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It took her a second to realize that the sigh she heard echoing in the small, converted bedroom that served as her office was her own.
Lost in thoughts of the past and preoccupied, Dr. Eve Walters had thought that the deep sigh had come from Tessa, the German shepherd she'd rescued from a sadistic owner a little more than two years ago. On occasion Tessa, currently curled up under her desk, was given to sighing just like a human being. Considering the life she'd led both B.R.—before rescue—and A.R.—after rescue—the sighs were more than merited. Before, Eve was certain, the dog's sighs had been of the fearful, hopeless variety while now, with Tessa's weight a third more than what it had been when she'd first been rescued, the German shepherd's sighs sounded as if she was exceedingly content with her new life and just couldn't believe her good fortune.
Lately, Eve had become aware of sighing a great deal herself, as if she couldn't catch her breath. And couldn't believe the twists and turns that had brought her to this point.
She supposed she could just shrug her shoulders and attribute her deeps sighs to the fact that she wasn't accustomed to carrying around this much weight, but if she were being honest, the cause for her sighs went a great deal deeper. Never in her wildest dreams did Eve think she would find herself in this position: approaching thirty in a few months, single, alone and very, very pregnant.
Tears suddenly gathered in her eyes and she held them back by sheer will. God, but she was emotional lately. Well, she was not going to cry. She wasn't.
Another sigh escaped.
How in heaven's name had she come to this state?
Okay, she was gregarious and fun-loving, but never, ever would anyone have called her reckless. She was always known as the stable one, the one everyone else turned to in times of crisis.
When her mother, Evelyn, had died suddenly on Eve's second day of middle school, Eve was the one who was there for her veterinarian father, Warren, and her older sister, Angela—not the other way around. This while she secretly yearned for someone to comfort her. But she couldn't indulge herself, couldn't sink into self-pity no matter how much she wanted to. Others depended on her. And she always came through.
Beneath her genial, warm smile she was the living embodiment of the old adage, "Look before you leap." Not only did she look, she would take out a surveyor's level and plot every single step from there to here each and every time. It wasn't that she didn't like surprises; she just didn't like being caught unaware. And it certainly wasn't like her to give in to impulse and allow herself to be so completely swept away, especially by a man she'd hardly known.
A man she didn't know at all, Eve thought bitterly.
Eve blew out a breath and dragged a hand through the flowing mane of wayward dark blond hair. She stared at the computer screen on her laptop, silently seeking answers she knew weren't about to materialize. Barring that, she needed a distraction.
My kingdom for a distraction, she thought whimsically.
After shutting down the animal hospital for the night, the animal hospital that had once borne only her father's nameplate across the front door and where she had grown up, surrounded by animals in need of care and a kind, gentle father, Eve had gone home and retreated to her inner office. She'd turned on her computer to do a little research into the condition of the near-blinded dachshund that had been brought in today, searching for a possible way to reverse, or at least halt the condition. Searching, she supposed, for a miracle.
How she'd gotten to a chat room for expectant single moms was almost as mysterious to her as how she'd gotten in this condition in the first place.
Actually more so, she mused.
Of course she knew all about the mechanics of becoming pregnant, but it was how and why she'd gotten to that point that utterly mystified her. In hindsight, it just didn't seem possible.
She knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life, had known ever since she could remember. At least she'd known professionally. She was exactly what she wanted to be: a veterinarian, caring for a host of dogs and cats just the way her father had.
What she wanted for her private life was another matter. Oh, she knew that she wanted to go the traditional route. Wanted a husband and a family. Eventually.
She would have sworn that she hadn't wanted to reverse that order, but apparently she had no choice in the matter now.
Unless, as her sister in Sacramento had urged, she give up the baby.
There was no way Eve wanted to do that. Not because she viewed the little passenger she was carrying around as a love child, the living testimony of the passion that had existed between her and Adam. No, that didn't enter into it at all. The baby, whose due date Eve's ob-gyn had calculated was still a long two weeks away, was an extension of her, a little person whom for reasons that were beyond her, God had seen fit to entrust to her.
She was even looking forward to holding the baby in her arms. But she wasn't looking forward to dealing with being alone at a time when the baby's father's emotional support would have meant so much.
The latter was her own fault, she supposed.
No one had told her to pick up in the middle of the night and flee from Santa Barbara, secretly running back home to Laguna Beach.
"But how couldn't I?" she said aloud.
Tessa, dead to the world only a heartbeat ago, raised her head and looked at Eve with deep brown eyes. The next second, seeing that there was no emergency, Tessa went back to sleep.
Leaning over, Eve ran her hand over the dog's head, struggled to bank down her agitation. Petting her dog usually helped calm her.
But not tonight.
Tonight, the agitation refused to leave, refused to budge.
Maybe it was because tonight was Halloween, she thought. Maybe that was why she couldn't seem to shake the feeling that someone was watching her.
She sighed again.
Adam Smythe had been almost stereotypically handsome, not to mention the last word in "sexy." Added to that he was charming and he had taken her breath away from the very first moment she'd walked into his rare, first-editions bookstore. The moment he had looked her way, she'd felt as if an arrow had been shot straight into her heart.
At the time she'd been looking for a special birthday present for her father. Warren Walters loved everything that had ever come from Mark Twain's pen. What she'd wound up getting, along with a fairly well-preserved first edition of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, was a prepackaged heartache.
Oh, Adam hadn't looked like a heartache at first or even at tenth glance. He looked like a drop-dead gorgeous specimen of manhood who, given that this was California, she wouldn't have been surprised if the tall, dark-haired, green-eyed man had said he was just running the bookstore until that big acting break came that would propel him into being the country's next great heartthrob.
To add to this image, Adam was soft-spoken, slightly reserved, and he exuded such a powerful aura of authority that he'd instantly made her feel safe.
Eve laughed now, shaking her head at her incredible naiveté.
Talk about getting the wrong signal.
There had been nothing safe about Adam. He made her lose control in a heartbeat. Some of the boys in high school, and then college, she recalled, had referred to her as the Ice Princess.
"I certainly melted fast enough with him," she told her faithful, sleeping companion. Tessa didn't even stir this time.
One dinner had been all it had taken and she was ready to completely surrender her self-imposed code of ethics and abandon the way she'd behaved for her entire adult life without so much as a backward glance. When Adam had leaned over to brush back a loose strand of hair from her cheek, she turned into a furnace. Raging heat flashed through her limbs. Through her entire body.
And then he'd kissed her.
God, when Adam kissed her, she'd felt as if she were literally having an out-of-body experience.
And suddenly, without warning, Adam had drawn away and she came crashing down to earth like a speeding meteorite. A very confused meteorite.
She was accustomed to men being the aggressors, to having to somehow diplomatically hold them at bay without hurting their feelings or their egos. But this had been the other way around. Adam had been the one who had pulled back. And she had been the one who ultimately pushed.
Very simply, there'd been something about Adam that had turned her inside out. Their night together was the stuff of fantasies.
And then, just like that, all her thoughts centered around him. She couldn't wait until the next time they were together, couldn't wait to hear the sound of his voice, to catch a whiff of the scent that was the combination of his shaving cream mixing with his aftershave.
Adam had become her sun and anytime she wasn't around him, she felt as if she'd been plunged into soul-consuming darkness.
What a crock.
How could she, a heretofore intelligent woman, have been so blind, so dumb?
Smitten teenage girls—very young smitten teenage girls—felt this way, not a woman who practiced veterinarian medicine, who was a responsible, levelheaded and dedicated person.
Except that she had.
Into every paradise, a snake must slither and her paradise was no different. It occurred shortly after the first time—the only time—that they made love.
The phrase lingered now in her brain like a haunting refrain.
Even today, knowing what she knew, it was still hard not to feel the excitement pulsing through her body at the mere memory of those precious, exquisite moments she'd spent lost in Adam's arms, in his embrace. Even though it seemed impossible, he was simultaneously the most gentle, caring, yet passionate lover ever created. And he had been hers.
Looking back, she could honestly say, if only to herself, that they hadn't made love. They had made poetry.
Remembering the moment, Eve felt her body aching for him.
"Stop it," she upbraided herself.
Tessa raised her head, this time quickly, as if she was ready to dart away, afraid that she'd caused her mistress some displeasure. Displeasure that brought punishment with it.
Eve instantly felt guilty. "No, not you, girl," she said in a soothing voice, running her hand over the dog's head and stroking it. "I'm just talking to myself." She looked at the dog and smiled sadly. "Too bad you can't talk, then maybe my thoughts wouldn't keep getting carried away like this."
Calmed, Tessa lowered her head again, resting it on her paws. She was asleep in less than a minute, this time snoring gently.
Eve smiled at her, shaking her head. "I love you the way you are, but I wish you were human."
She craved companionship, someone to communicate with. But her father was gone. He had died less than a month after she'd come back home. Heartbroken, she'd handled all the funeral arrangements. Angela and her family had come down on the day of the funeral and had left by its end. Angela had left a trail of excuses in her wake. Eve didn't blame her. Angela and her family had a life to get back to.
It was several days after her father's funeral, as she wandered around the empty house, looking for a place for herself, that she finally had to admit what she had been trying desperately to ignore. She was pregnant.
At least her father had been spared that, Eve thought, forever trying to look on the bright side of things.
Eve knew he would have been there for her, supporting her—unlike her sister—no matter what her decision regarding the baby's future. But somewhere deep down inside, Eve was fairly certain her father would have felt disappointed. He'd always thought of her as perfect.
Again, she shook her head, her sad smile barely moving the corners of her mouth. "'Fraid not, Dad. So far from perfect, it would boggle your mind."
Just then, she felt a sharp pain. The baby was kicking. Again. It had been restless all day.
Probably tired of its closed quarters, Eve thought. Maybe he or she was claustrophobic, the way she was.
Without thinking, Eve lifted one hand from the keyboard and placed it over the swell of her abdomen, massaging the area that was the origin of the pain this time, even though it did no good.
Was it her imagination, or was she growing bigger and bigger by the hour?
"Won't be long now, baby," she murmured to her stomach.
She had a little more than two weeks to go. Part of her couldn't wait to finally have this all over with, to give birth and meet this little person who had turned her world completely upside down. The other part of her was content to let this state continue. She was terrified of the delivery. Not of what she imagined would be the pain, she'd helped birth enough animals to know exactly what to expect in that respect. No, she was afraid of what lay ahead after the birthing pains had subsided. When the real challenge kicked in.
"You know it's selfish of you to keep it," Angela had told her for the umpteenth time when she'd called last week. There was a knowing air of superiority in her sister's voice. Angela was convinced she always knew what was best. "It needs a mother and a father. Since you decided to have it, you really should give it up for adoption."
"'It' is a baby," Eve had shot back, one of the few times she'd lost her temper. But she was thoroughly annoyed at the flippant, cavalier way her sister was talking to her. Angela was acting as if she had the inside track on how to live life the right way just because she was married and had the idyllic number of children: two, a boy and a girl. "And what the baby needs is a mother who loves unconditionally."
"Obviously," had been Angela's snide retort. Eve knew that her older sister referred not to her loving the baby, but to the situation that had resulted in the creation of this baby. "Look, why won't you tell the father that he has a responsibility—"
Eve cut her short. "Because I won't, that's all. Subject closed," she'd said firmly.
She wasn't about to tell Angela the reason she wouldn't notify Adam of his paternity.