Excerpt from IF THE RING FITS
The sound of water turning on jolted Mary Karen Vaughn from a sound sleep. Still, she resisted the urge to open her eyes. She’d been having the most delicious dream, and she wasn’t ready for it to end. Instead of a quickie—like they’d shared at last year’s Christmas party—she and Travis had made love for hours.
She smiled, knowing that was just wishful thinking, er dreaming. The few times they’d had sex it had been fast and furious—a physical release for both of them. He was a bachelor with a busy schedule, and she was a single mom with responsibilities. Both of them had an image in the community to uphold.
Dr. Travis Fisher was one of Jackson Hole’s most eligible bachelors and a friend from her childhood days. They’d dated a couple of times when she was in college but nothing came of it. She’d wanted a family. After helping to raise seven younger siblings, Travis wanted to have fun.
Mary Karen let her eyes drift open. After her divorce he’d become her occasional lover. It only made sense he’d play a starring role in last night’s Mai Tai fueled dream. Rolling to her side, she realized with a start that she was naked beneath the silk sheets. She smiled. A little rum was obviously a dangerous thing.
The running water that had awakened her stopped. For a second she swore the sound had been coming from her bathroom. She dismissed the ridiculous thought almost immediately. The truth was the walls in the luxurious room on the Las Vegas strip were just way too thin.
Mary Karen’s lips quirked upward. Being too thin was a problem she’d like to experience at least once in her life. Although she was still a size six, her belly had a slight pouch and she was more curvy than willowy. Still, for a twenty-six-year-old mother of three, Mary Karen thought she looked pretty darn good…especially now that she’d had some R&R.
Instead of spending her mini-vacation in Sin City gambling, she’d spent the past two days in her new red bikini reading by the pool. Her normally pale skin now had a golden glow.
Winning this trip in a raffle had been just what her body and soul had needed. But today she would head home. And with an eleven o’clock check-out, she needed to get packing.
Mary Karen sat up and pushed back the sheet, swinging her legs to the side of the bed.
Mary Karen whirled. She gasped and grabbed for the sheet, pulling it over her breasts.
“It’s a little late for modesty, M.K.” Travis strolled across the bedroom, clad only in a towel wrapped around his waist, his sandy hair still damp from the shower. “That horse left the barn a long time ago.”
Mary Karen could only stare.
At slightly over six feet, Travis was more wiry than muscular. He had a fair complexion with freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose. This morning his hazel eyes, which normally had an impish gleam, were somber.
He crossed the room and the mattress dipped as he took a seat beside her. Tiny droplets of water still clung to his chest. He smelled like soap and shampoo and that indefinable male scent that sent sparks dancing through her blood.
Then she recalled the rest of last night’s dream. A sick feeling filled the pit of her stomach. Could she really have been so foolish? While she’d made some big mistakes in her life, this one would top them all. Acting out her wildest fantasies in bed with a man she considered her best friend she could handle. But standing before a Bible-wielding Elvis…
Mary Karen searched Travis’s face. The despair that suddenly filled his eyes told her what she didn’t want to know.
“Tell me we d-didn’t.” She couldn’t quite control the tremble in her voice. “Please, Trav. Tell me we didn’t.”
Instead of answering he reached over and lifted her left hand. The emerald-cut yellow diamond on her finger caught the morning light.
“I wish I could say this was one of my jokes.” His attempt at a chuckle fell flat.
Her heart began to thunder in her chest. “This can’t be happening.”
“You and I were married last night, M.K,” he said, squeezing her fingers. “Now we have to figure out what we’re going to do about it.”
Four weeks to the day later, Mary Karen left her sons in front of the television with their favorite video playing and locked the door to her home’s only bathroom.
She caught sight of herself in the mirror as she opened the box. The hard-won tan from Vegas had already faded and lines of fatigue now edged her eyes. Her hands shook as she completed the test.
Mary Karen could count on one hand the times she’d been truly afraid. The first was when she’d been a child and had wandered away from her parents in Yellowstone. The second had been when Steven had told her he wanted a divorce. The twins had just turned two and she’d been pregnant with Logan. And then there was…now.
The walls of the tiny room closed in around her. A bead of sweat trickled down her spine. Mary Karen told herself to look at the stick but her eyes refused to cooperate.
Marrying Travis and celebrating with a night of passionate sex had been a crazy thing to do. She barely remembered how it had happened. One minute they’d been laughing and enjoying a drink by the pool, the next they’d been saying their vows in front of a judge who looked an awful lot like the King of Rock and Roll.
If Travis hadn’t been leaving Las Vegas for Cameroon, they’d have gotten started on an annulment while they were still in Nevada. Instead she’d had to wait for him to return to Jackson Hole. Now that he was back they could finally work on putting this mistake behind them. What had the attorney she’d contacted said? It would be like the whole thing had never taken place…
Mary Karen took a deep breath and lifted the stick to eye level.
Her heart stopped for several seconds then resumed beating. She tried to tell herself it could be a false positive, but she knew better. She’d been pregnant twice before and the signs were all there. The nausea. The fatigue. The emotional roller-coaster.
Tears filled her eyes and slipped down her cheeks. She pushed a bucket of tubby toys out of the way and turned on the water full force. The last thing she wanted was for her boys to hear her crying and worry.
Dear God, she couldn’t have another baby, she just couldn’t.
Though it would be easy to make Travis the bad guy, even in her despair Mary Karen knew she had only herself to blame. Fertile Myrtle…that’s what her brother laughingly called her. Both of her previous pregnancies had occurred when she’d been on the Pill. She should have insisted Travis go out and buy some condoms before she let him touch her.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
She beat her clenched hand against her aching chest and the river of tears turned into a torrent.
“Mommy,” a small fist pounded on the locked bathroom door. “I hafta go potty.”
“Mommy,” another childish voice called out. “Open the door. Logan has to go real bad.”
Mary Karen grabbed a tissue. She swiped at her eyes and shoved the pregnancy test supplies into the plastic grocery bag. Only after she’d tied the sack shut did she open the door.
“I’m sorry, honey.” She stepped aside as her youngest rushed past.
Even though Logan was too focused to pay her much attention, the twins waiting in the hallway were much more observant.
“What’s wrong?” With his golden curls and big blue eyes, five-year-old Connor could have been a poster boy for one of God’s chosen angels. Until you got close enough to see the devilish gleam in his eyes.
“Your eyes are red,” he said almost accusingly.
“Your face is red, too,” his identical twin Caleb chimed in.
“I, I had something in my eye,” Mary Karen said. “Like you did, Cal, last week. Remember?”
“It hurt.” Caleb nodded, easily accepting her explanation.
Connor wasn’t so easily fooled. His blond brow furrowed and suspicion filled his gaze. “Why are both your eyes red?”
Instead of answering, Mary Karen dropped her gaze. “I see chocolate on the front of your Spider Man shirt. Did you get into the M&Ms?”
Connor blinked but was spared having to answer when Logan emerged from the bathroom, toilet paper stuck to his sneakers, a big smile on his face. “I went poopy all by myself.”
Although he was three, this was indeed a big deal. After almost five years her home was finally a diaper-free zone.
But for how much longer? Mary Karen shoved the fear aside and gave the child a hug. “I’m so proud of you.”
Logan gave her five seconds before he began to squirm. “Let go.” He grunted and pushed back until she released him. “We’re playing trucks.”
“Okay, go with your brothers.” Mary Karen drew a shaky breath. “I have to get ready for the party.”
Although Travis had returned yesterday from his medical mission trip in Cameroon she hadn’t heard from him yet. Of course with her brother David hosting a welcome-back barbeque for him tonight, he probably assumed he’d see her then.
Still, she’d expected a call. After all, this marriage mess had shaken them both. Though they were good friends and the sexual energy between them had only grown stronger over the years they’d known each other, they were both smart enough to realize the wedding had been a huge mistake.
Travis had made no secret of the fact that he didn’t want children. And she had three of them. If she ever did marry again—and that was a mighty big if—it would be to a man who would love not only her but her boys with his whole heart. Finding someone like that wouldn’t be easy, but her ex had taught a hard lesson. If love wasn’t there in the beginning, it sure wasn’t going to be there down the road.
Steven hadn’t wanted to be a husband or a father. She’d tried to make their marriage work but from day one he’d blamed her for “trapping” him. And he’d missed no opportunity to throw that in her face.
Just like Steven, Travis would take responsibility for his actions. But she wasn’t going down that road again. Which meant she was in this alone. Oh, her parents would be supportive. But they were busy with their own lives. And her brother, who’d been such a help when Steve had left, now had a family of his own. No, the children she had—and any additional children she might have—were her responsibility. Hers and hers alone.
You don’t have to have this baby.
The thought was like a whisper on the wind.
Mary Karen refused to let it take hold in her head. She couldn’t end this tiny life growing inside her.
“You’re a do-do head,” she heard Connor yell from the other room.
“Mo-om.” Caleb called out. “Connor called me a do-do head.”
The words were followed by a crash then the sound of Logan crying.
Mary Karen squared her shoulders and headed for the living room. Later, she’d think about the mess her life had become. For now she had three little boys who needed their mommy.
Travis Fisher pulled his car in front of Kate McNeal’s apartment complex—just a few buildings down from his--and was overcome with the feeling that giving her a ride to his “Welcome Back” party was a mistake.
He’d barely gotten into town last night when he’d received a call from the hospital. A woman needed an emergency C-section and the other OB-GYNs were busy. As the on-call Pediatrician, Kate had also been in the delivery room.
After the birth, he and Kate had grabbed a quick cup of coffee in the doctor’s lounge. They got to talking and she’d mentioned the party.
When she’d asked if he could pick her up, he hadn’t known what to say. She lived close and they were going to the same destination. Riding together made perfect sense. Except…he was married.
Married. Travis still found it hard to believe. He could only imagine David Wahl’s reaction when he found out he’d married M.K. in Vegas. Though his friend loved to tease his sister, he was her staunchest supporter. No, David would not be happy.
Thankfully, the annulment would take care of the problem. No one—including David—would ever know.
Travis shut off his BMW roadster and opened the door. He couldn’t believe he and Mary Karen had been so reckless. The sex he could understand. There’d always been a strong physical attraction between them. But even way back when she was in college and he was in residency, they’d acknowledged that they weren’t right for each other. She was home-and-hearth. He was live-for-the-moment.
Kate stepped out the front door of her building and he returned her wave. Though she wasn’t as pretty as Mary Karen, Kate was easy on the eyes. Her hair hung to her shoulders in a sleek bob, jet black and silky. Long dark lashes framed hazel eyes. Tall and lean she had a fashion sense that made her look more like a model than an up-and-coming pediatrician.
While she didn’t make his insides go all crazy like Mary Karen did, Kate was a nice person. There was no reason he should be feeling guilty for giving her a ride. No reason at all. After all, he and M.K. were really only married on paper. The annulment should be as quick as the wedding ceremony.
Travis started up the walk and Kate met him halfway. Her summer dress accentuated her willowy figure and full breasts. When he drew close, she opened her arms to him. “I’m so happy you’re back in Jackson.”
Obligingly he stepped in and pulled her near, appreciating the clean fresh scent of her. In Cameroon, such common staples as deodorant and toothpaste had been in short supply. Kate was a sweet reminder that he was home. While training other doctors to better help their patients had been a powerful experience, he was very happy to be back.
Kate lifted her face and he realized she expected a kiss. They’d kissed once before he left but this was different. He hadn’t been married then. And even if that marriage would be over the second he and Mary Karen had a chance to sign the appropriate forms and let the lawyers do the rest, to participate in even such simple intimacy with another woman felt wrong.
Travis took a step back.
A momentary look of confusion crossed Kate’s face. “Is something wrong?”
He smiled and pretended to misunderstand. “Don’t want to be late.”
Kate started down the sidewalk and he fell into step beside her. “Will there be people I know at this party?”
“Probably. It will be an eclectic mix. David has invited everyone from colleagues at the hospital to my ski buddy Joel Dennes.”
“Joel Dennes?” she asked in a tone that seemed a bit too casual. “The contractor?”
Travis slanted a sideways glance as they walked toward the car. “You’ve met?”
“No,” she said quickly. “Why would you think that?”
“He has a daughter.” Travis shrugged. “I thought she might be one of your patients.”
“She may be. I haven’t met all the patients in my new practice yet.” Her eyes remained focused ahead, her tone noncommittal. “I did meet someone who knows you at the hospital last week.”
He opened the passenger side door and helped her into the car. “Who was that?”
“Mary Karen Vaughn,” Kate said. “Did you know Dr. Wahl is her brother? I wonder if she’ll be at the barbeque?”
Somehow Travis managed a smile as he shut her door. “Undoubtedly.”
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