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Hannah Bell figured she had a few days at the most to decide whether to run or stand her ground. She'd never considered herself a coward, but she was leaning toward running. She'd be leaving behind her loving, close-knit family, a marketing job she'd trained for all her life and her cozy manufactured home in the family owned Texas lake resort where she'd grown up. She would miss this tidy little two-bedroom trailer, the first place she'd ever lived that was hers alone.
Sitting in her neutral-toned living room, she sighed heavily, one hand on her swollen tummy as she silently conceded she wouldn't be going anywhere. As inviting as it sounded to disappear before the inevitable confrontation with Andrew Walker, she would stay and face the consequences of her own unprecedented behavior on one reckless winter night. It wouldn't do any good to run anyway. Andrew was a P.I. He'd find her if he wanted to. Would he want to?
Four rapid knocks sounded on her front door—her sister Maggie's characteristic signal. "It's unlocked," she called out, too tired to rise.
Maggie entered carrying a plastic cup with a straw. It was almost five, so she was probably finished with her work for the day. Maggie had chosen the job of housekeeping supervisor, hiring and overseeing the cleaning staff for the sixteen-unit motel and eight cabins available for rent in the resort. Having majored in business and Spanish in college, Maggie performed her job efficiently and cheerfully. She kept her employees on task and held them to high standards of cleanliness and customer service, yet they still liked her and would gladly do anything she asked. Hannah had always been impressed with her sister's easy people skills. Even though she worked closely with the public herself in her role as marketing and scheduling supervisor for the resort, along with manning the front desk for check-ins, she was more naturally reserved and had to put a little more effort into her interactions.
"I brought you a strawberry smoothie," Maggie said. "I figured you could use an energy boost."
Hannah accepted the cup gratefully. "Thanks, sis."
"You're welcome. So, big news about Shelby and Aaron Walker, huh?"
Swallowing a gulp of the cold, fruity beverage, Hannah nodded, giving herself a moment to choose her words before answering. "I was shocked to hear Shelby's gotten involved with Aaron Walker. But, then, I didn't even know Andrew's brother was here."
Having been out of the state for a couple of weeks visiting their mother's relatives in Shreveport, Hannah had missed the recent excitement here at Bell Resort and Marina, a business her family had owned for three generations. Her impetuous and imaginative cousin Shelby had suspected that a man renting one of the vacation cabins was involved in something illegal and had found herself in danger when she'd been proven right. Hannah shuddered to think of the knife that had been held to Shelby's throat only the day before. Maggie had told her all about the nightmarish scene and about Aaron's daring rescue of their cousin. Shelby sported an ugly bruise on one cheek from the ordeal.
Hannah would bet it would be a while before the family recovered from that shock, especially right on the heels of Shelby's older brother Steven's accident. He'd broken his leg and suffered a concussion when he'd overturned a mowing tractor while working around the campgrounds. Two near-tragedies in less than a week had been hard on their grandparents, not to mention Steven and Shelby's parents. The family needed a few days of peace and comfortable routines.
Hannah was going to do her best to keep from upsetting them for a while. She had shocked them enough when she'd announced her pregnancy a couple months ago when it had started to become obvious. Now six months along, she still refused to name the father. She had let them believe her condition was the result of an impulsive and completely uncharacteristic one-night stand, which was true, with someone they didn't know, which was not exactly accurate. She had made it quite clear that she wanted this child, that while her pregnancy might have been an accident, she would never label it a mistake. And bless their hearts, her family had rallied around her. She had no doubt they would welcome the newest member of their family with love and joy.
Sitting in a chair with the bottled water she'd brought for herself, Maggie brushed back her sun-streaked brown hair and studied Hannah with long-lashed hazel eyes. Hannah's hair was a darker brown than her sister's and her eyes were emerald-green. They would never be mistaken for twins, but she knew there were family resemblances between them, from their mother's coloring to their father's cheekbones.
"So, how are you feeling?" Maggie asked. "You looked pretty shaky when you arrived this morning."
"That was probably too long a drive to make without more breaks," Hannah admitted. "I thought leaving Grammy's house at dawn to avoid the heat of the day was a good idea, but maybe I should have slept in a little longer."
"You're going to have to take better care of yourself," Maggie fussed. "Eat better, get more rest. You can't just—" She stopped with a laugh. "Oh, gosh, I sound like Mom, don't I?"
Hannah smiled. "You do, but thanks for the concern anyway. I'll be more careful."
"You have a doctor's appointment this week?"
"Yes, Friday. I'm having an ultrasound, so maybe this time I'll finally see if it's a boy or a girl." She was eager to know the sex, but the little peanut hadn't cooperated by getting into the right position during her earlier scan. Her ob-gyn had assured her they would probably know by the end of the upcoming visit.
Maggie grinned. "I can't wait to find out if I'm having a niece or a nephew. I'm going to be the coolest aunt ever."
Hannah laughed. "I have no doubt."
Sobering, Maggie set her water bottle aside. "You should probably tell your doctor you almost fainted this morning. Your face went so white it scared me."
Hannah concentrated on stirring her smoothie with the plastic straw. "Like I said, I was just tired."
She had no intention of admitting that the unexpected sight of Aaron Walker standing with the rest of her family in the resort diner had drained all the blood from her head. For a heart-stopping moment, she'd mistaken him for his identical twin. She'd thought Andrew was there to see her, and a dozen panicked questions had flashed through her mind—most notably, had he somehow found out about the pregnancy?
Aaron had reached out to steady her when she'd swayed, and she'd realized almost instantly that he wasn't Andrew. Even had he not worn his dark coffee-colored hair longer than his brother, she'd have known the truth with one look at his face. There was something in his eyes that was fundamentally different from Andrew's, something she couldn't quite define but recognized nonetheless. She couldn't say she remembered much more about that meeting with Aaron, other than to make note that Aaron and Shelby had just announced they were a couple and that Aaron would be staying to work in the resort. Which meant it was inevitable that Andrew would eventually visit again to see his brother.
She rested a hand on her stomach, feeling the baby do a lazy turn inside.
"Have you decided on names yet?" Maggie asked.
"Not yet. I'll wait until I know the sex."
Maggie slipped in one more question in the same chatty tone. "Told the dad yet?"
Hannah gave her a look. While the rest of the family had accepted her refusal to discuss the matter, her younger sister didn't give up so easily. "No."
"Yes." She had always planned to do so eventually, though she'd yet to decide how or when. She'd thought she had two or three more months to figure it out. Now it seemed her time was up.
As if in confirmation of that acknowledgment, her cell phone chirped to announce a text message. She checked it warily, and was not as surprised as she probably should have been to see the sender's name.
"I have to run to town for a little while," she said, setting her half-empty smoothie cup aside.
Maggie blinked in surprise. "I thought you were going to rest this afternoon."
"I've rested all day. There are some things I need to do now because I plan to be back at my desk first thing in the morning."
Looking concerned, Maggie rose as Hannah did. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"No, thanks. I won't be long." At least she hoped not.
She rested a hand on Maggie's arm. "I'm okay," she said, trying to sound reassuring. "There's just something I need to see to, okay?"
"You'll let me know if you need me?"
"You know I will."
Even though Maggie didn't look happy about it, she let her go. Hannah drew a deep breath for courage as she headed for the door.
* * *
The public boat launch was set on a cove a fifteen-minute drive away from the Bell Resort and Marina. Shaded by tall leafy trees, it consisted of little more than the launch ramp, a parking lot and a few picnic tables. The place was nearly deserted on this Monday afternoon in mid-June, though a couple of parked trucks with empty boat trailers attached indicated fishermen would return later. A dark gray sports car looked out of place among the pickup-and-trailer combos.
Parking her own sensible little sedan, Hannah glanced through the windshield at the dark-haired, dark-eyed man who was watching her gravely from one of the picnic tables. He sat backward on the bench, facing the parking lot, his long legs stretched out in front of him. Wearing a blue polo shirt and jeans, Andrew Walker looked casual and relaxed, as though he had nothing more on his mind than an appreciation of the warm, cloudless afternoon. Hannah knew that impression was deceptive.
It wasn't their first time to meet alone here. They'd come here to talk when he'd worked for her family early last August, trying to help them clean up the mess her ex-husband—now known in the family as "the evil ex"—had deliberately created. It wasn't easy finding privacy among her ever-present family at the resort, so she'd brought Andrew here one afternoon to discuss the case frankly, telling him things about her failed marriage she hadn't confided even to her relatives. She'd ended up sobbing into his shoulder, a memory that still made her cringe with embarrassment, but he'd been so kind and understanding that she'd probably fallen a little in love with him that very afternoon. She'd done her best to hide her feelings for him—feelings she neither trusted nor expected to lead anywhere—until that momentous, wholly unexpected night in December.
She couldn't keep procrastinating getting out of her car. She refused to look like a coward in front of Andrew, despite the nerves quivering inside of her. Chin held high, she opened her door and climbed out. She hadn't gained much weight so far during her pregnancy. Her sister teased her that it looked as though she had a basketball tucked beneath her shirt because the rest of her body was pretty much unchanged. Giving one self-conscious tug to the peasant-styled yellow top she wore with drawstring white cotton pants, she walked toward Andrew.
He rose as she approached. To give him credit, his gaze focused on her face, not her tummy. He wore his dark coffee-colored hair short, neatly trimmed, brushed off his clean-shaven face. His eyes were almost black. His jaw was firm, his nose straight, lips beautifully shaped, though stern now. He was still the best-looking man she'd ever known—though of course, Aaron looked exactly like him with the exception of a longer hairstyle. Yet looking at Aaron that morning, she'd instantly decided Andrew was still the more handsome—a ridiculous fancy, even though she held that same belief now.
Bypassing a greeting, Andrew went straight to the question she had expected. "Why didn't you call me?"
She cleared her throat, wishing she'd prepared herself somewhat better for this conversation. "What makes you think you're—"
"Hannah—" he gave her a look "—don't even think about it."
She sighed in surrender. "Fine."
She'd simply been stalling for time anyway. Even if she wanted to—which she didn't—there was no way she'd convince Andrew he wasn't the father of this baby. He could count on his fingers as well as any guy. And even though they'd spent only a few short weeks in each other's company during the ten months since they'd met, he'd gotten to know her well enough that he would have no doubt that night with him had been an anomaly for her.
"Were you going to tell me?"
She nodded slowly. "Yes."
"Soon. I just—" She paused, then shrugged. "I didn't know what to say."
Both his voice and his expression softened in response to her helpless tone. "I can understand that."
She clasped her hands in front of her and looked down at them, unable to meet Andrew's eyes just then.
His hands were gentle when they fell on her shoulders, but still her pulse raced in response to his touch. "Are you okay? You haven't had any problems?"
She shook her head. "I'm in perfect health. And so is the baby."
His gaze lowered then, focusing on her middle. He cleared his throat. "Is it—do you know if it's a boy or a girl?"
"I'll find out Friday."
His eyes rose and she saw the emotions he'd concealed to this point. She had learned during their one night together that the rather stoic control Andrew usually displayed masked an intense, passionate nature. Memories of that passion made her catch her breath, her heart thudding hard against her chest. A muscle flexed in Andrew's jaw and the slightest tremor moved his fingers against her shoulders, making her suspect the same images were flashing through his mind. She felt her cheeks warm in a way that had nothing to do with the hot afternoon temperature.
Andrew dropped his hands a little too abruptly, shoving them into his pockets. By unspoken agreement, they both shifted to put another couple of inches between them.
"Have you told your family? About me?" he clarified. She shook her head. "They have no idea. I never even told them I saw you in Dallas in December."
So much of that fateful evening had hinged on impulse. She'd been in Dallas for an annual holiday gathering with some college friends, and had dropped by Andrew's office with the excuse of giving him an update about her ex-husband's sentencing—which he'd already known, having kept up with the case. He'd politely asked her to dinner and they'd had drinks at her hotel afterward. One thing had led to another, and then
Automatically, she rested a hand on her stomach.
"I guess Aaron told you I was pregnant." She'd known that was inevitable from the moment she'd seen Aaron with Shelby.
Andrew nodded. "It slipped into our conversation earlier today. Needless to say, it threw me for a loop. I—well, I guess the precautions we took that night weren't enough. I know there's always a chance, but still."
The awkwardness was unlike him, merely another sign of how shaken he'd been. "You didn't say anything to Aaron about—"
He quickly shook his head. "I just threw some things in a bag and headed this way."
Normally it was a four-hour drive from Dallas to the resort. Hannah suspected Andrew had made it in less today.
She twisted her fingers more tightly together. "You're coming to the resort?"
"Would you—could we not say anything to the family just yet? About your being the father, I mean. We'll tell them," she added quickly, when he started to frown, "just not until we've had more time to talk privately about things."
To her relief, he nodded to concede that she had a valid point. "We will need to talk."
"Yes." And she dreaded it. Everything was so complicated. "But it's going to take a while. And I can't do it now, the family will be wondering where I am. The way I rushed off without an explanation, they'll be worried if I don't go back soon."
He didn't look particularly pleased with the delay, but he didn't try to argue. "So how are we playing this?"
"We'll show up at the resort at different times so they won't know we've already seen each other. You can go ahead, I need to stop by the store anyway."
"And I suppose you'll be completely surprised to find me at the resort when you get back."
She shrugged, intending to play it exactly that way.
Andrew sighed and ran a hand over his hair. "Fine. We'll do it your way. I'll keep your secret. For now. But somehow or another we'll have to find opportunities to talk, and soon."
Posted May 6, 2013
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