The Wedding Garden
Published By: Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Published: May 01, 2010
ISBN # 9780373875955
Available in: Secure Adobe Epub eBook, Secure Adobe eBook
"Are You My Dad?"
The young boy's question shocks Sloan Hawkins. Until Sloan realizes he is this child's father. Years ago, the former bad boy was run out of Redemption, Oklahoma, where, ironically, he was thought unredeemable. The only people who believed in him were his beloved aunt and Annie Markham, the girl he loved and left behind. Now Sloan is back to face his past and help keep his aunt's cherished garden thriving. But when he discovers his secret child--and that single mother Annie never stopped loving him--he's determined that a wedding will take place in the garden nurtured by faith and love.
Sloan Hawkins killed the purring Harley beneath the cool shade of a swaying willow, lowered the kickstand and stepped on to the leaf-strewn edge of Redemption River Bridge. A breeze sang through the green leaves and whispered around him, tickling like small fingers and bringing the wet scent of the red, muddy river to his nostrils.
Muscles stiff from long hours of riding, Sloan stretched in the May sunlight and listened to the crackle of his neck as he looked around. The river narrowed here, near the ancient bridge, then widened on its restless journey toward the town of Redemption. A knot had formed in his gut the moment the river had come into view. Redemption was a misnomer if he ever heard one. Condemnation was a better term.
Beneath the picturesque bridge, water trickled and gurgled, peaceful this time of year but still corroding the rocks and earth, eating away its foundation--a fitting metaphor for his hometown.
Sloan had never expected to cast another shadow in Redemption, Oklahoma, or to breathe the same air as Police Chief Dooley Crawford--or his daughter, Annie. A dozen years later, here he was.
"Never say never," he muttered through three days' growth of whiskers. Traveling cross-country on a motorcycle with nothing but a duffel bag didn't afford luxury. Not that he couldn't have them if he wanted, but the good citizens of Redemption didn't need that information. They believed the worst of their "bad seed" and he hadn't come back to change their minds.
Only one person and one scenario could have coaxed him back to the place that had both destroyed and made him. Lydia. And she was dying.
The pain of that knowledge was a hot boulder in his belly, a fist around his heart tight enough to choke him to his knees. Sometimes life stunk.
He cast a hard-eyed squint across the riverbank toward the historic little town that despised him. They called him trouble. Like father, like son. With a throaty, humorless laugh, Sloan climbed back on the seat and kick-started the bike.
"Prepare yourself, Redemption, because trouble's back in town."
G.I. Jack spotted him first. The grizzled-gray Dumpster diver had just crawled out of the industrial-size receptacle behind Bracketts' furniture store when he heard the rumble. Any man with salt in his blood recognized the sweet music of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Though G.I. Jack couldn't recognize the model, he recognized the rider.
He rapped the side of the trash bin with his knuckles and hollered, "Popbottle, get out here this minute. You ain't gonna believe your eyes."
Popbottle Jones--so named because of an unfortunate length of cervical vertebrae--rose from the proverbial ashes of someone else's junk and snapped off his miner's lamp.
"Pray tell, G.I., what are you prattling on about?"
"Sloan Hawkins is back in town, bigger than life and scarier-looking than old Slewfoot himself, riding like some dark knight on a Harley."
Despite his advanced age, Popbottle Jones scrambled up from the Dumpster, hopped with practiced agility to the paved alley, and hurried to the end of the building for a better view. To the surprise of neither man, others had also spotted the unlikely visitor.
Tooney Deer stood at the yawning bay entrance of Tooney's Tune-Up, wiping his hands on a red mechanic's rag. Eighty-something handywoman Ida June Click paused in hammering a new awning over Redemption Register and yelled down at Kitty Wainright and Cheyenne Rhodes, who were just arriving at the newspaper office with a notice about the new women's shelter.
Across the street,...