Some psychic, Autumn thought, her lips twisting. She opened her mouth to question Rose further when the door banged open again and Ethan walked in, alone. “Sorry about that, ladies, just needed to take out the trash.” He looked from one to the other. “What’re you two talking about?”
“Nothing,” she said.
“All right, no more distractions. Let’s pick out a ring.”
She felt in her handbag for her camera and drew it out. “Mind if I take a few pictures?”
* * * * *
That evening, Autumn sat at a desk in the spare bedroom, staring at the blank page on her laptop. She’d taken photos of the jewelry store, Rose holding a display of rings, and her own hand with the delicate, new engagement ring sparkling on her finger. Now she needed to write.
Ethan helped her move her bags into this room, although they agreed she’d share his bed when it came time for sleeping. Neither one of them could pretend anymore they were going to take it slow. He gallantly suggested she needed a place to herself to get away to sometimes.
She told Ethan she was an avid diarist, as well as scrapbooker, and she wanted to write down the events of the last 24 hours while they were still fresh – and that she greatly appreciated having her own room in which do so. In reality, she needed to begin her article, so that by the time she flew back to New York it would be ready to turn in.
Once they’d returned from shopping, they’d eaten a quiet dinner made from her picnic lunch leftovers, then sat for a time on the back porch watching the sunset. They’d kissed a little and snuggled a lot, all of which made her long to kick her laptop to the curb and head for bed with Ethan, but she had to remember this was just a story. The diamond on her finger wasn’t hers. Her fiancé wasn’t a fiancé, he was just some guy she was lying to for the worst of reasons.
Is this what her mother meant by taking care of herself and being independent? Somehow she didn’t think so. Sure, she would advocate doing what was necessary to survive, but was this necessary?
I won’t have a job if I don’t write this article, and in order to write this article I have to stay and play this out.
Was that true? Or could she somehow make a killer story out of what little material she already had? She grabbed her camera and clicked back through the photographs she’d saved.
No. She might have enough for a filler piece – two or three paragraphs, at most – but it wouldn’t make a feature story. For that she needed the whole shebang – a hook, the backstory – a complete picture of a lonely cowboy looking for a real cowboy wife.
While she was at it, she’d better make some notes about the questions she still needed answers to. Why did he run the YouTube ad? Why not look for love in his own home town? Why be a rancher at all? Why not join the 21st century and get a real job?
And did he really want kids?
When she realized she’d dropped her hand to her belly, she snatched it up like she’d touched hot coals.
Don’t even think it, Autumn – you can’t be pregnant. And you certainly can’t know that you are.
But she did know. She was as sure of it as she was of her own name. The thought made her hot with longing and cold with shame and fear all at the same time. What was she going to do? What would her mother and sister say when she came home pregnant?
A single mother, just like her own mom. Would she be able to rise to the challenge? Could she work all day at whatever came to hand, and go back to school to get her Masters so she could teach like her mother always said she should? Her baby in daycare from morning to night.
That last thought made her arms ache. She wouldn’t get to raise her own baby; not like she wanted to, anyway. She wouldn’t be there to hold her, play with her, keep her safe. Bake her cookies, play house, teach her to garden…
She bowed her head in frustration. After she became an ob-gyn, her own mother claimed she’d always felt stifled as a stay-at-home mom, but although she never said so, Autumn remembered things differently. She remembered many happy times with her mother and sister. Teresa used to set the timer on the oven and all three of them would race to finish their chores on summer mornings so they could spend the remainder of the day at a local pool. When they visited museums and art galleries, they had passionate arguments over which painting or sculpture they liked best. Her mother read aloud to them every night before bed. And then there were Sundays, and the noisy, fabulous feasts she missed so much.
She couldn’t believe Teresa hated those days. Instead, she thought her mother had decided to hate them, so the fact she’d lost them when her husband left wouldn’t be so devastating.
That didn’t mean Autumn couldn’t have days like those.
The ring on her finger glinted.
She could stay here, marry Ethan, be his wife. He wanted a stay-at-home kind of woman, someone to run the house, do the errands, raise the garden and the kids, and help with the ranch. They could make each other’s dreams come true.
Lord knew, it wouldn’t be a hardship to go to bed with him every night.
She found herself shaking her head, her mother’s constant lectures echoing in her mind. That meant financial dependence on a man, and that was something she could not, would not, do. When you depended on a man you left your life open to earth-shattering changes – the kind that tore your heart out and stomped on it for good measure. She couldn’t raise a daughter with that kind of example. Marriage was a trap laid for women by men. A financial trap. And she wouldn’t be a party to it.
Write, she told herself. Earn your money and secure the future, for yourself and your baby.
How long did it take to write in a damn diary?
Ethan hesitated outside the spare bedroom door, one hand raised to knock. He heard the clack of computer keys and for one horrible moment wondered if maybe Autumn’s diary was one of those blog things. Hell, he hoped not. The last thing he needed was for details of his private life to be exposed to the world – especially the details of the last 24 hours.
“Autumn?” He rapped his knuckles on the door. “You still in there?”
“Uh…yeah!” He heard the snap of her laptop shutting and the pad of her feet as she approached the door. She opened it a crack.
“It’s been an hour. You aren’t sitting there telling our story to the whole world, are you?” He craned his neck to see into the room.
Her eyes went wide. “What?”
“You’re not one of those bloggers, are you? Or one of those video people?”