She was a woman in search of a child...
And rugged P.I. Jack Henderson was her last resort--the only man who could help her find her sister's missing baby. But Rachel Montgomery never expected the rush of feelings the long, lean loner would arouse. Then Jack vowed to lay his life on the line for the baby's sake, and Rachel knew beneath his stony facade, a loving heart beat strong and true. Dare she hope to shatter his brooding emotions--and make a husband a part of her heartfelt quest?
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April 01, 2010
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Excerpt from The Baby Quest by Pat Warren
Rachel Montgomery sat by the fire in the house of her childhood, drying her hair, alone for the fifth night in a row. Her father had had a dinner meeting in town and hadn't wandered home yet, which apparently was a pattern with Ellis. Where, she wondered, did he go every evening, especially on the Sunday night after Thanksgiving?
Actually, she didn't mind. She enjoyed her solitude, even in Chicago in her apartment. Not for days or weeks on end, of course, for she had friends to go out with, to dinner, a movie. She interacted with lots of people in her role as assistant graphics designer at Kaleidoscope, so evenings alone were often welcome. Yet back here in Montana, they seemed more lonely.
Seeking familiar comfort perhaps, she'd taken a long hot bath and wrapped herself in her old chenille robe that she'd found in the back of her closet. Her feet in scruffy Garfield slippers lovingly saved from her teens, she'd come downstairs and made herself a pot of tea before curling up on the couch in front of the fire she'd built earlier. She no longer thought that fires were wasted on one person. In this house, she could shrivel up and blow away waiting for someone to share a fire with.
Since hearing the news that Christina had been found, she'd avoided giving in to the sorrow waiting in the wings to overcome her. While Ellis and Max turned from their memories, Rachel now invited them.
Sighing, she felt regret move through her. So many things to regret. That her father had always been more interested in politics and business than his family. That Max, who'd been a warm, loving brother when they'd been children, had grown into an arrogant workaholic much like their father. That their mother had died four years ago when Christina had been eighteen. Maybe if Mom had lived, Christina wouldn't have become quite so flighty and irresponsible. However, the truth that Rachel had finally had to face was that Christina had been starved for affection and attention since she'd gotten very little from her family, so she'd turned to men and found an unending source.
Why couldn't her family have been more average, more normal? Rachel wondered. The prerequisites had all been in place, the small Montana town where they'd grown up, a place where nearly everyone knew everyone else. Three children born to a fairly well-off family, all attractive and healthy. What had gone wrong? Why had there been so little love, so little communication, growing up in this big rambling house on Sunnyslope Drive? Or was she longing for the impossible dream?
It had probably begun with her parents' marriage. Deidre Montgomery had been a refined woman from a socially prominent Montana family, one who'd enjoyed going to Bozeman to visit old friends, her library circle, her bridge club. What she hadn't enjoyed was her husband.
Rachel sipped her tea, then returned to her hair brushing. She couldn't help but think of Christina. Her sister had been the pretty one with beautiful, thick chestnut hair. She'd been only thirteen when Rachel had left Whitehorn, yet already beginning to develop very feminine curves.
Christina had been difficult, or so Mother had written to Rachel, but she'd been a good kid at heart. But Mother's death had hit her hard and though Rachel had tried during her short visits home, she hadn't been able to reach Christina.
She should've tried harder, Rachel thought now, tightening her lips to hold back a sob. Oh, God, Christina. Why hadn't I reached out more to you? Why hadn't I insisted you come live with me where I could have watched out for you? Would you be alive today, if I had?
The fire slowly dying, Rachel got up to get the poker to spark some embers. The doorbell rang out twice rather insistently. She glanced at the mantel clock. Who'd be dropping by at nine-thirty?
With the damp towel draped around her shoulders, Rachel opened the door just slightly, yet the cold November wind slipped past the tall man standing in the porch light. Her first impression was that he was big, with broad shoulders and long legs. He had on a sheepskin-lined jacket hanging open, seemingly oblivious of the cold night, and neatly pressed jeans. He wasn't from around here, she decided, despite the Western appearance. No one in her hometown wore tassel loafers.
"I'm Jack Henderson," he said, his hazel-green eyes assessing her just as intently as she'd checked him over. "My sister, Gina, said you were in need of a private investigator." His gaze swept over her again from head to foot. "I guess you weren't expecting me."
Rachel wished she could slam the door closed and pretend she hadn't heard the bell. Gina had called yesterday and said her brother was intrigued by the case and would be arriving soon. But Rachel certainly hadn't expected him to show up on her doorstep the very next day. Gina had told her that for the past eight years Jack Henderson had been running a successful P.I. business out in L.A., the same business, in fact, that Gina herself had been a partner in until her pregnancy and marriage to Trent Remmington. Now the only case she worked on was locating the missing seventh illegitimate grandson of Garrett Kincaid, one of Whitehorn's prominent people.
Suddenly conscious of how she must look in her ratty ancient robe, fuzzy slippers, with her damp hair hanging every which way, Rachel felt heat move into her face.
"No, I mean, yes. Gina said you'd be arriving, but I thought you'd call first." With an unsteady hand, she clutched at the opening of the robe at her throat. "It's kind of late."
Jack's lips twitched as he checked his watch. "In L.A., nine o'clock's considered the shank of the evening. I heard you're from Chicago. Isn't it the same there?"
Rachel wanted to remind him that they weren't in L.A. or Chicago, but she knew he wasn't going to go away until she talked with him. "All right, come on in. For a few minutes," she amended, opening the door wider.
Unfortunately, as Rachel backed up, her floppy slippers caught on a throw rug and she felt herself falling. Oh, no! Not in front of this smooth Los Angeles P.I.! But down she went in a heap on the polished floor, landing unceremoniously on her bottom and her bruised dignity. Gazing all the way up the more than six foot length of him, Rachel saw amusement on his tanned face and she felt like bopping him a good one.
"I think I'm going to enjoy working with you, Rachel," Jack said, offering her a hand up.
Yesterday on the phone, Jack had listened to Gina outline the Montgomery case. Twenty-two-year-old Christina Montgomery had been missing for three months before her body had been found. Evidence revealed that she'd given birth at the murder scene. The deceased's sister, Rachel, needed help finding the baby. Gina had also mentioned that Rachel, who'd seemed cautious and reserved by nature, was not exactly unfriendly but somewhat distant. As he helped Rachel up from her unexpected fall, Jack wasn't sure "reserved" quite described her.
He could tell that she was trying to recapture her dignity by quickly assuming the role of hostess, taking his jacket and leading him into the cozy living room. She needn't have bothered trying to impress him, he found her nervous attempts surprisingly charming.
"Would you like some tea? I just made a pot." She paused in the doorway, ready to dash into the kitchen for another cup.
"Tea." Jack considered the offer, wondering when the last time was that he'd had tea. "Sure. Why not?"
Pausing in the doorway, Rachel watched him sit and make himself comfortable. The couch was big, yet he seemed to take up nearly half. His size was intimidating, even to Rachel's five-six frame. It probably was a plus in his line of work, she thought.
Retreating to the kitchen, she moved to the cupboard and took out another cup before arranging the sugar bowl and a small dish of sliced lemons on her mother's teakwood tray.
Rachel hated to admit it even to herself, but drop-ins made her jittery, especially when the unexpected guest was a ruggedly handsome man with a devilish grin and shoulders a mile wide. She knew this would be the perfect opportunity to interview Jack Henderson as to just how he'd go about finding Christina's baby, and perhaps Christina's killer. If she hired him, they'd be working closely together and she needed to know if they were compatible.
What questions should she ask to discover that? she wondered.
She glanced toward the doorway, then moved closer to the framed mirror on the side wall. Good Lord, her hair resembled a rat's nest and she'd left her brush in the living room. Rummaging through the kitchen drawers, she finally found a broken half of a comb and pulled it through her hair, fixing the mess as best she could. Grimacing at her reflection, she decided that would have to do.
A fleeting memory came to mind of growing up in this house in her teens and her mother's strong warning that neither of her girls was to leave her room unless fully dressed and well groomed, which was how Deidre Montgomery had been raised.
Well, Mom, you should see me now, Rachel thought with a smile.
She picked up the tray, thinking she'd been gone so long that the man must be wondering if she'd run out the back door. An idea, she silently admitted, glancing one last time at her robe, that actually held a lot of appeal about now.
"Here we are," she commented inanely, setting the tray down on the coffee table in front of the couch. Carefully, she poured his tea, refilled her own cup, then turned to poke at the fire.
Jack doubted that Rachel realized that her obviously old and well-washed robe tied so tightly around her slender frame revealed more of her womanly curves than almost anything she could have worn. He crossed his long legs, enjoying the view and wondering when she'd light somewhere. The woman wasn't merely nervous, she was a bundle of nerves. All right, so he should have called, but after he'd checked in to the Whitehorn Motel, he'd decided he'd drive his rental car around a bit, maybe see where the Montgomerys lived. Once out front of the brick two-story with its gabled roof, he'd seen someone in the living room, her back to the picture window, and on impulse had walked up to the front door and rung the bell.
That was when she'd literally fallen at his feet, he thought, hiding another grin as she turned, rejected the couch and sat in a wing chair to the left of the coffee table.
He sent her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "Gina told me a little about the case, but I'd like to hear your version, if you're up to talking about your sister."
"I guess so. What would you like to know?"
Jack leaned forward, picked up his cup and tasted the tea. Hot and strong, not so bad. A shot of whiskey would have been an improvement on such a cold night. "Well, for starters, what kind of person was Christina? Who were her friends? What were her habits? Things like that. If you decide you want me to work on the case, I'll check with the sheriff's department tomorrow and get specific details of how she died. I'm told they're handling the investigation."
"Yes, they are. Frankly, although they're decent men I've known for years, I don't have much faith in Sheriff Rawlings and his little band of deputies. Christina was missing for three months and they didn't come up with one clue. They found her strictly by accident. There aren't a lot of homicides around here, which is why I don't feel they're very experienced."
Jack sat back and stretched an arm along the top of the couch. "Is it the murderer you want me to find, or your sister's baby?"
Rachel sipped her tea, watching him over the rim of her cup, studying his expression, trying to gauge the type of man he was. She had no interest in working with someone who thought her request frivolous, one who felt she should leave such things to the professionals, as her father did.
"The baby is of primary interest to me. I don't know how much Gina told you, but neither my father nor my brother has much interest in the child, so it'll be strictly me you'd be working for. Do you have a problem with that?"
His brows shot up. "You mean, because you're a woman? No problem here." Jack smiled to reinforce his remarks.
He had a killer smile, his teeth very white in his tanned face, Rachel thought. And she'd bet he knew it.
"How about you?" he asked. "Think you'd have a problem working with me?" His tone seemed to imply that might be the case.
Rachel squared her shoulders. "None whatsoever." In her career, she'd worked with all sorts of men and women; she certainly could handle a private investigator, even if he was tall, good-looking and a little off-putting.
She set her cup on the coffee table and got down to business. Since he was here, they might as well get started. In short order, she gave Jack a little background about Christina as a sweet child, then becoming somewhat wild as a teenager, having lots of boyfriends, being irresponsible. "She liked to have fun, you know. But all that aside, she was a nice girl with a good heart who was looking for love and friendship and got in with a rough crowd."
Jack nodded thoughtfully. It had been his experience that relatives couldn't always give the best analysis of a troubled person, especially a sister who'd been gone for nine years. "Living in Chicago as you have been, you probably don't know many of her friends, then, right?"