Read an Excerpt
"Wake up, Marti. I think we're close and I need guidance."
Marti Grayson opened her eyes at the sound of her brother's voice and sat up from her slump against the inside of his car door.
"Sorry. I wasn't much company, was I?"
"None," Ry said good-naturedly. "You fell asleep two miles from Missoula and you've been out ever since."
"That's been happening a lot lately. I'm told it comes with the territorypregnancy hormones or something," she said before focusing her attention outside of the vehicle. "Northbridge?" she asked.
"That's what the sign said. But you tell me, you're the one who's been here before."
"For one night, three weeks ago. I got in late that Monday afternoon and left Tuesday morning."
Still, as Ry drove down Main Street in the small Montana town she recognized it as the street she'd driven inand outon.
"Take a right when you get to South Street," she instructed. "Gram's house is the last one before South Street goes out into farm- and ranchland. The driveway veers up a steep hill to the house."
In mid-April their elderly grandmother had escaped her nurse and surprised everyone by making her way to Northbridge. Theresa Hobbs Grayson had been born and raised there. The three grandchildren who made sure she was cared for in her mentally and emotionally unstable state hadn't known about the town or the house before that. But because Theresa was determined to remain there now, her grandchildrenMarti, Ry and the third triplet, Wyattwere accommodating her.
Wyatt had been the first to come to Northbridge after Theresa was discovered in the old abandoned house. The plan had been for Marti, Ry and Wyatt to rotate spending time there with Theresa. But when Marti had arrived to relieve Wyatt, Wyatt had suddenly decided he wasn't leaving. He was going to relocate permanently in order to marry the local social worker who had been Theresa's case manager with Human Services.
Marti had needed to do a fast turnaround to get back to Missoula and the headquarters of Home-Maxthe chain of large home-improvement stores owned by the Graysons. She'd had to take over for Wyatt there and so had not seen anything of Northbridge except what she'd driven through.
Now Wyatt was about to marry Neily Pratt and so both Marti and Ry were making the trip.
Ry had followed her directions and the house came into view in the distance. "Is that it?" he asked.
"That's it," Marti confirmed.
"It's a lot bigger than I thought," he said of the stately stone house that stood a tall two stories.
"I told you it was," Marti said. "The inside is good-sized, too, but barely livable."
"Who's that?" Ry interjected as they got closer. "Not Wyatt."
The house had a wide covered porch that ran the entire front and wrapped around one side to stretch all the way to the rear. Near the corner of the wraparound there was a man hanging a wooden bench seat that hung from chains.
His back was to them but Marti couldn't help noticing that it was quite a backhe was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt so tight it might as well have been painted on his V-shaped torso and shoulders that were a mile wide and extremely well muscled.
"That must be the contractor Wyatt hired to work on the place," Marti said, taking in what was undeniably an impressive viewespecially when she factored in the narrow waist, tight rear end and long, thick legs.
"Noah Perryisn't that his name?" she went on. "I never got a chance to meet him. The remodel and update is no small job, though, and now with the wedding this weekend Wyatt said they're in a crunch to have at least enough of the downstairs finished to be presentable. He said this Perry guy is putting in a lot of hours."
"Looks okay from out here."
Looks better than okay, Marti thought before she realized Ry was talking about the house while she was thinking about the contractor's butt.
And she shouldn't be thinkingor lookingat the contractor's butt. She pulled her gaze away.
"I still can't believe he's getting married again," Ry said.
Apparently not looking at the contractor wasn't enough to erase him from Marti's mind because for a split second she thought Ry was talking about him. Then she yanked her thoughts back in line and realized her brother was referring to Wyatt.
"How hard is this wedding gonna be on you?" Ry asked with a sidelong glance at her.
"It's okay," Marti assured him, appreciating his concern. "I've made this huge decision in my life in order to move on and that's what I'm going to keep reminding myself. Wyatt is having a new beginning, I'm having a new beginning."
"Huh, and I thought you were having a baby," Ry joked as he pulled into the driveway.
He turned off the engine and Marti stretched. It had been a long drive and she'd been sitting in one position the whole way. The stretch made her head spin slightly, though, and she stopped to take a deep breath. So far pregnancy was making itself known in extreme fatigue, more trips to the bathroom, some nausea and sudden bouts of dizziness.
Her head settled down after the third deep breath and she reached for the door handle as Ry got out of the driver's side and headed around the front of his newest toy.
The sports car was so low to the ground Marti had to duck a little to get out before she could stand and wave to Wyatt, who had come out of the house to greet them. And on came the whirlies again. Much worse than in the car.
Everything started to spin and tilt. Her gorge rose, and she felt herself sway uncontrollably. Her knees buckled and down she went like a helium balloon that had just lost all its oomph.
She heard both Ry and Wyatt call her name in a panic and come running. She wanted to reassure them that it was nothing, but beyond shaking her head she didn't have the wherewithal for more.
Her brothers were on either side of her by then, asking if she was all right, but it was as if their voices were coming from far away, and all she could do was sit there, bracing herself with one arm to keep upright while her head was in some sort of internal spin.
Another man chimed in, in a voice that was vaguely familiar although Marti couldn't place it. He was suggesting they call for an ambulance.
"No!" she managed as she struggled not to lose her lunch.
That was Wyatt's voice, yelling for her grandmother's caregiver. Mary Pat must have already been on her way because a moment later the nurse was kneeling beside her, taking her pulse.
" Marti whispered as the wave finally began to subside. Then she said, "I'm okay. Really."
Embarrassment inched in behind the dizzy spell when she heard Ry say, "Maybe this artificial insemination thing wasn't such a great idea. I'm not so sure pregnancy agrees with you."
" Wyatt chided. "Filter it, will you?"
"I'm just saying"
"It doesn't need to be said. Especially not out here on the lawn."
With some stranger standing there, Marti thought as she put all her efforts into regaining herself.
She swallowed hard, closed her eyes for a minute and took a few more deep breaths before she repeated, "I'm really okay. I just keep getting this wicked dizziness thing."
Then she opened her eyes and looked to her other brother, appreciating that he had the sense to curb Ry's lack of discretion, and smiled feebly.
"Hi, Wyatt," she said as if nothing had separated his greeting and that moment.
"Hi, Marti," Wyatt said, alarm in his expression but his tone calm and understanding.
Marti looked to her grandmother's caregiver. "Hi, Mary Pat. Could you tell these guys there's nothing to this?"
"I think she's fine," the nurse confirmed. Then, to Marti she said, "Do you want to try to stand or shall we sit here a few minutes?"
"Why don't we see if I can't actually make it to the house." Truthfully she wouldhave preferred to stay put, if only everyoneincluding the handsome stranger would stop staring.
"Here, let us get you up," Wyatt insisted as he took one arm and Ry took the other.
That just made Marti feel like more of a spectacle. "I'm not an invalid, you know, guys."
Neither of them commented, they just helped her to her feet.
And that was when her gaze went to the other onlookerthe man who had been hanging the chair swing on the porch and had obviously rushed down to her rescue along with her brothers.
"This is Noah Perry," Wyatt said. "Noah, this is my brother Ry and our sister Marti."
And that was when Marti swallowed hard a second time.
"Actually," Noah said in a deep, rich voice she suddenly remembered all too well, "Marti and I have already met. At the Hardware Expo at the end of March."
So she wasn't hallucinating.
She'd almost hoped she might be.
"That's right," she confirmed weakly, not knowing what to do or say as her head started to spin for an entirely different reason.
While she hadn't recognized the man from the back, now that she was face-to-face with him, she didn't need an introduction. She knew that wavy chestnut hair, that slightly hawkish nose, those lush lips, those rich brown eyes. They'd been haunting her thoughts for the last six weeks.
"You better get inside, your color is draining again," Mary Pat said, hooking her arm into Marti's. "Come with me. I'll get you some water and maybe a little sugar pick-me-up."
Marti still hadn't found any other words to say and Mary Pat was urging her to move so she just went, her thoughts on the man she'd thought she'd never see again.
The man who was the real father of her baby.
An hour after the late-afternoon excitement with the Graysons, Noah Perry went home to a Friday night full of plans to pry off baseboards in his living room and possibly start to paint the walls.
Before he did either of those things he took some carrots and a cold longneck beer out of the refrigerator and went to his back porch to enjoy the warm mid-May evening and say hello to Dilly.
The three-year-old female donkey came over to the porch railing the minute Noah stepped outside.
"Yeah, you know what I have for you, don't you?" Noah said to the animal as he gave Dilly one of the carrots.
He had two more but rather than give them to the burro right away, he put them in his pocket and leaned a shoulder against the post that braced the porch roof. Then he sipped his beer and did what he'd been doing for the last hourhe marveled at the fact that he'd just met up with Marti again. That she was Marti Grayson
Last names hadn't come up at the Expo. Sure, he'd known she worked for Home-Maxhe'd seen her manning their booths and in their hospitality suite. But there had been Home-Max employees all over the place, and he'd just figured she was in their ranks. She hadn't said she was one of the owners of the chain.
And in the three weeks he'd been working for the Graysons, there hadn't been any mention of Marti by name or he might have put two and two together. On the occasions when he'd talked to Wyattor on the fewer occasions when he'd talked to Theresathere had only been occasional mentions of "my sister" or "my granddaughter," never a name. So he honestly hadn't had a clue.
He had been weighing whether or not to ask Wyatt about the Marti who worked for Home-Max, though. He just hadn't made up his mind if he should.
Sure, he'd had trouble not thinking about her in the last six weeks. Who wouldn't have? She was just damn gorgeous. She had long blond hair, shot through with lighter streaks of pure sunshine, falling to the middle of her back. She had the softest, smoothest, most flawless skin he'd ever seenor touched. Her eyes were the dark silver-blue of his first car and her lips were the reddest, fullest, sweetest he'd ever kissed. And her body was just round enough, just full enough in the right spots, just lean enough in the rest. And it was all atop surprisingly long legs for someone who didn't stand more than five feet four inches tall.
So yeah, he'd had trouble not thinking about her and even dreaming about her a time or two.
But he hadn't inquired about a Home-Max employee named Marti because he'd been asking himself where it would go even if he did find out her full name or how to reach her. She'd told him she worked and lived in Missoula. He worked and lived in Northbridge Missoula was on the other side of the state. And a one-night hook-up at a hardware convention was hardly enough to work from. For all he knew, an almost anonymous, one-night fling was all she'd wanted. Certainly the fact that she'd left the next morning without waking him to say goodbye or so much as scribbling him a note seemed to indicate that.
But damn, what a night it had been!
The Hardware Expo had been a chance for him to get away for a weekend and keep himself updated on the latest products and all things construction related that might make his job as a contractor easier. But that was the extent of what he'd been looking for. It wasn't as if he'd been cruising for women.
Still, he'd noticed Marti more than oncehow could he not have when she was such a knockout? They'd exchanged a little work talk in passing at the Home-Max displays.