Read A Baby in His Stocking Online
Authors: Laura Marie Altom
Wyatt's lips hovered above hers. Then, in true Buckhorn style, Wyatt claimed what he wanted. And then he wasn't just kissing her, but transporting her to another world.
A place where she wasn't alone and trying to hide that she was five months pregnant. When he finally released her, it was a struggle for Natalie to keep her rubbery knees from buckling.
“Damnâ¦” Wyatt looked a little dazed himself. “Um, that went better than expected.”
Natalie managed a nod.
“Ah, in what sense?” she asked.
“You know, like we're still pals?”
She choked back a laugh. If this was how he kissed a woman he thought of as his pal, she couldn't fathom what he'd do to an actual lover. “Um, sure.”
“Thanks.” After landing a sucker punch to Natalie's right shoulder, he nodded toward his scowling blonde date. “Pretty sure that did the trick.”
Wyatt and Natalie's story marks the end of marriage-eligible Buckhorns! This makes me sad, but on the flip side, when I'm old and all the Buckhorn babies are grown, I suppose the saga can start over with all the new adult singles. For those of you who've read the whole series, can you even imagine what terrors Bonnie and Betsy will be while dating?
Looking back, it's interesting to see how as my fictional family has changed, my own has followed suit. In the year it's taken to write the four stories, my children have graduated from high school and gone on to college. I've gone from being an emotional train wreck over them leaving to now being buried under the pile of stuff they brought back home for summer! It's taking some adjusting, getting back in the habit of grabbing all of their favorites from the grocery store, but I think I'll manage just fine, as happy as I am to have them all snug in my nest.
In this last Buckhorn installment, Mama Buckhorn takes some grief from her offspring. They're put out with her for always having an opinion. But as a fellow mom, I say they should just behave and do what their mother tells them. Ha! Fat chance. Wyatt and Natalie have proven to be my most stubborn couple yet!
After college (Go, Hogs!), bestselling, award-winning author Laura Marie Altom did a brief stint as an interior designer before becoming a stay-at-home mom to boy-girl twins and a bonus son. Always an avid romance reader, she knew it was time to try her hand at writing when she found herself replotting the afternoon soaps.
When not immersed in her next story, Laura teaches art at a local middle school. In her free time, she beats her kids at video games, tackles Mount Laundry and of course reads romance!
Laura loves hearing from readers at either P.O. Box 2074, Tulsa, OK 74101, or by email, [email protected].
Love winning fun stuff? Check out www.lauramariealtom.com.
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
1028âBABIES AND BADGES
1099âMARRYING THE MARSHAL
1110âHIS BABY BONUS
1123âTO CATCH A HUSBAND
1147âHER MILITARY MAN
1160âTHE RIGHT TWIN
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â “A Baby on the Way”
1178âDANCING WITH DALTON
1211âTHREE BOYS AND A BABY
1233âA DADDY FOR CHRISTMAS
1257âTHE MARINE'S BABIES
1276âA WEDDING FOR BABY
1299âTHE BABY BATTLE
1305âTHE BABY TWINS
1336âTHE BULL RIDER'S CHRISTMAS BABY
1342âTHE RANCHER'S TWIN TROUBLES
1359âA COWGIRL'S SECRET
For eighteen-year-old dachshund Noodle Alisch.
You were a good dog and we loved you.
Hope you're off chasing a tennis ball on a never-ending beach!
If Natalie Lewis felt any more emotionally battered, she'd dissolve into a teary puddle right there in the middle of Georgina Buckhorn's garden. Pregnant. Abandoned. Surrounded by dozens of happy, October-sun-drenched guests whose very presence dictated she force a smile. Around these parts, the christening of Josie and Dallas Buckhorn's new baby was huge. But how was she supposed to get into a celebratory frame of mind when hours earlier Craig had shattered her world?
She'd loved him and had assumed they'd be married and raise a family together. But then, silly her, she'd only been waiting for that ring on her finger for three years. What was wrong with her that she'd ignored every sign that Craig avoided commitment the way some folks steered clear of root canals? From not wanting to even hold hands in public to bailing on too many important occasions to count, Craig made a habit of reminding her just how little she meant in the overall scheme of his life. He even refused to sleep over on the Friday nights they made love. Oh, he'd invented his own art form when it came to stringing her along. Promising to spend more time with her when his work
slowed. Explaining he'd just bought a calendar to help remember their dates. Ha! Fat lot of good that'd had done when he'd left it in a junk drawer. And he worked for UPS! Did they ever
God, she was such an idiot.
“I need a favor.”
Natalie glanced up to see Wyatt Buckhorn standing before her in all his glory. “I'm busy.”
“Could've fooled me.” He pried her cookie-filled plate from her hands, setting it on the table alongside her wicker love seat.
“Hey,” she protested. “If ever there was a girl in need of cookie-therapy, it's me.”
He rolled his eyes. “Cry me a river. Craig's been an ass before, and I'm sure he will again. This is important.” Drawing her to her feet, he tugged her against himâtightly enough together a playing card couldn't have been slid between them. Though Natalie and Wyatt had been pals since their first day in Weed Gulch Elementary's kindergarten class, she couldn't ever remember touching himânot like this. He was a Buckhorn, and had everything that came with the name. Criminally handsome, filthy rich, with enough charisma to charm a rattler into being a lap pet. That said, she'd always viewed him as someone to study from afar. He moved in vastly different circles than she did, which was fine. Back in high school he dated only cheerleaders and she'd had no wish to break her arm in a cheerleading pyramid, or, now that they'd grown, his usual date's stiletto heels.
“Yeah,” she snatched a cookie from her plate, “so is my strict comfort-food regime.”
Fingers around her wrist, he playfully growled before biting off a good three-quarters of her treat.
Before she'd worked up a protest speech, he finished it off.
“Back to business,” he said upon swallowing. “In about thirty seconds, I'm going to kiss you. If you play along, I'll forever be in your debt.” With a tip of his cowboy hat, he looked as matter-of-fact as if he'd asked directions to the nearest bar.
Natalie lurched back far enough for the pool deck's wrought-iron fence to bite into her lower vertebrae. “How much champagne punch have you had?”
“Promise,” he said in his lazy cowboy drawl, “I'm stone-cold sober. Plus, this whole godparent thing makes us practically family, and besides my date you're the only single female under the age of eighty and over the age of seven. You're my only hope.”
“No,” she insisted. “I've had the worst twenty-four hours in world history andâ”
Leaning into her personal space, his warm, sugar-laced breath acted like a brick thrown against her resolve. In the lifetime they'd been casual friends, she couldn't recall Wyatt having ever stood so close. Her pulse behaved badly, galloping over her common sense at an alarming speed.
Licking suddenly parched lips, she managed to mutter, “So, yeah, it's been a lousy day for me and I probably should just go home.”
“Hell.” He inched still closer. “That's what you want, I'll drive you. Just first help me with a kiss.”
Where Natalie's words used to live now resided hitched breath and the kind of tingly awareness she shouldn't be feeling. But this was Wyatt Buckhorn standing before her, begging for a kiss. The scene didn't make senseânot in her carefully ordered world.
“So we're good?” Wyatt asked, hovering his lips above hers.
No! This assault against her senses was miles from good. But then, in true Buckhorn style, Wyatt claimed what he wanted, pressing his lips to hers. And then he wasn't just kissing her, but transporting her to another world. A place where she wasn't alone and trying to hide that she was five months pregnant, but shimmering with a slow, honeyed warmth spreading from her head to her toes. Wyatt's kiss was firm yet gentle. Sinful and wicked, but in a heavenly realm of good.
When she moaned, he stole the opportunity to sweep her tongue with his. The broad, leisurely stroke was too much, drowning her in powerful, sexy heat. Arms on autopilot, they twined about his neck, and she pressed her fingertips to the back of his head, urging him in for still more. When he finally released her, it was a struggle for Natalie to keep her rubbery knees from buckling.
“Damnâ¦” To Natalie's credit, Wyatt looked a little dazed himself by the power of what they'd shared. Did that mean it hadn't all been her imagination? “Um, that went better than expected.”
Breathing still shallow, Natalie managed a nod.
He glanced away, red-faced. “We good?”
“Ah, in what sense?” she asked, doing a quick check to make sure her clothes hadn't spontaneously combusted from her superheated limbs.
“You know, like we're still pals?”
She choked back a laugh. If this was how he kissed a woman he thought of as his pal, she couldn't fathom the carnal gifts he'd dole out to an actual lover. “Um, sure.”
“Thanks.” After landing a sucker punch to Natalie's
right shoulder, he nodded toward his scowling date. “Pretty sure that did the trick.”
“Everyone line up for more pictures!” Georgina Buckhorn, Wyatt's mother, was in her element. Parties were her thing, and the over-the-top angel-themed christening for Josie and Dallas's second daughter together, Esther, was no exception. A trio of harpists provided ethereal song to the gorgeous Indian-summer afternoon. Buffet tables dripping in vintage lace and pearls held outrageously opulent cakes, candies and tarts. Antique-pink roses perfumed the air. “Natalie and Wyatt, you two hold the baby alongside the fountain. Dallas, throw glitter at them so they sparkle.”
“I'm not pitching glitter at my child,” Dallas barked, handing Esther to his brother. As the eldest of the Buckhorn men, he was also the least playful. A fact that, at the moment, served Natalie well.
“Again,” Wyatt whispered above the fountain's gurgle for only her to hear, “I appreciate you helping me out with that kiss. I've been hinting to Starla for days that I'm not the kind of guy who's in it for the long haul, but she refuses to listen. By helping me provide a few more visual clues, you made the perfect assist.”
“Sure. No biggee.”
her conscience screamed. Part of her wanted to rail at him for including her in such a stupid stunt. Then there was the portion of Natalie still humming with awareness and craving more of whatever Wyatt cared to offerâand that girl wanted to thank him.
Georgina, camera in hand, directed, “I need a few with just the godparents. Natalie, you hold Esther. Wyatt, put your arm around Natâand for heaven's sake, smile.”
Unbearable didn't come close to describing the next
five minutes. As much as Natalie had always viewed Wyatt as a fixture in her life, like a brother, she had to admitâif only to herselfâhe'd grown into one of the most handsome men she'd ever seen. Tall and lanky with spiky black hair and impenetrable brown eyes, he was the dark horse to his fair-haired brothers and sister. He'd been the epitome of Weed Gulch High cool. Star quarterback for football. Pitcher for baseball. He'd changed girlfriends as often as clothes.
he'd been nicknamed for his refusal to commit.
“Nat,” Josie Buckhorn called, “scoot closer to Wyatt. He's not going to bite.” Natalie's best friend, a petite redhead with freckles and a perpetual smile ever since marrying Dallas, gestured for Natalie to sidle up to Wyatt.
“I might. Bite, that is.” He aimed a wink toward his already miffed blonde date, which sent her stomping toward the open bar.
Natalie sighed. Wyatt's action was perfect. Just the sort of thing needed to plant her feet solidly back on the ground. Their kiss might've been scorching, but it was also make-believe. And from a guy apparently every bit as commitment-phobic as Craig.
“Just a few more,” Georgina said, adjusting Esther's bonnet, “and we ought to have enough.”
The baby started to fuss.
“You're done,” Dallas growled at his mom and the high-priced Tulsa photographer. Taking the baby into his arms, he too headed for the bar.
Josie chased after him carrying their other daughter, Mabel.
Leaving Natalie on her own with her
He cleared his throat, extending his hand for her to
shake. “I really did appreciate your help. Sorry if our kiss got a little too, wellâ¦nice.”
wasn't the word she'd have chosen for the hot tingles still coursing through her body from his touch. Now she wholeheartedly understood why women flocked to him. She'd just never counted herself as being among his groupies.
The afternoon wore on and on and on.
Around three, Natalie searched out Josie to say her goodbyes.
Unfortunately, her best friend wasn't going to let her run out that easily. “Don't even think about getting out of here before spilling every detail of that kiss.”
Josie held Esther. Judging by the baby's fitful cries, the one-month-old didn't realize that the party in full swing was in her honor. “Does this mean you and Wyatt have finally succumbed to your base urges to make out and then get married?” As usual, Josie made zero attempt to hide her desire for Natalie to hook up with Wyatt. She'd launched her campaign nearly two years earlier, when she'd married Dallas, and had yet to see the futility of her actions.
“Give it up,” Natalie said with a heartfelt sigh. “I know you mean well, but trust me, this bizarre dream of yours will never come true.”
“Then why'd you kiss him?” Josie winked.
“He kissed me. A sad tactic to unload his date just in time for all-night poker.” While most guests still mingled around the pool and Georgina Buckhorn's renowned garden, Wyatt and his posseâthe same guys he'd hung out with through high school and collegeâcould be seen through the den's picture window setting up for the game. They played during or after most of
Georgina's parties; just because this was a christening made no difference to their routine.
“Still,” Josie said, “it looked hot. Was it?”
Natalie's voice of reason screamed. If she showed the smallest chink in her Anti-Wyatt Wall, Josie would use it to her advantage. Shrugging, Natalie said, “I've had better.”
Josie rolled her eyes. “Mark my words, one of these days you two will discover each other, and when you doâ
” In the process of waving her arm, she startled the baby into a full-blown wail. “Oops. Shhâ¦” Jiggle, jiggle. “Sorry, sweetie. Mommy didn't mean to scare you. She was just trying to make Auntie Nat see how much she secretly adores Uncle Wyatt.”
“On that noteâ¦” Natalie kissed the crown of Esther's downy head. “I'm exhausted, but still have a few baskets to make for school tomorrow.”
“Excuses, excuses.” Josie's expression said she wasn't buying Natalie's exit speech. “See you in the morning.”
“Looking forward to itâ Oh, and if you get a sec after the festivities, would you mind rounding up any clothes Betsy and Bonnie have outgrown? I've got a few families in desperate need.”
“Absolutely,” Josie said, ambushing Natalie in a hug. “Thanks again for comingâand agreeing to be this one's godmother. It means the world to Dallas and me.”
Natalie was Weed Gulch Elementary's counselor, where Josie taught kindergarten. Though it wasn't in her official job description, Natalie made care baskets she delivered anonymously to community families. Usually, she looked forward to organizing donated goods into utilitarian gifts, but as she climbed into her white VW bug all she truly wanted
to doâaside from reliving Wyatt's criminally hot kissâwas take a nice, long nap.
INCE WHEN ARE YOU
macking on Fatty Natty?”
Wyatt lowered his cards, giving his old pal Owen Fletcher a glare. “Lay off. Since Dallas married Josie, Nat's practically family, and I'd appreciate you treating her as such.”
“Touchy,” Owen said, getting up from the table for another beer. “This something we should know about?”
“Yeah,” West Graham piped in, “what happened to the blonde you had hanging all over you less than an hour ago?”
Wyatt shrugged. “Starla was starting to get too serious.”
Owen, a hulking former Weed Gulch and then University of Oklahoma offensive lineman, opened his beer. “Yeah, but you could have had a lot of fun with her on the way to full-on serious.”
“Well, I didn't feel like having fun with her anymore,” Wyatt grumbled. “Are we here to play or what?”
Owen's eyes widened. “All right, man. Jeez, what's wrong with a little fun, is all I'm saying.”
“I don't know.” In truth, Wyatt did know, but he wasn't about to spill the secret he hadn't even shared with his brothers. He tossed chips into the center pot. “I'm in and raise you five.”