Clearwater Book Three


The stick turned blue and Tessa Bradley’s world fell apart. But unplanned turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to her. Add a marriage of convenience to her best friend, and unplanned just might give her the happily ever after with the man she’s always loved.


Gunny Cameron White devoted his life to God, country, and the Corps. Marriage has never been a blip on his radar. When his best friend—a woman he’s always loved—turns up pregnant and alone, he throws out the rule book and commits to her like a Marine.


Can two people overcome the choices of their past when an unplanned baby gives them the chance of an unexpected forever?

Tessa leaned forward as if that would make the words clearer. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Cameron wanted to marry her. Is he out of his mind? I’m pregnant; everyone would think it’s his baby. “What?”

“Tess, just what I said. My job is dangerous, I can’t change that and I can’t provide you with the security you deserve, I deploy, I’m gone…I can’t promise I’ll be back, but I can help you in other ways.” He caught her hand in his much larger one. “I’d like to tell you to take all the time you need, but I can’t. I deploy in a few days. We’ll need to do this quickly.”

She tried to digest the words but it was like trying to swallow a brick. Cameron offered her a marriage of convenience, not something she ever wanted to hear from him. “Even if I were to say yes, you’re missing a key point. You’re about to deploy and I’m supposed to be on bed rest. That doesn’t change that part of the situation.”

“Actually I’ve thought of that already. Do you remember Jordan Sheppard? We went to his wedding a few months ago.” She nodded, and he continued. “They have a bed and breakfast in Clearwater, Wyoming. As well as a couple beautiful cabins that sit behind it, lots of privacy to anyone who needs it. I’ve arranged for you to have one of the cabins until I’m home. There’s someone that comes in twice a week to clean, and Chloe cooks all the meals for the guests. You’ll have someone to help you while I’m away. I spoke with a friend of mine that’s a doctor at the base and under the circumstances, he believes you’d be safe to travel as long as you’re resting, but he wants to look you over, or we can visit your obstetrician if you’d prefer. Chloe has recommended a doctor in Clearwater, to see to you and the baby.” He rambled on, explaining all the arrangements he’d made in the last few hours.

He squeezed her hand until she met his gaze again. “Just stay in Clearwater until the birth, then you can come back and stay here. You’ll be close to the military base, where there’s childcare, and support. But while I can’t watch over you let me know you’re in safe hands. Jordan was a fine Marine, I’d trust him with my life in battle, and I’d trust him and Chloe with you. They’ll be able to help you in ways I won’t be able to during your pregnancy. Tess you know neither one of us have anyone else, and you need someone right now. I’d give anything to be here, to help you through this time, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”

She cupped his check, the five o’clock stubble rough against her fingertips. “I…I don’t know Cam. I wanted a marriage built on love, not out of convenience. This is my mess, I got myself into…you deserve better than this.” Tears filmed her vision, but she didn’t care. It was the truth, Cameron deserved better than to be tangled up in a mess she created. One day he’d see that he did want a wife and children of his own. She had always hoped he’d want her when that time came, but not like this. Not out of duty, or friendship.

“My sweet Tess, I wanted so much more for you too. I wanted you to have the family that you always wanted, with the house and white picket fence, but right now, you must take the situation at hand. You need to provide for your unborn child and I can help…I want to help. If you want a divorce once the child’s born and you’re on your feet, I’ll give it to you. No questions asked but let me help you.” When she didn’t answer, he added. “You don’t have to answer now. Sleep on it.”

Sleep, how does he expect me to sleep after that?

Pregnant? Tessa Bradley’s hand slid across her abdomen, was there really a little person growing inside her? Her doctor’s voice droned on, but she couldn’t hear him. She was twelve weeks pregnant without a father for her baby, and after today’s shift—an unemployed mother-to-be.

It can’t be…I was so careful.

She hit the end button on her cell phone, and slipped it back into her pocket. During the last nine weeks, she’d worked as the secretary for a law firm in town, while their permanent one was on maternity leave—talk about irony.

How was she supposed to be a mom when she didn’t even know how to take care of herself?

“Tessa, there you are.” Mr. Jacob smiled as he stepped into the office. “I wanted to give this to you before you left. It’s just a token of my appreciation for stepping into Bev’s shoes while she was on leave. I thought this might turn into a permanent position when I hired you, but Bev obviously has other plans. She wants to come back. If things change, you’ll be my first call.” He offered her a plain white envelope.

“Thank you. I appreciate it.” She accepted it with a small, honest smile. Mr. Jacob was a wonderful boss and a good lawyer. He truly cared about his clients and did everything he could to fight for them both inside and out of the courtroom.

“Very well, it’s Friday and we have no more clients booked for today. Why don’t you take off and enjoy your weekend?”

She grasped at the generous offer, especially after the doctor’s call. She needed to get out; maybe a walk in the park would help her clear her thoughts. Maybe then, she would have a better idea what to do about her situation. In a daze, she moved around the office and gathered her things.

“Thank you again for the job Mr. Jacob.” She called to him from the door as she slipped her purse over her shoulder, and let herself out for the last time.

The air felt cool against her flushed skin, and the wind tugged her long brown hair, but she didn’t care. Heading into the park, she made her way past the children’s playground.

One day I’ll be one of those frantic mothers watching from the bench praying my child doesn’t get injured.

The countdown to ‘one day’ ticked faster than she’d ever imagined.

“Tess?” He looped his arm around hers, startling her out of her reverie and pulling her to a stop.  “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”

Cameron White stood before her in his breath-stealing, damn-isn’t-he-good-looking crisp blue Marine uniform. The medals on his chest made her proud—and served as the steel fence between the future she’d wanted and the life he’d chosen fifteen years ago.  He was a fine specimen of manhood—over six feet, muscular from his military training and hours in the gym, and shoulders wide enough to carry the world.

Over the years, she’d nursed a long-standing fascination and attraction for Cameron, one he refused to acknowledge after he joined the Marines. She tried to supplant the desire, redirect it to someone else, but even Brian didn’t measure up to the yardstick she judged all men by. They weren’t Cameron.

Young Marines spoke of him with respect, edged with fear. She knew he was strict, and expected only the best from his men, but he was also fair. Whenever someone needed a helping hand he was there, helping, guiding, but he expected his men to learn from their mistakes—to pay for their mistakes with pushups, loss of leave, whatever it took to drill the message home. He pushed his men to the breaking point, making them the finest Marines he could and he wouldn’t stand for them to give less than one hundred and ten percent.

“Why are you in your dress blues?”

“I just left John’s wedding, they pushed it up so they could be married before he ships out. It was a nice ceremony by the lake.”

She heard him but it was as if his words came through a haze, distant and she couldn’t focus. Her legs felt heavy, and her head swam.

 “What’s wrong Tessa? Are you feeling okay?” He cupped a hand under her arm and guided her over to a bench.

“I’m fine…I just need to go home.” God help her it was good to see him. He was like a port for a ship lost at sea but she needed to wrap her mind around what she was going to do—and how could she tell him? She didn’t think she could bear his disappointment.

“Come on, I’ll take you home.” Arm around her waist, he pivoted neatly and guided her toward the street.

“I’m fine. My apartment isn’t that far, I can walk. I’m sure you have other things you need to do before you have to go.” Even to her, the words sounded flat and they wouldn’t convince him, but it was all she had left.

“You’re all that matters today. I was coming over once you got off work.”

Even if he didn’t believe her, he didn’t force the subject. Maybe all the years they had known each other had enlightened him to the fact that if he pushed she’d only shut down more. What am I going to tell him? She tried to think of something, anything as he led her towards his car. They only had a few days left together before his upcoming deployment. She didn’t want to ruin the time she had left with him by bringing up her mistakes.

Just the thought of another deployment was enough to send her into panic mode. Yes, he was career military and that was part of his job, but it scared the hell out of her every, single time. In truth, he married the Marines from the day he enlisted. He wouldn’t be there for their weekly movie date, or nightly chats. Selfish? Yes, but he was such a large part of her life, she didn’t know how to give it up—even for only a short time—without her heart breaking.

If she were honest with herself, she’d admit she was in love with him, and had been since they were sixteen. Fifteen years later nothing had changed, at least not for her. For Cameron, he’d chosen the Marines, and that loyalty was absolute. He left no part of himself free for a girlfriend, let alone a wife. No matter how much she’d always wished otherwise, Tessa had accepted they would never be anything more than friends. Cameron wouldn’t allow anything more. He said something else, but she didn’t really understand it, the world around her tilted and she swayed. Blackness swamped her vision and everything faded.

* * *

Awareness returned with a jerk and she recognized the sterile surroundings, and bleach-like odors. Why am I at a hospital?

Her gaze fell on Cameron, sitting in one of the hardback hospital chairs. Even with the slight disheveled state of his uniform, he still managed to look powerful and authoritative. They’d been walking to his car when she…she what?

Oh, I fainted. Embarrassment flooded under her confusion. How long have I been out?

“Hey beautiful, you’re awake. You gave me quite a shock.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek. The closest they had come since he joined the Marines. Oh before the Marines, things were different. They were young and in love, but the day he gave his commitment to the Marines everything changed.

Even in her present condition the memory of the day he joined the Marines came flooding back. They’d grabbed a bite at Pete’s Burgers when he turned to her all serious. “I joined the Marines…”

Unsure what she was supposed to have said, she’d sat there in silence, her burger held mid motion and just stared across the booth at him. The icy chill of fear had raced through her.

“I leave for boot camp in two weeks…Tessa I want you to find someone else. Don’t wait for me.”

“What?” She’d asked, unable to believe what he’d said. Two years together and just like that, he’d decided to end it.

“I won’t do to you what my dad did to Mom. I won’t leave a widow behind if I’m killed.” He tossed his burger back into the basket, as if he’d been disgusted by the thought of it. “I don’t want you sitting around here worrying about me.”

He’d closed the door to what was between them, and pushed her away. His protection had hurt her and what he failed to understand was that together as a couple or not, she’d still worried about him. It didn’t matter if she wouldn’t be his widow, if he died she’d still grieve just the same. Understanding his reason didn’t break her heart any less—then or now.

She tried to swallow the lump that formed in her throat. “What happened?” Speaking irritated her dry and scratchy throat.

“You passed out.” He handed her a glass of water, and watched her as she took a sip. “I knew something was wrong with you, why didn’t you tell me you weren’t feeling well?”

“I’m fine. Just tired. It must be all the long hours I was putting in for Mr. Jacob, but the job ended. I’ll catch up on my sleep. Don’t worry about me.” She tried to soothe him, to dispel the worry that clouded his eyes. “Will you get me more to drink?” She asked handing him the empty cup back.

He looked for a pitcher, but there wasn’t one. “Sure.”

She could tell by the way he lingered he didn’t want to leave her alone. “Thanks Cam I’ve got dry mouth and I’m really thirsty.”

With him gone she let her eyelids drift close. The screech of the curtain being pulled back snapped her eyes open. “That was qui…oh sorry Doctor.”

An older man in a white coat stood before her. “Ms. Bradley, you’re awake. I have your test results back.” He flipped open the chart in his hand. “I’m assuming your doctor already called you with the lab work he drew yesterday and you know you’re pregnant.”

Cameron stood behind the doctor, the cup of water in his hand, his eyes wide with shock. He heard the doctor tell her that she was pregnant. As her mother used to say the cat was out of the bag now, and there was nothing she could do to shield him from her mistake.

As if the doctor realized someone was behind him, he turned. “If you could please go back to the waiting room so I can talk to the patient I’ll send a nurse to get you when I’m done.”

“No, doctor it’s fine. He can stay.” With the damage already done she gave the doctor the authorization he needed to talk in front of Cameron. As if satisfied the doctor turned back to her. “You passed out today because your iron level is very low.  I have spoken with your doctor—a close colleague of mine—and he has ordered light modified bed rest for the next week as well as start you on an iron supplement and a prenatal supplement. If you want your baby to be healthy, you’re going to have to start taking better care of yourself, and remain on very light duty for the remainder of your pregnancy, resting as much as possible. Your doctor would like you to follow up with him in a week. Any questions?”

“No. Thank you, doctor.”

The doctor flipped the folder shut, not bothering to look back at her, he moved the curtain aside. “I’ll finish the paperwork and a nurse will be in to discharge you shortly.”

She wrapped her arms around her stomach, as thoughts of how she would manage plagued her. She was barely getting by herself, how was she going to raise a child on her own? Even with the anxiety and dread of the uphill battle that waited for her, love for her unborn child towered all. She’d do right by her child. She wanted her child to have everything she didn’t. Including a real family, with two parents, but she didn’t see how that would happen now.

Cameron’s hand fell away from hers, and he rose. “Pregnant?” He sounded so surprised. She’d expected anger, but not surprise. “How?”

She scooted up in the hospital bed trying to find a comfortable position. “Cameron, you’re old enough to know how…” She tried to make light of the situation, he didn’t need to know—she didn’t want him to know how terrified she really was.  If her doctor required her to continue the bed rest longer than a week, that invited a whole host of fresh problems. She had no one she could turn to. Her mother died years ago and her father—no, her father wasn’t an option. Cameron was the only one she had and he was about to leave, too.

“Damn it Tess, you know what I mean.” He spun back. “You haven’t been out with anyone in weeks, does he know?”

“I don’t want to discuss this…not here.” Her words hung in the air until the nurse pulled back the curtain.

“Here’s the first dose of the iron and prenatal supplements the doctor prescribed. You’ll need to drink a lot of orange juice while you take the supplements, so that it will help you absorb the iron.” The nurse handed her one of the little white cups, with two small red pills along with one oblong white one inside.

Tessa turned to grab her cup of water, but Cameron was already there, handing it to her. She tipped the cup back tossing the pills in her mouth before following it with a drink of water.

“Ms. Bradley, if you could sign your discharge paperwork you’ll be ready to leave.”

Tessa signed the paperwork, desperate to get out of there, even if it meant having to face Cameron. She slid her legs off the side of the bed, rising to stand on her feet before the nurse scolded her like a child.

“Oh no you don’t, the doctor ordered bed rest. I’ve got a wheelchair on the other side of the curtain, just stay there while I drop this paperwork off at the door and I’ll wheel you out.”

 Cameron helped her into the wheelchair, and gave her hand a little squeeze as if trying to reassure her that everything would be fine.

She sat there surrounded by her thoughts for a moment. How am I going to manage the bed rest alone? There’s no one I can rely on to manage the mundane tasks, let alone anything else. I’ll never be able to stay off my feet, completely. There’s household chores, grocery shopping, laundry, the list went on and on.

As the nurse wheeled her out to the car, Cameron walked beside her. All of his unasked questions hummed between them. Was he disappointed in her? She suspected that to be the case, but it was her life. It wasn’t as if she had planned to get pregnant, especially by a man that wouldn’t be around to help her raise their child, but it happened. No, my baby, my responsibility. I can do this.

In the car, Tessa rested her head against the back of the stiff leather seat. She fought to keep her eyes open. Her stomach still lurched and she wasn’t sure if it was from the pregnancy or nerves. “Where are we going?” She asked when he drove past the exit to her apartment.

Cameron shot her a quick side-glance. “You’re on bed rest, that means you shouldn’t be alone, and no steps. I’m taking you to my place. You can stay with me for now, tomorrow I’ll go over and gather some of your stuff.”

“I can’t…”

“Tess, don’t.” He took his hand from the steering wheel, and placed his hand on her thigh. “You need someone, let me be that someone, at least for tonight. We’ll take tomorrow when it comes.”

His confidence let her relax and she knew it was silly to lean on him, but Cameron always had that effect on her. He took charge and tonight—tonight she wanted to let him. Tomorrow held just as many questions, but at least this day would be behind her. She could begin to figure out how she was going to make a life for her and her child.