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Short Contemporary Romance

A Father For Zach

A FATHER FOR ZACH (Book 4, Lighthouse Lane)
Steeple Hill, 2010; ISBN 978-0-373-87591-7
2011 Carol Award
2010 RT BOOKreviews Reviewers' Choice Award finalist

After serving 10 years for armed robbery, Nathan Clay comes to Nantucket, at last a free man. Having found his way to the Lord while in prison, he’s determined to build a new life—one he hopes will someday include a wife and family. But he knows it will take a special woman to overlook his prison history. Unfortunately, he finds himself falling for Catherine Walker, who has hired him to help her remodel the B&B she’s just bought. While the green-eyed beauty and her endearing six-year-old son quickly capture his heart, he knows the odds against a relationship are high. Because Catherine lost her husband to an armed robber two years before. Yet as he repairs walls within her house, the ones around her heart begin to crumble...and he allows himself to hope that a future might be possible for them. Until a startling accusation disrupts their world and threatens to destroy their dreams of a happily-ever-after.

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Nathan Clay gazed out over the sparkling blue waters off Nantucket, scanned the pristine white beach and took a long, slow breath.

What a change from the tiny, windowless cell he’d left behind four days ago—his home for the past ten, long years.

The juxtaposition was surreal.

Settling back in the white folding chair, he tugged at his unaccustomed tie, surveyed the seventy-five wedding guests assembled on the lush, garden-rimmed lawn that abutted the beach, and tried not to feel out of place. But it was a losing battle. He doubted anyone else in this high-class group had served time in prison. Especially the Supreme Court justice on the other side of the aisle, who was a longtime friend of the Morgan family.

The family his sister, Marci, would be marrying into in just a few minutes.

Talk about moving up in the world.

She deserved it, though. Marci had worked hard to build a better life. To rise above their tough upbringing.

He wished he could have done as well.

Then again, his childhood had been even rougher than Marci’s or his big brother’s had been. Thanks to the secret that had darkened his life for more years than he cared to recall.

Bile rose in his throat, and he forced himself to swallow past it, to suppress the ugly memories. Those days were history. They couldn’t hurt him unless he let them. And he’d resolved never again to give his past that kind of power.

 A string quartet positioned to his right began to play, and he focused on the baroque music, letting its measured cadence calm him. Attired in black dresses, the four musicians blended together perfectly, each handling her instrument with a confidence that spoke of long hours of practice.

But it was the violinist who caught his attention. Eyes closed, she swayed slightly as she drew the bow back and forth over the strings, producing pure, clear notes that quivered with emotion.

Nathan didn’t know a lot about music. He hadn’t had much opportunity to learn to appreciate the finer things in life. But he understood the creative process. Knew all about losing oneself in one’s art. That had been his salvation during his decade behind bars. And he sensed this woman felt the same way.

He studied her, appreciating the sweep of her long lashes as they feathered into a graceful arc beneath her eyes. Although her light brown hair was secured at her nape with a barrette, the no-nonsense style was softened by wispy bangs that brushed her smooth brow. The early afternoon sun highlighted her classic bone structure and warmed her flawless complexion, while the whisper of a smile touched her soft, beguiling lips.

Nathan’s gaze lingered on their supple fullness…and all at once he found it difficult to breathe.

Reaching up, he ran a finger around his suddenly too-tight collar and forced himself to turn away. Only to discover his new landlady, Edith Shaw, observing him with a smile of her own from two rows back. He had no idea how to interpret the gleam in her eye…nor the wink she directed his way.

And he didn’t have a chance to figure it out, because all at once the music changed and an expectant hush fell over the guests.

The minister, groom and best man took their places beside the wooden gazebo where the vows would be exchanged. Nathan watched his sister-in-law, Heather, start down the aisle. The matron of honor was as radiant as a bride herself—due to the slight bulge in her tummy that heralded the arrival of a new generation of Clays, Nathan suspected.

As the music changed again and Marci appeared on J.C.’s arm, Nathan’s breath once more caught in his throat. With her blond tresses and pin-up figure, Marci had always been beautiful. But today she was luminous as she slowly made her way toward the gazebo—and the man she would soon promise to love and cherish all the days of her life.

She smiled at him as she approached, her wispy veil drifting behind her in the soft May breeze, her hand tucked in J.C.’s. It was fitting their older brother should walk her down the aisle, Nathan thought. He’d stood by both of them through the tough times, believing in them when neither had believed in themselves.

Much to his surprise, Marci paused beside his chair and reached out to take his hand. “I’m glad you’re here, Nathan.”

At her soft words, he blinked away the moisture that pooled in his eyes. “So am I.”

With a gentle squeeze, she moved on to take her place beside the tall physician who had claimed her heart. As they joined hands beneath swags of white tulle held in place by sprays of pale pink roses and feathery fern, Nathan was glad she’d found her happily-ever-after.

He hoped someday he could do the same.

His escort duties finished, J.C. joined him in the first row. As Nathan shifted over to give his older brother a bit more room, he checked out the violinist again. She was looking over her shoulder now, giving him an excellent view of her appealing profile. Leaning back slightly, Nathan caught a glimpse of a little blond-haired boy sitting behind her on a white folding chair. Her son?

Checking out her left hand, he noted the glint of gold in the early afternoon sun. It figured. She appeared to be in her thirties, and most women that age were married.

Not that it mattered.

The odds of connecting with the first woman to catch his eye were miniscule at best.

But maybe…just maybe…there was a woman out there somewhere who would be able to overlook his past.

ho would delve into his heart and see that it had been transformed.

“I, Marci, take you, Christopher…”

 As his sister’s words echoed strong and sure in the still air, Nathan shifted his attention to the weathered gazebo.

Marci stood framed in the lattice archway, her head tipped back, her gaze on the man she loved as she repeated the words after the minister.

Today she would begin a new life.

And so would he, Nathan vowed.

So would he.

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