Read Stroke of Fortune Online

Authors: Christine Rimmer

Stroke of Fortune

CLUB TIMES
For Members' Eyes Only

Cute Baby Abandoned on the Ninth Tee!

Y
ou heard right, members. While those sinfully handsome bachelors were taking a whack at a golf ball on the ninth tee, they heard a peculiar sound for a Sunday morning on the course—definitely not the kind of feminine squeals these gents are used to. These sounds came from a darling little baby girl with big blue eyes, curly black hair—not even a year old—and a note attached for her daddy. I anticipate your question already: who's the father of this sweet thing? And why did Flynt Carson feel that he needed to take responsibility? Is there something we don't know?

Not that it's any of our business, but does anyone know where member extraordinaire Luke Callaghan is? The Mission Creek social circles are sure missing him, as he's supplied us with tales of sin that made even Mrs. Delarue's ears catch on fire (you know it's true, Nadine). We like to think Luke is out somewhere globe-trotting and doing what billionaire playboys were born to do.

Meanwhile, Mrs. McKenzie wants to remind us to visit her dress shop, Mission Creek Creations, for the June summer sale. There's a new maternity section for those of you out there who are in the maternal way. And be sure to check out the new citrus-almond oil pedicure treatment at Body Perfect. It's heaven on earth….

Enjoy, and remember, make your best stop of the day right here at the Lone Star Country Club!

About the Author

CHRISTINE RIMMER

“Famed for her deliciously different characters, Ms. Rimmer keeps the…love sizzling hot.”

—Romantic Times

A reader favorite whose books consistently appear on the
USA TODAY
and Waldenbooks bestseller lists, Christine Rimmer has writen nearly forty books for Silhouette Books. Her stories have been nominated for numerous Awards, including the Romance Writers of America's RITA
®
Award and the
Romantic Times
Series Storyteller of the Year award.

“Writing
Stroke of Fortune
was such a grand experience,” Christine tells us. “It all starts with four proud Texans and a baby—on the links at the Lone Star Country Club. From there, the story has more twists and turns than a sidewinder. I loved working with the other authors in the series, creating the fabulous Lone Star Country Club, pooling our ideas to make the Texas town of Mission Creek come alive.”

CHRISTINE RIMMER
STROKE OF FORTUNE

Welcome to the

Where Texas society reigns supreme—and appearances are everything!

When a Sunday-morning foursome of eligible bachelors finds an abandoned baby girl on the ninth tee, pandemonium breaks loose at Mission Creek's exclusive country club….

Flynt Carson:
When brooding millionaire rancher Flynt Carson decides to take on temporary guardianship of baby Lena, can he right the wrongs of his anguished past…and mend his broken heart?

Josie Lavender:
Being this infant's doting nanny is a cinch compared to sharing close quarters with her gruff—and undeniably gorgeous—boss. Flynt Carson is just the kind of man she has sworn to avoid. But how can Josie resist the searing passion he awakens in her innocent soul?

The Carson/Wainwright Feud:
For over seven decades, the bitter feud between the Carson and the Wainwright clans has ripped through Mission Creek. Will all-out war break out if a clandestine tryst is unveiled?

Daisy Parker:
The stakes are higher than ever when she infiltrates the LSCC to bring down the mob. Can “Daisy” pull this undercover mission off…or will she lose the greatest gamble of her life?

For the ones who never give up.

One

T
he two golf carts reached the ninth tee at a little after eight that Sunday morning in late May. Tyler Murdoch and Spence Harrison rode in the first cart. Flynt Carson and Dr. Michael O'Day, the blind fourth they'd picked up at the clubhouse when Luke Callaghan didn't show, took up the rear.

It was one of those rare perfect mornings, the temperature in the seventies, the sky a big blue bowl, a wispy cloud or two drifting around up there. Somewhere in the trees overhead, a couple of doves cooed at each other.

When the men emerged from under the cover of the oaks, the fairway, still glistening a little from its early-morning watering, was so richly green it hardly seemed real. A deep, true green, Flynt Carson thought. Like Josie's eyes…

Flynt swore under his breath. He'd been vowing for nearly a year that he'd stop thinking about her. Still, her name always found some way to come creeping into his mind.

“What did you say?” Michael O'Day pulled their cart to a stop on the trail right behind Spence and
Tyler. “I think I caught the meaning, but I missed the exact words.” He slanted Flynt a knowing grin.

Flynt ordered his mind to get back where it belonged—on his game. “Just shaking my head over that last hole. If I'd come out of the sand a little better, I could have parred it. No doubt about it, my sand wedge needs work.”

Michael chuckled. “Hey, at least you—”

And right then, Flynt heard the kind of sound a man
shouldn't
hear on the golf course. He put up a hand, though Michael had already fallen silent.

The two in the front cart must have heard it, too. They were turning to look for the source as it came again: a fussy little cry.

“Over there,” Spence said. He pointed toward the thick hedge that partially masked a groundskeeper's shed about thirty yards from them.

A frown etched a crease between Michael's black eyebrows. “Sounds like a—”

Spence was already out of the lead cart. “Damn it, I don't believe it.”

Neither did Flynt. He blinked. And he looked again.

But it was still there: a baby carrier, the kind that doubles as a car seat, tucked in close to the hedge. And in the car seat—wrapped in a fluffy pink blanket, waving tiny fists and starting to wail—was a baby.

A baby. A baby
alone.
On the ninth tee of the Lone Star Country Club's Ben Hogan-designed golf course.

“What the hell kind of idiot would leave a baby on the golf course?” Tyler Murdoch asked the question of no one in particular. He took off after Spence. Flynt and Michael fell in right behind.

Midway between the carts and the squalling infant, all four men slowed. The baby cried louder and those tiny fists flailed.

The men—Texans all, tall, narrow-hipped, broad-shouldered and proud—stopped dead, two in front, two right behind, about fifteen feet from the yowling child. Three of those men had served in the Gulf War together. Each of those three had earned the Silver Star for gallantry in action. The fourth, Michael O'Day, was perhaps the finest cardiac surgeon in the Lone Star State. He spent his working life fighting to save lives in the operating room—and most of the time, he won. Flynt's own father, Ford Carson, was a living testament to the skill and steely nerves of Dr. O'Day.

Not a coward in the bunch.

But that howling baby stopped them cold. To the world, they might be heroes, but they were also, all four, single men. And childless. Not a one knew what the hell to do with a crying infant.

So they hung back. And the baby cried louder.

Flynt and Michael moved up on the other two, so that all four of them stood shoulder to shoulder. The men exchanged the kinds of looks bachelors are likely
to share when a baby is wailing and there's no female around to take charge and defuse the situation.

“Maybe the mother's nearby,” Spence suggested hopefully.

“Where?” demanded Tyler, scowling. “Crouched in the bushes? Hiding in the shed?”

“Hey. It's a thought.”

Another several edgy seconds passed, with the poor kid getting more worked up, those little arms pumping wildly, the fat little face crumpled in misery, getting very red.

Then Tyler said, “Spence.” He gestured with a tight nod to the left. “I'll go right. We'll circle the shed and rendezvous around the back. Then we'll check out the interior.”

“Gotcha.” The two started off, Tyler pausing after a few steps to advise over his shoulder, “Better see to that kid.”

Flynt resisted the urge to argue,
No way.
You
deal with the baby. We'll reconnoiter the shed.
But he'd missed his chance and he knew it. He and Michael were stuck with the kid.

Michael looked grim. Flynt was certain his own expression mirrored the doctor's. But what damn choice did they have? Someone had to take care of the baby.

“Let's do it,” he said bleakly, already on his way again toward the car seat and its unhappy occupant.

As his shadow fell across the child, the wailing
stopped. The silence, to Flynt, seemed huge. And wonderful, after all that screaming.

The baby blinked up at him. A girl, Flynt guessed—the blanket, after all,
was
pink. Her bright blue eyes seemed to be seeking, straining to see him looming above her. And then she gave up. She shut those eyes and opened that tiny mouth and let out another long, angry wail.

Flynt dropped to a crouch. “Hey, hey. Come on. It's okay. It's all right….”

She might be hungry, or need a diaper change. She definitely needed comforting—and he was going to have to provide it. There was a note, a plain white square of paper scribbled with blue ink, pinned to the blanket. He went for that first.

It was damp. Water had dripped on it from the sprinkler-wet leaves of the hedge. The first part of whatever had been written was smeared beyond recognition.

But it did give him a name. Lena. “Hey, Lena. How are you?” The baby stopped in midwail, hiccupped—and wailed some more.

“Let's see that note,” Michael said from right behind him.

Flynt pulled it free of the pin and handed it over. Then, while Lena howled and kicked her legs and waved those tiny fists, he went to work getting her out of the car seat.

The blanket had fallen away enough to reveal the
seat belt apparatus, which didn't look all that complicated: a shoulder harness that veed to a single strap over the tiny torso and hooked to the seat via a button latch between the legs. She went on flailing as he popped the latch and, gently as possible, lifted the strap to free her from the restraint.

He talked to her the whole time, trying to sound soothing, probably not succeeding. “Hey, Lena. We'll get you out of here. It's going to be all right. Hey, now. Hey…”

Damn, she was so tiny. Small as Wild Willie, the runt barn cat he'd been fond of as a kid—and a hell of a lot more defenseless. He slid one hand behind the downy black curls to support her head. He'd done a little studying on the subject of baby care a couple of years ago. That was back before the accident, when Monica was finally pregnant and he'd thought he would be a father, even dared to imagine he might learn to be a decent one, the kind his own father had been. He'd remembered reading that you had to support a baby's head. A baby didn't have much control of it, couldn't hold it up by herself.

Lena quit flailing as he lifted her. She was blinking again, zeroing in on his face. Hadn't he read that, too—that they could only see close up, that they bonded, by sight, with the faces of the adults who held them?

She was
looking
at him. She really was. “Lena…” He breathed the word softly, liking the sound of it.
Then she burped—a big one—and made a funny, scrunched-up face.

Carefully he raised her to his shoulder. She moved against him, getting comfortable. She was so warm and small and soft. She felt good, her tiny body curled into his chest. And she was blessedly quiet. For the moment, anyway.

He stood from his crouch and turned to Michael, who said, “I think you've got a knack with babies, Flynt.”

Flynt didn't reply. What was there to say?

The other half of their foursome emerged from the bushes. “Nothing,” said Spencer. “If the mother was here, she's not now.”

Tyler frowned. “Wasn't there a note on the blanket?”

Michael held it out. “Right here.”

Tyler took it and read it aloud. “‘I'm your baby girl. My name is Lena…”' He passed the note to Spence. “Well, great.
Whose
baby girl?”

Spence studied the square of paper. “Looks like there was some kind of salutation, somebody's name. But now it's water-smeared to nothing but a blotch.”

Tyler shook his head. “So. Great. We've got no idea who left her here—let alone who was supposed to find her.”

No one spoke for a moment. At Flynt's shoulder, Lena hiccuped again, then sighed. He felt her tiny
chest expand, felt the warm huff of air against his shirt.

Michael broke the silence. “Whoever left her, I'd guess one of her parents was supposed to find her. After all, the note says ‘I'm your baby girl.”'

Spence was nodding. “It also reads as if whoever it is doesn't know the baby exists in the first place, doesn't know he or she has a child.”

Michael grunted. “That'd be a pretty neat trick for a mother—to have a baby without knowing it.”

Spence shrugged. “So more than likely, it was the name of the father on that note.”

“The father,” Tyler added, “who very likely has no clue that he's a dad.”

Michael raised an eyebrow. “You three meet at the clubhouse every Sunday, right? You tee off at six-fifteen and by eight or so you're always right here, at the ninth tee. Luke Callaghan, too.”

There was another silence, a heavy one. Flynt hardly noticed it. He had no idea what the other three were thinking. And he didn't care.

His mind had started racing.

Damn. Could it be?

Blue eyes, black hair…

That didn't match up, not with Josie, anyway. Her hair was the color of moonlight and her eyes were that damned unforgettable green.

Flynt's hair was a sandy-brown. His eyes were right: blue, like his mother's and his brother's. But
then again, didn't most babies start out with blue eyes?

How old was this little girl? He wasn't much at judging a baby's age, but she
could
be two months or so, couldn't she? That would make the timing right.

With great care, he lowered the baby from his shoulder and cradled her in front of him. She yawned, stuck her fist in her mouth, then pulled it free and seemed to study him, her face a blank, yet somehow infinitely wise.

She looked like…a baby. Small and plump, with a pushed-in nose and a tiny rosebud of a mouth. As for any resemblance—to him, or to Josie Lavender—damned if he could tell.

Still, it
was
possible….

Because he had not been careful that one forbidden night he'd spent with Josie. He'd screwed up royally that night, in more ways than one.

But why? Why the hell would Josie do this? It wasn't like her to choose this crazy, irresponsible way to let him know he was a father. Not like her at all.

Yet, it did add up.

He'd sent her away after that night, and he hadn't seen her since. She'd left town, only returned a few weeks ago—or so he'd heard. Rumor had it her mother was sick again and Josie had come back to care for her.

The rumors had never included anything about a baby, however.

Flynt gently put Lena back on his shoulder. He made eye contact with Tyler—briefly. Then both men looked away. Spence was still staring at the note. Michael was frowning, his dark gaze moving from Spence to Tyler to Flynt and back to Spence again.

Flynt thought they all seemed a little— What? Worried? Sheepish? Could they each, like him, be thinking that, just maybe, the note was meant for him?

No damn way to tell. And whatever might be going through his friends' minds, Flynt knew what
he
had to do.

Somewhere in the trees near the cart path, the doves had started cooing again. A yellow bird hopped across the grass and took flight, vanishing into a big waxy-leaved magnolia at the edge of the fairway.

Flynt laid it out for them. “Listen, I'm taking this baby home to the ranch until I can figure out what the hell is going on here.”

The other three men looked at him as if he'd suddenly announced he planned to rob a bank and take a few innocent bystanders hostage.

After a charged moment, Spence asked in a carefully offhand way, “What did you say, there, buddy?”

So he said it again.

Spence looked pained. “Seriously bad idea, with
all kinds of negative legal ramifications.” Spence was a lawyer; as a matter of fact, he was the local D.A. “Sorry, man. No way you can just take that baby home with you.”

Flynt curved a protective hand over Lena's tiny, warm back. “Watch me.”

“Stop,” Spence said. “Think.”

“I
am
thinking,” Flynt told the lawyer. And he was. He was thinking of Josie Lavender. She could end up in big trouble for abandoning her baby like this—if Lena
was
her baby, which would mean she was also
his
baby, which meant he had every right to take her home.

“Come on, Flynt,” Spence said. “You know we have to call the police and get someone out here from Child Protective Services ASAP to take custody.”

“No need for any of that. I told you.
I'm
taking custody.”

“And I told
you—

“All right,” Flynt cut in before Spence could get rolling. “I'll lay it right out for you. I have good reason to believe I'm the one that note was meant for, which means this baby is mine.”

The doves had stopped their cooing. The silence echoed. Each of the men seemed to be looking anywhere but in each other's eyes. A small two-engine plane buzzed by overhead, heading out of the small airstrip at Mission Ridge a few miles away.

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