Colton Baby Homecoming(9)

By: Lara Lacombe



He met her gaze and for a split second, it was as though they were still together, still planning a future and sharing their hopes and dreams. The sense of déjà vu was so intense it made him a little dizzy, and he tightened his grip on the baby to make sure he didn’t drop her. Did Darcy feel it, too? Or did the fatigue of the day make him especially susceptible to such a ridiculous notion?

In any event, Penny chose that moment to let out a small, inquisitive noise, breaking the spell of the moment. She walked over to him and the baby and Darcy stepped back to give the dog better access.

It was just as well, he told himself. No use pining after what might have been.

Penny nosed the baby, then sniffed his leg. Apparently satisfied that everyone was who they should be, she walked a tight circle twice and settled down to curl up on the floor, closing her eyes with a sigh.

“She’s a really good dog,” Darcy observed.

“The best,” he replied.

“What’s her name?”

“Penny.”

“Interesting choice,” she replied. “She’s not really the color of a penny, though.”

He chuckled softly. “I named her that because she ate pennies.”

Darcy made a face. “Gross.”

“In her defense, she was pretty hungry.”

“She must have been, to stoop to eating change.”

He felt the smile slide off his face as he thought back to the day he’d found the dog. “I was taking a walk in the woods when I came across her. She was a puppy, barely old enough to be away from her mother. She was nothing more than two big eyes and four big paws, and some psychopath had tied her to a tree and left her.” He clenched his jaw, feeling his back teeth grind together. Even though it had been several years, just the thought of the cruelty was enough to send his blood pressure into the stratosphere.

Darcy gasped. “That’s horrible!”

He nodded. “It was a good thing I came along when I did. I don’t know how long she’d been out there, but she wasn’t going to last much longer. So I scooped her up, put her in the truck and headed into town to the vet’s office. She was clearly starving, and before I knew what was happening, she’d eaten the change right out of my console.”

“Poor thing. Very resourceful of her, though.” Darcy looked down at Penny, her expression a mixture of sympathy and amusement. “She’s lucky you found her before it was too late.”

“Turned out, we both got lucky that day.” He didn’t bother trying to explain how Penny had helped him as much as he’d helped her. How the dog had healed the cracks in his heart and turned out to be his best friend. It probably said something sad about him that he trusted his dog more than any person, but it was the truth.

Ridge shifted in the chair and glanced down at the baby, relieved to see his movements hadn’t disturbed her sleep. Poor little thing had had quite the day, but she seemed to be a survivor.

As if she could read his thoughts, Darcy spoke up. “She’s going to be okay.” Her words were soft and soothing, and just like that he was taken back to the days when he could tell this woman anything. How many conversations had they had, how many times had he opened his heart to her and shared parts of himself he’d never shown to anyone? He hated to admit it but despite the distance between them, Darcy still held him in her sway.

At least he was able to recognize it before he fell for her again.

His phone buzzed and he glanced at the screen. We’re here. Where are you?

“Sam and Annabel are here. What room are we in?”

“I’ll go get them,” Darcy volunteered. “Will you be okay on your own for a minute?”

He smiled wryly at her concern. “I haven’t broken the baby yet.”

She nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll be right back.”

Ridge waited until she had left, then looked down at the baby in his arms. She slept peacefully, curled up like a little shrimp against his chest. She was so small, her cherubic features the very picture of innocence. A range of expressions flitted across her face in rapid succession while she slept, as if she was trying each one on for size. While he watched, her mouth turned up in an impossibly sweet smile, and he felt the weight of responsibility slam down on his shoulders. Even though he wasn’t related to this child and had no idea where she had come from, she was his now.

“I don’t know who left you on my doorstep,” he said softly. “But I promise, I will take care of you.” It was his calling to take care of the lost—the reason he’d gone into search and rescue in the first place. His brother Trevor, an FBI profiler, had once told Ridge he was drawn to that work because he hadn’t been able to help their youngest sister, Josie. Ridge wasn’t sure he believed all that psychological mumbo jumbo, but he did know one thing: he took care of his own.

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