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"The problem is, we may have had a few men moving to Red Rose in the past couple of weeks, but we're still overflowing with women," Lydia Eunique, the sixtyish, silver-haired mayor and owner of the Red Rose said. "The town still needs men, and lots of them."
Delia Sable, a young, blue-eyed blonde who worked for Abigail at Chesney's Floral, glanced briefly at her boss, her gaze slipping to Abby's abdomen before she hastily looked away. Abby almost wanted to laugh. Had she really thought that the Red Rose was safe? Heck, this was small-town Illinois. Everyone knew her business and her concerns.
There was no escaping her condition. Out of deference to friendship, no one would mention the fact that she was four months pregnant and unmarried, but they knew, and they also knew that of all of them, she was most in need of a man fast even if she didn't want one. Safe? Well, safe had never been a word she had bothered with in her life. Why start now?
"We don't want just any men," she said, setting her coffee cup down.
"That's true," Joyce Hives, the owner of Hive's Honey and Produce said, nodding, her light-brown braid bobbing along. "We want men who'll make good fathers and husbands and lovers."
Not good lovers. Abby had to swallow hard to keep the words from erupting from her mouth. Not good-looking drifters, not men who thought they were looking for love, not men who wanted real relationships. Just the basics, just good father material. But then that was just her. She couldn't speak for the rest of her friends.
"Well, maybe that's what we're getting," Sunny Delavan, a big, well-proportioned woman who owned the Big Babe Dairy Shop said. "Since Ellie talked Parker Monroe into coming back to town, there's been a trickle of men following him. And most of them are good." Sunny grumbled a bit as she said this. One of Parker's friends, Chester, had a thing for Sunny, and for some reason, Sunny, who loved most men, didn't want to give Chester the time of day. Probably because Chester saw right through her tough act to the soft woman inside.
"Maybe in time we'll all find what we want."
"I just hope it's sooner rather than later," Rosellen January said, shifting her tall, narrow frame in her chair.
Abby was sure that the comment was made in reference to her own condition, even though everyone was trying hard not to look at her and make her feel more self-conscious than she already was. Maybe it was time to stop drinking coffee and get back to work. While Delia minded the shop, Abby and a small crew tended the landscaping side of the business in the surrounding area, and in the summer there was plenty to do. Besides, this talk was making her and everyone else uncomfortable. She should just go quietly, and ratchet down the stress factor that was rising in the Red Rose.
"We can't rush things and risk doing something stupid. The baby's going to be born whether there's a father for it or not," she said, glancing over the rim of her coffee cup. And there definitely wasn't a father. Dennis, who had lived two towns over, had headed for Alaska as soon as he'd gotten wind of the baby brewing inside Abby. It wasn't the first time a Chesney woman had been left high and dry by a man.
And Dennis's hasty retreat was no secret. For a while Lydia had posted a dart board with Dennis's face on it, until Abby took it down. The darn thing was too big a reminder of her own idiocy in believing the engagement ring Dennis had placed on her finger meant that he really wanted her and all that she stood for.
In truth, he probably never really had wanted her. He'd had trouble dealing with her blatant independent streak from the first and had viewed her as a physical challenge, but Dennis had known all the right words, and she'd had a weak moment. Who would have thought she could have gotten pregnant after just one slip-up? Certainly not Dennis, it seemed. Anyway, he was gone, thank goodness, and she was smarter now, and much more realistic. Her baby might only have her to care for it, and if that happened she would handle it.
"That's all there is to it," she said. "Let's just face the fact that I'm unmarried and pregnant, and there isn't any daddy in sight."
"Abby, that's okay. You know we're all going to be here for you and the little one," Sunny said. "But there's more to it than that. Dennis might have been the world's biggest jerk, but you can't paint all the men in the world with the brush meant for him. You do want a father for your baby, hon," Sunny said. "We all know that."
Yes, they did know that, because every last one of them was aware that her father had left before she had been born and that she wanted something for her baby that she hadn't had.
"Maybe so, but do I look worried, Sunny? I'm a big girl. I like challenges, and besides, we don't always get what we want. Sometimes that's a blessing, especially where Dennis was concerned," she said with a wide smile that didn't exactly work. No matter, she'd spent her whole life brazening through. People here expected it of her and didn't fault her for it.
"We'd still like you to have a good, honest, steadfast man," Lydia said.
"For the baby," Abby said slowly. "Not for me." She was adamant about that. Everyone knew that. She'd told them before that that wasn't what she wanted. "No dynamics, no good looks, doesn't have to be a genius and definitely shouldn't be strong willed. I think one in a family is enough. Just a good, simple, kind man who wants a child and won't mind having a wife to boot. But that's no problem. I'm on it. I've already talked to Thomasina, and we're going to take our time about finding a good fit, so I want you all to stop worrying."
For several seconds after she uttered the name of the local matchmaker, there was dead silence in the room.
Probably it was partly because in the past few lean years they'd all considered going to the matchmaker once or twice themselves. But just as much of the strained silence was due to the fact that none of them really had any faith in Thomasina's abilities to come up with the right man. Thomasina herself was still single at age thirty-nine, and with the dearth of men the last few years, even the overly optimistic matchmaker had given up trying to fix people up. She'd only ventured back into business a few days ago, and no woman at the Red Rose had signed on. The general consensus was that a woman who couldn't find her own man wasn't likely to find one for another woman.
"Oh. Thomasina. That's good," Delia finally said, and Abby almost thought Delia was going to pat her hand the way one would pat a small child to make them feel better. "But if by some chance Thomasina doesn't manage to find someone, maybe the new businesses that Parker and Ellie are bringing to town will sweep someone along who'll suit. You know we love you, Abby. And I do wish you'd find someone handsome and charming and passionate and ... oh ... just perfect!"
Excerpted from Midas's Bride by Myrna Mackenzie Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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