Callahan Cowboys Book 6
May 1, 2012
Harlequin American Romance (1401)
Bookscan Bestseller List #51, 5/13/12
Bookscan Bestseller List #67, 5/20/12
“Holy Smokes. I’m A Father.”
Sabrina McKinley broke Jonas’s heart when she left him for another man. Then the eldest Callahan brother gets the surprise of his life when he sees her again…holding his son. Even at six months, his bouncing baby boy was wearing the legendary Callahan smile!
Which means Sabrina has got to marry him, even if Jonas has to drag her to the altar.
Sabrina’s been head over heels for the hunky cowboy doctor since the day she first came to Rancho Diablo; it’s always been Jonas Keeping her at arm’s length. She won’t settle for anything less than the real deal–the love and happiness that Jonas’s five brothers have found.
But when a revelation about a family secret comes out, Sabrina can see Jonas is ready to look toward the future. He won’t be the last bachelor on the ranch. After all, he’s a Callahan!
“Jonas is an old soul.”
—Molly Cavanaugh Callahan, observing her toddler as he tried to read the newspaper one day, imitating his father, Jeremiah.
Jonas Callahan realized at once that the music he heard on the breeze was the lilting strains of a wedding march, beautifully played as always by the town of Diablo’s string quartet.
It had to come from Sam’s wedding. Though Sam had already married Seton McKinley once, they’d probably decided to make the leap from marriage-by-design to marriage-by-dream-come-true. Sam was sentimental like that. Oh, Jonas’s loony lawyer brother would claim he was a hard-boiled realist, but Sam was the biggest, cheesiest romantic of the entire Callahan clan. And a May wedding at Rancho Diablo was probably a dream come true—if one had romantic tendencies like that. Sam did. Jonas didn’t.
He dared not intrude on the magical moment between his brother and Seton. Jonas knew full well how Sam had longed for her—as Jonas did for her sister, Sabrina.
While it was hopeless for him, Sam looked to be making everything happen for himself. Jonas was happy for his youngest brother, thrilled, in fact.
So Jonas stood near the English-style house with seven chimneys, where no one could see that he had come home to Rancho Diablo—and that he’d brought with him a visitor of the female variety.
“It’s a wedding!” Chelsea Myers exclaimed. “I wouldn’t mind getting married here—this place is gorgeous. Did you know there was a wedding today, Jonas?”
He shook his head. “I haven’t been keeping in touch with my brothers as much as I should have. I sent an occasional email to let them know I didn’t find our aunt and uncle, but that was about it.”
Jonas craned his neck to see who was at the altar. It was Sam! For a man who’d run as hard as Sam had from the bonds of matrimony, he’d gone down like a sleepy baby when he’d met the right woman.
I’m too logical and practical to be led around by my heart. I intend to make my decision on cold, hard facts. Are we compatible? Does my future wife understand that I need an assistant in my life? I don’t want romance and fairy tales and magic wedding gowns that can’t possibly be magic. Sabrina and her load of clairvoyant, out-of-this-world supernatural charm.
Jonas, too, had met the woman he had once hoped might be the “right” one—but Sabrina McKinley had fallen for someone else. To say that his heart had broken upon learning that she was pregnant with another man’s child would be grossly understating his devastation.
He’d had no option but to hightail it away from Rancho Diablo. He’d headed to Ireland on the flimsy excuse that he was going to locate their aunt Fiona and uncle Burke. When Jonas couldn’t find them—it seemed they’d gotten a traveling yen and gone off on the extended cruise of their dreams—he’d hung around Ireland to take in the sights.
And then he’d met Chelsea Myers, a calm, steady redhead nothing like Sabrina McKinley—except for the flaming hair. Jonas had told himself she would make a suitable surgeon’s wife. Moreover, she wasn’t opposed to leaving Ireland and seeing America.
So, realizing that with Sam off the market, he’d be the only brother at Rancho Diablo who hadn’t succumbed to Aunt Fiona’s Secret Plan to get them all married with families, Jonas had surveyed his life goals. Now, he thought marriage might dovetail with his desire to not be the leftover Callahan, hankering after a woman who had borne another man’s child.
What else could a guy with a broken heart do?
After the I do’s were said and the champagne was flowing, Jonas stepped forward with Chelsea to join his brothers and congratulate Sam and Seton for finally doing things right this time.
“Jonas!” he heard over and over, glad cries of astonished welcome ringing in his ears. A burn of embarrassment crawled up the back of his neck. Sam’s and Seton’s big day was suddenly turning into a welcome home party for him.
“Brother,” Sam said, hugging him and pounding him on the back. “Welcome home!”
“Congratulations, Sam. You’ve married a great gal. Again.”
Seton threw her arms around Jonas and kissed him on the cheek like a long-lost brother. “You were gone too long! What a nice wedding gift to have you back!”
He suddenly realized he was staring at the maid of honor and the reason he’d left town: Sabrina. No longer pregnant, of course—he estimated her baby would be about six months old—Sabrina was dressed in a beautiful long, strapless, turquoise-blue dress that complemented her petite frame. Her burnished red hair was styled in a pretty updo, and her big eyes sparkled at him before her eyelids lowered.
Everything hit him all at once, a hard smack to the chest: He had never gotten over Sabrina. He was madly in love with her. And no matter how long he stayed away, no matter how many countries he traveled to, she was always going to be the one woman who set his soul on fire.
“Hi, Jonas,” she said, and he felt himself melting at her feet.
“Hello, Sabrina. You look…nice.” He’d started to say beautiful, but awkwardly stopped himself in time. “Congratulations, Seton, Sam.”
“You ol’ dog,” Sam said. “We thought you were going to turn out to be the most footloose one of us all, going off like that. It’s about time you came home!”
Jonas cleared his throat, knowing the moment had come. “I’d like everyone to meet my fiancée, Chelsea Myers.”
For ten feet around him, it got so silent not even a grain of dirt shifted underfoot, or so Jonas’s imagination feverishly claimed. He saw a flare of surprise in Sabrina’s eyes that she quickly masked.
The moment was more painful than pleasant. Definitely not the self-serving, face-saving moment he’d hoped for.
It occurred to him belatedly that he wasn’t as good at plotting as his aunt Fiona was, because at the moment, he felt anything but happy. Looking at Sabrina, he was pretty certain he’d made an error of epic proportions.
“Hi, Chelsea,” Seton said. “Welcome to Rancho Diablo.”
Sabrina moved forward to shake Chelsea’s hand, but her aunt Corinne stepped in front of her, placing a baby in Sabrina’s arms.
“I don’t know why Joe’s fussy,” Corinne said, her voice merry. “Must want his mother.”
The baby wasn’t fussing. Jonas didn’t think he’d ever seen a happier child. The infant had chubby cheeks, big blue eyes, a shock of black hair and a generous mouth that seemed to smile at everyone. Jonas chuckled. People said that babies smiled when they had gas, but this one just looked content. In fact, he’d seen a similar goofy, delighted smile on a baby before. Sam had grinned like that when he was an infant. Jonas remembered it clearly, because he’d been so shocked when a new baby appeared on the ranch after their parents had “gone to heaven.”
Jonas had been old enough to know that a baby shouldn’t come after parents died. Nevertheless, Sam had arrived one day, carried into the house by Fiona. The new baby had been the happiest kid on the planet. He’d smiled all the time, and the five brothers had been quite taken by what Fiona announced was their new brother.
Jonas found himself smiling back at Sabrina’s happy baby in spite of himself—and then, like a lightning bolt sent from above, his brain cleared.
That was a Callahan smile. Those were Callahan navy-blue eyes. That was the black-as-night Callahan hair.
He looked at Sabrina, who was watching him with wide eyes. He glanced at Sam, then at Seton, then at his brother Rafe, who was playing best man. They all stared back at him in silence, and the curtain lifted on his self-denial.
This was his child.
The realization staggered him.
He had a son. A beautiful son. Jonas swallowed hard.
He couldn’t help himself; he reached out to take the baby. The child came to him willingly, and Jonas felt unbidden tears jump into his eyes.
Holy smokes. I’m a father.
“What’s his name?” he asked.
“I call him little Joe,” Sabrina answered.
Jonas studied her, then looked down at the child in his arms. “Hi, little Joe.”
The baby put a curled fist on Jonas’s chin.
“He’s a darling,” Chelsea said. “Such a happy baby!”
Tears swam helplessly in Jonas’s eyes. To cover his emotion, he handed the baby back to Sabrina. He realized that guests were milling around them, trying not to listen in, but this was Diablo, after all. Folks were curious about what was happening.
Jonas felt weak and somehow stupid. Poleaxed. “Congratulations,” he said to Sabrina. “He…”
He started to say doesn’t have your beautiful red hair, he got my ordinary black, and then choked back the words. Finally, he just nodded to his brothers and Seton and Sabrina, and hauled ass to the punch table.
Chelsea followed him. “Are you all right, Jonas?”
He worked to take in the deepest breath he could. “Yeah.” But he didn’t glance at her.
“Look, Jonas.” She put a gentle hand on his forearm, and he turned to face her. “Under our agreement, which was nonbinding, all you asked for was a fiancée to help you save face. I agreed to that because I wanted to come to America, but I don’t think it’s working out the way you hoped it would.”
He definitely hadn’t saved any face. “Maybe not.”
“You don’t owe me anything, Jonas.” Chelsea’s eyes were soft. “It wasn’t like we had a grand love affair. You’ve never even kissed me, other than as a sister.”
“You’re a nice woman, Chelsea. I like that about you. You’re calm and steady, not like.. ” Her. Not like Sabrina, who kept him churned up, not knowing if she was a gypsy or a spy or a woman on a mission to destroy his heart.
“You’re in love with her, Jonas. Anyone can see that.” Chelsea smiled at him. “It looked like Cupid smacked you right on the nose with his quiver when you saw Sabrina. And when you held that baby—”
“Let’s go for a drive,” Jonas said. “I can’t think about it. I want to get a whiskey at Banger’s.”
Chelsea shook her head. “Running off is not saving face. As I recall, that was your primary goal.”
“You’re right.” He shook his head, trying to clear it from the mist of emotions clouding his brain. “Did you see that baby?” he asked, unable to believe his denseness. How could he not have ever suspected that Sa-brina was pregnant with his child?
And everyone had known but him.
“I did see little Joe,” Chelsea said dryly. “He looks just like you. How much you want to bet that Joe is short for Jonas?”
He blinked. “I doubt it.”
She laughed. “Jonas, as the daughter of your aunt’s neighbor in Ireland, I feel I have a little leeway to tell you not to be such a hardhead. Why were you so intent on believing she wasn’t having your baby? I distinctly remember you saying that it nearly killed you when you came home for your brother’s last wedding, and she was sticking out like a house. That’s what you said—that she was sticking out like a house. Did it never occur to you to simply ask her?” Chelsea asked softly.
“I didn’t want to hear the answer,” he said. “I was so sure she’d found someone when she moved to Washington, D.C. Chelsea, I’ve done you a terrible disservice.”
“Not me,” she said, laughing. “I’m having a great time. I’m sorry you’re suffering, though. Listen, I hate to leave you moldering here at the punch bowl, but I’m starved. Will you mind if I head over to the buffet table and grab a plate?”
He shook his head, feeling lost and thick. Really thick. When Chelsea left his side, Jonas glanced up to the New Mexico sky, wide and vast and endless. I have really blown it. Why didn’t I just ask Sabrina if Joe was mine?
But Jonas knew why. At the time, he’d been terrified he’d spent over three years mooning after a woman he knew was way out of his league. She was wilder than him, she had more personality. She was a gypsy and Jonas was a heart surgeon—how was that going to work? A big part of his cowardice was not trusting the sexual attraction they shared. He’d never met a woman who could make him feel like a king and then a flunky at her feet. She’d turned him inside out from the day Jonas had met her. In fact, he remembered fainting. He’d thought he’d eaten something bad, but when he came to, she was standing over him in the living room. Jonas thought she was an angel staring down at him.
A very wild, very bad, superhot angel.
It had been all he could do not to look up her skirt.
Now my son is not wearing my name, the Callahan name. His birth certificate probably says Father Unknown on it, and—
“Damn it!” Jonas said, then cursed some more, electrifying the guests who’d ventured too close to the punch table.
This Father Unknown business was going to have to be fixed—pronto.