Colton Baby Homecoming(7)

By: Lara Lacombe

“We normally don’t let animals back here,” she continued, trying to sound conversational.

“She’s a service dog,” he responded, sounding a little more engaged.

“Oh? Like a Seeing Eye dog?”

He shook his head, the ends of his dark hair brushing the collar of his shirt. “No. Search and rescue.” He leaned down and gave the dog a scratch behind the ears. “She’s the one that found the baby.”

Darcy’s head jerked up at that. “Found the baby? You mean she’s not yours?”

He gave her a puzzled look. “No, she’s not. I thought I made that clear.”

A strange sense of relief filled Darcy at the realization that Ridge had not moved on with his life, but she pushed it aside. Now was not the time to let her selfish emotions rule. As she fought to find her professional footing again, another, more sinister thought entered her mind.

“Ridge, where did this baby come from?” The young man she had known wasn’t capable of malice, but people could change. It had been years since she had seen him. Could she really say she still knew him? What if he had snapped and taken this baby from its mother, then concocted a story about “finding” her? But why would he do that?

“I didn’t steal her, if that’s what you’re implying,” he said coldly.

Darcy felt her face heat and looked away. Ten years ago, her father had accused Ridge of stealing an antique pocket watch from his desk drawer. Darcy hadn’t believed it but when Ridge had dumped out his backpack, the watch had spilled out. She’d begged him for an explanation—maybe the watch had fallen in his bag by mistake? Maybe he had taken the watch to look at it and had forgotten to return it? She’d been convinced Ridge had a reasonable story that would restore her faith in him and convince her father that Ridge wasn’t a bad guy. So she’d stood there, watching and silently pleading for him to explain it to them.

But Ridge hadn’t offered any kind of response. He’d just sat there, stone-faced and silent in the wake of her father’s accusations. He’d completely shut her out—he hadn’t even met her eyes or offered any sign of acknowledgment that she was in the room. And so Darcy had had no choice but to break up with him. It had shredded her heart to do it, but she couldn’t stay with someone who would steal from her family.

She’d never forgotten that horrible moment, and apparently Ridge hadn’t, either.

“I don’t think you stole her,” she said evenly, resisting the urge to snap back at him. He had no right to still be angry with her—he was the one who had done something wrong! But yelling at him wasn’t going to get her any closer to learning about this baby, and right now, that was the priority.

She took a deep breath. “It sounds like you have quite the story to tell,” she said, trying to sound pleasant. “Let’s just focus on the baby, shall we?”

Ridge pressed his lips together and nodded once.

“Okay,” she said, some of the tension leaving her muscles now that they were back on track. “So who does this baby belong to?”

* * *

Ridge clenched his jaw, biting back a sarcastic response. It had been a long day, and snapping at Darcy wasn’t going to solve any of his problems. Still, the way she was looking at him now, as if she thought he had done something hurt. Once upon a time, they had meant something to each other. She’d been the only person who hadn’t held his paternity against him, who had actually tried to get to know him, the real him. They had had a few good years together, and he’d foolishly thought their young love would be enough to see them through any and everything life threw at them.

How wrong he’d been. In the end, she’d turned out to be just like everyone else—judging him for something he hadn’t done.

It had been years since he’d seen her. He’d known she was back in Granite Gulch, but he hadn’t thought to seek her out. She had made her choice, and he wasn’t the type to chase after a failed dream.

But seeing her now... She looked amazing. Her auburn hair was longer than he remembered, pulled back into a ponytail that served only to accentuate her slanted cheekbones. Her eyes were the same, though. Dark brown pools that pulled him in, made him feel as though he was drowning. But what a way to go!

Shaking his head, he returned his focus to the baby who was quickly emptying her bottle. A dull throb started in his chest as he stared at the woman he had once loved hold a baby in her arms. It was the very picture of an old dream come true, but it wasn’t real and never would be.

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