Copyright © 2008 Lorelei James
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Skylar Ellison hated being naked in public.
Not that she was positioned on a bridge waving her hoo-hoos and va-jay-jay at passersby, but damn, wearing just her birthday suit made her oh-so conscious of the flaws in that aging suit. The paper covering the patient’s exam table crinkled beneath her sweaty thighs. A cold breeze from the air duct wafted across her bare butt exactly where the itsy bitsy cloth gown gapped.
That wasn’t as bad as having her lower half completely exposed, her knees spread wide, her feet in metal stirrups as she stared at the “Hang In There, Baby” poster plastered to the ceiling.
Skylar dreaded pelvic exams, pap smears, shots, and teeth cleanings—anything resembling a medical procedure. So far she’d been poked, prodded and they’d taken a sample of damn near every bodily fluid imaginable; blood, urine, saliva, a throat culture, earwax, toe-jam—not so much the last two, but it’d sure seemed like it.
She’d been cooling her heels in this sterile room for thirty minutes. Which gave her plenty of time to wonder: what the hell was wrong with her?
For the last month she’d experienced constant nausea. Not enough to make her barf, but wooziness, usually worse at night. She didn’t feel like eating, yet, according to the doctor’s scale, she’d managed to pack on five pounds since the last time she’d weighed herself at home.
She could attribute her physical changes to stress. Owning her own business was nerve-racking, even when her all-natural, made-in-Wyoming beauty products contained aromatherapy properties. Construction delays caused her extra anxiety, but she’d finally opened the retail store of Sky Blue in Sundance. The manufacturing plant outside of Moorcroft was in full swing filling holiday orders.
Still, stress wouldn’t make her skin hurt to the touch. Tension might push her to the edge of exhaustion, causing her to sleep for twelve hours straight. She’d missed two or three periods—who kept track? She’d always been irregular. But that didn’t explain the weird vaginal discharge. Plus, she was moody. She couldn’t regulate her body temp; she was either too hot or too cold. It was all so eerily familiar. She recognized the signs, though never on herself.
Skylar closed her eyes. Please. Not cancer. She couldn’t have cancer. The universe couldn’t be that damn cruel. Eight years ago her mother had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. Her mom believed she’d hit menopause. She’d exhibited all the signs—signs Skylar recognized because she’d been experiencing them herself recently.
A cancer diagnosis would decimate her sister, India. Ironically enough, their father had been a victim of prostate cancer eleven years ago. Sky’s thoughts flashed to the rounds of chemo and radiation. The endless trips to the hospital. If anything would send India back to the shady world of booze, drugs and random sexual encounters, it’d be dealing with another cancer-stricken family member.
The door made a metallic snick and Skylar’s stomach lurched. She peeled her eyes open to look at the doctor, a striking petite redhead.
“The tests are back,” Doctor Monroe said.
“And? Do I have cancer?”
Doctor Monroe frowned and studied the pages inside the file folder. “Why on earth would you think…oh, I see. A family history of cancer. Huh. A lot of cancer. But no. It’s not cancer.”
Skylar stifled the urge to weep with relief. “Then what on earth is wrong with me? Is it a bug or something I picked up someplace? Is it contagious?” For some reason the impulsive event from a few months back clicked front and center in her mind.
Kade McKay. That rat bastard. He’d given her the clap.
“I have to say, Skylar, I’m not particularly surprised.”
Skylar’s mouth dropped open. “Not surprised that I have an STD? I have unprotected sex one time, one freakin’ time in all the years I’ve been sexually active and you’re not surprised that the jerk I slept with gave me crotch crud?”
Doctor Monroe smiled—grinned actually. “Oh, he didn’t give you an STD. He gave you a baby.”
“WHAT?” Skylar shrieked. “I’m…I’m… Omigod. I’m pregnant?”
“Three months, does that sound right?”
Skylar nodded dumbly. Numbly.
Pregnant. Good God. She hadn’t seen Kade since that blow up at Ziggy’s three and a half months ago. The night they’d done the deed in his pickup in the parking lot of a honky-tonk. Immediately after that romp she’d found out he’d tricked her. She’d cut him out of her life, dodged his phone calls and eventually he’d stopped calling.
Yet, recently she’d found herself thinking of patient, sexy-as-sin Kade McKay at the oddest times, wondering if she hadn’t gone off half-cocked. Although he’d never corrected her assumption he was pretending to be his identical twin brother, the time they’d spent together never seemed like a trick or a joke, or forced but something promising. Something real.
Right. It didn’t get any more real than a baby.
A baby. Jesus.
“Any excessive drinking or other substances I should be worried about that might’ve affected this pregnancy?”
“No. My sister is a recovering alcoholic and she’s been living with me, so I haven’t had a drop of alcohol for months.”
“Good.” Doctor Monroe scooted forward and clasped Skylar’s hands in her own. “A surprise pregnancy isn’t always a pleasant surprise. You understand as your physician there is no judgment on my part on the decision you make. You’re a healthy thirty-four-year-old woman. Pregnancy and childbirth isn’t a risk to you healthwise.
“That said, if this pregnancy isn’t something you want, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with the clinic in Billings or one in Denver within the next week to terminate it. After that, you’re starting the second trimester and the health risks to you double.”
“So I’m a third of the way through?”
Dr. Monroe nodded.
A baby. Growing inside her. How weird. How…cool.
And suddenly Sky wanted this baby fiercely. “Well, Doc, I’m looking at this as a good surprise.”
“I thought you might say that.”
“Because we’re the same age and if I had the same surprise, I’d be over the moon.”
Sky definitely felt as if she’d been launched into another galaxy, spawning a new life form inside her. “Guess I’d better bone up on Mr. Spock’s pregnancy and childbirth books.”
“Doctor Spock, the baby expert. Not the Vulcan Star Trek character,” Doc Monroe said dryly. She reached into a cabinet, pulling out a big white plastic bottle. “Prenatal vitamins. I’ll write you a prescription, but this should get you through until I see you next month.”
Then she rattled off a spiel about unnatural bleeding, swollen tissues, tingling in arms and legs, when to come in—Sky heard it all, but through a fog of disbelief.
The word pregnant kept repeating in her mind.
In a daze, she wandered to her car, keeping her coat wrapped tightly against the cold November wind.
Kade had a right to know about this baby. She’d have to steel herself against his reaction—most likely not positive. They’d had sex one time. One. Freakin’. Time. What were the odds she’d end up pregnant? Would he even believe her that the kid was his?
Only one way to find out. She fished her BlackBerry from her purse and scrolled down the contact list.
Dammit. In a fit of anger she’d erased his cell number. Last she knew he’d temporarily moved in with his parents. Even if that was no longer the case, they’d know how to get in touch with him.
Skylar punched up the local phone directory, narrowing it to Sundance before she attempted the surrounding Wyoming counties. McKay. A shitload of them were listed:
McKay, Calvin and Kimi
McKay, Carson and Carolyn
McKay, Carter and Macie
McKay, Casper and Joan
McKay, Charles and Violet
McKay, Colby and Channing
McKay, Cord and AJ
McKay, Quinn and Libby
No Kade. No Kane. Think, Sky. What were his parents’ names? No clue. What was up with all the “C” names anyway? That was confusing as hell. She scrolled and started with the couple at the top of the list. Calvin and Kimi.
She dialed. Her heart jumped into her throat, nearly choking her when the phone was answered on the second ring. “McKays.”
“Hello. I’m looking for Kade McKay.”
Deep male laughter. “Look elsewhere.”
“My brother is gone.”
The man speaking had to be Kane, Kade’s twin. “Gone? What do you mean gone?” Then Sky remembered Kade’s cousin had died in a tragic ranch accident and the blood drained from her face. “Is he…dead?”
A snort. “No, he’s gone, as in, he moved.
“Three months ago.”
Damn. Wasn’t that a coincidence? Was that irony laughing in the background or just the rude man on the phone?
“Before you ask where he’s gone, he might as well be livin’ in Timbuktu because there’s no way to get a hold of him. Try back late next summer.” And he hung up.
Skylar stared at her cell phone in astonishment. How had she ever mixed up Kane and Kade McKay? They were different as night and day.
Which mattered not a single whit.
Call back next summer.
Right. Looked like she was on her own. Again.
Skylar patted her stomach. “Just you and me, kiddo.”
After five minutes of aimless staring at the gray nothingness outside her window, she laughed until tears poured down her face.
“A case of mistaken identity with identical twins, unprotected sex in a pickup truck, and now, a secret baby. Heck, with your cowboy daddy MIA, if I moved into a trailer and bought a shotgun we’d be living the redneck anthem.”
The fluttery sensation in her stomach solidified as the baby gave her a good swift kick.
Nine months later…
The door slammed hard enough to shake the whole house.
“Kade West McKay. I want to talk to you right now.”
Kade sighed. He wondered what he’d done to invoke his mother’s wrath this time. Left the toilet seat up? Parked in her spot? Forgot to wipe his boots? Did she know how mortifying it was to be treated like a naughty eleven-year-old boy, rather than a thirty-two-year-old man responsible for running a ranch the size of Rhode Island?
A thirty-two-year-old man who was living at his folks’ house. Again. Temporarily, he silently amended. He’d been back from the yearlong grazing experiment for just two days, and it felt as if he’d gone back in time twenty years.
All five-feet-one inches of Kimi McKay barreled around the corner into the living room. Whenever she got her mad on, he and his brother Kane snickered and called her the blonde tornado—behind her back, of course.
Nothing about the mean glint in her eye invoked his secret chuckle today. Something serious had put the starch in her spine. Out of reflex, he sat up straighter. Rather than risk saying the wrong thing, Kade said nothing.
She bent close to him, her face a mask of fury. “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you. I raised you better than that.”
“Better than what?”
“Don’t you get smart with me.”
Count to ten. “I’m not.”
“Don’t you lie to me, neither.”
“Ma. Calm down. Lie about what? What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? Your behavior is what’s wrong.”
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“I’m talking about you being such a…” She tossed up her arms. “A McKay!”
“I never pegged you as the love ’em and leave ’em type, Kade. I’d hoped you were different.”
“Why is it so damn hard if you can’t keep your damn pants zipped to remember to wear a damn condom?”
Baffled, he just stared at her as she ranted and swore a blue streak.
“So you were caught up in the moment of passion, I understand that. But I expected you’d do the right thing, Kade, not walk away. Or run away as the case may be.”
“Have you lost your mind? What in the hell are you babblin’ about?”
“You—” she drilled his chest hard with her index finger, “—neglecting to tell me you’d knocked up a woman and then flitted off to the north forty of the McKay ranch, leaving her to deal with the pregnancy and the baby all alone.”
“What woman? What baby?”
Kimi McKay snapped upright. Her pale blue eyes searched his. A mixture of surprise and resignation replaced the anger on her face. “Oh, good Lord. You really don’t know, do you, son?”
“Know that you’re a father.”
“What? Run that by me again.”
“You heard me right. You’re a father.”
Kade remained calm in light of his mother’s delusions. “Remember where I’ve been the last twelve months. I’ve barely seen a woman in that long, let alone touched one.”
Why don’t you just brag about your lack of a sex life to your mother of all people?
“Which fits, because that baby is over three months old.”
Kade’s heart damn near stopped. His mouth dried up like a summer stock dam as he did the math in his head. Last time he’d had sex was last year with Skylar. In their single, spontaneous, passionate bout of lovemaking, they’d forgotten to use a condom.
Not that they’d talked about the “oops” incident afterward. She’d been livid when she learned of his duplicity; he’d resigned himself to losing her for good after she wouldn’t return his phone calls. He’d left town within two weeks. Kade realized—for the first time—it was entirely possible that he might’ve gotten her pregnant.
Oh yeah? If that’s true, then why didn’t she contacted me after I sent her that letter?
Whoa. Talk about acting like a surly eleven-year-old.
“You saw Skylar?”
“Aha!” She shook her finger in his face. “You aren’t denying it?”
“No, but you’d better start at the beginnin’ and tell me exactly how you came across this information.”
“Fine. I popped into Sky Blue in Sundance for a bottle of hand cream. India always helps me. So imagine my surprise when I see the owner working the cash register. Imagine an even bigger surprise when I see a sweet baby nestled in her arms. And that baby sports a shock of black hair and looks at me with blue eyes, McKay blue eyes. I’ve seen my share of McKay babies in the last thirty-six years and there wasn’t any doubt I was lookin’ at one.
“When Skylar saw the name on my check, she stammered and couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. I knew that baby had to be yours. Or Kane’s.” A pause. “But Skylar is too classy and ambitious to be Kane’s type. Then something triggered my memory. Kane mentioning after Dag died you’d suffered a bad break-up with a woman. Is she the reason you were so eager to disappear last year and take a job in the boondocks that no one else wanted?”
“Partially, but I sure didn’t know she was pregnant because I never woulda left. Never. You know that, Ma.” This was so unbelievable he was having a devil of a time focusing. “Did you ask her if…?”
“Of course I didn’t ask her.” She leaned forward again. “Do you know how hard that was? To see that darlin’ little girl baby, all pretty in pink ribbons and bows, smilin’ and cooin’ at me, knowin’ she was my granddaughter?”
“Skylar had a girl?”
“Yep. Only the second McKay girl born in a hundred and twenty-three years. And she’s yours.”
His. He had a baby daughter. “Holy shit.” If Kade hadn’t been sitting down, he’d’ve been falling down. He repeated inanely, “A baby? Skylar had a baby? I’m a father?”
“It appears so.”
“What’s her name?”
Eliza. Pretty. His head spun. “Why didn’t she tell me?”
“I don’t know, son, but I suspect you’d better find out.”
Kade heaved himself out of the chair. “Damn straight.” He snagged his hat off the coat rack and stormed out to his truck.