She was the incubator, nothing more until the parents died tragically. Now she’s having Nobody’s Baby.
For Kate, surrogacy seems like a great way to get tuition for her education. After putting her life on hold to raise and educate her two brothers, she’s desperate for freedom and a college degree that will secure her future. Weeks from realizing her dreams, a freak accident threatens everything.
Adopted into the Hawthorne family, Rio swore he’d never pass along the legacy of abuse from his father. Inheriting the Hawthorne heir forces him to become a parent. Convincing Kate to teach him infant care was easy. Proving his love isn’t her prison may be impossible.
Rio couldn’t figure Kate out. At first he’d thought her greedy, but she lived modestly and he saw no evidence of extravagance in her life. He would’ve thought she’d be happy to be pampered for awhile. Instead, she was fiercely independent and acted like they were punishing her.
He’d carried her into the house, glad the reporters were absent for once and not here as witnesses, and deposited her on her bed with the extra pillow elevating her feet. Following her instructions, he’d found her suitcase and opened it beside her, then proceeded to fetch the various items she called for. Surely she had enough stuff in that bag to last her a month of Sundays by now. “Is that everything?”
“Ah, no.” Kate’s gaze darted around the room, and he could swear her skin was pinker.
“Just point me in the right direction. What do you need?”
Her gaze bounced off him and wandered again. “Um … underwear.”
“Oh.” He stared at his feet, his mind racing for alternatives to her moving from the bed.
“I can get them. It won’t take but a second.”
“No way. Just watching you hobbling to the bathroom hurt me.” Hell. It was bad enough having to carrying her, feeling her soft breasts pressed against his chest, inhaling the feminine scent that was part soap, part shampoo, part essence of Kate. It had done strange things to his insides that he still hadn’t fully recovered from. He didn’t need to know what kind of things she wore closest to her soft, fragrant skin. “Tell me which drawer. I’ll bring it to you.”
“Good idea.” She beamed at him. “The top middle one in the dresser.”
Rio slid it out and off the track before his gaze dropped to its contents. Oh, man. He’d been in Africa too long, been without a woman way too long when the mere sight of bras and panties in a drawer made him imagine what they’d look like on a woman eight months pregnant. Never thought he’d see the day, but had to admit the mental picture wasn’t an unattractive one when the woman was Kate.
She cleared her throat, jolting Rio into realizing he’d been staring at the bits of silky scraps and lace. He shrugged, refusing to apologize for being male, and broke the silence with the first thing that came to mind. “You’re ankles are looking less painful.”
“See? I told you I just needed to put them up for a few minutes and they’d be fine. There’s no need for me to leave here.”
He sat the drawer beside her. “Whoa, now. I didn’t say they were fine, just better than before. Mom will have a fit if I don’t bring you back home with me.”
“But you don’t want me there any more than I want to go. Surely you can convince her this isn’t necessary.”
“I never said you weren’t welcome at Hawthorne House, and it is necessary. You can’t stay off your feet if you’re constantly having to get up for drinks and food and …” He forgot the last of his sentence when Kate’s chin wobbled and her eyes grew damp.
Damn. Her eyes had filled in the limo, and he’d had to fight back the same urge to fold his arms around her.
Before he could figure out the proper course of action, she bounced her fists off the mattress. “Augh. This is ridiculous. Women have babies all the time without going on bed rest and having people hovering over them. I’m not a hothouse flower and am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” She drew in a shuddery breath and released it though pursed lips, her eyes beseeching him to understand.
Rio had seen the same look of frustration recently, when a famous football player had been felled by heat stroke and had to adjust his safari plans around his health. Accustomed to being at the top of his game, he’d been a wounded bear for the duration of the trip. Kate was a runner, active and athletic. She’d already adjusted her life to provide James and Allie with the child they so craved. Cutting back on the most basic of activities had to be difficult.
“Under ordinary circumstances, I’m sure you manage just fine,” he assured her. “This situation is anything but. Your body is giving off warning signs. You need to heed them, and I can help. It’s my responsibility.” The weight of it hung on his shoulders, thick and ropelike, but the more time he spent with Kate, the less heavy it became. Maybe he was getting used to his fate.
Kate studied his face, then nodded. Blinking rapidly, she looked away and reached into the drawer only to withdraw empty fingers. “Don’t mind me. It’s not that I’m not grateful. It’s just that no one has offered to take care of me in a really long time. Losing control takes some getting used to.”
“I get that. The last few days I’ve felt like someone jerked a rug from under my feet, and I can’t get my balance.” He felt especially off-kilter around Kate. Unfortunately, he couldn’t avoid her.
CAROL BURNSIDE: SIZZLING ROMANCE WITH HEART AND HUMOR
Carol is an award-winning author of contemporary sizzling romances, often with a generous dose of southern charm. She enjoys a second-chance-at-love story with her husband of over thirty years.
Writing as Annie Rayburn, she produces soft sci-fi and lite paranormal erotic romances.
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