Sara Orwig.

Cowboy's Secret Child






We Cant Live Here Together!

We wouldnt be living together in a sexual way. It would be like living in the same apartment complex, Jeb explained.

I dont think so, Amanda said. Suppose you have a date and bring her home for the night. What would you dointroduce me as the mother of your child who just happens to live here, but oh please, ignore her?

Suddenly a flicker of amusement danced in his dark eyes, and it made him even more appealing.

I havent had a date I wanted to bring home in a long time.

That doesnt mean you wont in the future. Youre an appealing man, she admitted, and I suspect women are easily attracted to you, in spite of your not having a date you wanted to bring home lately. That will change.

Silence stretched until she was compelled to look around. He was sitting still as a statue, studying her intently.

Maybe you and I should try dating.

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the world of Silhouette Desire, where you can indulge yourself every month with romances that can only be described as passionate, powerful and provocative!

The always fabulous Elizabeth Bevarly offers you Mays MAN OF THE MONTH, so get ready for The Temptation of Rory Monahan. Enjoy reading about a gorgeous professor who falls for a librarian busy reading up on how to catch a man!

The tantalizing Desire miniseries TEXAS CATTLEMANS CLUB: LONE STAR JEWELS concludes with Tycoon Warrior by Sheri WhiteFeather. A Native American ex-military man reunites with his estranged wife on a secret mission that renews their love.

Popular Peggy Moreland returns to Desire with a romance about a plain-Jane secretary who is in love with her Millionaire Boss. The hero-focused miniseries BACHELOR BATTALION by Maureen Child continues with Prince Charming in Dress Blues, whos snowbound in a cabin with an unmarried woman about to give birth! Baby at His Door by Katherine Garbera features a small-town sheriff, a beautiful stranger and the bundle of love who unites them. And Sara Orwig writes a lovely tale about a couple entering a marriage of convenience in Cowboys Secret Child.

This month, Silhouette is proud to announce weve joined the national campaign Get Caught Reading in order to promote reading in the United States. So set a good example, and get caught reading all six of these exhilarating Desire titles!

Enjoy!


Joan Marlow Golan

Senior Editor, Silhouette Desire

Cowboys Secret Child
Sara Orwig


SARA ORWIG

lives with her husband and children in Oklahoma. She has a patient husband who will take her on research trips anywhere, from big cities to old forts.

She is an avid collector of Western history books. With a masters degree in English, Sara writes historical romance, mainstream fiction and contemporary romance. Books are beloved treasures that take Sara to magical worlds, and she loves both reading and writing them.

With love to Hannah, Rachel and Ellenand with special thanks to Debra Robertson, Joan Marlow Golan and Maureen Walters. And to Patricia Smith, my new editor and a wish come true

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Epilogue

One

On a Monday during the first week of June, Jeb Stuart sat quietly in his car beneath the shade of a tall elm on a residential street in Dallas. He waited, his calm manner belying his churning emotions. He glanced at his watch, and then his gaze returned to the shady street. Ten minutes later his pulse jumped as a black car rounded the corner, slowed and turned into the drive of a small red brick house across the street. He saw the riot of the drivers red hair before she disappeared up the driveway.

Still waiting, he looked at her surroundings, noting that she lived in a nice neighborhood. Farther down the block, sprinklers turned in silvery arcs on lawns. Her yard had flowers and trees and looked idyllic. In a few more minutes he was going to disrupt her peaceful life, much like a bomb going off in the neat red brick house. From all the difficulty he had in locating her, he guessed that she had expected him to come searching for her and had taken precautions against his ever finding her.

Then the front door opened and another woman came out. From the detectives reports, Jeb knew she was the nanny. Dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt, she sauntered to a parked car, slid inside and drove past Jeb without a glance.

He had waited long enough. He stepped out and crossed the street. With each stride his heartbeat quickened, until it was thudding in anticipation when he climbed the porch steps and rang the doorbell.

The door swung open and only a screen door separated him from the woman he had watched turn into the driveway earlier. Dressed in cutoffs and a blue T-shirt, Amanda Crockett looked up at him and their gazes locked. Jeb stared into wide crystal-green eyes that were enormous and seemed to grow larger. For a moment he was caught and held, but only for a moment, and then he remembered who she was and what she had done.

During the past two months he had rehearsed what he would say when this moment came. Yet now, as he looked down through the screen door into her green eyes, words failed him.

Then he realized it wasnt going to be necessary to say half of what he had intended because all color had drained from her face, and she looked as if she were going to faint.

Fainting would not win her any of his sympathy, he thought, but as he watched, she raised her chin. Even through the screen door, he could see the spark that came into her eyes and he wondered if he was in for a fight. If so, he relished it because he wanted to let her know how much pain she had caused him. He watched her grasp the door, and her knuckles were as white as her face. Had she really thought she could get away with what she had done?

While her world shifted, Amanda Crockett gripped the solid door. As she looked at the tall stranger glaring at her, she could feel the most precious thing in her life slipping away. The moment she had dreaded for three years had come. One look at his face and she knew without a doubt that the stranger before her was the father of her son. In a grown-up version of three-year-old Kevin, she saw the same bone structure, the same straight nose and wide forehead, the same dark eyes and black hair that Kevin had. She knew now how Kevin would look when he was a man.

She tried to get her breath and fight the dizziness that threatened. The stranger hadnt said a word, yet his dark eyes said everything. Determination, anger there was no mistaking his feelings.

He towered over her, and his broad shoulders were as formidable as his height. Yet it wouldnt have mattered if he had been slender and lightweighthe would have carried the same dreadful threat. More than a threat. The end of her world.

Her stomach constricted as if he had slammed his fist into it, and her head swam. Clutching the door, she gulped deep breaths of air, but words wouldnt come. She had to invite him into her house. From his expression, she knew he would get inside whether or not she invited him, but for Kevins sake she needed to be civil, even though everything in her screamed to slam the door and run. Grab Kevin and keep running.

Come in, she whispered.

He opened the screen, and the hinge squeaked as he swung it wide while she stepped back. When he walked inside, he seemed to fill the hall. Dressed in a white shirt, jeans and western boots, he was rugged and handsome and an overpowering presence.

He turned to face her. Im Jeb Stuart. Cheries ex-husband.

While Amanda fought a knot in her throat, her tears welled up. Nodding, she closed her eyes.

Are you all right? he asked gruffly.

Yes, she said, opening her eyes, thinking he looked as if he would like to lock his hands around her throat and squeeze. She tried to gather her wits and catch her breath, but she failed. She reminded herself that he gave up all rights to his child a long time ago.

Feeling shaky, she closed the door and moved ahead of him. As she ushered him into her small living room, she heard his boot heels scraping the oak hardwood floor.

Have a seat, she said, perching on the edge of a walnut rocker while he sat on a dark blue wing chair facing her. Looking at him, she became aware that he was very handsome, with riveting dark eyes, sexy, thick lashes, broad shoulders and long legs. When he glanced around the room, she wondered if he thought her home adequate for his son.

She looked at her simple furniture in maroon and navy, her plants, the books on the shelves and the prints that hung on the walls. Kevins little books were on the oak coffee table. Whether Jeb Stuart liked it or not, this was Kevins home. She locked her fingers together in her lap while the silence became thick and tense.

I guess you already know that Im Amanda Crockett, Cheries cousin.

Yes. Ive talked with my lawyer and I hired a private detectivethats how I found you.

Amanda struggled against the ridiculous urge to beg him to leave her alone. And then she thought about all Cherie had told her about her ex-husband and anger mixed with fear. She would get her own lawyer; she would fight for Kevin.

What changed your mind about your son, Mr. Stuart?

Changed my mind? he asked, frowning, a note of incredulity in his voice. She noticed that he gripped the arms of the chair until his knuckles were white. He leaned forward slightly, narrowing the distance between them. Look, lady, youve got my child. Im his father and Im entitled to my son.

You abandoned him, Mr.

Abandoned! The word was snapped like the crack of a whip. His face reddened, and even though his voice grew even quieter, it was laced with fury. I did not abandon my son.

You may say that now, but at the time

Oh, no, he interrupted, rage blazing deeper in his dark eyes. I didnt abandon him, he said slowly, with emphasis. I didnt know Cherie was pregnant with our child. She kept that from me when we got divorced.

Amandas head reeled again, and the worst of her suspicions were turning out to be the truth. Every word he said was a knife thrust into her heart. Was he lying or telling the truth? If he was lying, he was a good actor. His gaze was direct and his tone held conviction. Amandas stomach churned. Deep down she had always wondered if her cousin had lied to her.

She said you didnt want your child and you left her and joined the army. Where have you been these last three years?

Ive been in the army, he answered stiffly. But when I left for the army, I didnt know I had fathered a child. We divorced in October 1997. I havent seen Cherie since right after our divorce. In January 1998, I went into the army and got out in January of this year. In April I learned about Kevin.

Who was born the twenty-second of May three years ago. With her anger and fear growing, Amanda wondered who was the truthful one. She knew Cherie wasnt always truthful, but she didnt know whether Jeb Stuart was truthful, either. After all, he married Cherie. What kind of man would marry her cousin? As swiftly as that question came, Amanda knew that most men would be drawn to Cherie.

Cherie told me that you abandoned her and that you didnt want your child. She didnt want the baby and she knew that I would. She asked me if I would adopt him when he was born. So I went to court and adopted Kevin. Im his legal mother.

Legal adoptive mother, Jeb reminded her. I didnt know about my son. I found out through a friend who knew Cherie and me. Three months after I got out of the army, I just happened to see her. She knew Cherie had been pregnant, but she didnt know Cherie didnt keep the baby.

Look, Ive raised Kevin as my son. Youll tear his life to pieces if you try to take him from me now, Amanda said, growing more certain of the rights she had and angry that he would barge in and expect her to hand over her child.

Lady, Im his father.

I have a letter from Cherie saying that you abandoned her when she was pregnant and you knew she was pregnant. Any judge will look at that. I can get Cherie to testify.

We both know what her testimony is worth! Jebs anger surfaced again at the lies Cherie had told.

Youre not going to take my son, Amanda said defiantly.

Yet you want to keep my son from me, Jeb shot back. He wanted to reach out and shake her and tell her that he had missed his sons babyhood because of her and her cousin.

Mama?

At the sound of the soft voice, Jeb turned. A small boy holding a blue blanket stood in the doorway. Dressed in a green T-shirt and jeans, he was barefoot. His thumb was in his mouth.

As Jeb looked at the child standing across the room, he felt as if a fist had clamped around his heart. The rest of the world vanished, leaving only the child. Awe and love and uncertainty filled him. He wanted to touch his child, just touch him. And he saw why Amanda Crockett had recognized him when she opened the door. The resemblance deepened Jebs awe. This was his son! He wanted to take the boys hand and say, Im your dad, and youre coming home with me, but he knew it was not going to be that simple. The child was wide-eyed, looking from one adult to the other.

Come here, Kevin. Did you just wake up?

Amandas voice was transformed, sounding calm and sweet and filled with love, carrying so much warmth that Jeb turned to study her before looking back at his son.

Kevin cast a wary eye at Jeb as he scurried across the room to his mother and climbed into her lap to hold tightly to her. While Amanda gently rocked him and stroked his back, Jebs heart received another blow.

For the past two months, from the moment he had discovered Cheries deception and the loss of his child, he had been filled with rage and hurt that was compounded when he saw how completely the woman who had his son had vanished. She had left no trail, as though she had known full well that she was doing something underhanded. Now as he watched Kevin wrap his thin little arms around Amanda Crocketts neck, Jebs pain deepened. For the first time, he wondered how he could take his son from the woman who was truly a mother to him.

She gazed over Kevins head at Jeb, watching him carefully, and when he looked into her eyes, she gave him a searching stare.

We need to talk some more, she said quietly, but we cant right now.

I can come back, he said, his voice as quiet as hers, yet he knew that her emotions were as much on edge as his. She seemed to think this over, looking down at Kevin, stroking his hair from his face and patting him. Was she a good mother? Jeb wondered.

If you want to stay for dinner, Kevin goes to bed around eight and we can talk then.

Surprised that she offered dinner, Jeb wondered if she wanted him to see her with Kevin to press her point that she was his mother and they loved each other. She didnt need to, because Jeb could already see they had a close relationship. Was she good to him? he wondered again. Even if she was a marvelous mother, he didnt want to walk out of his sons life and give up all rights.

Thanks. Ill stay because we do need to talk.

She gave him another one of her cool, level looks, and he experienced a flicker of admiration for her because she had weathered a big shock and was now in control of her emotions and ready to fight for her rights. At the same time, he didnt want to admire her or like her or find her attractive. So far he had succumbed to two out of the three and he wondered whether, if he stayed for dinner, he would also begin to like her.

His anger was transforming into a dull, steady pain, and all his plans for getting his child and watching him grow were going up in smoke. The woman facing him was causing him to readjust his thinking. And, adding to his turmoil, he was too aware that she was damned attractive. His gaze flicked over her in a quick assessment that took in the wild red hair that was an invitation to a man to tangle his fingers in it. His gaze lowered to his sons tiny hand resting against her breast with trust and love. Yet, at the same time, Jeb couldnt keep from noticing the lush fullness of her breasts beneath her clinging blue T-shirt.

Kevin, this is Mr. Stuart, she said.

Kevin twisted slightly to stare at Jeb.

Hi, Kevin, Jeb said quietly, feeling another knot in his throat.

Kevin held his small blanket against his face and gazed steadily at Jeb for a long moment until he ducked his head against his mother again. She smoothed his straight black hair. Sleepy? she asked him.

He nodded without answering her.

She rocked him slightly, stroking his head while she glanced at Jeb, and he could feel the clash of wills between them. They both wanted the same child. Jeb thought he was entitled to his son, yet for all his young life, the one person Kevin had known as his parent was Amanda Crockett. Jeb realized he was going to have to face that and deal with it in a way that wouldnt cause a lot of pain to his child.

Why had he thought that he could show up and demand his son and she would hand him over? He had expected a fight, but he hadnt stopped to think about her being locked into his sons affections. He had thought of Amanda Crockett as he thought of his ex-wife, Cherie, and Cherie would have given up a child by now. She had given this one up at birth.

Do you have a grill? Jeb asked.

Yes.

Ill go get some steaks and grill them, and then you wont have to go to so much trouble. He stood, feeling a deep reluctance to leave. He wondered if he would ever get enough of looking at Kevin. What a marvel the child was! His big brown eyes watched Jake solemnly. Oh, how he longed to touch his son, to hold him. Anything else youd like?

Thank you, no, she answered politely. She stood and picked up Kevin and shifted him to one hip.

As Jeb followed Amanda to the door, his gaze left his son and drifted down over her; he noticed the slight sway of her hips and her long, shapely legs. She opened the door and stepped back for him to leave. When he was outside, he looked back again at Kevin.

Ill be back in a few minutes, he said. She nodded and closed the door. Jeb felt as if she had slammed it shut on his hopes and dreams.

He shopped quickly, and as he drove back to her house, logic told him she would be there, getting dinner. But his emotions churned and he half expected to come back and find her house empty. Too easily, he could imagine her taking Kevin and running away.

Why hadnt he stopped to think what he would do if she was a wonderful mother to Kevin? Kevin. Jeb liked the name. According to the detective, the child had his adoptive mothers last name, Crockett.

When Jeb returned to her house, her black car was in the drive and relief poured over Jeb. He parked behind it and picked up the sack of groceries. On impulse, he went to the back door and knocked.

She opened it and motioned to him. Come in.

He entered a kitchen that had mouthwatering smells of hot bread and a blackberry cobbler. He was even more aware of Amanda as she gazed up at him with those compelling crystal-green eyes. Her tangle of red hair and the tiny beads of perspiration dotting her brow gave her a sultry earthiness that was appealing. She blinked, and with a start he realized that he was staring at her. She waved her hand.

Set the groceries there, she said, motioning toward a space on the countertop. Kevin isnt into steaks and salad. He gets macaroni.

Jeb placed the grocery sack on the counter and took out the steaks to unwrap them. All the time he worked, he was conscious of Amanda moving around him, of her perfume, of her steady, watchful gaze. She looked at him as though she had invited a monster into her kitchen. Her house was comfortable and appealing, but the kitchen was small, and when he brushed against her accidentally, he was acutely conscious of touching her.

Sorry, he muttered, glancing at her. She looked up and once more they were caught, gazes locked and sparks that he didnt want to feel igniting. Her lips were rosy and full, a sensuous mouth that conjured up speculation about what it would be like to kiss her. He realized where his thoughts were going and turned away, bumping a chair.

What was the matter with him? He was reacting to her like a sixteen-year-old to a sexy woman, yet Amanda Crockett had done nothing to warrant any blatant male attention. He needed to remember that this woman was tearing up his life and that he was getting ready to tear up hers. If only she would do the right thing, acknowledge that Kevin was his son and simply hand him over. She had no right to take his child from him.

Hope began to flicker that she would be reasonable, realize she had taken a child from his father. Then he glanced across the kitchen into her eyes, which held fire in their depths, and he was certain that wasnt going to happen.

Dinner was a silent, strained event with little conversation by anyone. Jeb began to wonder about his son, who seemed shy and too quiet. Kevin was the only one with an appetite and he ate his macaroni, his bread and butter, and drank his milk.





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