Isabella Trueblood made history reuniting people torn apart by war and an epidemic. Now, generations later, Lily and Dylan Garrett carry on her work with their agency, Finders Keepers. Circumstances may have changed, but the goal remains the same.
One twin. Ben Mulholland desperately needs a bone marrow donor to save his little girl, Lucy. The brother Ben never knew he had is Lucy's best, maybe only, chance. If he can just track him down...
The miracle of hope. Caroline St. Clair has loved Ben forever and she'll do whatever it takes to ensure he doesn't lose his precious daughter. In the process, old wounds are healed and flames of passion reignited. But the future is far from secure.
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
April 01, 2012
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Excerpt from A Father's Vow by Tina Leonard
Carolyn St.Clair wasn't having the best day to begin with, but when the doors to Finders Keepers opened to reveal Ben Mulholland--her long-lost love--things went to heck in a handbasket. Never mind that her pulse jumped erratically and a thrill set every one of her nerve endings on high alert.
Ben's intense hazel eyes settled on her with unyielding focus, and Carolyn managed the most difficult smile she'd ever forced to her face.
''Hello, Ben,'' she said.
''Carolyn.'' He shoved his hands into the pockets of his well-worn jeans and stared at her, clearly uncomfortable.
Time had made strangers of them. She reached for the platitude. ''You're looking well.''
His eyes flickered. ''You are, too.''
The response was too automatic to be a genuine compliment, so she decided to skip the small talk and say what she really wanted to say, no matter how awkward. ''I was sorry to hear about your mom, Ben.'' She swallowed, hoping her stilted tone conveyed the sympathy she felt. But was it more sympathy than he'd welcome from an old girlfriend?
When he nodded in appreciation, Carolyn relaxed slightly.
''Thanks. Mom really liked you.''
Eileen Mulholland had been certain Carolyn and Ben were perfect for each other. When Carolyn broke off the relationship, Eileen had personally called to tell her how sorry she was, and that she'd hoped Carolyn would one day become her daughter-in-law. Eileen never asked why Carolyn was breaking the engagement. She'd merely expressed her love.
Carolyn had felt so guilty. Another woman had become Eileen's daughter-in-law, not too many months later. Sadly, she'd also become her ex-daughter-in-law, shortly before Eileen passed away.
''I saw the pot of daisies in Mom's hospital room,'' Ben said. ''She told me you'd been by.'' He cleared his throat. ''It was nice of you to visit her, Carolyn.''
How could she not? She'd loved Eileen. She'd loved Ben. They were part of the family to which she had desperately wanted to belong; a family she'd always dreamed of.
She'd known for some time she would never have that family of her dreams.
''I hated to see her go, Ben. She had so much love of life.''
''Thanks, Carolyn.'' His lips flattened for a moment, before he said, ''Mom told me you were working here. I came by to ask a favor of you.'' Carolyn's eyebrows rose. ''A favor?'' ''actually, I'd like to hire Finders Keepers for a personal reason.'' He sighed. ''I suppose nobody walks in the agency door unless it's a personal reason.''
She tried to offer him a reassuring smile. He was obviously on edge, but she didn't feel it was because of her. On the other hand, she had tensed the moment their eyes met, despite the years since she'd last seen him. Now she needed to call on her professionalism to keep a wedge between the feelings she still had for Ben and the knowledge that those buried emotions would always be doomed to disappointment. ''Please sit down.'' She gestured to a chair near the desk. ''Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? A soda?''
He shook his head, drumming his fingers on the desk after he sat. One hand riffled absently through sandy hair that needed a trim. He looked tired Carolyn noted, or perhaps worried. Something other than happiness had etched itself into the sun lines around his eyes; the easy smile he'd once possessed hadn't surfaced since he'd walked in the door.
''How can Finders Keepers help you, Ben?''
''By taking my case.''
''We'll certainly review whether our expertise is a match for your needs, but--''
''It's important to me that you be the one handling it,'' he stressed.
Startled, she shook her head. ''I don't know if that would be in your best interest, Ben. Dylan and Lily Garrett really hired me to run the office. They're the experienced--''
''You haven't even heard the details,'' he reminded her. ''Don't tell me no just yet, Carolyn. Please.''
He hadn't missed her reluctance to agree to his request. She shifted in her chair, unable to meet his eyes for a moment. ''I'm willing to listen, of course. And Finders Keepers will do the best they can to help you.''
He frowned, furrowing the skin between his sandy brows. ''You're uncomfortable.''
She hesitated. ''Perhaps a little.''
Nodding, he said, ''I understand that. I wouldn't be here if this wasn't a matter of urgency.''
When he stared at her, those large hazel eyes pleading for her acquiescence, Carolyn wanted to close her own eyes and sigh. The memory of having to say no to him on another matter--marriage--crystallized painfully in her mind. She pushed the memory into a place she wouldn't let it escape from again today. ''Do you mind if I tape you?'' she asked. ''I'll take notes, but it's better if I have a tape to go back over later, just in case I should miss anything.''
He blinked at her sudden take-charge tone. ''Does that mean you'll handle my case?''
She extinguished the pleasure she felt at the relief in his voice. ''It means I need to get the particulars and discuss them with the Garretts, who run Finders Keepers. It's Dylan and Lily who do all the investigative work.'' She raised a hand to quell his instant protest. ''I'll do my best to underscore your wishes that I handle this for you, Ben. I give you my word.''
He nodded. ''Your word was always good, Carolyn. I'll take it.''
She set out a tape recorder on the desk, fitted it with a new cassette. The agency door opened, and a tall, beautiful blonde walked in, her stride graceful, but almost too long for the little girl beside her. Carolyn's heart stopped in her chest.
Marissa. Ben's ex-wife. The woman he'd married very quickly after Carolyn had turned down his marriage proposal. She made herself smile, girding her heart against the pain.
''This is Marissa,'' Ben said, not knowing that Carolyn had devoured the pictures of him and his new bride in the newspaper six years ago. Nor had she been able to keep from looking at the photos of Ma-rissa in magazines over the years. Marissa in swim-suits, evening gowns, lingerie--it had hurt. For some reason, every photo of his glamorous wife had stung, maybe because Carolyn knew that beside Marissa's bright light, she was a nondescript shadow.
''Hello, Marissa,'' Carolyn said. ''I'm Carolyn St. Clair.''
''I know who you are,'' Marissa returned, her tone not warm, but not cool, either. Matter-of-fact. They assessed each other wordlessly, then the little girl Ma-rissa held by the hand leaped into Ben's lap and they broke eye contact.
Carolyn was dead certain she'd be taking a hiatus from doughnuts with her hot tea from now on. And maybe she'd make an appointment for some highlights, start running on the track at the high school in the evenings...
''Carolyn,'' Ben said, his voice gentle, ''this is my daughter, Lucy.''