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Three years earlier…
Dana Barrett found it hard to believe how something that had started with so much promise had turned into such a disaster, but the proof stared her straight in the face.
That line was pink. No mistake.
She tossed the pregnancy test in the garbage can of the cramped motel bathroom, then slumped to the floor with her back against the door and covered her head with her arms. She hadn’t gone on the pill because she hadn’t made up her mind as to how long the relationship would last. She normally avoided bull riders, the rock stars of the rodeo world, because of their egos and the danger they chased, but Tanner, with his good-natured charm, had won her over. He was fun and she’d fallen a little in love.
She should have listened to her head, not her heart. When things seemed too good to be true, it meant they usually were. Fun wasn’t enough. Not for her. She had her barrel racing career to consider. She’d finally begun to make money. How had this happened?
Thinking back, there had been a few mishaps early on when Tanner hadn’t withdrawn when he should. He’d been wound up after a ride, and they’d burned off enough excess energy between them that he’d claimed he was too tired to move. She’d straightened him out in that regard.
Apparently, not soon enough.
He knocked on the bathroom door. “Everything okay in there?”
No. It most definitely was not.
She had to tell him.
She pulled herself together and opened the door. “I’m pregnant.”
The smug, satisfied smile. The lack of surprise. They told her more than she wanted to know.
“This is fantastic!” he said.
Her brain ceased to function. Blood drained from her head to cradle the tiny bundle of cells sprouting limbs in her belly. She must have misheard. Must have misread his reaction. She groped for a chair. She needed to sit.
She stared at him. “Are you out of your mind? What’s fantastic about this?”
He went to one knee and took her cold hand. “We’re a couple, sweetheart. We’re in this together. Think positive. We’re starting a family.”
A couple. Together. Family.
She could think of only one thing. “What about our careers?”
“What about them? Come on, Dana. Neither one of us is going to Las Vegas.” He shrugged off all their hard work, as if they hadn’t spent years trying to make it to the Wrangler National Finals.
Maybe only one of them had. How well did she know him?
They’d partied together. They shared a lot of the same friends—the circuit was a close-knit community. He’d introduced her to a few of his friends outside of the rodeo world, too, and she knew his sister—another barrel racer—quite well.
But she couldn’t say how they’d ended up sharing motel rooms when they were at the same rodeo events, other than that the walls of her trailer were thin, and the neighbors didn’t need to know the details of everything they were doing at night. On that, they agreed.
Especially since lately, all they seemed to be doing was disagree. He had a jealous streak in him that she’d attributed to a bull rider’s competitive nature. He expected her to align her schedule with his. When they did line up, he had to have her complete attention. And she was exhausted.
He continued to talk. She continued to stare. He had it all planned. Between them, they had money saved. They’d buy a small place in Grand, Montana. His hometown. They’d have a dozen babies. She had no idea where any of this came from. She had the horrifying suspicion he did.
“You wore me out, baby. Just give me another second to recover.”
She held up a hand and waved it, trying to get his attention and stop the flow of nonsensical words. “Tell me you didn’t plan this.”
She saw the guilt in his eyes before belligerence took over. “You’re a little commitment-shy, baby. So this speeds things along. So what? Tell me we aren’t perfect together.”
Was he trying to shift the blame for this mess onto her shoulders? The shocks kept on coming. How could someone so sweet, and so beautiful to look at, and with so much potential, be so insecure and selfish and spoiled? How had he seized so much control over her life? When had he become so dismissive of her hopes and dreams?
She shook her hand free of his. She stood. She crossed the small room to her suitcase, picking up scattered clothes off the floor as she went.
“What are you doing?” Tanner asked, curiosity, more than alarm, in his voice.
He thought he had her. That the future he envisioned for them was a foregone conclusion. That he’d won. She’d never been as angry with anyone as she was with him in this moment.
Anger solved nothing. Actions spoke louder than words. Especially with Tanner.
“I’m leaving,” she said, and snapped the clasps closed on her suitcase.
End of Excerpt