The Bachelor’s Baby
BOOK 3 in the Love in Montana Series
Your date with Bachelor #3…
…includes champagne and chocolate in the limo that collects you, a helicopter tour of Marietta and the surrounding mountains and valleys, and dinner at a five star restaurant in Great Falls. While oil baron Linc Brady wines and dines you, a maid service will completely clean your home.
Who could resist this tempting offer, but Meg Canon plans to do just that. She is only home to clean out her childhood bedroom for her brother’s new step-daughter and then she’s outta her childhood small town and back to her life in Chicago, but when she meets the sexy, renegade millionaire while she’s stuck in the snow, sparks fly and Meg is tempted to maybe stay a little longer.
Linc Brady is new in town and happy to help a kid in need, but this? Technically he doesn’t owe Meg a damned thing after she bids on him, after setting him up for the Marietta bachelor auction in the first place, but her high-class city polish is his fatal weakness and makes her impossible to forget. When she agrees to come home with him, he makes it clear he’s a confirmed bachelor. This is a one-night thing. One night that turns into nine months and maybe a lifetime…?
The Bachelor’s Baby
BOOK 3 in the
Love in Montana Series
The Bachelor’s Baby
is BOOK 3 in the Love in Montana Series
The full series reading order is as follows:
"You think tricking me into standing on a stage to have women bid on me like a stud bull is funny?"
— Linc Brady, The Bachelor's Baby
Much like Meg and Linc, I didn’t expect to be involved in a Bachelor Auction series. But the opportunity came up and I said, “Sure, sounds like fun!” Because that’s what I always say. Then I panic.
I had already set up Meg in Blame The Mistletoe as Blake’s sister and a potential character for a future book, should the opportunity arise, so I had my heroine at least. And I already knew she’d have some unresolved feelings about being adopted.
Finding her a bachelor was a little trickier. I knew I wanted him to be made in Montana, but also a tycoon, so I threw Linc on the oil rigs and up the corporate ladder to really toughen him up.
As for writing the story, it was like planning an actual event as a committee. It made me laugh as we authors worked through the logistics of where to set the stage and who would be the auctioneer. There are no photos of Grey’s Saloon, but I have a very clear mental picture of this bar that started as a bordello, with it’s upper lounge where the bachelors are all leaning against the rail like old-timey saloon girls.
Very apropos, right? We had such a great bunch of authors in this series, all finding these great touches that made it so fun and racy. I’ll be honest and admit that collaborating is a skill I’m still trying to master. I don’t have critique partners or beta readers. I write my story then I send it to my editor, then I fix what she tells me to fix. Checking in with others initially slowed me down, but I’ve learned to work around it and I really do love the results when it’s all done and dusted.
I hope you enjoy The Bachelor’s Baby and all the titles in the Bachelor Auction series. Look for the rest of my Marietta books now a branded as the Love In Montana series. Also, be sure to read the bonus scenes for this series here on my site.
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The Bachelor’s Baby
Meg Canon often reminded herself she was lucky, especially when she didn’t feel it. Today was one of those times. She was lucky to have been adopted into a good family. She was lucky to still have her brother. She was lucky to have caught a few breaks with her career. She—
“Oh, why me?” she railed aloud as the truck fishtailed, refused to catch as she tried to recover, then spun before the back end hit the berm of snow at the side of the road, jerking her to a stop.
Part of her believed in karma. Therefore, she knew exactly what she’d done to deserve her misfortune. Self-disgust roiled in her like a washing machine full of dirty laundry these days. Once she’d realized her mistake, she couldn’t stop thinking about it: the one thing that had burned in her psyche her whole life, the obsession that had driven her to Chicago and into television—the search for her birth parents—had set her up for exactly what she was suffering. She was reaping what she’d sown. She had no one to blame but herself.
And because her mind was so deep in her own self-reproach, she had let the damned truck hit a patch of ice and slide its back tires into what would have been the ditch if it wasn’t overflowing with a winter’s worth of plowed snow.
“Curses!” She’d only gone six miles from the end of the ranch’s driveway, but it was a mile to the next neighbor’s, then another down their drive.
And it was winter in Montana. Butt freezing cold out there.
“Lucky,” she muttered facetiously, mentally listing the ways this could have been worse: There were places the road edged a twenty foot drop into the river. Another car could have been involved. She could have hit a deer.
This was an inconvenience. Just like the way she’d had to change her routines in Chicago was an inconvenience. If she would just quit thinking of herself as a victim and accept her situation, she’d be fine.
But every little change made her feel like she was hiding from herself. And that made her squirm.
She stared into the blinding afternoon of sparkling hills. The storm two days ago had flash frozen layers of snow onto the trees and fence rails. The February days were slowly getting longer, but the sun was still low, bouncing along the tips of the mountains in the distance. The peaks looked like whipped cream against the intense blue of the sky. Deceptively soft and pretty.
It was a gorgeous day. A perfect day to get out of a crowded house to pick up a few groceries.
Heck, she was the inconvenience, not really having absorbed at Christmas that if her brother was engaged, it meant his fiancée and her daughter were moving into the ranch house.
It shouldn’t break her heart to pack up all her things to make room for them. Blake deserved this and Liz was amazing. Meg loved that Blake was finally happy, that he was getting married and, if her suspicions proved true, expecting a baby. Meg even adored Liz’s teenaged daughter. She wanted this for Blake and his son, Ethan.
But the timing sucked. She’d always been comforted by the knowledge she could bolt back to Marietta at any time, especially lately when things were so awkward in the city.
Now she was battling the painfully familiar gloom of rejection and isolation, all too aware that this was the feeling that had propelled her to Chicago in the first place. She’d been determined to find her birth mother, had basically advertised herself on national television, hoping for a miracle reunion. What she’d got was a persistent fan that made her uncomfortable.
Her deepest heartache—being abandoned—was now something she was begging for. Leave me alone.
Gripping the steering wheel, she told herself to get it together. It was time to let go of her obsession and enjoy her job for what it was: a successful and lucrative career.
She also had to buck up, get out of the truck, see how deeply the wheels were buried, and dig them out. Blake kept a pile of gravel and a sack of salt in the bed of the truck for exactly this situation.
At the very least, getting out to curse at the ditched wheels would be cathartic.
With an angry groan at herself, she threw herself out of the truck and slammed the door.
The dry, subzero temperature stole the air from her lungs, making her nostrils pinch and her earlobes sting where they poked out from beneath the edge of her chic city hat. She hugged herself against the cold and watched her breath cloud, forcing herself to absorb the barren desolation around her. To accept it.
It was time to accept that she was alone. She wasn’t going to find the magical connection that would fix the ache inside her. She couldn’t rely on Blake and Ethan to caulk all the holes in her soul. She was solution. She had to fix herself.
Her breath released in a big cloud of resignation, loud in a world that was utterly silent. No animals, no birds, not even a predatory cat. She’d been stalked by a young cougar once, when she’d been a teenager riding her horse. It had been a scary half hour, more because she’d feared she would have to shoot it and hadn’t been sure she’d have the nerve. She liked cats. In the end, a spooked pheasant had sacrificed its life for hers.
The fan in Chicago had given her a similar feeling. Was the guy just curious? Or dangerous? He’d been confronted and warned, which was a relief, but guilt squirmed in Meg. How was she different from him? Hadn’t she pieced together the backgrounds on countless women, even tailed a few, trying to figure out if they could have been her mother?
Shivers from the bitter cold gripped her, but a strange level of peace returned to her psyche as she absorbed what had once been a very familiar atmosphere. Winter in Montana. No traffic. No people. No problems beyond the basic one of survival.
For the first time in weeks, her brain calmed. Despite the desolation around her, she always felt safe here. The potential stalker wouldn’t know her as Meg Canon or think to try to find her here in Marietta. On air she was Virginia Leonard, her birth name. In her head, in her soul, she was Margaret Canon. Meg.
Funny how she hadn’t realized that until this moment.
She always felt better when she let go of that other person she was trying to be and embraced herself. Why had she never noticed that before?
She was so absorbed in relief, as tension and anxiety eased, she didn’t hear the engine or crunch of tires on the snow-encrusted road. When a shiny black pick up truck stopped in front of her, so did her heart.
The tinted window slid down and the man behind the wheel was unfamiliar, but she was only here a couple of times a year so she didn’t know all the faces in Marietta anymore.
Oddly, she wasn’t afraid, despite the caution that city-living had instilled in her. Logic told her to shift her weight toward the door of the truck, but for all she knew, she’d locked herself out. And this was Marietta. He wouldn’t have stopped to hurt her. He’d stopped to—
“Need some help?” he asked.
His voice was made for broadcasting, deep and rich with calm authority. So was his face, with his chiseled jaw and steady gaze beneath straight eyebrows that bent perfectly at the outsides to set off his startling green eyes and sharp cheekbones. He wore a closely-shaved beard that framed a mouth that wasn’t too wide. It was full-lipped without being pouty. His upper lip was not as full as the bottom and it was just a little bit asymmetrical, so he looked like he was suppressing a hint of humor.
He was easily someone you could stare at for an hour.
He was easily someone she was gawking at.
“No,” she answered belatedly, shaking off her fascination, not feeling the cold all of a sudden. In fact, she was growing hot from deep within.
Wow. She hadn’t felt such instant attraction in… Her mind wasn’t even working. A while. A very long while.
It was embarrassing to be this affected. She was worse than Bambi’s mom, standing here dumbly fascinated.
“Sure?” he asked. He’d come up from behind her and could see plain as day that the truck was cock-eyed on the road, back tires broken into the heavy snow on the shoulder. “I have a winch. Lemme turn around and pull you out.”
I have a shovel, she would have protested, but he drove past her, up to where he could turn around. And he had a winch.
Of course he had a winch. She hadn’t even thought to look if Blake had one, and yes, he did. Not that there was anything stronger than a few saplings to hook to. Letting this guy help her would be a heck of a lot easier than doing this herself.
She eyed him as he returned. Money wasn’t terribly prevalent here in Marietta, but this guy was obviously doing well for himself, with his chrome rims holding his top of the line snow tires on his spanking new truck.
He positioned his vehicle in front of Blake’s battered specimen and climbed out.
She eyed his seasoned cowboy hat, new sheepskin jacket without so much as a hayseed on his pristine white collar, faded jeans and worn-in work boots. They weren’t horse-riding cowboy boots. They were hammer-swinging construction boots.
“You’re the new guy,” she deduced, staying back since he seemed to know what he was doing. “You bought the Hartstocht’s old place.” The Circle H had been foreclosed five years ago. The ‘sold’ sign had been the talk of the town through Christmas. “Lincoln Brady, is that right?”
He didn’t pause, but his hat tilted up long enough for him to sweep her with an assessing glance that took in her trendy knee-high boots, snug jeans and town coat. Chicago winters were no Sunday picnic, so her dress coat was engineered for maximum warmth, but it was double-breasted wool, royal blue with black embroidery around the collar and a skirted bottom that complimented her figure. She wondered what more depths of opinion he’d form if he knew it was from a vegan-based fashion house, marketed on its cruelty-free fabrics and natural dyes. Blake had mused she could boil and eat this coat if she had to.
“That’s right,” he replied, smoothly clipping on.
“You grew up near Lewiston,” she added, showing off her investigative skills now. “Moved to Texas and worked in oil.” Thus the flashy truck, she surmised with a flickering glance. Quite the renegade move to throw all that away to hobby farm Montana. “Some people think you should consider going organic, since the place has been sitting fallow so long. Did you know that?”
He cut her another glance.
She shrugged. “It’s a small town. We have a lot of opinions about what people should do and aren’t afraid to express them.”
She was also a naturally curious person who happened to work in news. Digging into people’s backstory was her crack. That’s how she knew he’d been a CEO with really, really big oil. Rumor was, he kept a helicopter in his corral, not horses.
“You the one marrying that ball player?” he asked, straightening and motioning that she should move into the driver’s seat to steer Blake’s truck as it was pulled forward.
“No, that’s my friend, Skye,” she said, mouth twitching as she absorbed that he could play the gossip game too. “I’m from the Lazy C.”
“The California girl.”
Her amusement grew. “That would be my brother’s fiancé, Liz. No, I’m the Chicago newscaster.” She gave him a second to reply, but he only backed away, the remote for the winch in his gloved hands. He waved her to get behind the wheel.
Bummer. She was really intrigued by him. For a second she’d thought she’d felt a spark on his side, too.
And since when did she hope for a connection to a local boy?
Although, he hardly fit the profile of a local. The men in her age bracket here in Marietta tended to be fit and strapping, but they were like family. This guy… Wow. Just wow to all that brawn and steely silence.
Climbing behind the wheel, she nodded and seconds later the truck was back on the road. She left the engine running and climbed out to thank him while he unhooked.
“Just being neighborly,” he dismissed. “Chicago, huh?”
“In town long?”
“Just a few days, cleaning out my old bedroom for my new niece.”
He nodded, sweeping a slower look over her that was very male and approving. It was like stepping off a plane into the tropics, surrounding her in sultry warmth. She swallowed.
“Why?” she asked, hearing a faint huskiness of receptiveness in her voice. Ask me out.
His mouth, which she was starting to think was definitely sexy, pursed in a rueful hint of vacillation. He decided to go for it, saying, “I was going to suggest, if you had time before you left, that you might like to drop by and see the place. If you’re interested.”
Bam. Chemistry. Right there in the steady green stare of sexual attraction he leveled into her eyes.
Global warming struck like a meteor because even though they were surrounded by snow and ice, she melted under a wash of incredible heat. Completely incinerated under his gaze, breath evaporating and face warming.
Oh yes, her hormones were interested. Very interested.
They held the silent connection for a long time, long enough for her heart to begin to flutter with nervous excitement and her brain to throw a panic party. Was she seriously thinking of sleeping with a stranger?
She was so discomfited by her own reaction, she fell back a step, mostly amused, but a little bit stung by how slick he was. That wasn’t an invitation to dinner he’d just issued. And it wasn’t like she hadn’t had her share of smooth lines from fast operators in the city, but she expected better from the men around here, she really did.
“Even though I’m only in town for a few days. Or because I am?” she challenged, still trying to decide if she was insulted or flattered.
“I’m not a man for complications.”
Or apologies, apparently. He didn’t look the least bit contrite. More imperturbable.
“It was just a suggestion.” Touching the brim of his hat, he said, “See you around,” and started back to his own truck.
“You know, I could have it all over town that you tried to pick me up out here, but only because I’m passing through,” she threatened, not really serious. It was more like lobbing a snowball to start a play fight.
“You almost said yes,” he threw back, arrogant and knowing as he stood next to the open door of his truck. “Want me telling people that?”
She gave him the ‘die’ look she usually reserved for her nemesis at the competing station.
“It was really nice meeting you…?” He lifted his brows in a prompt.
“Meg,” she provided on a chortle of amused outrage. “You might learn that much about a woman before you proposition her.”
“Like I said, I like to keep things simple.” He was teasing now. She could tell by the way the corners of his mouth had deepened with suppressed laughter. “And I prefer Linc. Drive careful.” He winked and got into his truck, then drove past her to where he could turn around, coming up behind her and following her into town.
“Jack ass,” she called him under her breath, unable to resist watching him in her rear view mirror.
Unable to deny she was tempted. Very, very tempted.
When he was in his new, albeit run-down home, Linc was comfortable with his choice. Happy as a pig in shit, really, which wasn’t a far-off analogy. The house was a neglected wreck, the barn needed a new roof and the tractor was shot. But bringing the house back to livable, assessing the work needed around the ranch, planning for spring and critters—it was as close to meditation as a roughneck like him could get.
Then he drove off his new property and saw himself as the world saw him. Who threw away six hundred thousand a year to ante up against blizzards, mad cow disease, and any number of other financial or physical hardships that could hit in a single year?
Him. That’s who.
And not for a woman either. Not for the mother he should have stayed in one spot for. No, he’d chased the money for too long, always trying to find his way back to something he barely remembered and now here he was.
And he was damned pleased to be on the ground. Not in a plane, not on an oil rig in the middle of thirty foot swells, wind whistling and gulls screaming. He was living alone in the middle of nowhere. It was quiet. No one to answer to. No urgency or crisis, just a solid day’s work and what didn’t get done today, got done tomorrow.
But not really something others might understand.
And he sure as hell would love to get laid once in a while.
He was used to going without sex on the rigs, waiting until he had a week out. He knew how to get his ass into a bar, buy a woman a drink, turn it into a weekend. Sometimes it even worked out for longer. Then he didn’t have to go to a bar when he had time off. He went straight to her place.
But women tired of a man who wasn’t there most of the time, and when he did show up, he had dirty laundry and a surly attitude to shake, so he’d be in the bar again.
The bars around here weren’t the same as the ones in Miami and Dallas and Edmonton. Here, when a woman left with a man who wasn’t her husband, brows went up. He’d watched. Hook ups weren’t simple in these parts.
So Meg had looked like a gift from heaven.
The truck Meg was driving was held together with spit and bailing twine, but she’d looked right out of the pages of one of those women’s magazines he used to thumb through at the doctor’s office, waiting for his mom. The magazines always smelled nice and the women in them didn’t wear much. He could probably trace back his fetish for that kind of polished, high-maintenance woman to those perfumed pages he’d studied so closely in his pre-teen years.
He’d taken one look at Meg and felt a serious pull below the belt. Wavy red hair had poked from beneath the turned up brim of her frou-frou hat. Naked strawberry lashes had framed eyes as blue as the sky. A handful of freckles decorated a slender, haughty nose. Her figure was long-legged and undeniably feminine. Overall, she was prettier and more sophisticated looking than any other woman he’d seen here yet.
He’d deduced she was probably someone’s wife and told his libido to stand down.
Then they’d drilled to the heart of the matter and he’d seen possibility. He didn’t make assumptions about any woman’s willingness to sleep with him, but there was such a thing as playing odds and he’d voted her as most likely to successfully be drawn into the kind of short-term, lighthearted, needs-based relationships he preferred.
If she had been looking for diversion before heading back to a life in Chicago, she might have been his perfect match. He hadn’t been able to resist putting the idea out there.
And she’d shot him down.
Which shouldn’t bother him. You win some, you lose some. He knew that. He’d probably only reacted to her so strongly because he’d been going without for a while.
Still, he was nursing serious discontent with the outcome.
And the whole point in hooking up with a woman who didn’t live here was to avoid bump-into awkwardness afterward.
No such luck today. Meg parked at the very grocery store where he intended to pick up a few frozen dinners before he hit the lumber yard and got himself back to work on the room that would become his office.
Thankfully, she bumped into someone else, a woman who called her into conversation near the grocery carts. He walked by them and picked up a hand basket inside the door, filling it with frozen roast beef dinners and cans of soup so efficiently, he was checking out at the twelve-items-or-less lane before Meg had started her own shopping.
She glanced at him as she went by, something in her manner making him suspicious. That had been a smug little grin on her shiny pink mouth. Her bottom lip really was a forbidden fruit all in itself, plump and juicy and delectable—
He yanked himself back from lascivious thoughts to the friendly smile of the woman Meg had stopped to talk to outside. She was quite a looker herself with long dark hair and eyes dark as pansies. Her gaze was direct and vaguely cocky, like she had read all two pages of the How-To manual on dealing with men, but there was enough reserve about her that he knew right off that whatever she wanted from him was business, not pleasure.
He pocketed his credit card and gathered up his sack of groceries, stepping out of the way for the next customer. “Yes,” he said, adopting the veneer he wore for a boardroom full of lawyers. Something about her air of determination made him feel like he was being subpoenaed.
“I’m Lily Taylor.” She held out her hand and seemed to read him as they shook, changing from a wilted offer to a firm, no-nonsense pump, standing a little straighter—not to push out her chest, but to get the height she needed to better meet his gaze.
A good negotiator, this one. Knew when to use her wiles and when to use her smarts. Proceed with caution, he thought, wondering what she wanted.
“Meg just mentioned that you might be the right person to approach for a fundraiser we’re hosting for a local boy who was hurt recently. Josh Dekker? Have you read about him? He has a spinal cord injury from a fall while he was on a scout trip last year. His mother, Molly, is a friend of mine. She’s a single parent and they’re in quite dire straits, trying to ensure he gets the care he needs and refitting the house.”
Surprised, he glanced around for Meg. How had she known that he’d been raised by a struggling single-mom? Or that one of his first stints running a crew of his own had seen him airlifting a kid with a spinal injury to the mainland? His crew had spent a big chunk of their vacation time renovating the young man’s house when he was ready to leave the hospital. This hit all of Linc’s buttons.
“Happy to,” he replied. “What do you need? Pledge money or a pair of hands? I can do both. Let me give you my email. Just tell me where to send a check or when to show up.” He reached into his pocket for his business card.
“A man of action,” Lily said with approval, taking the card and tucking it securely in a side pocket of her purse. “Meg was right. You’re exactly what we’re looking for. Thank you so much for agreeing to pitch in. It will mean a lot to the family. I’ll email you all the details shortly.”
Her overly pleased smile made him feel like he’d just signed a contract with some tricky fine print. A tingle of danger spread across his chest. “What exactly did I just agree to?”
“To be part of the fundraiser.” Her smooth features belonged on a bill collector accepting a long-awaited check. Definitely no take-backs. “At Grey’s Saloon this Saturday. It’s a Bachelor Auction.”
“Not funny,” a male voice growled behind her as Meg reached for a small box off a shelf in the hardware store.
His voice really was a turn on, all heavy and faintly abrasive, yet warm and rounded. Like good scotch, or an heirloom quilt.
He’d still been talking to Lily when Meg had left the grocery store, his neck red, his scowl a firmly fixed mask. Meg didn’t know Lily that well, but had met her through Andie Bennet, who was made of awesome. She trusted Andie’s judgment, even though Lily was rumored to have been a stripper in another life and had only been in town a few years. Meg hadn’t lived here full-time since leaving for college and took all such gossip with a grain of salt. Besides, despite Lily’s sometimes acerbic sense of humor, she struck Meg as the biggest heart of gold walking, especially given the fundraiser she was spearheading for Molly Dekker. Molly was another sweetheart—a kindergarten teacher and single mom whose only son had been injured last fall. Meg had genuinely wanted to help once she heard what Lily was trying to do for Molly.
The fact it had allowed her to lob another snowball Linc’s direction was icing.
“What do you mean?” Meg asked with an innocent glance at him that actually made her heart skip as she took in his folded arms and planted feet. He was genuinely mad.
She cleared her throat and made herself face him, even though her blood stung a warning through her veins. At the same time, the worst of her girlish hormones fluttered, filling her with nervous excitement and giddy warmth.
“Why did you set that woman on me?” he asked.
“Lily? She asked me about Blake. She was disappointed to hear he’s engaged. She asked if I could think of any other eligible bachelors in town. I said I had just met a perfect one-date wonder.” Blink. Blink. Blink.
These baby blues had pulled Meg from basement cable interviews of small time activists to a relief position with a syndicated station. She wasn’t afraid to use them.
Linc was really tall. And had perfected his glower of intimidation. She privately admitted he worked that like a hot damn, but she’d made a career for herself in what was still a world heavily seeded to men. Outwardly, she didn’t falter.
“Can you tell me if these are self-screwing?” She held up the box in her hand.
His scruffed beard seemed to bristle as his jaw hardened.
“Oh, you’ve got a handful of screw yourself,” he assured her.
She swallowed back a laugh, pretty sure that would get her into more trouble than she already stood in. Instead, she turned the box over in her hands. She hadn’t had this much fun in ages. “Maybe one nail would be simpler?”
“Why are you so pissed off?” he demanded.
“I’m not, I’m really not,” she insisted. “I think it’s funny.”
“You think tricking me into standing on a stage and have women bid on me like a stud bull is funny?”
“I didn’t think you’d agree,” she defended. “It was an impulse to mention you, since you walked right by us and you’re, I assume, single?”
He narrowed his eyes.
Seriously? He didn’t see the humor in this?
“Look, I just…” She couldn’t explain it. Not without getting into how she’d let go of something today. Found herself again. She felt cheerful and sassy. She wanted to flirt. He drew her.
But she’d made him mad.
“Come on,” she cajoled. “It’s not my fault you didn’t say no. It’s a good cause,” she tried.
“You don’t even know me.” His tone said, It was a dick move.
She had to look away. Her cheeks began to sting. She suddenly felt very gauche and juvenile. Rejection was always a tough one for her and all she’d wanted was to keep playing with him. Now he hated her.
“I’m out of practice,” she allowed quietly, genuinely sorry. “Honestly, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Practice?” he repeated. “Doing what?”
Seriously? She lifted a gaze that let him see how uncomfortable she was, while scolding him for being obtuse.
He let out a choke of disbelieving laughter. “This is you trying to get a man’s attention? Are you twelve?”
She looked away, frowning, trying to hide that her eyes began to burn along with the back of her throat. Pointing Lily at him had been meant in fun, but it was becoming personal and hurtful. She felt twelve. Hell, she felt seven, realizing for the first time what it really meant to be adopted: that your ‘real’ mom and dad hadn’t wanted you.
“Look—” she started to say, ready to apologize, but only saw his back. He was walking away.
She might as well have slept with him. This was going to be awful, running into him in future, making her feel this same callow misery. Good thing she was going back to Chicago.
Which was no consolation at all.
Gritting her teeth, she tried to put the whole thing out of her mind, checking with a boy stocking shelves to make sure she had the right screws Blake needed before she took them up to the cashier.
A lot of people were taking advantage of a clear day to run errands. She was standing in line, chatting with the father of a friend from high school, when she felt something nudge her arm.
Glancing, she saw Linc standing beside her, offering the small carrier basket he held. “I think you were looking for these?” He gave her no choice but to accept it.
“What—?” Oh. Nice. A brass nipple. High friction lube. Something called a hickey, a stud finder—predictable—and, very pointedly, a butt marker.
Quite the basket full of hell.
“Are we even now?” she asked as she left her place in line and passed him on the way to hiding the basket on an empty shelf under a yellow clearance tag.
“I could have waited ‘til you were at the counter.” He didn’t turn around when she stepped into line behind him, but two people ahead of them did. One waved at her.
She smiled as she waved back, then drilled holes with her eyes into the chamois back of Linc Brady’s sheepskin coat.
“Are we even now?” she repeated.
He shuffled forward, only half-turning his head to say over his shoulder, “Doubt it. I’m up a few double-entendres. You strike me as the kind of person who wouldn’t let that go.”
She bit back saying, You don’t know what kind of person I am, and moved ahead into the space he’d vacated.
“I’m sorry,” she insisted, completely sincere until he handed over his slip of paper to the cashier and glanced dismissively toward her.
“You will be,” he said.
No, she wouldn’t. Not if he was going to be like that. She radiated her ire up at him with enough power to glaze the side of his face.
He didn’t seem to notice, only touched his hat in a thank-you to the cashier as he finished his transaction, then glanced once more at Meg, letting his green eyes hold hers for a pulse-pounding second.
“See you at the auction.” It sounded like an order.