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Fifty Ways To Say I'm Pregnant
By Christine Rimmer
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStarr Bravo, home for the summer after her first year of college, stood at the kitchen sink peeling carrots for the stew already simmering on the stove.
"Stah light, stah bwight," chanted a small voice not far from her feet. Starr had tried teaching her half brother, Ethan, the children's rhyme just last night. The toddler remembered the first part and seemed to think it referred to his big sister, personally. "Stah light, stah bwight ..." Something with wheels rolled up the back of her bare leg.
"Hey!" She paused with a carrot half-peeled to glance over her shoulder and fake a scowl at him.
He beamed up at her as he rolled his tiny toy truck back down the side of her calf. "Vrrooom, vroom ..."
"Stop that." The words were firm, but she couldn't keep an adoring grin from pulling at the corners of her mouth.
"Vroom, vroom ..." Ethan rolled the little truck off across the floor, fat legs working at a speedy crawl.
Starr's stepmother, Tess, was sitting at the long pine table snapping beans, Edna Heller at her side. Years ago, Edna had been the Rising Sun Ranch's housekeeper, but now the slim woman in her late fifties was just plain family - and Ethan, vrooming with enthusiasm, had his toy truck rolling straight for her left foot.
Edna crossed her ankles and scooted them under her chair. "Don't you even try it, young man."
"Vroom, vroom, vroom ..."
Starr turned back to her carrot, peeled it swiftly clean and set it on the counter, smiling to herself, thinking how good it was to be home.
Out the window, past the flattened patches of still-green grass and the slanting roofs of the barn and the sheds, she could see the snowy crests of the Bighorn Mountains in the distance, swathed in a few white wisps of cloud. The green slopes of rolling prairie land, dotted here and there with stands of cottonwoods, lay spread below the mountains in overlapping swells of sun and shadow. Closer still, in the pasture behind the barn, a windmill whirled in the afternoon breeze, the sun catching in its vanes, making a golden blur.
As she reached for the next carrot in the pile, a pickup truck - dark green and caked with mud - rolled into the rear yard. Starr spotted the driver and forgot all about that next carrot.
She dropped her peeler in the sink.
Bold as you please, he pushed open the driver's door and jumped to the ground. He wore dusty Wranglers and dustier boots, a faded chambray work shirt, sweat-dark along his chest, under the arms and down his back. His battered straw Resistol shaded his features, but she knew him, anyway. Knew the strong, wide set of his shoulders, the lean hard waist, the long, muscled legs....
Yeah, she knew him. Though she damn well wished she didn't.
At the table, Ethan was driving his miniature truck in and out between the chairs. "Vroom, vroom, vroom," he growled as he went.
Tess laughed. "Ethan John, you will get yourself stepped on."
"Vroom, vrrrooom, vrroooommmm ..."
Outside, some other cowpuncher Starr didn't recognize got out on the passenger side and went around to the tailgate. Beau joined him. The two of them pulled on work gloves and started unloading the fencing wire and posts piled high in the pickup's bed. Quickly and methodically, they set to stacking everything against the side of the barn.
Starr watched them for a while, kind of simmering inside. In spite of being a rotten lying jerk as a person, Beau was a good worker, strong and always with his mind on the job, never a wasted movement. She could practically see the muscles flexing under that sweat-stained shirt....
She grabbed a towel. "Beau Tisdale is here." Wiping her hands, she turned to the women at the table, trying with all her might to keep her voice offhand. "He's got a pickup piled with fence wire and posts, which he is in the process of unloading as I speak."
Tess and Edna shared a look - and then they both went back to snapping those beans. "Oh, yes," said Tess, her eyes on the bean she was snapping and her voice as studiously casual as Starr's had tried to be. "Daniel got some kind of deal from the suppliers on fixed-knot fence. It's more expensive than barb wire, but safer for the stock. Lasts longer, too, they say. Daniel and Beau convinced your father to give it a try. So I'd imagine Beau's just bringing some of it by."
Daniel Hart, an old guy with no family to speak of, owned a nearby ranch. A couple of years ago, when Beau was fresh out of the slammer, he'd hired on with Mr. Hart. The job, evidently, had worked out just fine.
"Well, isn't that just so helpful of Beau," Starr said, ladling on the saccharine. She tipped her chin at a defiant angle. Yeah, she had an attitude when it came to Beau - and she didn't care who knew it, either.
"Yes, it is," said her stepmother, curly head bowed over those beans. "Very helpful."
Tossing the towel aside, Starr whirled back to the window and snatched up her peeler. Slammer, she thought the word again, with relish, as she grabbed the next carrot and began scraping away. Fresh out of the slammer ...
She made short work of the carrot and the next one, too. In no time the carrots were all done. She started in on a big potato. Beyond the window, Beau and the unknown cowboy were unloading the last of the fencing materials.
And okay, if you wanted to be strictly factual about it, Beau had gone to the state honor farm and not the penitentiary when he did his time. He'd gotten that break because both Tess and Zach, Starr's dad, had spoken up for him at the trial. Starr only called it the slammer secretly, to herself. Yeah, it was mean-spirited of her - but she figured she had a right to be a little bit mean-spirited where Beau Tisdale was concerned.
Excerpted from Fifty Ways To Say I'm Pregnant by Christine Rimmer Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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