Expecting the Rancher's Heir

By: Kathie DeNosky

“Don’t say pregnant. Please don’t say pregnant,” Melissa Jarrod whispered, afraid to open her tightly closed eyes. Maybe if she repeated it enough times she could will the white stick in her trembling hand to give her the results she wanted.

When she finally worked up the courage to take a peek at the pregnancy test she held, her eyes widened and it felt as if her stomach dropped all the way to her feet. The word pregnant in the little results window couldn’t have been clearer.

“I can’t be pregnant,” she said disbelievingly as she glanced at herself in the bathroom mirror. “We’ve been careful.”

But as her gaze dropped to her flat stomach, she realized that the way her luck had been running lately, it was not only possible, it was highly probable. She and Shane McDermott had been in a physical relationship practically from the moment she returned to Aspen two months ago. She sighed heavily. Although they’d taken the proper precautions, there had been that one night only a few days after they’d started seeing each other when they’d gotten carried away and passion had overtaken them.

Hoping the results of the test might be wrong, she quickly picked up the box to check the directions. No, she had done everything correctly. She turned the box to the side to see if there was a disclaimer or some reassurance that the test could have given a false-positive reading. Her spirits sank further when she found what she was looking for. The percentage of error was so low, it was almost impossible that she wasn’t pregnant.

Wandering into the bedroom, she sank onto the side of the bed. What was she going to do and how on earth was she going to tell Shane?

He had made it perfectly clear from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in a serious relationship, and that had been just fine with her. When she’d first come back to Aspen for the reading of her father’s will, she hadn’t been certain just how long she would be staying. But she, her brothers and her newfound half sister had learned they were required to take over the running of the Jarrod Ridge Resort for at least one year or forfeit their inheritance of the thriving enterprise. Even so, it would have been utter foolishness to engage in anything long-term, knowing that she would eventually return to California at some point in the future.

But with the positive results of the pregnancy test, their casual affair had just taken a very serious turn and become a lifelong commitment. At least for her. But how would Shane react when he learned that in a little more than seven months he was going to be a father?

Lost in a tangle of disturbing thoughts and fighting a wave of sheer panic, Melissa jumped when her cell phone rang. Reaching to pick it up from the nightstand, she noticed the number for the Tranquility Spa on the caller ID.

“What’s wrong this time, Rita?” she asked, taking a deep steadying breath.

Whether real or imagined, the assistant manager of Jarrod Ridge’s elite spa had reported a crisis nearly every day since Melissa had stepped in to temporarily take over the manager’s position. But for the first time in two months, she welcomed the insecure woman’s concerns. Anything was a welcome distraction from her own current dilemma.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Ms. Jarrod, but the yoga instructor called in sick this morning and I haven’t been able to reach our backup. We have a room full of guests and no one to lead the yoga class. What should I do?” Rita whined, her voice clearly filled with indecision, as well as a good amount of panic.

“First of all, breathe, Rita,” Melissa said, rising from the bed to pull a leotard from her dresser drawer. “I want you to calm down, then escort the guests over to the juice bar for a complimentary drink.”

“Then what?” the woman asked, sounding a little more in control of herself.

How on earth the woman had managed to land the assistant-manager position, Melissa would never know. Although Rita was very nice, she couldn’t make a decision on her own if her life depended on it.

Melissa checked her watch. “I’ll be there in ten minutes to teach the class.”

The last thing she wanted to do was lead a yoga session this morning. She needed to figure out when and how she was going to tell Shane, as well as her family, about the pregnancy. But the choice had been taken out of her hands. The Tranquility Spa had a stellar reputation for giving Jarrod Ridge guests five-star treatment and she wasn’t about to let that status slip on her watch.

Putting her long blond hair into a ponytail, she stuffed her things into her gym bag, then grabbed her car keys from the kitchen counter as she started out the door of the lodge. Since her return to Aspen, she had been staying in Willow Lodge, one of the exclusive log cabins owned by Jarrod Ridge Resort.