When single attorney Steven Creed becomes guardian of an orphaned five-year-old boy, he trades his big-city law firm for a ranch near his McKettrick kin in the close-knit community of Stone Creek, Arizona. Taking care of little Matt and fixing up his run-down ranch house with its old barn loosens something tightly wound inside him. But when Steven takes on the pro bono defense of a local teen, he meets his match in the opposing counsel--beautiful, by-the-book county prosecutor Melissa O'Ballivan. It'll take one grieving little boy, a sweet adopted dog and a woman who never expected to win any man's heart to make this Creed in Stone Creek know he's truly found home.
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February 22, 2011
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Excerpt from A Creed in Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller
Some instinct--or maybe just a stir of a breeze--awakened Steven Creed; he sat up in bed, took a fraction of a moment to orient himself to unfamiliar surroundings. One by one, the mental tumblers clicked into place:
Room 6. Happy Wanderer Motel and Campground. Stone Creek, Arizona.
The door stood open to the fresh high-country air, which was crisply cool on this early June night, but not cold, and the little boy--Steven's newly adopted son-- sat on the cement step outside. A bundle--probably his favorite toy, a plush skunk named Fred, rolled up in his blanket--rested beside him, and the boy's tiny frame was rimmed in an aura of silvery-gold moonlight.
Something tightened in Steven's throat at the poignancy of the sight.
Poor kid. It wasn't hard to guess who he was waiting for. Matt was small, with his dad's dark hair and his mother's violet eyes, and he was exceptionally intelligent--maybe even gifted--but he was still only five years old.
How could he be expected to comprehend that his folks, Zack and Jillie St. John, were gone for good? That they wouldn't be coming to pick him up, no matter how hard he hoped or how many stars he wished on, that night or any other.
Steven's eyes burned, and he had to swallow the hard ache that rose in his throat.
Jillie had succumbed to a particularly virulent form of breast cancer a year and a half ago, and Zack had only lasted a few months before the grief dragged him under, too--however indirectly.
"Hey, Tex," Steven said, trying to sound casual as he sat up on the thin, lumpy mattress of the foldout sofa-- he'd given the bed to the child when they checked in that evening. Steven shoved a hand through his own dark blond hair. "What's the trouble?" His voice was hoarse. "Can't sleep?"
Matt looked back at him, shook his head instead of answering aloud.
He looked even smaller than usual, sitting there in the expanse of that wide-open doorway.
Steven rolled out of bed, shirtless and barefoot, wearing a pair of black sweatpants that had seen better days.
He crossed the scuffed linoleum floor, stepped over the threshold and sat down beside Matt on the step, interlacing his fingers, letting his elbows rest on his knees. There was enough of a chill in the air to raise goose bumps wherever his skin was bare, so he figured Matt had to be cold, too, sitting there in his cotton pajamas. With a sigh, Steven squinted to make out the winding sparkle of the nearby creek, sprinkled in starlight, edged by oak trees, with night-purple mountains for a backdrop.
Matt leaned into him a little, a gesture that further melted Steven's already-bruised heart.
Carefully, Steven put an arm around the boy, to lend not only reassurance, but warmth, too. "Having second thoughts about turning rancher this late in your life?" he teased, thinking he couldn't have loved Matt any more if he'd been his own child, instead of his best friend's.
In the morning, Steven would attend the closing over at the Cattleman's Bank, and sign the papers making him the legal owner of a fifty-acre spread with a sturdy though run-down two-story house and a good well but not much else going for it. The rickety fences had toppled over years ago, defeated by decades of heavy snow in winter and pounding rain come springtime, and the barn was unsalvageable. Yet something about the place had reached out to him and grabbed hold, just the same.
The small ranch had been a home once, and it could be one again, with a lot of elbow grease--and a serious chunk of change.