When Jessica Farrell shows up on Nate Rafferty's ranch five months pregnant with his child, he doesn't hesitate to propose. But the beautiful nurse can't believe this wealthy rancher will ever change his love 'em and leave 'em ways.
Nate tempts her into a monthlong trial run, and soon they're spending long daysand steamy nightsliving in close quarters. But can he give Jessie the love she's truly looking for? The clock is ticking
Enjoy a special Texas Cattleman's Club: Lies and Lullabies
bonus prequel short story from Janice Maynard
Reclaimed by the Rancher
About the Author
In 2002 Janice Maynard left a career as an elementary teacher to pursue writing full-time. Her first love is creating sexy, character-driven, contemporary romance. She has written for Kensington and NAL, and is very happy to be part of the Harlequin family--a lifelong dream. Janice and her husband live in the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains. They love to hike and travel. Visit her at www.JaniceMaynard.com.
Read an Excerpt
Nate Rafferty couldn't help but smile as he looked around the big, open area in one of his newly constructed barns. From the minute he'd mentioned having a party to celebrate his buying and renovating the Twin Oaks Ranch, his brothers' wives had decided it needed to be a theme party. He'd been fine with that and told his sisters-in-law they were in charge of making it happen.
He'd even left the decision up to the women on what the theme would be, and they had outdone themselves, turning what was going to be his hay barn into a kid-friendly haunted house and full-on Halloween party. The monsters, scarecrows and ghosts were cute rather than scary, and his niece and nephews were going to love all the pumpkins, happy jack-o'-lanterns and garlands of colorful fall leaves that had been hung around the dance floor and bandstand.
Trying to decide if he wanted to go as the Lone Ranger or John Wayne, Nate walked out of the barn and started across the ranch yard toward the house. He'd gone only a few feet when he stopped dead in his tracks. A petite blond-haired woman was just getting out of the gray compact SUV she'd parked close to the garage.
How in the name of Sam Hill had she found him? And why?
He'd purposely avoided mentioning anything about buying the Twin Oaks Ranch to Jessica Farrell. He'd planned to wait until he finished renovating it, so he could surprise her and invite her to spend a weekend with him. Of course, the last time he'd seen her had been about four and a half months backwhen she had still been speaking to him.
Not that he'd been all that worried about it. He had never had a problem charming his way back into her good graces and he had no reason to believe he couldn't do so again, even though she'd been pretty determined that their on-again, off-again relationship was permanently off.
It had been that way between them for the past couple of years and whenever it seemed like things were getting a little too serious, he always found a reason to break things off between them. But the last time she'd told him not to bother calling her again and to forget where she lived.
Of course, it wasn't the first time she'd told him to lose her phone number. They went through something similar about every three or four months. He'd give her time to simmer down, call and sweet-talk her into seeing him again. Then, after spending several weeks of being real cozy with her, he could feel himself start to get in a little deeper than he intended. That's when he'd cut and run.
He knew it wasn't fair to Jessie. She was a wonderful woman and deserved better than the likes of him. But where she was concerned, he didn't seem to have a choice. He simply couldn't stay away from her.
But this was the first time she'd sought him out and he couldn't for the life of him figure out why, especially not after the way they'd ended things the last time. When they'd parted several months ago, it had been different than before. He'd told her that he thought they should take a break and stop seeing each other for a while. That's when he had seen a finality in her violet eyes that hadn't been there before. But she was here now, so it must not have been all that final.
"Jessie, it's good to see you again," he said, walking toward her. Dressed in jeans and an oversized pink sweatshirt, she somehow managed to make the baggy fleece look sexy. Real sexy. "It's been a while, darlin'. How have you been?"
When she turned to face him, she didn't look all that happy to see him. "Do you have a few minutes?" she asked, her tone serious. "I need to talk to you."
"Sure." He couldn't imagine what she wanted to talk about, but at the moment, he didn't care. He wasn't going to tell her, but the truth was, he had missed hermissed the sound of her soft voice and her sweet smile. "Why don't we go inside and catch up?"
Her long ponytail swayed back and forth as she shook her head. "I won't be here that long."
Placing his arm around her slender shoulders, he turned her toward the house. "You didn't drive all the way from Waco just to turn around and go back," he said as he ushered her across the patio to the French doors. "I'll tell my housekeeper you'll be staying for supper."
When they entered the family room, she surprised him when she ducked from beneath his arm and turned to face him. "Don't bother, Nate. I worked the late shift last night and as soon as we talk, I need to get back home and get some sleep." She was a registered professional nurse he'd met when she had taken care of his brother a couple of years ago after Sam had been injured in a rodeo accident.
"You can always sleep here," he said, grinning.
If looks could kill, he would have been a dead man in two seconds flat. "You have a housekeeper?" she asked. When he nodded, she frowned as she looked around. "Is there somewhere a little more private where we can talk?"
Nate stared at her. He'd never seen her as determined as she appeared to be at that moment. "Let's go into my office," he finally said, motioning toward the arched doorway leading out into the foyer. "We can talk privately in there."
Guiding her along, he waited until they were seated in his office with the door closed. "What was it you needed to talk to me about?" he asked, looking across the desk at her sitting in the leather armchair in front of him.
She nibbled on her lower lip as she stared down at her tightly clasped hands resting in her lap. "I want you to know that it's taken me over four months to come to the decision to tell you." When she looked directly at him, her pretty violet eyes were filled with resignation. "My first inclination was not to bother. But I didn't think that would be fair to you."
Nate sat up straight in his desk chair as his scalp started to tingle. He wasn't sure what she was talking about, but his gut was telling him that whatever she had to say would be life changing. Had she met someone else? Was she telling him that she had committed herself to another man and it wasn't fair not to tell him? Or was she talking about something else?
"Why don't you stop beating around the bush and just tell me what you think I need to hear?" he asked.
She took a deep breath and met his questioning gaze head on. "I'm almost five months pregnant."
"You're pregnant," he repeated. His gaze flew to her stomach as her words began to sink in and it felt like the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room. His heart raced and his knees threatened to buckle as he stood up and came around the desk to stand in front of her. "You're going to have a baby?"
"That's what pregnant means."
"How did that happen?" he asked before he could stop himself.
The look she gave him stated louder than words that she had some serious doubts about the level of his intelligence. "If you don't know about the birds and bees by now, Nate, you never will."
Taking a deep breath, he shook his head in an effort to clear the ringing in his ears. "You know what I mean." He rubbed the sudden tension building at the base of his neck. "We were always careful about protection."
"There could have been a microscopic tear in one of the condoms or some other kind of defect." She shrugged one slender shoulder. "Whatever happened, I'm pregnant and you're the daddy. But I don't want anything from you," she added hurriedly. "I make more than enough to support myself and the baby, and I'm perfectly capable of raising a child on my own. I just thought it was only fair to let you know about the baby and find out if you want to be part of his or her life. If not, I want you to sign all of your rights over to me and we'll both be out of your life for good."
"Like hell," he said emphatically. "If I have a kid, I'm going to be involved in every aspect of its life."
She gave him a short nod, then stood up. "That's all I wanted to know. I'll have my attorney get in touch with yours. They can work out a fair custody agreement and a suitable visitation schedule."
"Where are you going?" he asked, reaching out to place his hands on her shoulders to stop her. "You can't just waltz in here, tell me that you're having my baby and then leave."
"Yes, I can," she said. There was a defiance in her voice that warned him not to argue with her. "If I didn't have a conscience, I wouldn't even be here. But I happen to believe that a man has a right to know when he's fathered a child, even if he's not dependable. For now, that's really all you need to know."
A strong sense of guilt settled across his shoulders. Given their past and the way he'd treated her and their relationship, he should probably be grateful that she had bothered telling him at all. But he couldn't let her leave without discussing things further. There were things he wantedneededto know.
"Jessie, I'm sorry for the way things have been between us in the past," he said, meaning it. "I take full responsibility for that and if I could go back and change it, I would. Unfortunately, I can't do that. But from here on out it's important that we work together."
She backed away from him. "I told you I won't keep you from seeing the baby. The lawyers will"
"Yeah, I got that," he interrupted. He took a deep breath. "Look, I realize that I'm not exactly your favorite person right now and I can't say I blame you. But there are things I want to discuss with you and a whole hell of a lot more that we need to decide."
She stared at him for a moment before she spoke again. "I'm sure this came as a shock. Believe me, I wasn't expecting it either. But it doesn't have to be complicated. We can let the lawyers take care of sorting all of this out."
"Darlin', I don't see how this can be anything but complicated," he said, noticing for the first time how tired she looked. A sudden idea began to take shape as he stared into her pretty violet eyes. "You're exhausted. Why don't we table this for the time being?"
"Don't worry about me," she said, shrugging. "I'll be fine as soon as I go home and get some sleep."
"I don't like the idea of you driving all the way back to Waco as tired as you are," he said. "It isn't safe."
"I'll be okay." She frowned. "Besides, my welfare isn't any of your concern."
"Yes, it is," he insisted. "Do you have to work tonight?"
She shook her head. "I have the weekend off. Why?"
"My family is having a Halloween party here tomorrow night and I'd really like for you to join us. I've got five guest bedrooms upstairs and you can have your pick of any of them." He used his index finger to brush a strand of blond hair that had escaped her ponytail from her smooth cheek as an excuse to touch her. His finger tingled from the contact and he was heartened by the slight widening of her pretty eyes, indicating that she felt it, too. "It will also give us time to talk and make a few decisions after you've had time to rest."
He'd wisely avoided mentioning that she could share the master suite with him. He might not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he wasn't fool enough to think she would be receptive to picking up their relationship where they left it almost five months ago.
She tried to hide a yawn behind her small, delicate hand. "I told you the law"
"I know. But don't you think it would save a lot of time and be easier for all concerned if we had everything worked out in advance?" he asked.
"Nate, I'm really too tired to discuss this right now," she said, yawning. "All I want is to get home and go to bed."
"At least take a nap before you start back to Waco," he stalled. If he could get her to stay for a while, it would give him time to come to grips with the unbelievable fact that he was going to be a daddy. At the moment he was completely numb. But he needed to pull it together so he could think. He had to come up with a better argument for her staying, at least for the party. Now that he knew she was carrying his baby, it was even more important that they work things out. And damned quick.
"Maybe just a short power nap would help," she conceded.
Without hesitation, he put his arm around her shoulders to guide her out into the foyer and up the stairs. He wasn't going to give her time to change her mind.
When he walked her down the upstairs hall, Nate opened the door to the bedroom across from his. "Will this room be all right?"
"I'm leaving as soon as I wake up," she warned.
"Just get some sleep now," he said, leading her over to the bed. Pulling back the colorful quilt, he waited until she kicked off her tennis shoes and got into bed before he bent down to kiss her forehead. "If you need anything, I'll be in my office."
She had already fallen asleep.
Standing beside the bed, he stared down at the only woman he hadn't been able to stay away from. Jessie was smart, funny and as sweet as she was pretty. So why hadn't he been able to commit to her?
Nate knew his foster brother Lane Donaldson would probably have a field day using his master's degree in psychology to analyze Nate's motives. But Nate didn't want to delve too deeply into his reasons for avoiding commitments. It all tied into his past and it wasn't something he could change, nor was he eager to think about that dark time in his life.
The only thing he could do now was what his foster father Hank Calvert would expect of any of the boys he finished raising. Hank had preached to them over and over that when a man makes the decision to sleep with a woman, he'd better be ready to accept his responsibilities if he made her pregnant. And that was just what Nate intended to do.
His aversion to commitment was about to undergo a dramatic change. Jessie had shown up to tell him he was going to be a daddy and he fully intended to do right by her and his kid. Sometime within the next week, he was going to kiss his blissful bachelorhood goodbye and make her his wife.