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"I only came here today because
because I'm pregnant." Sierra Girard's blue eyes were wide and vulnerable as her words echoed in Ben Barclay's office.
One thought flashed through his mindthey hadn't used a condom. That oversight had been a first for him.
"Why did you leave without a word?" he asked, feeling as if she'd punched him in the gut with her announcement. Six weeks ago they'd met at a party and had ended up spending the night together well, most of a night.
Her wavy brown hair fell across her shoulder as she looked down at the purse in her hands, then back up at him. "I left in the middle of the night because we got caught up in the heat of the moment. Because neither of us was looking for what happened. You told me your work was your life that your job as assistant district attorney took all of your waking hours and many of your sleeping ones."
Pregnant. Sierra was pregnant! Ben was suddenly angry at himself and angry with her.
His expression must have shown some of what he was feeling because she murmured, "I never should have come." Turning, she left his office, slipping quickly into the hall.
Instinct made him move like lightning. He grasped her arm.
They both froze, startled once more by the electricity that had drawn them together.
Finally Sierra pulled from his hold. "This isn't your problem. It's mine. I just thought you might like to know."
He and Sierra had started talking at the engagement party of mutual friends. That night her smile had curved around his cynical defenses, breaking down barriers that had been cemented in place for years. Desire had exploded, burning away common sense. Afterthey'd had sex, work exhaustion had caught up to him. He'd fallen asleep and she'd disappeared.
A colleague walked down the hall and tossed Ben a quizzical look.
"Come back inside," Ben suggested, purposefully keeping his tone calm.
When Sierra hesitated, he added, "You're not going to pull a vanishing act on me again."
"You could have gotten my number from Camille or Miguel if you wanted to reach me," she chided softly.
Had she wanted him to search her out?
Why would he want to pursue a woman who'd left without a word or a note? Why would he want to pursue a woman, period? They all left. He knew that too well. His mother had deserted his father, along with him and his two brothers. And after Ben had hit thirty and decided coming home to a woman would be better than returning to an empty apartment, he'd started dating Lois. However, a year and a half later, she'd broken off their relationship because he was too dedicated to his work. She'd been seeing someone else at the public relations firm where she worked while he was working! "Love" only had meaning to him in how it related to family. There was no such thing as happily ever after or vows that lasted forever.
Intrigued by Sierra as he had been since they'd met, he asked, "Did you leave that night so I'd chase you?"
"No," she protested so quickly he almost believed her. Then she went on, "I don't tumble into bed with a man every time I go to an engagement party. That night"
She stopped to gather words that seemed to elude her. "I'd never done anything like that before! I was confused afterward. When you didn't bother to get my number and call, I knew you weren't interested."
Sierra Girard was so beautiful in an innocent, twenty-four-year-old kind of way. He was only thirty-five, but the eleven years' difference seemed more like thirty to him right now. He'd seen things she couldn't imagine in her worst nightmares. The folders on his desk were full of pictures he hoped she'd never see.
"Why did you really leave the hotel room that night?"
"I thought I was doing the best thing for both of us," she replied with what sounded like sincerity. "That way we didn't have to be embarrassed or awkward, or figure out how to say goodbye."
"Do you always run from awkward situations?" He really didn't know much about her. Just that she and Camille were good-enough friends for her to be Camille's maid of honor.
At Sierra's pointed silence, Ben raked his hand through his black hair, deciding to let that question go so he could ask something more pertinent. "Have you seen a doctor?"
"Yes, I have."
"What are you going to do about the pregnancy?"
Where before Sierra had seemed almost pale to him, her cheeks took on color now. "I will not get an abortion."
"I'm not asking you to consider it." He took a step closer to her, then wished he hadn't because he inhaled her rose-scented perfume. It had driven him crazy at the party the whole time they'd talked, as well as the whole time they'd been naked together. "I just want to know if you can be sure this child is mine."
"It's your baby," she replied quietly. At his silence, she asked, "You don't believe me?"
His poker face must not have been as neutral as he thought. He was short on trust these days, especially where women were concerned, and it must have showed.
"Okay, Ben." Fumbling with the catch on her purse, Sierra reached inside and pulled out a business card. "Here. Now you have my number and the address of my shop. Our baby is due at the end of May. Give me a call if you want to be involved in being a parent. If not, I understand."
Before he could take a breath, Sierra hurried into the hall, her sandals clicking on the tile.
As he watched the sway of her hair across her back, the loose folds of her gauzy dress swinging around her legs, he knew he should call after her go after her bring her back to his office until they settled something. But he didn't do any of those things. As one of the most levelheaded, steadiest assistant district attorneys in Albuquerque's violent crimes unit, he was shocked to realize he was shaken to his core.
He was going to be a dad!
He had to figure out a plan of action before he talked to Sierra again. He had to figure out if she was sincere, or if she might be trying to use him because she wanted monetary support for a child that might not even be his.
The phone on his desk rang.
Knowing Sierra had probably reached the elevator by now, Ben hurried to pick up the receiver, not at all sure tackling this situation with her would be any easier than prosecuting his hardest case.
Sierra gripped the phone Saturday afternoon as she waited for her aunt's reaction.
"So you told him yesterday and he said " Gina Ruiz prompted her niece from across the globe.
Sierra paced back and forth behind the counter of her shop, Beaded for You, on the outskirts of Old Town, Albuquerque. Her aunt Gina was questioning her with the fierce protectiveness of a mother. Her aunt had been more of a parent than either of her parents ever had, and Sierra loved her for it.
"He was shocked."
"I suppose that's good. That means something like this doesn't happen to him every day."
In spite of Sierra's queasy stomach, which always seemed to become unsettled midafternoon, she had to smile. "I should hope not. I never would have ended up in bed with him if I'd thought"
She stopped, realizing what she had just said. This was her aunt, for goodness sake, not Camille.
"What happened, Sierra? This kind of thing isn't like you at all. You told me Ben Barclay is going to be Miguel's best man, but you don't really know him, do you? Did he take advantage of you in some way? Put something in your drink? Did you have too many glasses of wine to celebrate Camille and Miguel's engagement?"
Sierra remembered her first glimpse of Ben at the party. Oh, he was handsome all right, with black hair, thick brows, defined cheekbones and a jaw that looked very stern, except when he smiled. When his gray eyes had held hers for a long moment across the room, she'd felt breathless, and had been unsettled by the tingles that had danced down her spine. With good reason. She didn't date because the memories of her fiancé and the selflessness that had gotten him killed were still too fresh at times.
But, as Sierra knew, fate wasn't something you could control. After she and Ben had been introduced, they'd begun a conversation about his work, about her shop. The room had gotten very noisy. She'd sensed he liked quiet as much as she did when he'd invited her to his room. She'd never expected their conversation would lead to bed.
"Aunt Gina, he was the perfect gentleman. I mean, it was both of us. It just happened. I'm not sure why or how. It just did."
"Do you want me to come home?"
Sierra's mother and father were anthropologists who traveled the world. Although they'd kept her with them when she was small, she'd always known she was secondary to whatever they shared, including their work. Her mother found nannies and teachers for her and often brought her back to New Mexico to spend weeks or months with her aunt.
Sierra had always felt extraneous. Once on a visit home, she'd heard her parents arguing with her aunt, her mother's sister, about her need for normal high school years, a chance to socialize with children her own age and make bonds that would last longer than six months or a year. When Aunt Gina had invited Sierra to live with her for her four years of high school, Sierra had accepted joyfully, and would always be filled with gratitude for that time of her life.
Now her aunt was in Greece, a trip she had planned for most of her adult life. Sierra wasn't going to make her cut it short.
"There's no need for you to come home. Honestly, I'm fine. I really am. Camille and Miguel are here and so are other friends. I'll be busy with Camille's wedding next weekend."
"But who will look after you when they're away? What if you have a problem?"
"I can look after myself. My doctor's a phone call away. Honestly, Aunt Gina, please don't worry."
The security bell dinged as her shop door opened. Ben Barclay walked in!
"Aunt Gina, Ben just came in. I have to go."
"Don't let him make decisions for you," her aunt warned.
"Call me again soon."
"I will. I love you," she murmured into the cell phone, and after her aunt returned the sentiment, Sierra closed it.
With the brilliant New Mexico sun behind Ben, he stood in shadow until he approached the counter. His gaze assessed the space quicklythe glass cases filled with beaded jewelry created of lapis and tiger eye, turquoise and Venetian glass. She couldn't tell from his expression what he thought, but she'd already learned that was normal for an encounter with Ben. Dressed in black cargo pants and a rust-and-black Henley shirt, he looked every bit as handsome as he had in his suit. She couldn't keep other pictures from clicking through her mindbroad bare shoulders, curling black chest hair, powerful muscles .
Sierra warned herself not to expect anything from him. There was an edge to him that she suspected came from his workall-encompassing work, like her fiancé's had been. Travis had been a doctor, and his vocation had been to save lives. Ben saved lives, too, in a different way. He put the bad guys away so they couldn't hurt anyone again. But his work had been another reason she'd left his room so quickly that night. Right or wrong, dedicated men didn't put the people they loved first.
Ben approached the sales counter where she stood. "At the party you told me you make jewelry. Which are yours?" He was obviously starting with soft conversation before they delved into the tough stuff.
"I made all of it. At least when I get insomnia, I have something to do," she joked, though it was hard to come up with a smile, wondering why he'd come and what he would say.
Ben's gray eyes took in everything about her, from her turquoise blouse to her brown gaucho pants. They came back to rest on her necklace, the long dangle of beads that rested between the plackets of her blouse. "Did you make that?"
His gaze on her melted her insides as she nodded. When he'd made love to her, nothing had existed except the two of them.
His thumb ran over a turquoise nugget, then the round coral beads beneath it. "You're a talented woman."
"I just have a knack for putting together colors and shapes."
Dropping the dangle as if it were suddenly too hot to handle, he said, "I want to be part of my baby's life if this child is my baby."
In some ways she knew life would be easier and less complicated if she parented their child alone. Still, she answered, "It is."
He scrutinized her for a long moment. "We'll have a DNA test done after the baby's born. But until then, I want to know what's happening. Do you need financial assistance?"
His jaw had set after he asked the question, and Sierra wondered if he believed she was just after money. "I don't need help."
"Do you have insurance?"
"Yes, I do. I didn't come to you because I wanted anything."
"You just thought I should know?"
The repetition of her reasoning sounded lame when he said it, but it was the truth. "I have an appointment with my obstetrician Thursday after next. If you're interested in meeting her, if you have questions "
She trailed off, feeling they were moving toward an intimacy she wasn't ready for. And it had nothing to do with having sex. The intimacy involved becoming parents together.