Chapter One

Jane Tanner felt like a dragonfly in amber—something that was meant to be free and swift, to change direction at a whim and evolve, but was forever caught and held in place.

Alone in her little vintage thrift shop on Lincoln Street, the main drag of Coyote Canyon, she gazed out the front window and saw the same sleepy scene she saw almost every morning around ten o’clock. She’d often considered moving to the big city, like her best friend, Talulah, did when she went to Seattle and started a dessert diner. But even Talulah hadn’t escaped Coyote Canyon in the end. She’d come back nearly two years ago and married Brant Elway, a local rancher—and, wow, did that cause a stir. There were still aftershocks. Those aftershocks affected Jane’s life, too. But at least Talulah was happy. She and Brant were living in the Victorian house Talulah had purchased from her great aunt’s estate, and she claimed she no longer wanted to leave.

Jane wondered if she could ever be content here and quit imagining a better life somewhere else…

She could leave her hometown if she really wanted to, she reminded herself. No one would stop her or even blame her. Her lease on the store ended in thirty days. Although the owner had been nagging her to renew, she hadn’t signed the document LaVeryle White had dropped off. Even the possibility of starting over someplace else where she felt she’d find people whose interests better matched her own was exciting. The Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco was one idea. From what she’d seen online, she’d fit right in—with her love of vintage clothing and furniture. She knew she would thrive in that iconic city with its cultural diversity, its museums, theater, concerts, sports, parks and beaches. The cute coffee shops, bookshops and delicious restaurants also appealed to her, as did living by the ocean and being treated to such incredible views of the Bay.

She ached with longing when she imagined it, but she couldn’t leave Montana right now. Moving would require putting her grandfather in a care facility, and she didn’t have the heart to do that. But his memory was getting worse. That was why, almost a year ago, she’d given up the small apartment above her store, which still sat empty, and moved in with him. Now she lived in his white brick rambler several blocks away, on the very edge of town.

Given all the things he was starting to forget, some would argue it was time she put him in the care of professionals. But she knew how much happier he’d be if he could remain in his own home, where he’d lived since marrying Grandma Ruby—or Nana, as Jane had called her. Nana had died ten years ago on the operating table while having a stent put in her heart, but her pictures still hung on the walls, her sewing kit still rested next to the couch and her beloved piano still filled the dining room, leaving no space for a table and chairs. Those items and all the others surrounding Papa kept the love of his life present. How could Jane move him to an assisted-living facility? It would mean taking him to Bozeman or Billings, where he wouldn’t get many visitors—only those who were willing to make the drive. He’d no longer be able to chat with his longtime neighbor, Herbert Hensley, as they stood watering their lawns or wave to Martha Grimmy when she delivered his mail or tinker in his large workshop the way he liked to. And if he went into a care center, he’d have to give up his beloved dog, Otis, which would probably kill him.

Jane couldn’t allow to that happen, let alone >make it happen. If their roles were reversed, he’d never do such a thing to her. Besides, he still managed okay on his own while she was at work. If that ever changed, she might have to reconsider. But for now…

Her phone lit up with a message from her mom.

How’s he doing?

Jane’s mother checked in two or three times a week asking about Papa, which was nice and showed she cared. But she wasn’t any real help. She and her husband, Jane’s stepfather, Richard, had moved to Wyoming so they could be closer to Richard’s son, who’d always lived with his mother. That meant they were out of the picture, except when they came back for visits.

Papa was Jane’s father’s father, anyway, so her mother didn’t feel much obligation to him. Her half sister was still in the area and helped out when she could. But Kate was Richard’s daughter, and wasn’t close with Papa the way she was. Papa and Nana had helped raise her. She’d lived with them for three years after her parents’ divorce, while her mother went back to school and her father rambled on—sponging off one woman after another as he moved through life.

Seemed to be a little better this morning, she wrote back.

You still feel like you can leave him while you’re at the store?

He manages pretty well.

You’re so good to be there for him.

What choice did she have? There was no one else, which meant she’d have to sign the extension on the store’s lease, stay another year and see what developed—not that she was wishing for Papa to pass so she could leave. Just the thought of losing him brought a lump to her throat. But she also didn’t want his quality of life to continue to deteriorate and hoped he’d go before that could happen. In his right mind, he’d hate to suffer the many indignities that were in store for him otherwise.

It’s okay. I love him.

Timing was the only problem. He’d started going downhill right when she’d begun to think seriously about moving on with her life.

I know. But it’s a lot for you to contend with. You’re young. You should be free to live your life.

How? She couldn’t let him down. He and Nana had been there for her when she’d needed them most. She was going to be there for him, especially since she couldn’t depend on her father to step in and help. He hadn’t changed over the years. These days, he was living in Oregon, anyway.

Her mother sent another text before Jane could respond. Want me to help you find the best home for him?

Not yet. I’ll know when the time is right. And that time isn’t now.

She wasn’t sure that was true. She only knew what her heart would allow, and it would not allow her to leave him quite yet.

With a frown, she navigated away from her mother’s texts to the message she’d received from her landlady first thing this morning.

Can I swing by and pick up that lease?

She could see why LaVeryle would be getting impatient. She needed to know whether she was going to have to find another tenant and would like as much notice as possible. It was ridiculous to continue putting her off. Why inconvenience her for no reason?

A ding signaled another text from her mother: Honey, if he’s losing his mind, he won’t know the difference.

Jane rolled her eyes. Papa would know. He’d be lost, wondering where she’d gone and why he no longer had Otis at his side. She couldn’t even bear the thought of it.

He’s not ready. Neither am I.

Feeling more conviction, she returned to the desk where she kept the cash register and pulled the lease from the drawer. But as she held her pen poised above the signature line, her thoughts reverted to what she’d been daydreaming about lately—a plan B that made staying in Coyote Canyon not only palatable but somewhat appealing.

It wasn’t a solution most women would ever consider, but she was thirty-five, didn’t have a boyfriend—not since she’d broken up with Devon, who lived forty minutes away—and there weren’t any new romantic prospects on the horizon. If she was going to stay in Coyote Canyon, she felt she should be able to move forward in some regard and build the sort of life that would make her happy. Why not?

Before signing, she set the pen down and brought up Kurt Elway’s last text.

Were you serious about what you said to me on Saturday night? Because that was a little nuts…

He’d sent that two days ago, but she hadn’t yet responded. In her mind, the question wasn’t whether she’d been serious; it was whether he’d been serious. His reaction to what she’d shared with him had taken her completely by surprise. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it.

She could say she’d been tipsy when they were playing pool at Hank’s Bar & Grill on Saturday. He’d been drinking, too. He could use the same excuse. That way they could laugh about the conversation in question, then forget they’d ever had it.

That was probably what he expected. But…she hadn’t been able to bring herself to kill the possibility. She was too excited to think he might be open to helping.

What would you say if I was serious? Would you back out?

She typed that but didn’t send it. She stared at the words instead, letting them roll around in her mind the way a wine connoisseur might let a sip of fine merlot roll around in his mouth. Would it be too risky—too unconventional?

Most likely. They lived in such a small, conservative town. Comparing it to how everyone else around here did things would make it seem even more outlandish. But the longer she thought about the idea, the more she began to believe she could overcome the obstacles and barriers that stood in the way—as long as she was willing to be brave and a little different.

Nibbling anxiously on her bottom lip, she pictured the people closest to her who were in the same stage of life. Talulah and Brant were married. Ellen Truesdale, Talulah’s neighbor, who’d become a good friend, was engaged to be married. Even Kate, her younger sister, was getting ready to settle down. Averil was a notable exception. Like Jane, she wasn’t in a serious relationship. But she had a son, at least.

Jane was the only one who’d reached her thirties without any prospects for marriage or starting a family. She could change that if she really wanted to—the family part, at least—and if Kurt was willing to help her, she probably would.

So…should she take the risk of letting him know she’d meant what she’d said at Hank’s?

He’d probably run for the hills. But she’d never know unless she gave him the opportunity…

Holding her breath, she hit Send. She could feel the beat of her heart in her throat afterward. But there was no immediate answer.

He was probably out on the ranch, knee-deep in mud, patching a fence or riding a horse and didn’t have his phone with him. It was sometimes three or four in the afternoon before she heard from him, and that was generally after he’d returned to the house to shower, when he was finished for the day and wanted to get together and have some fun. With most of her friends now in committed relationships, and the same thing happening to him, the people they used to hang out with were less available. Over the past six months or so, they’d become good friends and spent a fair amount of time together, even though he was five years her junior and had occasionally dated her younger sister.

He’d get back to her eventually, she told herself. Or…maybe not. She wouldn’t blame him if he ignored her latest text. Everyone she knew would be shocked if she actually went through with what she wanted to do. If he participated, and anyone found out, his friends and family would be stunned, too. There’d also be all kinds of logistical questions and concerns—how and when they’d proceed, and what she and Kurt would do in certain scenarios. They’d have to think through it all and prepare well in advance.

But it was possible to work it out. That was the thing.

Grabbing the lease, she signed it so she couldn’t let Papa down, regardless of Kurt’s response. Then she sent a text to LaVeryle, letting her know the paperwork was ready.

For better or worse, she was sticking around Coyote Canyon for at least another year. But depending on what Kurt said, and what she decided after receiving his reply, it could be a year like no other.

* * *

Much to his parents’ chagrin, Kurt Elway had always been a risk-taker. When he was at a rodeo ten years ago, he’d made a bet with a friend that he could ride a bull, even though he’d never been on one, and had been thrown and nearly trampled. Five years ago, he’d jumped into a bar fight simply because it was four on three and he felt bad for some dude who was getting his ass kicked, and a chick with the group pulled out a knife and buried it in his thigh. And just a year ago last winter, he’d landed in the hospital with hypothermia when he skied out of bounds, searching for better powder, and fell into a deep crevasse from which he had to be rescued.

His mother said she’d known he was going to be trouble when he jumped off the barn and broke his leg and his collarbone at six years old, attempting to fly. She also said that danger was irresistible to him, and she was mostly right. So he felt he’d done fairly well up to this point. He would soon turn thirty, and he was still alive and fully functional.

As he grew older, he tried to be more cautious and conservative, like his brother Brant, but as far as he was concerned, taking chances was what kept life interesting.

Still, what Jane wanted was way out there.

He whistled as he gazed down at the text she’d sent.

“What is it?” Brant asked.

Kurt was taking a break from wiring a large diesel-fueled generator to the pump of the new well so they could water more of their two-thousand-acre cattle ranch. When he’d sat beneath a black cottonwood tree, seeking shade while he ate lunch, he’d thought he’d have a few minutes alone. Since that wasn’t the case, he quickly hid the shock he’d been feeling behind a more neutral expression. “Nothing, why?”

Brant dropped down beside him. “You just whistled at something on your phone as if you couldn’t quite believe it.”

He wasn’t sure he could believe it. During the past several months he’d wanted Jane to show more interest in him. Because he was younger than she was and had dated her sister, he knew he was at a disadvantage where she was concerned. That was probably why he’d responded positively on Saturday night. He’d been hoping to prove he was willing to do more for her than the next guy.

But they’d been drinking and playing pool. He’d thought they were just talking

He had to say no, right? He couldn’t do what he’d said he’d do. That would be one hell of a risk, even for a guy like him.

“Well?” Brant prompted.

Lifting himself off the ground so he could shove his phone back in his pocket, Kurt cleared his throat. Brant was married to Talulah, one of Jane’s best friends. No way was he going to tell him what Jane wanted. “I told you. It’s nothing.”

Brant gave him a skeptical look but let it go. “You about finished wiring this up?” he asked, gesturing at the electrical box.

“Shouldn’t take much longer,” Kurt replied.

“Good, because it’s time to move the cattle.”

“Already?” he grumbled. “It’s got to be your turn by now.”

Brant scowled at him. “You know it’s not.”

“What about Ranson? Or Miles?” Their other two brothers worked on the ranch they’d inherited from their parents, too. “It doesn’t seem like they ever have to do it.”

“Because you had them cover for you while you went to Snowbowl in February, remember?” Brant leaned over and stole the apple out of his lunch. “You have to pay them back sometime. Might as well even things up.”

Kurt wiped the sweat from his forehead. He felt like he’d been paying for that ski trip for weeks. “I’ll give you fifty bucks to do it for me.”

A crisp snap sounded as Brant took a big bite of the apple and then had to talk around it. “Sorry, bro. I’ve got a full day, and I told Talulah I’d help at the diner tonight.”

Kurt couldn’t imagine Brant wanted to spend several hours at the diner after he finished at the ranch. They were all exhausted by the end of the day. But his brother never complained about the heavy load he’d taken on since getting married. The diner meant a lot to Talulah, so he supported her.

“Talulah’s business seems to be doing well…”

“You’ve tasted my wife’s cooking. Of course it’s doing well.” His brother shot him a cocky grin as he got up to walk off, but Kurt called him back.

“When you were dating Talulah…”

Brant raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“If she needed you to do something sort of…unconventional, would you have done it?”

“That would depend on what it was, right?”

“I mean…something you’re not quite comfortable with…”

“There isn’t much I wouldn’t have done for her. And now there’s nothing. But you have me intrigued. Why do you ask?”

Because Brant always did the right thing, and Kurt was hoping to use him as a guide. He didn’t want to screw up his life, and what he was considering could easily do that. He was standing at a fork in the road. One path was safe, while the other could bring him what he really wanted—or turn out to be the biggest mistake he’d ever made. “Just trying to figure something out.”

“I’m completely in the dark here. Do you mind explaining what we’re talking about so I can give you an informed answer?”

Kurt wished he could say more. If ever he’d needed advice from someone as stable and dependable as Brant, it was now. But he couldn’t explain. “Never mind. Don’t worry about it.”

Brant came back toward him. “You’re acting weird. Is this about Jane?”

“No.” Kurt scrambled to his feet. “Of course not. What made you think that?”

A funny look crossed Brant’s face. “Um, it could be that she’s beautiful. And available. And you two have been spending a lot of time together lately…”

“That doesn’t mean anything. We’re just friends.”

“That’s what everyone says when they don’t want other people to know they feel more,” Brant said with a laugh.

“I don’t feel more,” Kurt lied. “She’d never give me a chance, anyway.”

“Can you blame her? Dude, you slept with her sister.”

“Only once or twice. Kate’s my age, so she was a more natural choice at the time.”

Brant gestured toward him with the now-half-eaten apple. “That brings up another good point. The age difference hasn’t changed. You’re too young for Jane.”

“Five years might’ve been a big deal a decade ago. But it doesn’t matter now.”

“It sort of does,” Brant insisted. “You were in junior high when she was graduating high school. I don’t think she’s likely to forget that. And as I’ve already said, you’ve been with her younger sister.”

If only he’d known he might have the chance to date Jane later, Kurt would’ve left Kate alone. But he’d always considered her too far out of his league. “Is that what Talulah says? Has she mentioned how Jane feels about me?”

Finished with the apple, Brant threw the core as far as he could. “I thought you two were just friends.”

“We are, but…”

Brant rolled his eyes. “It’s obvious you like her.”

“Fine. Fuck you. I like her. So tell me…what’s Talulah got to say about it?”

After studying him for a few seconds, Brant said, “Nothing so far. I think she’d be surprised if you two got together. But Talulah’s a romantic. She thinks love can overcome anything.”

“You’re more skeptical.”

“I’m more skeptical,” he admitted. “Most women would steer clear of a man who’s been with her sister.”

“Kate and I were never a real couple,” Kurt pointed out.

“That might make a difference.”

Kurt scratched his neck. “But I shouldn’t bet on it?”

I wouldn’t. Then again, who would’ve thought Talulah and I would ever get together with all we had going against us. So…what do I know?”

“Yeah, what do you know?” Kurt said, teasing to cover for his disappointment, and waved as his brother left. Brant’s last statement offered him a little hope, but just because Brant had been able to get Talulah didn’t mean he’d be able to get Jane.

Although…he did have the opportunity she was offering him. Maybe giving her what she wanted would change the dynamic between them and finally start her thinking of him in an entirely new light.


Chapter Two

Jane put a sign on the door to alert any potential customers that she was out to lunch, even though she’d already eaten—it was almost three—and hurried down the sidewalk to Talulah’s Dessert Diner. She didn’t usually visit the diner until she’d closed her own store, Vintage by Jane. Then about once a week she’d stop by and help Talulah clean up the café. Or if it’d been a particularly slow night and Talulah was already done, they’d sit down and have a glass of wine together, outside if the weather allowed it.

They’d been able to rebuild a lot of the comradery that’d been lost when Talulah jilted Averil Gerhart’s brother seventeen years ago and put Jane in the middle of a tug-of-war between her two best friends. When Talulah left town, Jane had grown closer to Averil. But thanks to Talulah coming back and Averil’s recent behavior, which Jane couldn’t condone, that dynamic had changed. Now she was closer to Talulah than to Averil. Since they were both businesswomen and had stores on Lincoln Street, only two blocks apart, they saw each other more often, which helped.

On weekdays, Talulah didn’t open until two. When Jane burst in, there was no one other than her friend in the restaurant, which didn’t surprise her. The fancy desserts Talulah created were for the dinner crowd, so afternoons could be slow at first. “Well?” she demanded, breathless from walking so fast. “Are you?”

Talulah looked up in surprise. “What are you talking about? Am I what?”

Jane thought Talulah knew. That was why she hadn’t simply called or sent a text. She needed to see her friend’s face and read her body language. “You told me last night you thought you might be expecting. You were going to grab a test on your way home. I was wondering if you’d done that—and taken it.”

Talulah glanced at the large front window that had her logo on it as if to make sure no one else was about to walk in and overhear them. “Well—” a smile curved her lips as though she couldn’t suppress the excitement any longer “—I picked up a test and I took it, but nothing will be for sure until I visit a doctor and a blood test confirms the results.”

Jane stepped up to the register. “Those home pregnancy tests have become pretty accurate, Lu. Thousands of women rely on them every day. So…are you pregnant? I hate to pry, and of course you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but it’s all I’ve been able to think about.”

Talulah flushed. They’d talked about how hard it would be for her to manage her current workload if she were to have a baby. But since she and Brant really wanted a family, and were only getting older, Talulah had admitted they needed to get started sooner rather than later. Last night she’d said she’d just have to figure out how to juggle motherhood with maintaining a business, like so many other women. “Of course I’ll tell you,” she said but lowered her voice. “I was just holding off until I had some official word from the doctor, so please don’t share the news with anyone else. I haven’t even told Brant.”

Jane stiffened in surprise. She would’ve thought he’d be the first to know. “Why not?”

Talulah closed the display case she’d been getting into when Jane arrived. “I’ll tell him as soon as I see a doctor. There’s no need to get his hopes up before then. But I might not tell anyone else for a while.”


“I’m afraid to announce it too soon. My sister had a miscarriage last year—after eleven weeks—and it was hard on her to explain to everybody that she wouldn’t be having another child, after all. It made the pain of losing the baby that much worse, for her and her husband. I don’t want to set myself up for a similar experience, but, according to the faint pink line, I am,” Talulah admitted.

“You’re not going to lose the baby,” Jane said. “But I won’t tell a soul. I’m just…delighted for you.” It wasn’t quite that simple. She also wanted a baby, despite not having a partner. True love had proved so elusive for her that she’d all but given up searching for the right man. Maybe she’d find someone later in life, when it was too late to have a child, but every relationship she’d had so far had ended before it had ever really gotten off the ground—and the strange part was that she was always glad when it was over. Never had she been as invested as she should be, certainly not enough to promise any of the men she’d known “till death do us part.”

Maybe she was too much of a free spirit to be tied down. Or the lack of options here in Coyote Canyon had left her feeling hopeless and jaded. She’d tried online dating. The past few years, that was the only way for her to meet someone new. But even when a relationship seemed to be working, she wrestled with a great deal of doubt and fear that continuing with whomever she was seeing would turn out to be a mistake. She didn’t want to get to the altar and back out the way Talulah had. So she’d break things off, wondering if she’d regret it and possibly reunite.

Instead, she’d be relieved and move on to the next guy, only to have a similar experience.

No doubt she had her parents’ divorce to thank for some of her issues. Her father had made her distrustful, somewhat cynical and overly cautious when it came to men. But for good reason. Without Nana and Papa, where would she be? Her mother could not have coped on her own. And it wasn’t as if her father had straightened up over the years. He was more of a con man now than he’d ever been. He’d just married again, for the fifth time, and still didn’t have a job.

“Provided a blood test confirms it, I’ll be due in early November,” Talulah said.

Due. That word. If Jane had any doubt she was also ready for a baby, the thrill that ran through her in that moment eliminated it. She’d always wanted to be a mother, and she was tired of waiting. What if marriage never happened for her? Why not take her destiny into her own hands and share her life with a child? And since she was putting herself in control, why not do it now, when it would be so much more enjoyable to go through the process with Talulah? “I’m really happy for you.”

Talulah put a hand to her belly, which was flat now but wouldn’t be for long. “I can’t wait to let Brant in on the secret. I do want to visit the doctor first. But after that…how do you think I should tell him? I’d like to do something special.”

“Why don’t we look on the internet for ideas? I’ll come by at closing tonight, so we can plan.”

Talulah’s smile widened. “Sounds like fun.”

“He’s going to be thrilled,” Jane predicted. He was two years older than they were, thirty-seven, and she’d heard him joke on more than one occasion that he didn’t want to be old and gray before they started a family. She had no doubt he’d be over the moon.

“Averil won’t be pleased to hear the news,” Talulah said with a grimace. “She’s already mad that Brant and I are married. I can only imagine how she’s going to feel when she hears we’re having a baby.”

“She has to expect it to happen at some point. But you’re right. She won’t be happy, and neither will her brother.” Jane believed Charlie was still in love with Talulah, even though it’d been an eternity since she’d broken off their relationship. He was the man she’d left standing at the altar when they were just eighteen. Jane would never forget that day. It’d meant the friendship between her, Averil and Talulah, which they’d enjoyed since kindergarten, would fall apart.

Even after so many years, Jane felt the loss. Life had been so different when it was all three of them against the world. Once Talulah had come back to town to take care of her great-aunt’s funeral and handle the estate, Jane had hoped Averil could forgive her for what she’d done to Charlie. But then Talulah had gotten involved with Brant, who was not only Charlie’s best friend—former best friend—but the man Averil had set her heart on since her divorce, and that had destroyed all chance of a reconciliation.

Although it’d been a significant disappointment, Jane had to accept the current dynamic. So much had come between Averil and Talulah, she doubted their relationship would ever improve.

At least Ellen had moved to town a few years ago. She lived in the house next to Talulah’s, was a good friend of hers, and Jane was quickly growing fond of Ellen, too. So she was part of a strong friendship between three women again. The relationships just didn’t go back as far, and they no longer included Averil. She’d been replaced with Ellen, which only added fuel to Averil’s anger.

“I don’t care what Charlie thinks,” Talulah said. “But I will always care about Averil.”

When Jane went over to the water cooler to get a drink, Talulah offered her a coffee or another beverage, but she refused. “This is fine,” she said, helping herself to one of the small glasses stacked nearby before returning to their conversation. “I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on Averil. She hasn’t had an easy life since she married Chase. That ex of hers is a piece of work.”

“It would be hard to raise a child on your own,” Talulah said. “And yet Averil seems to be doing a great job with Mitch.”

Jane put her empty cup in the tub Talulah would eventually take to the kitchen to wash. Her friend’s comment was the perfect lead-in to talk about what she was thinking. Dare she say something?

Talulah reached back into the display case to slide the seven-layer chocolate fudge cake farther from the three-tiered red velvet cake. “Averil’s living with her parents. I don’t think she’s perfectly happy. Judging by her behavior the past few years, and all the trash she’s talked about everyone else, I’d say she’s miserable but can’t move out because she needs her folks.”

“They help her a great deal.”

“They also take over and tell her how to care for her own child. She’s admitted that much.” Talulah closed the case again. “They make her feel like she’s still a kid herself. That would be frustrating.”

“It’s a trade-off. I know because I was raised with the help of my grandparents, right? Papa and Nana had to help my mom a lot, and my mom probably resented their involvement and advice. But not every single mother has to move in with her parents.”

Talulah had started to straighten the area around the register. At this, she looked up. “You’re advocating for single parenthood?”

“I’m just saying it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That would depend on whether you could afford a child. Whether you have a place to live. Whether you have the time and mental wherewithal. Someone who’s been through a painful divorce and works for an employer eight to ten hours a day may not want to take on the challenge. But someone who has some savings, a comfortable home and has her own business—so she can set her hours or bring the child to work—might feel differently.”

Talulah cocked her head. “You’re not talking about yourself…”

Jane had never broached the subject with Talulah or anyone else—other than Kurt when she’d had a bit too much to drink on Saturday night—but the desire to have a baby was getting stronger and stronger, and she was feeling ready to fight for what she wanted. “What if I am?”

Talulah’s eyes widened. “You want to have a baby—on your own?”

“In a perfect world, no. I’d love to be as happily married as you are. But that hasn’t happened for me. Why should I let what I don’t have deny me the privilege of motherhood?”

Talulah’s lips parted but she didn’t say anything.

“Quit looking at me that way,” Jane snapped, uncomfortable because she knew almost everyone else in their hometown would be even more shocked.

“I’m thirty-five, Lu. That’s plenty old enough to know what I’m doing. I don’t want to wait another five or ten years. I want to experience what most of my friends are experiencing—go through it with them rather than watch enviously from the sidelines.”

“I didn’t know you felt that way,” Talulah said. “You’ve talked more about heading to Portland or San Francisco or New York City than having a child.”

Because she was embarrassed. It was easier to act as though she didn’t want what so many of her friends and acquaintances were getting. “If I had the opportunity to move and do this somewhere else, I would. But I can’t leave Coyote Canyon.”

“I wouldn’t rush into anything you might regret, Jane. You’ll meet someone eventually.”

That was what she’d been told for years. She no longer believed it. The compassion on her friend’s face also bothered her. She didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her. It wasn’t as if she had a bad life. “There’s no guarantee that I will. And even if I do, when will it happen? When I’m in my forties? My fifties? By then, it’ll be too late.”

Talulah came around the counter and motioned to an empty table, indicating they should both sit down. “Okay. If you want a child right away, how would you go about it?”

Jane hated knowing others might not approve, especially when she thought she’d be a good mother. She was devoted to Papa, took great care of him. Didn’t that say something about her commitment to those she loved? “There are options, especially these days.”

“Are you talking about artificial insemination?”

She scooted closer to the edge of her chair. She’d been thinking, if Kurt was amenable it wouldn’t have to be artificial. But if he gave her a baby the traditional way, it would probably be weird to run into him afterward… “Yes.”

“That’s expensive. And health insurance won’t cover it.”

“You’re thinking of infertility treatments. As far as I know, I won’t need in vitro or anything like that. A vial of sperm is about a thousand dollars. And it’ll only be four hundred or so for the insemination process.”

“You know that?”

“I’ve looked into it.”

“But that’s still almost fifteen hundred bucks.”

Simply sleeping with Kurt would certainly save some money. But even if they decided to avoid that kind of close contact, and Kurt provided the vial, he wouldn’t charge her so it would only be four hundred. “I’ve been able to set some money aside, more since I moved in with Papa and haven’t been paying rent. I also have the Mustang.” Her vintage car was something her grandfather had restored and had kept covered in his garage for years—until he’d insisted on giving it to her when she moved in with him. Because of him, she hadn’t had a car payment, either, not since she’d sold the truck she’d been driving before. “I could sell it and get something cheaper, if I had to,” she told Talulah. “It’s worth a fortune these days.”

“You also own your own business,” Talulah mused. “Giving you maximum flexibility.”

“And my business is doing well.” She managed to sell quite a lot of clothing, household items and furniture in Coyote Canyon, which was kind of surprising. Vintage by Jane had started out as a run-of-the-mill thrift shop, where she sold mostly secondhand leftovers, but it had grown into something more akin to a gift and furnishings shop. She still took some donations, but only what fit her style, and she’d become highly selective. Even then, she often refinished, recovered or repainted whatever it was. She also purchased her stock from estate sales in Montana and surrounding states—which meant she had to pull it back to town in her horse trailer—and she had a talent for staging what she sold. She believed presenting what she had in its best possible light was the secret to her success. Because of that, the store had become something she was very proud of.

“You’re just lacking half the DNA.”

“And for that there are sperm banks.”

Talulah smoothed the branded apron she wore. “How does that work exactly? You just…go to a certain location, look at genetic profiles, purchase what you want and they give you a vial?”

Jane winced. Even to her ears that sounded so transactional. But at least that avenue was open to her. Otherwise, what would women like her do? “It’s handled online at cryobanks. You can choose the ancestry, the hair and eye color, even the height and sometimes the educational level of the donor, and it brings up matches—kind of like a dating site.”

Talulah began to dig at her cuticles. “You seem serious about this…”

Jane gestured to what she was doing with her hands. “And you seem worried.”

“I am. I’m sorry if this upsets you, but…wouldn’t it be difficult to have a stranger’s baby?”

It would. No matter how much information the cryobank provided, Jane wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to trust it, which was why she was so excited that Kurt had said he’d help her out. She knew the Elway brothers. Admired them. If he was serious, at least she could be certain of the DNA she’d be getting—that there’d be no trickery involved, like being told she was getting a vial of sperm from a particular donor when it was really the genetic material of the director of the facility or something.

After all, such things had been in the news. She preferred a known entity. People could argue that cryobanks were the safest bet if she didn’t want the donor to have a relationship with her child. That was probably true. But if everything lined up the way she thought it might, she’d only be in Coyote Canyon another year, which meant she’d be moving away shortly after the baby was born. As far as Kurt was concerned, unless he wanted to be part of the baby’s life, they could make it as if nothing had ever happened. “It wouldn’t be easy,” she allowed. “But…what are my other options?”

“I don’t know.” Talulah tucked her hair behind her ears. “I’m not sure I can encourage you to do this, though.”

Jane tried not to feel stung by her friend’s response. “You don’t trust me to know what I want?”

“I trust you. I’m just…protective. And this plan is fraught with potential pitfalls.”

Talulah didn’t even know that Kurt, her brother-in-law, might be involved, which would make their babies first cousins. Then she’d only worry more, because she’d feel as if she also had to protect him. “There are potential pitfalls along any path. Besides, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. It’s not something I just came up with.”

“Why haven’t you said anything about it before?”

“It’s not an easy subject, Lu. Think about where we live—what a difficult concept this will be to everyone.”

Talulah blew out a puff of air. “Exactly. I can’t see it not making a stir, and that means there’ll be people who say stuff you may not like, or snub you, or…whatever.”

“The people who would do something like that are not my friends to begin with. Besides, no one has to know the details. Plenty of women get pregnant by a boyfriend or from some other encounter that doesn’t lead to marriage. It’s not like I’d be the first in Coyote Canyon.”

Talulah tightened the neck on her apron. “What about Papa? What will you tell him about…about how you came to be ‘with child’?”

“I don’t have to explain too much to him. He’s no longer in his right mind most of the time.”

“He still has lucid moments…”

“Some. But I’m not worried about it. He’s just glad I’m there to take care of him. And he’ll love having a baby around. I actually think it’ll be good for him, make what’s left of his life better.”

“And your sister? How will you explain what you’re planning to her?”

“Just like I’m explaining it to you.”

“You don’t think she’ll have a problem with it?”

“She may not like it, but it’s my choice. She’s probably going to get married this year, anyway, so she’ll be preoccupied with her own life. Chances are she’ll be having a baby soon, too.”

Talulah tapped her fingernails on the table. “I see.”

Jane leaned forward. “Why would I passively accept what life gives me when I have the power to change things?”

“You’ve made some good points…”

“I’d like you to be supportive,” Jane said. “I feel as if…as if that will make a huge difference.”

“Of course I’ll be supportive. I’ll always stand by you. I just want to be convinced you know what you’re doing.”

“I can’t make any guarantees,” she said. “But getting what you want sometimes means taking a chance.”

“True. I guess there could be problems no matter how you have a baby. We all face risks.”


“Fine. If it’s really what you want to do, I’ll keep my mouth shut about the potential problems.”

Jane reached over to squeeze her hand. “Thank you, Lu. Having a baby this way is not ideal, not the way I really want it. But not everyone can have what you have.”

Talulah smiled sadly. “I know. I’ve been wishing Averil could find a good guy, too. That might finally fix what’s broken between us, make it possible for her to forgive me—not just for Charlie but for Brant.”

The bell jingled over the door, and Jane pulled her hand back. It probably looked as though they’d been caught scheming about something. But she forgot all about that when she saw who it was.

Brant had just walked in—and Kurt was with him.

All cover art and copy is copyrighted by the respective publisher, and all rights are reserved by the respective publisher. All book excerpts contained in this site are copyrighted by the author.

Order Ebook

Amazon Kindle
Apple Books
Google Play

Order Print

Barnes & Noble

Pin It on Pinterest