The Baby Barter by Patty Smith HallThe Baby Barter by Patty Smith Hall

The Baby Barter

byPatty Smith Hall

Mass Market Paperback | January 5, 2016

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A BABY TO CHERISH 

Home from the war, army nurse Thea Miller is determined to adopt her late sister's baby and begin a new life. But someone else has the same intentions—the town sheriff and Thea's old friend, Mack Worthington. Now, in order to keep her niece in the family, Thea must reach an agreement with him. 

Mack isn't sure Thea—whose actions once hurt him badly—is committed to baby Sarah. And a judge may never approve a single-parent adoption for either of them. But what if they got married? It would be a marriage in name only. Yet the more time Mack spends with Thea, the more he begins to believe their pretend family can become the real one they've both been longing for.
Title:The Baby BarterFormat:Mass Market PaperbackProduct dimensions:288 pages, 6.55 × 4.25 × 0.78 inShipping dimensions:6.55 × 4.25 × 0.78 inPublished:January 5, 2016Publisher:HarlequinLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0373283458

ISBN - 13:9780373283453

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful read Seriously. Show me a man that's gaga over a baby and I'll be gaga over the man. Hello Sheriff Mack -- definitely a swoonworthy hero. And a wounded one. So that's a double whammy -- besotted over his baby girl and holding a heap of trouble trapped inside his heart. A winning combination that can't help but thaw Thea's rigid attitude. She's a woman on a mission and Mack is in the way. She carries a world of hurt beneath the professional nursing façade she presents to the public. A love story ripe with conflict but sweetened with tenderness. Delicious right to the very last page.
Date published: 2016-01-21

Read from the Book

Marietta, Georgia Fall, 1945Sheriff Mack Worthington made it his business to notice people.And the woman standing in the shadows of the massive oak tree at the edge of Merrilee Davenport's backyard had sent his senses on high alert. Not that he could see her all that well. The brim of her felt hat covered most of her face, leaving him at a distinct disadvantage.But it was the little things that made him question her reasons for being there. In the tan skirt and white blouse she wore, she looked more prepared for a trip to the market than attendance at a wedding. And why did her fingers unconsciously dig into the sides of her purse as if she were holding on to it for dear life? Tension held her ramrod straight, reminding him of a soldier ready for battle.What fight did this woman expect to face here?"What's got you twisting around in your chair like a kite in a tornado?"Mack glanced at the older lady to his right and felt the knots in his stomach relax. Ms. Aurora's tone had just the right combination of chastisement and concern that came from years of caring for other people's children. He straightened in his seat. "Nothing, Ms. Aurora."She studied him a long moment until he felt himself start to squirm again. "It don't look like nothing to me."Billy Warner, the oldest of Aurora's current batch of foster children at twelve years old, pushed himself out of his chair, his cane anchored against his side as he stretched up to get a better look down the rows of chairs that lined the makeshift aisle. "Is Claire up to something? I knew she'd get bored with all this wishy-washy romantic stuff."Mack's lips twitched as he put his free hand on the boy's shoulder and gently pushed him back into his seat. "Claire is on her best behavior today. That girl's been looking forward to seeing her parents get remarried since her daddy showed up back in town." John and Merrilee had a troubled past—filled with misunderstandings and manipulations by her family meant to keep them apart. But they'd triumphed over it all, as this wedding proved. And their twelve-year-old daughter couldn't be happier."Maybe." Billy blew out a snort. "But the ceremony's been over for a good five minutes, and we're still sitting here when we could be eating some of that spread Miss Merrilee has been cooking for the last week. I'm starving."Mack shook his head. The boy had a lot to learn about the female of the species over the next few years, particularly when it came to things like romance and marriage. Not that Mack was any kind of expert. His few attempts at romance had been shot down in flames. Maybe women and the workings of their hearts were the only mystery he wouldn't ever solve.A faint whimper drew his gaze, and Mack found himself staring into a pair of pale blue eyes wide with just a slight hint of irritation, plump baby fingers reaching for him, her tiny body squirming in Ms. Aurora's arms. Technically, little Sarah was in Ms. Aurora's care until the adoption was approved, but both Mack and the baby knew the truth—he was the one who had been there for her, loving her since she was dropped into his arms on the day she was born. He was her father in every way that mattered. If only he could push Judge Wakefield to make it legal.Ms. Aurora shifted the child in her arms and held her out to Mack. "Looks like someone wants to see her daddy.""Come here, doodlebug." Mack scooped up the baby, her warm little body instantly nestling against his chest. She reached up and Mack caught the tips of her fingers between his lips, nibbling gently, enjoying this new game Sarah had discovered in the past day or two. Her lips turned up in a gaping smile, the jagged pink line just under her nose the only evidence of her most recent surgery to fix the cleft palate she'd been born with. A wave of love like nothing he'd ever known speared through him."Really, Sheriff," Ms. Aurora whispered as she caught the baby's hands and wiped her tiny fingers dry with a billowy cotton cloth. "You need to teach her to keep her hands to herself.""It's just a game we play." Mack held out a finger to the baby, who eyed it for a moment before grasping it between her palms and drawing it to her gaping mouth. "Besides, I think she's teething. At least, that's what it sounds like from all the books I've read."The elderly woman shook her head as she extracted his finger from the little girl's grip. "You're spoiling her silly, Mack.""I can't help it." He lifted her up, brushed a quick kiss against Sarah's silky hair, then smiled. "And what girl doesn't deserve a little bit of spoiling?""Not every moment of every day," the older woman scolded.Mack silently disagreed. They'd almost lost Sarah during her last surgery to correct the disfigurement to her mouth and nose, and there was still one more surgery to come. It would be a hard trial for anyone to face, particularly a baby who had already faced too much pain and rejection in her short life.She'd been abandoned by her young mother just hours after she'd been born. Mack had gotten the call to pick up the baby that day—Victory in Europe Day—and deliver her to the only place that would take a child with such severe anomalies. In the short half-hour drive to Ms. Aurora's, Mack had found his attention riveted to the tiny infant lying swaddled in a ragged blanket in a cardboard box fashioned into a makeshift crib. By the time they'd turned into the dirt driveway leading to the older woman's home, he'd known he wanted to adopt this child and raise her as his own daughter.As if she had a window into his worries, Ms. Aurora laid a comforting hand on his arm. "You heard anything from Judge Wakefield about when you can finally take Sarah home?"Mack shook his head. "Not yet.""That's Ethan for you. Taking his ever-loving sweet time about things." The older woman gave a little huff. "I swear that man is as slow as molasses in the dead of winter."Mack couldn't argue with her there. Judge Wake-field was known in town for his persnickety approach to his duties, but Mack had an inkling this situation was related more to the man's personal dislike of him."Well, what's Red doing to get the adoption finalized? I figured with all the money you're paying that boy, he would have closed this case by now."Mack's lips twitched. Red had never grown up from being "that boy" to Ms. Aurora, not since he'd filled up the town fountain with laundry soap when he was just ten years old. She didn't seem to realize that he had become one of the leading attorneys in the state.But Aurora did have a point. Red should have gotten everything resolved by now. Since taking this case, one thing after another had gotten in the way of finalizing the adoption. "He's supposed to be here today. I thought I'd corner him with a piece of Merrilee's juicy chocolate cake and see what the holdup is.""The way things are going, Sarah will be a woman fully grown before you take her home." Ms. Aurora gently patted the baby's back.Billy turned to them, his finger pressed against his lips. "Claire's giving us the eye."Mack glanced up to where the wedding party had gathered. Claire stood beside her mother, her lips drawn into a stern line. Boy, John and Merrilee would have their hands full with that one, especially when the boys began to come courting.Mack leaned back in his chair, a smile threatening along the corners of his mouth. What would Sarah be like at that age? Full of sass and determination? A tomboy more interested in Atlanta Crackers baseball games than school dances? Or would she love frills and lace and girly stuff Mack didn't know a thing about?Mack's gaze fell to the bundle of ribbons and bows perched on his lap. Was he being selfish, wanting to raise Sarah without the benefit of a mother, no feminine hand to lead her through those challenging years of becoming a woman? He shifted in his seat. It wasn't that he hadn't tried to find a wife. A number of nice women had moved into town since the bomber plant had opened. He'd even dated one or two, but things never seemed to work out.He touched the scar just under the hairline next to his left ear. Probably for the best. If God wanted him to have a wife, He would have sent someone who could look beyond his limitations, one who would love him just as he was, deaf ear and all. Until then, he and Sarah would do just fine on their own.A slight pressure against his right side jarred him away from his thought, and he turned to see Ms. Aurora's worried expression. Her pale eyes darkened into stormy gray as she stole a glance over her shoulder, her body rigid.Mack lifted Sarah and nestled her against his shoulder. "What is it, Ms. Aurora?""I'm probably just imagining things."Mack doubted it. Aurora Adair was one of the most sensible and down-to-earth people he knew. If she felt something was amiss, nine times out of ten she was right. "Let me be the judge of that."She pressed her lips together as if deciding whether to tell him or not. "Remember a couple of days ago when I told you I felt like someone was watching the house?"His heart rate kicked up a notch. "Yes.""I didn't worry much about it. I like to think some of the families of the children who were left with me might try to get a glimpse of them, just to make sure they're all right. But this one" The viselike grip she had on his arm put all Mack's instincts on alert. "She's been watching the house for the last two days, and now, she's here.""Point her out to me."Ms. Aurora gave him an annoyed look. "I can't do that. That's just plain rude.""Then how am I—""She's toward the back, underneath that big old oak tree one of the children got stuck in last July. Remember?"Yes, he remembered. Took him two hours to get that little firecracker Ellie off that high-hanging branch. "There's a crowd over there, Ms. Aurora. Which lady are you talking about?""The girl in the plain tan skirt with a white blouse and a brown felt hat. Doesn't look like she knew there was going to be a wedding today."Knots began to form in the pit of Mack's stomach. He'd known the woman was trouble but just who was she? Mack shifted sideways to get a good long look at her. The brim of her hat still flopped over most of her face, but now he caught a glimpse of golden-brown curls clinging to the nape of her neck. She tilted her head back, casting a nervous glance at the crowd before her gaze fell on him. A dull ache settled in Mack's left jaw, and he reached for the jagged scar once again.Thea Miller had come home.Thea's palms grew moist inside her bleached cotton gloves, her gaze fixed on the impossibly handsome man glaring back at her. She immediately recognized Mack Worthington, football team captain, all-around good guy. And the only boy in high school she would have given a second glance. Or a third. Her heart hammered against her ribs just thinking about the crush she'd nursed for him her junior and senior years.She didn't have time to reminisce about the good old days, not with the trouble she'd found when she'd returned home from England three days ago. Thea drew in a slow breath, then released it, her heart settling back into a normal rhythm. That silly girl with a shameful family and a hopeless crush had made something of herself, serving her country as a nurse on the front lines in Europe. If she could face those dangers, then facing down a boy she used to like should be the least of her worries.But maybe he could help her. Someone in town had mentioned Mack had taken Sheriff Clay's place after the older man had enlisted. The news had shocked Thea at first. Knowing how protective Mack could be, she'd thought he'd enlist the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. What had kept him in Marietta rather than serving his country overseas?Thea shook her head. What did it matter? Mack was the town's sheriff. Maybe it was time to get the police involved if Momma's allegations were true.Aurora Adair stole your sister's baby.Momma's words twisted the knots in her stomach as tight as a tourniquet. The scenario sounded eerily familiar—her kid sister, Eileen, pregnant and unmarried, the child missing soon after birth, the frantic search that turned up nothing, a promise from Thea to find the baby and return it home. Her chest tightened. A promise she'd never been able to keep. Of course, she'd been little more than a child herself, barely seventeen. Eight unbearable years she'd waited to come home, thwarting the promise she'd made to her sister and had been unable to keep.Not this time.Besides, this was a completely different situation. Eight years ago, it had been their mother who had made the decision to give away Eileen's baby, her pride unable to handle the prospect of the town discovering that her unwed, teenage daughter had become a mother. But this time, her mother said that she'd wanted the baby—that she'd helped Eileen prepare. And Thea herself had seen the evidence: tiny sweaters and booties recently knitted, a cupboard full of washed and sterilized baby bottles and all the makings for homemade formula.This time, they could have made things work, truly pulled together as a family in a way they hadn't done in years. But Eileen had died not long after, in a car accident. The baby had been taken from them. And Thea had returned home to find nothing left of her family but her mother—and even she was sadly changed.All Thea could hope for now was to find her sister's baby, take her home and raise the child herself. Have a real family again.