Read an Excerpt
"Ash! Asher! Get back here!" A man's voice. Whispering. Something about ashes?
Coming out of a sound sleep, Issa McKendrick's first thought was that she was dreaming.
Until, very near to her ear, she heard, "Pit-tee." Pity?
Struggling out of heavy slumber, she opened sleep-bleary eyes.
Staring at her almost nose-to-nose was a very small boy.
"Hi!" he greeted her happily. "I'm sorry."
A man's voice again, this time not whispering, coming from the door to her apartment. The door that was wide open.
From her position lying on the sofa, Issa bolted upright, alarmed by the fact that she wasn't alone. That a strange man and child were there.
"Get back here, Ash," the man repeated more firmly.
"Bye," the child said before he did as he'd been told.
Issa's vision was beginning to focus as her gaze followed the child and landed on the man.
Dreamy-looking guymaybe this was a dream .
"I didn't mean to just come in," he said then, convincing her with the deep tones of an intensely masculine voice that she was awake. "I'm Hutch Kincaid, your landlord."
Still trying to get her bearings, Issa was not quick on the uptake. It took her a moment to put things together in her mind.
Hutch Kincaid was the owner of the house-turned-duplex where Issa had an apartment on the upper floor. Her brother had rented it for her when she'd announced that she was moving back to her hometown of North-bridge, Montana and wanted a temporary place while she looked for a property to buy.
Hutch lived in the lower half of the building, but he'd been out of town when Issa had arrived two days ago, so they'd yet to meet.
"I got the note you left under my door downstairs and you're right," he was saying when she began to gather her wits, "this lock is brokenall I did was knock and the door opened. And then Ash barged in before I could grab him."
Issa took in the view of the man standing in her doorway.
He was very real and very good-looking. Big and strapping, with an athlete's broad chest and shoulders, a narrow waist and long legs all barely contained in jeans and a lime-green polo shirt.
And the facesharp jawline; longish, thin, somewhat pointy nose; justfullenough lips; the sexiest dip in the center of his chin; and eyes the blue of a cloudless summer sky. Top it all off with short, sunkissed sandy-brown hair worn with the top a hint longer and carelessly disheveled, and he was quite a sight to wake up to.
"It's okay," Issa finally said. Her voice was groggy and small. She was embarrassed to be caught sleeping in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. "Come in."
That was as much invitation as the little boy neededhe promptly left Hutch Kincaid's side and came back to the sofa as Issa pivoted to put her feet on the floor.
Her intention had been to stand to greet her guests and hopefully regain some of her dignity.
But it didn't take more than that pivot to make her so dizzy that she couldn't get up as the room seemed to spin around her.
"Just a minute " she muttered, further embarrassed and feeling as if she were making a spectacle of herself. "I'm really light-headed all of a sudden "
"Take your time," Hutch Kincaid urged as his jeans-clad legs came into her wobbly view in the center of the room, on the opposite side of the coffee table.
The coffee table where she had a number of illustrated pamphlets in plain sight, all titled things like Pregnancy and You, So You 're Going to Have a Baby and What to Do Now that You're Pregnant .
Of the biggest secret Issa had ever kept and the one most important to her not to let out.
Any hope she might have had of Hutch Kincaid not becoming aware of the pamphlets evaporated when the little boy pointed them out with a chubby index finger and said, "Bay-bees."
"Why don't you come over here with me, buddy," Hutch Kincaid suggested.
The little boy couldn't possibly know that she was pregnant, that she was horrified by that fact and that the father of her baby had run like a rabbit from parenthood, so she was facing it all alone. But that was the second time he'd said he pitied her .
"He feels sorry for me?"
Hutch Kincaid chuckled. "He thinks you're pretty."
The dizziness finally passed and Issa could see straight again. She cast a glance at the little boy who, despite his undefined features, resembled the man too much not to be closely related to him, and said an uncertain, "Thank you?"
"That's you're welcome," her landlord translated. "And this is Asher, by the way. My son. He's two and a half, with a mind of his own. And he's apparently developing a taste in women.. " Hutch Kincaid added somewhat under his breath, sounding amused.
Issa got to her feet then and was rewarded with a closer view of her hubba-hubba-handsome landlord.
And oh, but he was hubba-hubba-handsome, more so now that he was smiling slightly, a smile that drew lines from the corners of his nose to bracket his nimble-looking mouth.
But she was in absolutely no position to be paying any attention whatsoever to how handsome he was, she reminded herself.
"I'm sorry, I don't usually sleep in the daytime, but I was really out of it " she lied. The truth was that lately sleeping was all she wanted to do night and day, and napping had become nothing unusual for her.
"It's okay," Hutch Kincaid assured her in an understanding tone, his gaze dropping for a split second to the pamphlets, making it clear that he'd seen them and put two and two together.
And that was when something else occurred to Issa.
While she hadn't met Hutch Kincaid before this, she'd learned through her brother and half sister that he was connected to her family through his own family and friends.
And this was Northbridge where word could travel like wildfire..
All of which made her think she'd better address the subject right away.
"Yes, I'm pregnant. And unmarried, unattached" Why was she telling him that?
Oh, she was just never, ever at her best meeting new people. She always made blunders, and now, when she was already thrown off-kilter by her overall situation, when it was all too fresh for her to have become comfortable with, she supposed she shouldn't be shocked that she was particularly bumbling.
She shook her head as if that would erase her awkwardness and tried to make enough sense of what she was saying to get her point across. "No one hereno oneknows, so please"
Hutch Kincaid held up one hand, palm out. "It's okay. It won't come from me," he said.
But still feeling exposed, Issa scooped up the pamphlets and shoved them under the couch cushion to get them out of sight.
Then, desperate to regain some sense of normalcy, she said, "Can I have just a minute to splash some water on my face? Maybe you could look at the lock while I do."
"Sure," the big man agreed.
And Issa made a beeline to the bathroom.
For a moment after she reached it, she merely leaned her back against the door she'd shut firmly behind herself. Closing her eyes, she dropped her head forward and again shook itthis time cursing the shyness that she'd always suffered, that had once again made her act like a ninny. Why couldn't she just be smooth?
But it was too late for that with her landlord. He probably already thought she was an idiot. An unmarried, pregnant idiot.
Nothing like making a good first impression .
Oh, no, and she hadn't even introduced herself! He'd introduced himself. And his son. But she'd overlooked that simple civility, too.
I really am a ninny. A socially inept ninny .
Disgusted with herself, Issa sighed and pushed away from the door. To her right was the sink, to her left was the linen closet that was hidden when the bathroom door was open.
She turned and rummaged in the linen closet.
The apartment was smalla single bedroom, a single bath, with the living room, kitchen and dining area all in the one open space she'd just fled. She liked the place, though. She'd been told that the remodel that had turned it into a duplex had only recently been completed, and that everything was new, including all the furnishings. She'd needed only her own towels, linens and kitchenware, so unpacking had been easily accomplished in the two days she'd been living there.
She took a washcloth and a hand towel from the closet and rotated to face the sink.
Wetting the washcloth, she buried her face in it and hoped for a surge of the energy and oomph that pregnancy seemed to have robbed her of. But still she just wanted to sleep.
Maybe it was some kind of psychological need to escape the situation she'd found herself in.
Except that the pamphlets said to expect to feel fatigued and to need some extra rest as her body adjusted.
Hurry up and adjust, she told herself. Because she had a whole lot more to deal with than mere hormones.
She dried her face and took a look in the mirror above the sink.
Rosy glowthe pamphlets had talked about that, too, and surprisingly, Issa could see it. She'd always had an extremely pale complexion, but now her coloring couldn't be betterher high cheekbones were petal pink, making her look robustly healthy even without blush.
That was a good thing, she thought. One of the few advantages to pregnancy.
That and the fact that her previously A-cup breasts had already gone to a B. She didn't have any complaints about that, either.
And in spite of how tired she felt most of the time, there weren't any circles under her blue-green eyesshe was grateful for that. At least nothing gave away how she felt.
Now if only the pamphlets were wrong about the potential for hair loss or dullness. She liked her light, flaxen hair the way it wasalthough at the moment one side of it had escaped the clip that had been holding the shoulder-length locks at the back of her head and it looked awful.
Another way in which she was not happy to have met Hutch Kincaid.
She took the clip out, quickly ran a brush through her hair and then caught it in the back again where she reclipped it.
Sprucing up for her handsome landlord?
That wasn't what she was doing, she reasoned. She just wanted to be presentable.
Which was also why she applied the light lip gloss.
And when it came to adding a touch of mascara even though she hadn't put any on earlier today? That was just so she looked more bright-eyed and not like some slug-a-bed who slept the afternoons away.
In her clothes..
How did they look?
Checking, she judged that her jeans showed no evidence that she'd been sleeping in them. She just wished that they weren't her puttering-around-the-house jeans, that they were her better jeans. One of the other pairs that didn't sag in the seat.
Not that it mattered what her seat did.
As for the cap-sleeved T-shirt she had on? It was slightly rumpled, so she tugged on the hem to stretch the wrinkles out of it. That pulled the V-neckline lower, although not low enough to show cleavage. But because the T-shirt was a bit on the snug side, it still showed off the single visible clue that she was pregnanther blossoming chest.
Why that had even crossed her mind she didn't know. It shouldn't have.
But the new B-cups did make her T-shirts look a lot better. It was just about her general appearance, and had nothing whatsoever to do with who might see her. It was a confidence builder. And she definitely needed that!
Okay, presentableshe just wanted to be presentable and she was.
So get back out there to the landlord
She took a deep breath, exhaled it completely and told herself to try to have some composure, to be more outgoing than she was naturally inclined to be. The shyness had never served her well and it certainly wasn't helping now.
Another deep breath and she opened the bathroom door.
When she did, she could see Hutch Kincaid in the vicinity of the apartment's entrance again, this time with his back to her as he fiddled with the door handle.
The rear view of him was no less impressive than the front. His jeans definitely didn't sag in the seat. Instead, he sported a derriere to die for, splendidly displayed in denim.
And from there up? Her gaze began at his narrow waist and rose to broad, broad shoulders that didn't have the slightest hunch to them. Nope, straight and strong-looking, they formed a V-shaped canvas that squared into biceps straining the short sleeves of his polo shirt with well-defined muscles.
Okay, so there was nothing lacking in the man's physique. It still didn't matter to her.
"I just realized that I didn't introduce myself," she said when he changed angles and caught sight of her coming out of the bathroom. "I'm sure you know, but I'm Issa McKendrick. I didn't mean to be rude."
"Itta?" the little boy said from where he was hunkered down near the door, playing with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers.
"Issa," she corrected.
"Itta," the toddler countered as if he'd said it right the first time.
"That's probably as good as it's gonna get," Hutch Kincaid said as he put the screwdriver he'd been using in one of the back pockets of his jeans. Then he put one hand on the knob on the outside of the door and the other on the inside knob. Cupping them, he slowly turned them both back and forth, back and forth.
And out of nowhere Issa suddenly had a flash of something far less innocent being done with those hands. And her own new B-cups.