Colton Baby Homecoming(6)

By: Lara Lacombe



Her curiosity piqued, Darcy stood and started walking toward the triage room. It sounded as if Carol might need some backup, and she wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Furthermore, the baby’s cries had taken on an increasingly desperate tone, and she knew from experience that pediatric cases could escalate quickly.

The nurse shot her an inquisitive glance as she stepped into the triage exam room. Darcy offered a smile. “Just thought I’d come see what all the fuss is about...” The words died in her throat as she got her first look at her patient—or rather, her patient’s parent.

Ridge Colton.

The sight of him knocked the breath right out of her lungs, leaving her standing there gaping at him like some kind of slack-jawed yokel. On some level, she’d known it was only a matter of time before she would run into him. Granite Gulch was a growing town, but it still had a very local feel to it and everyone seemed to know everyone else’s business. Still, she had hoped their inevitable meeting would occur at a time and place of her choosing, not when she was eight hours deep into a twelve-hour shift and looking less than fresh.

“Ridge.” His name was barely more than a whisper, but it may as well have been a shout. He glanced over at her and recognition flared in his dark brown eyes, along with another flash of emotion she couldn’t decipher. Surprise? Anger? Disappointment? No matter. It was gone in the next heartbeat, and he’d already turned back to the baby, dismissing her.

The nurse continued her preliminary exam of the infant, rattling off information as she went. Darcy listened with half an ear and forced herself to look away from Ridge and focus on the baby in front of her. There would be time to stare at Ridge later, to look for signs of the boy she’d known in the man’s body now before her.

A quick physical exam revealed nothing unusual, nothing to suggest the need for a visit to the emergency room. She shot a questioning glance at Ridge. “What’s the problem here?”

Ridge met her eyes, then looked away again. “I’m not sure. I was worried about exposure.”

“Exposure?” Darcy frowned at him, certain she had misheard. “How long has she been outside?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Where’s her mother?” A small part of her heart tightened at the realization that her first love had moved on with his life, but she pushed the sting aside. Of course Ridge had married and started a family. Why wouldn’t he? It was foolish of her to think she’d be the only woman he would let inside his heart.

“I don’t know.” A muscle in his jaw twitched. Apparently the baby’s mother was a sore spot with him. Were they separated? Had she dropped the baby off and left without telling him? But what kind of mother would do that? The Ridge she had known was a good judge of character—surely he wouldn’t have a child with a woman who was so irresponsible?

“Can you call her? I need a little more information, please.”

“No.”

Darcy raised one eyebrow at his refusal. “No?”

He met her gaze then, his dark brown eyes inscrutable. “I told you, I don’t know where she is.” He practically spat the words out, as if they tasted bad in his mouth.

Okay, time to try a different tack. Darcy turned to the nurse. “Let’s do a full work-up, just to make sure we don’t miss anything. In the meantime, do we have a bottle?” The poor little one had been rooting around in vain since she had started the exam, and Darcy suspected most, if not all, of the ruckus was simply the sounds of a hungry baby who was getting angry at being denied dinner.

The nurse nodded and walked to the bank of cabinets on the far wall of the room. It took her only a moment to prepare a bottle, and Darcy scooped the baby up and began to feed her. The little one settled down immediately, her cries subsiding as she focused on eating, taking great, gulping draws from the bottle.

Ridge let out a sigh of relief, and Darcy saw his shoulders relax. There was an approving “ruff” from the floor, and she glanced down to see a dark brown dog staring up at her with surprisingly intelligent eyes. That must be the service animal.

“Nice dog,” she said, searching for something to say to get Ridge talking. It was clear her earlier line of questioning wasn’t getting her anywhere, and she needed to know more about the baby to better treat her.

Ridge glanced down absently, as if he’d forgotten the dog was there. “Oh. Thanks.” He sounded distracted, and no wonder. He clearly wasn’t used to handling a baby, and if the baby’s mother—his wife? Girlfriend?—had left with little to no warning, he was probably more focused on that than anything else.

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