brides for brothers 02 - cowboy daddy (3 page)

BOOK: brides for brothers 02 - cowboy daddy
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Jake quickly moved between them. “Now, Hank, wait just a minute. Pete offered to marry Janie. She’s the one who said no.”

“She said what? Well, that don’t excuse Pete. He shouldn’ta been messing with Janie! My little girl! How dare you, boy?” He tried to push past Jake.

Brett joined Jake in his attempts to calm Hank. Pete almost wished they’d move aside and let Hank do his worst. Maybe it would assuage the guilt Pete felt.

“Hank!” Jake protested. “Pete didn’t do it by himself. Janie’s a grown woman. She didn’t have to fight him off, you know.”

“Are you sure?” Hank growled.

Jake stepped back, and Brett with him. “You ought to know better than that, Hank.”

“Hell, I didn’t mean any insult,” Hank assured him, his gaze seeking Pete’s over Jake’s shoulder. “So why haven’t you been to see me, to settle things manlike? That’s what your dad woulda wanted.”

“Because Janie just told me this afternoon, about an hour ago. As soon as she told me, I asked her to marry me, but she turned me down. We were just trying to figure out what to do.” Pete paused and then added, “I’m sorry, Hank. I wouldn’t have hurt you and Lavinia for anything.”

“How about Janie? I imagine she’s going to be hurt the worst,” Hank said, sadness replacing his anger.

“Hank, I swear I’m perfectly willing to marry her and take care of her and the baby.”

“Fine. Then we’ll make the arrangements. And we won’t have any hide-in-the-closet kind of marriage, either. Our Janie is our pride and joy.”

“With good reason,” Pete agreed, smiling slightly for the first time. “She’s a wonderful woman.”

“Yeah,” Hank agreed. But his voice was faint, and he suddenly reached for a chair. “Janie pregnant,” he muttered. Suddenly he looked up at Pete, his gaze sharpening. “I didn’t even know you two were seeing each other.” Before Pete could say anything, he asked another question. “Didn’t you think about the consequences?”

“Of course I did. But, like you said, accidents happen.”

Silence fell, and the Randalls and Red joined Hank at the table. Jake leaned forward. “Hank, Pete says Janie refused him. Are you sure you can change her mind?”

“Of course I can,” Hank assured them, straightening his shoulders. “Janie always does what I tell her to do.”

With that statement, Pete realized he knew Janie better than her father did. And he also came to the conclusion that the next few days were going to be difficult.

“Why’d she turn you down?” Hank asked, swinging his gaze to Pete.

He ran his finger around the collar of his shirt. “Uh, she asked me to marry her before she told me she was pregnant.”

“And?”

“I said no.”

“You’ve been sleeping with her but you didn’t think she was good enough to marry?” From the sound of his voice, Hank’s hackles were up again.

“Hank! You know better than that. It’s not Janie who’s the problem. She’s—she’s wonderful.” He paused to clear his throat. “I never planned to marry. After Jake’s—” his gaze flicked to his older brother, hating the regret he read there “—divorce, I decided I didn’t need that kind of pain. But the baby—” Again he broke off. Just saying those words threw him for a loop. “The baby makes a difference.”

“Did you tell Janie that?” Hank retorted.

Pete drew a deep breath and then exhaled. “She didn’t give me a chance. I tried to make some plans, and she said they weren’t necessary because she wasn’t going to marry me. Then she left.”

Hank rose to his feet. “Well, I guaran-damn-tee you there’ll be a wedding before my first grandchild takes a breath, so get your best suit pressed, boy. You’re about to become a member of my family.” Then he strode out of the room without saying goodbye.

Jake was the first to speak. “Do you think he’ll convince her?”

Pete shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, I remember Janie’s stubbornness,” Brett threw in. “I have my doubts.”

Pete stood. “We’ll find a way. My baby is too important.” He left the kitchen in a hurry, as if he needed to be outside to breathe.

“Man, I hope he’s right,” Jake muttered. Then he looked at Brett. “And if he is, and he and Janie marry, you’d better start looking for a likely bride for youself, too, ’cause you’ll be next on my list.”

“Hey, Jake, two out of three ought to satisfy you,” Brett protested.

“Nope. I want all my brothers married with lots of little Randalls underfoot. And don’t you forget it.”

J
ANIE HAD TROUBLE
concentrating on any of her chores as she waited for her father’s return. Even if Pete kept quiet, she needed to tell her father that she was pregnant.

He’d be upset. Unlike her mother’s reaction, her father would explode. And his anger wouldn’t all be directed at Pete. Rightly so. In fact, if she was honest with herself, she was probably more responsible than Pete.

After all, what single man, when faced with one hundred percent cooperation, wouldn’t take a reasonably attractive, single young woman to bed? And she’d been totally cooperative. She’d loved Pete for so long, it had seemed natural to melt into his arms, to let passion surge between them.

But she’d been wrong.

Now she had to face her father and explain to him why she’d made this mistake…and why she wouldn’t marry Pete.

The phone rang and Janie, in her father’s office doing some of the paperwork that weighed down a rancher, stared at it. Was it her father? Had Pete told him?

“Janie?” her mother called from the kitchen. “Phone for you. It’s Bryan.”

Not her father, but almost as bad. Bryan Manning had dated her a few times after she stopped seeing Pete. He had recently moved from Chicago and didn’t know too many people.

He was a nice man, but she couldn’t continue to see him.

“Hello, Bryan,” she said, trying to make her voice cheerful.

“Hi, Janie. How’s life?”

If he only knew.

“Um, fine, Bryan.”

“How about dinner tomorrow night? We could grab a steak in town.”

“I can’t.” She should explain, but how could she?

“Then Friday night? I’ve thought about you constantly. You’re the best thing I’ve found since I left Chicago.”

The warmth in his voice was touching, as well as his words. She’d give anything to hear that sentiment from Pete. In fact, everything about Bryan was great. He was handsome, successful, warm, loving—but he wasn’t Pete.

“I can’t go out with you anymore, Bryan,” she finally managed to say.

After a tense silence, he asked in a low voice, “What did I do, Janie? Whatever it is, I’ll change. You mean a lot to me. I can’t—”

“Bryan! It’s not you. It’s me. I—I can’t date for a while.”

“Problem with your parents? You could move out. I’ll gladly share my digs,” he offered with a laugh he couldn’t quite pull off.

Trying to inject some lightheartedness into her voice, she replied, “Thanks for the generosity, but I can’t do that. After all, I work here.”

More silence. “What is it, Janie? Is there anything I can do?”

Tenderness. Concern. His reaction was soothing, but she couldn’t take advantage of him. Maybe she should just tell him the truth. After all, she would tell her father as soon as he returned, so it wouldn’t hurt to tell Bryan now.

“No, there’s nothing you can do. I—I’m pregnant, Bryan.”

She expected him to retreat at once. Babies tended to scare bachelors.

“So you’re getting married?” he asked instead.

“Um, no,” she replied. “I really have to go, Bryan.”

“Wait. Did the father refuse to marry you?”

“No.”

“Then why aren’t you getting married?”

“Bryan, you really shouldn’t—”

“I’ll marry you.”

She was speechless.

After waiting for her to respond, Bryan plowed on. “Look, I know it’s too soon to tell you, but I love you. I’ll love your baby. I’ll take care of the two of you.”

“Bryan, please. This is impossible. You can’t—This doesn’t make sense.”

“Yes, it does. Think about it, Janie.”

The urgency in his voice convinced her he was serious. But she still couldn’t consider his offer. “No, I’m sorry, Bryan.”

“Look, can I at least call you? Take you out? I mean, if you’re not marrying the man, then we can still see each other. Give me a chance, Janie.”

“I’ll—I’ll think about it.” That was all she could promise him. She just needed some time.

“Janie!”

Her father’s roar drew her attention away from Bryan.

“I have to go now, Bryan.”

He was still protesting as she hung up, but she couldn’t spare any time for him at the moment. She had to face her father.

When she entered the kitchen, she discovered her mother and father facing each other, hands on their hips.
Oh, great. Not only is my life a mess, I’m going to ruin theirs, too.

“She will too!” her father shouted.

“Hi, Dad.”

Her greeting drew his immediate attention. He didn’t waste any time making his position clear. “Young lady, I’m very unhappy with you. But you
will
marry Pete Randall. Make no mistake about it!”

“No, Daddy, I won’t,” she replied softly, refusing to join him in a shouting match.

He gaped at her, as if she’d never opposed him before, though they had had some spectacular arguments in the past. After all, she was her father’s daughter.

“What did you say? Janie, you have to! You’re going to have his baby.”

“I know that, Daddy.” She knew it better than anyone. “But I’m not going to marry Pete. He doesn’t love me.”

“He wants to marry you!” her father insisted.

“That’s not the same thing.”

“Hank,” Lavinia interrupted before he could speak again, “Janie’s tired. She doesn’t need all this harassment.”

“Harassment? What are you talking about, woman? I’m her father, in case you’ve forgotten! It’s my duty to guide her. I know what’s best for her, and she’ll do what I say.”

Lavinia stepped to Janie’s side and put her arm around her. “No. She’ll do what she thinks is right.”

“Surely you’re not on her side? Lavinia, what are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about Janie,” Lavinia said quietly.

It wasn’t often her parents disagreed. They were a wonderful couple, as loving now as when they’d married. But neither of them gave in easily, either.

“Now, Lavinia…” Hank began, eyeing his wife warily.

“No, Hank. I will not have you browbeating Janie. She’s not at full strength right now.”

Janie’s heart filled as her father spun around to face her, panic and caring on his face. “You’re not well? Is something wrong with the baby?” he hurriedly demanded.

“No, Daddy. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”

“How dare you scare me to death!” he yelled, turning back to Lavinia.

“I was referring to her pregnancy, Hank. Surely, after all my difficulties, you know how delicate her condition is.”

Janie’s mother had miscarried twice before she’d given birth to Janie and once afterward. Then the doctor had ordered no more pregnancies.

One of Janie’s hands stole to cover her stomach. Already this baby was so real that even the thought of losing it frightened her.

Her mother’s words also affected her father. “Now, Lavinia, honey, you know I wouldn’t do anything to upset Janie, but she has to marry Pete. Surely you can see that.”

“No, she doesn’t. She has to do what’s best for her and the baby.”

“That’s what I said. She has to marry Pete.”

“Daddy, I can’t.”

“Why not?” came a deep voice from the doorway.

“P
ETE
!” J
ANIE GASPED
.

“Sorry for not waiting for you to open the door, Lavinia,” Pete apologized, but his gaze didn’t leave Janie. He wanted her to tell him one more time why his child would be born a bastard. “I didn’t think anyone was going to hear my knock.”

“That’s all right, Pete,” Lavinia assured him.

To his relief, she offered him a gentle smile. Since his mother’s death, Lavinia had watched over him and his brothers acting as surrogate mother on many occasions. He hadn’t wanted her mad at him.

Now he turned his attention back to Janie. “Tell me again, Janie, why you won’t marry me.”

Her stubborn chin rose, and she looked away. “You know why.”

“I want to be sure. I want to know why you’re refusing to give my baby my name. I may have to explain it to him when he’s older.” He squared his shoulders and glared at her. He was a lot bigger and older than her. He wasn’t averse to using intimidation if it meant she gave in.

He almost chuckled out loud as Janie reminded him that he was dreaming if he thought he could intimidate her.


You
won’t have to explain anything to
my
baby.” Her body language said he’d better think again if he thought he could take her down.


Our
baby will expect me to explain.”

“Who said I was going to tell the baby who the daddy is?”

Pete’s mouth dropped open. It had never occurred to him that his child might not know who he was. “
I’ll
tell him, if you don’t!”

“You’re yelling, just like Daddy.”

Pete cast a guilty look at Hank. He’d come because he’d known Hank wouldn’t be able to persuade Janie. Not alone. He’d thought maybe the two of them could do the job. But now he looked for reinforcements. “Lavinia, talk some sense into her.”

Before she could answer, Hank said, “She’s on Janie’s side. No use asking her for help.”

“Lavinia?” Pete repeated, shocked by Hank’s words. “Surely you understand that it will be best for Janie and the baby for her to marry me.”

He held his breath as Lavinia considered her response. Finally, with an arm still around Janie, she said, “I’m afraid that has to be Janie’s decision, Pete. I support whatever she decides to do.” She looked at her daughter. “Perhaps you two should talk again without us old folks interfering.”

Lavinia took Hank’s arm and led him from the kitchen. Suddenly Pete found himself once again alone with Janie. What he said now might determine his child’s future. He wet his lips and frantically sought for the right words.

“Pete,” Janie whispered, speaking before he could. “Don’t do this.”

“What? Don’t do what, Janie? Fight for the right to give my name to my son? To acknowledge him before everyone?”

BOOK: brides for brothers 02 - cowboy daddy
6.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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