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Authors: Donna Clayton

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction

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BOOK: Bound by Honor
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Jenna was surprised to see that he'd already plucked Lily's diaper bag and suitcase from the back of the truck and was unlocking the front door. She hitched Lily onto her hip and hurried around the truck.

As she'd guessed, the front door opened into a large living area. Both the front and the back of the room featured glass walls that revealed spectacular north and south views of the ranch. One end was obviously used as a media center, complete with stereo and television. At the other end were plenty of book-filled shelves and several comfy chairs. A large stone fireplace in the center of the room separated the areas. Jenna could easily imagine snuggling near a blazing fire while she read a cozy mystery during one of those awesome Montana snowstorms. But she'd never experience that kind of indulgence because she didn't expect to live in Gage's home that long. If her plans unfolded properly, she and Lily would be in her apartment in Rock Springs by fall.

"Make yourself at home while you're here," he said. "I have cable TV, and quite a few DVDs to choose from in the cabinet there. And lots of CDs, as well. I guess you can see I like to read. You're welcome to entertain yourself."

Although his small speech was convivial, the underlying tightness in his tone couldn't be missed.

"Thanks," Jenna murmured. "But between taking care of Lily and keeping up with my work, I doubt I'll have time for much entertainment."

"You're planning to work?"

"Of course. I can't let my business falter."

Lily grabbed a fistful of Jenna's hair and tried to stuff it into her mouth. Jenna said, "Don't, honey. Here. This is better." She offered the baby the pacifier that was clipped to her pink bib.

"Your business?" Gage asked. "I don't understand. Who'll watch your niece?"

"I will. I've always worked from home. That's why it was so easy for me to relocate to Broken Bow. I can work from any location." She shifted Lily to her left hip. "I build and maintain Web sites. All I need is a
lace to set
up my computer, and access to t
he Internet. You said you have cable. That's great. I'll have to call the company
and sign up for high-speed Internet service. I'll pay, of course. It's a business expense."

Lily patted Jenna's cheek, and Jenna smiled into her niece's face. When she looked at Gage again, he seemed edgy and she feared she was keeping him from his work.

He gestured toward the east wing. "Kitchen and dining rooms are down that way. Bedrooms are this way."

Jenna followed him down the hallway that ran the length of the west wing. There were four doors, two on each side.

They passed what she guessed was the master bedroom. The door was open and she glimpsed a neatly made king-size bed.

The door was closed to the room directly across from the master bedroom, and Gage passed it without comment.

"Here we are," he said, setting the diaper bag and suitcase on the bed in one of the remaining two rooms. "I hope it's not a problem for you and your niece to share."

"It's no problem. The bed's plenty big. We can make it work." She looked at the baby. "It'll be an adventure, right, Lily?"

The bedroom was ample for her needs. Tastefully decorated in summery shades of yellow, it housed a queen-size bed, a dresser and a small desk. The south facing window
offered sunny exposure.

"This is perfect," she told Gage. She grinned at Lily again. "It's perfect for us, isn't it, sweet stuff?"

Obviously enjoying her aunt's attention, the baby garbled a nonsensical reply.

"See?" Jenna grinned at Gage. "Lily thinks so, too."

The tension emanating from him was unmistakable now, and Jenna suddenly felt guilty.

"I'm sorry I kept you so long. I'm sure you've got work to do. I assume the bathroom is across the hall." She bent and set Lily down on the carpet.

Visibly relieved that she'd given him leave, he made a beeline for the door, but paused at the threshold to ask, "Can I bring your things in for you?"

When she'd arrived from Rock Springs this morning, she'd been running late and hadn't had time to unpack her computer and her belongings from the car. Gage had been waiting for her on the front porch and
hey had gotten directly into his truck and headed for their appointment at the courthouse in Forsyth.

"Thanks, but don't bother." Jenna pulled
soft t
oys from the diaper bag and off
ered them lo Lily. "There's no rush. I'll
grab what I need later, then unpack the car as soon as I can find some free time. I got myself caught up on work so I could have a few days to focus on Lily."

He nodded. "I'll be out at the stable if you need me." Then he disappeared from view.

She looked around, frowning at the thought of setting up her computer in here. She'd have to work while Lily was sleeping and she wouldn't want to disturb her niece. She hurried to the bedroom door.


He turned to face her at the end of the hallway.

"What's in there?" she asked, pointing to the closed door across from the master bedroom. "I was hoping it might be a room where I could work. You know, so I wouldn't disturb Lily if she's sleeping."

His wide mouth flattened. "Off-limits," was all he said before turning on his heel and stalking away.

She backed into her bedroom unable to decide if she should feel merely surprised by the man's terse response or insulted by it.

"What do you think, sweet stuff?" she asked Lily in a singsong voice. She picked up the baby, then laid her down on the bed for a diaper change. "Is Gage a big, ol' meany-beany?" She placed her index finger
on the tip of her niece's nose and gave it a wiggle. Lily giggled. "Or is that closed door none of Auntie Jenna's business?"

The baby gurgled and munched on the rubber nipple of the pacifier.

"Ah, so you agree that it's none of my business, huh?" Jenna pulled loose the tape tabs of the damp disposable diaper and tugged it from underneath Lily's chubby bottom. "I think you may be right."

With her hand firmly on Lily's bare belly, Jenna searched the diaper bag and found that Arlene had stuffed it full of supplies — diapers, rash cream, a couple cans of formula, a box of baby cereal and several jars of fruit. Jenna made a mental note to thank her friend for her thoughtfulness.

As she cleaned Lily's bottom with a moist towelette, she couldn't help but think about die off-limits room.

The ranch he was running was a business. The room across the hall was probably his office. Why hadn't she thought of that before?

He could have just told her. He needn't have been so short.

But he'd been antsy to get to work. And .he'd kept him from the stable all morning to endure the civil service.

Jenna thought about the ceremony that
had made the two of them husband and wife. The room, the words, even the clerk had been austere. It certainly hadn't been the wedding of her dreams. Not by any stretch of the imagination. However, no one would ever hear a peep of complaint out of her because the vows she'd spoken to become Mrs. Gage Dalton made it possible for her to attain the most important prize of all. Lily.

She could
afford to forgive Gage his curt
ness because of all he'd made possible for her.

Putting the
civil ceremony and the door across the hall completely out of her mind, Jenna spent a good hour playing with the baby. She sang silly, made up songs, played patty-cake and peekaboo, and laughed at each and every one of the animated faces that Lily made. Her sister's daughter was a happy child, and, from what she'd learned researching child development on the Internet, Lily seemed to be right on track with her physical progress.

At just over six months, Lily was sitting on her own, could roll over in both directions, reached for objects she wanted, jabbered in response to verbal stimulus, and, when lying Hat on her lummy, she was
attempting to lift herself onto her hands and knees. She would be crawling soon.

Suddenly, Jenna grew solemn. It was such a shame that Amy and David weren't here to witness their daughter's achievements. But she shook herself out of her melancholy mood quickly.

"Today's not a day for sadness," Jenna said aloud. "Today's a day for celebration. You and I are going to be together forever and ever, aren't we, sweet stuff?" She kissed her niece on the forehead.

Surprisingly, Lily didn't seem to like the kiss. In fact, Jenna noticed that the baby was becoming a tad crabby. Glancing at her watch, Jenna asked, "Are you hungry, sweet stuff?"

She picked Lily up. On their way toward the kitchen, Jenna saw her things lined up neatly on the floor by the front door. Gage had carried them in for her.

He certainly was a mysterious man. Blunt and almost unfriendly one moment, and then unexpectedly thoughtful the next.

While Lily busied herself on the floor with some pot lids, Jenna set about stirring up some baby cereal using the package directions. Next, she opened a small jar of processed peaches. But once she began attempting to feed Lily lunch, Jenna quickly
realized she was going to have to buy a high chair. By the time Lily was fed, both she and the baby were splattered with bits of cereal and strained peaches. She'd been so busy fighting to win custody, she hadn't given a thought to high chairs, cribs, strollers and the like.

Once she had given Lily a bath and changed her clothes, it was clear the grumpy child was in need of an afternoon nap. Forty minutes later, though, Jenna was at her wit's end. Lily had cried and cried. Jenna had paced the floor, cradling her niece, until the baby finally fell asleep, exhausted. Carefully, Jenna laid her down in the very center of the big bed and hemmed her in on all sides with pillows so she couldn't roll off the mattress.

Heaving a huge sigh, Jenna thought about sitting down for a few minutes to rest. But she knew that would be a mistake. Lily wouldn't nap for long, and Jenna had things to do.

Her grumbling stomach sent her back to the kitchen. While making herself a sandwich, she made one for Gage, too, so it would be waiting for him when he returned from the stable. She was tucking it into the refrigerator when he came through the back door.

"I made a sandwich for you," she told him by way of greeting, setting the food on the table.

He nodded and silently moved around her to the sink. He turned on the faucet and squirted liquid soap into his palm from the pump dispenser nearby.

"Call it a payback." She smiled, and he just looked at her. "For carrying in my stuff. Thanks for doing that."

His head bobbed again, a lock of his black hair falling over his shoulder. Jenna wondered if it would feel silky between her fingers, then she quickly snuffed out the errant thought.

The silence in the kitchen seemed to hum. Jenna had no desire to spend the next three months feeling so awkward.

"Listen, Gage —" she picked up the sandwich she'd made herself and went to the table to sit down "— I'm sorry I kept you from your work this morning. I'm sorry if I caused you to fall behind in —"

"I'm not behind."

She knew she was already feeling frus
rated from her
experience trying to get Lily t
o sleep. The fact that he interrupted her with such a terse response was as irritating as sitting on a purposefully placed tack on
he seat of her chair.

"Well, if you're not anxious about the horses," she blustered, "if you're not behind in your chores, then why the heck are you so grouchy? You've been short since we picked up Lily. If you don't like having two women under your roof, then I'm sorry, but it won't be long before —"

"I like women just fine."

Again with the interruption. Again with the clipped reply. What was the man's problem?

And then she realized what it was. She'd just spelled it out herself. His demeanor had turned stiff the moment they stopped at Arlene's for Lily. At first, Jenna had thought he had something against Arlene. Then she'd thought he was just anxious to get out to the stable. But now she realized that he hadn't made even one attempt to interact with Lily, hadn't touched her, hadn't talked to her, hadn't smiled at her, nothing.

"You don't like children." Incredulity coated her tone, but Jenna didn't care. How on earth could
not love a baby girl as cute and cuddly as Lily?

A muscle in his jaw twitched. "What I'm going through is personal. I agreed to marry you so you could get custody of your niece. I didn't agree to open up my personal life."

Jenna slid the sandwich several inches
away from her. She'd lost her appetite. "You might not want to talk about this, but I think it's pretty important. Lily's only a baby, yes. But I'm sure she's going to sense your feelings toward her. And you're not going to make her feel safe. You stopped so we could pick Lily up, yes, but other than that you haven't acknowledged her at all."

"Look around, Jenna. There's more work out there than one man can do. This is a horse ranch, not some cutesy baby ranch. I didn't sign on to be that child's daddy."

BOOK: Bound by Honor
3.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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