A search for truth, switched babies, and a threat from the past all conspire to destroy the love Birdie found with Garr and his daughter, Rachelle.
Macaws as lovebirds?
An avian expert, Birdie Simons is called to help control a cantankerous hyacinth macaw during a young girl’s birthday party. Inexorably drawn to each other, she and single father Garr Logan share an afternoon of joy and bittersweet memories, for Garr’s wife died the same day as Birdie’s newborn child.
Something about Rachelle makes Birdie wonder if the golden-haired girl is her daughter, switched at birth. Then her child’s father returns, dogging her search for understanding and throwing her deeper into fear and confusion.
Ready to move on after his wife’s death, Garr wants the intriguing woman, but Birdie keeps the search, threats and hidden relationships to herself, driving a wedge between them.
Will discovering the truth from nine years ago bring them closer, or forever tear them apart?
Enjoy Chapter One
An ambulance screamed through the cross street in front of the community hospital. Birdie Simons waited patiently for the ruckus to die down as bright yellow fire trucks squealed around the corner to follow the flashing lights of the wailing rescue vehicle. Impatiently tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, she watched a young couple leaving the hospital— balloons, flowers, and new baby in tow.
Birdie sighed. Nine years before, she had left the hospital empty armed, her child dead. A second sigh tightened the shoulder strap over her chest. Even if the tiny girl had lived, Birdie would have been empty armed. A joyous adoptive family’s cuddling would have taken her place. Nine years ago today.
A horn blaring behind her jerked her attention to the now silent roadway and a bright green traffic light. She waved an apology over her shoulder and left behind the hospital, but not her memories.
How stupid she’d been. At thirty-one she should have known better than to believe the attentions of a city councilman would lead to anything more than date rape. A cold chill skittered down Birdies spine. Too ashamed to report the incident, she’d tried valiantly to go on with her life. Until the positive home pregnancy test. Birdie shuddered at the rush of memory.
Unsettled and overly emotional at that time in her life, she would never have been able to provide a decent life for a child. So she had chosen to give the child up for adoption, happy a loving couple would give her daughter a life she could only imagine.
Now the owner of a successful bird ranch providing quality avians to reputable pet stores… Birdie chuckled. It sounded so pretentious when she thought of her life in those terms. But life was good, complete, fulfilling. At least that’s what she told herself in the lonely hours of the night.
After parking in front of an old farmhouse, she climbed from her sleek, dark blue SUV and leaned back against the warm metal. Arms crossed under her breasts, she succumbed to the luxury of another sigh. This was her baby now. Birdie shook her head; her baby needed a new coat of paint along the soffits, and a new lock on the front door. Even the small sign by the door proclaiming Birdies needed a touch up. Maybe she could get to the maintenance next weekend; today’s chore was a pile of long overdue paperwork.
She pushed open the sticky door and the raucous screeching and chattering of a multitude of feathered bodies greeted her. A blonde head peeked from behind a counter and her assistant, Dot, smiled brightly.
“Everybody’s fed, watered, and cleaned. No problems, boss.”
“Thanks, girlfriend. What kind of plans do you have for the rest of the weekend?”
“Not much.” Dot rose and eyed her curiously. “Do you need some extra help?”
The overly loud ring of the telephone interrupted the shake of Birdie’s head. Immediate echoes of the sound traveled the length of room and into the next, as one mimicking bird passed the trill to the next. “I should invest in a phone that flashes,” Birdie muttered as she rushed toward the small office. Behind her, Dot laughed and wandered down a row of cages, easily calming the anxious birds.
“Birdies . May I help you?”
The growl of a deep, resonate voice thrilled her to the tips of her toes. “I hope so.”
Shaken by her uncommon reaction to a man’s voice, Birdie paused before asking, “How can I…”
A touch of panic hovered behind the man’s rushed words. “There’s a huge blue monster in my house. I can’t control the thing. She left it here for who knows how long while she went off to Bermuda or some other godforsaken place. I don’t know what to do. Nine little girls are coming out here this afternoon, what if one of them is bitten?”
“Wait, sir. What monster? What are you talking about?” Just what she needed—a crazed idiot disturbing her peaceful Saturday.
The disembodied voice continued. Even with the totally masculine timbre, Birdie pictured a skinny little man dancing around the phone in panic. She had to bite back a chuckle. The daydream shattered with his terse demand. “You will come out here now and take care of this damn bird.”
“Bird? What bird?”
Exasperation flowed through the telephone line. “I just told you. My mother’s macaw. It’s wild, a demented bird. I can’t control it.” The words were spaced evenly, firmly. “I need help.”
Birdie covered the mouthpiece and sighed. Always an easy touch where avian creatures were concerned, she returned her attention to the stressed breathing of the ranting man. “A blue and gold…?”
“No, damn it, one of those big ones. What’s it called? It’s all blue with yellow around the eyes.”
“A hyacinth macaw?” Birdie took a deep breath. There weren’t many of the huge birds in the area, maybe this one would…
“Will you come?”
“Of course, sir. I’ve had fairly good luck dealing with avian behavioral problems. If we can’t get the bird under control, I might be able to board it here at Birdies until your mother returns.”
“Fine, great, whatever. Only do it quick. My daughter’s birthday party starts in…” In the silent pause Birdie imagined him checking his watch. “Three hours. It’ll take you about a half an hour to get here, unless you get lost.”
Birdie let a defensive tone color her voice. “I have a great sense of direction, thank you.” After reaching for a slip of paper and a pen, she waved the colorful page to catch Dot’s attention and motioned her into the office. “Just give me the directions.”
She listened with half an ear while the man listed streets and mileage. Dot stood over one shoulder, gasping at the strange street names as Birdie wrote. A wrinkle creased Birdie’s forehead. These were directions to an exclusive country club on the far side of town, where each small acreage was treated as though it were a southern plantation. This would be an interesting adventure.
Dot repeatedly poked the paper with a finger until Birdie gave her a dirty look. Dot’s mouth formed an open circle before she breathed, “Wow,” sat in the desk chair, and propped her feet on the wastebasket.
Muffled screeching echoed through the receiver. “I’ll expect you at Logan’s Hollow shortly. Hurry. This bird is driving me nuts.”
“And you are?”
It took a deep breath and greater force of will before Garr could replace the handset without slamming it against the wall in frustration. The bird screamed and the flapping of wide spread, clipped wings made Garr wince as he reached for the business card he’d found stuck in the yellow pages. He glanced at the colorful rectangle before replacing it and tucking the phonebook back into the junk drawer. If the woman boarded birds, why hadn’t his mother left the monster there? Why had Mom dumped that blue demon on his doorstep? She knew the bird hated him.
The sound of running feet pattered across the slate floor of his large kitchen. “Daddy.” Rachelle threw herself into his open arms and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Daddy, you need a shave. You can’t let my friends see you like that.” She rubbed her palm against the morning stubble and giggled. “Is it time to get ready yet?”
Garr twirled his daughter in a tight circle and set her on her feet. “You know no one will be here until one o’clock. Now scoot, and let me get things ready.”
“I can help you.” Rachelle tried to peek around his waist but he held her steady. A dramatic child’s sigh filled her chest. “You don’t have to keep the cake a secret, you know. I’m not a little kid anymore.”
Garr ruffled her hair, chuckling when she ducked to escape his attentions. “I know you’re not, honey. Humor your old dad, okay?”
“You’re not old, Daddy, not like Tammi’s dad. He’s ancient.”
Bending nearly double, Garr peered into Rachelle’s smiling face and made his words waver with an old man’s voice. “I’m old as the hills, honey.” He clicked his tongue against his teeth, winked, and straightened, laughing with his daughter.
A screech from the sun porch turned them both toward the French doors. Rachelle started forward but Garr stopped her with a hand laid lightly on her shoulder. “Don’t go near that thing. Not until we get a muzzle for it.”
Rachelle gave him a look of profound patience. “You don’t muzzle a bird, Daddy. He likes me. Watch.” Shrugging out of his grip, she skipped to the doorway and stopped to shake her finger into the room. “You be quiet, Brutus. Be a good bird or I won’t let you have any of my birthday cake.”
Immediate silence filled the air. Garr held his breath. It couldn’t be that simple. Rachelle turned, gave him a bright smile, and marched up the stairs to her room. Garr’s lungs burned in his chest, but he didn’t dare breathe. He took a step back, paused, and turned to lean against the kitchen’s expansive center island.
The second a breath passed his lips with a whoosh the screeching began. Slapping his hands over his ears, he checked the wall clock. Only five minutes had passed. That woman better hurry or he wouldn’t be held accountable for his actions. Birdicide was the only possible solution.
Slamming the double French doors only slightly muted the raucous noise. The cake could wait. He’d start the outside decorations and hope one of the neighbors didn’t call the cops on him. Then his mother would have to come home, take care of that damn bird, and bail him out of jail for disturbing the peace charges. Long strides took him toward the front of the house. He’d relish the silence of a jail cell about now.
“This can’t be the place.” Birdie held the scrap of paper at eye level and glanced past it to a wide, gently rising lawn. A crisp, white picket fence, fronted by an explosion of flowers, surrounded the lush, green area. An arch of vine-covered white-painted metal towered over the loose stone driveway. Numbers stood out in stark relief against the fence: six seven one zero one five. Birdie stared at the paper in her shaking fingers. This was the place.
She turned the SUV carefully onto the clean, white drive. The expanse of lawn stretched before her, ending at the house. Birdie slammed on the brakes and gaped at the vision before her. Most of the homes she’d passed on the way to Logan’s Hollow were Greek revival, plantation style buildings with thick columned porches. This house was different.
This house was… spectacular. A true wedding cake of a house topped the slight rise. A blast of color, unexpected after the multitude of traditional white houses in the development, pleased her senses. Her favorite color, a rich purple, covered the body of the huge Queen Anne Victorian. Rose, pink, and white accented the porch rail and posts, the shutter flanked windows and high arched pediments. Birdie held her breath; the view before her was everything she’d ever dreamed of for a house, at least from the outside. A deep, longing breath filled her chest. And she was going to get to see the interior. Barely taking her eyes from the multicolored house, Birdie drove the rest of the way and parked at the top of the circular drive.
Once out of the vehicle, she paused and took a deep breath. Even this close to the city, the air smelled different, fresher. She wished she could linger forever to soak up the scenery and welcomed country peacefulness.
Until the loud, piercing shriek of a large bird rent the quiet. A man’s frustrated growl answered from the side of the house. Birdie chuckled and moved in that direction. Rounding the corner, she hurried to where a flagstone patio dominated the side yard. A man’s back was to her—a man’s wide, muscular back. The breadth of his shoulders tapered to a lean waist and narrow hips. Encased in tight jeans, the enticing view of his backside made her mouth go dry.
Bent slightly forward, the man worked at something on a round, wrought iron patio table. Birdie took a hesitant step forward when she heard a loud hiss of air. “Excuse me?”
The man straightened with a jerk. The raspberry sputtering of an escaping balloon faded as a bright purple orb shrank into the distance. His head angled slightly to watch the escaping flight. “Hell’s bells.”
“Uh, sorry. I’m here about your bird.”
The man turned toward her and Birdie’s world turned upside down.
Sunlight glinted off the lighter strands in his dark brown hair to surround him with a halo of light. Faint laugh-lines creased the corners of his eyes. With the sun in her face, Birdie couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, but felt the curiosity of his gaze.
From the front, he was as spectacular as his house. The top three buttons of his bright blue chambray shirt were undone, revealing a mat of crinkly brown hair. Birdie’s fingers curled in response to his unconscious sensuality.
He canted his head to one side and hooked his thumbs over his hips. Birdie’s gaze followed the downward slope of his fingers toward the fly of his snug, faded jeans, then snapped back to his face. She bit at her lower lip. What was she doing? What kind of thoughts swirled through her head? What thoughts… her face heated.
“And you are?”
Caught unaware by the casual question, Birdie took a deep breath, wiped her clammy palm on the side of her slacks, and stepped forward, hand outstretched. “I’m Birdie Simons. You called me about a bird?”
Garr took her hand and received a firm handshake. His fingers lingered a moment too long while he studied the woman before him. Golden-red waves were pulled back into a loose ponytail; a few stray hairs had fallen to a curlicue in the center of her forehead. Blue-gray eyes surrounded by dark lashes lowered, and she wiggled her hand to signal her desire for release. The rush of reluctance when the warmth of her hand left his astounded him.
Screeching rose from a low, almost conversational pitch to siren loudness. The sound faded slowly, echoing in Garr’s ears. He nodded. “Yes, I called. My mother left the monster here while she went on vacation. It hates me.” His hands clenched into tight fists at his sides.
“Mr., uh, Logan?”
“May I see the bird?”
Garr tried to shrug away the tension clawing at his shoulders. “Of course, that would make sense. I’m a bit rattled. Today is my daughter’s birthday and she has nine friends coming over this afternoon. Not only do I have to deal with a maniacal bird, I have to get ready for a party, then entertain a bunch of kids. I’m concerned the bird will bite one of the girls.”
“Can’t you keep them away from the cage?”
“The bird loves Rachelle. And she dotes on that monster almost as much as her grandmother does. She wants to show it off to her friends.” He paused and slapped the heel of his hand against his forehead. “I wanted you to take the thing away, but Rache would never forgive me for spoiling her party.”
Garr sank onto a wrought iron bench and leaned forward to rub at his temples. “Are you busy this afternoon?”
No matter how desperate his problem with the bird, he had no right to ask a stranger to rescue him. A grin spread across his face—but what a lovely rescuer. Instant attraction had slammed into him when he first saw her standing in the sun and hadn’t lessened, but instead curled its way to his groin. It had been a long time since a woman affected him so strongly.
“I was planning to deal with some long overdue paperwork…” A long, undulating screech interrupted her. Garr’s shoulders tensed painfully. “But I can see it’s more important I be here.”
Hesitant, Garr lifted his gaze. Birdie rolled up her sleeves and glanced around the yard. “I’ll go see the ‘monster.’ If I can get him to quiet down, maybe I can give you a hand out here, too.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
“I know.” An elegant shrug lifted her shoulders before she cast him a brilliant smile. “But I’m here, and I love parties. How old is your daughter?”
“Nine today.” The delightful glint in her eyes faded until her eyes were a dull gray and she turned her face from him. He’d made her sad. Garr rose from the bench and struggled against the urge to pull her into his arms and kiss away the pain. When she turned back, a smile was in place, but sadness lingered in her eyes.
“What a wonderful age. You and your wife must be very proud.”
Fighting his own demons, Garr looked into the distance over Birdie’s shoulder. “Rachelle’s mother died the day she was born.”
Birdie’s soft hand warmed his arm. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up a painful subject.”
Needing to keep the warmth near him, Garr covered her hand with his. A current of electricity sang up his arm. Birdie’s eyes went wide and she chewed nervously on the corner of her lip. In another moment he would…
The bird’s siren-like call pierced the air and broke the enchantment she’d placed on him. He gave her hand a light pat and pulled away. “I dealt with the pain long ago. I have Rache, there’s not much more I could ask for.” Except someone like you.
Startled by his thought, Garr turned toward the house. “Let me introduce you to Brutus.” He glanced sideways. “Is Birdie your real name?”
Birdie giggled, more out of nervousness than at Garr’s question. “Just a nickname. Guess my destiny was foretold when my parents named me.” Birdie winced, both at her inane statement and at the lifelong teasing suffered because of her unusual name. She should be honored to be named after her grandparents, but she still thought her naming was just some big, cosmic joke.
The deep, rumbling vibrations of Garr’s chuckle sent responsive tremors through her. Damn, this man tempted her. More than any had in the past. Even the excitement she’d felt at the councilman’s attentions paled beside Garr’s simple laughter.
“I suppose you were cute as a little bird when you were young.”
“Nope. Gangly and awkward, hardly what I’d call cute.” Luckily, they reached a set of double French doors leading to an enclosed porch before she had to confess to her full name.
Garr stood to the side with one hand resting on the latch. “The monster’s in here.” He opened the door slowly, backing up as he did to stay out of sight. A quick motion of his hand indicated she was to enter. When she glanced back at him, he mouthed ‘good luck.’
Another chuckle threatened to explode. Imagine, a man like Garr Logan cowed by a bird. Taking a deep breath, Birdie stepped carefully into the sunlit room. Big birds could be very intimidating when you didn’t know them.
She moved slowly into the room, placing one foot smoothly in front of the other, glancing around. Furnished casually in wicker and glass, the room exuded a quiet elegance, echoing a gracious past. Hopefully, the bird would never escape his cage. The woven furniture would make excellent chew toys for a large inquisitive bird.
A squawk drew her attention to a huge, steel cage set against the wall. Birdie took a step toward the cage, and paused, mouth open. A hyacinth macaw posed on a thick perch, wings spread slightly, feathers ruffled to increase the size of his appearance as he stomped his feet. The show of dominance—an act to gain her attention—made a smile tug at her lips. Just like a male. Was the beautiful avian male? If so, he could be the answer to her hopes and dreams.
Birdie angled her body toward Garr. “Are you sure he’s a male?”
Garr made a sound of disgust low in his throat. “My mother had him sexed not long after she got him. The beast is male, all right. I can even show you his papers if it’s important.”
“Oh, no, that’s okay. Not now.” Birdie tore her attention from the definitely male body next to her and watched the macaw. A smile touched her lips.
A magnificent bird, Brutus stretched to his full length, chattered once, and backed into the corner of his cage to eye Birdie warily. Advancing slowly, despite the sudden silence, Birdie spoke soft nonsense, telling Brutus what a beautiful fellow he was. By the time she stood next to the cage, the bird peered at her with one of his bright eyes and sidled closer.
Careful to show no fear or hesitation to set the skittish bird off again, she dug into her pocket for one of the Brazil nuts she’d grabbed before leaving Birdies . The way to a bird’s heart was often through his stomach. Wary of the powerful beak, Birdie offered Brutus the treat, softly encouraging until he climbed the side bars of the cage, moved closer, and hung upside down to accept the morsel and a scratch on his head.
Before long, she had the cage door open to stroke the large, upright bird and accept the investigative, gentle preening of the large beak. The tiny prickles of new feathers poked her fingertips; there had been a recent molt. Brutus rubbed his bottom over her hand, then along the perch, chattering happily. Birdie grinned, now she had a fair idea what the problem was. And the solution might solve one of her concerns as well.
“I don’t believe it. You’re magical.” Garr’s voice, lowered to an awed whisper, sounded from the doorway.
Turning her head to look at him, Birdie let her grin grow wider at his dazed expression. “It’s nothing, when you know what you’re doing. Move slowly, and come over here.”
Garr shook his head and remained hovering against the doorframe.
Birdie’s eyebrows lowered and she fought to make a fierce scowl. Giving up, she flashed him another smile. “Come on, you’ll be okay. Just move slowly.” The unreasonable urge to flirt with the handsome man tinted her playful words. “I won’t let the big, bad bird hurt you.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him.
Garr took a deep breath and a single step into the room, drawn more by the need to be closer to the woman who calmly stroked the blue monster than by her assurances. The bird eyed him curiously. He returned the skeptical glance and moved forward. Brutus climbed the side of the cage to hang from the top, puffed out his feathers and hissed at Garr.
“See. It hates me.”
Her brows drawn together, Birdie eased the cage door closed. “I know.” Her expression brightened. “Take off your shirt.”
Garr took a startled step back. Unfortunately, this was not the time for his fantasies to come true. “I beg your pardon.”
“It’s your shirt. Do you wear a lot of blue?”
“Yes?” His response was slow, the word drawled from his lips.
“Brutus is threatened by you. Birds have excellent color vision and strong color sensitivity. Since he’s blue, when you wear a blue shirt and tower over him, he gets scared. He’s not angry, he’s frightened. Either take off your shirt, or get out of here.”
Garr liked hearing her order him to strip, it brought wicked thoughts that had no place in a day filled with a child’s birthday party. He tamped down his response and tried to ease the pressure of his tight jeans as he pulled his shirt free. At her signal, he tossed the shirt behind a chair.
Birdie stared at the expanse of male chest. Oh, God, that had been a mistake. The thick sprinkling of hair tapered to a thin line down his flat abdomen, disappearing into the waistband of his jeans. Heat flooded her chest and crawled up her neck to cover her face. Those jeans were fuller than before, the tightness more pronounced over his…
Whipping her gaze back to the macaw, Birdie swallowed hard. “Okay? Now move closer—slowly. And talk softly to Brutus. Let’s see if this helps.”
He stepped closer and Birdie couldn’t deny the pure male sensuality that blasted through her like heat from a wildfire. Unable to stop herself, she inhaled deeply, memorizing the mixture of spice and earth, tasting the overtones of desire.
Down, girl, get those hormones under control. You’re here to help him with a bird, not jump his bones. The crassness of her thought calmed her enough for Garr’s voice to register.
Calm, pitched low and soothing, the tone had nothing to do with his words. “Okay, monster. Let’s get this straight. You’re a bird. I…I am the master here. You will behave yourself, won’t you, you vicious beast?”
Birdie laughed, startling both the man and the bird focusing all its attention on the soothing voice. Giving a startled squawk, Brutus hopped to the far end of his perch and glared at Birdie. She dug another treat from her pocket and offered it in apology. “You’ll definitely win his confidence if you feed him. I can tell he’s a greedy thing.”
Garr moved closer, the simple touch of his hand on her shoulder turned her to face him. Time stopped and the brightly lit sunroom faded as she stared into his eyes. Birdie swallowed the dryness infecting her throat, and an appealing spark rose from the depths of Garr’s dark eyes. The pupils dilated, his lips softened. Birdie accepted the silent invitation and leaned toward him.