Authors: judy christenberry
“Why are you so sure it’s a boy?” she demanded, turning her back on him.
He pulled her around to face him. “Boy, girl, it doesn’t matter, Janie. What matters is this is my baby.”
She stared at her toes, refusing to look at him. “I’m not denying the baby is yours, Pete.”
“I don’t see how you could!” he exclaimed. He knew the baby was his. But in the back of his thoughts was the man she’d been seeing. He didn’t want any doubt at all in anyone’s mind.
“I’ll leave it up to you.”
He frowned. What had he missed? “Leave what up to me?”
“It will be your choice as to whether or not you publicly claim to be the father.”
He stared at her, totally lost by her words. “What are you talking about? Did you think I’d deny my own child?” His voice rose as outrage filled it.
“Not—not exactly but—”
“Damn it, Janie, I’ll shout from the rooftop that this baby is mine! And don’t you forget it!”
“You’re yelling again,” she protested, her gaze lifting to his.
“Damn right I’m yelling! You’re driving me crazy!”
The stubborn look on her face, her eyes sparking with challenge, took his breath away. The fire in her always lit a corresponding one in him, one that quickly burned out of control.
Groaning, he pulled her into his embrace. “Aw, Janie,” he crooned, his body shuddering as her softness went all the way through him. He tilted her chin, his lips descended to hers and he drank from the sweetest fountain in the world. He never wanted to let her go, to let her put the distance between them that had driven him crazy the past three weeks.
Her arms stole around his neck, and he pressed her even closer, wanting her to feel his arousal, to know that she made him ache with need. From the very beginning, she’d had that effect on him.
“I knew it! I knew Pete would talk her into it!” Hank shouted from the kitchen door.
Her father’s words ripped Janie from Pete’s embrace. She was grateful for the intervention. Once again, she’d proved to herself how easily Pete could erase all her carefully constructed barriers.
“No! No, Daddy. Pete hasn’t convinced me.” She drew a deep breath and pasted that practiced smile on her face. “He was just…assuring me of his support.” She couldn’t quite bring herself to meet Pete’s gaze, but she heard his snort of derision.
“That so, Pete?” Hank asked.
“Yeah, right,” Pete said, but the tone of his voice didn’t match the agreement in his words.
“Well, it seems to me that you shouldn’t be kissing like that unless you’re going to get married,” Hank said, a frown on his face.
“Daddy! You’re being ridiculous.” Janie risked a quick glance at Pete and discovered his cheeks were as red as hers felt. As if they hadn’t done a lot more. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be pregnant.
“Hank,” Lavinia said quietly.
“You know I’m right, Lavinia. They shouldn’t be carrying on like that.”
“I think that’s what my father said when we told him I was pregnant,” Lavinia said calmly, staring at her husband.
Hank’s face reddened and he tried to speak several times. Finally he muttered, “I can’t believe you said that.”
“You mean you were pregnant when you and Daddy got married?” Janie blurted out, staring at her parents.
“I refuse to discuss this subject!” Hank roared, looking anywhere but at Janie or her mother.
“Whatever happened, your mother and I got married! Can you match that, young lady?”
Janie gave her father a rueful smile. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t. You see, you and Mom loved each other and—and that’s not the case with us.”
“Janie—” Pete began, but halted as someone knocked on the back door.
“Who could that be?” Lavinia wondered aloud as she hurried to open it.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Dawson,” Bryan Manning said, but his gaze flew over her shoulder, seeking out Janie. “May I speak to your daughter?”
Janie closed her eyes. Just what she needed. Another determined male wanting to make choices for her. She opened her eyes and stepped forward. “Bryan, this really isn’t a good time.”
“But it can’t wait, Janie. I want to tell your dad that I’m the father of your baby. We can be married at once.” He smiled at her, reminding her of a little boy expecting to be rewarded.
Instead, she wanted to bash him on the head.
Before she could protest, the other three in the kitchen burst into questions. The babble of voices made her cover her ears.
Pete immediately seized her wrists and pulled her hands away as he leaned down to face her, nose to nose. “What the hell is he talking about?”
“Take your hands off her,” Bryan protested, advancing on Pete.
“Back off, greenhorn, before you find yourself flat on your back,” Pete growled, turning to face him.
Janie immediately inserted herself between the two men. “Pete, don’t start anything.”
” Pete demanded, his voice rising in protest. “I’m not the one who’s sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.” He glared at Bryan.
Janie ignored Pete. Bryan was the problem, and she wanted him gone as soon as possible. “Bryan, what are you doing here? I said I’d think about it.”
“You’d think about what?” Pete demanded, even more outrage in his voice.
“Yeah, just what have you been planning with this man?” Hank chipped in.
“You really should explain, dear,” Lavinia added.
“And how did he know about my baby?” Pete demanded. “Is that why you refused to marry me? You already were making plans with
Bryan tensed even more and surged toward Pete in response to the scorn in his voice.
“No!” Janie yelled, extending her arms straight out between the two men. It had always looked so romantic in the movies when two men fought over a woman. In reality, it wasn’t romantic—it was chaotic!
She drew a deep breath. “If you would give me a moment alone with Bryan, I’d appreciate it.”
“You haven’t answered our questions,” her father reminded her.
“No, Daddy, I haven’t. But I’d prefer to do that after I’ve explained things to Bryan. If you don’t mind.”
Even as her father opened his mouth—to protest, she assumed—Pete spoke up. “I don’t think you should be left alone with him.”
Janie gave a sigh of exasperation. “Right. He’s certainly dangerous, isn’t he? Come on, Pete, we’re not dealing with a mass murderer here. Bryan is a friend. He made his offer out of—of friendship.” She couldn’t help sending a look of apology to Bryan. After all, she didn’t mean to trivialize his feelings, but she
what they shared to be friendship.
Pete was watching her closely and settled his hands on his hips, his mouth tightening. Finally he said, “All right, I’ll give you five minutes.”
Janie’s patience fled. A few minutes ago, she’d been in heaven in Pete’s arms. But that didn’t give him the right to lay down the law to her. “Listen, mister,” she said, poking him in the chest with her forefinger, “I’ll take all the time I need. And if you get tired of waiting, feel free to head on home.”
She was quite pleased with herself, finally feeling she’d gained control of the situation. But her stomach quickly erased her superiority. She barely made it to the sink before she threw up her lunch.
AVINIA TOOK CHARGE
, shooing the men away from Janie. “I’ll take care of her,” she said, leading Janie out of the kitchen. “She’ll be just fine.” Just before they disappeared, she added in a stern voice, “And we want no fighting down here.”
As soon as the door closed behind the two women, Bryan spoke. “Look, Mr. Dawson, I love your daughter. I’ll take care of her, if she’ll marry me. And the baby, too.”.
Pete didn’t wait for Hank to respond. He was too afraid. “The baby is mine, and I’ve already offered marriage to Janie.
will take care of both of them.”
“When I talked to Janie, she said she wasn’t marrying you,” Bryan challenged.
“Things change. Janie will marry me.” He only hoped he was right. But he wasn’t going to show his fears to this man.
“Well, until Janie tells me differently, I’ll be here, ready to take care of her.”
“She doesn’t need you,” Pete growled, irritated that the man didn’t recognize that he was treading on Pete’s territory. It had torn him up that Janie was out with another man the past three weeks. That the man claimed to love her made him want to punch something…or someone.
Hank spoke up. “Boy, if you’ve got a lick of sense in your head, you’ll say your goodbyes now. Pete’s a little riled up as it is, and I’m worried about my little girl.”
“But I want to talk to Janie,” the man insisted.
Pete shook his head. This guy wasn’t right for Janie. Why couldn’t she see that? He flexed his hands, itching to show Bryan the door a little forcefully.
“You’re not bothering Janie now. Just go,” Hank insisted, and Pete nodded in agreement.
“Why does he get to stay?” Bryan pointed to Pete, just in case Hank didn’t understand whom he meant.
”’Cause I want him to, and it’s my house,” Hank replied, his voice growing louder.
Both Pete and Hank took a step closer to Bryan, and he began backing toward the door. “Okay, okay, I’m going. But I’ll be back. I won’t abandon Janie.”
As the door closed behind him, Pete and Hank looked at each other with relief.
“Son, I don’t mind telling you, I’d much rather have you married to Janie than that Easterner.”
“I’d get a big head about that statement, Hank, except that I don’t think Bryan is much competition,” Pete drawled, still scowling at the door.
“Maybe not, but at least he’s willing to say the words Janie wants to hear.” Hank gave Pete a steady look. “You may find him more competition than you think.”
Pete refused to even consider such a thing. Janie was having
baby. He couldn’t believe she wouldn’t listen to him eventually. Then he turned his thoughts to a more important matter. “What about Janie? Is she all right?”
“Yeah, or Lavinia would’ve already been on the phone calling Doc. You’d better get used to her throwing up. Lavinia always did.”
Pete shook his head. No question about it. The female was the stronger of the two sexes. He didn’t think he could stand throwing up very often.
The kitchen door opened, and both men snapped to attention when Lavinia walked in.
“How’s Janie?” Pete asked.
“She’s fine. I’ve got her lying down. Don’t we have some club soda around here, Hank?”
Her husband hurried to the pantry, and she turned to Pete. “Did Bryan leave?”
“Yeah, with a little encouragement.”
“You two didn’t come to blows, did you? Janie was worried about that.”
“Of course not. I behaved myself.” He ignored Hank’s chuckle. “Can I see Janie?”
Hand returned with a bottle of club soda. “Better not, son. She’s in no mood to be talked to now.”
“I think it will be all right,” Lavinia contradicted, but she gave Pete a warning look. “As long as you don’t upset her. It was all that arguing and stress that caused her to throw up. It’s not good for the baby.”
“Lavinia, I don’t think it’ a good idea,” Hank said, frowning.
She turned to stare at her husband with that determined look that Pete had seen a thousand times, and he grinned at the older man. “I know who’s going to win this argument, because I’ve seen that look on your daughter’s face. You two can discuss it in private while I visit with Janie.” He turned to go to the door and then added at the last minute, “I promise I won’t upset her.”
He knew the way to Janie’s room, though he hadn’t been there in a number of years, not since the summer he’d helped Hank paint the upstairs for some extra spending money. He rapped on her door and heard her faint permission to enter.
“Hi, Janie,” he said quietly, his gaze roaming her pale face.
“Pete! I—I was afraid it was Bryan.”
Her word choice did a lot for his morale. “Nope. We told him to leave.” Immediately he held up his hand. “Nicely, we told him nicely.” He grinned and sighed with relief when she grinned back.
“Yeah, I bet.”
He crossed over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. “I was as nice as I could be.”
She raised her eyebrows. “That might not be saying too much.”
He smiled at her but turned the conversation to her health. “How are you? Still feeling bad?”
She sobered and shook her head. “No. Just a little tired. It’s been a—a busy day.”
“I’ll say.” He reached over and took her hand. “I’m not going to argue with you anymore. I promised your mother. But I wanted to be sure you’re all right, you and the baby, before I left.”
Pete didn’t know what he’d said wrong, but the darkening of Janie’s blue eyes before she lowered her lashes told him he’d upset her. He tightened his grasp on her hand. “Is everything all right?”
“So why won’t you look at me?”
His question brought her gaze back to him, a challenge in those blue eyes. He’d known she’d respond to a dare. She always had. Once she’d broken her arm because Chad had dared her to jump out of a tree. Both of them had caught hell from Hank and Lavinia.
Without conscious thought, he leaned over and brushed her lips with his. “I wanted you to know I’m not going away. I’m not giving up. We’re going to be married, Janie Dawson, and you might as well resign yourself to that fact. Okay?”
She tugged on her hand. “No, it’s not okay. We’ve been through this already.”
He held on, not wanting to break contact with her. “I’m not going to argue with you right now. Just think about what I’ve said.”
“And you think about what I’ve said,” she said, her chin rising.
“That’s my Janie,” Pete said, his grin returning. “Never give in.”
“I was afraid you’d forgotten,” she returned.
“Nope.” His voice grew serious. “I’ve never forgotten anything about you, Janie, and I’m not likely to.” He kissed her again and stood. “Don’t you forget that, either.”
Then he walked away, fighting the desire to crawl into bed with her and cuddle her against him, protecting and loving—no, caring for her. That’s right. Caring for her. He didn’t love Janie, of course. But he cared about her.