Double Dare [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Elaine Hopper
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Single, expectant mother Heather Dare is doing just fine on her own until her mother, Senator Darlene Dare discovers her daughter's condition. Hysteria reigns as the Senator, on the campaign trail, starts having chest pains. The press are right on her trail. When Heather's sexy neighbor Jake West barges into her apartment in the middle of all this mayhem, what is a girl to do?
eBook Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books, Published: Awe-Struck, 1999
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2001
27 Reader Ratings:
"A wonderful page turner... A classic tale of screwball comedy, with the warmth of a romantic comedy, with the mother's planning, and Jake trying to pull off two engagements, one false, and one real, one should keep an eye on Mrs. Hopper. She'll be a major force in romance writing." by John Richard of SCRIBES WORLD, 4 STARS
"Say family values for the camera, dear!" Senator Darlene Dare flung strong arms about her daughter, then stepped back, her violet-blue eyes wide.
A gazillion flashing lights blinded Heather. But her mother's million-dollar smile easily eclipsed them. She blinked. It took several seconds for her vision to clear, but when it did, her blood stopped pumping. Her lungs refused to exhale. Her fingers itched to slam the door. A bevy of news people and cameras buzzed about her apartment's shadowy hallway, all snapping pictures of her in her flimsy negligee. Her closely guarded secret was blown to the winds. Protectively, she splayed her hands across her protruding belly.
She ran back into her mother's outstretched arms, seeking comfort and protection. "I've missed you so much." In her mother's ear, she chided, "You really should've warned me you were in town. There's something I've been meaning to tell you." She paused for emphasis. "Privately."
A pushy reporter snapped a close up. As she'd done so many times in her life, she averted her face, covering it with the palm of her hand. Life in the spotlight as the Senator's daughter formed scars on her.
"When were you planning to tell me?" Darlene's cultured voice held just the slightest twinge of censorship. "At the Baptism?" Pulling away, the Senator stood at arm's length, her gaze trained on Heather's stomach. She patted Heather's bulging tummy with perfectly manicured hands.
Ravishing as always, her mother made her feel extremely dowdy. Pearl ear studs played peek-a-boo through coifed white-blonde hair, the same shade as Heather's. A flawless complexion highlighted the heart-shaped face that still bewitched many a male constituent.
Swallowing hard, she lowered her eyes to the evidence of her condition. Her stomach stretched so far to the front, she could legitimately be mistaken for the Good Year Blimp, or a hippopotamus. Very slowly so as not to drawn attention to it, she inched her hand behind her back, away from the nosy cameramen, but most particularly from her mother. The pad of her thumb rubbed her ringless finger.
Old Mrs. Perriwinkle from across the hall stuck her nose out her door, staring shamelessly. Somber brown eyes shifted from mother to daughter to the tribe of newscasters. They pinched together in her screwed up her face. Wrinkles rolled on her forehead. Thick eyebrows came together in one solid line.
Another neighbor, Carla Schoenfeldt, stopped mid-gait on spiky high heels, her mouth agape, her ears wiggling. Shoulder length ear hoops swung back and forth.
"Interview's over." Darlene's lips thinned. Violet eyes narrowed in warning. No one in her right mind would argue with her mother in this mood. When were newsmen ever in their right mind, though?
Quelling the nearly uncontrollable urge to hide, she managed to stand her ground.
"We'd like to meet your lovely daughter, Senator Dare." Brian Jenkins of the KCRG Des Moines News Team objected, trying to push his way inside Heather's apartment. Ruddy cheeks turned as red as his hair. Freckles popped out on the bridge of his nose. Only Darlene's expression was more determined than Brian's.
Dread consumed her. Having her home turned into a war zone wasn't on her top- ten priority list today. Nor was having a photograph taken of her in her negligee anywhere on that list.
"You're causing a scene." Curling her fingers around her mother's upper arms, she dragged her into her tiny apartment, away from the prying eyes and brash news people. The last thing she wanted was Brian Jenkins and this mob in her living room! Maybe find it exposeed on the six o'clock news. Leaving no doubt intruders weren't welcome, she shut the door firmly, and then turned to face her mother whose chest rose and fell swiftly.
Darlene's gaze stayed glued to Heather's bulging stomach. A puzzled expression flickered across her eyes. The irises dilated alarmingly. "When's the baby due? This month?"
"Thanksgiving." She waddled across the room to scoop Ebony into her arms. She nuzzled her nose into her soft underbelly, taking comfort from her incessant purring. Ebony had just celebrated his twelfth birthday. Not a patch of white relieved his silky black fur. And he'd lost most of his energy, preferring to curl up in the sunny windowsill most of the time. But he never turned down a free scratch behind his ears. "This is September. Egbert won't come for another two and a half months."
"Twins? Or triplets?" Daintily, Darlene perched on the arm of the couch, her shapely calves crossed. Her elegant French heels probably cost more than Heather's entire living room suite.
"One baby." She prepared herself for the normal reaction. She knew she was huge, especially for a first baby.
"Why didn't you tell me you were pregnant?" Darlene splayed her hand across Heather's stomach. Ebony tilted his face, gazing at her mother cross-eyed. He curled closer against Heather. Soft stroking soothed him. "I have a right to know I'm going to be a grandmother."
"Of course." Heather patted her mother's hand, feeling deeply remiss. Ashamed, she bowed her head, afraid to meet her mother's pained gaze. "I was going to tell you. I-I just never found a good time."
"You never had trouble talking to me before." Empathy warred with confused hurt in Darlene's voice. A deep sigh escaped her.
"I never had to tell you anything like this before." Her voice barely rose above a whisper. It hadn't been easy telling her about her divorce either.
Her stomach undulated. Excited, she sought her mother's gaze and smiled. "Want to feel her move?"
A slow smile spread across Darlene's face. Rising, she crossed to Heather, and let her hand be guided to the last place the baby had kicked. She spread her fingers wide.
The baby kicked under Darlene's flattened palm. "Did you feel that, Mom? She's a strong one!" Excitement fluttered in the pit of her stomach as it always did when she felt the precious life inside her. A tremulous smile tugged at her lips.
"I felt her." Wonder twinkled in Darlene's eyes. "If she's like you, you'll not get any sleep until she's five years old." Her gaze wondered around the room, cataloguing it.
Fingering her frothy gown, she smoothed it over her knees. Ebony shot her his don't-bother-me glare, leaped to the floor, and then migrated to a comfy position on his favorite chair, tucking his nose under his paws. His eyelids fluttered shut and his breathing slowed.
A frown marred Darlene's perfect complexion, puckering her brow. She envied her mother's graceful stride, forgetting what it felt like to walk normally. Picking up a porcelain figurine of a cat, Darlene fingered it. Then she glided through the room, admiring the lacy curtains, crocheted doilies and miniatures collection.
"Where's he?" Her mother had a habit of losing Heather. This morning was no exception. Heather stared at her blankly. She hadn't announced any weddings.
"The baby's father." Darlene said with a graceful flick of her wrist. Her eyes started to mist and she sniffled. "You can't have a baby without a husband. You didn't invite me to your wedding, either." Tears shimmered in eyes so filled with moisture, they looked like watercolors. A plump one hovered on the tips of her lashes then plopped on her lap.
Heather's lungs burned. Her eyes widened. She'd never do anything to hurt her mother. Not in a million years. But she didn't know how to prevent doing so now. The baby's father had walked out on her when she'd told him her good news. He hadn't even called since.
"A-actually, it doesn't take a husband to make a b-baby." Thick lashes veiled her eyes. She feared they'd be swimming in tears, too.
Trembling lips eschewed a loud, shuddering sigh. "You're not married? You'll be a single mother?" Darlene's huskier than normal voice trailed into nothingness. Intense pain flickered across her eyes, darkening them to fuchsia.
"We'll be alright." Not that she ever considered how poorly Matt would react to impending fatherhood. Not that this was her first choice.
A ray of hope flashed across Darlene's eyes. Her expression brightened for a few seconds as she settled further into Heather's couch. "You're a surrogate mother. You're helping some poor barren woman have a child."
"No." She shook her head, pursing her lips. This was proving harder than she'd anticipated. Her dread hadn't been misplaced.
"Artificial insemination?" A hopeful note crept into her mother's voice. "How do you ever expect to catch a husband when all you do is work?"
"Baby was conceived the old fashioned way." An internal roller coaster dipped and dived in her stomach when the baby somersaulted. The new life inside her never failed to amaze her. She couldn't keep a proud smile from tilting her lips.
"You reconciled with Alexander? You shouldn't have divorced him. He was so perfect for you." Hope flared in Darlene's eyes. She tilted forward, hanging onto Heather's words.
"Heaven forbid! Alex is out of my life for good. I'd rather be single forever than be married to a man who doesn't love me." She shuddered, wishing her mother hadn't brought up that nightmare. Trudging up the painful past wouldn't do her any good. She hadn't told her mother everything.
Conviction saturated her voice. "I'll lose the election. No one will take me seriously." Self-pity replaced the surety. "First a divorced daughter. Now an expecting, unwed daughter."
"There are millions of single mothers." She held out a ray of hope, hoping to lift her mother out of the doldrums.
"In New York or Los Angeles maybe." Darlene fanned herself, sinking further into Heather's tartan plaid couch. "To someone else's daughter perhaps." Pain radiated in Darlene's eyes. "But not in Niceville, Iowa to a Senator's daughter." Her voice grew fainter as if all energy drained from her. Stretching out on Heather's couch, she elevated her feet on the armrest. Each shoe plopped to the thick carpeting. She knocked into the creeping Charlie on the end table, making Heather dive for it, catching it just as it started to dump silt everywhere.
Biting back an exclamation, she set the traumatized plant on a far table. Jarred by the commotion, Ebony vaulted from his chair and dashed under the couch. The tip of his tail stuck out half an inch.
"How could you shame your family this way? How could you do this to us Heather Leigh?" She spoke in a crying-hiccup combination. Shallow breathing punctuated every word. Her mother's cheeks paled to a deathly paste.
God, her eyes ached. Tears welled behind closed lids, clamoring to escape. Searing flames licked her flesh.
"How could you? My constituents will never forgive me." Anguish claimed her soul. Closing her eyelids, heavily mascaraed lashes fanned bruised circles beneath her eyes. Her chin tilted heavenward.
"Shush." She smoothed stray hair off her mother's forehead, blinking back pesky tears of her own. Her fingers shook as she did her best to paste a brave smile on her lips. "We'll get through this. It's not the end of the world. Your constituents won't hold my sins against you." She wasn't exactly independently wealthy, but architects made decent money. It would be tough, but they'd get by.
"You don't know them." A pathetic gaze raked her form, resting on her bare fingers.
"For what it's worth, I love you." She unfolded the wedding band quilt made by her great grandmother that graced the back of her La-Z Boy lounger. Covering her mother, she tucked the folds under her chin. With great strain on her stomach, she leaned a little further and pecked the rouged cheek within kissing distance.
Darlene snuggled into the fluffy comforter. Only slightly mollified, she accepted the kiss. "I carried you for ten months and I deserve better than this." Bony fingers clenched the edge of the quilt.
Jake, Heather's next store neighbor and best friend, burst into the apartment unannounced, his boyish enthusiasm contagious. A lock of stray sandy-brown hair fell over his eyes. He pushed it away absently. "Wait till I show you what I got for the baby." He held out a small lavender box with a white iridescent bow, his expression eager. Heather's heart contracted. Forward momentum pushed him two steps into the living room before he could halt.
He was so handsome when he smiled. That lopsided grin of his took her by surprise every time. The little bump on his otherwise perfect Roman nose fascinated her when she studied him in profile. His strong, square jaw with a hint of shadow invited her to rub her cheek against his. When his sharp, intelligent eyes warmed with laughter, she almost melted at his feet. Of course, she wasn't free to let him know that.
Realizing she'd been staring at him too long, she dragged her gaze away, adopting a vague, but friendly, expression, hoping he hadn't caught her more than friendly interest. Standing on tiptoe, she gave him the perfunctory kiss on the cheek she always greeted special friends with. Her flesh tingled when he returned the favor.
"I didn't mean to interrupt anything...I'll come back at a better time." He motioned toward the front door with a shake of his head and started to pivot on his heel, his smile fading. "Did you hear all that commotion? Channel Nine news blocked our parking lot."
"My heart!" Darlene groaned one hand to her heart, one arm flung over her forehead. She forgot about her fascination with her best friend and knelt beside her mother, taking her pulse. Highly concerned, she counted how many times per minute her mother's chest rose and fell in a minute.
"Should we call an ambulance? Is she okay?" Anxiety flashed across Jake's honey colored eyes. His jaw set sternly.
She made the mistake of looking up into those eyes. She couldn't help but note how very tall he loomed above her, how his black T-shirt stretched across the breadth of his football player shoulders, how his fringe of sandy brown hair fell across those beguiling eyes. She had to lower her lashes over her eyes lest he read too much animation in them.
"The shame! The humiliation!" Darlene groaned with all the pathos of a Greek tragedy. "Let me die. Put me out of my misery."
Jake shot a confused glance at Heather. He strode to her phone, picked up the receiver and dialed 911. "There's a possible heart attack in progress at 419 Border Lane, Apartment C-209. We need an ambulance immediately," Jake's strong voice barked into the phone.
He hung the phone back on its hook then strode to Heather's side. His hands talked as he spoke. "The ambulance should be here momentarily. Just stay calm. Don't try to talk. Don't upset yourself."
"My heart." Darlene thrashed around on the narrow couch. She pushed the quilt off her feet.
She covered her mother back up and took her hand in hers, stroking it gently. "Please don't do this to yourself." Heather's gaze sought Jake's for commiseration and for confirmation that she was doing the right thing.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't?" Darlene glared at her, breaking her heart. "My career is finished. My life is over."
"W-well..." Genuine worry flooded her. She didn't know if her mother was merely being melodramatic or if this was the real thing. She'd had that episode with her heart after her father's death. That must have weakened her.
More scared than she'd ever been in her life, she put her mother's hand to her cheek. She kissed it softly. "I'll make everything alright. You'll see."
Jake's heavy hand fell on her shoulder, squeezing it. Closing her eyes for a few seconds, she commanded her traitorous emotions to calm down. She had to take a deep breath and take herself to task to accomplish her goal.
Unbidden, the germ of a really outrageous idea sprouted in her mind. As it took root, she wondered if she were truly crazy or desperate enough to pull it off. She couldn't seriously consider this, could she?
Darlene groaned as if she were dying. "See if my heart pills are in my purse, Dear." Darlene's weak hand cupped Heather's cheek. Her mother's trembling smile tore at her heart.
She couldn't afford to think of herself. She had to help her mother. It would mean compromising herself. And Jake. But she had no choice.
Shooting a desperate glance at Jake, she implored him to help her.
Jake looked back at her perplexed. He shrugged his broad shoulders then pushed the unruly lock of hair out of his eyes.
"There's nothing you can say that will make me feel better, that will stop from breaking my..." she whispered, her eyelids fluttering rapidly. The ashen gray of Darlene's cheeks deeply alarmed Heather.
"Is she dying?" Jake whispered, bending on his knee beside Darlene. He put his hand to the senator's forehead and frowned. "She feels cool."
"Her pulse is only slightly elevated," Heather whispered. Jake's aftershave wafted around her and his clean, male scent tugged at her, assaulting her senses. She inched away when his unintentional touch scorched her. Her mother was first priority. A clear head was imperative. So was courage.
Face it, she needed sheer, unmitigated gall. She wasn't sure she could pull off her plan.
Sirens whirled in the distance, pulsing eerily, growing closer with each passing second.
"If they don't get here in time, dear, bury me next to your father, God rest his soul." Her mother drew in a deep, shuddering breath. She traced the curve of Heather's cheek with her thumb, attempting a smile. "I'm so glad he's not here to live with this humiliation. It would have killed him to know his little girl ended up this way."
"Mother." Her voice was barely audible. Shock numbed her. She stared at her mother while pain squeezed her heart.
"He could never have forgiven you."
That couldn't be true, could it? A tear escaped down her cheek, wending its way to the corner of her lip where it slipped into her mouth. It tasted salty. Weepiness struggled to overtake her. Being pregnant with elevated estrogen levels was hell at the best of times.
Jake tossed her a conciliatory smile.
"Daddy's little girl. You were perfect in his eyes. You could do no wrong."
"I didn't mean to hurt you. You know I'd never do that." Tears almost choked her now. She couldn't take much more.
Standing with great effort, she motioned for Jake to stand beside her, her decision made. There was no going back.
Jake drew himself to his full length that must be a good six foot three, seeing that he stood a good head taller than Heather who was tall for a woman. He looked down at her, his brows furrowed, his handsome features drawn in confusion.
"Go ahead, dear. I don't have much time left," Darlene whispered. She looked to the heavens, her eyes clouding over. Her arm floated toward the ceiling, her fingers loosely pointed skyward. "I'm coming, Frank. We'll be together shortly."
The sirens almost deafened her making her ears ring with their passionate insistence.
"Mother." She barreled full speed ahead. Taking Jake's hands in hers, she smiled up at him, gazing deeply into his soulful eyes. "We're engaged to be married."
Jake's jaw dropped several notches. His eyes narrowed, but he stiffened silently beside her. Stone couldn't feel more rigid. Or much colder.
Heather squeezed Jake's warm hands in hers, a strange tingling starting at her fingertips, shooting up to her elbows. She closed his mouth with her finger. Tremors sparked at her fingertip, skipping up her arm.
An emergency medical technician burst through Heather's door. "Where's the patient?" he gasped in a breathless baritone. Feet pounded up the stairs. What, had they hired a bull elephant at the Niceville EMT?
"Over here." Jake tilted his head. His thunderous expression prompted her to back away a few inches. She flinched.
"Put her on the stretcher," the lead EMT commanded. "We'll be lucky if we get her to the hospital on time."
Two basketball player types whom eclipsed Jake, hustled to her side, took her arms and started to haul her backwards to the stretcher.
She tried to yank her arms out of their grasp. "I'm not the patient." Gesturing to her mother propped up on the couch, grinning from ear to ear, she said, "My mother's having chest pains."
"Not me, dear." Darlene swung her legs over the side of the couch and stood next to Jake in her stockinged feet, sizing him up. "I feel much better. It must have been a false alarm." Darlene encircled Jake's forearm, long nails tapping his firmness. "What would you say if I threw you the biggest, splashiest wedding Niceville's ever seen?"