Cowboy's Baby

Cowboy's Baby

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by Victoria Pade

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Two months ago Kate McDermot had left for Las Vegas a levelheaded virgin—and returned with a marriage certificate and a baby on the way. Experience had taught her Brady Brown would feel trapped by the news that he was going to be a father. So, in her baby's best interest, she'd wait to tell him until after they

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Two months ago Kate McDermot had left for Las Vegas a levelheaded virgin—and returned with a marriage certificate and a baby on the way. Experience had taught her Brady Brown would feel trapped by the news that he was going to be a father. So, in her baby's best interest, she'd wait to tell him until after they dissolved the union. But the more time she spent with her "temporary" husband, the harder it became not to reveal the truth hidden safe within her—and the feelings hidden in her heart.

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Cowboy at Heart
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Most of the McDermot family was gathered in the living room when the roar of an airplane flying so low over the house made it impossible for normal voices to be heard. Conversation halted and all eyes turned upward as an excited Matt McDermot said, "That's gotta be Brady. Four o'clock on the dot, just like he said."

Matt's expression showed his pleasure. But the arrival of her brother's old college roommate and best friend had just the opposite effect on Kate McDermot. She felt a wave of pure panic.

"Where are you going?" her brother demanded when she stood suddenly to leave the room.

"I thought I might take a little nap before dinner," she lied.

"Now? Just when Brady's gettin' here? Don't do that. I told him to land in the north field and I'm going out to pick him up right this minute. I'll have him back here before you know it and you'll want to see him, won't you?"

Not really, she was inclined to say. In fact, not at all. Brady Brown happened to be the last person on the face of the earth she wanted to see.

But she couldn't say that, so instead she said, "Sure. But maybe I'll just freshen up first."

Then she made a subtle dash to her suite of rooms, closed the door tightly behind her and leaned against it for added measure.

As if that would help.

But unfortunately it was only a stopgap measure, and she knew it. Eventually she was going to have to face Brady Brown whether she liked it or not.

Her family didn't know how she felt. They didn't know any of what had happened between her and Brady Brown. They didn't know anything about what was going on now.

But plenty had happened.

And there was plenty going on now. To Kate's dismay.

She'd moved to the small Wyoming town of Elk Creek at Christmastime to live on the ranch she and her four brothers had owned since their grandfather had turned it over to them. She'd needed a change of scenery. A change of lifestyle. A change all the way around.

If only she'd made the move and let it go at that.

But after a Christmas during which her brother Matt had become engaged to a woman named Jenn Johnson, who he'd found in a snowstorm on the side of the road, Matt had talked his brothers and sister into a trip to Las Vegas. He was to meet up with Brady to celebrate their mutual thirtieth birthdays on New Year's Eve.

Kate had been reluctant to go.

Taking off on the spur of the moment, without making plans, to a place like Las Vegas, wasn't something the ultraconservative accountant usually did. But she'd been in a pretty bad funk, and in an effort to lift her spirits all of her brothers had put pressure on her to go.

So, more to humor them than anything else, she'd let herself be persuaded.

Of course, only after she'd arrived in Las Vegas had she realized that Matt had an ulterior motive. He was fixing her up with Brady Brown. And since all four of her brothers were paired off with their wives or soon-to-be wives, it was impossible for Kate and the also solo Brady not to be thrown together as a couple.

Luckily—or maybe not so luckily—Brady had made things easy on her. She was reasonably sure the cowboy crop duster hadn't had any advance warning that he was going to have Matt's sister on his hands, but he'd been great about it. Fun, funny, charming, courtly. Kate had found herself having a surprisingly good time in spite of the impromptu arrangements and being with a man she'd heard of but never met before.

But the truth of it was that she'd had too good a time.

New Year's Eve. Two birthdays. A lot of champagne. Being left alone with Brady after everyone else had gone off to celebrate privately in their own rooms. Las Vegas lunacy. And something that had run deeper in Kate. Much, much deeper…

At a time in her life when old feelings of being undesirable, unappealing and unattractive had resurfaced with a vengeance, Brady Brown had made her feel very desirable, very appealing, very attractive.

And the impact of even a false sense of being desirable, appealing and attractive to a jaw-droppingly handsome man who made heads turn when he walked into even the most crowded room was nothing to sneeze at. Especially in addition to way, way too much champagne. It had all gone to her head.

So when passion had erupted between them and Kate had confided her deepest secret to Brady—that she was still a virgin at twenty-nine and was fed up with saving herself for a marriage that never materialized—inebriated reasoning had somehow made it seem like a good idea for him to whisk her off to a wedding chapel at the stroke of midnight where an Elvis impersonator had performed the ceremony that gave permission to relinquish her virginity in a night of abandon that she barely remembered the next morning. The next morning.

Kate couldn't think about that next morning without cringing.

Married. She'd actually gotten married, she shrieked silently, pushing away from the door and beginning to pace, because thoughts of what she'd gotten herself into left her too agitated to stand still any longer.

The whole thing seemed unreal.

But then, how could a person take a ceremony seriously when it was performed by an Elvis impersonator? Plus, she'd had so much to drink beforehand that everything had had a fuzzy glow to it.

But fuzzy glow or no fuzzy glow, the wedding had been real and the marriage certificate on the hotel room's bureau had proved it.

She hadn't been gracious about it. Which was part of why the memory of that next morning made her cringe. And part of why she didn't want to face Brady again.

She'd behaved pretty abominably. She'd let him know in no uncertain terms that if their marriage was real and legally binding it needed to be unbound. In a hurry.

Brady had agreed. He'd even been nice about it. He'd tried to calm her down. To make her see it in a lighter vein. To infuse a little humor into the situation.

But Kate had been having none of that.

It was a horrible, horrible thing they'd done, she'd told him. An incomprehensible, unconscionable thing. A completely irresponsible, foolish, foolhardy, immature, stupid thing. And it needed to be rectified immediately.

Brady had given up his attempts to reason with her or put things into a different perspective. He'd finally just assured her he would take care of it. He'd even conceded to her insistence that they not let Matt or any of her other brothers know what they'd done.

"Just relax. It'll be okay," he'd said. "I'll have the marriage dissolved one way or another."

Those were the last words he'd spoken to her before Kate had slipped out of his hotel room, sneaked back into her own room across the hall and pretended to have the flu for the remaining day of the trip so she didn't have to see Brady again.

And that had been the end of it. At least the end of any time she'd had to spend with him. Or so she'd thought. Until now.

A week ago she'd received a plain, typewritten envelope containing a note from him informing her he would have divorce papers for her to sign when he got to the ranch for the visit she hadn't known he was about to make.

And since then she'd learned that seeing him again wasn't her only problem.

The thought of just how complicated things were suddenly deflated Kate. She sat on the edge of her bed and sighed a sigh that was really more of a groan.

For what seemed like the millionth time she asked herself how she could have gotten into this predicament. After all, she was the most careful person she knew. In every way. Careful, cautious, conservative. She never took a wrong step because she never took a step without thinking about it ahead of time. Without analyzing it. Without judging it from all angles first.

She drove a plain, practical sedan. She saved her money. She had a retirement plan. She wore muted colors and high necks and flat-heeled shoes and heavy coats in winter and sunblock in summer. She didn't speak out of turn. She ate in moderation. She exercised. Her whole life had been in order.

Well, it had been until Thanksgiving, anyway, when her longtime fiance, Dwight, had pulled the rug out from under her by eloping with someone else. But even then she'd still tried to keep her life as neat and tidy as possible. She'd worked hard to keep her devastated emotions under control and undercover. And she'd given long thought to moving to Elk Creek before she'd made her decision to actually do it.

But then in one single night she'd completely blown it. All that order. All that control. All that conservatism and caution. Out the window.

"Shouldn't I have been allowed just one indiscretion without paying for it like this?" she asked the unseen forces that seemed at work in her life now.

And even if she had to pay for that one night of indiscretion, why did the payment have to be so steep? It just wasn't fair. "Brady's here!"

Kate heard someone make that announcement in the distance right then, and tension renewed itself and turned into needles prickling along the surface of her skin. So much so that sitting still suddenly became impossible for her.

She lunged to her feet and started pacing the room once more.

Brady's here. Brady's here. Brady's here…

It was a chant in her head, and it made her want to run away. It made her want to just get in her practical sedan and drive off into the March sunset without a word to anyone. Never to return and have to reveal what was really going on with her. To anyone. Certainly not to her family. And certainly not to Brady Brown.

But she couldn't do that and she knew it. She couldn't even stay in her bedroom hiding out from everyone. From him. She was going to have to go out there and look him in the eye again. And pretend she wasn't more confused, more scared, more worried, more muddled than she'd ever been in her life.

Good luck….

"Kate? Are you comin' out? You didn't fall asleep in there, did you?" Matt called through her door.

"I'll be right there," she answered, hoping her brother didn't hear the uncertainty in her voice.

She straightened her posture in hopes that a stiff spine might lend her courage, and took a look at herself in the mirror on the dresser.

The clothes she had on were okay—jeans and a heavy-gauge mock-turtleneck sweater with a single diamond knit into the front. But her face was so pale.

She pinched the high crests of her cheekbones until they turned color but that didn't help the wide, deer-caught-in-headlights look of her light green eyes.

"Buck up," she ordered her reflection as she ran a brush through her chin-length, riotously curly brown hair pulled back with a headband.

Then she applied a light shade of lipstick and massaged some lotion into her hands and up her arms to her elbows in hopes that that would help alleviate some of the skin-prickling tension that was still attacking her.

"You have to go out there," she told her image in the mirror as she did. "You don't have a choice."

But maybe it wouldn't be so bad, she tried to convince herself, picturing in her mind how the next several hours were likely to play out.

She would slip into the living room and say a simple hello from the sidelines—which was also where she would stay.

Brady would be involved with Matt, catching up, trading stories. He would probably hardly know she was anywhere around. He definitely wouldn't whip out the divorce papers in the middle of her whole family and demand that she sign them on the spot.

They would all have dinner and she'd keep herself as busy in the kitchen as she could so she wouldn't have to spend too much time in the same room with Brady. Then the evening would end and he'd go off to his rooms and she'd go off to hers and that would be that. He probably wouldn't even have a thought about their rash wedding or what had followed it.

And he also wouldn't have the slightest inkling of what she'd found out only four days earlier.

That the consequence of their single night of abandon was that at this very moment she was pregnant with his baby.

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