Mia hunched miserably in the corner of the front seat, as far away from the furious man at the wheel as she could get. She’d never seen anyone as angry as Luke was now. She wished he would scream at her, rage at her, even throw things at her—anything but the grim silence that filled the cab like a living thing.
When they reached the Double-Bar-K, she dashed from the truck nearly before it stopped moving. She ran up the steps, barreled inside Luke’s parents’ house and almost knocked Hannah over.
“What’s wrong?” Hannah raced up the stairs after her to the bedroom that had been allocated for the bridesmaids on the second floor. As Mia slammed the door shut behind them and threw herself on the bed, Hannah rushed to her side. “Was it Autumn? The birth? Did something go wrong after all?”
Mia shook her head, her tears making it impossible to speak. “She’s… fine. The baby is… beautiful.”
“Then what’s wrong? Are you in shock?”
“It’s…Luke. He knows.” Mia’s sobs stormed out again. Hannah sat down hard on the bed beside her, understanding perfectly. She was the only one besides Fila who knew about Mia’s pregnancy. She’d urged Mia to tell Luke long ago.
“And he isn’t happy.” It wasn’t a question.
Mia only cried harder. “He hates me. He couldn’t even speak to me. I knew this would happen.”
To her credit, Hannah didn’t say she told her so. She only sighed and patted her on the back. “I’m sorry. I think you and Luke would make a great couple. Maybe you still will. Give him time—the news has to have come as a huge shock. Don’t you think?”
Mia nodded, knowing Hannah was trying to help. But it was easy for Hannah. She was so beautiful with her white-blond hair and competent ways. Everyone admired her for going back to school to become a veterinarian, and her new husband, Jake, was head over heels in love with her—enough to change the whole course of his life and go back to school, too. If only Luke loved her like that.
But why should he when she was carrying another man’s child?
She turned on her side, curled into a ball and placed a hand on her belly. Poor little bean. There would be no happy, celebrating crowd when she gave birth. She was just an unwed mother who’d had sex with a married man.
She could almost hear her mother’s voice. What did you expect, Mia? You reap what you sow.
Well, she was definitely reaping. But it was Fila’s day, not hers, so it was time to end her pity party and get her act together.
“It’s better this way,” she said to Hannah. “He knows, and I’ve seen how he feels. Now I can move on and start my life without him.” Her voice wobbled.
She shook off Hannah’s soothing tone. “No, it’s better to accept things as they are and stop hoping for the impossible. I’m not going to end up with Luke. I’m going to raise this child alone. And that’s okay.” She had Ellis’s money now. She could make her way.
“Whatever happens, you aren’t alone,” Hannah assured her. “You’re surrounded by friends, Mia. And every last one of us is going to help.”
Later that afternoon, Luke paced the tight confines of the room his mother had designated for him to change into his wedding clothes. The chairs were set in lines for the ceremony and everything else that needed to be lifted and moved was in place. All that remained was for him to change and wait for the guests to arrive so he could usher them to their seats. But he wasn’t fit for company now. Not after Mia’s bombshell.
About four months pregnant, if his calculations were right.
By Ellis Scranton, a forty-two-year-old businessman who’d probably be bald in another couple of years. Luke ignored for the moment that he was thirty-one. The idea of Ellis with twenty-one-year-old Mia was sickening.
The idea of anyone with Mia was sickening.
Now he understood why his talkative Mia had become increasingly silent as the weeks had passed. Now he understood why she held back every time he tried to take things further—even though he’d seen the desire in her eyes many times. The one time they’d kissed—way back when she’d first moved in—the sparks between them could have started a blaze. Since then she’d refused to acknowledge she was interested.
Now he knew why. Mia was being noble. She refused to tangle him up in a relationship because she’d already tangled with another man and gotten pregnant.
Other women would have done their best to steal his heart so when their pregnancy showed he’d stick around. Some women might even have tried to pass the baby off as his. Not Mia. She’d done her best to keep him free and clear. She hadn’t wanted him to pay for her mistakes.
Maybe she’d been afraid he’d cast her aside. His fingers clenched into fists. He couldn’t stand to think she’d been afraid of that. He wasn’t the kind of man who ran from trouble. He was the type who stuck around and sorted it out. How could she not know that about him?
He stifled the urge to punch a hole in his parents’ wall at the thought of how lonely and scared she must’ve been these past few months. For one second—one second—he’d just about punched a hole in Ethan’s living room wall. He’d wanted to find Ellis and beat the living daylights out of him. Mia had seen it in his eyes and flinched away. That had stopped him mighty quick. Shame had flooded him—that he’d bring violence anywhere near a pregnant woman. Then he’d remembered which woman was pregnant and how she’d gotten that way and he’d stumbled right out of Ethan’s bunkhouse.
He’d wanted to get in his truck, start driving, find the bastard and mete out a little frontier justice—but there was the damn wedding to get through, so he’d sat there like a beaten dog and driven the woman he loved—the woman Ellis had knocked up—back home and watched her flee inside like the devil himself was after her.
He figured the devil had already found her. The devil in the form of a cocky businessman who couldn’t keep it in his pants. Ellis had power, authority and money. How simple it must’ve been for him to turn Mia’s head. What had he told her—that he’d fallen hopelessly in love? That he’d leave his wife and children for her? That he’d show her the world? To a small town girl like Mia—just starting out in life—it must have been too tempting to resist.
“Forty-five minutes to show time. Here are your boots. I don’t know when Mom found the time to shine them all.” Ned stood in the doorway holding Luke’s dress boots. Luke hadn’t even heard him open the door. Ned frowned as he entered the room. His stride was still unsteady from breaking his leg the previous month, but it was healing well and shouldn’t have any lasting effects. “Something’s got you fired up.”