This couldn’t be happening.
But it was.
I stared down at the little plastic test in my hand like it was a bomb about to go off, wondering if maybe, just maybe, I misread the results. Two pink lines filled the small window. Somehow, after years of trying, after tears and pain and resignation, I was pregnant. Two years ago, I would have been crying with joy, bubbling over with excitement to tell my husband we’d conceived. But that was then. That was the bright future I’d envisioned for myself when Quinn and I had gotten married five years earlier.
This was now. I stood in the bathroom of my sister’s condo, hands shaking, heart pounding, stomach churning. What was I going to do? It had been one time. One night. The only time I’d let my hair down since before my divorce was final. This was how I got to remember my roll in the hay with a sexy cowboy? A permanent reminder of a drunken night.
My palm slid from where it was pressed against my chest down to my lower belly. I’d always wanted kids, but never thought it would happen. Now that it was, I didn’t know how to feel. This was not how I’d planned for my family to begin. I’d had it all carefully mapped out. Marry my dream guy, start my nurse practitioner practice, get my career off the ground, then have children. I’d done them all in order. Until it came crashing down in the form of changed locks and divorce papers with zero warning from Quinn.
A knock on the door had me flinching so hard I dropped the pregnancy test. It clattered into the sink as my twin sister, Erin, opened the door. “Are you okay? You’ve been in there a long time.”
She frowned and locked her gaze on the test. “Oh, no. Really? The cowboy?”
Taking a deep breath, I nodded, then turned and dropped to my knees in front of the toilet as another wave of what I now recognized as morning sickness hit me.
Erin held my hair back, palm rubbing between my shoulder blades until I was finished, then I stood on shaky legs and rinsed out my mouth.
“Are you gonna tell him?”
I nodded, thinking back to the night I spent with him. I barely remembered the man, just a flash of piercing blue eyes, a crooked smile, and a slow drawl. “I have to find him first.”
Three months earlier
“Okay, get out of bed and go shower. You look like a homeless person.” Erin pulled the blankets off me, baring my face to the harsh light of my current reality.
“Leave me alone. I’m not done wallowing.”
“Ugh, you smell like a homeless person too. You haven’t left your room in three straight days. If you hadn’t been taking the food I left outside your door, I would have thought this was a recovery mission.”
I cocked a brow. “Recovery?”
“Yeah, you know, like maybe you died and I’d find nothing but your stinky corpse under those blankets. Thank God you snore like a buzzsaw too.”
“I do not snore.”
“That’s what you think,” she said in her sing-song voice. “Now, come on. It’s Saturday night, and I am taking you on a field trip.”
“I want to stay here.”
“Sorry. No can do. I’m the oldest, and I say we’re getting you out of this funk.”
Anger boiled inside me, mixed with frustration and despair. I’d just lost everything. Three months ago, my marriage imploded. Three weeks ago, we signed the divorce papers. Three days ago, I had to move out of my office and shut down my practice because Quinn no longer thought his wellness center required a nurse practitioner on staff. Thank God I had a sizable nest egg from the sale of our beautiful shared home. If I had to start over, at least I had money.
“You’re older by five minutes.”
She shrugged. “Still older. Now get out of bed, drag your nasty ass to the shower, and I want to see you dressed to kill in thirty minutes.”
Half an hour later, I was clean, polished, and wearing a tight-fitting pair of jeans paired with a white, off the shoulder top.
“No, no, no. I said dressed to kill, not to go to the grocery store.” Erin rolled her eyes. “Hold on.”
She stomped into her bedroom and, in moments, returned with a wine red dress that had a neckline so low, I knew I wouldn’t be able to wear a bra with it. “Erin, I’m not wearing that.”
“Oh, come on. Live a little, will you? You’re not Quinn’s wife anymore. You’re on the fucking prowl. Ready to experience the world. Show off that hot body and remind yourself your worth doesn’t hang on what a man thinks of you.”
I grabbed the dress with a huff before storming back into my room. I was right. There was no possible way I could wear a bra without it showing. But my boobs were big enough; I needed one if I was going to be even a little comfortable in public. Snagging my prettiest lacy black bra, I put it on and repositioned the dress. The delicate, sexy lace at the band played peek-a-boo with the neckline, but it would do.
My door opened, and a pair of thigh-high suede boots came flying at my head. “Wear these! They’re perfect,” Erin called.
I pulled them on, not without massive effort to get them over my shapely calves, and stared at myself in the mirror over my door. Wow. I did look good. My full breasts and hips curved sensually with the soft fabric of the dress. The skirt was short enough I was a little worried I might accidentally flash someone if I wasn’t careful, but Erin was right, the boots were perfect.
She skidded into the room, her dyed dark hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun, eyes bright and makeup flawless. Of course, she always looked fantastic. Erin made her living as a YouTube personality. She regularly did makeup tutorials while reviewing episodes of reality shows. It was a strange combination, but it somehow totally worked. Currently, she was working her way through episodes of a failed show called Baewatch. I had to admit, my sister was hilarious.
“Can I do your makeup?” The pure excitement in her voice had me completely unable to deny her.
“Fine, but nothing crazy. I can’t pull off the looks you do.”
She looked at me as though I were the stupidest person alive. “We. Have. The. Same. Face.”
“But not the same personality.”
“Doesn’t matter. I know what looks good on you.”
She had a point. “Okay. Then will you tell me where we’re going?”
Grabbing my hand, she dragged me into her room and sat me down on the chair in front of her vanity. By the time she was done, I looked like me, only…not me. I looked like the person I used to be. Stunning and confident. I wasn’t the woman who’s carefully crafted life plan had been derailed.
“Perfection. Let’s go. Car’s waiting.”
“Where are we going?”
We left the house and slipped into the car she’d ordered. As the driver took off, she turned to me and said, “How do you feel about cowboys?”
“I sure am glad you came out to see me,” my brother Sam said as we left his hotel suite and headed down the hall.
“It’s been a while since Clint’s wedding. Mama is missing you something fierce. You didn’t even stay at the house when you came back.”
He dragged a hand across his jaw. “I know. I just…there’s some stuff I’m not ready to face back home, you know?”
Shoving his hands in his pockets as we waited for the elevator to arrive, he clenched his jaw hard and stared straight ahead. “So. What brought you all the way out here? I doubt it was that you couldn’t go another minute without hanging out with your big brother.”
I took off my hat and ran my fingers through my hair. “I know I should be thankful for the reality show. Ever coming to us saved our asses, and I get that. But, damn is it hard to have cameras in my face every damn day. They want me to be on the show now. Like really on it. They have a whole storyline they want for me. It’s good money, but Clint and Buck already don’t take me seriously as it is. If I do this shit, they’ll never think I’m enough.”
“What kind of storyline?”
I sighed. “They want me to fall in love with a contestant. The ratings were through the roof for Buck and Penny, and she wasn’t even a contestant on the show. I think they’re banking on Ryker Ranch wedding specials for the foreseeable future. You’re smart not to come back, they’ll rope you into one too.”
He chuckled as the doors opened and we stepped inside. “Doubtful.”
“That’s what Buck said. He’s getting married in six months.” At least both Clint and Buck were happy and in real relationships. “Next it’s me, then Sera, and if you come home, they’ll figure out a way to construct some love story for you.”
“They can try. Won’t happen.”
We stood in the elevator as it descended to the hotel lobby. Only a six-hour drive from Sunrise, I didn’t really understand why he would choose not to come home and see his family when he had two days between his competitions. But Sam always was a little distant from all of us.
“It’ll be good to kick back and catch up without some big event keeping us distracted. We can blow off some steam.” I stared at myself in the mirrored doors. I looked a lot like him, except my hair was the same straight blond as our mama’s. The rest of them got dad’s dark, curly locks.
“Yeah, it will.”
“Thanks for getting me a room on short notice.” God, I felt like a kid suffering from a case of hero worship, but I’d always looked up to my champion bull rider brother. From the time he started winning at local rodeos when I was little, he’d been my idol.
He shrugged. “Course. You’re my baby brother. I wasn’t gonna make you sleep in your truck, and I sure as shit wasn’t gonna share a bed with you.”
After we exited and made our way to the upscale hotel bar, I realized in any other circumstance, we’d be completely out of place in our boots and jeans. But tonight, the five-star hotel was packed with sponsors and bigwigs attached to the bull riding circuit, and everyone wanted a piece of my brother.
Sam glanced over his shoulder at me as yet another suited man with polished boots approached him. “I have to go talk to this guy. He’s one of my biggest sponsors.”
Honestly, I didn’t give a rat’s ass if he had to schmooze. Sure, I wanted to hang out with him, but I wanted something normal for a little while more than anything. “I’m good. Go do what you’ve gotta do. I’ll grab a drink and find someone to make my night a little prettier.”
He laughed and winked. “Stay out of trouble.”
“Oh, I’m always in trouble, Sammy.”
As he greeted his sponsor, I made my way to the bar and a whiskey. This place was full of men with money and women who could smell it on them. It wasn’t my kind of bar. Fuck, it wasn’t Sam’s either. But he made a ton off of his sponsors, and I wasn’t going to ruin that for him just because I was a fish out of the damn water.
“What’ll you have?” the pretty bartender asked, smiling and batting her lashes.
I shook my head and ignored her smile. “Just the bourbon. Keep ‘em comin’.”
The crowded bar was buzzing with the noise of multiple conversations happening at once. But at least I wasn’t on camera or watching everyone move on without me.
I was three bourbons deep when my brother sat beside me. “You good?”
Chuckling, I tossed back the last of my drink. “Golden. Want one?”
Sam shook his head. “Nah, I’m good.” He waved the bartender over, and again she was all smiles and fluttering lashes. “Club soda with a twist of lime, please, ma’am?”
She blushed and nodded, leaving and returning with his drink almost immediately.
“You make your sponsor happy?” I asked.
Holding up my empty glass, I clinked mine with his.
“How’s Mama doin’?” There was a faraway look in his eyes, and I wondered if he was missing life on the ranch more than he was letting on.
I shrugged. “Okay, I guess. Ever and Penny are really helping her a lot. ”
“She still watch?”
“Every single time she can.”
“I don’t want to hurt her by not coming home. You know that, right?”
“Honestly? No. It’s been years. You only stayed two days after Dad died. You’re like a ghost.”
“I don’t mean to be.”
“Doesn’t change the fact. We don’t need you on the ranch, but Mama needs you.”
“I know. Fuck, man. I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”
I clapped my hand on his shoulder. “Good. Now, let’s find us some company tonight. I didn’t drive all the way up here just to sit in some fancy bar.”
He laughed. “This isn’t really your kinda place, is it?”
“It’s not yours either.”
“There’s a dive bar two blocks from here. Wanna go? They’ve got a mechanical bull.”
“Fuck yeah, I do.”