Meg knew she had to talk to her aunt and uncle, yet her focus was still on Logan and the tortured look on his face. But she didn't feel she could ask any questions.
The next moment, Logan seemed to compose himself, only the creases on his forehead hinting something more important was on his mind. "So, tell me what happened here today."
Suddenly fatigue settled over Meg, fatigue that told her she was healing but wasn't yet healed. She leaned against the rough wood of the barn. "Manuel and Carmen are migrants. Legal ones. They were on their way to Pennsylvania for the apple harvest. Manuel's brother is already there."
"I can guess the rest. They didn't expect Carmen to deliver until they arrived in Pennsylvania."
Meg nodded. "When Carmen's labor pain became intense last night, Manuel knew he had to stop. He thought he could deliver the baby himself, but he got scared and, when we found them in the barn, he let us call Doc."
"Why wouldn't Manuel and Carmen stay here a few days?" Logan asked, studying her carefully.
"Because Manuel is proud and won't take handouts. He insists he'll pay Doc."
"Doc'll cut his fee in half."
"Probably. But although Manuel doesn't speak English fluently, he does understand it fairly well and knows the score. Convincing him to stay could be a problem. These two are stubborn. Manuel parked his truck on Black Rock Road last night, and he carried Carmen across the fields to the barn so no one would hear them."
Logan looked away, to the willow tree not far from the house with its graceful branches silent and still in the August heat. After a pause, he said, "Manuel has to do what's best for his wife and child."
Something in Logan's voice told her he'd had to make that decision. "I hope he will. He loves Carmen very much. I can feel the bond between the two of them. It's the same kind my aunt and uncle have."
Logan faced her again. "How long are you going to stay in Willow Valley?"
She was more comfortable talking about Manuel than herself. "I'm not sure. I've already been here a month. But it's really hit me this time that my aunt and uncle are getting older. I think I'd like to stay until Thanksgiving, anyway." The explanation was reasonable, but she knew her decision to stay was more complicated than that.