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The sound of rushing water jolted Mary Karen Vaughn from a sound sleep. Still, she resisted the urge to open her eyes. She'd been having the most delicious dream, and she wasn't ready for it to end. Instead of a quickie like they'd shared at last year's Christmas partyshe and Travis had made love for hours.
She smiled, knowing that was just wishful thinking, er, dreaming. Every time she and the handsome doctor had sex it had been fast and furiousa physical release for both of them. He was a bachelor with a busy schedule, and she was a single mom with responsibilities. Both of them had an image in the community to uphold.
Though she knew it wasn't possible, the past couple of times she'd found herself wishing he could hold her for a few more minutes, whisper how beautiful she was just a few more times.
A popular ob-gyn, Dr. Travis Fisher might be one of Jackson Hole's most eligible bachelors but Mary Karen didn't think of him in those terms. He was simply Travis, a dear friend since childhood and a fabulous lover. Back when she was in college, they'd dated a couple of times. She'd really wanted it to work out. But she had wanted a family some day and Travis, well, after helping raise seven younger siblings, he couldn't see kids in his future.
Mary Karen let her eyes drift open. After her divorce they'd renewed their friendship and he'd become her occasional lover. It only made sense he'd play a starring role in last night's mai-tai-fueled dream. Rolling to her side, she realized with a start that she was naked beneath the silk sheets. She smiled. A little rum was obviously a dangerous thing.
It was too bad Trav wasn't here. He'd have enjoyed the view
and gotten all sorts of interesting ideas.
Mary Karen stretched, liking the feel of the sleek sheets against her skin. This vacation had been three days of pure bliss. Most people came to Las Vegas to gamble, but Mary Karen had been content to sit by the pool and read. A couple times guys had tried to pick her up but she wasn't interested. This was her time away from kids and all she wanted was peace and quiet and no distractions.
As she lay, looking at the ceiling, it struck her that the running water had stopped. Earlier she'd sworn that the sound had been coming from her bathroom but had dismissed the ridiculous thought almost immediately. The truth was the walls in the luxurious room on the Las Vegas strip were just way too thin.
Mary Karen's lips quirked upward. Being too thin was a problem she'd like to experience at least once in her life. Although she was still a size six, her belly had a slight pouch and she was more curvy than willowy. Still, for a twenty-six-year-old mother of three, Mary Karen thought she looked pretty darn good
. especially now that she'd had some R & R.
After spending the past two days in her new red bikini by the pool, her normally pale skin now had a golden glow.
Winning this trip in a raffle had been just what her body and soul had needed. But today the fun ended. She had to head home in a couple of hours.
While she'd had a wonderful time, she'd missed her sons. And from the hitch in their little voices when she'd spoken with them yesterday afternoon, they missed her, too. But they'd cheered up when she promised she'd be home tonight. With an eleven-o'clock checkout, she needed to get packing.
Pushing back the sheet, she sat up and swung her legs to the side of the bed.
Mary Karen whirled. She gasped and grabbed for the sheet, pulling it over her breasts.
"It's a little late for modesty, M.K." Travis strolled across the bedroom, clad only in the towel wrapped around his waist, his sandy hair still damp from the shower. "That horse left the barn a long time ago."
Mary Karen could only stare.
At slightly over six feet, Travis was more wiry than muscular. He had a fair complexion with freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose. This morning his hazel eyes, which normally always had an impish gleam, were somber.
He crossed the room and the mattress dipped as he took a seat beside her. Tiny droplets of water still clung to his chest. He smelled like soap and shampoo and that indefinable male scent that sent sparks dancing through her blood.
Then she recalled the rest of last night's dream. A sick feeling filled the pit of her stomach and she began to shake. Could she really have been so foolish? While she'd made some big mistakes in her life, this one would top them all. She'd been buzzed last night but definitely not drunk. Acting out her wildest fantasies in bed with a man she considered her best friend she could handle. But standing before a Bible-wielding Elvis.
Mary Karen searched Travis's face. The despair that suddenly filled his eyes told her what she didn't want to know.
"Tell me we d-didn't." She couldn't quite control the tremble in her voice. "Please, Trav. Tell me we didn't."
Instead of answering he reached over and lifted her left hand. The emerald-cut yellow diamond on her finger caught the morning light.
"I wish I could say this was one of my jokes." His attempt at a chuckle fell flat.
Her heart thundered in her chest and the room began to spin. "This can't be happening."
"You and I were married last night, M.K," he said, squeezing her fingers. "Now we have to figure out what we're going to do about it."
Four weeks to the day later, Mary Karen left her sons in front of the television with their favorite video playing and locked the door to her home's only bathroom.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror as she placed the sack on the edge of the sink. The hard-won tan from Vegas had already faded and lines of stress edged her eyes. For the past week, she hadn't been able to sleep, worried what this test might show.
For as long as she could remember she'd been right-on-the-dot regular. A person could set their clock by her menstrual cycle. But when the day she was waiting for came and went just like any other, she knew she was in trouble. Now it was time to know if what she suspected was true. Her hands shook as she completed the test.
Mary Karen could count on one hand the times she'd been truly afraid. The first was when she'd been a child and had wandered away from her parents in Yellowstone. The second had been when Steven had told her he wanted a divorce. The twins had just turned two and she'd been pregnant with Logan. And then there was
The walls of the tiny room closed in around her. A bead of sweat trickled down her spine. Her heart pounded so hard she felt lightheaded. Mary Karen told herself to look at the stick but her eyes refused to cooperate.
Marrying Travis and celebrating with a night of passionate sex had been a crazy thing to do. She barely remembered how it had happened. One minute they'd been laughing and enjoying a drink by the poolone drinkthe next they'd been saying their vows in front of a judge who looked an awful lot like the King of Rock and Roll.
If Travis hadn't been leaving Vegas for his annual medical mission trip, they'd have gotten started on an annulment while they were still in Nevada. Instead she'd had to wait for him to return to Jackson Hole. Now that he was back they could finally work on putting this mistake behind them. What had the attorney she'd contacted said? It would be like the whole thing had never taken place
Mary Karen took a deep breath and lifted the stick to eye level.
Her heart stopped for several seconds then resumed beating. Louder and more frantically. She tried to tell herself it could be a false positive, but she knew better. She'd been pregnant twice before and the signs were all there. The nausea. The fatigue. The emotional roller coaster.
Tears filled her eyes and slipped down her cheeks. She pushed a bucket of bath tub toys out of the way and turned on the water full force. The last thing she wanted was for her boys to hear her crying and worry.
Dear God, she couldn't have another baby, she just couldn't.
Though it would be easy to make Travis the bad guy, even in her despair Mary Karen knew she had only herself to blame. Fertile Myrtle
.that's what her brother laughingly called her. Both of her previous pregnancies had occurred when she'd been on the pill. She should have insisted Travis go out and buy some condoms before she let him touch her.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
She beat her clenched hand against her aching chest and the river of tears turned into a torrent. Breathing grew difficult as a sob blocked her throat.
"Mommy." A small fist pounded on the locked bathroom door. "I hafta go potty."
"Mommy," another childish voice called out. "Open the door. Logan has to go real bad."
Mary Karen swallowed the sob and took a shuddering breath. Her hand fumbled for the box of tissue. She blew her nose and swiped at her eyes before shoving the pregnancy test supplies into the plastic grocery bag. Only after she'd tied the sack shut did she open the door.
"I'm sorry, honey." She stepped aside as her youngest rushed past.
Even though Logan was too focused to pay her much attention, the twins waiting in the hallway were much more observant.
"What's wrong?" With his golden curls and big blue eyes, five-year-old Connor could have been a poster boy for one of God's chosen angels. Until you got close enough to see the devilish gleam in his eyes.
"Your eyes look funny," he said almost accusingly.
"Your face is red," his identical twin, Caleb, chimed in.
"I, I had something in my eye." Mary Karen dabbed the last of the tears away with the tissue clutched in her hand. "Like you did, Cal, last week. Remember?"
"It hurt." Caleb nodded, accepting her explanation without question.
Connor wasn't so easily fooled. His blond brow furrowed and suspicion filled his gaze. "If you got something in one eye, why are both your eyes red?"
Instead of answering, Mary Karen dropped her gaze. "You have chocolate on the front of your Spider-Man shirt. Did you get into the M&M's?"
Connor blinked but was spared having to answer when Logan emerged from the bathroom, toilet paper stuck to his sneakers, a big smile on his face. "I went poopy all by myself."
Even though he was three, this was indeed a big deal. After almost five years, her home was finally a diaper-free zone.
But for how much longer? Mary Karen shoved the fear aside and gave her child a hug. "I'm so proud of you."
Logan gave her five seconds before he began to squirm. "Let go." He grunted and pushed back until she released him. "We're playing trucks."
"Okay, you go with your brothers." Mary Karen drew a shaky breath. "Mommy needs to get ready for the party."
Although Travis had returned yesterday from his mission trip in Cameroon she hadn't heard from him. Of course, with her brother, David, hosting a welcome-back barbecue for him tonight, he probably assumed he'd see her then.
Still, she'd expected a call. After all, this marriage mess had shaken them both. Though they were good friends and the sexual energy between them had only grown stronger over the years, they were both smart enough to realize the marriage had been a huge mistake.
She wished it could be different but Travis had been clearhe didn't want children. And she had three of them. Three little boys she adored.
If she ever did marry again, it would be to someone who loved and wanted not only her, but her sons as well. Her ex had taught her a valuable lesson. If love wasn't there in the beginning, if the desire to be a part of a family wasn't there, either, it wasn't going to show up later.
Steven had never wanted to be a husband to her or a father to their boys. She'd tried hard to make their marriage work but from day one he'd blamed her for "trapping" him. And he'd missed no opportunity to throw that in her face. Her heart twisted at the memory.
If Travis found out she was pregnant, he would insist on taking responsibility. He was just that kind of guy. But Mary Karen couldn't let him. She refused to go down that road again. Which meant she was in this alone. Oh, her parents would be supportive. But they were busy with their own lives. And her brother, who'd been such a help when Steven had walked out on her, now had a family of his own. No, the children she had and any additional children she might havewere her responsibility. Hers and hers alone.
You don't have to have this baby.
The thought was like a whisper on the wind.
Mary Karen refused to let it take hold in her head. She couldn't end this tiny life growing inside her.
"You're a dodo head," she heard Connor yell from the other room.
"Mo-om," Caleb called out. "Connor called me a dodo head."
The words were followed by a crash then the sound of Logan crying.
Mary Karen closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. After a heartbeat she opened them, then squared her shoulders and headed for the living room. Later, she'd think about the mess her life had become. For now she had three little boys who needed their mommy.