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"Don't say pregnant. Please don't say pregnant," Melissa Jarrod whispered, afraid to open her tightly closed eyes. Maybe if she repeated it enough times she could will the white stick in her trembling hand to give her the results she wanted.
When she finally worked up the courage to take a peek at the pregnancy test she held, her eyes widened and it felt as if her stomach dropped all the way to her feet. The word pregnant in the little results window couldn't have been clearer.
"I can't be pregnant," she said disbelievingly as she glanced at herself in the bathroom mirror. "We've been careful."
But as her gaze dropped to her flat stomach, she realized that the way her luck had been running lately, it was not only possible, it was highly probable. She and Shane McDermott had been in a physical relationship practically from the moment she returned to Aspen two months ago. She sighed heavily. Although they'd taken the proper precautions, there had been that one night only a few days after they'd started seeing each other when they'd gotten carried away and passion had overtaken them.
Hoping the results of the test might be wrong, she quickly picked up the box to check the directions. No, she had done everything correctly. She turned the box to the side to see if there was a disclaimer or some reassurance that the test could have given a false-positive reading. Her spirits sank further when she found what she was looking for. The percentage of error was so low, it was almost impossible that she wasn't pregnant.
Wandering into the bedroom, she sank onto the side of the bed. What was she going to do and how on earth was she going to tell Shane?
He had made it perfectly clear from the beginning that he wasn't interested in a serious relationship, and that had been just fine with her. When she'd first come back to Aspen for the reading of her father's will, she hadn't been certain just how long she would be staying. But she, her brothers and her newfound half sister had learned they were required to take over the running of the Jarrod Ridge Resort for at least one year or forfeit their inheritance of the thriving enterprise. Even so, it would have been utter foolishness to engage in anything long-term, knowing that she would eventually return to California at some point in the future.
But with the positive results of the pregnancy test, their casual affair had just taken a very serious turn and become a lifelong commitment. At least for her. But how would Shane react when he learned that in a little more than seven months he was going to be a father?
Lost in a tangle of disturbing thoughts and fighting a wave of sheer panic, Melissa jumped when her cell phone rang. Reaching to pick it up from the night-stand, she noticed the number for the Tranquility Spa on the caller ID.
"What's wrong this time, Rita?" she asked, taking a deep steadying breath.
Whether real or imagined, the assistant manager of Jarrod Ridge's elite spa had reported a crisis nearly every day since Melissa had stepped in to temporarily take over the manager's position. But for the first time in two months, she welcomed the insecure woman's concerns. Anything was a welcome distraction from her own current dilemma.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Ms. Jarrod, but the yoga instructor called in sick this morning and I haven't been able to reach our backup. We have a room full of guests and no one to lead the yoga class. What should I do?" Rita whined, her voice clearly filled with indecision, as well as a good amount of panic.
"First of all, breathe, Rita," Melissa said, rising from the bed to pull a leotard from her dresser drawer. "I want you to calm down, then escort the guests over to the juice bar for a complimentary drink."
"Then what?" the woman asked, sounding a little more in control of herself.
How on earth the woman had managed to land the assistant-manager position, Melissa would never know. Although Rita was very nice, she couldn't make a decision on her own if her life depended on it.
Melissa checked her watch. "I'll be there in ten minutes to teach the class."
The last thing she wanted to do was lead a yoga session this morning. She needed to figure out when and how she was going to tell Shane, as well as her family, about the pregnancy. But the choice had been taken out of her hands. The Tranquility Spa had a stellar reputation for giving Jarrod Ridge guests five-star treatment and she wasn't about to let that status slip on her watch.
Putting her long blond hair into a ponytail, she stuffed her things into her gym bag, then grabbed her car keys from the kitchen counter as she started out the door of the lodge. Since her return to Aspen, she had been staying in Willow Lodge, one of the exclusive log cabins owned by Jarrod Ridge Resort.
She could have stayed in her suite at the family estate, but that had never been an option for her. Jarrod Manor might have been where she grew up, but she had always thought of it as more of a prison than she had a home. She hadn't been back but a handful of times since moving out to go to college eight years ago and she didn't particularly care to go back now.
As she steered her SUV under the canopy of the resort's main entrance, she relegated thoughts of her dismal, lonely childhood to the back of her mind. Even though Willow Lodge was the cabin farthest away from the manor, she could have walked the short distance. But as soon as the yoga class was over, she fully intended to make the drive over to the next valley where Shane's ranch was located and tell him there had been an unexpected complication in their no-strings relationship. That is if she could find the place.
She had only been to Rainbow Bend Ranch once and that had been years ago. If she remembered correctly it was in a remote valley that was several miles off the main road.
When she parked the Mountaineer, her heart raced at the sight of the man standing beside the truck just in front of hers. Shane McDermott was handing his keys to one of the valets and she didn't think she had ever seen him look so darned sexy.
Tall and devilishly handsome, he was a cowboy from the top of his wide-brimmed black Resistol to the soles of his big-booted feet. Shane was the type of man she had always fantasized about, and if the expressions on the faces of the female guests standing by the resort's main entrance were any indication, he was the type of man they dreamed about, too.
No wonder he had a reputation for being a ladies' man. They were drawn to him like bees to pollen.
Her heart came to a complete halt when he walked over to open the driver's door of her SUV.
"Good morning, Ms. Jarrod," he said, removing his hat as any self-respecting cowboy would do when greeting a lady.
A slight breeze ruffled his thick black hair and it reminded her of how it had looked the other night after she had run her fingers through it when they'd made love. She did her best to ignore the tingle that coursed through her at the thought of what they had shared.
"Good morning, Mr. McDermott," she answered, getting out of the car to hand her keys to one of the uniformed valets.
"I thought Friday was your day off," he said, smiling congenially.
"It usually is." She breezed past him and hurried toward the resort doors. "One of the spa's yoga instructors called in sick this morning and I'm going to have to teach her class."
He fell into step beside her. "After you finish twisting the resort's guests into pretzels do you have the rest of the day off?"
She couldn't help but wonder where Shane was going with his line of questioning. In order to avoid gossip among the Jarrod Ridge employees and the disapproval of some of the older, less progressive-minded investors, they'd been extremely careful to conceal their affair. Not even her family knew about them, and they had managed to maintain the appearance of being nothing more than acquaintances by limiting being seen together. They hadn't even spent an entire night together for fear of someone seeing him leave her place. Thus far, they'd been successful by not being seen together at all.
But if Shane continued questioning her as they walked toward the spa, there was a very real possibility that someone would take notice, and by the end of the day, the rumors about them would be spread all over the resort, if not the entire town of Aspen. Or even worse, her nerves could very well get the better of her and she would blurt out in the middle of the crowded lobby that she going to have his baby.
Neither scenario was appealing. She knew for certain that she couldn't cope with the fallout that was sure to follow on top of everything else she had to deal with.
"I'll come by Willow Lodge later," he said, smiling. His icy blue eyes danced with mischief. "I have something I want to talk to you about, Lissa."
"Would you keep your voice down?" she hissed.
She quickly looked around to see if anyone overheard him. He was the only person who had ever called her Lissa and it never failed to send an exciting little thrill coursing through her.
"I have something I need to discuss with you, too, Shane. But I'd rather not go into it…" Her voice trailed off when a bellman seemed to take more than a passing interest in seeing them together. When the man moved on, she turned back to Shane. "I thought you were supposed to have a luncheon meeting today with some of the other Jarrod Ridge investors, Mr. McDermott."
"I do." He looked as if he didn't have a care in the world, and she couldn't help but wonder how quickly that would change when she shared her news.
"Then what are you doing here now?"
Melissa hadn't meant to sound so blunt, but if she didn't get to the yoga class pretty soon, poor Rita was sure to suffer a nervous breakdown and guests would start complaining. Besides, she needed to put some space between herself and Shane. The scent of leather and woodsy aftershave were playing havoc with her equilibrium and it was all she could do to keep from swaying toward him.
"I came early to see that the new herd of trail horses I sold the resort is living up to expectation." He arched one dark eyebrow. "Do you have a problem with that?"
Sighing, Melissa shook her head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be so short with you. The yoga class was supposed to start fifteen minutes ago and I really do need to get to the spa."
"Then I won't keep you, Ms. Jarrod." His voice grew a bit louder as they reached the entrance to Tranquility Spa and she knew it was for the benefit of anyone who might be eavesdropping. He gave her a conspiratorial wink as he dipped his head ever so slightly and touched the wide brim of his cowboy hat. "It was nice running into you again. I hope you have a nice Labor Day weekend."
As she watched Shane turn and stroll down the hall toward the meeting rooms, Melissa sighed. The man looked almost as good from the back as he did from the front. His Western-cut, dark brown suit jacket emphasized the width of his strong shoulders and his blue jeans fit his long, muscular legs to perfection.
His well-toned physique rivaled that of a Greek god and she had intimate knowledge of the power and strength of each and every muscle when he had held her, kissed her, made love to her.
A tiny shiver streaked straight up her spine. She forced herself to ignore the sudden warmth that followed as it spread throughout her body. Opening the door to the spa, she took a deep breath and prepared to teach the yoga class.
Lusting after Shane McDermott was what had landed her in her current predicament. It would definitely be in her best interests to remember that.
"Melissa, did you hear me?" Avery Lancaster asked. Engaged to Melissa's brother Guy, the petite blonde had become a very close friend in the month since they met.
"Um, sorry," Melissa murmured as she took a sip of her water. With her mind still reeling from the results of the pregnancy test, she found it hard to concentrate on the conversation.
"I asked if you've tried the cucumber sandwiches Guy added?" her friend asked patiently as she pointed to the leather-bound folder Melissa held.
Perusing the new healthy-choices section her brother had added to the Sky Lounge lunch menu since taking over managing the resort's restaurants, Melissa shook her head. "No, I hadn't even noticed the new dishes."
Avery frowned. "Is something wrong?"
"Oh, just the usual stuff that goes along with managing a spa," Melissa lied, closing the menu and setting it on the table. She hated not being truthful with her friend, but she needed to talk to Shane about the pregnancy before anyone else.
"Still having problems wit h you r assista nt manager, little sister?" Guy asked, walking over to join them. He leaned down to kiss Avery, then seated himself beside her.
"Actually, Rita is doing a little better than she was," Melissa said, thankful to have something to focus on besides her own dilemma. "She did have a moment this morning when I thought her nerves were going to send her into a panic attack, but we got it straightened out."