Bride for Keeps

By: Nicole Helm

A Big Sky Brides Romance



Prologue





Fall 2015

Dr. Carter McArthur had spent thirty-one years on this planet knowing exactly who and what he was and what he was meant for. The McArthurs of Marietta, Montana, were upstanding, dedicated, brilliant medical professionals. As the eldest of the three children of Dr. Gerald McArthur, he’d been born and bred to be a doctor in his own right, and he was someone no one could find fault with.

For most of his life, he’d done everything his parents had asked of him. He’d excelled in school. He’d become a doctor and had even turned down an opportunity to join Doctors without Borders despite the fact that had always been his dream. Because the most important dream, always, was being a respected, dutiful McArthur.

In his entire life, he’d only disobeyed his parents once, and that had been when he’d fallen in love with Sierra Shuller. Wild, impetuous, tattooed Sierra had stolen his heart at a New Year’s Eve party not even a year ago. They’d been engaged within three months, married two months after that.

Marriage wasn’t exactly easy, not when his mother couldn’t seem to help herself from criticizing Sierra’s every move, but Carter loved Sierra. And Sierra loved him. That was all that mattered. Almost six months they’d been married now, and Carter had never been happier.

But, sitting in his father’s office, both his parents staring gravely down at him, Carter had a very bad feeling something was coming that would change everything.

“You’ve had some time to come to terms with my diagnosis,” Dad said not showing an ounce of emotion.

Carter had always admired that about his father. The way he could shut out anything that didn’t suit him. Carter tried to emulate it, but there were some ways he’d just never live up to his father’s image.

“There’s nothing to come to terms with. MS is incredibly treatable. I don’t have to tell you that.”

“Yes. I have a particularly aggressive form, but you’re right. There are a wide variety of treatments available, though I may end up having to step down from the hospital.”

“In the future,” Carter corrected. “Not yet. You don’t want to make any rash decisions.” Something his father had said to him on more than one occasion. McArthurs didn’t do rash decisions, and while his father’s MS diagnosis and his keeping it a secret the past few weeks was certainly a surprise, it was hardly worth this kind of cloak and dagger theatrics. The not telling Mom at the beginning had been ridiculous, but Dad had finally acknowledged his diagnosis, at least to him and Mom.

Now, hopefully, that meant moving forward and telling the rest of the family. Carter knew Dad hated to appear weak, and Carter supposed some might consider this condition a weakness. Still, Dad had to approach it like McArthurs approached all of their problems. Calmly. Methodically. He was a doctor after all. Shouldn’t he be more clearheaded about the whole thing?

“No, we won’t be making any rash decisions,” Dad said, his mouth curving just a fraction, as if he was almost amused by his own advice being given to him. “But in the light of this diagnosis and the genetic implications, especially if you and…” Dad grimaced. “If you and your wife decide to have children…”

Carter adopted the same cool, detached expression his father had started this conversation with. “Sierra and I will start a family soon, I’m sure.” They’d talked about it, though he’d suggested to Sierra she find some kind of direction for her life before they started trying. Perhaps it was cruel of him to think of his mother this way, but he didn’t want Sierra to end up like her, caring only about the McArthur name and how the town viewed them and having nothing of her own.

He doubted Sierra could ever be like that. She wasn’t big on caring about appearances, but he wanted to ensure she had her own avenues of passion before they started a family. As much as he cared about his family and their approval, as much as he respected his father as a doctor, Carter wanted something…different for the family he would start. More…warmth.

Sierra was warmth personified. It was what had drawn Carter to her despite all the ways he’d known his family would deem her unsuitable. Carter had no doubts she’d be a great mother. Maybe he’d been hasty to think she needed some kind of individual direction before starting a family. She was independent and strong and—

“Biologically speaking, I’m not your father.”

Carter felt like his brain flatlined for a moment before coming back too quick, too rushed. He stared at his father. “What… What did you say?”

“When your mother and I were engaged, she had an affair. You are the result of that affair.”

“Wh…” He looked at his mother, but she stood there looking as placid and regal as ever. “I…”

“Now, of course this is a bit of a shock, but there have been quite a few secrets in this family lately.”

“It started with your relationship with Sierra,” Mom muttered.

He had kept that a secret, announcing they were engaged before his parents had a chance to manipulate things. But… “I think my parentage predates Sierra,” he managed, feeling…untethered. Like he was floating above this whole thing unfolding before him. They couldn’t mean he wasn’t…