“What I’m struggling to follow is why leave the baby with you? I mean, no offense, man, but you’re not exactly instant daddy material either.”
Shane wasn’t going to dispute that. He had no real clue why Shelby would trust him with this other than the fact that he was always the one batting cleanup on whatever her latest mess was, this one included. “She was pissed about fighting with my mom and the commune leadership. What’s surprising is that she lasted this long there. She’s allergic to routine, and I doubt they had enough excitement for her. And Macy just booked a Canadian tour. No way was Shelby gonna miss that. I thought she was taking the baby though, until I woke up and she’d split.”
“But she left a note you said?”
“Yeah.” Shane fumbled with the now-sleepy baby to get the note and the birth certificate from the bag. Damn. He was exhausted too. He’d kill for a nap himself. Just thirty minutes even. These had been some of the longest days of his life.
“Here’s the note.” He passed over both pieces of paper. “And as you can see, the commune midwife put your name as the dad. Apparently, Shelby thought your last name was cooler than Travis, decided to use it for the baby.”
Brandt blinked a couple of times. “She named the baby Wilder?” “This is Jewel Pearl Wilder.” Shane made the baby wave her arm. “I know you don’t believe me. Hell, I don’t want to believe me either.”
“You’re not wrong,” Brandt muttered, folding forward again. “And you seem like a stand-up guy in a bad spot. But there’s been a mistake. I swear there was a condom. I’m not an idiot.”
“You found a magic brand with a hundred percent guarantee?” Shane countered, staring him down. But his snark was undone by a huge yawn. “Look, if alcohol and Shelby were involved…”
“I wasn’t drunk.” Brandt frowned, hands clenching and unclenching. “I was scheduled to jump the next day with Dallas. I was mildly buzzed, if that. Which is how I know for sure that the kid’s not mine.”
His certainty hit Shane like a punch to the solar plexus, stealing all the wind and adrenaline he’d been running on the past few days. Whoosh. Gone. Leaving only utter exhaustion. If Brandt wasn’t the father, then that left him few options, each more horrible than the next.
“Fuck,” he whispered, drawing the word out. Then he remembered he was holding a baby and cursed again. “Shit. Sorry. I’m… I don’t know what to do.”
Hell, he could barely keep his eyes open and here was Brandt so sure he wasn’t involved, and it was all too much.
“Police?” Brandt asked. “Missing person report? If she’s in danger…”
“She’s not in danger. She’s with Macy. Likely in Canada by now. And like it or not, she’s still my sister. Police…they’ll want to charge her with something bad.”
“Yeah.” Brandt nodded and looked away. “And they’re likely to haul in a social worker to take the baby. I’m a single guy with no address other than that beat-up RV. Like you said, no one’s trusting me to keep an infant. So, after I read the note, I figured the best plan was to track you down first.” His eyes started to burn, the audacity of his own stupidity having him closer to tears than he’d been in years. “See if… Hell. I don’t even know now what I was thinking. Not like you’re in a much better position than me to keep the kid from the system.”
“I get it.” Brandt surprised him by slipping from the chair, coming to crouch next to the couch and putting a hand on Shane’s knee. Damn. He must be in rough shape if Brandt thought he needed comforting. “Trust me, I know better than most how rough the system can be. I don’t want you to have to make that call either. I truly don’t.”
“Gonna have to.” Shane bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut. No way was he crying in front of this man. But the second his eyes shut, exhaustion started winning again, and another yawn escaped his lungs. Didn’t help that the baby was snoozing away, bottle finished and her little warm body in his arms working as some sort of sleeping potion.
“Not right this minute.” Brandt’s voice was as soft and comforting as a towel right from the dryer. “You’re going to rest a few. I’m gonna sit right here and watch her while you sleep. Promise I’m not going anywhere. We’ll all hang out while you rest. I’ve been where you are, strung out on no sleep to the point nothing made a lick of sense.”
“Okay.” It spoke to how exhausted Shane was that he was agreeing to this plan. Not like he had much choice. when he woke up, some new solution would present itself, one where this wasn’t all on his shoulders. He knew better than to count on Brandt Wilder for help, but right then, he was all Shane had.
Up in Smoke by Annabeth Albert is available in eBook, mass market paperback and audiobook formats on April 27th!
Three Men and a Baby meets Backdraft with explosive chemistry and heartfelt feels.
Freewheeling smoke jumper Brandt Wilder thrives on adrenaline. He’s never met a parachute he can’t repair or a dangerous situation he couldn’t wrangle his way out of. He’s popular and fun-loving and not at all looking to settle down or form lasting relationships. It’s a lifestyle that’s served him well…right up until the day he finds a baby on his doorstep.
Shane Travis is used to putting his country music career—and his own happiness—on hold after his sister rolls through his life. Like last spring when she convinced him to try skydiving for his birthday—and she walked away with the hot parachute instructor.
Now he gets to deliver the piece of news that will upend Brandt’s carefree life: he very well might be a dad.
Shane’s niece is safe in Brandt’s strong, capable hands, but too many questions remain unanswered. Co-parenting while they sort it out leads to late-night talks, and soul-bearing confessions lead to a most inconvenient attraction. Still, Shane can’t leave this makeshift family behind—even if it means playing house with the one man he can’t resist.
Book 1: Burn Zone (available now!)
Book 2: High Heat (available now!)
Book 3: Feel the Fire (available now!)
Book 4: Up in Smoke (coming April 27)
Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.
Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.