Leaving Enchantment

Book Four of the Birth Place Series

Nolan McKinnon is shocked when he’s named his niece’s guardian. He knows nothing about taking care of a little girl–especially an orphan–but he still would have bet he knew more than Kim Sherman.

Kim’s a newcomer to Enchantment–one who seems a little too determined not to get involved with anyone. But Nolan can’t refuse help, even if it comes from a woman with secrets in her past…

Nothing is more rewarding than bringing a new life into the world. Share the joy with the dedicated staff of THE BIRTH PLACE and the women who choose to have their babies here.

Book One: Enchanting Babies by Darlene Graham

Book Two: Sanctuary by Brenda Novak

Book Three: Christmas at Shadow Creek by Roxanne Rustand

Book Four: Leaving Enchantment by C.J. Carmichael

Book Five:  The Homecoming Baby by Kathleen O’Brien

Book Six: The Midwife and The Lawman by Marisa Carroll

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Book Extras

Leaving Enchantment
  • When my editor called with the news that she wanted me to work with five other authors on a series set in New Mexico, I was delighted. Since I'd never been to that state, clearly, a “business trip” was in order.
  • I was utterly charmed by the landscape, the people and the art. When I returned, I sat down at my computer with visions of mountains and deserts and Georgia O’Keefe paintings filling my imagination. It’s a beautiful place, an enchanting place. The perfect setting--in my opinion--for The Birth Place series.
  • The heroine of my book, Kim Sherman is an accountant at The Birth Place, who has come to town for reasons only she knows. And Nolan McKinnon is the local newspaper editor whose world is about to be torn apart by a family tragedy. I hope you enjoy the adventure of their love story.

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Home late from the office, Nolan McKinnon, editor and owner of the Arroyo County Bulletin, was just about to dig into his second slice of home-delivered pizza when a police call came over the scanner sitting next to his toaster on the counter. Nolan recognized the voice of his good friend, Miguel Eiden, local cop.

"10-45 on Switchback Road. Get an ambulance and back-up. Now."

Jesus. It wasn't even ten o'clock. Wasn't it too early for a traffic accident on a Saturday night? Nolan grabbed a handy notepad and pencil and waited for the details.

"10-4 Miguel," said the dispatcher. "How bad is it?"

"It's a mess. Single vehicle accident about ten miles past Manny Cordova's place. Looks like the driver lost control and ran into a rock wall going full speed or more."

Nolan's full-time reporter, Cooper Lorenzo, had been on call last week-end. Which meant this "mess" as Miguel had put it was all his. Sighing, Nolan closed the cardboard box over the still-hot pizza and went for his camera.

Generally he loved everything about owning and managing the local newspaper. But late night calls, especially for stories like this--accidents, home fires and the like--were never fun. Still, people expected newspapers to cover these personal tragedies.

Fortunately they didn't occur often in a town of only five thousand people. A minute later, sitting high in the seven-year-old Explorer he'd just bought off an old friend of his father's, Nolan zipped out of his neighborhood, bypassing the commercial heart of Enchantment. Sometime between now and when he'd picked up his pizza it had begun to snow. The white flakes battered his windshield as he left town limits. Switchback Road cut into the sparsely populated Sangre de Christo Mountains that bordered the northwest side of Enchantment. The narrow, twisting route was picturesque during daylight hours, but it had a checkered history. Every year the townspeople could count on at least one bad accident, most caused by excessive speed.

As a teenager, Nolan had done his share of wild driving. But shortly after he'd begun work full time at the Bulletinhe'd reformed. God but he'd seen some grisly sights in the past ten years. He really didn't want to experience another, tonight. He thought of his pizza cooling on his kitchen counter; the game on T.V. which was only half over.

Shit. What a life.

Nolan rounded a wicked corner slowly, his tires jostling on the poorly maintained pavement underneath the layer of fresh snow. Ahead he spotted the flashing lights of emergency vehicles in the dark.

The left-hand side of the road was cordoned off. Without the luxury of wide, paved shoulders, police had done their best to leave a narrow corridor open. Two officers stood at either end of the wreck, directing the sporadic traffic.

Nolan pulled over to the far left, just as an ambulance took off from the scene, sirens blaring, heading for the local hospital.

Once the coast was clear, Nolan inched left again, parking behind one of several police cars. He had a view of the accident now. The vehicle--some kind of SUV--had driven off the road and crashed into a rock outcrop.

He'd have to get a photo.

About to uncap his Nikon, Nolan froze. He could see the rear license plate of the mangled vehicle, reflecting in the glare of headlights from one of the police cars. The numbers taunted him. He'd seen that particular pattern before.

And then it hit him.

Jesus. This was his sister's family car.

His stomach heaved. He dashed out from his car and ran for the cover of some scraggly pines. Next thing, he was bringing up that first slice of pizza. It was a loud and nasty process and finally drew someone's attention. One of the officers left the others milling around the scene, gathering evidence, and headed toward him.

A dusting of snow covered Miguel Eiden's dark hair and the shoulders of his uniform jacket. He shook his head unhappily. "I was hoping you wouldn't hear that call, Nolan. I was going to phone you first chance I got."

Nolan dug in the pockets of his jeans and found nothing. So he pulled out the tail of his shirt and used that to wipe his mouth, his chin, his hands.

"That's my sister's SUV." He took a few steps toward the accident scene, but Miguel stopped him with a firm hand to his shoulder. "I know, Nolan. I'm sorry. She wasn't in the car, though. Just Steve. He's on his way to the hospital now. You must have seen the ambulance."

"What about Sammy? Are you sure she wasn't in the back seat?"

"Yes. Both kiddie seats were empty, thank God for small mercies."

Two car seats? Mary and Steve had just one kid. Nolan closed his eyes, opened them. He couldn't think straight. Couldn't believe this wasn't a crazy dream. Mary and Steve had lived for years in their cozy A-frame about fifteen minutes from here. Steve must have driven this route thousands of times.

"What the hell happened?"

"Don't know for sure. The road is a little icy from the snow, but the skid marks suggest Steve was driving too fast, as well. He went off the road at the beginning of that S-curve. Probably would have dived right down the mountain, except for that hunk of rock at the side of the road."

"And you're sure no one else was in the vehicle?" "Yeah." Miguel shook his head, scuffed the dirt with his boots. He looked like he wanted to say something, but in the end just shook his head again.

Nolan swallowed, but couldn't rid his mouth of the sour, bile taste. Was his brother-in-law going to be all right? The brief conversation he'd overheard on his scanner hadn't sounded promising. "Was he hurt bad?"

When Miguel didn't answer right away, Nolan compressed his lips and stared at the license plate still glowing in the headlights' glare. He felt his good friend pat his arm.

"You better phone your sister, man."

Deliver this awful news? No. He wasn't the right person for that job. He couldn't... Nolan bowed his head, fighting his gut reaction to refuse. Miguel was right. Even though he and Mary hadn't spoken for almost three years, it would be better for her to hear about this from him rather than the cops.

He nodded, then wiped his mouth again. "Maybe I should drive over rather than phone." But what about Steve? "Or should I go straight to the hospital?" God, he couldn't think straight.

"Go to the hospital," his friend decided for him. "I'll take you in the Explorer and you can phone Mary on your cell phone. Hang on a second."

Miguel jogged back to the accident scene to confer with his fellow officers. Meanwhile, Nolan opened the driver side door. His mind went blank for a moment. He remembered the last time he'd seen Mary, at their mother's funeral. She'd come close to hating him then, he knew. He didn't want to talk to her now. Not with news like this.

But he had no choice. And he had to hurry. Pulling himself back to the present, he fished the keys from his front jean pocket.

Miguel came up from behind and scooped them from his hands. "I'm driving buddy." Nolan nodded in the direction of the wreck. "You've got work to do." "Officially I'm off duty as of fifteen minutes ago. Hank's going to bring the squad car back to town when they're finished here."

"I'm fine," Nolan protested, but Miguel slid behind the wheel.

"You don't need to do this," Nolan tried to argue again.

Miguel ignored him. He started the engine and waited. Nolan slapped a hand against the closed driver door and gave in. The second he'd slammed his door shut, Miguel had the vehicle in gear. A cop waved them safely onto the road and Miguel eased the speed up to the posted limit.

"Do you have your phone?" he asked.

"Yeah." Nolan pulled it out of his jacket pocket. "Okay. You call Mary. Tell her after I drop you off at the hospital I'm picking up my own car and coming back to get her."

* * *

At the Arroyo County Hospital, a nurse ushered Nolan into a special little room and told him the doctor would talk to him shortly. Nolan glanced at a stack of magazines on a square table in the corner. The glossy paper gleamed. They'd never been touched. He put a hand to his head and it came away damp. The snow, he remembered.

How was Steve doing? Nolan hung onto hope, despite Miguel's grim expectations.

There'd been no answer when he'd tried calling Mary on the drive over. She'd always been a deep sleeper, but he'd let the phone ring until the answering machine picked up, and then he'd called again. Still she hadn't answered. Miguel was on his way to her house now. So Nolan wouldn't be the one to tell her about the accident after all.

A deeply buried regret stirred within him. He never should have let three long years pass without making an attempt to reconcile with his sister. His mother had always said he was too damn stubborn for his own good.

The door opened and Dr. Ochoa burst into the room, wearing a clean white lab coat, pen in his hand along with a clipboard. Nolan had consulted with him a few times for various stories for the Bulletin. This was the first time he'd spoken to him on a personal level. Mercifully, Dr. Ochoa came straight to the point.

"I'm so sorry," he said to Nolan. "Your sister has died."

Mary? What the hell was he talking about?

"But I spoke to Miguel Eiden at the accident scene. He said there were no passengers. Just the driver. Just Steve."

Ochoa sighed. Despite his distress and confusion, Nolan couldn't help but be aware of the older man's intense weariness. "Mary's death occurred earlier this evening, Nolan. Before the accident."

"What?"

"I know it's a lot to take in. Let me try to explain. This afternoon your sister and her husband went to The Birth Place. Mary was in labor. After about seven hours the midwife in charge of her birth--Ms. Lydia Kane, a very proficient, experienced midwife--decided to transport your sister to our hospital."

Nolan hadn't even known Mary was pregnant again. He remembered Miguel mentioning two kiddie seats... Jesus, what the hell was going on?

"On my initial exam, your sister appeared fine and so did her unborn baby. But the situation deteriorated quickly. We lost Mary at nine-oh-three. Her baby we were never able to resuscitate."

Nolan knew this couldn't be happening. "Women don't die in childbirth anymore."

"Very rarely they still do. In this case..." The doctor recited terms Nolan had never heard before. Shoulder something and amnio something else.

"We tried everything we could to save her. Lydia Kane is to be commended for bringing her to the hospital so quickly. We had all modern medicine to hand, and still it wasn't enough. Sometimes it isn't."

Nolan put both hands to his head. Mary was dead? Gone? No, please God, let there be some mistake..."Mary Davidson. You're sure?"

"I'm so sorry."

Even through his shock, Nolan noticed the slight waver of disbelief in the doctor's voice. He hadn't expected to lose this patient.

So why the hell had he?

Nolan forced his teeth together, pressed his lips tight. Don't lash out at the doctor. Not yet. Need to gather all the facts, first. Make sure what Dr. Ochoa said was true. That everything possible had been done.

"Steve Davidson was in the room when this happened," the doctor added.

Now, suddenly, Nolan saw the whole picture and all the pieces--the tragic events of this awful night--fell into place. Steve, totally distraught, had tried to drive home after the tragedy. Instead he'd driven off the road. On purpose?

Hell, it was possible. What man who'd just seen his wife die on the delivery bed, who knew that his newborn baby was dead, too, wouldn't have the thought cross his mind.

One quick turn of the steering wheel and it's all over. No more suffering.

It could easily have been an accident, too. Switchback Road was unforgiving at the best of times, requiring all a driver's attention. The snow had been blinding and Steve had been an emotional mess. Probably his vision had been blurred with tears, as well.

"The ambulance brought him here," Nolan said.

The doctor nodded. "Unfortunately there was nothing we could do. His head injuries were massive. Again, I'm so sorry."

Nolan didn't know what to say. A family had been wiped out tonight. A mother and father and their new baby. Leaving him and--oh, my God.

"Mary and Steve have a daughter. Six-years-old...

"Deep sorrow glimmered again in the doctor's eyes.

"Samantha, Sammy for short." Nolan remembered her third birthday. That had been the last happy family gathering before his mother's death and his and Mary's estrangement.

"Someone has to go talk to Samantha," the doctor said "Do you think you could?"

Nolan felt numb. He had to call Miguel, as well. Right now his good friend was probably knocking at the Davidson's A-frame. Soon he'd realize Mary wasn't home.

"There'll be other family members to notify, too, of course," the doctor continued.

Nolan nodded. He'd have to get in touch with Steve's mother, Irene Davidson, before she heard about the accident on the news. Or read his paper...

Shit. He'd have to get Cooper to write something. There was no way he could. Besides, he'd have other concerns. There'd be obituaries and funerals and...oh, hell, this just couldn't be real.

The doctor was consulting his chart again. "Any other immediate family?"

Steve shook his head. Some aunts and uncles, most of them out-of-state. He'd have to check with Irene for the other side of the family. He'd go to her house now. Maybe Sammy would be with her.

Sammy. He couldn't even remember what his niece looked like anymore. Chubby cheeks and a lisp, he vaguely recollected. But that had been three years ago.

End of Excerpt

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Leaving Enchantment is available in the following formats:

Leaving Enchantment
December 1, 2003
ISBN: 0373711700
Harlequin
Romance