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Jace Chacon Callahan stared back at the petite fireball glaring at him. Sawyer Cash was his nemesis, his nightmare, the one woman that could keep him awake at night, racked by desire. Her killer body and haunting smile stayed lodged in his never-at-rest brain. And now here she was, red hair aflame and blue eyes focused, oblivious to the fact that his mind was never quite free of her. "You're the bidder who won me at the Christmas ball?" Jace demanded.
Sawyer shrugged. "Don't freak out about it. Someone had to bid on you. I was just trying to contribute to your aunt Fiona's charity. Are we going to do this thing or not?"
He seemed to be locked in place, thunderstruck. For starters, Sawyer was telling a whopper of a fib. There'd been plenty of ladies bidding a few weeks ago for the chance of winning a dinner date with a Callahan bachelor, which happened to be him.
But what had him completely poleaxed was that the little darling who had such spunkand whatever else you wanted to call the sass that made her an excellent bodyguard and a torture to his soulwas that Sawyer was quite clearly, this fine February day, as pregnant as a busy bunny in spring.
In a curve-hugging, hot pink dress with long sleeves and a high waist, she made no effort to hide it. Taupe boots adorned her feet, and she looked sexy as a goddess, but for the glare she wore just for him.
A pregnant Sawyer Cash was a thorny issue, especially since she was the niece of their Rancho Diablo neighbor Storm Cash. The Chacon Callahans didn't quite trust Storm, yet in spite of that fact they'd hired Sawyer to guard the Callahan kinder.
But then Sawyer had simply vanished off the face of the earth, leaving only a note of resignation behind. No forwarding address, a slight he'd known was directed at him.
Jace knew this because for the past year he and Sawyer had had "a thing," a secret they'd worked hard to keep completely concealed from everyone.
He'd missed sleeping with her these past months. Standing here looking at her brought all the familiar desire back like a screaming banshee.
Yet clearly they had a problem. Best to face facts right up front. "Is that why you went away from Rancho Diablo?" he asked, pointing to her tummy.
She raised her chin. "Are we going on this date or not? Although it won't surprise me if you back out, Jace. You were never one for commitment."
Commitment, his boot. Of his six siblings, which consisted of a sister and five brothers, he'd been the one who'd most wanted to settle down, maybe even return to his roots in the tribe. By now he'd been fighting the good fight for Rancho Diablo for such a long time he never thought about living anywhere but here, or at least no farther away than the land across the canyons, which his brother Galen had shocked them all by acquiring, in a direct assault on Aunt Fiona's marriage raffle for the property.
The siblings thought Galen had cheated, or at least "rigged" the ranch deal in his favor. Jace and Ash hadn't had a chance to marry and have babies, all prerequisites for Fiona's ranch raffle. Ash was still steamed as heck with her big brother, Galen, whom she adoredalthough not when it came to acquiring the ranch she'd already named Sister Wind Ranch, which was actually called Loco Diablo by him and his brothers.
Jace wanted the land for himself, but he'd never pushed hard enough to find a lady with whom he could settle down and start a family, a necessary component of the marriage raffle. He'd been too busy chasing Sawyer night and dayor, to be more precise, letting himself get caught by her.
He gazed at her stomach again, impressed by the righteous size to which she'd grown in the short months since he'd last seen herand slept with her.
He wished he could drag her to his bed right now.
"I'm your prize, beautiful," he said. "No worries about that. But before we go, you're going to admit whether that child you're carrying is mine or not." He wouldn't be able to eat a bite, thinking about another man finding his way into Sawyer's sweet bed. Jace broke into an uncomfortable sweat just imagining someone else with his adorable darling.
"I'm hungry, and in no mood to chat." Sawyer turned to walk away, and he caught her hand to stop her, pulling her toward him. That she was avoiding the topic told him everything he needed to know.
"It's my baby," he stated quietly, his gaze pinning hers. "Don't deny it."
Her perfume wrapped around him; her heart-shaped lips were close enough to kiss. His ears rang with her admission, and Jace struggled to take in that he'd awakened this frosty February morning in Diablo, New Mexico, a free manand would go to bed a caught man, and a father. "You're having my baby?"
She gazed at him with those blue eyes that had long intoxicated him, even though he knew she was sexy trouble. "I'm having your babies."
If he hadn't been such a strong person, a man of steel forged by fire, as he frequently told himself, he'd have raised an eyebrow with surprise. "Babies?"
"Twins. One boy, one girl, if the doctor's correct."
Stunned was too gentle a word for the emotion searing him. The vixen who'd avoided him these past four months, not even letting him know where she waswho'd made him believe he was never going to hold her in his arms againwas the sin to which he was now tied.
His family was going to razz him a good oneand they weren't going to toss confetti in congratulations. They'd say he'd gone over to the dark side, had slept with the enemy's niece.
Hell, yeah, I did. And she's having my children.
I'm on top of the world, even if I'm going to Hell.
Sawyer Cash grew wary as the handsome cowboy she'd spent months dreaming about steered her toward his truck. She didn't like the sudden glint in his eye when he'd realized she was pregnant with his childrenand she knew the Callahans well enough to know that a glint in the eye meant their wild side was kicking in. "Where are we going?"
"On the date you bid for and won, darling. Be a lamb and hop in my truck," Jace said, opening the door for her.
She'd always love the wild in Jace Chacon Callahan. His eyes were that navy color all the Callahan men had, but his were both a little distant and a little crazy. His hair was always tousled, dark strands going haywire except when tamed by a cowboy hat. Even his laugh was a bit wild, tinged with the devil-may-care attitude that most of the Callahan men possessed.
She'd always been attracted to Jacebut right now he made her nervous.
"Since I won you, I get to pick the date parameters, right? I mean, I paid for something."
He smiled, slow and sexy, heating her with memories of snatched passion they should never have shared. "Whatever you want, little darling. Now slide in so I can buckle you up good and tight."
Warnings howled in her psyche. She didn't like anything about his sudden determined mood. "There's a cute little restaurant in Tempest we could check out."
"Tempest." He buckled her in with care and stared into her eyes, just inches from her face. "It's a funny thing, but the night of the Christmas ball, all I learned about the woman who won me was that she was from Tempest."
"At the time I bid, I was working for your brother Galen in Tempest," she said, a little breathless at the devilish look in Jace's eyes. "At Sheriff Carstairs's place. You know about what happened there."
He had to have heard about the night Sawyer and her cousin Somer had taken shots at each other, quite by accident. Hired by Galen, Sawyer had been doing her joband Jace hadn't had any idea she was only a short truck ride away in Tempest, which was how she'd wanted it.
All the same, it had been hard not to drive "home" to Rancho Diablo to see him. But she'd known that to see Jace meant falling under his spell and into his arms.
She'd done far too much of that. Obviously.
"You covered your tracks real well." He checked her seat belt again and she smacked his hand away, making him laugh in a throaty, teasing growl. He was just itching to get on her nerves in every way, and he was certainly succeeding. "Disappeared for months, then took a job with Galen, which I consider a bit traitorlike on your part. Then deliberately won me at Aunt Fiona's auction. As I recall, the bidding went sky-high that night. I, the last Chacon Callahan bachelor to be on the block, fetched the highest price ever. Which you paid, and no one twisted your arm at all."
She couldn't look away from the knowing laughter in his eyes. "You're a bit of an ass, Jace."
"Yes, ma'am." He closed the door, went around to the driver's side. She could hear him guffawing with delight at her admission that she wanted him.
Well, she had wanted him, and she had paid a record amount for him at the Christmas ball, determined that no other woman should win him that night, not when she'd just learned she was pregnant. Five thousand dollars had gone to Fiona's favorite charity, thanks to her sexy nephew. Jace's aunt had no idea how many times Sawyer had fallen under Jace's spell, seduced by the hot cowboy with a wicked penchant for frequent, enthusiastic lovemaking.
She couldn't even comfort herself with the thought that he was a dud of a lover, or lacked the skills or attributes a female adored. No, he was pretty much perfect as a lover. And darn well aware of it, too. "So, we'll head to Tempest for dinner?"
He started the truck, pulled out from the driveway at Rancho Diablo, where she'd agreed to meet him as his mystery date. "Sure, we can eat there. But not tonight. Tonight, we're going to take a romantic drive." He glanced over at her. "You cute little thing, trying to sneak up on me with this surprise pregnancy. You didn't have to win me at the auction just to tell me about the babies. I would've married you even if you hadn't bid for me. You could have had me for free."
He was so arrogant! "I did not want, and do not want, to marry you. Put that right out of your insane mind."
Apparently Jace thought her words were a real thigh-slapper. Sawyer's brows drew together in a frown as he laughed. "Something funny?" she asked.
"Reverse psychology is an excellent tool." He glanced over and stroked her cheek. "You didn't pay five grand just to have dinner with me, doll face."
He was insufferable. Why had she bothered to try to keep another woman from getting her manicured hands on him?
Sawyer should have thrown him to the wolves with a smile on her face.
"Jace, tonight is about dinner only. I've lived without you just fine for the first several months of this pregnancy, and I can continue to do well on my own. I suggest you try to grasp that. While you and I may have some parenting details to work out, there'll be no resumption of our former relationship."
"Could you classify that former relationship for me?"
He was definitely digging down to find his deepest layer of smart-ass. "Working professionals with benefits. You know that as well as I."
"And now that you're pregnant, those benefits are no longer beneficial?"
She could hear the smirk in his voice. "That's right."
He hit the main road, but they weren't heading for Tempest. "I believe you went the wrong way," Sawyer stated.
"I'm going the only way we need to go," Jace said. "You and I are taking a side trip to Vegas. We're going to give my children my name. Then if you want to sleep alone, that's your choice. I won't fight you about that. But being a father to my children, Sawyer, I will fight for." He glanced at her, his smile slightly amused. "I'm a pretty good fighter."
She knew that. All the Callahans were stubborn, steeped in loyalty to family and land. It was one of the reasons she'd fallen in love with Jace. Now he wanted to marry her, have a quickie wedding to seal the torrid love affair they'd shared under the family radar. She was a Cash and he was a Callahan, and the two were never supposed to meet on more than a professional basis.
"We can do this without marriage," Sawyer said a bit desperately as he sped toward Vegas. "We can divide custody with the use of legal instruments instead of a marriage ceremony."
"We've come this far, we may as well go all out. My family's going to flip out when they find out I've.. " He hesitated, then glanced at her with a grin. "That I'm having children."
"That you've impregnated the enemy?" She glared at him. "I can't think of a worse reason to get married."
"I can't, either, but we're apparently past needing a reason and are moving swiftly on to cause. Those children deserve a proper start in life. That's all there is to this, Sawyer Cash. Don't feel guilty because you've worked your wiles on me, and are finally getting what you wanted all along, when you made your way into my bed."
"Not your bed." Not with the furtive lovemaking they'd enjoyed. There'd been nothing traditional about their stolen moments together.
"Doesn't matter if it was truck bed, front seat, barn, canyon or Rancho Diablo roof. We misused ye olde condom somehow, and now the piper must be paid."
She rolled her eyes. "About that time on the roof."
"You said you wanted to see the stars. I believe we achieved your goal."
He really was an insufferable jackass, quite confident that his lovemaking was the endall to a woman's dreams, the gold buckle of mind-blowing sex.
She couldn't argue the point. She'd left Rancho Diablo when she'd realized she'd fallen head over heels in love with him, and that he had zero desire for a serious romance between them. He'd never said it in so many words, but she knew the difficulty of their relationship as well as anyone.
She'd thought she was in the clear, had made her escape with her pride intact. And then the morning sickness had begun.
"I don't want to get married, Jace."
"It's not about you. It's about our children. Now try to get some rest. There's a blanket in the backseat if you want it. When you awaken, it'll be time for us to find the fastest house of I do in Vegas."
Great. That sounded like a wedding she could always look back on with a fond smile. No magic wedding dress for her, no marriage at the beautiful seven-chimneyed mansion at Rancho Diablo like all the other Callahan brides.
Drat. I had to fall for the one Callahan for whom a quickie, no-strings-attached marriage is just ducky.
Sawyer pulled the blanket over herself and closed her eyes so she wouldn't think about what she'd done, blowing her entire bank account on the wildest, wooli-est Callahan of all. When she'd known quite well that the Callahans and the Cashs were never, ever going to trust each other.