One night of loosened inhibitions and Natalie Simmons's world has come completely unraveled. It must have been the experience of the white-water rafting. Or maybe it was the result of being dumped and on the rebound. Either way, she let down her guard--and now she's pregnant with a stranger's baby!
A stranger who is a thrill-seeking river guide, a nomad beholden to no one. What does Evan Murphy know about settling down or being a father? They couldn't be more wrong for each other, which is why Natalie is so determined to do it alone.
But Evan's got other plans....
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July 10, 2007
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Excerpt from Father Material by Kimberly Van Meter
THE HIGH SUN glinted off the river, its smooth surface broken only by the frothy whitecaps that churned against the rocks hidden beneath, and Natalie Simmons's step faltered as she surveyed its awesome power. Her gaze traveled along the limestone and shale canyon cliffs the river was nestled between and the breath was stolen from her chest.
Holy Mother, she'd never felt so small. "Amazing, isn't it?" a man with blond hair and a lazy smile asked as he approached, reading her expression. She recovered with a shy nod, accepting his outstretched hand for a quick shake. "It never fails to get me right here every time," he said, knocking on his chest for emphasis. He grinned broadly, showcasing nice, white even teeth that surely made his dentist proud and she found herself smiling back, though she'd never been what could be deemed a flirt by any stretch of the imagination. "Name's Evan. I'll be your guide. What's yours?"
"N-Natalie," she warbled around the dust in her throat. He chuckled as if she weren't the first one to suffer from too much nature all at once and she tried again. "Natalie Simmons."
"Well, Natalie, welcome to Moab. Just sit tight and someone will come to put your stuff with the others. We should be ready to shove off soon."
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask if another bus was coming, as she still hadn't seen Dan anywhere, but Evan the River Guide Guy was gone before she could put the words together. She started toward the cluster of people Evan had pointed to, all the while keeping an eye out for the one person she'd made this trip for.
She couldn't wait to see the look on Dan's face when he saw her. The urge to giggle almost relieved the tightness in her lungs but she contented herself with a secret smile, knowing everything was going to work out.
Another five minutes crawled by and Natalie slapped her thigh in mild annoyance--he was late. Dan was always late. They used to joke he'd be the type to skid in on one foot to the chapel. She'd, of course, threatened him with bodily harm if he did that on their wedding day and they'd laughed. She swallowed and flinched at the sharp pain that followed but managed to keep her eyes dry. She fingered the pendant around her neck for strength. A gift from her oldest sister before she left for the Peace Corps many years ago, the pendant served to remind her she wasn't here to cry. She'd done enough of that the first month after Dan had left. Now was the time to be proactive. If Dan was going river-rafting, by damn, so was she.
She'd show him there were more dimensions to Natalie Simmons than he ever dreamed. Boring, indeed. Predictable, watch this. She was practically a goddamn daredevil, she thought glancing at the river again as if it were a coconspirator, and not the subject of her nightmares a full week running prior to her flight date.
Squaring her shoulders, she jerked at the suitcase as it got stuck on a pebble and moved toward the group with a dogged smile on her face.
Her gaze skipped over the anonymous faces in an attempt to lock onto the one she knew best, but there was still no sign of him.
"Double-check the knots, Joe," she heard Evan say as he motioned to the slim man who had turned his attention to the rigging on the larger raft that would be used to haul the camp supplies from each location.
"I don't mind eating canned beans every night but I'm not sure how well that'll go over with the clients if all our food ends up in the mighty Colorado." Goodnatured ribbing and lighthearted laughter followed while Natalie waited for Dan.
She spied a large gnarled piece of wood and, although it didn't look like the most comfortable place to put her rear, at least it wasn't the ground. Out of habit, she glanced at her wrist but her watch was tucked away in her luggage and only a tan line met her eye. Perhaps if Dan didn't show soon, she could ask one of the crew people to radio headquarters or base camp or whatever it was called to find him.
Without meaning to, she found her gaze seeking out the river guide, Evan. He worked quickly and efficiently to get the expedition ready on time, jerking lines to test their strength and helping his colleagues stow luggage on another bargelike raft.
Total eye candy. A dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey if she ever saw one. A candidate for a pinup calendar entitled, "Beach Bum Bachelors." The corners of her lips lifted in amusement as more alliterative calendar names came to mind. Names such as "Randy River Rogues" and "Cute Catches of the Colorado."
When she realized she was staring a bit too intently she tried focusing on something a little less masculine. Besides, as good-looking as he was, he didn't hold a candle to Dan.