Authors: Beverly Barton
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General
"Did you hear me?" Donna planted her hands on her hips.
"I know we can't have sex until you recover from having my baby. I'm not some brute who's going to force himself on you." Jake fumbled with the pack of diapers lying on the nightstand, ripped open the wrong end and finally retrieved a diaper. "I'm going to sleep beside you tonight, but I won't touch you. When Louisa needs you, I'll hand her over to you. Otherwise, you rest and let me take care of my daughter."
Donna removed her robe, tossed it on the foot of the bed and walked over to stand beside Jake. "Unsnap her sleeper, then open the Velcro tabs on her diaper and take it off." Donna demonstrated by doing, then she pointed to a square box on the nightstand beside the package of diapers. "There are wipes in there, just pull one out, clean her little bottom, then dispose of both diaper and wipe in the Diaper Genie—" She removed a wipe, then pointed to a pink-and-white contraption in the corner. "After that, slip a new diaper under her, adjust the tabs, fold them like this—" she pulled his big hand down and allowed him to finish the process "—and it's that simple."
"I suppose a dirty diaper is more complicated, huh?" Jake teased.
Donna didn't smile. She was furious with him and was certain he knew it. She snapped Louisa's sleeper closed, lifted the child into her arms, kicked off her house slippers and eased herself into bed, sliding her legs under the light covers.
"Will you at least have the decency to turn your back while I nurse Louisa?" Donna began unbuttoning her gown.
"I want to watch while you nurse her." Jake's voice possessed a deep, smoky sensuality.
Donna shivered. "Please, Jake, I'd rather …"
Jake sat on the edge of the mattress, reached over and finished unbuttoning her gown, then he spread it apart and looked at the nursing bra Donna wore. He studied it momentarily before he glanced up into her face. Her lips were slightly parted. Her eyes were wide and focused on his hands. Her cheeks flushed.
He unsnapped the hook that held the flap in place, then lowered the flap to reveal Donna's swollen breast.
Sucking in her breath, Donna gazed directly into Jake's eyes. A dozen different warring emotions exploded inside her. A part of her wanted to scream at him, to tell him he had no right to be here, no right to look at her, to touch her—to be a part of these special moments with Louisa. But another part of her, a part she didn't understand, wanted to share this moment with him, wanted him to look at her and touch her and be the loving husband and father every new mother wanted.
But he's not my husband! she thought to herself.
Ah, but he could be,
that pesky little inner voice argued.
Trying to avoid Jake's perusal, Donna lifted Louisa to her breast, tickled the baby's cheek and helped her newborn find the nipple. Louisa latched on greedily and sucked for a couple of minutes, then paused as if tired. Donna readjusted her daughter in her arms and Louisa began nursing again.
Jake didn't think he'd ever seen a more beautiful sight in his life. A man would have to have a heart of stone not to be touched by the sight of his child at her mother's breast.
He was hard as a rock and about as aroused as a man could get, but despite his body's hunger, he was satisfied for the time being. Not only had Donna not kicked him out of her house, she had allowed him to stay in her bedroom. And he was going to sleep in the bed beside her tonight. She probably had no idea how much she'd given him by simply accepting his demands. He'd known—in his gut—that she didn't want him to leave. Despite what she'd said, he'd seen the need in her eyes. The need for her child's father to stay with her. If she had persisted in her attempts to send him away, of course he would have gone. But she hadn't been persistent and he was damned grateful.
Jake stood, removed his socks and jeans, nudged Donna over and got into bed on the left side where he'd placed Louisa's basinet. Donna glanced at him. He reclined his big body, squirmed to find a comfortable position, and then rested his head on the feather pillow.
"When she's finished, just hand her over to me and I'll put her down," Jake said. "If she wakes up, I'll take care of her, unless she wants to be fed again."
"Would you mind turning off the lamp?" Donna asked. "I have a night-light that should give off enough light."
"Sure thing." Jake turned off the lamp, flipped over onto his side and continued watching mother and child. "Thanks for letting me stay."
Donna cleared her throat. "I suppose, on some level, I wanted you to stay," she admitted. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to marry you or that we have a future together."
"Other than as Louisa's parents."
"Right … other than as Louisa's parents."
Ten minutes later Donna handed her daughter to Jake, who kissed Louisa's cheek and laid her in the basinet.
"Sleep tight, Sugar Baby," he said, then lay down, turned his back to Donna and pulled the covers up over his shoulders.
Donna awoke to the sound of Louisa's cries and the shower running. Lifting her head from the pillow, she stared at the open bathroom door. Jake was in there, in the shower—naked! When he finished, he would open the shower door and step out—naked. He would stand there in all his masculine glory.
Louisa's continued bellowing—and it was bellowing, not a soft ladylike mewing that some babies make—brought Donna's attention back to her child. She scooted across the bed, lifted Louisa into her arms and spread kisses over the infant's face. Immediately, Louisa stopped yelling and began rooting at Donna's breast.
"Are you ready for breakfast, my sweet?" Preparing her clothing quickly, Donna put the child to her breast. Louisa clasped the nipple. "Now, Miss Louisa, you and I need to have a talk about this very loud, very boisterous crying you've been doing. It's highly inappropriate for a young lady to make so much noise."
Louisa continued nursing, completely oblivious to her mother's instructions. Donna laughed, then glanced toward the shower. "Of course, I suppose with that man—" she inclined her head toward the bathroom "—as your father, you've inherited some rather aggressive genes. Your aunt Tallie has never been quiet and ladylike in her life. Lord knows, if you take after your father's side of the family, you'll be emptying birdshot into some guy's backside by the time you're sixteen."
"What's this about Sugar Baby shooting some guy with birdshot?" Jake asked as he emerged from the bathroom, a towel draped around his hips.
Donna gasped. Louisa released her nipple. Jake stood in the doorway and smiled.
"Aren't y'all a pretty sight this morning," he said.
"I was just rambling to Louisa, telling her something about her aunt Tallie." Donna placed her nipple back in Louisa's mouth and the child began nursing again.
"If Sug—er, Louisa—turns out to be anything like Tallie, then we're going to have our hands full, aren't we?"
Donna realized that she couldn't put off talking to Jake any longer. She had to make him understand that, although he was Louisa's biological father, she and he were not a "we." And she wasn't quite sure what kind of role he would play in Louisa's life.
She glanced at him as he picked up his clothes from the floor. "Jake?"
"Yeah?" He looked at the clothes he held in his hand. "Oh, don't worry. I'll get dressed in the bathroom."
"Thanks, but … oh, all right. After you're dressed, I'd like to talk to you."
By the time Jake returned, fully clothed, his hair dried and combed, Donna had changed Louisa's diaper and placed her back in the basinet. She sat at the foot of the bed, her hands folded neatly in her lap. Be succinct, she told herself. Get straight to the point.
Jake emerged with a smile on his face. Donna decided she preferred him without the smile. Sullen and frowning, she could resist him. But wearing that broad, heart-stopping smile made him much too appealing.
"Is she asleep?" he asked, walking lightly toward the basinet.
"No, she's just …"
Jake leaned over the basinet and ran a caressing forefinger around Louisa's face. "She's a beaut, isn't she? She may have my coloring, but I think she looks like you."
"Jake, we really must talk."
Jake sat beside her, slipped his arm around her waist and nuzzled her neck. "So, talk. But I'd rather be kissing you than talking to you."
She slapped his hands and shoved at his chest. "We have to talk. Now!"
"I'm not going to like this, am I?"
"Oh, Jake, why do you have to be the kind of man who wants to be a part of Louisa's life? I never dreamed a guy like you would be interested in fatherhood."
"Just what is 'a guy like me'?" Jake's smile faded quickly.
"Well, someone who's been a loner all his life. A ladies' man. A tough cowboy who left home before he'd even graduated from high school. A man who—"
Jake shot up off the bed. "A man who isn't good enough for you. Isn't that what you're trying to say?"
"Please, don't twist my words."
"Yeah, well, tell me this Ms. College Professor—if I had a college degree and a hefty bank account and had some etiquette book memorized, wouldn't you be interested in marrying me? In my being a full-time father to our child?"
"The truth is, that, no matter what, I wouldn't marry you. I was married once and I lost my husband five years ago. I'll never love another man. Edward's death destroyed my ability to love."
"You're still in love with your dead husband?"
"Yes." It was a lie, but perhaps if Jake believed she still loved Edward, he wouldn't pursue the idea of marriage. Love and marriage frightened her now. She would never allow herself to love someone so much that losing him could nearly destroy her. She couldn't bear that kind of agony again. Once had been more than enough for a lifetime.
Jake wanted to grab her and shake her until her teeth rattled. Loving a dead man was such a waste. Donna was beautiful, vibrant and sensual. She was the kind of woman who needed a man—a man's adoration, his protection and his love. She was a woman who should be loved often and well. He wanted to be that man.
He'd like to tell her that he might have left Crooked Oak nearly eighteen years ago without obtaining his high school diploma, but that he was a world traveler and widely read. She'd be shocked if she realized just how much money he had in the bank. Enough to pay cash for Old Man Henry's quarter horse ranch. Enough to send Sugar Baby to college, too. But let Donna assume he was a stupid, penniless cowpoke who was going to beg a loan from the bank to buy the ranch. Still, it hurt him to think she might look at him like everyone else in Marshall County had.
"Jake, I think maybe we should wait a few days, until I've had a chance to recuperate and then we can decide exactly what part you should play in Louisa's life."
"You're probably right. With your hormones all wild and crazy, you might say or do something you'll regret later."
She nodded agreement. "Let's give ourselves a week, all right?"
"A week's fine with me."
"You can call as often as you'd like and check on Louisa."
"I take this to mean you don't want me to stay here with you?" Narrowing his gaze, Jake focused his attention directly on Donna's face. "All right, I'll move out to the ranch. I'm going to be working for Old Man Henry until the sale goes through. But a daily phone call won't cut it. I'll drop by every day to see my daughter."
"Is that necessary?"
"Yeah, it's more than necessary. It's essential. For me and for Sugar Baby."
Donna huffed and took a deep breath that sucked in her cheeks. "You aren't going to make this easy for either of us, are you?"
"I've been taking the easy way out all my life, but not now, not about this. I'm going to be a real father to my daughter and whether you like it or not, I'm going to be a major part of her life and yours."
"Even if I don't want you in our lives?"
"Sugar, you want me in your life—you just don't know it yet."
With that said, Jake walked over, took a last look at his daughter and left the bedroom. Donna jumped up and rushed out into the hallway. She watched as Jake took the steps two at a time. She wanted to call out to him, to tell him that hell would freeze over before she'd ever want him in her life on a permanent basis, but the words died on her lips.
It wasn't that she didn't want Jake. She did. Her body, even now, yearned for his. It wasn't that she couldn't accept him as Louisa's father, no matter what his background. The honest truth was that she was scared senseless. Afraid that if Jake Bishop stayed in her life, she'd wind up falling in love with him.
Although Donna knew Louisa was in good hands with Mrs. Winthrop, she felt guilty for having left her two-week-old daughter, even for the few hours it would take to tie up loose ends at the office. The spring quarter had ended and although she wasn't teaching any classes this summer, she had no intention of giving up her position at the college. When Edward died, teaching had been her lifeline, the day-to-day contact with others that had kept her sane. She loved teaching. For her, being an educator was a true calling, not just a job, as it was for many others.
Even with Jake Bishop a daily visitor, Donna had been able to put her life back on an even keel since Louisa's birth. She prided herself on always being in control. Friends told her she was a
The first week had been less than perfect, too much company, not enough sleep. But the second week had passed more smoothly. Despite Louisa being a little angel, Donna didn't think she could get along without Mrs. Winthrop. The warm, friendly, motherly woman knew all there was to know about babies. She was a completely different sort of woman from the nannies her parents had hired to care for her when she was a child. Donna's parents had been too involved in their careers and social life to personally oversee the upbringing of their only child—an unexpected, unwanted surprise, who came to them in their forties.
The one thing Donna intended to do every day of Louisa's life was to tell her daughter that she was loved and wanted. The only true maternal influences in Donna's life had been her grandmothers. The happiest moments of her childhood had been visiting Gram—Louisa McGuire—a woman who baked cookies, told fabulous stories and let her grandchild dress up in her hats and shoes. Her other grandmother—Christine Hughes—had also taken a keen interest in Donna. Far more than either parent. She had introduced Donna to the opera and the ballet, concerts and art museums, and had chaperoned her first trip to Europe.
A loud tap on the outer door of her office erased those sweet memories from Donna's mind. "Yes?"
The door opened and Neil Webster peered into the office. "Hello, there. I heard you'd come in today. How are things going?"
"Hello, Neil." Donna groaned silently. Neil was the financial aide director for the community college. A nice man, he tended to be a nosy busybody. He knew everyone's business and loved spreading gossip.
He slipped into the office and closed the door behind him. "The place is abuzz about your former
showing up unexpectedly. I understand he's some sort of cowboy and he's Governor Rand's brother-in-law."
"That's right." Fully prepared to perpetuate the lie that she and Jake had been married briefly last summer, Donna plastered a phony smile onto her face. "Jake Bishop is back in Crooked Oak and is looking into buying a quarter horse ranch there."
"Everyone's curious as to whether you and Mr. Bishop will remarry." Neil leaned over Donna's desk, lowered his voice and whispered, "You know, of course, that some people are saying y'all were never married. President Harper's wife was terribly upset when she heard the rumor. I assured her that it wasn't true."
"Thank you, Neil." Donna cast her gaze heavenward and prayed for someone to rescue her from this well-meaning friend.
Resting a hip on the desk as he leaned closer, Neil glanced from side to side, as if checking for hidden spies. "Between the two of us, my dear, if there's any truth to that nasty rumor, I'd get Mr. Bishop to the nearest preacher as soon as possible. Even if the marriage ends in a few months, the marriage certificate alone would stop wagging tongues, end any speculation about your losing your job and—most importantly—ensure your child's legitimacy."
"You've got this all figured out, haven't you, Neil?" Donna positioned her face directly in front of his. "You know more than you're telling me."
Neil withdrew, pursed his lips and rose from the desk. "Marry the man, Donna. No matter how uncouth he is— and I understand he's a rounder. I've heard he was the town bad boy years ago. A
Neil smiled. Until Donna frowned at him. He cleared his throat.
"Get that marriage certificate, legitimize your daughter and then divorce the man," Neil advised. "You know as well as I do what the moral codes are in Marshallton County. We're still living in the nineteenth century around here."
"I cannot be fired simply because I'm an unwed mother!"
"No, of course not. But believe me, if the powers that be want you out, they'll find a way."
Donna shoved back her chair, stood and looked out the window behind her desk. "Thanks for stopping by, Neil. I'll keep your suggestion in mind."
"You're a smart lady. You'll do what you have to do," Neil said. "So, you made a mistake last summer. You can correct it. We all make mistakes."
Without acknowledging his comment verbally, Donna merely nodded, her silence a cue for him to leave.
"I'll talk to you later, then," he said.
When the door closed, Donna turned to find Neil gone. But his presence lingered. She couldn't afford to ignore his warnings. He was right. If Mrs. Harding and others like her, suspected that she hadn't been married to Jake, they could put a great deal of pressure on the college president and Harding would find a way to dismiss her. She could lose her job!
But was she willing to marry Jake, even briefly, to keep her position here at the college? Did she dare risk living with Jake, sharing his bed and falling in love with him?
Just as she was pondering her dilemma the phone rang. Lifting the receiver, she sighed. "Hello. Donna Fields's office."
"Oh, Donna, I'm so glad you're there," Mrs. Winthrop said. "I just received some upsetting news."
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"My sister has suffered a heart attack. They're going to have to do a triple bypass. Eugenia lives alone in Chattanooga. I'm afraid I'll have to fly out this afternoon and it looks like I'll be gone for at least six weeks, perhaps longer. There's no one else to take care of my sister during her recovery."
"I'm so sorry," Donna said. "I'll leave immediately and come straight home."
"I hate to leave you so abruptly. I hope you understand."
"Yes, of course, I understand. Family comes first. Make your plans. I should be home in about fifteen minutes."
Donna eased the receiver onto the telephone, slumped down in her swivel chair, crossed her hands behind her head and groaned. Great. Just great. This was all she needed. She had hired Mrs. Winthrop to be Louisa's nanny because she had a reputation for being the best in the area. Several acquaintances had used her before their children were old enough for play school. Where was she going to find a replacement with even half the qualifications? She absolutely refused to leave her child with someone who wasn't personally known to her.
After a moment she pulled open a bottom desk drawer, removed her purse and retrieved her keys from an inside zippered compartment. No use sitting here stewing! She got up, left her office, locked the door and headed outside to the parking lot. So much for well-laid plans. But then, what should she expect? Her life had been out of control, in one way or another, ever since she'd spent an irresponsible, passionate weekend with Jake Bishop, nine and a half months ago. All the more reason not to give in to the temptation to marry him!