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The Maverick's Ready-Made Family Mass Market Paperback – Sep 18 2012

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Strong Is the New Pretty

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition; Original edition (Sept. 18 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0373656971
  • ISBN-13: 978-0373656974
  • Product Dimensions: 10.7 x 1.5 x 16.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,932,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

About the Author

Brenda Harlen is a multi-award winning author for Harlequin Special Edition who has written over 25 books for the company.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Damn pregnancy hormones!

It was becoming a familiar curse to Antonia Wright, because as thrilled as she was that she was going to be a mother, she was completely unprepared to deal with the increasingly frequent surges of hormones through her system. Surges that had been nonexistent through the first six months of her pregnancy, but had become more regular and insistent over the past few weeks. Since Clayton Traub had taken up residence at Wright's Way, in fact.

But Antonia refused to believe that the link between his presence and her hormones was anything more than a coincidence. Most of the books she'd read had warned that sexual desire was likely to decrease in the last trimester, but Antonia was finding just the opposite to be true. Of course, nothing that she'd experienced since learning that she was going to have a baby had been what she expected. At least not since the initial excitement of having her pregnancy confirmed was usurped by the panic of realizing she was going to be a single mother.

Maybe having a baby without a father anywhere in the vicinity wasn't an ideal situation, but she was making the best of it. And she was genuinely excited about the opportunities and challenges that motherhood would entail, but she hadn't expected the hormones.

Because that was the only explanation she could come up with for the way her pulse raced every time she saw Clay in the dining room. And the way her knees got all weak and wobbly if he passed close to her. And the way her skin felt all hot and tingly whenever he even looked at her.

But she'd learned her lesson after Gene hightailed it out of town. She had no intention of ever following her heart again, and she definitely would never get involved with a boarder again.

Which only proved that her physiological reaction to Clayton Traub had less to do with her heart than her hormones. She didn't even know the guy, really, so it was ridiculous to think that she might have any kind of emotional attachment to him. But she was definitely attracted. The warm and achy feeling deep inside all of her womanly places confirmed that fact. Or maybe she was just severely sexually deprived.

It had been exactly seven months, one week and four days since she'd had sex. In the first six and a half of those months, she hadn't missed the physical intimacy. She hadn't even thought about it really, because she'd been too busy trying to come to terms with her pregnancy and anticipate the demands of impending motherhood.

But ever since Clay Traub had shown up at the Wright Ranch, she'd found herself thinking about how very long it had been since she'd been held or kissed or touched. How very long it had been since she'd been wanted.

Not that any man in his right mind would want her now, with a belly that was rounder than her breasts. And so big that it was sometimes hard for Antonia to believe that she still had another seven weeks to go before she delivered her baby. As eagerly as she was counting down to the day that she would hold her child in her arms, her trepidation was growing along with her excitement.

What did she know about taking care of a baby? Not very much. And she was terrified that she was going to screw up. If only she could talk to her own mother—but that option had been taken away from her more than two years earlier when Lucinda had succumbed to a massive stroke. Nothing had been the same since her death—not Antonia's father, not her brothers, not even the ranch.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to say especially not the ranch. Devastated by the loss of his beloved wife, John Wright had started to neglect his responsibilities, which had resulted in the loss of some business and, consequently, trouble paying the bills. Antonia's brothers had taken over most of the day-to-day operations, and she had convinced them to turn the former bunkhouse into a boarding house to generate additional revenue. Most of the rental units had sat vacant for a while—certainly long enough to give her cause for concern—but once they'd taken in their first boarders and those boarders started chatting in town about the comfort of the accommodations and the quality of the meals, the rooms had begun to fill.

Now it was rare for any room to sit empty for more than a week or two, allowing Antonia to breathe a sigh of relief that she hadn't made a mistake with this venture. Especially considering that she'd given Peggy, the Wright's longtime housekeeper and cook, a raise to compensate for the additional meal prep that was required, and had recently hired Nora, a high school student who lived up the road, to help serve dinner.

Because now that she was in her third trimester, Anto-nia had finally acknowledged that she no longer had the energy to be on her feet sixteen hours a day. And when those days started at 5:00 a.m., as hers had this morning, she was usually feeling the first signs of fatigue before the breakfast crowd had gone.

"Good morning, Toni."

She recognized his voice immediately, and adrenaline rushed through her veins as her cheeks filled with color. There was just something about the way he said her name that actually made her knees weak.

"Good morning," she replied, deliberately focusing on the baby in his arms rather than looking into the warmth of Clayton Traub's dark brown eyes. "And how are you doing this morning, handsome?"

Bennett gave her a gummy smile and reached his arms out to her, and Antonia wanted nothing more than to scoop him up. Unfortunately, she had a full coffeepot in one hand and a trio of mugs in the other.

"Typical male," she mused. "Wanting yet one more thing from a woman who already has her hands full." But since she couldn't give Bennett a cuddle, she gave him a quick kiss on the forehead, then finally chanced a glance at his father. "I'll bring his breakfast as soon as you get him settled."

"No hurry," he assured her. "He had some oatmeal about an hour ago."

"We start serving breakfast here at six," she reminded him. She'd given him a dining schedule along with the rest of the paperwork when he'd checked in, and for the first several days, he had brought the baby to the dining room early. But then the time of their arrival had started getting later and later, until they were showing up near the end of the breakfast shift rather than the beginning.

"And at six, you usually have a pretty full house," Clay noted.

"A lot of the men need to get an early start because they have jobs in town or elsewhere that they have to get to." Which made her wonder how her handsome boarder was occupying his time in Thunder Canyon. Of course, as long as his checks didn't bounce, his employment—or lack thereof—wasn't any of her concern.

Not that she was completely in the dark about Clay. He might have been "one of the Rust Creek Falls' Traubs" but he was related to the Thunder Canyon Traubs, which meant that a fair amount of information about him was circulating around town. Including that he was one of six sons and had previously worked on the family ranch in Rust Creek Falls with four of his brothers. Only Forrest had opted for a different career, choosing to enlist in the military and fight for his country. He'd returned from the war in Iraq with an injured leg that was being treated by Dr. North at Thunder Canyon General Hospital. And PTSD, according to some whispers.

Since moving into the boarding house, both Clay and Forrest had been the subjects of as much admiration as speculation. The female population, in particular, seemed curious about these "real" cowboys who had come to town and were eager to get to know them better. Antonia didn't think either of the brothers had encouraged the attention, but she couldn't blame the women for their interest. Clayton and Forrest were both sinfully good-looking but, from day one, her heart had been firmly ensnared by Bennett.

"That's why we like to come later," Clay said, drawing her attention back to their conversation. "So Bennett can flirt with his favorite girl."

"You need to raise your standards," she told the little boy. Then, to his father, "And I really need to get this coffee into the dining room—where Forrest is already seated at your usual table."

"Of course." He stepped back so that she could move past him into the dining room.

As she did, she was conscious of his gaze following her. Or maybe she was just imagining it. Because why would Clay be watching her? Why would any man look twice at a woman whose belly entered a room ten seconds before the rest of her body did?

Okay, she knew she wasn't really as enormous as she felt, but having to sneak into her father's closet to find a shirt that would button over her baby bump made her feel huge and unattractive. Having a man pay any amount of attention to her was a boost to her battered ego—and when that man was as incredibly good-looking as Clayton Traub, well, she could probably be forgiven for letting her imagination run away.

Because even if he didn't have any kind of romantic interest—and again, she'd be more shocked if he did—she enjoyed the brief conversations they occasionally shared over breakfast or dinner. Even after five weeks, she wouldn't say she knew him well, but she did know him well enough to appreciate his straightforward manner and easygoing personality.

Mostly she appreciated that he didn't ask too many questions. Having been the subject of so many whispers and rumors since her pregnancy became public knowledge, she was happy to talk to someone who didn't want to know or seem to care about the father of her baby. And it warmed her heart immeasurably to witness the obvious affection between Clay and his son.

Obviously some men were able to embrace the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood. Unfortunately for Antonia, the father of her baby wasn't one of them.


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