Read The Best Bride Online

Authors: Susan Mallery

Tags: #HQN

The Best Bride

#1
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery brings you a reader-favorite tale of redemption, self-discovery and a love that conquers all.

Elizabeth Abbot is finally pulling her life back together. She's endured enough heartbreak at the hands of her deceitful ex-husband and is determined to provide a happy life for her daughter. That's exactly why she should stay away from Travis Haynes, the sheriff of Glenwood, with his trademark Stetson and sexy smile.

With all of her broken heart, Elizabeth longs to trust the legendary lawman, to let him past the walls she has built up so carefully. But will her shattered past forever hold her hostage, even from a love that could make her whole?

Marriage on Demand

Susan Mallery

Contents

Part One

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Part Two

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Part Three

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Epilogue

Part One
Chapter One

T
he white T-bird fishtailed around the corner. It sprayed dirt and gravel up onto the left front of the patrol car parked on the side of the road.

Sheriff Travis Haynes turned the key to start the engine, then flipped on the blue lights. As he pulled out onto the highway, he debated whether or not to use the siren, then decided against it. He was about to mess up someone's long weekend by giving him a ticket; no point in adding insult to injury by using the siren. The good citizens of Glenwood had contributed enough money to buy a car equipped with a siren that could wake the dead. But that didn't necessarily mean they wanted him to use it on
them.

He stepped on the gas until he was behind the white car, then checked his speed. He gave a low whistle and looked at the car ahead. He could see a mass of brown hair through the rear window, but little else. The lady was going somewhere in a hurry. He followed behind and waited.

It took her another two minutes to notice him. She glanced in her mirror, saw the flashing lights, did a double take, then immediately put on her blinker and pulled to the side of the road. Travis slowed and parked behind her. He shut off the engine, reached for his Stetson and ticket book, then got out and walked leisurely toward the car. His cowboy boots crunched on the gravel. He noticed the California license plate tags were current.

“Afternoon,” he said, when he walked up to the open window. He glanced down at the woman and got a brief impression of big brown eyes in a heart-shaped face. She looked a little pale under her tan. A lot of people were nervous when they were stopped by an officer. He gave her a friendly smile. “You were going pretty fast there.”

“I—I know,” she said, softly, averting her gaze and staring out the front window. “I'm sorry.”

She gripped the steering wheel tightly. He looked past her to the young girl in the passenger seat. The child looked more frightened than her mother. She clutched a worn brown teddy bear to her chest and stared at him with wide blue eyes. Her mouth trembled as if she were fighting tears. About five or six, he thought, giving her a quick wink.

Travis returned his attention to the woman. She wore her hair pulled up in a ponytail on top of her head. The ends fell back almost to her shoulders. It was a warm September afternoon. She was dressed in a red tank top and white shorts. He tried not to notice her legs. “I'm going to need to see your driver's license and registration, ma'am,” he said politely.

“What? Oh, of course.”

She bent over to grab her purse from the floor on the passenger's side. He thought he heard a gasp, as if she were in pain, but before he could be sure, she fumbled with her wallet and pulled out the small identification. As she
handed it to him, it slipped out of her fingers and fluttered toward the ground. He caught it before it touched the dirt.

“I'm sorry,” she murmured. Her mouth pulled into a straight line and dark emotion flickered in her eyes.

Immediately his instincts went on alert. Something wasn't right. She was too scared or too upset for someone getting a ticket. He glanced down at the license. Elizabeth Abbott. Age twenty-eight. Five-six. The address listed her as living in Los Angeles.

“You're a long way from home,” he said, looking from her to the license and back.

“We just moved here,” she said.

He took the registration next and saw the car was in her name.

“So what's the story?” he asked, flipping open his ticket book.

“Excuse me?”

“Why were you speeding?”

Her eyebrows drew together. “I don't understand.”

“You're in Glenwood, ma'am, and we have a tradition here. If you can tell me a story I haven't heard before, I have to let you go.”

Her mouth curved up slightly. It made her look pretty. He had a feeling she would be hell on wheels if she let go enough to really smile. “You're kidding?”

“No, ma'am.” He adjusted his Stetson.

“Have you
ever
let anyone go?”

He thought for a minute, then grinned. “I stopped Miss Murietta several years ago. She was hurrying home to watch the last episode of
Dallas
on TV.”

“And you let her off the hook?”

He shrugged. “I hadn't heard that excuse before. So what's yours? I've been in the sheriff's department almost twelve years, so it'll have to be good.”

Elizabeth Abbott stared up at him and started to laugh. She stopped suddenly, drew in a deep breath and seemed to fall toward the steering wheel. She caught herself and clutched her midsection.

“Mommy?” The little girl beside her sounded frantic. “Mommy?”

“I'm fine,” Elizabeth said, glancing at her.

But Travis could see she wasn't fine. He realized the look in her eyes wasn't fear, it was pain. He saw it in the lines around her mouth and the way she paled even more under her tan.

“What's wrong?” he asked, stuffing his ticket book into his back pocket.

“Nothing,” she said. “Just a stomachache. It won't go away. I was going to a walk-in clinic to see if they could—” She gasped and nearly doubled over. The seat belt held her in place.

Travis opened the car door and crouched beside her. “You pregnant?” he asked. He reached for her wrist and found her pulse. It was rapid. Her skin felt cold and clammy to the touch.

“No, why?”

“Miscarriage.”

“I'm not pregnant.” She leaned her head back against the seat rest. “Give me a minute. I'll be fine.”

Her daughter stared up at her. He could see the worry and the fear in her blue eyes and his heart went out to the little girl.

“Mommy, don't be sick.”

“I'm fine.” She touched her child's cheek.

Travis leaned in and unlatched the seat belt.

“What are you doing?” Elizabeth asked.

“Taking you to the hospital.”

“That's not necessary. Really, I'll just drive to the clinic
and—” She drew in a deep breath and held it. Her eyes closed and her jaw tightened.

“That's it,” he said, reaching one arm under her legs, the other behind her back. Before she could protest, he slid her out and carried her toward his car.

She clung to him and shivered. “I don't mean to be any trouble.”

“No trouble. Part of the job.”

“You carry a lot of women in your line of work?”

Her muscles felt tight and perspiration clung to her forehead and upper lip. She must be in a lot of pain, but she was trying to keep it all together. He winked. “It's been a good week for me.”

When they reached his car, Travis lowered her feet to the ground and opened the door to the back seat. He started to pick her up again, but she shook her head and bent over to slide in. He returned to the lady's car and slipped into the driver's seat. The little girl was hunched against the door, staring at him. Tears rolled down her face.

“What's your name, honey?” he asked softly.

“Mandy.”

“How old are you?”

She hiccuped and clutched the bear to her chest. “Six.”

“I'm going to take your mom to the hospital, and they're going to make her feel better. I'd like you come with me. Okay?”

She nodded slowly.

He gave her his best smile, then collected Elizabeth's purse. After shoving her keys, license and registration into his pocket, he unhooked Mandy's seat belt and helped her out of the car. He rolled up the windows and locked the doors, then led her to the sheriff's vehicle.

Her tears stopped momentarily as she stared at the array
of switches and listened to the crackling of the radio. “You ever been inside a patrol car before?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“You'll like it. I promise.” That earned him a sniff. He settled her quickly beside him, then glanced back at Elizabeth. She lay across the seat, her knees pulled up to her chest, breathing rapidly.

“How you doing?” he asked.

“Hanging in there,” she said, her voice tight with strain.

“I'm going to use the siren,” he said, starting the engine and switching it on. Instantly a piercing wail filled the car. Travis checked his mirror, then pulled out onto the road.

Traffic was light and they were at the hospital in less than fifteen minutes. Two minutes after that, Elizabeth had been wheeled away on a gurney and he was filling out paperwork at the circular counter near the emergency entrance. Mandy stood beside him, crying.

She didn't make a sound, but he could swear he heard every one of those tears rolling down her cheeks. Her pain made it tough to concentrate. Poor kid. She was scared to death.

He bent over and picked her up, setting her on the counter next to him. They were almost at eye level. A headband adorned with cartoon characters held her blond hair off her round face. The same collection of animals, in a rainbow of colors, covered her T-shirt. She wore denim shorts and scuffed sandals. Except for the tears, she looked like just any other six-year-old.

“When did you and your mom move here?” he asked.

She clutched the tattered teddy bear closer. “Yesterday,” she said, gulping for air.

“Yesterday?” There went his hope they might have made friends in town. “Do you have any family here?”

She shook her head and sniffed again.

He reached over the counter to a box of tissues beside the phone. The receptionist was also a nurse, and she had disappeared into the room with Elizabeth. Mandy wiped her face and tried to blow her nose. It didn't work. He took a couple of tissues and held them over her face.

“Blow,” he ordered, wondering how many times he'd done this during summer T-ball practice. There were always a lot of tears as the kids skinned knees and elbows…and lost games.

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