Authors: Beverly Barton
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General
But here he was now, as big, powerful and rugged as he'd been the first night he'd held her in his arms at the Blue Bonnet Grill—the night she'd lost her mind and succumbed to purely physical pleasure. She'd fought the memory of this man for nine months, but he had wreaked havoc on her subconscious. How many nights had she awakened, hot and aroused, after dreaming about him? Even now, only hours after giving birth, she couldn't deny the strong attraction she felt for Jake. And the sight of his gentle hold on her baby did crazy things to her heart.
"Jake, I think we should talk—really talk—about our situation." Donna motioned for him to come to her.
Carrying Louisa in his arms, he walked over and sat on the edge of the bed, then turned their daughter so that she rested between them.
"I don't especially care for the name Louisa Christine," Jake said. "But as long as her last name is Bishop, I won't object."
Donna clenched her teeth to keep from making a stinging reply. Just what was wrong with her grandmothers' names? "You want your name on her birth certificate?"
"Damn right I do! She's a Bishop and I want her name to be Bishop on her birth certificate."
"All right," Donna agreed, rationalizing to herself that if she gave in to him on this matter, he might be more reasonable when it came to other things—things about which she wasn't willing to compromise.
"I'm going to stay the night with y'all tonight." Jake gazed down adoringly at Louisa. "I'll run over to Hank's in the morning to shower and shave and then I'll come back and take you and my sweet sugar baby home."
"That won't be necessary—" When she noticed the fury in Jake's dark eyes, she decided it was best to change tactics. "All right, you can stay the night and then take us home tomorrow afternoon. But when your family leaves, after supper, I expect you to leave, too."
"I'm going to be working for Old Man Henry out at his ranch for the next few months," Jake told her. "Once we get married, I can drive out there everyday, but when he sells the place to me, I'll want us to move out there and live on the ranch."
Live on a ranch? Around smelly horses? With a man she barely knew? She didn't think so.
"About our getting married—" she began.
"I'll give you some time to get used to the idea. I know you'll need to recuperate from giving birth and all, so let's set a date for six weeks from now." The corners of Jake's mouth curved into a devilish smile. "We wouldn't want to waste our wedding night."
Donna's cheeks flushed. Dammit, she was too old to be blushing, but the thought of a wedding night with Jake was almost more than she could bear. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't forget what it had been like to be his lover for sixty of the most passionate, hedonistic and wildest hours of her life. She didn't know much about Jake Bishop, but she knew he was, without a doubt, an incredible lover.
"I'll agree to think about your marriage proposal over the next six weeks, but I'm afraid it's out of the question for you to live with Louisa and me."
Holding the back of her head securely, Jake lifted the baby up toward her mother. "Did you hear what Mommy said? She doesn't want me to live with y'all. What do you say to that, Sugar Baby?"
As if on cue, Louisa began to whimper. Jake grinned.
'"Give her to me," Donna told him. "And wipe that silly grin off your face. The whimper wasn't a statement of her feelings toward your not living with us. She probably needs to be nursed."
"Yes, nursed. I'm breast-feeding Louisa."
Jake felt as if he'd been poleaxed between the eyes. The thought of his child at Donna's breast created an array of emotions inside him. Surprise. Tenderness. Arousal. Curiosity.
He handed the baby over to her mother. "Here you go, Sugar Baby. Mama's serving dinner."
Donna groaned. What a typically crude male thing to say!
Mama's serving dinner,
indeed! "Please stop calling Louisa 'Sugar Baby.' Nicknames often stick. She'd be terribly embarrassed if children at school called her such a silly, juvenile name."
"I don't care for the name Louisa and you've already vetoed Lou and Christy." Jake rose from the side of the bed. "She's my sweet sugar baby and that's what I'm going to call her."
Donna huffed. "Oh, all right. But for now, just go away." She shooed him with one hand. "Go eat dinner or buy some cigars or something."
"You're right. I should buy some cigars before Hank
and Caleb come back to the hospital." Jake headed toward
the door, paused, turned and grinned at Donna. "Maybe I'll buy the pink bubble gum kind, since the Bishop brothers don't smoke."
Donna breathed a sigh of relief when Jake finally left her room. Whenever she was around him, she felt as if she were caught in the swirl of a cyclone that swept her far from the safety of home. There was something about him—something primeval—that overwhelmed her whenever they were together.
She couldn't let him take charge of her life, push her into a marriage she didn't want and destroy the life she had planned for herself and Louisa. Once she'd settled in at home and had gained back her strength, she would confront Jake and explain to him how disastrous it would be for them to marry. There was no way on earth a marriage between them could work. From what she knew of Hank and Caleb Bishop's big brother, she realized that he wasn't the type of man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, nor was he the kind of father Louisa would need. Better no father than a wild hellion womanizer, who'd never be able to settle down and be a faithful husband and devoted parent.
Jake pulled out his credit card, handed it to the salesclerk at the florist shop in the Marshallton Mall and waited for her to ring up his order. He knew that if he were going to persuade Donna to marry him, he'd have to woo her first. He hadn't ever really thought about marriage. Not seriously. He'd figured that he was meant to die an old bachelor. But having a child changed all that. His own father had been a worthless bum and his grandfather had been a stern, cold care-giver. He wanted better for his daughter. Sugar Baby deserved a devoted, full-time father. A man who'd be around when she needed him. And the only way he could give his baby girl what she needed most from him was by marrying her mother.
He didn't kid himself about the chances for a happy marriage. Donna wasn't in love with him and he wasn't in love with her. But the sex they'd shared had been damn good, some of the best he'd ever had. And marriages had succeeded on far less. He was past the age to expect both passion and love in a relationship. He'd be more than happy to settle for passion—and possession of his child and the woman who'd given birth to her.
"We'll deliver those to your wife's suite this evening, Mr. Bishop," the blond salesclerk said. "She's going to love two dozen pink roses."
"I hope she does."
"She will." The young woman smiled flirtatiously at Jake. "Congratulations on becoming a father. I take it, from your ordering pink roses, that it was a girl."
Jake grinned broadly. "Yep. Nine pounds, five ounces. And she looks just like me."
"Lucky little girl. She must be beautiful."
"Ah, shucks, ma'am, you'll make me blush," Jake said. "By the way, do you happen to know where the nearest toy store is?"
"Toyland is on the second level here at the mall. Just take the escalator and it's the third store on the outside right."
"Thanks." Jake signed the sales slip, pocketed his credit card and tipped his Stetson to the smiling clerk.
Within half an hour, Jake had chosen the items he wanted, paid for them and headed back to the hospital. When he arrived outside Donna's suite, a giant pink teddy bear under one arm and two big baby dolls under the other, he met his brothers.
"Well, well, what have we here?" Caleb asked. "Looks like the proud new papa has been on a shopping spree."
"Where's your women folk?" Jake asked. "And Tallie and Peyt?"
"Peyton had an emergency at the capital, so he had to rush back to Nashville," Hank said. "Tallie went with him. She said to tell you and Donna that she'd be back for the christening or the wedding, whichever comes first."
"Sheila and Susan are in there with Donna," Caleb said. "They're admiring the roses you sent. I think they're trying to persuade the mother of your child that you aren't such a bad guy."
A plump, middle-aged nurse's aide rolled a cart past the Bishop brothers, paused outside the door to the Magnolia Suite and sized up the three men. "Which one of you is the daddy?"
"Me," Jake replied.
"Well, come on in and join your wife for a steak dinner, compliments of the Marshallton Women's Center." She opened the door and rolled the cart inside, all the while whistling to herself.
"A steak dinner, huh?" Jake followed the aide into the suite.
He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Donna sitting propped up against several pillows. She'd brushed her hair and pinned it to the top of her head. Wispy strands curled about her face, to which she had applied a light coating of makeup. Lipstick and blush in some bright shade of pink colored her lips and cheeks. And she wore a hot pink satin bed jacket.
She was the prettiest thing he'd ever seen. An auburn-haired angel with a body that would tempt the devil. She was still a little swollen and her face was still round from the pregnancy, but the abundance of her curves did nothing to lessen her attractiveness.
He might not know much about the mother of his child, but he knew one thing—just looking at her turned him inside out. And by the way she glanced past her friends and focused on him, he had a feeling that he affected her the same. The smile on her face vanished. Her eyes widened. Her lips parted slightly. Damn! He wanted to kiss her.
The sight of Jake Bishop standing tall and proud in the doorway set off a firestorm along Donna's nerve endings. He was so big and rugged and dangerously handsome that she couldn't take her eyes off him.
"Hello, Jake." She knew her voice sounded soft and raspy and wished she could take back the greeting. Would he read something into the way she'd spoken to him, something she'd been unable to hide?
"There you are," Sheila said. "We were wondering when you'd get back here."
"What have you got under your arms?" Susan asked.
"What? Oh, these." Jake lifted the teddy bear up to show them, then placed it in a nearby chair. He took a doll in each hand, walked over to the portable plastic crib where little Louisa lay and held up the dolls for her inspection.
"Daddy brought his girl a teddy bear and a couple of baby dolls. What do you think of these dolls, Sugar Baby?"
"She's too young to talk," Sheila kidded him.
"Here, Mr. Bishop, let me put those on the table beside Louisa's crib." The nurse's aide reached for the dolls Jake held. "Then you and Ms. Fields can enjoy your dinner together."
"Isn't that a wonderful idea," Susan sighed. "Serving the parents a steak dinner in the mother's suite the night their baby's born. Hank and I missed that treat."
"Absolutely wonderful idea." Sheila tugged on Susan's arm. "Let's join our husbands and see if they'll take us out to eat since we've got a baby-sitter for tonight."
"Y'all don't have to rush off," Donna said.
"We'll see you tomorrow evening at your house," Sheila reminded her. "I'm bringing dinner, remember."
Donna watched helplessly as her best friends departed and the nurse's aide left her alone with the one man on earth she didn't want anywhere near her. Jake made her act irresponsibly. Around him, she didn't think rationally. Nine months ago, she'd acted totally out of character when Jake had taken her into his arms. And she'd wound up pregnant, unmarried and forced to concoct a totally unbelievable story about a whirlwind marriage and quickie divorce. Now he was back in her life, laying claim to her and to Louisa. The man had asked her to marry him. What was she going to do? She had to get him out of her life before, in a weak moment, she accepted his proposal.
Jake lifted the plastic covers from the plates. "This sure looks good, sugar. Why don't I put both dinners on your little portable table there and I'll drag up a chair."
she wanted to scream.
Leave me alone. Stop being so nice and caring and concerned. I don't want to like you. I don't want to find you irresistible. I can't love you, Jake Bishop. Not now or ever. I'm never going to love a man again. I've loved and lost once and it nearly killed me. I won't risk knowing that kind of pain ever again.
Afraid to speak for fear she might voice her concerns, she watched him silently as he set the plates down on the table and rolled it up to the bed. When she finally found her voice again, she said, "Thank you for the roses. You shouldn't have. I know they must have been terribly expensive."
"Nothing's too good for you, Donna." Jake shrugged. "Besides, it's not like I couldn't afford them. I'm not a rich man by any means, but I'm not exactly penniless, either."
"No, of course, you're not. I didn't mean to imply that I thought—"
"You like them, right? That's all that matters."
"It won't work, you know—a marriage between the two of us. We'd mix like oil and water. I realize we don't know anything about each other, but I have a feeling we have nothing in common."
"We've got a couple of things in common," he said as he pulled a chair up beside her bed.
"What do we have in common?"
"First of all, we've got a daughter. Your child and mine."
"Well, yes, there is that, but—"
"And we've got this!" Jake leaned over, circled her neck with his big hand and pulled her toward him. Before she had a chance to protest, he kissed her.
By the time he finished, Donna was breathless. She stared at him with dazed eyes. "Yes, there is that, too." Then she reached out, pulled him back down to her and kissed him as soundly and as thoroughly as he had her.