The Right Reason to Marry

ISBN: 978-1335574244

The Right Reason to Marry

December 2019
She turned him down. Twice. 

Karin Killigan refuses to marry Liam Bravo solely for the sake of their pending baby. This time, the widowed mother of two is holding out for true lasting love. And even though she is knee-deep in kids and family chaos, Karin and Liam’s attraction is hotter than ever, but Karin won’t settle. Liam will have to prove he’s in it for love if he wants a family for his baby’s first Christmas.

The Bravos of Valentine Bay:
They’re finding love
—and having babies!—
in the Pacific Northwest

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What Readers are Saying

“The stories just keep getting better. Liam and Karin's story is totally awesome and I cried through most of it. Love how Karin works through being afraid to trust in her love for Liam.”

5 stars, Tami, Goodreads Reviewer

“This is a great holiday story and gives us all hope that great things are waiting if we are willing to grab them.”

5 stars, Cassie, Goodreads Reviewer

“This was a fantastic and emotional book that opens with Liam Bravo getting the shock of his life. A chance encounter with the woman he had a very brief relationship with earlier in the year reveals that she is pregnant - very pregnant. Once he recovers his wits, Liam knows he wants to be involved in his baby's life.”

5 stars, Susan Frank, Goodreads Reviewer

Chapter One

It was a cloudy Friday afternoon in mid-October when Karin Killigan finally had to face the unsuspecting father of her unborn child.

It happened at Safeway, of all places. He was going in as she went out.

She had her hands full of plastic shopping bags. Her mind was on dinner and the thousand and one things she needed to whip into shape at the office before the baby came. She was staring straight ahead and didn’t even see him.

But Liam Bravo saw her.

He grabbed her arm. “Karin. My God.”

His touch, coupled with the low, rich sound of his voice, set off a chain reaction of emotional explosions inside her. Shock. Guilt. Total embarrassment. A flare of thoroughly inappropriate desire. She let out a ridiculous squeak of surprise and almost dropped a bag full of dairy products as she blinked down at his hand on her arm. Even through the barrier of her coat and the sweater beneath it, she could feel his heat and his strength.

Slowly, she forced her gaze upward to his gorgeous face. The cool autumn wind stirred his dark blond hair and his sun-kissed brows had drawn together over those summer-sky eyes of his.

Somehow, she made herself speak. “Hello, Liam.”

“Excuse me.” The impatient voice from directly behind her reminded her sharply that they were blocking both doors.

“Come on.” Liam tugged her away from the doors and along a short concrete walkway.

She followed numbly, despising herself for never quite working up the nerve to break the big news to him, thus forcing them both to face it now—at Safeway, of all the impossible places.

“Here.” He pulled her in close to the brick wall of the building, between a bin full of pumpkins and stacks of bundled kindling. “Let me help you with those.” He made a grab for the shopping bags dangling from both of her hands.

“No.” She shook her head at him. “I’ve got them. I’m fine.” Total lie. She was very far from fine.

“You sure?”

“Positive," she said way too brightly. "Thanks. I'm, um, really surprised to see you here.” Understatement of the decade. He lived in nearby Astoria and somehow, since the last time she'd seen him the previous March, she'd never once run into him in Valentine Bay. Until now. It wasn't that she'd been avoiding him, exactly. But she certainly hadn't sought him out. "I mean, there's a Safeway in Astoria, right?"

"I stopped in to see Percy and Daffy and this store was on my way home." Percy and Daffodil Valentine were brother and sister. Neither had ever married. In their eighties now, Liam's great-uncle and -aunt lived in an ancient Victorian mansion on the edge of Valentine City Park.

"Oh, I see," she said, because he'd fallen silent and it seemed that she ought to say something.

His gaze had wandered downward to her giant belly, only to quickly jerk back up to her face again. “This is awkward.” Oh, no kidding. “Please don’t be offended…”

“No. Of course not.” How could she be? She should have told him months ago, on the night she broke it off with him. But she was a big, fat coward. She hadn't told him then, nor had she managed to work up the courage to call him and ask for a meeting. And now the poor guy had to find out like this. Her cheeks and neck were too hot. They must be flaming red. And her heart? It pounded so hard she couldn’t hear herself think.

“You’re pregnant,” he said.

“How did you guess?” It was a weak joke and neither of them laughed.

Beneath his golden tan, his face seemed to be growing progressively paler. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help thinking that…” He faltered, which broke her heart a little. Liam Bravo never faltered. He was always so smooth. Even way back in high school, he could make a girl’s clothes fall off with just his smile. He wasn’t smiling now, though. He drew in a shaky breath. “I have to know. Is it…?”

There really was no putting this off any longer, so she answered the question he couldn’t seem to ask. “Yes, Liam. It’s your baby.”

He flinched and his eyes widened. He started to reach for her again, caught himself and let his arm drop to his side. After that, he just stood there staring at her, his sexy mouth hanging open.

God. What a horrible way to tell him. But at least she’d finally done it.

People bustled by them, going in and out of the store. “We can’t do this here,” she said. When he only continued to gape at her, she went on, “Tell you what. I’m going straight home….”

A low sound escaped him, kind of a cross between a grunt and sigh, but no actual words came out.

“Home,” she repeated. “The house on Sweetheart Cove? I’ll be there the rest of the day. Feel free to drop by when you’re ready to talk.” Carefully, so as not to bump him with her bags of groceries, she turned and made for her car.

He didn’t say anything or try to stop her. But she knew that wouldn’t last. He was bound to have questions—a million of them. Starting with why the hell didn’t you tell me? She figured she had an hour, tops, before he appeared at her door.

Probably breaking the land speed record for a hugely pregnant woman on foot, she waddled toward the relative safety of her Chevy Traverse.

*

Karin lived with her dad, Otto Larson, and her two children, Ben and Coco, on the first floor of a large beach house owned by her brother, Sten. As she pulled the Traverse into the garage beneath the house, her dad came down the inside stairs, seven-year-old Coco close on his heels.

Otto went straight to the hatch in back to get the groceries.

Coco, in blue tights, red shorts, a blue T-shirt and shiny red rain boots, had stopped at the foot of the stairs to spin in a circle. The kid-size red blanket tied around her neck for a cape fluttered as she twirled. “Mommy, I’m Supergirl!” she shouted as Karin carefully lowered herself from behind the wheel. “Don’t worry, I will save you! I have vast superhuman strength, speed and stanima, X-ray vision, super breath and also, I can fly.” Arms out, she “flew” at Karin, who laughed in spite of what had just gone down at Safeway.

Coco halted at Karin’s big belly. Reaching out her small arms and tipping her head back, she gave both Karin and the unborn baby inside her a hug. “I love you, Mommy, and I love our baby, too!” Coco beamed a smile so big it showed the gap where she’d recently lost two lower baby teeth.

Karin bent to plant a kiss on the top of her curly head. “And I love you. Lots.”

Otto shut the hatch. He had all the grocery bags, two in each hand.

“I’ll help, Grandpa!” Supergirl proclaimed. She planted her rain boots wide, stuck out her little chest and propped her fists on her hips. Otto set two of the bags on the garage floor, fished out a block of Swiss cheese from one and passed it to her. The cheese in one hand, both arms spread wide, cape rippling, Coco ran back up the stairs and into the house, slamming the door behind her.

“You gotta love that enthusiasm,” said Otto as he bent to pick up the bags again. Karin just stood there staring down at his bent head. His hair was all white now and thinning, his pink scalp showing through at the crown. He met her eyes as he stood again. “What happened?” he asked quietly.

She replied in a small voice. “I saw Liam at Safeway.”

“You tell him?” Her dad and her brother, Sten, and Sten’s wife, Madison, knew that Liam was the baby’s father. Sten and Otto had been after Karin for months to tell the man that he was going to be a dad. Madison mostly stayed out of it, though Liam was actually one of her long-lost brothers.

Karin stared into the middle distance, thinking of Madison for no particular reason. Sten’s new bride had been switched at birth, of all impossible things. She’d met Sten when she came to Valentine Bay last March to find the family she’d just learned she had.

“Karin. You tell Liam?” her dad asked for the second time.

She blinked and made herself answer the question. “Uh. I did. Yes. I told him.”

“And?”

“And I said I was going straight home, that if he wanted to talk about it, I’ll be here.”

“You’re thinking he’ll be coming by, then?”

She nodded. “And soon, would be my guess. If you could maybe keep the kids downstairs…?” The house was really two complete houses in one. Karin, her dad and the kids lived on the first floor just above the garage. Sten and Madison had the upper floor when they were in town, which they weren’t right now. Madison was a bona fide movie star. Currently, she and Sten spent most of their time in LA or on location wherever she was filming.

“No problem,” said Otto. “I’ll keep an eye on the kids and send Liam up when he gets here.”

*

On the top floor of the house, in Sten’s quiet kitchen, Karin brewed a cup of raspberry leaf tea. As she waited for it to steep, she stood at the slider that opened onto the wide upper deck and watched the layers of clouds over the water. The waves slid into shore and retreated, leaving the wet sand smooth as glass in their wake.

“Karin.” Liam spoke from directly behind her.

She stiffened in surprise and turned to face him. His hair was kind of standing on end and his eyes had a haunted look. “Hey. I, um, didn’t hear you come in.”

He stared at her for several seconds with a numbly disbelieving expression on his face before he finally said, “Your dad. He told me to just go up.”

“That’s fine. Great. Let’s sit down, why don’t we?” She gestured toward the sitting area.

“No, thanks.” He blinked at her. “I’d rather stand.”

“Maybe some tea or something?”

“No. Nothing.” He turned on his heel and strode away from her. When he reached the hallway that led to the bedrooms, he turned again and came back, halting in the same place he’d been before he stalked off. “You’re pregnant.”

Hadn’t they already covered that? “Yes, I am.”

“I can’t… I don’t…” It was just like at Safeway. The poor man seemed incapable of completing a sentence. “I mean, uh, you said it was…”

“Yours, Liam,” she gently confirmed again. “Yes. The baby is yours.”

“And you’re due…?”

“In a week.”

“A week.” The wild state of his hair made more sense as he put both hands to his head, got two fistfuls of hair and pulled. “Mine. Wow. Mine.” And off he went again, his long legs carrying him swiftly past the table, on through the sitting area to the hallway that led to the bedrooms. Next to the hallway, stairs led down to the lower floor. For a moment, he just stood there, his head going back and forth, as though he couldn’t decide whether to run down the stairs or set off along the hallway.

Karin didn’t know what to do, either, so she just waited by the slider. Eventually, he turned and came toward her again.

“A week,” he repeated when he stopped a foot away from her. “I’ll be a dad in a week is what you just said.”

Excuses weren’t going to cut it. She offered them anyway. “I’m so sorry, Liam. I was going to tell you earlier, but I didn’t really even know where to start. And there’s not much you could do at this point, anyway. So I thought I would just wait until after the birth.”

“You thought you would just wait…”

“Yes. Liam, I promise you, there’s no pressure. You can think it over, decide how much involvement you want to have.” Okay, yeah. No matter what he decided, eventually, she would be after him to spend a little time with his child. And he would have to cough up some child support, too. But it felt beyond rude to hit the poor guy with all that today when he seemed so completely torn up to learn there was a baby on the way.

“No pressure,” he echoed blankly.

“That’s right. There’s no big rush to make decisions. Truly, you can just take your time, figure out what works for you.”

He raked his hair back with both hands. “But…married, maybe? We should get—”

“What? Wait.” Now she was the one frantically blinking. “Married? Us?”

“Well, uh, yeah.”

She needed to nip that terrible idea right in the bud. “No, Liam. Don’t be silly. Of course not.” No way was she getting married just because there was a baby coming. Been there, done that. Bought the T-shirt, saw the movie. Lived through the heartbreak. Never. Again.

And dear God in heaven, could she have made a bigger mess of this?

“Listen,” she said. “After the birth we’ll do DNA. You’ll have plenty of time to deal with this. You really will—and you know, you look awful. Liam, come on. You need to sit down.” She reached for his arm.

He jerked away before she could make contact. “I’ll stand.” They just stared at each other.

She cast desperately about for something meaningful to say. “Liam, I really am so sorry to—”

“Stop.” He actually showed her the hand.

And then he spun on his heel again and paced off toward the stairs, shaking his head as he went, turning right back around and coming toward her once more, halting stock-still a few feet from where she waited. He looked wrecked, ruined, but he held his broad shoulders straight and proud. “Last March, when you broke it off with me, did you know you were pregnant then?”

She wanted to lie to him, make herself look a fraction less like a complete jerk for the way she’d handled the situation. But she didn’t lie. “Yeah. I knew then.”

His forehead crinkled in a frown. “You broke it off, but you didn’t bother to tell me you were having my kid?”

“I felt awful. I couldn’t make myself admit to you that we were having a baby. I mean, why me? How many women have you been with?”

He fell back a step. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Liam. I know you. I grew up with you. We were in the same grade at school. We even went on two dates in high school, remember?"

"Of course, I remember."

"My, um, point is, you’re hot and easy to be with. The women have always loved you and you have loved them right back. How many of those women did you get pregnant?”

“Karin.” He was pulling his hair again. So strange to see him like this, at a loss. Undone. “Come on, now. Where is this going?”

“The answer is none of them, right—not until me?”

Now he looked worried. “Why do I feel like anything I say right now is going to be wrong?”

“Oh, please. No. You are not wrong. This is not your fault—it’s not my fault, either, though. Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself. But I also can’t help asking myself, why does the condom fail only for me? Why couldn’t I have sense enough to get back on the pill—or better yet, get a contraceptive implant? But every time you and I got together, I really thought it would be the last time. What was the point, I asked myself? I wouldn’t be having sex with anyone again anytime soon. But then I would get a free evening and I would remember how you said to give you a call anytime—I mean, think about it. Four times, we got together.”

That first time had been last December, at Christmastime. Then there’d been once in January, once in February and that last time in March. The first time, she’d promised herself it would be the only time. The second time, too. And that was the one where the condom must have failed.

After that, it hadn’t mattered anyway, whether she got herself an implant or not.

“Four times together,” she muttered, “and this happens.” She looked down and shook her head at her protruding belly. “What is the matter with me, to do that to you?”

“Uh, Karin, I—”

“No, really. You don’t have to answer that. It’s not a question that even needs an answer. And I swear I was going to tell you about the baby that last time, in March. I saw that last night as my chance to let you know what was happening….” She ran out of breath. But he only kept on staring.

So she sucked in another breath and babbled on. “When I called you that night in March, I swear it was my plan to tell you. But then, well, you kissed me and I kissed you back and I thought how much I wanted you and how long it was likely to be before I ever had sex with a man again. I thought, one more time, you know? I thought, what can it hurt?

Still, he said nothing.

She couldn’t bear the awful silence, so she kept right on talking. “I promised myself I would tell you afterward, but then afterward came, and the words? They wouldn’t come and then I started thinking that you didn’t need to know for months. Liam, I messed up, okay? I messed up and then I didn’t reach out and the longer I didn’t, the harder it got. And now, well…” She lifted her arms out the sides. “Here we are.”

He just continued to look at her through disbelieving eyes. For a really long time. She longed to open her mouth again and fill the silence with the desperate sound of her own voice. But she’d already jabbered out that endless and completely unhelpful explanation of essentially nothing. Really, what more was there to add to all the ways she’d screwed up?

He broke the silence. “I have to leave now.”

She felt equal parts relieved—and desolate. “Okay.”

“But I will be back.”

“Of course.”

“We’ll talk more.”

What was she supposed to say to that? “Sure. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay. Soon.” And then he was striding away from her for the fourth time.

She watched as he vanished into the stairwell and didn’t move so much as a muscle until she heard his car start up outside and drive away. After that, for several grim seconds, she thought she might cry, just bawl her eyes out because she felt so terrible about everything and she’d done such a crap job of telling poor Liam he had a baby on the way.

The tears never came, though. Eventually, she turned around and stared blindly out at the ocean for a while.

By the time she remembered her raspberry leaf tea, it was cold.