Read an Excerpt
The first knock on Riley O'Rourke's door was hesitant. The second was stronger.
Riley opened the door to the May day, expecting to see a friend. Family never knocked when they visited his house in the woods. They barged in. However, when he saw Brenna McDougall, his heart skipped at least one beat and his chest tightened because
She was holding a baby!
Riley's marine training was the only thing keeping him standing while his head spun. The infant looked to be about six weeks old. Six weeks old.
Keep your head on straight. Listen to her before you make a giant leap to the wrong conclusion.
"Hi, Riley," Brenna said brightly. Then her confidence seemed to fade. "Maybe I should have called first, but I thought this was the best way to do it."
"Do what?" He was proud his voice remained even as he remembered their fifteenth-year high school reunion, their passionate night in his bed, then her departure without a word or a goodbye or a note.
"I had a baby. Derek is your son."
Seeing Brenna again had knocked him for a loop, but her statement of his paternity felt like a sucker punch.
A former marine, he never lost his composurenot in the field, not in his post-military life. Raking his fingers through the black hair that had grown out over the past year, he recovered quickly. Yet he couldn't take his gaze off of the little boy in Brenna's arms.
"I guess you'd better come in," he said, wishing he'd taken a shower, wishing he and Brenna didn't have a past between them full of regrets.
Brenna held on to Derek as if he was the most precious bundle on earth. She rubbed her cheek against the baby's and murmured something soft something Riley didn't understand.
"He's just waking up," she explained. "He was so good on the plane. And he fell asleep again on the drive from Flagstaff to Miners Bluff. I came straight here."
Another surprise. Why hadn't she driven to her parents' first? After all, Brenna was the obedient, loyal daughter. Okay. He was still cynical about that.
Although she'd been in his house the night of their reunion last summer, her gaze wandered over it as if she were seeing it for the first time. One word could describe his placecomfortable. After living in the desert, in barracks, huts and bunkers, he'd wanted comfortable as well as enough furniture to seat a good portion of his family. With his dad, two brothers and a sister who sometimes dropped in unexpectedly, he needed a place for them to land.
With Derek in her arms Brenna turned around, assessing the long sofa and Western-patterned earth tones, the native-stone hearth, the recliner. There were two cushy chairs angled to watch the large-screen TV. Outside the dining area's sliding glass doors, she could glimpse a patio with its brick wall and outdoor fireplace.
Still, Riley wasn't concerned about her opinion of his house.
Anger created a slow burn through his blood. "Why didn't you tell me you were pregnant?"
When she looked up at him with her sea-green eyes and pushed her long blond hair over her shoulder in a nervous gesture that had been a habit since high school, he almost forgot to listen.
"It's complicated?" he snapped. When he realized his voice was a little too rough with a baby present, even though that baby had his blue eyes, he vowed to stay calm.
His gruffness didn't seem to intimidate Brenna. After she stole a glance at him, she went to sit on the long sofa, settling the baby, who was dressed in a blue-and-white-striped onesie, in the crook of her arm. Derek waved his arms and smiled, if a six-week-old could smile. Brenna obviously thought he could because she smiled back and tickled his tummy.
But her smile slid away as her gaze met Riley's. "I couldn't get back to Miners Bluff before now."
"Cell phone service might be a little spotty out here, but I do have a landline. I'm listed in the Miners Bluff directory."
She ran her thumb over the embroidered puppy on Derek's outfit. "I needed time, Riley, to figure out what I wanted to do. I was in the middle of designing a new bridal gown collection. I had orders for custom gowns. I had a show in March and then I went into labor early"
He crossed his arms over his chest. "So?"
"So I just didn't know how I was going to handle all of it any of it.. you."
"You wanted to handle me?"
Now her temper flared. "You know what I mean. I live in New York. You live here. I didn't know how you'd feel about me being pregnant. It wasn't as if we we "
"Picked up where we left off the summer after high school?"
"The night of the reunion, we knew we were having a fling for old times' sake."
Old times' sake. She'd hit that nail on its proverbial head.
The night of the reunion they'd fallen into the past and hadn't cared about the future. But now here she was, sitting on his sofa with his son.
Some of the shock was wearing off now, and as he approached the sofa and sat beside Brenna, the scent of her perfume, the curves of her body, the glossiness of her blond hair aroused him, just as they had when they'd danced the night of the reunion.
He steeled himself against the attraction that had begun when they were teenagers. "Can I hold him?"
Her eyes widened as if she hadn't expected that. A reluctance seemed to come over her and he wondered what that was about. If he didn't put her at ease, she could walk out that door and fly back to New York.
"I won't drop him," he said, with his own attempt at a smile, although it didn't come easy. "Whenever I was home on leave, I handled my brothers' and sister's kids."
Brenna smoothed Derek's wavy black hair, then lifted him, warning, "You have to support his head."
Those two words, I know, had an underlying message. As their gazes met, video flashed through his mind of himself and Brenna exploring each other. Their cravings when they were teenagers had defied their families' hostility. Rebellion and defiance at work?
How stupid they'd been as teenagers. How reckless as adults.
As he took his son into his arms, Riley's heart almost stopped. A protective urge he'd never felt before washed over him as he supported Derek's head and then cradled his son in his arms.
He was a father!
Or was he? He had to ask the question, especially since Brenna had said she'd gone into labor early. "Are you sure he's mine?"
There was a look on Brenna's face that he couldn't decipher. He wasn't sure if it was indignation or hurt. When she blinked, it disappeared and she lifted her chin. He knew that gesture. She was going to defend herself for all she was worth.
"I gave birth to Derek two weeks before my due date. I haven't slept with anyone but you for a very long time."
A very long time. Exactly what did she mean by that? Months? A year? Two? And why not? Brenna was even more beautiful now than she'd been in high school, with long golden hair, green eyes, a face that could have rivaled Helen of Troy's. Oh, Lord, he was turning poetic. Brenna had always done that to him and he'd felt like a fool because of it. Yet as he sat next to her, realized her breasts were a little fuller, her hips a little rounder, an instinctive primal reaction he'd always had to her threatened to override any good thoughts or sense.
"But if you want a DNA test, no problem." She glanced at him again and then added, "Maybe you don't want a DNA test. Maybe you don't want any part of " She took a breath then motioned to her son. "Derek."
Brenna had come from money, was beautiful, intelligent and always self-assured. But today there was an air of uncertainty about her. Because she hadn't known what his reaction would be?
"I haven't heard the roof blow off your parents' house. Did you tell them who you think the father is?"
"I don't think. I know!" She reached over and touched Derek's little hand. Her arm grazed his and the awareness between them was instantaneous and potent, as it had been from the beginning.
His gaze drifted from her eyes to the pulse at her throat and it was fluttering rapidly. So was his. He waited.
"They don't know about Derek."
Riley felt suddenly confused. "They don't know he's a boy? They don't know you've had him? They don't know I'm the father?"
"All of the above." Her voice faltered and he saw that she was tired from the trip and filled with anxiety.
"You didn't tell them you were pregnant? How could they not know? Didn't you see them at Christmas?" After all, the McDougalls were a close-knit family. They celebrated holidays. They kept traditions. They did everything right. Except Angus McDougall wasn't always so right when it came to business.
"I didn't really start showing until my sixth month. When they came to New York for Christmas, I wore heavy sweaters. They didn't notice and I didn't let on."
"Because?" he prompted.
"Because I didn't want any interference. When I left Miners Bluff, it was for a reason. You know that. I had trunk shows planned for winter and a collection to get out."
He hadn't been able to keep the real amusement from his voice. She gave in and shot him a half-smile. That smile was like a kick to the gut.
"I bring other designers' gowns into my store and they show mine. It's a great sales tool."
She'd learned all about sales from wandering after her father in his department store downtown. The idea of that department store and of what Angus McDougall had done to his father could always make Riley see red.
As if Brenna knew that and didn't want to get in to it, she hurried on. "I wasn't sure what I was going to do, if I was going to come back here."
"If you were going to tell me?"
Derek suddenly became restless, fretful, and Riley knew his son had probably caught that edge of anger in his voice. Careful once again to support the baby's head, Riley picked him up, his hand practically spanning from Derek's hair to midway down his back. He spoke to him softly and then nestled him in his arm once again. The baby quieted under his care.
"You're good with him." Brenna seemed really surprised.
"Brenna, you're going to have to start trusting me." He saw the look in her eyes that said she didn't, the look that told him old insecurities die hard. She'd never really known if he'd dated her and bedded her in high school to get revenge on her father. It might have started that way, but in the end, he'd been tied up in knots over her.
And what had she done? She'd been loyal to her family and she'd left.
How could they ever raise a child together when they didn't trust each other?
"Trust goes two ways, Riley," she said. "We'll get that DNA test."
"I know a good pediatrician my sister uses. I can probably make an appointment for tomorrow."
"Next day maybe?"
He was about to make a comment about postponing the inevitable when she held up her hand. "I don't think I can face my parents tonight. I called The Purple Pansy Bed and Breakfast and Mikala's aunt, Anna Conti, has a suite free. I'm going to take Derek there for tonight. I'll go to see my parents in the morning." Mikala had been one of their high school classmates.
"Wait a minute." Riley held the baby a little tighter. "You just got here. I don't know how long you're going to stay, and I deserve a chance to be with my son. You don't even have the supplies you need, do you? Diapers? Formula?"
"I packed enough diapers and I'm breastfeeding. I do have some formula, too. I came prepared."
Brenna was that type, usually always prepared. He could see how that would be a good trait as a mom. "All right, so you have what you need. But I need time with him. Stay here tonight until we figure things out."
She went completely still and he could see she was trying to gauge his level of sincerity. "You want to change diapers, too?"
"That's part of being a dad, isn't it?"
"It is, though a part a lot of parents like to skip."
"Some parents skip out altogether. We both know that. That's not going to happen here." There was a very good reason he didn't trust women. His mother had left Miners Bluff for the "good" life. Essentially Brenna had done the same. She wouldn't go public with what they'd felt when they were young. She wouldn't defy her parents and admit her feelings about him. She'd felt leaving was better than staying. He wondered if she knew that's what had eventually led to him joining the marines.
This time, without any hesitation at all, she reached over and touched his thigh. Her fingers on his skin were a searing heat. "Riley, I didn't mean to suggest"
To his relief, Derek started fussing again. This time he was grateful and didn't croon or rock. He wasn't going to revisit his broken-up family life with Brenna. He wasn't going to let her touch turn him inside out.
When she reached for Derek, Riley let her lift the baby from his arms to walk with him.
He was gripped by longing he didn't begin to understand. He rose to his feet and with his best military voice, asked, "So will you stay here tonight? Stay here while you're in Miners Bluff?"
Brenna seemed to weigh all of her options. Finally she responded, "I'll stay tonight, then we'll go from there."
One night. He had one night to convince her he could be a proper father one night to convince her he wasn't and would never be like his dad.