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The Rancher's Secret Heir

Written by Maureen Child

Chapter Six

“She’s making me crazy.” JT stalked the perimeter of his friend’s office like a caged tiger looking for a way out. He’d driven into Dallas to talk to his friend Wes Jackson, but now that he was here, he could see it wasn’t helping. Because all he could think about was getting back to the ranch. And Emily.

Those stolen moments with her in the stable that morning had his insides churning and every drop of his blood steaming. He’d wanted to punch Matt for calling him away at precisely the wrong moment, but then he would have had to explain the situation and he didn’t want to do that, either. Friend or not, Matt worked for him and that meant he wasn’t going to be sharing his feelings with the man.

Hell, he wasn’t much of a sharer anyway. But he knew he had to talk this over with someone who would understand, so he’d come to his friend Wes. The one man he knew who would understand about not wanting a permanent relationship with any woman.

“I think she’s doing it on purpose,” JT muttered now, shoving one hand through his hair. “Leaving her things around the house so that I notice her even when she’s not in the room. Smelling so damn good every day...” He stopped walking and fired a hard look at his friend. “Who does that? Why wear perfume if you’re just staying at home?”

Wes opened his mouth to speak, but JT rushed on.

“And kissing me, for God’s sake. Right there in the stable.” He shook his head and started pacing again. “Now every time I go in there to deal with one of the horses, I’ll be thinking about her. No. This is all a plan. She’s trying to kill me. Slowly.”

Wes laughed and JT turned on him. “This is funny?”

“More than you know,” Wes agreed. “Hell, you said yourself you introduced her to Shauna as your fiancée. So we both know the whole town of Royal is talking about it by now.”

“And?”

“And there’s one easy solution,” Wes said. Leaning back in his chair, he kicked his feet onto the corner of the desk and folded his hands across his abdomen.

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“Marry her.”

Easy enough for Wes to say. JT scowled to himself. But JT knew that Wes had a woman he’d left behind, too. One that still haunted him enough that none of Wes’s friends were allowed to bring her up. He and Wes went back a long way so, JT wasn’t going to point out that Wes had had a chance to marry his woman and hadn’t.

“I drove all the way into the city for that?” JT scrubbed one hand across his face and shook his head. “I can’t get married. Hell, Wes, you know why.”

“I know your parents were fools, does that help?”

“No.” JT shook his head.

“According to the world at large, you’re already engaged. What’s the problem?”

“Marriage.”

“So, don’t get married. Stay engaged. Indefinitely.”

That thought settled into the middle of JT’s brain and squirmed around to get comfortable. A never-ending engagement was just living together. There was no actual commitment. No promises made that would inevitably be broken. And he could have her back in his bed, which was the only thing that had been on his mind for days now.

“Look.” Wes dropped his feet to the floor, leaned forward and stared his friend dead in the eye. “All I’m saying is, if some woman had my kid, damned if I’d let her out of my sight again. You really going to let her move out of the ranch and back to Dallas? You willing to settle for seeing your daughter every other weekend and a couple of weeks every summer?”

No, he wasn’t.

He could fight Emily for custody and win, he knew that. JT had a lot of money and a lot of connections who would make sure he’d never lose his daughter. But if he did that, he’d lose Emily, and he didn’t want that, either. He’d been without her for more than a year and having her back again now was like delectable torment.

Living with a woman wasn’t being married. He could probably do that, as long as they laid down some ground rules. JT was pretty sure he could get Emily to agree, especially since she didn’t want a custody battle any more than he did.

Coming to a stop in front of a window, JT stared out over Dallas and told himself Wes was right.

“You know,” he said with a glance over his shoulder, “for one of Santa’s elves, you’re pretty smart.”

“That’s cute.” Wes scowled at him. “Playco is one of the biggest toymakers in the country.”

Always easy to needle his friend. The man had made billions designing and selling toys around the world, so of course his friends had to give him grief for it now and then. Hell, at the last TCC meeting JT and the guys had started calling him an elf and it looked like it might stick. Had to have fun sometimes.

“Yeah. Elf. Like I said.” JT grinned. Now that his decision was made, he felt a weight had dropped off his shoulders.

“So, when do I get to meet this woman and see your kid?”

“Next week,” JT said. “Come over for dinner after I get this straightened out with Emily.” Nodding to himself, he added, “Shouldn’t be hard.”

Wes laughed. “All you have to do is tell her how things are going to be.”

JT slid his friend a wry look. “This explains why there are no women in your life.”

Wes frowned at the reminder and JT felt bad about it, but damn it, he had his own problems right now.

“You’re just full of jokes today, aren’t you?” Wes stood up, slapped JT on the back and said, “So. Now that we’ve got your life figured out, how about this elf buys you a beer?”

*

Late that night, Emily checked on Lorelai and, for a moment, just stared down at her sleeping daughter as a wave of love enveloped her.

She never would have guessed that she could love so fiercely. There was absolutely nothing she wouldn’t do for her daughter. Which explained why she was still here at the ranch even though she knew it probably wouldn’t end well. After their kiss, JT had actually left for a few hours, going well out of his way to avoid her. So whether or not he’d promised to continue what they’d started, his actions said differently.

The room was quiet, dark, but for a night-light that sent a spray of soft, golden stars to the ceiling above her baby’s head. Emily had to smile. JT had gone a little nuts setting up a fantasy baby’s room in what had to be record time.

In her crib, Lorelai sighed and snuffled in her sleep, then flung herself onto her side, draping one arm across her eyes. Quietly, Emily walked to the window that overlooked the backyard and a swimming pool built to look like a natural lake, with oaks ringing it, a rock surround and a waterfall that splashed into the deep end.

The night was really dark in the country, and in the clear sky, stars shone down like pinpricks of light against the darkness. Lamplight glimmered behind the windows of the foreman’s cottage and a cold Texas wind rattled the windowpane slightly.

Emily was standing here in her daughter’s bedroom, with Lorelai’s father right down the hall and she felt...lonely. A little lost, as if she were adrift on some unknown sea and there were no safe harbors anywhere in sight. If she left and went back to her condo in Dallas, she was giving up on a love she wanted more than anything. But if she stayed, she might be setting herself up for even more pain than she’d experienced when JT had walked away the first time.

Rubbing her hands up and down her arms, Emily sighed as she remembered the kiss she and JT had shared only that morning. She wasn’t crazy, she assured herself. There really was something still burning between them. And for herself, she knew what it was.

She was in love with JT Harrah, damn it.

“Lorelai okay?”

A deep whisper came from behind her and Emily whirled around to see JT standing in the open doorway. All he wore was a pair of worn, faded jeans, so hastily thrown on the fly wasn’t even buttoned. And after one glance, Emily deliberately didn’t notice it again. His chest was bare and so were his feet. He’d probably been sleeping, since everyone on the ranch woke up with the roosters every morning.

“Did I wake you?” she asked, her voice hardly more than a hush in the shadows.

“No,” he said softly, coming into the room with long, easy strides. “Couldn’t sleep.”

He stopped alongside the crib, looked down at the sleeping little girl and smiled. “She’s not having any trouble though, is she?”

Emily smiled too and moved to stand beside him. “She’s always been a good sleeper. From the time she was only a month old.”

“Wish I’d seen her when she was that little.”

Emily’s heart twisted. “I am sorry, JT.”

“What’s done’s done.” He shifted his gaze from their daughter to her. “You’re here now. Which was one reason I couldn’t sleep.”

“Really?” Her stomach did a quick dive and roll.

“Really.” He reached out, stroked a single fingertip along her arm and smiled when she shivered. “Time to finish what we started this morning.”

Flutters of anticipation rose in the pit of her belly as she watched him. As he lowered his head, as he moved in to kiss her. Then she closed her eyes and surrendered to the moment.

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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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