Authors: Colleen Coble
Tags: #Romance, #Novella, #Adoption, #Foster Child
“Coble’s books have it all, romance, sass, suspense, action. I’m content to read a book that has any one of those but to find an author like Coble who does all four so well is my definition of bliss.”
Mary Connealy, author of Doctor in Petticoats
Copyright © 2012 by Colleen Coble
First published in the United States by Barbour 2001
HEART FULL OF LOVE is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidences are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental. The Publisher does not have any control over and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
All Rights Reserved.
Cover Design by Kim Killion
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Some of my good friends are foster parents and the work they do is life-changing! I loved watching Eden and Josh work out their differences in their determination to help Katie have the best life. A child can be the bridge between two hearts in wonderful ways. I hope you love Heart Full of Love as much as I do. Drop me a note at [email protected] and let me know what you thought. I love hearing from my readers!
For all the young adults in our
Lifebuilders Sunday School Class.
You’ve brightened our lives and given us purpose.
“I’ve come for my niece.”
Eden Walters’ smile faded, and she took a step back from the man’s overwhelming presence in her doorway. Though she barely came to his broad shoulder, he would soon find he couldn’t push her around.
“You–your niece?” Her thoughts ran through the children squealing in laughter behind her. The older children were playing Candyland while two-year-old Katie and infant Braden slept upstairs. Five children, three of them girls, but she had no idea which one this man wanted. She tilted her chin in the air, leery of handing any of her children over to this bulk of a man who oozed self-confidence that would put an emperor to shame. He was probably used to getting what he wanted with his size and dark good looks.
“Katie Leland. I’m Josh Leland.” He thrust his hands in his pockets and stepped inside, shutting the door behind him.
“Now see here, Mr. Leland,” Eden began.
“Isn’t there somewhere quieter we can discuss this?”
Eden compressed her lips and reminded herself she was a professional. “Very well, follow me.” She led him to the library across the hall from the front parlor where the children played. Tugging on the pocket doors, she was panting by the time she managed to close them and turned to face Josh Leland.
His warm brown eyes took in the gap where they didn’t quite close, then traveled around the room. Eden saw it afresh from his eyes. Stained and torn wallpaper that she wished she could afford to replace, old furniture she’d bought at Goodwill, and a threadbare carpet on the floor. She felt a bit like Jo in
and suppressed a smile at the errant thought.
Those brown eyes were regarding her now, and she knew what he must think. A short young woman with flyaway blond hair, curves that were too generous, and clothes as shabby as her house. A warm flush started up her neck, and she forced her eyes up to meet his.
“I’m quite busy this morning, Mr. Leland. If you check in with Child Welfare Services, you will find you have no legal right to see Katie. Even if you really
He ran a broad hand through his thick brown hair. Eden always noticed hands. His were muscular with long fingers and neatly clipped nails. She pushed away the stir of attraction. His expression told all too clearly what he thought of her. Disapproval radiated from every pore of his immaculately clothed being.
“I don’t want a visit, I mean to take her permanently. I’ve been to Child Welfare, and they tell me you have already filed adoption papers. Surely you can see it would be better for her to be raised by her uncle than by a stranger.”
“I’m no stranger to Katie! I’ve cared for her—and loved her—since she was three months old. You, Mr. Leland, are the stranger. She is two years old. Where were you when her mother brought her to the welfare office and dumped her like an unwanted suitcase?” Eden clenched her hands to keep from slugging him. “You’re the stranger, Mr. Leland.”
Her barb struck home for he colored and lost a bit of his superiority. “I didn’t know about Katie,” he mumbled. “Last I heard, Mandy was in college and nearly finished with her degree in accounting. Then I was called and told she’d died.” His face paled. “Drugs, they said. The college sent her stuff to me. That’s when I discovered I had a niece. I chucked my job with Sutter Petroleum in Saudi Arabia and came straight here.”
That explained the tan. Eden pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and bit her lip. His bald recitation of the facts touched her more than she wanted to admit, but facts were facts.
“That’s all very interesting, Mr. Leland, and I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m afraid you’re too late. The adoption papers were signed yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” He paled beneath his tan and sank onto the sofa. He breathed deeply, then raised his gaze to hers. “May I see her?”
Eden flinched at the thought of allowing this man to see her daughter. A surge of fear rushed up her spine. Katie was
, in heart and legally. But would the welfare officials see it that way if he challenged the adoption?
“She’s sleeping right now.”
“I won’t wake her. Please.”
“I fail to see what good it would do.”
my niece, Miss Walters. Our parents are dead as well. Surely you can see I’d have some feelings for the child.”
“I’m not leaving until I see that she’s well cared for.” He waved a hand around him. “You hardly seem old enough to be caring for a house full of children. And look at this place. It’s practically falling down around your ears. I know foster care is hardly a decent living for you, let alone all the things a little girl needs. I could at least offer some financial assistance.”
The fury Eden had been holding in check spilled over. “I don’t need your money, Mr. Leland! This may be an old house and not up to Leland standards, but it’s a house full of love and laughter. We have God to watch over us, and that’s worth more than all the money you’ve made in the oil fields!”
A small hand rapped at the door. “Eden? Katie was crying so I brung her to you.”
Eden nearly groaned but had no choice except to go to the door and shove it open. Ten-year-old Samantha, rail-thin with haunted gray eyes, held chubby Katie. Eden took the toddler and touched Samantha on the cheek. “Thanks, Sweetie, you’re a good helper.”
Samantha colored with pleasure, then cast a frightened glance toward Josh and scurried away. Eden turned slowly with Katie in her arms. The little one’s chubby arms were around her neck, and Eden breathed in the sweet scent of her.
Josh stared at Katie with hungry eyes. “She looks a lot like Mandy,” he said. The muscles in his throat moved as he swallowed.
Was that a film of tears in the big man’s eyes? Eden’s tender heart smote her. She’d given no thought to how he must feel with his sister dead and his niece ripped from him before he even knew he had a niece. She could afford to be generous. God had given her Katie as a daughter.
Eden stepped closer to him. “Would you like to hold her?”
His eyes widened, and he nodded. He slipped his big hands around Katie and drew her to his chest the way he might hold a basket of eggs.
“She won’t break.”
“She’s so little,” he said. Katie regarded him solemnly, then reached up a chubby hand and pulled on his nose, released it, and peered inside one nostril.
Eden chuckled at the panicked expression on Josh’s face. “She’s fascinated with noses right now.”
“I haven’t been around many children,” he said. “But she doesn’t seem to be afraid of me. Is this normal?”
“It is for Katie. She’s very secure and outgoing. She loves people.”
He shuddered. “Makes me frightened for her in this world.”
“Wabash is a nice town to raise a family in,” Eden said. “I’ll take very good care of her.” She fought the words struggling against her lips, but they came out anyway. “You’re welcome to stop in and visit her sometime. Just call first. Katie has plenty of love to share.” She held out her hands for her daughter.
A muscle twitched in Josh’s jaw, and his fingers tightened around Katie. He took a step back. “I mean to raise her myself, Miss Walters. I give you fair warning.”
Eden’s olive branch was sliced in two, and the hair on her neck stood. If it was a fight he wanted, he’d get one. There was nothing he could do. The adoption papers were signed. “Give me my daughter,” she said evenly.
With obvious reluctance, Josh handed Katie back to her. “I’ll be back, Miss Walters.”
“Look, Mr. Leland, I’m willing to let you see Katie. I think it’s important for an adopted child to have as many roots of her heritage as possible. But Katie is happy here. Surely, you can see that. What’s to be gained by disrupting her life now?”
Josh hesitated, then shook his head. “That’s not enough, Miss Walters. She’s all I have left of Mandy, and I mean to have her.”
“You’re not thinking of her, only of yourself.”
He clenched his jaw. “I can give her much more than you can.”
“Money isn’t everything, Mr. Leland. You admitted yourself you were unused to children. What about caring for her when she’s sick or fixing her hair and teaching her to bake cookies? I don’t see a wedding ring, so I assume she won’t have a mother. A girl needs a mother.”
“And a father. I see no ring on your hand either. What do you propose to do about that?”
Eden felt the hot blush on her cheeks. “Neither situation is perfect,” she admitted. “But you need to face the facts, Mr. Leland. Katie is my daughter now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“We’ll see.” With that last parting shot, he brushed by her and stalked to the front door. His brown eyes were haunted when he looked back. “I lost my sister, Miss Walters, I’m not going to lose my niece, too.” He slammed the door behind him.
Her throat tight, Eden ran to the door and locked it. As if that could shut away the danger. “Don’t worry, little one,” she whispered. “I won’t let him take you.”
She still remembered the horror of being ripped from her brother and sisters. Eden was still tormented with nightmares about that time. She couldn’t let that happen to her Katie.
His eyes burning, Josh strode along the sidewalk on Canal Street toward the law office. His jaw hurt from clenching it. Eden Walters was an infuriating woman. Why couldn’t she see the advantages he could offer Katie? She had obviously buried herself in those foster children. It was too bad, though. She could be attractive if she ditched the sloppy clothes and did something with her hair. Maybe then she would find a husband and have her own children instead of stealing Katie away from him.
His jaw softened at the thought of Katie. She was the most beautiful child he’d ever seen. Soft blond curls ringing cherubic cheeks he wanted to pinch. Looking into her blue eyes had been like seeing Mandy again. He couldn’t lose her.