She climbed onto the ATV, hugged Ryan around the waist, and warmed her cheek against his solid back. He smelled of clean sweat and fresh air, and she closed her eyes so she could enjoy it.
The return ride turned out better than expected after her morning experience, likely because he employed a more leisurely pace. They stopped once so he could show her three killdeer hatchlings nested on a low, rocky crest.
Even so, they were first to arrive at the machine shop, with Handy and Steve close behind on the other two ATVs.
“There’s slow cooker chili in the cookhouse,” Ryan said, holding her elbow to steady her while she dismounted. He’d ditched the dark glasses. They peeped out of his breast pocket. “Give me a sec to hang up the keys and refill the gas tank, then we can eat.”
She tried to imagine eating a bowlful of chili. “I’ll pass and maybe grab some soup and a salad at the house.”
He paused, keys in his hand and concern in his eyes. “You okay?”
She wanted so much to kiss him, but he’d take a mile if given an inch and the ranch had eyes everywhere. She would never have believed she’d fall for a man as possessive as this one, but when she looked in his eyes and saw the way he looked back, her lungs flipped upside down and tickled her belly so hard she forgot why she had reservations.
Soeasy to love…
“Too much sun.”
Halfway to the house, a rogue wave of nausea swelled up from nowhere and she stopped and threw up in one of the bushes. She made it as far as the bedroom before her stomach turned over again. She dashed for the bathroom and made it with seconds to spare.
Afterward, when she deemed it was safe, she wiped her face on a fluffy white towel and stared at her face in the mirror. The dark shadows under her eyes, and pale, sickly skin, made her look like a character out of aTwilightmovie. She did some mental math but the numbers were off. She hoped her uneasy stomach and poor mathematical skills were both due to sunstroke.
Otherwise, this was an incredibly unfortunate turn of events.
She drove tothe drugstore in a neighboring town the next day after work, because the last thing she wanted was for word to spread around Grand that she’d bought a pregnancy test.
She couldn’t be pregnant.
She didn’twantto be pregnant.
Her family was so emotionally dysfunctional, she’d decided a long time ago that she didn’t want someone in her life with the same baggage as hers. That someone was Ryan.
But she might have been fine with not having children with him.
Clamminess coated her skin. She’d taken the morning-after pill. She hadn’t been in the danger zone as far as ovulation went, or so she’d assumed, but so many things could alter hormonal rhythms. A change in diet was one of them, and the food served by teens in the cookhouse was a definite change in her regular eating habits. She’d never be able to eat pizza again. The thought of it had her contemplating pulling the car over so she could be sick.
She made it to the parking lot and entered the drugstore through gleaming glass doors that parted with a guttural protest upon her approach. The blast of air-conditioned interior air was welcome, and did a lot toward calming her nerves and her stomach.
She found the right aisle and stared at the numerous products on the shelves. She couldn’t decide which test would be the most accurate, so she grabbed three different brands. At the checkout, she placed the three boxes on the counter.
“Congratulations, dear,” the clerk said, smiling broadly as she rang them through as if a monumental disaster wasn’t unfolding right in front of her face. “Your baby is going to be beautiful if he takes after his mama.”
A conversation like this would never take place in Chicago. All Elizabeth could respond with was, “Thanks.”
She grabbed her bag and tried not to run on her way to the car.
The half hour return trip to the ranch was the longest she’d ever endured, but finally, she made it. She barreled through the main door, intent on getting the tests over with before Ryan returned from a full day of business meetings in Billings. He’d taken the helicopter and planned to be home before bedtime.
She collided with Dallas, who was trying to exit as she blundered in, and clipped his chin with the top of her skull. The bag flew from her hand and its contents spewed free to skid across the stone floor.
“Whoa,” Dallas said. He rubbed his chin. “Sorry about that.”
Elizabeth stooped to pick up a pregnancy test lodged against his foot but he got to it first. He scooped up the now-empty bag, too.
He looked at the two items he held in his hands. He focused on the pregnancy test for a second. Silence stretched to the arched ceiling, expanding that second to hours. He looked at the other two bright, neon boxes, blazing guiltily on the floor where she’d dropped them. Finally, he looked at Elizabeth. The redheaded curse scoured her cheeks.
He picked up the remaining two tests, placed them in the bag with the first, then handed the whole ticking time bomb to her.