Wedding Rings and Baby Things, страница 1
Table of Contents
About the Author
“Kelly, there’s no such thing as true love…”
She turned away so that he wouldn’t see her hurt. “I think it exists. I don’t want to settle for less. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a lot to do. Good night, Mike.” She held the door open.
The sight of him walking away, then the sound of the front door closing, were just about the loneliest things Kelly could imagine. Mike Cameron had just asked her to marry him, and he was serious. Not only that, he was angry that she’d refused his proposal.
She was pregnant She was unemployed. She was moving. She was probably crazy. What woman in her right mind would say no to a handsome hunk like Mike? She reminded herself that she was doing this to protect him.
But if she was doing the right thing, why did it feel so wrong and awful?
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Plus, two authors sure to become favorites make their Romance debuts this month. In Husband Next Door by Anne Ha, a very confirmed bachelor is reformed into marriage material, and in Wedding Rings and Baby Things by Teresa Southwick, an anyminute mom-to-be says “I do” to a marriage of convenience that leads to a lifetime of love….
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Wedding Rings and Baby Things
To Jim, my big brother and very own legal eagle. Thanks for giving me the words to make Mike a here. For always being there and understanding, you have my everlasting gratitude.
is a native Californian with ties to each coast, since she was conceived in the East and born in the West. Living with her husband of twenty-five years and two handsome sons, she is surrounded by heroes. Reading has been her passion since she was a girl. She couldn’t be more delighted that her dream of writing full-time has come true. Her favorite things include: holding a baby, the fragrance of jasmine, walks on the beach, the patter of rain on the roof, and above all—happy endings.
Teresa also writes historical romance novels under the same name.
She’d picked a bad time to swear off men.
Not that it was a permanent situation, Kelly Walker amended. Besides, her condition wasn’t exactly conducive to getting involved with men, and that was the way she wanted to keep it
On the other hand, her condition was probably the reason she had been summoned to the administration office in the high school where she taught. She stared at the wavy, light-and-dark wood grain in the door marked Principal. As much as she tried to tell herself differently, it wasn’t likely that Mr. Bloomhurst had summoned her here to discuss her interpretation of Hamlet. He probably wanted to talk about the fact that she was six months pregnant, not married—and not getting married.
Stevenson High School was located in Newhall, the small California town where she’d grown up. No one knew better than she how people talked, how quickly gossip circulated. She had expected when this news got out it would spread like soft butter on a hot muffin.
Since she hadn’t begun to really show until the last week or so, she had been able to keep her condition quiet. Only two people were supposed to know that she was going to have a baby. Susan Wishart, who taught in the classroom next to Kelly’s, and Mike Cameron, head of the math department, head football coach and her very best friend in the world. She had made them promise not to say anything until she could break the news to Mr. Bloomhurst herself. As many times as she’d rehearsed everything in her mind, she still wasn’t prepared for this chat with her boss.
She had figured on telling him at the end of the school year when the next term assignments were given out. It was now the beginning of May. In the Arizona school where she’d taught before, teachers didn’t find out until the last week before summer, vacation what they would be teaching in the fall. She was just finishing up her second year at Stevenson and was still getting used to how things were done here.
She had thought she’d been able to camouflage her swelling body with loose clothes, but she had been getting some long, curious looks. First the eyebrows went up when someone’s eyes dropped to her midsection. Then the gaze lifted to see if her face had gotten rounder. Then the examination dropped below her belly to her legs to determine if she had put on weight everywhere. After all of this, which took about a second and a half, the person pretended she hadn’t noticed a thing. So far everyone who was perceptive enough to give her the ritual once-over hadn’t said anything.
Everyone, that is, except Elizabeth McCutcheon. Earlier today, she had asked Kelly point-blank if she was going to have a baby. Kelly had said yes. Mrs. McCutcheon hadn’t let it drop there. She said she hadn’t heard that Kelly had gotten married. Kelly told her she hadn’t. Even in this small town, the majority of people wouldn’t have pushed the issue, but Mrs. McCutcheon happened to be the president of the district’s Parent Advisory Committee.
Hence Kelly’s summons to Mr. Bloomhurst after school.
She took a deep breath and knocked.
“Come in,” a voice called out.
She opened the door and walked inside.
Cliff Bloomhurst glanced up from the paperwork on his desk. “Hi, Kelly.”
He smiled, looking at her over the half glasses he needed only for reading and now had balanced on the tip of his nose. The sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up to the elbow, and his red-and-blue-striped tie was loosened just enough to release the button at his neck. His thinning brown hair was peppered with gray and there was genuine warmth in his light blue eyes. She liked him a lot. He was a nice man.
“Come on in. And shut the door, please.” His voice was a sort of down-home drawl that normally put her completely at ease. But not today.
Kelly did as he asked, then perched on the edge of one of the gr
“I know what this is about,” she said. “Let’s cut to the chase. I’m going to have a baby.”
“So I heard.”
“I planned to tell you soon. The baby is due at the end of July or the beginning of August. I will be here on the first day of school in September.”
“I wish I didn’t have to ask, but…are you planning to marry the baby’s father?”
Even if Doug Hammond had proposed instead of telling her not to expect any support, she wouldn’t tie herself to a man who was so underhanded and untrust-worthy. She was sorry she hadn’t seen sooner what a jerk Doug was. After that conversation, she hadn’t expected to hear from him again. But in the last couple weeks, he had left messages on her answering machine. She hadn’t returned them and hoped he would get the hint that she wanted him out of her life forever. She couldn’t stand the sight of the man, but she would never be sorry about the baby she now carried.
Mr. Bloomhurst looked genuinely sympathetic. “Then my hands are tied, Kelly. Liz McCutcheon went to the school board after she spoke to you today. They called me with a decision. You won’t be back in September.”
Kelly’s heart sank. “I don’t understand.”
“You’re a fine teacher. No one knows that or appreciates the job you do more than me. But the school board won’t permit a pregnant, unmarried teacher in the classroom. They’re concerned about the example it sets for the students.”
“But this is the nineties, Mr. Bloomhurst.”
He nodded grimly. “I know. But this is Newhall, California, Small Town, U.S.A. It’s a nice place to live. But that can be a double-edged sword.”
“I won’t be pregnant in September.”
“Are you planning to keep the child?”
“Of course!” Kelly was shocked that he would even ask. It would never occur to her to give away her child.
“You won’t be married, either, and you’ll still have a child out of wedlock. I did my best to change their minds, but they were adamant.”
Kelly was numb. She knew that was a good thing. She didn’t want to go hysterical in front of this man. “I suppose there’s nothing I can do?”
He shook his head. “If you had tenure, you could probably fight the ruling.”
She stood up and gripped the back of the chair so tightly her knuckles turned white. “Do you want me. to finish out the last four weeks?”
“I’d appreciate it”
“But I’m still pregnant. What about Mrs. McCutcheon?”
“I’ll handle Liz.” He looked down for a moment, then back up at her. “I know this is hypocritical, but I’d like to keep the news quiet and have you finish up. with your classes until the end of the year. It would be disruptive to the students to bring in a substitute now.”
She nodded. “I wouldn’t do anything to hurt the kids. Some of them need these grades for college.”
“I appreciate that, Kelly.” He folded his hands and looked at her a little uncomfortably. “May I ask you a personal question? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“I have nothing to hide.”
“There’s a rumor…” He cleared his throat. “Is Mike the baby’s father?”
“No!” Mike Cameron? The idea shocked her. Then she almost laughed out loud. She’d known Mike since she was a kid. Once she’d had a crush on him, but she’d gotten over that years ago. “We’re good friends, nothing more. I rent his guest house—” Aha, that was probably why someone, probably Mrs. Busybody McCutcheon, had jumped to some wild conclusions.
“I’m sorry. I had to ask. It was a stupid question. If he was the father we wouldn’t be having this discussion.” Mr. Bloomhurst took off his glasses. He stood up and held out his hand. “If there’s anything I can ever do, just let me know.”
“I will,” Kelly said, putting her fingers in his palm. She knew he truly meant what he said, but she couldn’t help being angry and upset As nice as he was, he was still a man. As much as she needed one right now, a. he was already married, and b. she had sworn off men…maybe forever.
Kelly drove into Mike’s driveway, past his large Spanish-style home, then braked in front of the smaller guest house. She leaned to the left and pulled the lever to pop the trunk on her four-door car before getting out to remove the empty cardboard boxes. As she moved purposefully up the curved, brick walkway to her front porch, she tried to shake the fear she was feeling about finding a new job and a place to live.
After unlocking the heavy oak door, she clicked on the front porch light and tossed the boxes inside, then retrieved the rest from the car. When she was finished, she slung her purse on the parsons bench just beside the door of her two-bedroom apartment. With the flick of a switch on the wall, brass lamps illuminated the interior of her comfortable living room with the floral sofa and matching love seat. Oak tables sat on either end of the sofa with a coffee table in front. Her lowheeled shoes sank in the thick hunter green carpet. All the emotions she had been fending off all day gathered into a lump in her throat. How she was going to miss this place.
She recalled when Mike had insisted that her mother pick out the color of the rug, just before they’d moved in. Ill as she was, Margaret Walker had perked up visibly at the excitement of redecorating. Kelly would always be grateful for Mike’s kindness to her mother.
That’s why she had to protect him now.
It was evening, after seven. She hadn’t eaten, but she wasn’t hungry. She had spent the time since leaving Mr. Bloomhurst making decisions about what to do. The first one was to move.
After kicking off her shoes, she took a box into the kitchen and started removing things that she hardly ever used from the topmost shelves of her cupboards.
The clatter she made nearly drowned out the doorbell, and she wasn’t sure she’d actually heard it. But a second later an insistent ringing told her loud and clear that pregnancy had not affected her ears.
In her bare feet she padded to the front door and opened it.
“Where the hell have you been?” Mike Cameron glared at her and barged through the doorway.
“Hi, Mike. I’m fine, thanks. How are you? Come on in,” she said, closing the door. Turning her back on him, she headed through the dining room back to the kitchen. She squatted down and started putting dish towels and odds and ends into a box.
Mike was hot on her heels. She heard his athletic shoes squeak on the tile floor as he stopped short behind her. “I was worried. When you didn’t show up to tutor Jake, I was about to call the cops.”
Kelly groaned and stood up. “I’m sorry, Mike. I completely forgot.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked. His dark, almost black, eyes bored into her as if he could see every single secret she had.
“What makes you think there’s something wrong?”
“Because you’re the most responsible, organized, punctual person I know.”
“Watch it. You’ll turn my head with flattery like that.”
“Cut it out, Kelly. What’s going on? Where were you? It’s not like you to forget about one of your students.”
“I had a bad day. I’ll call Jake right now and see if he’s available.”
She started for the phone, which was right next to where Mike stood in the doorway. When she caught a glimpse of his face, she stopped. Every once in a while she was taken aback by his athletic good looks. His dark hair was cut short, and more often than not he wore a baseball cap that said Stevenson Football on it He was thirty-five years old, but still boyish looking in spite of the shadow of beard that darkened his jaw. She studied him critically and realized he appeared boyish only when he was smiling, which he was definitely not doing now. At the moment he glowered at her, and his eyes smoldered with anger.
That surprised her. She felt badly that she had missed her appointment, but she had a sneaking suspicion Jake Saterfiel
Mike seemed to fill the doorway of her kitchen. “Don’t bother calling him. He went to his girlfriend’s house to study.”
“Jessica is an honors student. If they actually get some work done, he’ll do fine on his test in Susan’s class tomorrow.”
“The hell with his test tomorrow.”
“I thought you were concerned about his grade and his eligibility to play in September.”
“I am. But right now I’m more concerned about you. I asked you where you were. Hey, what are you doing with these boxes?”
“I can see that. Why are you packing? You shouldn’t be doing that kind of stuff. You’re pregnant, for God’s sake.” He crossed his arms over his chest and she couldn’t help noticing how his red T-shirt pulled tight around his powerful bicep. He was in tiptop physical shape, and reminded Kelly just how ungainly she looked right now. His black shorts showed off his athletic build, right down to his narrow waist and muscular, well-formed thighs. Mike was enough to make a woman’s heart beat double-time. If that woman hadn’t sworn off men, of course.
Kelly had always thought Mike was a hunk in stretch cotton, since the very first time she’d seen him when her older brother Jim had brought him home after football practice. But there had never been anything of a romantic nature in her relationship with Mike. He had always treated her like a younger sister, and that had killed her crush pretty quickly. But that didn’t mean she was deaf, dumb and blind. He was a good-looking man, too sexy for his own good, a fact proven by a string of broken female hearts over the years.