The Cowboy's Baby Surprise. Linda Conrad

The Cowboy's Baby Surprise - Linda Conrad

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her father. Except for the eyes, of course.”

      Yes. Both the females in front of him had the same exotic shade of green eyes, the same slightly slanted looks when they gazed in his direction. But he could see that the child didn’t carry the mother’s complexion or hair coloring. And he couldn’t imagine that smattering of freckles adorning the baby’s nose ever marring the perfect face of the woman who held her.

      In fact, something about the baby gave him the same eerie feeling he’d gotten when looking in a mirror. She sort of looked like the strange reflection he’d been seeing gazing back at him. But his own face was so unfamiliar he figured her resemblance must be his mind playing tricks on him. A few moments later he was sure of it.

      “Where is the baby’s father?” he blurted out before thinking. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. You don’t owe me any explanations.”

      He turned to the door, halting when the same old ache stabbed at his temple. Fighting the urge to rub his hand against the pain, he squeezed his eyes shut for a second instead. Would these headaches never go away?

      Carley laid a hand on his arm. “Are you okay? You weren’t being rude. That’s a perfectly natural question.”

      She shifted the baby to her other arm. Houston could see she was tiring, but he’d be damned if he would offer to hold her child. He’d never held a baby. At least, he didn’t think he had. And he certainly wasn’t about to start with one who could make him feel so strange and disoriented.

      Cami looked right into his soul—and he had no idea what she’d find there.

      “Cami’s father disappeared before she was born. He doesn’t even know about her.”

      There were those tears again. The same ones he’d glimpsed the first time she’d made a remark about the baby’s father. Houston reached for her face before he could think about what he was doing. He stroked his thumb lightly under her lashes to brush away a tear. When he felt her satiny skin beneath his fingers, the intimate friction excited him, made him want to grab her tightly and…

      What in God’s name was he thinking? Houston jerked his hand away but continued standing there studying her.

      Her eyes had widened at his touch, and she looked like a frightened little rabbit. He figured someone had hurt her badly. He suspected it was the baby’s father. Disappeared was the word she’d used. Was that a polite word for ran off?

      Houston Smith couldn’t imagine a more cowardly act, or any reason on earth that might drag him away from a woman who looked as good as this one did. He hoped someday to come across the bastard who’d run off and left a beautiful, pregnant wife. Houston had a few things to teach him.

      The more he gazed at her standing there, holding the now quiet child to her breast, the more he had to fight the urge to take them both in his arms while he placed a searing kiss on the mother’s delectable lips. Whew. Where did that come from? Maybe it was the heat.

      For a moment he’d thought…he’d imagined…

      The crack of the screen door slamming behind his back made him snap to attention. But before he turned to the sound, he saw Carley tense and stiffen her spine. All of a sudden the frightened rabbit was gone. Something in her eyes went taut, and he caught a steel-edged toughness that he’d missed until now.

      No question. His first hunch must have been right on target. There was more to this lady than met the eye.

      Dr. Luisa Monsebais stepped into the kitchen and strolled to Houston’s side with her usual familiar ease. The doctor might have gray hair and wrinkles on her face, but she was as spry and agile as a teenager.

      “Everything going okay here?”

      “Howdy, Doc. Sure thing. I’ve been getting acquainted with our newest employee.” He turned to Carley and the baby, urging them forward to greet the crotchety, sharp-eyed woman who’d just come through the screen door.

      “Dr. Carley Mills, meet Dr. Luisa Monsebais, the ranch’s favorite pediatrician.”

      Luisa found her voice first. “Doctor?”

      “Ph.D. in child psychology, Dr. Monsebais. I’m here to relieve Dan Lattimer, who’s taken a personal leave.”

      Luisa stuck a hand in Carley’s direction, but her sun-spotted face never crinkled into a smile. “Call me Luisa. Did Houston say your first name was Carley?”

      Carley nodded and took Luisa’s hand, but Houston noted that her solemn face held no welcome, either.

      Their terse exchange might have made the women uncomfortable, but whatever bothered them didn’t seem to include him. Their problem broke the clutch of tension that had gripped Houston since the baby’s first appearance in the kitchen. Luisa’s steady presence always calmed him when things became oppressive.

      Luisa wrapped her arm around Houston’s and spoke to him with twinkling eyes. “You taking the afternoon off?”

      Houston grimaced. Trust Luisa to cut to the practical. Every move she’d made since she’d found him, unconscious and bleeding alongside the deserted levee road, had been logical and utilitarian.

      He had no memory of Luisa finding him. In fact, no memory of anything before he awoke in her guest bedroom ten days later. It was two more weeks after that before he could think through the haze of pain long enough to question what had befallen him and why.

      Doc Luisa had made the decision to bring him to her little home clinic instead of the nearby hospital. When he’d finally asked, she’d explained about his gunshot wounds and the empty ankle holster she’d found. This close to the border, her first assumption had been that he was some kind of drug runner or smuggler and wanted by the sheriff. But with his life hanging in the balance, she hadn’t been able to face turning him over to the authorities. She’d figured if he were to die, there would be plenty of time for all the questions and forms.

      Luisa told Houston that by the time it was clear he would live it was also clear he had no memory of his life before the incident—and she’d grown fond of him. Fond enough to persuade him not to seek information about his obviously dubious past—and to help him get on the road to a new life.

      Houston was grateful as hell to Doc Luisa. With her gentle probing, he’d managed some snatches of memories about a childhood on a ranch. He remembered enough of a background working with animals so she could find him this job at the children’s home—starting over, fresh and clean.

      Luisa convinced Gabe Diaz, the old man who ran this foster home, to hire him without references. Gabe was the only other person alive who knew Houston couldn’t remember a thing, and it was Gabe who’d managed the phony paperwork for his new identity. Good thing the man had a soft heart.

      At this point Gabe and Luisa were all Houston had. They’d saved him, protected him and befriended him. And he’d do the same for them.

      For a few seconds Houston narrowed his gaze on the woman holding her child. Should he be wary of Carley? Could she be a threat to Gabe or Luisa—or him?

      “Well, son? Is today a holiday I missed?”

      He could feel his face flush as he grinned at the kindly but stern doctor. “No, ma’am. I’ll be getting on back to work now.” Houston turned from Luisa and addressed Carley as he touched a hand to the brim of his work hat. “Glad you’re going to be around the ranch for a while, ma’am. But from now on, I’d stay out of the sun on hot afternoons if I were you.”

      Houston slammed through the screen door and out into that bright sun, all the while wondering how long the two strong-headed females he’d left standing in the kitchen would be civil to one another. And whether Carley Mills would be as much of a danger to his emotional and physical well-being as she’d already been to his hormones.

      Man was she a looker! With all that mahogany-red hair, the olive complexion and those exotic green eyes, he was positive she must be the most luscious thing he’d ever encountered. She even

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