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The Rancher's Secret Heir

Written by Maureen Child

Chapter Three

“Are you out of your mind?” Emily looked as stunned as he’d felt just moments ago.

He had a child. daughter.

JT’s gaze slid to the baby, still happily babbling to herself, and every one of his protective instincts kicked into gear. Now that he knew about her, he wouldn’t be able to handle her living hours away from him. How would he know if she was safe? Happy?

No. The only answer was for the baby and her mother to live with him.

Of course, living with Emily and not touching her would be a damned exercise in torture. But he already knew how easy it was to fall under the spell of her laughter, her touch. If he allowed himself to fall again, he didn’t know that he could keep from wanting more. And that was unacceptable.

“You can’t be serious about this,” Emily said.

“Damn straight I am.” He tore his gaze from the baby and focused on Emily again. Those summer-blue eyes of hers looked wide and shaken and a small part of him enjoyed that knowledge. She’d come here out of nowhere and thrown him off balance. It was only fair he return that favor. “I can’t move my ranch to Dallas but you can work on your computer from anywhere. You told me that yourself. Bragged about your job being portable.”

“Nothing like having your own words thrown back at you,” she muttered. “We’re not together, JT. You didn’t want us to be together, remember? Just before you left, you told me you didn’t want a relationship. What’s changed?”

She chewed her bottom lip, and that action reminded him just how good her mouth tasted and what it was like to sink into her body. For what seemed like forever, he’d been thinking, dreaming about her, and now she was here. If he reached out, he could touch her and it took everything in him to keep from giving in to that urge. Because his feelings about a permanent connection between them hadn’t changed.

“I’m not talking about us, Em,” he said flatly. “But that’s my kid and I’m not going to be a visitor in her life.”

She stared up into his dark blue eyes and said, “You don’t have to be. We can arrange generous visitation—”

“Unacceptable.” He cut her off instantly. With one more glance at his daughter, he said, “I won’t settle for that.”

“You don’t get to make that call,” Emily told him.

“I’m her father,” he pointed out. “Who better?”

“Her mother?”

He nodded shortly. They’d come together for a week and now they were linked forever. Best they got used to that reality fast.

“Right. We’re both her parents. We’ll both raise her. Here.”

“I can’t just walk away from my life, JT.” She threw both hands up helplessly. “I have a lease and friends and...”

“We don’t always get what we want, Emily,” he said, unwilling to bend on this. He had a child who deserved to grow up as he had, on this ranch. JT had never expected to have a family because it was something he’d deliberately avoided. But now, his daughter was here and he’d be damned if he’d lose her. “You and the baby are staying here. And if you fight me on this, I swear I’ll take you to court. How do you figure that’ll go?”

She sucked in a breath and held it. Her eyes looked wounded and her expression told him that his threat had hit home. As he watched, he could actually see her thinking through the ramifications of what he’d said. She had to know that he was rich enough, connected enough, that if this went to court, he’d win.

“How can you say that to me?” she asked.

“You’re not giving me much choice,” JT said. “I want my daughter, Em. And I’m willing to do whatever I have to to make that happen. The question is, are you?”

*

What Emily saw in his eyes—fierce determination and a banked rage—convinced her that he meant exactly what he’d said. So she wouldn’t fight him on this. Not yet. She had too much to lose by taking unnecessary risks. And the truth was that she, too, was willing to do whatever it took to keep her child.

Decision made, she said abruptly, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

A flicker of surprise darted across his eyes and Emily took a small bit of satisfaction in knowing she’d caught him off guard by surrendering so quickly. Points for her.

“First, though, he said, “some ground rules need to be laid down.”

“Fine. You go first.”

Nodding, he said, “This is about our daughter, so there won’t be anything cozy going on between us.”

Emily laughed. “Seriously? After you threaten to take my daughter you think I’m ready to jump into your bed? Please. Allow me to assure you that your virtue is safe.”

He scowled at her. “I just want things straight between us, is all.”

“We’re straight.” Her own temper bubbled and she fought to keep it in check. “My rule? I don’t want Emily growing up thinking her father didn’t care about her. So if, after a couple of weeks together, you decide you don’t want to be a father, I want you out of her life. Completely.”

Something flashed in his eyes and she knew she’d struck a harsh chord. Well, she had to let him know exactly how she felt. That was one of the reasons she hadn’t told JT about their daughter in the first place. She didn’t want Lorelai to ever think that somehow she wasn’t good enough.

“Never. Going. To. Happen.” Each word was bitten off. His eyes were hard, but there was more than anger in those depths. There was insult and maybe even hurt.

“All right, then,” Emily said. “We’ll try this out. Two weeks?”

He nodded. “To start.”

Emily took a breath and blew it out. The man had a head like concrete. “Fine. I’ll have to go back to Dallas. Pack some things for Lorelai and me.”

His mouth worked, his eyes narrowed as if he was trying to figure out what exactly she was up to. But he’d never guess. Yes, she was afraid of losing her daughter. But that wasn’t the only reason she was agreeing to stay for a while. Thoughts of JT had been haunting her for a year and a half. Her heart still longed for him, in spite of the way he’d dismissed what they’d found together. So moving in here would give them both a chance to see what life would be like together. And maybe, when their time here was finished, she might finally be able to let go of her fantasies and move on with her life.

“I’ll take you to get your things,” he said.

Because, clearly, he didn’t trust her to come back. “Fine.”

“Might as well get it done now.” He grabbed his jacket and hat. “You get the baby. I’ll pull my truck around.”

When he left and she was alone, Emily tried to remember the tender, loving man she’d spent a week with. It seemed like a lifetime ago and she couldn’t quite manage it. Maybe that was for the best. If she was going to be staying here with him—for a while at least—it would be better to keep this grim, unyielding man in the front of her mind. Keep her from fanning the flames of old fantasies that might just cost her her child.

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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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