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Soleil Freeman was pregnant.
Knocked up, preggo, with child, carrying a bun in the oven, in the family way, et cetera.
Five and a half months so, to be exact.
Even if this fact had not permeated every moment of every day of her waking consciousness, she would still have known it by the uncomfortable thickness in her middle and the constant, burning desire she had to eat everything in sight.
To say this development wasn't in her plans was an understatement. For a variety of reasons—some of which would require the professional supervision of a therapist to sort out—Soleil hadn't factored kids into her life. Certainly not single parenthood and certainly not now when running her youth program on her organic farm took every ounce of her energy. How she would even manage a baby in the mix baffled her. Especially on days like today.
It was a damp gray morning on Rainbow Farm, and Soleil was not in the mood to search for a lost goat. A lost cheeseburger, maybe, but missing livestock? This was only going to postpone lunch— provided the animal was found quickly and safely.
If not… She hurried across the front lawn, feeling about as lithe and agile as a watermelon. She'd once been a track star in high school and later at U.C. Berkeley. She'd been able to sprint so fast, she'd felt at certain blissful moments as if the wind carried her.
But now? She could still run, but the pace had no familiarity with wind-assisted agility, and her lithe-ness was tempered by a paranoia that with every step she was going to inadvertently cause herself to miscarry. The doctor had assured her that wasn't going to happen, that she could still run as long as she feltgood doing so, but pregnancy was doing crazy things to her brain. She was hyperaware that another being's life depended on her completely. Frankly, the pressure was getting to her.
Behind Soleil, Malcolm, one of her current interns from Oakland, plodded along, apparently not wanting to seem as if he cared about anything in the world. It wasn't cool to hurry, and especially not for a lost goat.
"How did the goat get away from you?" she called over her shoulder.
"How should I know?" came Malcolm's surly answer.
Silas was her cattle dog, a mostly Australian shepherd fully capable of managing a herd of goats on his own without any help from the teens.
"Tonio's afraid of dogs."
Right. She'd confined Silas to the barn due to the boy's sheer terror at the sight of him. But she'd probably find the missing goat a lot faster with the dog's help.
"Tell Tonio to go inside so I can let the dog out, okay?"
"Okay," Malcolm said, and sauntered toward the field, clearly happy to get out of the goat-searching mission.
She went into the barn and called for the dog, then told him to find the lost goat. He didn't need any further coaxing. He simply watched her face as she talked, with his eerily smart blue eyes, then took off at a full run.
Following, Soleil passed the garden, where two of the teenagers, Lexie and Angelique, were picking squash for tonight's dinner. Both still unaccustomed to getting their hands dirty, they were handling the vegetables as if the plants might jump out and bite them, which begged the question of why they'd applied for internships, but Soleil knew better than to expect to turn a bunch of city kids into earth mothers in such a short time.
She arrived at the field where she could see one boy, Jordan, overseeing the nine goats who hadn't run off. This field bordered one of the main roads into town, and there was a section of fence that needed repairing, which meant there was a chance the errant goat could make it to the road and get hit. With that thought, she quickened her pace up the hill. At the top stood a grove of oak and bay trees, and beyond them was the road where she could barely hear the sound of passing cars.
Halfway up the hill, she heard Silas's bark indicating he'd located the goat. But a second distressed bark told her something was wrong.
She scrambled the rest of the way up, then through the grove of trees. There she saw the source of the trouble—the goat on the far side of the road. Silas paced before her in a panic because he knew better than to cross the dangerous roadway.
The goat, for its part, didn't know any better. And before Soleil could do anything, the goat took a few tentative steps into the road just as a car rounded the bend fifty feet away. The driver, in a black SUV, slammed on the brakes, swerving into the next lane.
Soleil could only cover her face and pray as she heard the car skidding to a stop.
A moment passed, silent, without any sickening thud of bumper against flesh, and she opened her eyes to see the car stopped a foot away from the goat, who was staring at it nonplussed.
"Jules!" she called to the goat, whom she could identify now by the animal's white markings. "Get over here now!"
The dog barked again, but she commanded him to stay as she looked both ways before crossing. She walked to retrieve the immobile goat.
Only then did she take a close look at the driver of the SUV and notice that he seemed to be taking a close look at her.
Because they knew each other.
Dark brown, wavy hair, blue eyes she'd spent more than a few lazy summer afternoons gazing into, a mouth that could make a girl entertain naughty thoughts….
"West Morgan?" she said stupidly, as if he could hear her from inside the car.
But he could, because he'd just rolled down his window.
West. The one man she desperately wanted to avoid right now.
"Wily goat, eh?"
"I'm so sorry!" she said. "Thank goodness you weren't hurt."
Soleil grabbed the goat by the scruff and gave her a good shove with her thigh to get Jules moving in the right direction.
Hustle now. No need to linger in the middle of the road with West Morgan waiting.
She hoped like crazy he'd drive off now that the road was clear, Instead, he pulled to the shoulder.
Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
She sucked in her belly and tried her best not to look pregnant.
But everyone who'd seen her lately knew she'd gained a lot of weight on her formerly thin frame. Even if West couldn't see her belly beneath the baggy wool sweater and corduroy jacket she was wearing, he could surely see the ever-widening thighs encased in jeans that used to be too big, and the meat-loaf-enhanced chipmunk cheeks she'd grown since their last encounter.
"Hey," he said once he'd gotten out of the car and propped his elbows on the roof. "Need any help goatherding?"
"No, thanks!" she said too cheerily.
She nodded to Silas, and the dog gave the goat a commanding bark, then lightly nipped its haunch. That was all the encouragement Jules needed to amble through the fence in the direction of the field.
West, ignoring her desperate vibes telling him to get lost, glanced in both directions, waited for a truck to pass, then crossed the road.
He extended his arms once he was within a few feet of her, giving her no escape from full-body contact. Soleil gave him an awkward hug, trying not to let him feel the hard little basketball that was her stomach.
"Whoa," he said when her belly bumped against him. He pulled back and looked down.
Up close, there was no way not to notice, with her short torso that left no extra room for a fetus to spread out and relax, that she was pregnant.
His question hung half formed in the air as he seemed to realize simultaneously that "Are you pregnant?" was one of the dumbest questions anyone could ask a woman, and if she was, then the fact that they'd been lovers this past summer might make the news relevant for him.
This was not how she'd hoped he'd find out.
He seemed to gather his thoughts as he said again, "Are you pregnant?"
Soleil plastered on a smile. "Yes, I am! Isn't it great?"
"Wow," he said, looking bewildered. "Who…"
He went pale.
Okay, so maybe he hadn't done the math after all. There was a much bigger discussion to be had between them, but it wasn't one she wanted to have at the side of the road where her interns could interrupt. She had a schedule to keep, lunch to prepare. Lord, she was hungry.
"Actually," she said, stalling for time. "The father isn't in the picture."
This was the line she'd been giving everyone who asked.
Only, it wasn't true anymore. Not exactly.
Because he was in the picture again. He'd almost run over her goat.
And he deserved a better explanation than she'd just given him.
West Morgan had been so preoccupied on the drive back to Promise, he almost hadn't seen the goat standing in the middle of the road. Thank God for antilock brakes.
And even now, his brain was a muddle of conflicting thoughts as he tried to make sense of the fact that Soleil Freeman, the woman he'd spent the past five and a half months trying to forget, was standing in front of him, pregnant.
What the hell?
Still beautiful, perhaps even more so now, her formerly wiry frame had been softened by lush curves. She'd done something with her hair, too. In the summer it had been a wild mess of springy curls, but she had it in two braids today that gave her a young earth-goddess aura.
He stared into her pale green eyes, made all the more stunning by her café-au-lait skin, trying to see some truth there that hadn't been spoken aloud yet.
But all he saw was her looking as though she wanted to get away from him. The thin, brittle smile she wore wasn't fooling anyone, definitely not him.
"Um, I would stay and catch up," Soleil said after an awkward silence, "but I've left the kids unsupervised on the farm and I need to get back there. I'm shorthanded today."
She was already edging toward her property, stepping over a downed section of fencing.
"Hey, can I help you out? My dad isn't expecting me for a few more hours." West had the feeling Soleil would disappear forever if he didn't pin her down right now. Ridiculous thought, given how tied she was to the farm. Still, he couldn't let this conversation end with so many questions forming in his head.
"Oh. No, thank you, but no. Really, I'll be fine."
"Looks like you need a fence repair."
She glanced down. "Right. Before any more goats escape. Thanks for the reminder—I'll get someone on it."
"Seriously, I'd love to see what you've got going on around here. Why don't you let me stick around for a while, do a quick fix on the fence and give you a hand wherever else you need it. In fact, I insist."
Soleil looked like a cornered animal. Her eyes wide, she froze—probably contemplating her options.
Before she could produce an argument, he closed the deal, "I'll drive around to the house and come find you once I've parked."
"Oh. Well," she said as he crossed the road to his SUV. "Really, I don't need your help."
But she did. She was meticulous enough that she'd never let a section of fence remain unmended unless she was overwhelmed.
On the short trip to the farmhouse, his brain tried to make sense of Soleil being pregnant, while doing the math. Even without knowing how far along she was, there was every reason to believe he was responsible.
Yet her comment about the father not being in the picture implied that not only did the father know about the kid, but also that he'd chosen not to participate. That ruled West out, didn't it? No way would he bow out of his kid's life. Especially if Soleil was the mother. Men looked their whole lives for a woman as sexy, smart, beautiful, funny and capable as Soleil.
Besides, they'd taken precautions against this very thing happening. They'd used a condom—every time.
Wait. There had been that one time when the condom supply had run out. They'd both sworn to being healthy and she'd claimed to be on the pill. Hadn't she? Or had he filled in the blank in his urgency to get her naked? Either way, did it really matter? If he was the father, wasn't figuring out the details of when and who said what akin to closing the barn door after the horse escaped—or, more appropriately, fixing the fence after the goat got out?
The more important aspect was what to do from here. And that necessitated talking to Soleil—openly and honestly. Something he didn't hold out a lot of hope for if her earlier evasion was anything to go by.
But maybe there was a reason for that evasiveness. Maybe he was jumping to conclusions without all the facts. What if he wasn't the father? What if the father actually did know and chose not to be involved? What if the guy had dumped her and she was embarrassed about the situation?