“Don’t worry,” she whispered to the small hard lump growing in her belly. “I’ll make a life for us, I swear I will.”
Knowing she couldn’t disappear for too long without raising suspicions, she returned to the reception, where she bumped into her mother and father, who stood near a table full of hors d’oeuvres. Standing with them was Linette Wilcox, who was friends with both her parents and Lisa Matheson. Linette headed up several committees at the conservative church Mia’s parents attended on the outskirts of town. She had never been friendly to Mia. In fact, Mia thought she was mean and selfish, but she’d done her best to always be civil, in respect for her parents’ attachment to the church and to the woman herself.
“Mia Start—there you are. I was looking for you.” Linette’s voice cut through the murmur of the crowd like chalk on a blackboard. She took Mia’s hand and tugged her closer. “See, I told you there was something different about her, Enid. Mia, you’re getting fat!”
Mia’s cheeks flamed as her mother turned around to look. Surely the old busybody couldn’t have spotted her pregnancy. She searched for a quick retreat. “Sorry, Mrs. Wilcox. I have to go help out in the kitchen.”
“Nonsense. You never could cook. See Enid? What did I tell you?” Her bony fingers wrapped more tightly around Mia’s wrist. Mia saw heads all around them turn her way. Damn it—she had to get out of here.
Before she could move, Linette reached down and patted Mia’s belly, giving a hard push on her abdomen. Mia sucked in a gasp of air.
“I knew it!” Linette crowed. “I know a pregnant woman when I see one! Did I or did I not say your daughter was hiding something, Enid? Mia always was sly. Shame on you, keeping a secret like that, girl. Where’s the ring on your finger?”
Mia thought she would die. Now everyone had turned to look at her. This was the stuff of nightmares—the very reason she hadn’t told a soul except for her closest friends. Her mother turned pale as parchment. Her father stood as still as the statues on Lisa’s mantelpiece. She’d get no help there. They would be thinking of their church—their friends—the same friends who turned a cold shoulder to anyone with a wayward child.
“Mia! Say something!” her mother hissed. “Tell her she’s wrong.”
“I…I mean—” A chill swept over her, followed by another flush of heat. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t. Not at Ned and Fila’s wedding.
“See? I was right. She won’t even name the father. You certainly won’t find him in this crowd. I heard Ellis Scranton already left town. Things must’ve gotten too hot for him here. I bet you gave him what-for, didn’t you, Bart?” Linette looked utterly victorious—she knew as well as anyone else Mia’s father was not the type to confront anyone. Mia had a sudden flash of insight—this was about the Easter bazaar. Her mother had been nominated to run it this year. Linette’s face had looked like she was sucking lemons for a week afterward.
“I…it’s—” But what could she say to deflect Linette’s words? She didn’t want it known that Ellis was the father of this child. He was gone and good riddance. But she had to say something, fast. Maybe Ellis was right—she should say it was a one-night stand. Just a guy she’d met at the Dancing Boot. Someone she’d never seen again.
But when she opened her mouth to repeat the lie, she spotted Luke watching her. He stood just ten feet away and his face showed his feelings. Anger. Disgust. A sob caught in her throat. She needed to leave, now. Before she sank to the ground in a puddle of humiliation.
“Mia Start, you tell me if it’s true!” Her mother’s voice rang out, the finger she pointed at Mia shaking.
Mia jerked. She hadn’t spoken.
But Luke had, and every head in the room swiveled toward them at his authoritative tone. Luke stepped to her side with all the calm confidence of a lion strolling through the savannah, and Mia bit back a cry of pain. Why had she told him about her affair with Ellis? Luke was going to expose her. She’d never live it down.
“Mia is pregnant with my baby,” Luke announced to the crowd at large. “We’re getting married. We planned to make the announcement tomorrow.” He clamped an arm around her, which was a good thing, Mia thought.
Because she was going to faint.
Luke caught Mia when she began to sag and ushered her into the kitchen quickly, pursued by Mia’s mother. So much for finding Ellis and warning him off. So much for talking things through with Mia after the wedding. He’d started down a road from which there’d be no turning back.
“Luke? Oh, my goodness—what’s happened?” Lisa bustled over to meet them, a spatula still in her hand. Luke helped Mia to a seat at the rustic kitchen table and faced her.
“Linette Wilcox just forced our hand. We had to announce our engagement.”
Mia gaped at him, but he ignored her. As chaotic as this turn of events was, he felt in his element. He was a man of action, not words, and this situation called for action. He refused to let the woman he loved bear the brunt of other people’s wrongdoing.
“Your…engagement?” Lisa’s voice rose to an excited squeal. “You and Mia are engaged?”
“And pregnant,” Enid said, bustling into the room behind them, her face still red with the shock of her recent encounter with Linette. “Don’t forget pregnant, too. Enough to show!”
“Pregnant!” Lisa’s face lit up even more, and it felt like a kick in the gut to Luke. What would she say when she found out the baby wasn’t his? She’d better not say a damned thing.
No one had.
Then he remembered his mother’s words from this morning when he’d said he didn’t see any reason for rushing into matrimony. I’m afraid you will soon.
Had she known?
“When?” Lisa cried. Luke didn’t know if she referred to the wedding or the birth. He squared his shoulders. “The wedding is the first weekend in March. Two weeks from today.”
“Two weeks!” both mothers chimed.
“That doesn’t give us any time to plan,” Lisa said.
“You’ll figure it out.” He clamped a hand down on Mia’s wrist and hoped she understood his message. She was his now. She needed a man and he’d be that man. He wasn’t asking her—he was telling her, the way he should have months ago. And he didn’t care what anybody said.