Which is why he meant to keep it a secret as long as humanly possible.
“Don’t tell Dad,” he cautioned his brothers.
“Don’t tell me what?” Holt butted his way through the door and into the room. “What the hell’s going on here? A tea party? Get back to work.”
Jake and Rob headed for the door at a smart clip, but Holt still blocked it. “After you tell me what it is you ain’t supposed to tell.”
Luke shrugged. “Fine, we’re chipping in to buy you a new teapot for your birthday. Now you’ve ruined the surprise.” He hoped the sarcasm would work.
Of course it didn’t.
“I’ve got all day.” Holt leaned back against the door. “Let me guess. You knocked up your bride before your wedding.” He laughed at his own joke.
“Not quite,” Jake said. Rob elbowed him.
Holt stopped laughing and narrowed his eyes. “So this is about Mia. What’s the big secret? That she made the beast with two backs with Ellis Scranton? Can’t blame you for being displeased with that bit of gossip.”
“I don’t want to hear about that bit of gossip,” Luke growled.
“Well, you will hear about it in this town—and more than that, too. Like maybe that baby of hers wasn’t sired by you.”
You could have cut the sudden silence with a knife. Holt frowned. “That’s what’s bothering you? The gossip?”
Luke heaved a sigh. No sense in even trying to keep it secret. Holt was like a terrier that had caught a rat. “Not the gossip, Dad. The truth. The baby is Scranton’s.”
Holt straightened, his face mottling with color. He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, shook his head and left, slamming the door behind him.
Rob whistled. “You are in some deep shit.”
Mia was reading the manual that came with the cash register at Fila’s Familia the following day when her mother pushed open the door and crossed the small restaurant with determined strides.
Mia had just reached the part about trouble-shooting problems with the machine, a part she wanted to know inside and out before the restaurant opened, and the interruption irritated her. She knew her mother would want to discuss the wedding and she was right. Enid didn’t bother with greetings or small talk. She went straight for the jugular.
“You’ll be married at our church. I just checked, and there’s an opening on the third of March. Four o’clock in the afternoon.”
Mia was shaking her head before her mother finished speaking. “I’m not getting married in church, Mom. I’ve already told Lisa Matheson I’d like to get married at the Double-Bar-K.”
Enid’s chin raised. “A wedding outside of church isn’t a wedding at all. On March third at four o’clock. I won’t hear another word about it.”
“We’ve already asked Reverend Halpern to marry us at the Double-Bar-K,” Mia said, although that wasn’t strictly true. Lisa had checked with the minister at the end of the evening yesterday and found he was available, but they hadn’t made a formal decision—they hadn’t had time.
“You’ll have to un-ask him. I’ve already spoken to Reverend Tilton. I’ve booked the time. It’s done. You grew up in that church and you’ll marry in that church. The bride’s family is in charge of the wedding!”
Mia’s courage slipped in the face of her mother’s certainty. “At any rate we’ll have the reception at the Matheson’s place. It’s so much prettier than any rented hall.”
“I see what this is about.” Enid clasped her purse so tightly her knuckles whitened. “You think the Mathesons are better than us. You want to cozy up to them. You think you can shake off your past—”
“That’s the last thing I think.” Mia was very clear on that. “I don’t like Reverend Tilton’s church. I don’t like the way he lets women like Linette Wilcox boss everyone around and freeze them out. I don’t like the way the congregation turns its back on anyone who isn’t perfect. We’re supposed to be Christians!”
“Don’t you speak to me like that. Linette Wilcox might not be fancy like your Mathesons, but she’s a good woman. She works on a number of charitable committees. I won’t have you speaking ill of her, or of the Reverend.”
“Fine, I won’t speak of them at all. And I won’t speak to them, either.” Mia saw Camila stick her head out of the kitchen to see what the commotion was all about. “In fact, I won’t need to—because I’m not getting married in that church!”
“You’re trying to break my heart!” Her mother clasped her purse to her chest, her voice catching. “Getting pregnant. Lying to me. You think I don’t know whose child that is, despite what Luke said?” She pointed to Mia’s belly. “You’ve just about killed me with your wild ways. And now this. I waited all my life to see you walk up that aisle—to see you married in the same church I was—”
Mia stifled a groan. She knew exactly what her mother had hoped. Enid had whispered that dream into her ear every Sunday for years as they walked down to take their seats. Someday you’ll get married up at the altar right where Mommy and Daddy did. And you’ll have a big white dress and a fancy cake— It took Mia years to realize they wouldn’t eat the cake up at the altar too, featuring as it did in her mother’s description.
Enid searched her face with a pleading gaze and Mia caved in. How could she deny her mother’s wish when she’d ruined so many others? She’d never won the big beauty pageant like Enid hoped she would. She’d dropped out of them before she even got to that level. She’d had an affair with a married man. She’d gotten pregnant before a ring sat on her finger. It was time to give her mother what she wanted.
But giving in hurt worse than she could have ever imagined.
“Do you really think you’re ready to be a father?” Rob asked. They’d met up outside their cabins, Rob heading home for a quick lunch with Morgan, Luke heading up to the main house to eat with his folks since Mia was at work.
“You’re going to be a father before I am.”
“And I sure as hell don’t feel ready. Don’t get me wrong; I can’t wait. It’s just…well, I don’t want to end up like Dad.”
Luke laughed out loud. “I don’t think there’s much chance of that.”