Authors: Emily McKay
He looked back at her belly when the baby once again moved against his hand.
“Yes.” She nearly choked on the words. “It is amazing.”
It truly was amazing. Not just the sensation of the baby moving inside her, but the way he'd looked at her.
No one had ever looked at her like that before. As if
was amazing. And she'd never in her whole life felt closer to another person.
She felt part of something far bigger and more important than any of the other things in her lifeâduty, honor, justice. Things she'd always thought of as so hugely important, but that seemed dwarfed by this baby and the connection it created between her and Jake.
It nearly broke her heart to think that this was all just an illusion. The connection she felt was not just frail. It was false.
Because the baby wasn't hers. And neither was Jake.
has been reading romance novels since she was eleven years old. Her first Harlequin Romance novel came free in a box of Hefty garbage bags. She has been reading and loving romance novels ever since. She lives in Texas with her husband, her newborn daughter and too many pets. Her books have finaled in RWA's Golden Heart, the Write Touch Readers' Award and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Her debut novel,
Baby, Be Mine
was a RITA
Award finalist for Best First Book and Best Short Contemporary. To learn more, visit her Web site at www.EmilyMcKay.com.
To my wonderful sister, Robin, who dealt so bravely with her own fertility issues and who counseled me so wisely when I encountered problems of my own. Robin, I'm glad I didn't need to be a surrogate for you, but I would have done it in a second!
Kate Bennet did her best not to roll her eyes at the absurdity of her sister's remark. “Yeah. I know.”
As a surrogate mother for her sister, Beth, and her brother-in-law, Stewart, Kate knew all too well that “they” were pregnant. Her hand drifted to her belly where the baby was just beginning to show. Her stomach seemed to flip over, making her curse the first trimester nausea that had yet to fade. She picked up the mug of hot peppermint tea Beth had made for her.
Beth reached across the kitchen table and put her hand on Kate's wrist. Kate paused, mug halfway to her mouth. “What?”
“We're pregnant. Stew and I.”
Kate lowered the mug, struggling to make sense of the words. “You and Stew?”
Beth nodded, her smile so beatifically maternal her face all but glowed. Her eyes sparkled with happiness.
Kate's stomach did another flip, the nausea building now. She pressed her palm to her belly. “With another baby? In addition to the baby I'm carrying for you?”
Kate bolted from the chair and dashed to the hallway bathroom. She barely made it to the toilet bowl before emptying the remnants of her breakfast.
She knelt there for a long time on the bathroom floor, leaning against the cabinet, eyes pressed closed, until her stomach stilled and tile bruised her knees. Only the sound of Beth knocking on the door roused her from her stupor.
“Kate? Are you okay?”
Was she okay? Well, she felt as if her world had just been turned inside outâalong with her stomach. Other than that, she was just ducky.
She hoisted herself to her feet to wash her hands and rinse out her mouth before opening the bathroom door. Resting her shoulder against the doorjamb, she stared at her sister. “How is this possible?”
Beth grasped her elbow and guided her away from the door and down the hallway. “Come back to the kitchen. I'll make you a fresh cup of tea.”
Kate let herself be pushed gently into the Windsor chair and watched as Beth bustled around the simple, homey kitchen.
“We were as surprised as you,” Beth said.
“But you and Stewart can't have children. It's impossible. Isn't it?”
“Highly improbable. But not impossible.”
In fact, their chances were viewed as so slim, the doctor had recommended not using Stew's sperm to insem
inate Kate. Instead, Stew had asked his best friend, Jake, to be a sperm donor.
Still reeling, Kate said, “I thought you said there was only a 0.2% chance of you getting pregnant on your own.”
“We were just very lucky.” Beth set a mug of steaming water in front of Kate and held out a bowl of tea-bags. “Peppermint or chamomile?”
“How can you be so calm?” Kate felt hysteria rising up inside her as the full implication of Beth's pregnancy began to sink in. Kate snatched one of the offered packages, ripped it open and dunked the teabag rapidly in and out of the water.
“I guess, because I've had more time to get used to the idea.”
Kate's hand instantly stilled and her eyes sought Beth's face. “How long have you known?”
“A week. I suspected for longer, but I didn't dare hope. My periods have always been so irregularâand after so many years of tryingâwell, I'd trained myself not to hope, even when I missed a period. Or four.”
“Four? How far along are you?”
“Eighteen weeks? That's a full month further along than I am. A full month.” The very thought made her mind whirl and she sank back against the chair. “So all those sympathetic pregnancy symptoms you've been going through that I thought were so charming weren't sympathetic ones at all. They were real.”
Beth smiled wryly. “I hadn't thought of that.” She reached for Kate's hand. “Look, I know this makes everything very complicated, but ultimately Stew and I just really want to be parents.”
Kate sat forward. “You still want this baby, right?”
Beth gave her another beatific smile. “Well, Stew
and I talked about it and agreed that decision should be up to you and Jake.”
“Up to me and Jake? What's that supposed to mean?”
“Technically, it's your baby andâ”
“No. There's no technically about it.” Okay,
she was both egg donor and genetic carrier, so the baby was biologically hers, but stillâ¦ “This baby is yours. Yours and Stew's. That was the agreement.”
The tension inside Kate threatened to boil over. She leaped to her feet and began pacing, glancing incredulously at her sister. Under the circumstances, Beth didn't seem nearly as distressed as she should be.
Beth stood following Kate's movement with her gaze. “Yes, of course that was the agreement. But things have changed.”
“You can't refuse to take this baby. I won't allow it.” Kate spun around and pinned Beth with her most judicial stare. At least, she tried to pin Beth with a stare, but a wave of dizziness left her groping for a handhold on the nearby countertop, which ruined the effect.
Beth rushed immediately to her side. “Come and sit down. You shouldn't be pacing like that. It can't be good for the baby.”
“You know what's not good for the baby?” she quipped irritably. “This whole conversation.” Still, she sank gratefully into the chair.
“Naturally, Stew and I will still take the baby. If you decide you don't want it. But we want you to at least think about keeping it. The baby is biologically yours. And whether you're willing to admit it or not, you feel a connection to it already.”
For a second, Kate didn't know what to say. Didn't Beth get it? Didn't she understand that the only way
Kate had been able to do this was by doing everything she could not to feel a connection to the baby?
“I know you do,” Beth said, cutting her off, “So there's no use arguing with me about it. The point is, we have two healthy babies here. Stew and I would love to have them both, but we knew all along we were asking a lot of you and Jake. So if either of youâ”
“Jake? What's he have to do with this?”
Beth shot her an exasperated look. “That baby you're carrying is his, too. If either of you decides you want to keep the baby, Stew and I are willing to step aside.”
Suddenly struck by the absurdity of the situation, Kate dropped her face into her hands and choked back laughter. “If either of us wants to keep the baby? You realize how completely absurd that is, don't you?”
But Beth, who merely looked at her with a slight frown, apparently did not.
“Let's face it,” Kate explained. “I have all the maternal instincts of a paper clip. The only idea sillier than me wanting to keep the baby is Jake Morgan wanting to keep it. He's hardly âdaddy' material.”
“Jake's not so bad,” Beth protested.
“Hey, he may be a great guy, for all I know. But we're talking about a man who runs into burning buildings when everyone else runs out.”
“Actuallyâ” Beth lifted her chin stubbornly “ânow that he's moved up to arson investigation, he doesn't run into burning buildings anymore. Just smoldering ones.”
“Right. Smoldering ones. Big difference.”
Beth flashed an impish grin. “Well, at least his kid won't play with matches.”
Kate pointed a finger at her sister. “You can laugh now, but these are the genes your child is going to have.”
Beth just chuckled. “I'm not worried about Jake's genes. He's smart, handsome, charming, andâ”
“Exactly. He's one of those annoying people who thinks he should get whatever he wants just because he
handsome and charming.” Hoping she hadn't revealed just how appealing she found Jakeâor how much that annoyed her, she said quickly, “What does my opinion of Jake have to do with anything?
“It's not like you to be so judgmental.”
Beth was right, of course. So Kate smiled wryly and said, “I'm a judge. We're supposed to be judgmental. Besides, I know I'm right about this. With all the broken homes and bad parents I see in my courtroom, it's my job to cull the good from the bad. I promise you, neither Jake nor I will want this baby.”
“Just think about it. You might change your mind.”
“Yes. And I might turn into a pig, sprout wings and fly. It's not impossible, just highly improbable.”
Despite her determination to put it out of her mind, Kate was still thinking about her conversation with Beth the next evening as she tried to finish up paperwork at the office. It was after six on a Monday; nearly everyone else in the courthouse annex had gone home. But she'd long since given up any hope that the relative quiet would help her concentrate.
How could she not think about Beth's offer to let her keep the baby? Kate rested her hand upon her belly where her baby was growing inside.
Her breath caught in her throat as she felt emotion tighten her chest. For once she didn't try to squash it or shove it aside. What would happen if she did allow herself to keep the baby?
Her heart filled with anticipation. As if keeping the baby was what she'd been subconsciously hoping to do, even though every logical bone in her body had told her doing so would be selfish and irresponsible.
She already loved this baby. Even though it was too early to tell the baby's sex, Kate's gut told her the baby was a girl. Kate's gut had been pretty vocal lately. Every instinct she had demanded her baby girl would want for nothing. So Kate had spent the past three months following to the letter the advice not only of her doctor but also every pregnancy book she could get her hands on. By golly, this was going to be the happiest, healthiest baby ever born. And if she had anything to say about it, this baby would have the best of everything.
That included the best parents. Kate knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Beth would be a much better mother than she would be.
She saw the evidence all the time in her family-law courtroom. Some womenâlike Bethâwere born to be mothers. Others just weren't. In her professional opinion, Kate knew she fell into the latter group.
Suddenly angry with herself for dwelling on the issue for so long, she shoved the files she'd been reviewing into her briefcase and headed for the door. The brisk walk to her car made her feel no less grumpy. When she reached the parking lot to find
leaning against her Volvo, her mood plummeted even further.
She'd never quite been able to pin down what it was, but something about Jake Morgan just rubbed her the wrong way. It wasn't only his confident charmâa trait she'd learned long ago to neither like nor trust in men. Maybe it was that slow, sensual gaze of his that seemed to undress a woman and make love to her all at once. Or maybe it was just the pure testosterone that emanated
from him in waves. He was just too much. Too masculine. Too charming. And entirely too smug.
Not to mention too in her way.
“What are you doing here?” she asked as she approached her car.
His long legs were crossed at the ankles. The faded denim of his jeans stretched taut across his thighs. His only defense against the unusually cold May evening was a long-sleeve flannel shirt worn unbuttoned over his T-shirt. With the sleeves rolled up, no less.
Typical. Probably thought he was too manly to need a coat. Or maybe he knew how good he looked and didn't want to ruin the effect.
She pulled her keys from her coat pocket and used the remote to pop the locks. With a shrug of his muscular shoulders, he pushed himself away from her car.
“I came to see you.”
“I assumed as much.” She opened the rear door and slid her briefcase onto the seat. She made no move to climb into the car herself. He was standing too close to the driver's door for her to comfortably edge past him. “You always lurk in parking lots by women's cars? That could be construed as stalking.”
A slow smile spread across his face. “And here you always pretend not to have a sense of humor.”
Even though she had been joking, his insinuation annoyed her. So she said, “I don't joke about that kind of thing.”
“No, of course not.” He faked a serious frown, but his twitching lips gave him away. “By the time I got here, the building was closed for the night.”
“The guards usually leave at 5:30.”
He nodded. “I figured as much. But this was my only free evening this week and I think we need to talk.”
This time he chuckled. “Don't look so suspicious. I just want to talk about the situation with Beth and Stew.”
“You really want to discuss this in the parking lot? We're just a block away from the restaurants on the square. Besides, it's too cold.”
The thought of sharing a meal with Jake sent a shiver of apprehension through her. Georgetown, once a sleepy college town, had grown as the sprawl from Austin crept up IH 35. Like many small Texas towns overtaken by suburbia, Georgetown struggled to maintain its own identity. The historic town square, situated around the Williamson County Courthouse, with its collection of locally owned stores and restaurants was one of the ways Georgetown distinguished itself from larger, more liberal Austin.
While food sounded good to Kate, the romantic atmosphere of one of the local restaurants did not. Dinner was entirely too intimate. Too datelike. She sniffed dismissively. “Then you should have worn a coat.”
“I meant for you. You're shivering already.”
He was right, of course. Ever since the pregnancy, she'd been unusually cold. Which, for some reason, she didn't want to explain to him. Talking about pregnancy symptoms seemed even more intimate than dinner.
Suddenly she was aware how intimate their relationship already was. The bond they shared was so much deeper than just the sexual bond that usually accompanied intimacy. They'd created a life together.