Not Quite Married

ISBN: 978-0373658831

Not Quite Married

May 2015
A BRAVO BABY BRINGS SECOND CHANCES

It was hard enough for Clara Bravo to face gorgeous Dalton Ames after he ended their idyllic fling. But confessing that she was pregnant took real guts! Oh, Clara didn't lack the fortitude to notify Dalton of his impending fatherhood. It was turning down the irresistible banker's proposal—just for their baby's sake—that she found difficult.  

Dalton pushed Clara away because he couldn't risk his heart again after his recent divorce—not because he didn't feel anything for the brunette beauty! When he discovered her pregnancy, Dalton was determined to create the picture-perfect home with the one woman he could never forget. Now, if only he could convince Clara that their family was forever…

The Bravos of Justice Creek: Where bold hearts collide under Western skies

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What Readers are Saying

“Seven months pregnant, Clara Bravo finally breaks the news to the unsuspecting father, who shocks her with a proposal. She wonders what happened to the sexy, carefree man she fell for while on vacation. Now, Dalton Ames is nothing more than a control freak, and there’s no way she’s marrying this version of him. When Dalton’s vacation affair results in a lifelong consequence with the woman who still haunts him, his solution is simple: marriage. If only he can convince her to say yes. Rimmer’s page-turning romance enchants. And her iconic blend of humor and drama will leave readers belly laughing while wiping tears. Set in rustic Colorado, her unforgettable couple fights small-town inquiring minds and each other all the way to the altar.”

4½ Stars, Debbie Haupt, RT Bookreviews

Chapter 1

At five-fifteen on a sunny April afternoon, Dalton Ames sat on a bench in a park near his Denver corporate offices and told himself he was making a big mistake.

He should have gotten some answers before he agreed to meet with her. He should have made her tell him why, exactly, she had contacted him out of the blue and just had to speak with him in person. Because, honestly. What good could possibly come of seeing her now?

None. He knew that.

And yet here he was, briefcase at his feet, stomach in knots. Waiting. Irresponsibly, illogically, ridiculously eager just for the sight of her.

It could go nowhere. He knew that. And yet…

His racing thoughts trailed away to nothing as he spotted her approaching: Clara Bravo, more adorable than ever in a long white dress and a short jean jacket. Clara, with her shining sable hair, her tempting mouth so quick to smile. But she wasn’t smiling now. Her expression was somber, her head tipped down.

Clara.

So beautiful.

And so very, very pregnant.

Seeing her so huge shocked him, though it shouldn’t have. The detective he’d hired to find her back in early December , months  after their summer romance, had reported that she was pregnant and engaged to marry the baby’s father.

She glanced up and spotted him, those big eyes locking on him. Her soft mouth dropped open—and then snapped resolutely shut. She hesitated on the path, but then stiffened her spine and kept on coming.

He stood.

“Hello, Dalton.” Her wonderful, slightly husky voice broke on his name.

He nodded. “Clara.” His voice sounded calm. Reserved. It gave nothing away, which was as he’d intended. He took care not to glance down, not to ogle that big, round belly of hers. “It’s good to see you,” he lied.

It wasn’t good. It hurt to see her. Even big as a house with some other guy’s baby, she was much too appealing. He still wanted her. It turned a brutal knife inside him to have to look at her and know that she belonged to another man.

She lifted her left hand and nervously tucked a shining strand of dark brown hair behind her ear. No wedding ring. Odd.

And come on, it was too ridiculous to pretend he didn’t notice that giant belly. Stiffly, he said, “I see congratulations are in order…”

She kept her head up, those brown eyes unwavering. “Let’s sit down, shall we?” Turning, she lowered herself to the bench, bracing an arm on the back of it to ease her way down.

He sank to the space beside her.

And then she drew in a big breath and started talking. Fast. “Please believe me. I don’t want anything from you. I only think it’s right that you know.”

“Know?” He stared at her and wondered what in the world she could be babbling about.

She bobbed her head in a frantic little nod. “Yes. You have a right to know.”

“Know what?” It came out as a threatening growl. He really needed to dial it back, but she…roused things in him. She made him feel things he didn’t want to feel. Gruffness was his natural defense against such dangerous emotions.

And then she said, “I…got pregnant on the island, when we were together  last year. This is your baby, Dalton.”

His brain flickered, then reeled. “What did you just say?” He didn’t mean to bark at her. But he must have.

Because she gasped and slid to the far edge of the bench, as far from him as she could get without actually jumping up and racing away. He had to actively resist the imperative to grab her and drag her back closer to him. She repeated slowly, with care. “I said, it’s your baby.”

“By God. Yes, you did.”

She pressed her lips together, sucked in a slow breath and aimed her chin high. “And, well, as you can see…” She put a hand on the hard, high swell of her belly. “I intend to keep this child, which is also your child.”

It hit him again, like a boot to the solar plexus. She was saying it was his baby.

And she wasn’t finished, either. “But of course I don’t expect you just to take my word for it. Should you want proof, I’ll be happy to cooperate with a paternity test as soon as the baby is born   next month.” A pause. He continued rudely gaping at her as she stumbled on. “And then, um, again, if you want nothing to do with this child, I’m fine with that, I…” Her voice wavered. But then she cleared her throat and forged on, “You don’t have to worry about the baby’s welfare. I have a supportive family and a large network of friends. Financially, I’m doing very well. So, after today, I won’t bother you again. If you find you want to be involved, however much or little, well, that’s something I’m open to, as we go along.”

“As we…?” The ability to form a complete sentence seemed to have deserted him.

She rushed into the breach. “Um. Go along, yes. As we go along. I…look. I hate to do this to you.” The big eyes filled. She gritted her teeth, blinked the moisture away. “I know you made it very clear, when we said goodbye on the island, that it was over, that we had an agreement and you wanted to stick to it, that you didn’t want to see me anymore.”

His eyeballs were suddenly dry as a pair of sunbaked stones. He blinked. “What? Wait a minute. That’s not what I said. I said it wouldn’t work between us, that I would only—”

She whipped up a hand, palm out. “Look. Whatever.  All I’m saying is I know this has to be a huge shock for you and I’m so sorry, for everything. For getting pregnant in the first place, although God knows, we were careful.” Her hand found her belly again. She lowered her head, shook it slowly back and forth. “I don’t know how it happened, honestly. But it did. And I know I should have told you sooner, so I’m sorry for not doing that, too. I’m sorry for…” Her head shot up. She threw up both hands and cried, “Well, for everything. I’m sorry if this messes up your life. I’m sorry, all right? Just…I don’t know. I’m not sure what else there is to say.”

There was a whole hell of a lot to say as far as he was concerned. “I thought you married the baby’s father in December.”

Those big eyes got even bigger. “How could you know that?”

Smooth, Ames. Real smooth. He was a banker, born, bred and raised, president and CEO of Ames Bank and Trust, which had been serving the people of Colorado for almost a century. They said he was distant and a little bit cold. But always fair and calm and in command. He didn’t feel in command right at the moment. Clearly, he wasn’t in command and could blurt out any damn thing if he didn’t get a grip.

He cast about for a good lie to tell her, but there really wasn’t one that had a chance of flying. So he loosened his tie and settled for the truth. “I hired a detective to find you.”

She gasped. “A detective?”

“That’s what I said, yes. The detective told me that you live in Justice Creek, that you were getting married a few days before Christmas—and that several different sources had informed him that you were pregnant by your groom, Ryan McKellan. I remembered Ryan, of course, remembered what you’d told me about him.” She made a soft, strangled sound, but then only gaped at him. He demanded, “You don’t remember?”

“Remember…what?”

“That you told me about your friend Ryan on the island. You mentioned him more than once.” Her best friend, she’d called the guy, twice. Both times she’d caught herself and blushed sweetly and said she was sorry for breaking their agreement to live in the moment and leave their “real” lives out of the time they were sharing. He’d shrugged and said she had nothing to apologize for, though really, he hadn’t enjoyed the way her expression softened with fondness when she said that other guy’s name. “That was kind of a shocker, to get the detective’s report and find out that you and your good buddy Ryan were a whole lot more than friends.”

“But we weren’t!” she insisted on a rising inflection. And then she pressed her hands to her soft cheeks, as if to cool their sudden heat. “I don’t get it. I…Oh, Dalton.” Now she looked hurt. She whispered on a torn sigh, “You put a detective on me?”

He felt like a complete jerk and muttered defensively, “I wanted to find you. It seemed the simplest way.”

Her soft lips trembled. “Wanted to find me, why?”

“I…couldn’t seem to make myself forget you.”

Her expression softened—but then, almost instantly, she stiffened again. “You’re serious? You couldn’t forget me?”

“No. I couldn’t.”

“But then what about your—?”

“Wait a minute.” He’d just realized he’d been feeling like a douchebag when, come to think of it, he wasn’t any worse than she was. “How did you find me?”

“Well, I looked you up online and…” Her shoulders sagged. “All right. I see your point. You found me and I found you. What does it matter how? What does any of the rest of it matter?”

She had it right. It didn’t matter, not to him, anyway. The baby mattered. His baby.

The baby changed everything. He demanded, “So, what about your husband, Ryan? Does he know that the baby isn’t his?”

“He’s, um, not my husband.”

Could he have heard that right? “Not your—?”

“Not my husband. No. We decided not to go through with the wedding, after all.”

“You’re telling me you’re not married.” He tried to take in the enormity of that. All these months without a word from her, even though she was having his baby. Having his baby while planning to marry that other guy—and then not marrying that other guy, after all.

“Uh-uh. Being married just…isn’t who we are together, Ryan and me.”

“Together? You and he are together?” It came out in a dark, angry rumble.

“No, not together. Not in that way. We’re together in a friend way.”

“You live with him?”

“Of course not.” She looked insulted. “I said we’re friends.” He didn’t need to hear another word about the guy she’d almost married. But she told him more anyway. “Ryan hated the idea of the baby not having a dad.”

“Hold it. What are you saying? The baby damn well does have a dad. I’m the dad.”

“Yes, but…”

“What?”

“Dalton, you don’t have to get so angry.”

“I’m. Not. Angry.”

She stared at him, wearing a stricken look. He felt like the overbearing ass she no doubt considered him. And then she said, with measured calm, “I’m just saying he was only trying to help me, that’s all. But you’re right. Ryan isn’t the baby’s father. Because, well, you are.” And then, out of nowhere, she pushed herself to her feet. “And I think I’ve said what I came here to say.”

“Wait a minute.” He glared up at her. “You’re leaving?”

“Yes.”

“You can’t leave yet. We’re not through here. Sit back down.”

She ignored his command and pulled a card from the pocket of her jacket. “Here. Address, phone numbers. It’s all there. In case you…I mean, you know, should you choose to get in touch with me after this.”

“After this? But we’re not finished.”

“Maybe you’re not, Dalton. But I am. This wasn’t easy. I’ve had enough for one day and I want to go home.”

“But—”

“Please. Take the card.”

He felt at a disadvantage, sitting there while she hovered above him. So he stood. She shoved the card at him again. He gave in and took it. Not that he needed it. He knew where she lived and he had all her numbers. The detective had provided all that. And Dalton had held on to the information, though he’d told himself he would never make use of it.

They stared at each other. He needed to keep her there until he could manage to collect his scattered wits. But he just wasn’t dealing. His usually sharp mind felt dull as a rusty blade.

She said, “Well, goodbye, then.”

His knees feel strangely rubbery. A baby. It was his baby she was having. Not that other guy’s. His baby. And she wasn’t married, after all.

And for all those months, he hadn’t had a clue. Because she never bothered to tell him. Until now.

He couldn’t decide if he was furious with her—or just desperate to know that she and the baby were both all right. She did look a little tired. There were shadows beneath those amazing eyes.

He asked, “Are you okay? The baby…?”

“Fine. Truly. We’re both fine—and look. You just give me a call, anytime.”

“Give you a call,” he repeated numbly.

“Yeah. When—and if—you’re ready to, um, talk it over.”

“But didn’t I just say I want to talk it over now?”

She gave a fierce little shake of her head. “Not now. Uh-uh.”

“Why not?”

“I just…I need a little space, okay?”

“But—”

“I have to go, Dalton.”

And with that, she turned and left him standing there. He wanted to go after her, to grab her and pull her back. But he didn’t.

He just stood there by the bench, his mouth hanging open, watching her walk away.

*

Telling Dalton Ames that she was having his baby? Hardest thing Clara had ever done.

He’d seemed so angry. So stiff and pulled-together, wearing a gorgeous, perfectly tailored suit and Italian shoes, looking like the stuffed-shirt older brother of the amazing, tender, attentive man she’d known for those magical two weeks on the island. She’d barely kept herself from demanding, Who are you and what have you done with the Dalton I knew?

Twice during the drive home from Denver, Clara pulled off the road, certain she was about to throw up. The baby, not happy at all with the adrenaline cocktail surging through Mommy’s system, kept kicking her. Somehow, though, she managed to make it home to her sweet little blue, maroon-trimmed Victorian on Park Drive in Justice Creek without losing her lunch.

It was after seven when she walked in the door. She knew she should eat, so she heated up some leftovers, poured a glass of juice and forced down a few bites of yesterday’s chicken and a mouthful or two of seasoned rice. That was all she could take. She dumped the rest, rinsed the plate and stood at the sink staring out at her side yard, knowing she really, really needed to talk to a friend.

She’d kept it all to herself for much too long now. Even though her relationship with Dalton had been nothing but a foolish fantasy, it had only seemed right that she should face him, let him know that there would be a child and she was keeping it, before discussing the matter with anyone else.

So okay. She’d done what was right.

And now she needed  support.  She was calling in a good friend and telling all.

She considered calling Ryan. He’d been right there for her when she had no idea what to do next. He’d tried so hard to help her.

But come on. The last thing Rye needed now was her crying on his shoulder about some guy he’d never even met. Especially after everything she'd already put him through.

No. At a time like this, a woman needed a girlfriend. Her closest girlfriend.

So Clara called her favorite cousin Rory, aka Her Highness Aurora Bravo-Calabretti. Rory might be a Montedoran princess by birth, but at heart she was totally down-to-earth, someone you could trust with your deepest, saddest secrets. Rory lived with Ryan’s older brother, Walker, at Walker’s ranch, the Bar-N.

Once she’d made the call, Clara went out and sat on the front porch to wait.

Twenty minutes later, Rory pulled up to the curb. She jumped right out, ran around the front of her SUV and hurried up the front walk. “Clara? What is it, darling? Are you okay?”

Clara rose and held out her arms. Rory went into them. They hugged good and tight, Clara’s big belly pressed hard against Rory’s flat one, and Clara whispered, “Ice cream. Chocolate Chunk Gooey Brownie.”

Rory said, “I’m in.”

So Clara led her inside and dished up the treat. They sat at the breakfast nook table. They’d each polished off half a bowlful before Rory asked, “So?”

And Clara took another creamy, chunky chocolaty bite, savoring the goodness of it, getting another shot of the comfort a girl can only get from a killer dessert, before she confessed, “Today I told my baby’s father that he’s going to be a dad.”

Rory stopped with a bite of ice cream halfway to her mouth. She dropped the spoon back in her bowl. It clattered against the side. “Get off the phone.”

“I did. I really did.”

“Was it…?”

“Awful. It was awful. He was like some stranger. It was so bizarre. I kept wanting to ask him what he’d done with the man I knew—or thought I knew.”

Rory pushed back her chair and circled the table to kneel at Clara’s feet. “Give me your hands.” She took them and gave Clara’s fingers a comforting squeeze. “You are not only my favorite cousin in the whole world—you are the kindest, warmest, most supportive, loving friend around. Plus, you’re totally hot.”

Clara let out a laugh that sounded a lot like a sob. “Right. Just look at me. A human beach ball. Smokin’.”

“Pregnant or not, doesn’t matter. Either way, you are hot. If he treated you badly, it’s his loss. You have a big family and they all love you, not to mention a large number of good friends. You need to remember that you are not alone, that you only have to call, anytime, day or night, and I’m here—and so is everyone else who adores you.”

Clara shut her eyes for a minute. When she felt reasonably certain she wasn’t going to burst into tears, she said, “I love you.”

Rory squeezed her fingers again. “Love you, too. A lot.”

“Now go finish your ice cream before it’s all melted.”

Rory rose and went back to her chair. They both ate more of the to-die-for dessert. Finally, Rory said, softly, “I have to ask…”

“Go ahead.” Clara gave her a wobbly little smile.

“I mean, is this it, then? Am I here because you’re finally going to tell me how it all happened?”

Clara pushed her bowl away. “Yeah. This is it.”

“Dear Lord. I need more ice cream. You?”

“I’ve had enough. But help yourself.”

So Rory got up and got more—including another giant scoop for Clara, who insisted she didn’t want it, but then picked up her spoon again and dug right in.

Rory said, “All right. I’m ready.”

Where to even begin? “Remember when I went on that two-week Caribbean vacation last August?”

Rory was nodding. “Of course. Your thirtieth birthday getaway. I kind of suspected it might have happened then.”

“You know how I was feeling then…”

“I remember. You were talking about burnout, that all you did was work. You really needed that vacation.”

Clara had opened her restaurant, the Library Café, almost six years before. The café was a success by any standards. And she’d put in a whole bunch of seven-day workweeks to make it so. “I wanted a little glamour and pampering, you know? I wanted to reward myself for a job well done.”

Rory suggested softly, “And maybe a little romance, too?”

“Oh, yeah. I had this fantasy that I might end up meeting someone amazing.”

“And indulging in a crazy, fabulous tropical affair?”

“Exactly.”

“And so your fantasy came true.”

Clara smiled, feeling wistful. “That’s right. I met him the first night. His name is Dalton. Dalton Ames. And just the sight of him—he’s tall and fit, with black hair and piercing blue eyes. I felt like the heroine of the juiciest romance novel you ever read. I mean, you know how I am. You joke that I’m hot and all. But come on.”

“Clara.” Rory licked her spoon. “You are hot. Accept it.”

Clara pulled her bowl back in front of her and took another melty, chocolaty, amazing bite. “ I don’t feel hot. I feel like I’m the solid one, the levelheaded one. The family peacemaker. Guys tend to like me as a friend.”

“A hot friend.”

A snort of laughter escaped her. “Stop.”

“Seriously, Clara. I know whereof I speak.”

Clara purposely did not roll her eyes. “Anyway, when Dalton looked at me…I cannot tell you. It was like a sizzling shiver went all through me. He saw me as hot, I could see it in those heart-stopping baby blues of his. The sexual chemistry was immediate, unexpected—and like nothing in my life before. We danced and flirted. He said he was from Denver.”

“Ah. Both of you from Colorado.”

“Yeah.” Seriously, what an idiot she’d been. She ladled on a little irony. “Like it was meant to be.”

“Don’t make less of it,” Rory chided. “I can tell from the way you talk about him that it was beautiful and special, that you felt a real connection with him.”

“Ha.”

“Tell me the story, Clara—and stop judging yourself.”

Clara sighed. “He told me the trip was a getaway for him, that his work was demanding and he wanted a chance to live in the moment for a change.”

“Just like you.”

“Um-hmm. I told him that I was ready for an adventure, to live out a fantasy, to forget reality for a while. He said that sounded great to him.”

“Okay, now I’m wondering…”

‘What?”

“You weren’t suspicious that it was all just a little too perfect?”

Clara shrugged. “Yeah. But only a little. The resort was like a tropical fairy tale, the beaches pristine, miles and miles of gleaming white sands. Not a cloud in the sky and the ocean went on forever. It all seemed so magical. And then I met this dreamboat of a man. I was kind of swept away—but at least I did have sense enough to ask him if he had a wife at home.”

“Good for you. And?”

“He said he was recently divorced—and then he wanted to know if I had someone special. I told him there was no one. And then, feeling beautiful and wanted and thrilled to be getting a taste of exactly what I’d been dreaming of, I went to his suite with him and spent the night.”

“Bold.”

Even with all that had happened since then, the memory of that first night—of all the nights on the island—remained wonderfully sweet. “I thought so, yes. And it was the best, that night with him, better than anyone or any time before. In the morning, we agreed to spend the next two weeks together. We decided we would live completely in the now and not talk about our ‘real’ lives. And when the fantasy was over, we would go our separate ways.”

Rory was chewing her lower lip. “Reality always intrudes, though, doesn’t it?”

“Sadly, yeah,” Clara admitted. “But for two incredible, perfect weeks, we were lovers. We were open and tender and passionate with each other—in the moment only, I mean. Mostly, we managed to keep our real lives out of it. The sex was just beautiful. And we climbed a volcano, went parasailing and scuba diving. Even bungee jumping. At night, we danced under the stars by the light of the moon. By the end, I knew I was falling in love with him.”

Rory asked in a whisper, “Did you…tell him?”

Clara put her hand on her belly, rubbed it slow and gently, feeling the love well up, the gratitude, in spite of everything.  Her baby might not have a daddy. But she would be a good mother. Clara would make sure her child had a great start in life, with love and happiness to spare. “On the last night, I finally worked up the nerve. I told him I wanted to keep seeing him when we got back to Colorado…”

“Oh, my darling. And?”

“My fantasy crashed and burned.”

“Oh, no…”

“Yeah. He told me that he’d had a beautiful time with me and he would never forget me, but he would only mess things up if we tried to have more.”

“Mess things up? But why? I don’t get it.”

“He said it was different, that he was different, there with me, on the island. He said he wanted to remember me that way, remember us that way. That his marriage had ended not that long before, and it was his fault. And he wasn’t ready to try again. He didn’t think he’d ever be ready. He wanted to stick to the agreement we’d made.”

“That’s just so sad.”

“Believe me, I wanted to argue. I wanted to ask him why he couldn’t at least give it a try. But then, I was pretty much reeling that I’d put myself right out there for him—and gotten instant and total rejection. Plus, well, he was right that we did have an agreement. It wasn’t as if he owed it to me to change everything up just because I’d decided I wanted more. So I went home and tried to forget him. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, I realized I was having his baby. I agonized for another few weeks.”

“You should have called me. I would have come running.” At the time, Rory was still living in her family’s palace in Montedoro on the Cote d’Azur.

“I couldn’t. I felt that I should tell him, tell Dalton, first of all, before anyone else.”

“Well, fair enough. I can understand that.”

“So I started trying to figure out how best to reach him…” Clara stared out the breakfast nook window. It was already dark. All she saw was her own reflection, a reflection that blurred as pointless tears rose. She swallowed, hard, and brushed them away.

Rory got up again and circled the table. This time, she just stood by Clara’s chair, looping an arm around her shoulder, then smoothing her hair so that Clara gave in to the comfort she offered   and rested her head against Rory’s side. “I take it you found him.”

“It wasn’t hard, really. A little searching online and I learned he was a big shot from a Denver banking family.”

“Wait. ‘Ames’ of Ames Bank and Trust?” There was a branch right there in town.

“That’s right.” Clara tipped her head up and caught Rory’s eye. “And the supposed ex-wife? Maybe not so ‘ex’…”

Rory gasped. “You’re kidding. He lied? He had a wife the whole time?”

“No. They had been divorced. But there were recent pictures of the ‘ex’ on his arm at some big charity event. She’s gorgeous, by the way. Beauty-queen gorgeous. Blond. Willowy. Perfect. In the pictures she was smiling at him in this teasing, intimate way. The gossipy article that went with the pictures hinted that maybe a remarriage was in the offing.”

Rory stroked her hair some more. “So that’s why you put off contacting him?”

“Yeah. I kind of lost heart, you know? I didn’t want to mess up his reunion with his ex—really, I didn’t want to deal with him at all by then.”

“Completely, one-hundred percent understandable.”

“I decided there was no real rush to tell him about the baby. At that time, I wasn’t due for months and months.”

“I get that.”

“But then those months went by. I continued to put it off, kept avoiding the moment of truth when I would have to face him. And in the middle of that, there was all that frantic planning for the wedding to Ryan that ended up not happening. And, well, now it’s April and my due date is six weeks away. I couldn’t put it off anymore  .”

“So you’ve done it. You’ve told him.”

“Yep.”

“And…what next?”

“What do you mean, what next?” Clara stiffened. “I’ve told him, that’s it.”

“But what does he plan to do now?”

“How would I know what he plans?” Clara pulled sharply away.

Rory took the hint and stepped back. Gently, she suggested, “Well, I was thinking he might want to—”

“I said I don’t know.” Clara got up, grabbed their empty bowls and carried them to the sink. “We didn’t get into any of that,” she added without turning.

Rory, still standing by the table, asked, “So you have no clue whether or not he wants to be involved with the baby?”

Clara put the bowls in the sink and flipped on the water. “It’s not like we had a real conversation. I told him that I was pregnant and that I didn’t expect anything from him. I gave him a card with my numbers on it, so he can contact me if he wants to. That was it.”

“But—”

“Look.” Clara left the water running and whirled on Rory. “How would I know what he’ll do next? Probably try to figure out a way to tell his wife that some woman he boinked last summer on Anguilla is having his baby.”

Rory marched over and flipped the water off. “Sweetheart.” She pulled Clara close. “It’s all right. You’ve done what you had to do and you were brave to do it. I’m not getting on you.”

Clara stiffened—and then let her defensiveness go and wrapped her arms good and tight around her cousin. “God. I hate this.”

“I know.” Rory gave her another good squeeze, then took her hand and led her past the breakfast nook to the sofa in the great room. They sat down together. Rory asked, “So he is remarried, then?”

“How would I know?”

“Well, you just mentioned him telling his wife about the baby.”

“I don’t know, all right? I’m just assuming he married her again, from what I read in that article.”

“Today, when you told him about the baby, did he say anything about a wife?”

“No.”

Rory offered gingerly, “So, then, maybe you’re jumping to conclusions a little, don’t you think?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters.”

“Not to me.” She wrapped her arms around her belly and her precious unborn child. “I don’t care what he does. He’s nothing to me.”

“Clara—”

“No. No, don’t do that, Rory. Don’t look at me like that, all tender and patient and sorry for me. I don’t need anyone feeling sorry for me. I’m fine.”

“I know you are. Darling, I love you and I can see how hard this has been—how hard this is for you, that’s all.”

Clara let out a moan. “Oh, Rory…”

“Come here. Come on.”

So Clara sagged against her cousin again. And Rory held her close and stroked her hair and whispered that it was going to be all right. Clara cried a little. And Rory dried her tears.

And Clara said, “I’ll probably never see the guy again, you know? And that’s okay. I can live with that. I don’t like it. It’s a long way from my fantasy of how things would go. It’s just…what it is. I’m having my baby and we’re going to be a family, the two of us. I have a whole lot to be thankful for in this life, people I can count on, people who have my back, a successful business and a beautiful home. I may not have a man to stand beside me. But I have everything else, and that’s plenty for me. I’ve done what I needed to do, told Dalton Ames about the baby. And now I’m going to buck the hell up and get on with my life.”

Rory left an hour later.

Clara went to bed and slept the whole night without waking up once. She felt…better. Calmer. More able to cope. She’d done what she needed to do; then she’d shared the whole long, sad story with someone she trusted, and she’d had a good cry over it.

Now, at last, she could move on.

Two days later, Dalton Ames knocked on her door.