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The Texas Tycoon's Baby

By:Crystal Green

thers. Still, Chet didn’t know how he fit in to their lives…his own new one, too. He felt as if…

Well, as if he was still on the outside, no matter how hard Tyler and Jeremiah tried to make him feel differently.

Why couldn’t he have been Abe’s son through and through? Why had Eli been so irresponsible, creating him—a bastard who didn’t really belong, no matter what his parentage was?

Mina’s voice eased into his thoughts. “I got a special delivery a half hour ago.”

She’d been holding something behind her back, and now she revealed the object: a small basketball hoop with a spongy ball, just like the one he had back in the San Antonio office.

He couldn’t help but smile.

Mina’s pale skin flushed, as if appreciating his response. “You’re always saying that your office here—and even your cabin—lack a personal touch. I thought I’d take a step in remedying that.”

“I guess it’s obvious that I’m not so good at sitting still.” Even when he was supposed to be kicking back with his boots on the desk and thinking. The motion of arcing a basketball—foam or not—through the air and getting all net gave him a measure of serenity. Not many other people knew that much about him.

She ascended the stairs to the deck and set the sports gear on a chair. His gut tied itself into knots as he thought of what it’d felt like to run his fingers over those bare arms, long, slender, pale, soft. He remembered what her skin had tasted like, too…

When her gaze caught his, it seemed to flare with the same desire he was feeling.

Her lips parted as if she wanted to say something.

But then the basketball backboard slid off the chair and hit the deck, making them both start.

They laughed awkwardly. She might’ve even been just as relieved as he was for the interruption.

Laughing. It was something he would have to do more. Sometimes he wondered what had happened to the old him—the guy who used to shoot the bull and laugh with his pals at the Watering Hole near his Montana ranch.

Where had that normal life gone?

And, worse yet, he wasn’t even sure if the new him would ever be able to laugh, relax, trust people as he used to.

It was the trust part that worried him the most.

“Thanks for the special delivery,” he said, raising his beer bottle to her, thinking that, if there was anyone to be trusted now, it was definitely Mina. “Care for a drink before dinner?”

“I’ll have water when we get inside,” she said.

“You usually like wine during dinner.”

Her skin was really flushed now. “It’s the desert. I feel…dehydrated.”

“Then I’ll be a proper host and get that water for you now.” He motioned for her to take a seat in one of the chairs then went to scoop the backboard and ball from the ground. “Be right back.”

She didn’t protest when he went to get an ice-filled glass of water. He put down the sports items by the stone fireplace and came back out to see her face raised to the last of the turquoise sky, streaks of pale color etching it to dusk.

He handed her the beverage, and when she drank, he watched her lips—the lushness, the way her mouth tilted slightly up at the corners, as if it couldn’t help smiling.

She leaned her head back. “I can smell the food from out here. It makes the place seem like home, doesn’t it? Good food, I mean. All that’s missing is a table weighed down with a week’s worth of grub and my mom telling us that we need to take as many leftovers home as we can carry.”

Chet let her description of home wash over him.

Then she sighed.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing.”

“That was a sigh for the ages, Mina. It didn’t mean ‘nothing.’”

She cocked her eyebrow at him. “Sometimes I think it’s not a good thing that you can read me, boss.”

Boss. It gave him some firmer footing with her.

He rested the beer bottle on the wooden railing. “People don’t sigh unless there’s something worth sighing about.”

She waved her hand, as if dismissing something. “It’s just… Well, that call from Mom today. Even though I’m twenty-eight, sometimes I feel like I’m still a teenager, and I can’t go a few days without filing a report about my doings. She says that single girls like me need to have someone check in with them, just to see that they haven’t fallen down and can’t get up in their house or…whatever emergencies go through a mom’s mind. She doesn’t like that there’s no one else around most of the time.”

“You’re the light of her life.”

“I know… She loves me.” Mina grinned. “And I know she’s right about checking in with me. Still, sometimes I just want to untangle myself from my family a little. They have a tendency to overstep.”

“And that chaps your hide.”

She laughed at his colorful description. “Family’s always going to be there through thick and thin when others might not be. That’s the bottom line. I’ll even withstand my mom’s phone calls for that.”

He thought of his own mom: how she’d betrayed his dad but still loved her son way up in Montana. She used to call him, too, fussing over him, making sure he realized he always had someone somewhere who loved him, even though it was far across the miles. And now he knew why she’d put out the extra effort—to make it up to him because, one day, he might know the truth about what she had done to him and Abe.

So much of it had been a lie.

Mina said, “I love having a mom—don’t get me wrong. But she feels like she also…”

Trailing off, Mina took another drink, as if she regretted even bringing this up.

“She what?” Chet asked.

Mina got that look on her face that she usually adopted when she was balancing the consequences of something. Then she lowered her glass, holding it with both hands on her lap.

“My parents have this guilt trip when it comes to me, and my mom sometimes overcompensates.” She got that expression again—the measuring, the hesitation. “I was never supposed to come along. I was a surprise for my parents.”

As she watched him, Chet didn’t move a muscle. Even after h

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