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SHE'D MADE A MISTAKE COMING to the bar. This place wasn't going to cheer her up. She didn't even feel like drinking.
Heather Sweeney eyed the glass of vodka and orange juice in her hand and wondered how her life had come to this point. She was too young to feel washed up, but that was exactly how she felt. She was a thirty-five-year-old, widowed schoolteacher who loved children but would probably never have any of her own.
Not based on the current state of her love life. Or the state of her uterus, either, according to her doctor. She couldn't claim to be surprised by the results of the ultrasound they'd discussed at her appointment yesterday afternoon. In her family women tended to develop uterine fibroids at an early age, which was why she'd ended up an only child even though both her parents - like her - adored children.
So far, the noncancerous growths in her uterus were small enough that she could probably carry a baby to term if she were to become pregnant soon. But there was precious little opportunity for that to happen. She hadn't even gone on a date for about four months.
And while the small-town bar was almost full tonight, there wasn't a potential husband in the lot. A few middle-aged women were crowded around the video gambling machines in the back, while a gang of young men - probably barely drinking age - played pool at the other end of the room. All the tables in between were full of the farmers and miners who lived in and around this town. Most had either a wife or a girlfriend with them. Several she recognized as parents of either current or past students.
Not a decent-looking, single guy to be found.
Heather tilted her glass, watched the liquid slide over the bobbing ice cubes. Why had she come here?
She'd had other options for her Saturday night. Her best friend, Adrienne Jenson, had invited her to watch a movie with her family tonight. But it was too soon after her depressing appointment with the doctor to see Adrienne's three little boys - three! - laughing and playing and tumbling around.
She could have opted to spend the evening with her parents. But they usually played cards with the Thomsons on Saturday nights. Five was definitely a crowd when it came to bridge.
And so, because she couldn't stand to spend the night alone at her house, because there was no place else open on a Saturday night in Chatsworth, Saskatchewan, she'd ended up here. At the town bar. Alone.
The door opened, and she swung around on her stool in time to see Libby and Gibson Browning stroll in holding hands. The couple looked ridiculously young to be the parents of four kids - two girls from previous relationships and two little boys of their own. Their girls, Allie and Nicole, would be in Heather's class this year. The couple stopped to say hi to her before joining a table of their other friends.
I'm going to finish this drink, then head home, she promised herself. She lifted the glass to her mouth and took several long gulps. One more swallow would have done it. But she lingered just a few seconds too long. Trenton McGuire, the town lech and drunk, sauntered into the bar and headed her way.
The stool next to hers was empty, and of course that's where Trenton sat. By smell alone she could tell that whatever he ordered would not be his first of the evening.
Trenton wasn't a bad guy. When sober, he was quiet and shy, and he did manage to eke out a living on the half section of land his father had left him. But when he was drinking, he imagined himself quite a ladies' man.
"Must be my lucky night. Sittin' next to a pretty little redhead."
Yeah, it was his lucky night, all right. Definitely not hers. She finished her drink. Set down the glass.
"Can I buy you another, miss?"
He touched her arm and she pulled away, averting her gaze. Thank heavens he didn't seem to know her name. They'd never met, but you could never tell in a small town, who had heard of whom. "Actually, I was just leaving. Thanks for the offer, though."
She glanced at him then and felt a stab of pity. Greasy hair, poor teeth, bad skin. The man was skinny and his fingernails were dirty. Good grooming was all it would take to make him presentable. Hadn't his mother taught him anything?
"But the night is young." He put his hand back on her arm, this time holding tight. "Jerry," he signaled the bartender. "Bring her another, and a draft for me."
Though the grip on her arm was unrelenting, Heather wasn't afraid. She was in a public place, surrounded by neighbors who had known her for most of her life. "I'm sorry, but I really am tired."
She attempted again to pull away, but Trenton only moved in closer. She smelled his foul breath and tried not to grimace.
"Come on, sweetheart."
The door opened again, only this time Heather couldn't turn to see who was coming or going. Trenton had her pinned tight, his body blocking most of her view.
"Trenton," the bartender said, "I think the lady wants to go home. You'd better let go of her arm."
Yeah, because it was starting to hurt.
"But we ain't had a chance to get to know each other yet."
Heather had decided it was time to forget about the poor guy's feelings and go for a knee in his groin, when a hand clamped down on Trenton's shoulder.
"Sorry I'm late, honey. Been waiting long?"
She glanced up at a man who was about as different from Trenton as a man could be. Tall and strong, good-looking with thick dark hair and perfect teeth. And he didn't smell bad, either.
"Hey there, T.J." She'd known him all her life. Been in the same classroom from grades one through twelve. That didn't mean she felt relieved at having him ease her out of this sticky situation. In some ways T.J. posed more of a risk to her than Trenton McGuire ever could.
Excerpted from For A Baby by C.J. Carmichael Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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