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Ever the black sheep of her adoptive family, Lee Cooper has finally buckled down to a responsible job as a social worker in Southwest Florida. Defending her client against charges of child abuse awakens buried memories of her own abandonment in a Korean orphanage. Can she remain objective for the sake of a child?
Bricker Kilbourn, the court-appointed guardian, doubts Lee’s judgments--and his opinion might determine the little boy’s fate. He's got his own family issues and haunting secrets to keep. Falling for a woman is not part of his plan.
He’s running from his past. She’s searching for answers. Will their resolution to protect a child bind them together or wrench them apart?
Page Count: 258
Word Count: 66715
. “What are you doing here?”
Lounging against the shelf of toys was the bartender from Whistler’s Grille, his hand frozen in mid-air as he retrieved a block from the shelf.
Lee stared at the man on the floor, her mouth agape. Even in khaki pants and a casual button-down shirt, he radiated a sex appeal at odds with the blocks, trucks, and tiny construction signs surrounding him. If she’d found Cleopatra playing with Kaleb on the carpet, she couldn’t have been more surprised.
His smile tight, he aimed his attention on Kaleb, pointing to the cardboard tower. “You need to guard the wall, little guy. Before your friend drives a truck into it.”
Seizing the cardboard block, Kaleb raced to place it on top. His expression solemn, he shielded his hand in front of the wall.
With a sweet smile, the little girl rolled her truck around the perimeter of the building.
Lee floundered for an explanation. “Are you a friend of the family?”
“I’m the guardian ad litem.” He extended his hand. “James Kilbourn. But friends call me by my middle name. Bricker.” His eyes glinted.
She leaned down to shake his hand, uncomfortably aware of her blouse gaping as she brushed her fingers over his.
His palm, rough and warm, squeezed her hand and then released it. “Are you the parent educator? Lee Anya Cooper?”
“Lee to my friends.” She straightened, her pulse beating in her throat. “So you’re a trained guardian ad litem?”
His eyebrow rose. “So you’re a trained parent educator?”
Her cheeks flushed. “Sorry. I just didn’t realize you were more than a bartender. I mean”—she hurried to correct herself—“I’m surprised you’re the guardian. How did you know my name?”
He shrugged. “I read the file. Figured I might want to check in with you at some point.”
Of all the rotten luck. The person she most needed to win to her client’s side was the man she’d alienated the day before. Great. Time for a heaping helping of humble pie. She swallowed hard. “So you’ve met Kaleb already.” Her voice pitched high, she held her hand out to the little boy.
Kaleb shrank against the shelf, his pale brow furrowed.
“Come on, Kaleb! Don’t you want to shake my hand? I won’t bite!” Lee’s lips stretched against her teeth as she smiled.
But Kaleb slithered farther along the shelf, his gaze locked on hers ʼtil he bumped into the opposite corner.
“You’re not real natural with kids, are you?” Bricker whispered.
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