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The Rancher's Secret Heir

Written by Maureen Child

Chapter Two

The baby had wide blue eyes and thick, black, wavy hair. She was slapping her tiny hands together and bouncing on her mother’s hip when JT stopped just a foot from them. Emily Franklin took a deep breath and braced herself. It wasn’t going to be as hard as she had thought to introduce JT to his child. She could see in his eyes that one look at the baby girl had told him the truth.

“Emily?”

“Hi, JT,” Emily said and her voice sounded as breathless as she felt. “I want you to meet someone. This is Lorelai. Your daughter.”

*

Emily’s stomach was spinning with nerves and her mouth was so dry she could hardly swallow. It wasn’t just the situation. It was being this close to JT again. God, how she’d missed him, in spite of the fact that he’d turned his back on her more than a year ago.

She held her daughter close and watched the man she’d once believed would be her happily-ever-after. His gaze was locked on Lorelai, but he wasn’t talking. She shouldn’t have been surprised. During the week they’d had together, he had been the stereotypical cowboy. Strong, confident, quiet—with moves in the bedroom that had left her shaken to the bone. But she really wished he’d say something.

“My daughter.” It wasn’t a question. He turned his gaze from the smiling baby to Emily and there was no warmth in his eyes. “You had my kid and didn’t bother to tell me?”

Here we go.

“Okay,” Emily said quickly. “You’re angry. You have a right to be.”

“Thanks very much,” he said, crossing his arms across his chest.

“Fine. I have that coming. The answer is, yes. I didn’t tell you.”

“Why the hell not?” he demanded, then lowered his voice when he noticed the baby’s smile start to fade away. “Why couldn’t you pick up a damn phone?”

“Because when you left,” she reminded him, ready to defend herself, “you made it clear that we were done. You weren’t interested in anything more than a rodeo romp.”

He pulled his hat off and shoved one hand through his hair. Emily watched the familiar action and nearly sighed. Lorelai had his hair, right down to the slight wave. And though both her parents had blue eyes, Lorelai’s were the shade of JT’s, a sapphire so deep it was nearly purple.

Just one of the reasons she hadn’t been able to keep her secret any longer. Every time she looked at her daughter, she saw JT. And since the baby’s birth, Emily had been feeling guilty. She was keeping him from his child. Hiding her daughter as if she were ashamed, somehow. And she’d thought ahead to a future when Lorelai would ask about her daddy until, finally, the guilt and worry had prodded Emily into coming here to Royal. To face her past. To face JT with the truth and see what he had to say. Judging by the expression on his face at the moment, she didn’t think she was going to like it.

Those beautiful eyes of his locked on hers and a muscle in his jaw ticked as if he were grinding his teeth together. “We’ve got some talking to do.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“Then come on.” He turned and stalked toward the house.

Emily hurried after him, taking a quick look around as she went. The house was long and low, and looked almost as if it had sprung organically from the Texas soil. It fit was all she could think. It belonged. Which was more than she was feeling right now.

The inside of the house was cool and spare. The floor was covered by huge, dark red tiles in a matte finish, and the cream walls looked even more Spartan in comparison. There were a few paintings and a wide hall tree with hooks for coats and space for boots. JT walked past it as if it wasn’t there, leading the way into a massive room off the entryway. Cream walls here, too. The floor was dotted with heavy, masculine furniture in dark-brown leather. Books were scattered across the surface of the tables; faded, beautiful rugs gave warmth to the dark wood flooring and a fire blazed in a wide, deep, river-stone hearth.

He shrugged out of his jacket, tossed it on a chair, then yanked off his hat and threw it on top of the jacket. Staring at her, he said, “Explain.”

Okay, then, no warm reunion, but then she shouldn’t be surprised at that. When she’d discovered she was pregnant, Emily had been shocked, too. She could hardly blame JT for being stunned at the existence of a six-month-old child.

“I realized I was pregnant a few weeks after you left.”

“And decided not to tell me.”

She sighed, set Lorelai down on the rug, then dug through her diaper bag for the baby doll the little girl loved more than anything. Instantly the baby squeezed her doll and babbled.

JT’s expression softened fractionally as he watched the baby, then he frowned as he looked at Emily again, waiting. “Why?”

“I told you why. You weren’t interested in a relationship, why would you be interested in a baby?” How bizarre was it to be facing the man’s anger and only be able to think about kissing him again? About feeling that electrical jolt of sensation she’d missed so much.

“I had the right to know,” he pointed out tightly.

“And you would have said what?” she asked. “Yippee, I always wanted to be a daddy?”

When his features went even stonier, she knew she’d struck a nerve. Which wasn’t why she’d come. She didn’t want to feed his temper, she wanted, somehow, to reach a compromise with him.

“Look, I didn’t come here to fight or to give you grief. I just...” She lifted both hands and let them fall again. “I’ve been feeling badly since she was born and I knew I’d never have any peace at all until I’d told you about her.”

“That’s something, I guess,” he muttered, his gaze sliding to where the baby was now clutching her doll and slapping it against the floor. A brief, faint smile flickered on his mouth.

In that instant, Emily felt her heart give a quick tug. Lorelai was already spinning her web, unwittingly drawing her daddy into it.

His gaze lifted to meet hers. “What’s her name?”

“I told you,” Emily said. “Lorelai.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Last name.”

“Franklin.”

“Your last name.” His features went hard as stone and as cold and distant as the moon. “Did you at least list me as her father on her birth certificate?”

“Of course I did,” she said.

“That’s something. But her name should be Harrah.”

Emily had expected that and still she huffed out an exasperated breath. “We’re not together, JT. She has my last name because I’m raising her on my own.”

“Not anymore.” Walking a wide berth around the baby who was babbling to her doll, JT stopped in front of Emily and looked down at her. “You really think I’m going to walk away from my own kid now that I know about her?”

“Of course not,” she said, though, okay, maybe she’d thought he wouldn’t be interested. He was the one who’d said he didn’t want a relationship. Why would she think he would want his child?

“Good. Then you’re prepared to move in here with me."

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About the author

When I started writing, I was just looking for a way to work and stay ...

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Maureen Child

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