Whoever would have thought, Ginger Rollins wondered, that a tiny plus sign would have the power to forever change her life? But there it was. Bold as ever in the window of the testing device.
She sighed and stood, her knees wobbling as she paced the length of the nondescript hotel room she currently called home. Barely able to wrap her mind around the stunning news-she thought back to the rowdy town hall meeting in Summit, Texas, just six weeks ago. Where she'd locked eyes-and disputed ideas-with one tall, sexy, indomitable Texan.
If only her passionate arguing with Rand McCabe had ended there.
But no, as per usual whenever they met up, the two of them hadn't been able to call it quits when the meeting ended, and instead had taken their verbal clashing down the street to the establishment that stayed open the latest in that small mountain town. Equal parts pub, dance hall and pool parlor, the cavernous tavern was packed to the rafters with a singles-only event meant to take away the annual sting of Valentine's Day for the romantically unattached.
The band was loud, the company lively, the margaritas so strong you had to surrender your car keys and sign a pledge promising not to drink and drive to even get one.
If only, Ginger thought, she had stopped there, said a cool but firm good-night to Rand, and stuck to her usual ginger ale. Instead she had risen to the challenge of the ruggedly handsome environmentalist, and taken a seat beside him at the bar, where their disagreement had turned to laughter, their animosity to shameless flirting. Along with a host of others, they had closed the place down and taken the party bus back to her room at the Summit Inn.
The next thing Ginger knew sunlight had been streaming through the blinds. Her body still humming with the bone-deep satisfaction that was every bit as familiar to her as he was, she'd opened her eyes and groaned, aware it had happened. Again.
Only this time she had a scarlet heart with a broken arrow tattooed just below her shoulder. Rand had an exploding heart inked on his upper arm. And both of them were as naked as the day they were born. Ginger had moaned in dismay, because once again she'd felt way too exposed and vulnerable. "I don't believe this," she'd whispered to herself. When would she ever learn?
"Can't say I mind," a low masculine voice had drawled back.
Ginger winced. "Of course you don't mind," she'd muttered. He'd had a great time. They both had.
"In fact, I don't think I've ever had a better Valentine's Day," he'd added.
As confident-and determined-as ever, Rand had turned his ruggedly handsome face and warm, strong body to hers. The stubble of morning beard, a shade darker than his rumpled mahogany hair, had lined his jaw. A sexy smile turned up the corners of his lips. But it was the compelling masculine intensity of his midnight-blue eyes when he'd admired her tousled hair and kiss-swollen lips that had really left her enthralled.
Damn him for reminding her just how right they were together. In bed anyway
Ginger knew she should have said no when Rand's grin broadened and he'd reached for her again. Instead she'd given in to overwhelming desire and said yes to making love one last time.
To her relief, their coordinating tattoos hadn't been real. But apparently the consequences of their actions had been. And now, Ginger thought, on a fresh wave of emotion, she had to decide what to do before any more precious time elapsed.
Rand McCabe had collected eleven of the twelve soil samples he needed from in and around the Summit Creek bed when the pickup stopped just south of him. The door opened and an achingly familiar woman, with a mane of long copper-colored hair, stepped out into the warm spring sunshine.
A real looker, Ginger Rollins was dressed much like the last time he had seen her, in formfitting jeans, white T-shirt and button-up Western vest. Her leather boots were thick and sturdy, meant for traversing hard-scrabble ground. Her stone suede hat had a rolled brim that spoke volumes about her sassy attitude.
And while Rand could not help but admire the sultry curves on her tall, statuesque frame, it was her pretty face, the pert, straight nose and soft, sensual lips that had haunted his dreams.
One more night together shouldn't have made all the difference.
But it had.
Perhaps that's why it bothered him more than usual that she'd been steadily avoiding his calls, texts and emails for the past six weeks, as was always the case after they hooked up
His gut clenching with a mixture of impatience and anticipation, he watched Ginger stride toward him, her long legs eating up the ground. Slender shoulders squared, her chin held high, she moved with a smooth, effortless grace that made his heart jackhammer in his chest. Unfortunately there was no way of telling what she was thinking or feeling, given the sunglasses shading her dark green eyes. Figuring it best that he be standing when they faced off, Rand straightened to his full height. He set the soil sample in the bed of his truck. Inched off his leather gloves. Waited.
Her purposeful steps stopped just in front of him. Keenly aware that she owed him a big apology, for her usual lack of post-hooking-up etiquette, he looked at her expectantly.
Several long moments passed. Then she stuck her hands in the back pockets of her jeans and squared her shoulders again. Another beat of silence. Finally she said, "There's no other way to put this, so I'm just going to spit it out. I'm pregnant."
Pregnant. The word rolled around in his brain, refusing to compute. She was pregnant?
Ginger offered a weak smile, but did not take off her sunglasses. The silence between them stretched. Within him, anger and irritation surged. After weeks of ignoring him, now this? He took off his sunglasses, so she could see his eyes.
"Is this an April Fool's joke?" he demanded. Yet another way to torment him? If so, he wasn't laughing.
Every inch of her five-foot-eight-inch frame tensed. She let out a long, slow breath that first lifted then lowered her full shapely breasts. "Believe me, McCabe, I was as caught off-guard as you are."
He stared at her, still considering what to do and say next that wouldn't make the situation even more volatile.
Finally she took off her sunglasses.
To his surprise, she looked calm. Every emotional defense she had firmly in place. As though this whole speech was something she had rehearsed.
"Anyway." Ginger paused, appearing not to share the complex feelings roiling around inside him. "I thought I should tell you. Probably in person." She took another deep breath, suddenly looking oddly vulnerable. "So
" She gestured broadly, then started to pivot away from him.
Not about to let her run away from him again, especially now, he stopped her exodus with a light hand to her shoulder. Turned her slowly back to face him. "You're sure?" he asked quietly, searching her eyes, aware a sort of happy acceptance was beginning to crowd out the shock within him.
"Yes," she said softly, meeting his gaze for one long, telling moment that had them both-however briefly-on the same page. "When I first saw the plus sign in the indicator window, I was hoping it was a glitch in the home pregnancy test. Which is why-" She rummaged around in her back pocket, finally producing a folded piece of paper. "I saw a doctor over in Marfa and had a blood test and physical exam."
Her fingers brushed his briefly as she gave him the paper. It had her name and confidential patient information, all right, as well as lab results and the word "Positive." Under diagnosis, he saw "Pregnancy" listed, along with a projected due date of November sixth.
Their eyes met once again. Emotion shimmered between them as another long, awkward silence fell. He wasn't sure what she expected of him. Wasn't entirely sure what he felt, either. Except for the tiny hint of joy.
She assessed him with a long, level look and blurted, "Aren't you going to ask me if the baby is yours?"
Rand knew that would have been the logical response if their latest one-night stand had been with two people who were accustomed to having one-night stands. Neither of them was. That made her habitual running away from him-from the passion they shared-all the harder to understand and accept, given that their intermittent lovemaking had been ongoing for more than a year now.
Her green eyes glimmered with barely suppressed emotion. "Why not?"
"Because I don't have to, Ginger," he said. "I know it is."
Seeming vaguely insulted by his confidence, she squinted at him, then retorted, "How?"
Aggravated to find her still wanting to downplay what they'd experienced, which had been pretty spectacular, he returned, just as contentiously, "Because it was apparent from the very first time we ever went to bed together that you knew nothing about having a fling, and even less about turning an ongoing series of flings into a relationship."
She flushed. Guilty as charged. Shaking her head, she rasped, "We are such a bad match."
In certain ways, Rand conceded readily. In others
He couldn't disagree more. Because deep down, he had never felt anything like what he felt when he was with her. Nor-if his instincts were correct-had she. She was just too stubborn to admit it.
Sensing she was about ready to bolt, he let out a rough breath and stepped closer. "Well, given that we have a little one on the way, we're going to have to find a way to do better."
His gruff reminder brought a much needed dose of reality back to the situation.
"I agree," Ginger said. "Which is why," she continued resolutely, looking straight at him, "I'd like the two of us to make it official, at least for a while."
For once, Ginger noted, Rand McCabe had absolutely nothing to say. And that left her scrambling to put a halt to whatever confused notions he had. Hating how awkward this all felt, she lifted a cautioning hand. "Naturally, it won't be a real relationship."
Something flickered in his blue eyes then fled. "Naturally."
Trying not to think how attracted to him she was, she cleared her throat. "It'd be more like a business arrangement to get us through the birth."
And since they were both small business owners, she figured he would appreciate her matter-of-fact approach to their predicament. To her shock, however, it seemed to have done the opposite.
Still trying to get some sense of where she stood with him, Ginger let out a shaky breath and added, "Although there are obvious social advantages to being a 'family' while we await the birth of our baby
legally, it would also be easier."
He lifted a questioning brow, his gaze roving her head to toe.
Tingling everywhere his eyes had touched-and everywhere they hadn't-Ginger explained, "Under Texas law, a child born to a man and woman who are not married has no legal father. Conversely, if we're husband and wife when the baby is born, the child will automatically be yours in the eyes of the law. No additional paperwork will need to be done to establish paternity before we can put your name on our child's birth certificate."
"Looks like you've thought of everything," Rand said dryly.
Ginger had certainly tried. "It's all online. You can research it through the Texas attorney general's website, too." Again, Rand merely nodded.
Frustrated he wasn't more forthcoming with his thoughts and feelings, she groaned. "Fortunately, we won't have to stay married too long." A little less than nine months, the way she figured it.
This time he moved closer. He stopped mere inches short of her. She inhaled the scent of soap and sun and man.
His blue eyes gleamed. "So you're proposing to me?"
Why did she suddenly feel as though that was a bad thing? "I know that's typically a man's domain."
He lowered his head, until they were nose to nose and she had no choice but to look into his eyes. "Uh, yeah!"
His gruff words were a direct hit to her carefully constructed defenses. Aware there were times when he made her feel very safe, and times-like now-when he made her feel very off-kilter, Ginger shrugged nonchalantly. "But I didn't want to wait for you to get around to it."
He smiled. "You think I'd take my sweet time about it, is that it?"
He certainly took his sweet time about a lot of things. In bed, anyway. Ginger flushed, disturbed that the only way they knew each other all that well, was sensually.
She waved off his assertion. "Don't know. Don't care." She moved to put her sunglasses back on, but stuffed them in her vest pocket instead. "I just want a ring on my finger before any more time elapses. So that by the time I'm showing and we have to start telling people I'm pregnant, we'll already be married, and it won't be such a big deal."
His eyes never left hers as he stood there in that utterly disarming way that he had. "Oh, it's a big deal, all right," he said in a low, soft voice that sent ribbons of sensation coasting down her spine.
She craned her neck to meet his gaze. "You know what I mean, McCabe. If we've already been hitched for three months or so before I have to start telling people I'm expecting, then people aren't going to think much of it. It's going to be old news a lot faster than it otherwise would be."
"Or in other words-" his eyes never wavered from her face "-you don't want people to think we had to get married."
Determined to keep him at arm's length, Ginger fought the waves of sexual magnetism that always existed between them. "There's no such thing as having to get married in this day and age. But
He frowned. "There's always a caveat with you, isn't there?"
So what if there is? Ginger liked to be prepared for any eventuality, especially the bad stuff.
She stiffened her spine and plunged on. "Since the majority of the clients I want to put under contract are very traditional in their outlook, it makes sense for me-us-to be married. So that I will appear more."
She gave him a withering look before finally conceding, "Traditional, too."
Rand rubbed the flat of his palm across the nape of his neck. "Except for the fact that anyone who knows you at all kind of knows that you aren't conventional, Ginger. Not in the slightest."
True, she hadn't been. Until she'd realized they had a baby on the way. Knowing she had to provide for someone other than herself had changed everything. Made her yearn for as much stability as possible in her personal-and professional-life. Which included finding a way to land her first big contract as an independent oil woman, ASAP.
"Marrying you will show everyone that I'm finally ready to settle down. That it's safe to trust my skill as a geologist, and to sign with me."
And that, in turn, would give their child the safe harbor he or she would need, even after she and Rand parted ways.
He sighed. "So this isn't just about the baby. It's about oil, too?"
Ginger nodded, as ready to be totally upfront about that as everything else. "The word on the street is that Summit County is going to lift their temporary moratorium on horizontal drilling any day now. When that happens, there's going to be a stampede of wildcatters trying to get landowners signed up."
"In particular Dot and Clancy Boerne."
A brief smile flickered across her face. "The fifty-thousand-acre Boerne ranch is where the most oil is expected to be."
"You think being pregnant and unmarried would eliminate you from the running?" he asked, sliding her a long, contemplative look.