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When Annette Olsen saw the dark cowboy walk into the Orbit Diner, her heart rate nearly spiked through the roof.
And it wasn't only because he was a tall drink of water, dressed all in black from his worn boots to his jeans, to the belt with the shiny rodeo championship buckle, to his Western shirt and hat that tilted over his brow.
No, even though the enigmatic Jared Colton was enough to put steam into any woman's steps, Annette had been waiting for the man to stop by for his frequent early lunch because, oddly enough, she had come across something she was sure he was going to want.
She smiled at her only customers as she finished checking on them. "Just let me know when you're ready to pay up." Then she headed for the counter and ultimately the back room before Jared could sit in his usual stool by the glassdomed pies.
"Fancy seeing you here," she said lightly, passing right by him.
When his dark-eyed gaze lit on her, her pulse gave a brutal jerk. But she stilled it, as she always did.
It wasn't like she had much of a choice, not if she wanted to keep a sense of privacy and stay as far under the radar as she'd been doing these past months.
He gave her one of those lopsided grins of his, a boon that not many others in St. Valentine ever saw, probably because Annette never got into the quiet cowboy's business or asked him too many questions about why he had stayed around St. Valentine for so long.
She could appreciate a person with secrets, she thought. After all, she had more than enough herself.
"I thought I'd surprise everyone by varying my lunch routine," he said. "I'm impulsive that way."
She laughed at his facetiousness, and he did, too. His hat still rode low, giving a slight shadow to the rest of his face, but she could tell that he was running a look over her. The slow brush of tingles down her body didn't lie.
Before she could stop herself, she rested a hand over her belly, which she'd been trying to hide with a baggier waitress uniform.
She was seven months along, her belly just now popping, and she was trying so hard to keep anyone from knowing. Not yet, at least, because that was when people would start asking about the father.
Had Jared been looking hard enough at her to notice a weight gain? Was he about to ask a million questions that she'd been avoiding ever since she'd come to this town months ago, dirt flying out from under her tires, her wedding dress crumpled in a heap in the trunk of her Pontiac?
If her pulse had been jogging before, it was definitely racing now as she kept waiting for Jared to say something.