His Special Delivery Belinda Barnes Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR On the side of the road, about to give birth, Sara Jamison was in despair–until he stopped by. A vision in a tux, with rough but tender hands, a slow drawl and enough confidence to calm her anxious mind, Sara couldn't do anything but trust Cal Tucker with the most precious thing in her life…So when he offered his home to her and her brand-new daughter, Sara agreed–just till she got back on her feet. But then he also offered his name–and Sara wasn't sure what to do now. Why did this sexy, generous man think he didn't deserve love?And how could she persuade him otherwise…? The things Sara noticed about Cal Tucker made her uneasy, not to mention the way he made her feel.… But she’d just had a baby! How could she be having these thoughts about a man so soon? Granted, Cal had stayed with her through childbirth and afterward, when she’d feared losing her daughter. As much as Sara hated to admit it, she’d leaned on him and he’d stood fast, never wavering. Cal had this male thing going for him. He was sexy in a no-frills, down-to-earth way. And despite her vow to push him away—her denial that she needed him, or any man—she found herself listening for the sound of his boot heels in the hall.… “Belinda Barnes is a fresh new voice. Her endearing characters and warm humor will amuse and touch readers from the first page to the last. His Special Delivery is a thoroughly heartwarming read.”—Author Karen Rose Smith Dear Reader, This holiday season, as our anniversary year draws to a close, we have much to celebrate. The talented authors who have published—and continue to publish—unforgettable love stories. You, the readers, who have made our twenty-year milestone possible. And this month’s very special offerings. First stop: BACHELOR GULCH, Sandra Steffen’s popular ongoing miniseries. They’d shared an amazing night together; now a beguiling stranger was back in his life carrying Sky’s Pride and Joy. She’d dreamed Hunter’s Vow would be the marrying kind…until he learned about their child he’d never known existed—don’t miss this keeper by Susan Meier! Carolyn Zane’s BRUBAKER BRIDES are back! Montana’s Feisty Cowgirl thought she could pass as just another male ranch hand, but Montana wouldn’t rest till he knew her secrets…and made this 100% woman completely his! Donna Clayton’s SINGLE DOCTOR DADS return…STAT. Rachel and the M.D. were office assistant and employer…so why was she imagining herself this widower’s bride and his triplets’ mother? Diana Whitney brings her adorable STORK EXPRESS series from Special Edition into Romance with the delightful story of what happens when Mixing Business…with Baby. And debut author Belinda Barnes tells the charming tale of a jilted groom who finds himself all dressed up…to deliver a pregnant beauty’s baby—don’t miss His Special Delivery! Thank you for celebrating our 20th anniversary. In 2001 we’ll have even more excitement—the return of ROYALLY WED and Marie Ferrarella’s 100th book, to name a couple! Happy reading! Mary-Theresa Hussey Senior Editor His Special Delivery Belinda Barnes www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) To Dad, for believing in me. You have always been the first hero in my life. To my sister, Brenda, for your constant love and support. To Gail, Kristi, Vicky and the bear who shared our cabin the night this story was conceived. Thanks for always being there. To Virginia, for reading and proofing and, most of all, for listening. To Kat, Rox and Janet for your encouragement and guidance. BELINDA BARNES A romantic at heart, 1999 Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart winner, Belinda Barnes, grew up in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, on the banks of the Arkansas River, where she dreamed of faraway lands, castles and princes. Though Texas is not all that far away, it is there Belinda found her prince. Together in their two-story castle, they have raised two sons, a daughter and a menagerie of pets, including dogs, cats, tropical fish, turtles, hamsters, ferrets. With sons whose interests run the gamut from bull riding to racing cars and motorcycles, Belinda is more than ready for her daughter’s more sedate passions of dancing, singing and acting. Belinda lives in Elm Mott, Texas, with her husband, her daughter and spoiled cat, Precious. In addition to fiction, she is published in magazine and book-length nonfiction. In her spare time she enjoys clogging, painting, reading, country-and-western music, dancing, fishing, scuba diving, camping and getting together with other writers. Belinda loves to hear from readers. Write to her at P.O. Box 1165, Elm Mott, Texas 76640. Dear Reader, As I sat with my critique partners huddled before a blazing fire in a rustic cabin, it never occurred to me that I’d come up with a viable idea for a book—a book that would eventually go on to win the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award. Nor did I imagine that same book would be my first sale to Silhouette Romance. But His Special Delivery, conceived during that cold Texas morning, did exactly that. Writing has always been a passion with me, but I didn’t get serious until several years ago. With a full-time job and an active family, I’ve learned about juggling and sacrifices. My writing time begins at 10:00 p.m. after my daughter goes to bed and continues until 2:00 a.m.—or until my face hits the keyboard. Many times I thought I couldn’t continue to do it, but the call from Silhouette Romance more than justified the loss of sleep and all those bologna sandwiches. I felt like Cinderella, because it was definitely a dream come true. Breathing life into characters on the page is a challenge I’ve always enjoyed. I want my writing to show the joy of falling in love, with all its trials and tribulations—what I’ve tried to convey in His Special Delivery. Cal and Sara will always occupy a special place in my heart, and I hope they will find a place in your heart, too. As you follow them through the pages of their story, my wish is that the healing balm of their love will touch you, and stay with you long after you read the last page. So leave the worries of the day behind, and come with me on a journey as I introduce you to Cal Tucker, the first of my heroes to hang your heart on. Enjoy! Contents Chapter One (#uda1624f4-d104-5c98-9b37-54646b784602) Chapter Two (#u03487f4a-5ef6-5d13-b67e-6e819d7dc24c) Chapter Three (#u3b3202ab-2b94-5adb-8da4-7d27a4e293a6) Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One Cal Tucker had gotten as far as the altar, but he had one slight problem. No bride. The white, lace-covered unity candle stood off to one side, unlit, its future decided by his absent bride’s unexpected change of heart. He yanked the peach boutonniere from the lapel of his tuxedo and crushed it under his heel as he made the long trek down the aisle past the now-empty church pews. Alone. “Guess she loves me not.” James Scott, Cal’s business partner, waited beside the front doors. “You know, you didn’t have to stay and face everyone. I could have sent them on their way.” Though Cal hadn’t wanted to endure the sympathetic looks of his friends and acquaintances, he couldn’t very well run off and leave the chore of explaining this mess to someone else. “It was my wedding, my responsibility.” His friend pushed away from the wall. “Any idea why Tiffany didn’t show?” Cal ran his forefinger around the inside of the stiff collar, which for the past hour had felt like a noose. “I finally got around to telling her I didn’t intend to accept Dad’s offer to head up his new megaconglomerate.” James whistled through his front teeth. “I see where that would tick her off. Tiffany thrives on all that highbrow stuff.” Cal frowned, wondering how James had become so perceptive when he himself had only just figured it out. “Yeah, but I don’t. When I told her last night, she gave me an ultimatum.” “Then you knew she might not come?” “Hell, no. You know Tiff. She’s hot one minute, cold the next.” Cal rubbed the aching muscles at the back of his neck. “Do you think I’d be standing here now if I’d thought she wouldn’t be here?” “So, what do you plan to do?” “Do?” He shrugged. “Nothing. She made her choice.” Cal didn’t understand why he hadn’t realized before then how different Tiffany and he were. They’d never wanted the same things. Only it had never mattered. Not to her. Or to him. “It’s over.” “You sure?” James asked. The sense of loss Cal expected didn’t come, but the blow to his pride came with the force of a mule’s kick. “Yeah, I’m sure.” Whatever he’d once felt or convinced himself he’d felt for Tiffany was gone. Only now could Cal admit he’d never loved her. But then, she hadn’t loved him either. Not that he’d needed it. In fact, he’d never seen evidence love existed. It really didn’t matter any longer that Tiffany had dumped him. Besides, he’d had his fill of doing what everybody else wanted him to do. No more. From now on, he’d do what he wanted. He didn’t need anybody, didn’t want anybody. James gestured toward the front of the church. “Reporters have your folks cornered out by your pickup.” With his father’s standing as one of Dallas’s finest entrepreneurs and his mother’s reputation as a society matriarch, Cal wasn’t surprised. “They can handle the press. They always have.” And, as usual, his parents had chosen the limelight over him. “Sneak out the back way. It’s only a few blocks to the Bull Pen. I’ll take your truck and meet you there later.” James grinned. “I’ll even buy you a beer. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a couple of little fillies for the night.” Cal held up his hands and shook his head. “Hell, no. I don’t want anything to do with another woman. I’m swearing off.” “Yeah, well, we’ll see how long you can hold out when those sweet young things start stuffing their numbers in your pockets.” “I’m telling you, I’m not interested. All women are trouble—short, tall, blond or brunette,” Cal said. “It doesn’t matter. They’re all bad news.” James shot Cal a sympathetic look. “You’ll be all right once we get you back in the saddle.” “I’m okay. Honest. I don’t need a woman.” Wanting to get away from the church, Cal crossed to the minister’s office and slipped through the door leading outside. “I’ll tell your folks you’ve gone, then I’ll meet you at the Bull Pen,” James said, closing the door with a soft click. Cal headed toward the sidewalk. Tufts of dead grass caught in a Texas winter’s slumber crunched beneath his feet as he crossed the hard ground. Heavy gray clouds sat low in the Dallas sky, and the scent of snow hung thick in the late-afternoon air. He shoved his hands in his pockets, slowing at the corner to glance back at the Gothic white stone of the Methodist church. Cal wondered at his judgment. Had his reasons for wanting to marry Tiffany been misguided? Even though lust and social compatibility only went so far, his parents were certainly proof they could sustain a marriage. And Cal had been willing to settle for that. Only now, even contentment seemed out of his reach. Determined to ignore the chill of the February breeze and the deep-seated wound to his male pride, Cal started walking. He’d gone no more than two blocks when the screech of brakes and the squeal of tires brought him up short. A faded brown compact car with a broken headlight jumped the curb and headed toward him. He dived out of the way and hit the concrete hard, rolling as the car slammed to a stop before stalling. Cal swore and hauled himself to his feet, then swore again when he saw the driver—a woman. When the pain crested, Sara Jamison peeked through the windshield at the man pushing himself up from the ground. He looked as if he wanted nothing more than to pound some sense into the driver who’d come so close to running him down. Since Sara was the driver in question, she prayed he’d take pity on a pregnant woman in the final stages of labor. The tuxedo-clad man marched around the front of her car, his dark scowl deepening as he neared the open window. Anger flashed in his cold, gray eyes. “What the—” Sara flinched. “I’m really, really sorry.” He pushed away from the car, muttering under his breath. She wished he’d quit frowning at her as if she’d intentionally tried to run him over. “Do you have any idea—?” He drew a hand over the rigid lines of his face, his frustration evident. “Look, I said I was—” Another contraction hit. Sara gasped and clutched the steering wheel, unable to finish her apology. After having three false alarms this past week, she’d refused to leave home until certain this was the real thing. Now she regretted waiting so long. A small moan slipped unbidden through her lips before she clamped her mouth shut. She glanced at her watch to note the time passage since the last contraction. The man leaned down and angled his head to look inside the car at her swollen stomach. “Are you in labor?” She nodded and noticed the sudden tightening of his stern jaw, as if her condition displeased him. It was obvious he didn’t want to be inconvenienced. Not that she wanted his blasted help. He plowed his long fingers through his short, black hair and exhaled a breath shot through with frustration. “Wait here. I’ll find a phone and call for an ambulance.” Sara caught his hand where it rested on the open window. “No. I can’t afford one. Thank you, but I’ll be all right.” His quicksilver gaze held hers. “You almost ran me down.” She lifted her chin a notch. “Everybody knows ‘almost’ only counts in horseshoes.” One corner of his mouth twitched as if he was suppressing a smile, something she couldn’t imagine on his face. “Given the situation and the fact that your driving ranks up there with a natural disaster, I’d say ‘almost’ counts this time.” She met his gaze, determined to leave. “If my grandmother can go home after working all day in the field, deliver her own baby, and then cook supper, surely I can drive myself to the hospital. Thanks for your concern, but I really have to go now.” Sara tried to roll up the window, momentarily forgetting it was broken. Another pain crashed over her. Drawing a deep breath, she settled her splayed hands on her stomach. The stranger yanked open the rusty door and dropped to one knee beside her, then placed his palm between hers. She gasped, shocked at his action, but the pain threatening to rip her apart demanded her attention. He watched her, saying nothing. His dark gaze took on a look of understanding. “You’re not driving anywhere.” “I’ll be fine,” she gasped, failing to suppress the shudder that tore through her. “Just give me a minute.” She moaned and bit her bottom lip until her contraction eased. Again, she wondered how much time she had left. He removed his hand and gave her a hard look. “Lady, I’ve had a really bad day. This is not the time to argue.” Sara didn’t want to be one of those women who screamed and said ugly things during labor. Despite that, she had an urge to shout at the man who acted as if she was responsible for his lousy day. “You can leave. I don’t need your help.” He clamped his mouth shut, and a muscle twitched in his jaw. “Look, that baby’s in a hurry. You’re not driving.” Apprehension swept over her. “But I need to get to the hospital.” “Right,” he said, his irritation evident. “Guess I’ll have to take you.” With that, he lifted her in his arms as if she weighed no more than a puff of smoke. She wrapped her arms around his neck and noticed a scar on his stubborn chin, which lent a rugged edge to his angular features. Despite his gruffness, the concern she glimpsed in his eyes made her misgivings scatter in the cold breeze. The muscles in his arms bunched as he held her against his chest, leaving her feeling more secure than she thought possible. More secure than she should feel. She had an inexplicable urge to lean her head against his wide shoulder, let him take care of her, just for a little while. But she would never trust another man. Not when she was always the one left behind with her pain. She shoved her hair from her face, unsettled by her reaction to him. “Everybody knows a first baby takes longer. I’m sure I’ll be fine. So, if you’ll put me down, I’ll be on my way.” The hard look he gave her dissolved whatever hope she’d clung to that he might leave. “I said I’d get you to the hospital. And I will.” Though the fire of impatience burned in his eyes, his words came out soft and gentle, almost a whisper. That, along with the touch of his calloused palm on her arm, brought a sense of calm that surprised her. Sara shook her head. She didn’t want his help, but another contraction came upon her. She closed her eyes and tried to bear the agony in silence. Her head fell against his shoulder. She gritted her teeth against the searing pain and moaned. He braced a knee on the front bumper of her car and cradled her in his arms. His chin settled against the top of her head. “Relax. Listen to my voice. Trust me, it will help.” But she couldn’t trust him. Not when the last man she’d believed in had left her shattered and hurting…and all alone with his unborn child. She clenched her eyes tighter against the sting of tears threatening and told herself to be strong, to send him away. The man stroked her arm, and she found herself trying to focus on his touch instead of the hell she was going through. “Listen to me. Have you ever seen a foal being born?” His whispered words washed over her, and she tried to concentrate on what he was saying. “They come out all nose and legs and stuff. It’s as natural as anything. Mama doesn’t need any help. Nature has a way of taking care of everything. It’s going to be all right.” After a long moment, he asked, “Has your contraction ended?” Sara opened her eyes, only then realizing her pain had eased. She’d been distracted by the tranquilizing warmth of his voice and had let him take control. The fact that she’d let down her guard enough to allow what she’d sworn no man would ever again do irritated her. “Yes, thank you. You can put me down now.” He pulled her even tighter against his muscled chest and continued around her car. Sara recognized the time had passed for getting herself to the hospital. She didn’t want to feel helpless, to need any man. Still, there was something about this man that made her think maybe things would be okay. For now. When they reached the passenger’s door, he paused, his gaze capturing hers. He frowned at her again, and she found herself wondering if he ever smiled. A sudden wave of nausea hit. Sara swallowed hard. “Wait. I’m going to throw up.” She expected him to put her down. Instead, he held her tighter, giving her the time she needed. Sara clamped her eyes shut and gulped air until the urge to be sick eased. “Okay. I—I think it’s going away.” “Then, let’s get you to the hospital.” This stranger worried her. He’d stormed into her life, full of dark looks and bad temper, and taken over—like the father of her unborn child who’d run out on her. When he caught the door handle, a sudden uneasiness filled her. “Wait,” she sputtered. “I don’t know you. I can’t let you in my car.” “I’m not a criminal,” he said, his voice tinged with impatience. “I’m Dr. Cal Tucker. Want to see some I.D.?” Though she wasn’t thrilled with the tone of his voice or bossy attitude, she shook her head. He was a man, but more than that, he was a doctor. Everything would be all right. He struggled with the door that hadn’t opened since Thanksgiving. He put his foot against the car and shifted Sara so that he held her in one arm against his chest. With another yank, the door opened, and he maneuvered her into the passenger’s seat, leaning inside the car to hook her seat belt. He turned his head, his face a hair’s breadth from hers. “How’s that?” Sara swallowed hard and nodded, incapable of speech as the next pain seized her. She sucked in air and checked her watch. He cursed under his breath, closed the door and raced around the car. Through a haze of pain, she watched him wrestle with the seat until it finally slid all the way back, then tuck his long legs into the cramped space. Even with the seat pushed back, his knees pressed against the dashboard. Cal glanced toward her as he turned the key in the ignition and pushed on the gas pedal. “What hospital?” She couldn’t make a sound for a minute, then set her jaw against the pain. “Mercy Hospital.” When the motor caught, he eased out the clutch. “Hang on.” Her car backfired, coughed, then started forward. He drove in silence, his movements sure and confident, which only made Sara feel more out of control. Frustrated at the turn of events, she told herself she shouldn’t blame Cal Tucker. It wasn’t his fault she’d gotten pregnant or that her ex-fiancå, Gary, had demanded she get an abortion, or even that he’d walked out after she’d refused. Just remembering how he’d wanted her to dispose of their baby made her shiver. “You cold?” Without waiting for her answer, Cal turned the heater up a notch higher as if he knew what was best for her. Sara pushed the memories away and really noticed the man beside her. “Where have you been, all dressed up?” A muscle ticked in his jaw as he shifted gears. “A wedding.” “Yeah, whose?” Sara caught the edge of the seat as another contraction started. Cal tore the bow tie from around his neck and shoved it in the pocket of the black tuxedo jacket before undoing the top button of his starched shirt. “Mine,” he said in a gruff voice. Sara forced herself to concentrate on the conversation. “I hate to point this out to you, Dr. Tucker, but you seem to have lost your bride.” The look he gave her rivaled the Texas sun in July. “How are you doing?” “I’m fine,” Sara said through clenched teeth as the pain worsened. “What happened?” Cal’s long fingers tightened around the gearshift, and the perpetual frown he wore deepened. “Last-minute change of plans.” The contraction peaked, and she settled her hands over her protruding stomach, staring out the window until it eased. She had thought Dr. Tucker might be different from the others, but once again, she’d been fooled by a handsome face. “Your idea?” He approached a red light, looked both ways, then went across. A shadow of annoyance darkened his gray eyes as he glanced at her from the other side of the console. “No, not mine.” As another pain came, accompanied by a wave of nausea, Sara looked at her watch. The contractions came much closer together. “Oh, no. Faster. Drive faster.” Cal placed his hand on her stomach. Sara stared at his long fingers splayed across her abdomen. The fear she’d felt diminished as she watched him watching her. He gave her a quick nod and stomped on the gas pedal. “Hold on.” Sara sat stunned. Obviously, he knew what he was doing. At least she hoped so. The thought of relying on any man scared her, but at the moment she didn’t have a choice. And Cal had M.D. behind his name, not that it mattered. Except, he was going to have to deliver her baby. “Hang on. We’re almost there.” Cal cursed himself for getting involved. He should have walked away, but he’d had no choice. He could no more have left this woman stranded, alone and in trouble, than he could embrace his parents’ way of life. He intended to get this lady to the hospital, one way or another. When he pushed on the gas pedal, the stupid car sputtered. He muttered a curse and downshifted into second gear. The woman gasped. “Pull over. I can’t go any farther.” “What’s your name?” “Sara Jamison.” Her words trailed off in a groan. “Relax. It’s not far now.” Cal rolled through a Stop sign. She glared at him. “Shove a bowling ball up your nose, Doc, then tell me relaxing will keep it from hurting.” She bore down and yelled a curse aimed at all men, including him. Frustrated, Cal choked the steering wheel. “Dammit, the side of the road is no place to have a baby.” He felt as out of breath as she sounded. “No, Sara, don’t bear down. Don’t push.” Sara braced her legs on the floor and moaned. Her hand clamped around his wrist. “Don’t tell me what to do.” She threw her head back and screamed bloody murder. Cal cursed and pulled over to the curb. He had planned to drop Sara at the hospital, then meet James for a beer. But first, it looked like he had a baby to deliver. He got out, raced around to Sara’s side of the car and opened the door. “Let’s get you in the back seat.” She tried to stand. When her knees buckled, he lifted her in his arms. Her scent whirled around him like a lasso, and he wondered how a woman could smell so good in the middle of something like this. Cal settled Sara on the back seat. She reclined and bent her knees, tucking the skirt of her frumpy brown dress around her legs. “Better?” he asked, hovering over her. He saw the fear she tried to hide and found he wanted to reassure her. When he realized he already held her hand, he released it, irritated at his reluctance to let go. Sara met his gaze, her eyes suddenly wide. “It’s coming.” She bore down then and yelled as if her horse had thrown her into a cactus patch. Cal stole a quick glance at his watch. About now, he and Tiffany should have been toasting their future with expensive champagne served in fancy glasses. He shoved the thought aside as he yanked off his tuxedo coat and tossed it over the front seat, then rolled up his sleeves. Sara grimaced, her face turning red from her exertion. After a moment, she exhaled. “I’m really glad you’re here, Cal, and that you’re a doctor. But, honestly, the way I feel right now, I wouldn’t care if you were a plumber.” He gave in to the smile that threatened. “That’s good, Sara, ’cause I’m a vet.” The color drained from her face. “A vet?” Her voice wavered. “You mean a veteran, as in foreign wars?” “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Veterinarian, as in moo.” She caught his hand, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “This is no time to joke.” “I’m not.” “Oh, great! Do you know what to do?” “Sure. It’s a piece of cake.” Cal leaned over her and, telling himself he shouldn’t, brushed a sweat-drenched curl behind her ear. This is the last place I want to be. But what better way to end the day from hell, than on the side of the road in a bad neighborhood with a woman…about to give birth. “Then you’ve done this before?” she asked. “No, but there’s nothing to worry about. We’ll get through it, together. Trust me, okay?” His confidence had to have eased her worries, because she nodded, even gave him a tentative smile. “Do I have a choice?” Cal shook his head. “Sara, I need to check the baby’s position,” he said, his voice rough and uneven. Color now rushed to her cheeks. She bit her bottom lip and nodded. He knew she had to be scared out of her wits, yet she remained calm, something Cal couldn’t imagine his fiancåe—ex-fiancåe—doing. He had to admit, despite Sara’s stubbornness, he admired her spirit and roll-with-the-punches attitude. He waited for a wino to pass, then lifted her skirt. It took another moment to undress her so he could see the baby’s head crowning. Sara groaned and pushed. A passing car honked. The shouts of children playing nearby drifted to Cal on the cold afternoon breeze. The enormity of the situation settled about him. He’d delivered foals valued anywhere from fifty to one hundred thousand dollars, but this child wasn’t an animal. Sara’s baby had decided to be born here and now, whether or not Cal liked it. “What do you see?” she asked. Cal bit back the sudden laughter that bubbled up inside him at Sara’s question. He doubted she’d appreciate his warped sense of humor at the moment. “Hmm. I see his head.” “Her head.” In spite of everything, he once again found himself smiling at the determination in Sara’s voice. “I’ll have to see the other end to know that.” “I think you’re about to see it.” She pushed and grunted, and freed the baby’s head. “Come on,” Cal said, frowning as he noticed the bluish tint to the baby’s coloring. “You’re almost there.” Sara screamed. Tiny shoulders passed through, then the baby girl slid into his waiting hands. The infant squirmed, and he tightened his hold. Cal checked her mouth and nose as best he could, anxious to make sure her air passages were clear. Soon the baby’s cries mixed with her mother’s tears of joy. Unlike the mostly silent births to which he’d grown accustomed, the music of life washed over him. Cal looked at the tiny miracle cradled in his palms. He’d held new life before, though nothing this small or fragile. Why did holding this child make it difficult to breathe? He shook his head, trying to clear his befuddled mind. The newborn’s eyes opened like a baby bird’s, and she stared up at him. Cal felt as though he’d been bucked off a bronc. He’d brought a new human life into the world. He’d delivered Sara’s baby. “What is it, Cal? What’s wrong?” Even without seeing Sara’s face, he could hear the fear in her voice. Doing his best to hold the slippery infant against his chest, he grabbed his jacket from the front seat and wrapped the baby in it. “Nothing. It’s a girl.” “Is she okay?” “She’s perfect,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper. When he caught the infant’s fist, her hand closed partway around his index finger. He stared at the tiny fingernails, so perfect in miniature. A tremor snaked up his spine. After handing the infant to Sara, Cal tugged the lace from one of his patent-leather shoes and used it to tie off the umbilical cord. He’d wait until they reached the hospital and let them sever the remaining tie between mother and child. Cal caught a glimpse of Sara as she held her daughter. He knew then he’d never forget delivering this child or the undeniable love shining on Sara’s face. Maybe love did exist—at least between mother and child. This mother and this child. A smile spread across Sara’s face as she touched her daughter’s cheek. “Cal, what’s your full name?” “Calvin Lee Tucker,” he said, wondering why she’d asked. “I’ll call her Jessica Lee.” “You don’t have to do that,” Cal said, a strange weight settling in his chest. “I know, but I want to.” She turned back to her daughter. “That’s a hell of a big name for such a little thing.” Cal tried to swallow past the tightening in his throat. “She looks like a Jessie to me.” Sara glanced at the baby, then back at him. “You need glasses. She’s definitely a Jessica.” Cal shrugged. The baby was fine. Sara was fine. That’s all that mattered. Finally ready to get underway, he leaned inside the car as Sara brushed her full lips against the baby’s head. A sudden protectiveness toward Sara and Jessie filled him. It wasn’t something he was accustomed to. He didn’t want to feel it. But he did. “I’d better get you two to the hospital.” Their gazes met and held. A smile lifted Sara’s lips. “Thanks, Cal, for everything.” Warmth stampeded through him as he gazed at Sara and her child. Rattled by his reaction, he closed the door and raced around the car. His mind spun with bits and pieces of what had happened. The weight in his chest grew heavier. Cal sucked cold air into his lungs. He dismissed what had happened, chalking the odd feelings up to stress. After all, it had been a lousy day. He started the car and, with a crunch of gravel, headed to the hospital. In the back seat Sara cooed to her daughter. The sound touched a chord deep inside him that reverberated to his soul, feeding a hunger he never knew existed, a hunger he refused to acknowledge. He focused on the road ahead and pressed on the gas pedal. His job would be done when he delivered Sara and her baby to the hospital. Then he’d head home. Alone. Chapter Two The familiar smell of antiseptic enveloped Cal as he paced the hospital corridor. He wished the doctors would hurry and pronounce Sara and her child fit, so he could head out. A young clerk walked toward him. Her gaze skittered from Cal’s unruly hair to the tips of his toes. She gave him a smile that ordinarily would have charmed Cal clean down to the soles of his rented shoes. Only his mind was occupied with thoughts of a courageous green-eyed woman. The hospital worker pointed to an office across the hall. “Sir, we need to get some information. If you’ll come with me.” He started to protest, but followed her for lack of anything better to do. “I don’t know much that will help.” “This is my first day on the job, so I appreciate your cooperation.” She directed him to a chair and took a seat in front of a computer. “What’s your name?” “Calvin Lee Tucker.” A nurse hurried past with Sara’s baby. Cal jumped to his feet to follow, but the clerk motioned for him to stay. “Where are they taking Jessie?” he asked. “Probably to the nursery to get her vitals.” Cal slumped in the chair beside the desk. “Have you ever been here before?” she asked. “Hmm? Yeah. A horse kicked me and broke a couple of ribs a year or so back.” He ran the pad of his thumb along the jagged scar on his chin, a souvenir of his rebellious days when he’d thought riding broncs would get his parents’ attention. “And I had to get stitches about ten years ago.” The woman tapped the keys of the computer. “Is your address still Route One, Willow Grove, Texas?” “Uh-huh.” “The mother’s name?” “Sara Jamison.” Cal tried to remember anything else Sara might have mentioned, but couldn’t. “Look, I don’t—” “Wait a minute.” When her computer screen went blank, the clerk sent him a sheepish grin. “Guess I pushed the wrong button. I’ll have to start over.” Cal left his chair to pace in the confined area. Finally, he pulled a business card from his billfold and handed it to the young woman. “Here’s my address and phone number. Take down what you need. I’m going to check on Sara.” She stared at the card a moment. “Sara is the mom and Jessie is the baby?” “Jessie Lee,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away. The nurse who’d taken Sara away earlier paused in the door. A grin split her face. “You can go to room 324.” “Thanks.” He needed to see Sara and the baby. Just to make sure they were both all right before he left. That’s all. Then his obligation would end, and he could change and meet James. Cal hurried down the hall, following the numbers around the corner. He paused a moment outside the room, then knocked. “Come in.” He opened the door and moved to stand at the end of the bed. His gaze roamed the contours of Sara’s face, taking in the way she smiled at him as she reclined on a pillow. Cal drew an easy breath for the first time since the delivery. Sara looked great. No, he grudgingly admitted. She looked better than great. He wondered if it was her special radiance that made it difficult to look anywhere but at her. Irritated by his response to Sara, Cal told himself to leave, but instead stood surveying the hospital room which was puke-green with gadgets stuck in every conceivable place. It was certainly different from his veterinary clinic, where he cared for horses. “Have you seen Jessica?” Sara asked, her happiness shining from the inside out. The bloom of motherhood colored her freckled cheeks. Cal had an inexplicable urge to sit and stay awhile. “Only when they rushed past headed to the nursery.” She plucked at the blanket. “When will they bring Jessica?” He shrugged, reminding himself again he needed to leave. “You want me to ask?” Sara’s smile widened. “Would you?” “Sure,” he said, doing his best to ignore the warmth that filled him. He couldn’t understand why looking at Sara should make him feel so good. He turned to leave, then paused. “What did the doctor say? Are you okay?” Her eyes sparkled. “I’m great, thanks to you.” Cal coughed to clear the tightness in his throat. He and Sara had shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One he’d never forget. That’s all this odd feeling was. A twinge of guilt seized him. When he had run across Sara, he’d cursed her and his bad timing. He’d even wished he could turn the other way. Thank God he hadn’t. But the time had come to go. He’d check on Jessie, then leave. He looked at Sara once more. A man could drown in the happiness he saw reflected in her eyes and die with a smile on his face. Cal silently cursed and forced himself out the door. A baby’s cries echoed in the hallway seconds before a nurse rounded the corner. A red-faced Jessie lay on her back in the center of a small, plastic cart on wheels. The infant squalled louder than he’d thought possible. She stiffened inside the blanket tucked tightly around her body, then pumped her tiny legs. After growing up an only child, Cal had always planned to have kids, lots of ’em. But his children wouldn’t be raised by a horde of nannies and housekeepers. His babies would know his touch, his love. But there was no need to consider that now. He reached out and ran his forefinger across Jessie’s cheek. Warmth flooded his chest. “Has the doctor seen her?” “Yes.” He decided now was the time to leave and stepped aside so the nurse could push the cart into Sara’s room. “The doctor has called in a pediatrician to check her over. Then, we’ll take her back to isolation,” the nurse said. Cal’s breath left in a whoosh, and he followed her into the room. “Isolation? Why? What’s wrong?” He hated the helplessness in Sara’s eyes as she looked from him to the nurse. “When a child is born outside the hospital, it’s kept away from the other babies in case it picked up something. It’s just hospital policy, hon.” The nurse patted Sara’s arm and recited instructions about nursing and proper infant care. Cal glanced at the baby, needing to see for himself that she was fine. “There’s nothing wrong that you know of?” “Well, she’s sounding a little raspy. We wanted to get her down to see Mom for a minute before the pediatrician arrives,” the nurse said as she checked Sara’s and Jessie’s hospital bracelets, then headed toward the door. “Now, she can’t nurse until after the pediatrician sees her. And I’m afraid this will be a short visit. I need to check with the nurse’s desk down the hall. Ring the buzzer if you need anything.” Cal exhaled. “Thanks.” When Sara started to get up, he caught her arm. “Stay put. I’ll hand her to you.” Cal moved to the boxy thing containing Jessie and worked his hands beneath the infant’s slight weight. When he cradled her in his palms, Jessie’s head lolled to one side. Cal couldn’t figure out how to hold her so she didn’t hang limp. Unlike foals who stood after birth, Jessie appeared weak as a sparrow. The baby squalled, her tongue quivering in her open mouth. Cal stood in amazement as Sara lifted the child with hands that were sure, yet gentle. Sara cooed and a rush of yearning zipped through Cal, catching him by surprise. He took a step back. “I’d better be going, unless you think I should stay until after the pediatrician—” “No, that’s not necessary. I’m sure everything’s fine.” The infant’s cries stopped. She blinked and stared at Sara. Quiet filled the room, except for the comforting sound of Sara’s voice as she murmured words of love to her daughter. Cal’s mouth went dry. Why did watching Sara with her baby bother him? He’d seen hundreds of foals with the mares after birth, but this made him feel…something he couldn’t describe. “Is there someone I can call for you before I head out?” Sara stroked the blond fuzz on Jessie’s head. “No.” “Your husband, folks, sister, brother?” She shrugged. “No.” Cal muttered an oath. “Boyfriend?” Sara met Cal’s direct gaze. “No.” “Doesn’t Jessie’s father have a right to know?” The sparkle left Sara’s eyes as they narrowed on Cal. “Her father lost his rights when he told me to get an abortion.” Outraged, Cal’s hands fisted at his sides. He knew well the pain associated with rejection and hated the thought that Jessie would grow up knowing she hadn’t been wanted by her father. “Maybe if you told him about Jessie now, he’d change his mind.” Sara’s eyes darkened in warning. “Gary made his decision when he walked out. He won’t get a chance to hurt her.” Cal eyed the woman who had turned into a snarling mama bear, determined to protect her cub. He still believed Sara should tell the baby’s father, regardless of what the man had done. If Jessie was Cal’s child, he’d want to know. But then he wouldn’t have told Sara to get an abortion. And he would never have walked out on her. Cal chewed on the fact that Sara didn’t have anyone to help her. He didn’t like that at all and assumed the protectiveness he felt was because he’d delivered the baby. Sara sent him a thoughtful look. “I hate to ask you for a favor, but there’s no one else.” “What do you need?” “Put my car key under the front seat, then lock the doors.” Cal frowned. “Why?” Sara kissed the top of Jessie’s head and looked everywhere, but at him. “The bank gave me until today to bring my payments up to date. I haven’t been able to work, so I need to let them take the car. I’ll call and tell them where it is. If you’ll just lock the keys inside, I’d appreciate it.” He tugged his wallet from his back pocket, intending the loan of money to be his last goodwill gesture before hitting the road. “How much do you need?” Sara’s narrowed gaze met his. “I don’t want your charity.” Confounded stubborn woman. “It’s not charity. Think of it as a loan. You can pay me back when you’re able.” “You brought Jessica into this world, Cal, and I’ll always be grateful for that. But I can’t take your money.” She shifted the baby against her shoulder. Cal glared out the window. Frustration and anger made him want to shake Sara. How the devil did she expect to get by without a car or anyone to take care of her? The idea of Sara being alone didn’t sit well with him. She was so full of pride he doubted she’d accept his help. Not that he wanted to give it. He’d already done more than enough and needed to leave. “How will you get Jessie home?” “I don’t know. I’ll take a taxi, or maybe the bus.” For the first time in his life, Cal wished he was as unfeeling as his parents. Then he’d have no qualms about turning his back on Sara and her child. But he hadn’t done it earlier, and he didn’t see how he could do it now. Why that fact irritated him, he wasn’t sure, but it did. Though he hated to admit it, Sara had crawled under his skin. The realization made him want to run. He didn’t want to get any more involved than he already had, but damned if he could stand by while she struggled through this alone. “I’ll drop it off on my way home. What bank?” “Lone Star Bank out on I-20 West.” She ran her hand in circles on the baby’s back and stared at Cal with eyes that shimmered with tears. “Thanks, for everything.” He couldn’t stand seeing Sara cry, so he headed for the door. If he didn’t get out of there, he’d pull her in his arms, and he couldn’t afford to do that. Not that he knew squat about giving comfort. He’d probably mess that up like he had everything else in his life. Everything except delivering Jessie. Cal heard Sara’s muffled sobs as his hand closed over the handle. He paused, refusing to look at her, knowing the sight of her tears would be his undoing. “I’ll take you and Jessie home when you’re released.” Cursing himself for staying in the first place, he slipped through the door and closed it behind him, effectively cutting off her rejection of his offer. He pulled the key to her car from his pocket. She’d made it clear she didn’t want his help. Not that he wanted to give it, but she had no one else. Cal glanced at his watch, remembering he should have met James hours earlier. He’d go change, then head to the Bull Pen. After the day he’d had, Cal needed a couple of drinks. Besides, it wasn’t like he had anyone waiting at home. Around midnight Cal accepted a long-neck bottle from the waitress as James tossed her a smile along with a ten-dollar bill. They both stared at the hypnotic sway of her jean-clad hips as she strolled her way across the room. But somewhere between their table and the bar, Cal’s vision blurred and he saw a pair of green eyes that refused to give him peace. Realizing the direction of his thoughts, he muttered an oath. James slapped Cal on the back. “You gonna make it?” “Yeah,” Cal said, finally acknowledging he’d get no rest until he knew how Sara was doing…and Jessie. “These are just my thoughts, so you can take ’em or leave ’em.” James tipped his bottle up to take a healthy draw. “But if you’re going to pine away after Tiffany, then you—” “Pine away?” Out on the dance floor, a woman laughed, reminding Cal of Sara. He’d call the hospital as soon as he got home to check on her. Then he’d put her out of his mind. James eyed Cal. “Your mind is somewhere else. Have you talked to Tiffany since the wedding?” From the corner jukebox, George Strait sang about doing the right thing. “Who?” “Tiffany—the gal you were supposed to marry. Why don’t you go find her and talk things out?” Cal picked at the corner of his beer label. “We’ve talked. I went home to change clothes and called her before I came here. She confessed she’d met some guy—a photographer—last month. She had no intention of seeing him outside of work, but said there was a chemistry between them—whatever the hell that means.” He ran a hand over his face. “Anyway, she’s headed back to New York…to him. It seems she came back to break things off with me, only she lost her nerve. So, there’s nothing to work out. She’s always hated what I do. It was only after my dad offered me that position running one of his companies that she seemed eager to give up modeling to be my wife.” James winked at a redhead two tables over. “Are you okay with that?” “You mean do I want to fight for her?” At James’s nod, Cal shook his head. “No. There’s no point.” “What do your folks have to say about all this?” “Nothing yet. They were catching a flight to France right after the wedding.” Cal knew they would blame him for this mess with Tiffany, just as he knew his mother would double her efforts to find him a suitable wife—meaning one whose family came from old money. They could shove their rules, social register, dinner parties and their efforts to run his life. He’d never walk away from the only thing that made him happy. He couldn’t imagine his life without his veterinary practice. He’d never give it up—not to please his manipulating parents or the beautiful model whose so-called love came at a price he hadn’t been willing to pay. “I knew Tiff and I disagreed on almost everything,” he said, “but I’d fooled myself into believing things might work. I’m tired of it all. I’m tired of trying. Tired of failing. And I’m tired of always being the one who has to change.” James sent him a questioning look. “You sure?” “I mean it. I’m through trying to be what everyone else wants. Look where it’s gotten me. From now on, I’m doing what I want, when I want. To hell with everybody else.” The beeper hanging on Cal’s belt vibrated. He tilted his pager at an angle so he could see the message. Flipping open his cellular phone, he punched in the number. When a nurse from the hospital answered, he said, “This is Cal Tucker.” “Dr. Tucker, this is Mercy Hospital. Dr. Moore asked me to call you.” Cal’s gut clenched as tightly as his grip on the phone. “Why?” “There’s a problem with the baby.” “Put me through to Sara.” Without hesitation, Cal stood and grabbed his denim jacket. “I’m sorry, Dr. Tucker, we had to sedate her.” “I’m on my way.” Cal closed the phone and shoved it in the holster at his hip. “What’s wrong?” James asked. “I’ve got to go. I feel responsible.” A strange heaviness filled Cal’s chest. He could still feel the slight weight of Jessie’s tiny body in his palms when she’d slid from Sara’s body. A weight that had lodged itself in his heart. “Who is Sara?” “I can’t talk about it now.” Cal grabbed his Resistol off the table. “Look, I’d planned on coming back to work since the wedding fell through, but something has come up. I think I’ll take a couple of days off if you can manage the clinic.” James stood. “No sweat.” Cal pushed his hat down low on his brow and headed out the door, jamming a fist through the sleeve of his jacket as he went. He hated the fear that twisted his gut and knew he had no choice but to go. Sara needed him. Jessie needed him. And he needed to know if he was responsible for Jessie’s problem. Cal brushed a chestnut curl off Sara’s forehead as she lay sleeping in the hospital bed. His gaze traced the contour of her smooth jaw, followed by his fingertip. The voice of the hospital operator paging someone brought him back to reality. Realizing he’d touched Sara, he frowned and pulled away, forcing himself across the room. He stared out the windows into the night, its inky blackness broken here and there by the dim glow of streetlights. The heater kicked on and the whir of the fan blowing warm air through the vents interrupted the room’s stillness. If only he had news about the baby, something to give Sara hope and reassurance when she woke. When she stirred in her sleep and blinked, he returned to the side of her bed. Her green eyes fluttered, then opened. Sara stared at him, and Cal knew from the way she squinted that she still fought the lingering effects of the sedative. “It’s okay, Sara. I’m here.” Cal sat on the edge of her bed and leaned toward her so she could see him. “Oh, Cal.” Her voice cracked. “How did you know?” “The hospital called.” Her bottom lip trembled, and she clutched his hands as if fearing he would leave. Her frantic grip loosened after a moment, but when he tried to pull away, she grabbed at his shirtfront. “Have they told you anything about Jessica? She’s the only thing I have. I can’t lose her. I can’t.” The urge to take Sara in his arms and hold her caught him off guard. He knew he shouldn’t, but that’s exactly what he did. He had to do something to ease her pain before it consumed him. He held her tight. “I won’t leave until I see the doctor, until we have some answers.” Cal buried his nose in the curls that framed her face and inhaled her sweetness. When he tried to pull away, she wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him. Her closeness burned him. He felt like an ice-cream cone left out in the hot Texas sun. Cal knew he should push Sara away, but couldn’t, not when she needed him. For now, he’d hold her, reassure her, for as long as she wanted. It was the least he could do. Pressed against her, he became aware of the pounding of her heart and the thrust of her breasts. Irritated with himself, he pulled back. She didn’t try to hold him, the sedative once again lowering her eyelids. Cal had never received a jolt quite like this. He couldn’t understand his profound reaction. One more thing in his life gone out of control. He didn’t like the way Sara made him feel…as if his decision to remain indifferent was a rope that gave way one strand at a time. Cal stood and moved once more to the window. He’d been okay with her needing him, but he had no business craving to be with her, to protect her. Sara deserved more than what he could give her, yet he couldn’t help but wonder about the faceless man who’d walked out on her and their unborn child. Cal itched to get his hands on the jerk, and that bothered him as much as the things Sara made him feel. Sara…She embodied everything he’d been denied his whole life and made him want things he couldn’t have. Cal glanced over his shoulder, his body still attuned to her nearness, and swore. Something about Sara drew him. But he wouldn’t make another mistake, so he headed for the door. Chapter Three Cal paced outside the neonatal isolation unit. He’d walked this strip of gray tile for three hours now, waiting to hear something about Jessie. He needed to see if Sara still slept, but kept putting it off, not wanting to face her until he had news about the baby. Also, he had to rein in the feelings that had nothing to do with wanting to protect her and the baby. An admissions clerk swished toward him. She stuck a clipboard under his nose. “We need your signature on these forms, Dr. Tucker.” The clerk’s stiff demeanor annoyed Cal. “What are they?” “Routine forms for the administration office. They’re acknowledgment of your responsibility to pay.” She thrust a pen toward him. He shook his head. “Sara needs to sign those.” The doors beside him burst open. A short, gray-haired man tugged down the blue mask covering his mouth and nose and let it hang around his neck. Glancing at Cal, he asked, “Dr. Tucker?” Tension knotted Cal’s shoulders. “Yes.” The clerk cleared her throat as she blocked Cal’s path. “Your signature, please.” Cal glanced toward the doctor, then snatched the pen from the irritating clerk. Once he’d scrawled his name on the lines indicated, the clerk took the clipboard and pen and slipped away. The man in scrubs extended his hand toward Cal. “I understand you performed the delivery on the side of the road.” Cal shook the offered hand. “I didn’t have much choice. How is Jessie?” “She’s fine. You’ve got yourself a real fighter in there.” Cal wondered at the sense of pride that filled him. “What happened?” “She aspirated amniotic fluid during the delivery, which caused her some difficulty breathing. We want to observe her closely for a couple of hours. If all continues to go well, she can go home the day after tomorrow.” Relief rushed through Cal, but nagging doubts still troubled him. “Did I do something wrong that caused this trouble?” The doctor patted Cal’s shoulder. “No, son. You did a fine job. It just happens sometimes.” The guilt he’d struggled with since the nurse’s call eased. “Will there be any lingering problems from this?” “It’s hard to tell this soon. Sometimes there are some respiratory problems for a while. Each case is different. Just keep a close eye on her and call her pediatrician if she has any trouble.” “Thanks.” After the doctor left, Cal headed for Sara’s room, suddenly anxious to tell her the good news. He heard the commotion before he rounded the corner. Sara staggered toward him, pushing her IV pole, clearing a path down the hall, a nurse hot on her heels. The nurse tried to bar Sara’s way. “You’ve got to go back to your room.” Sara glanced at Cal, a look of utter torment and despair on her face. Her soft bottom lip trembled. Tears streamed down her freckled cheeks and dripped from her chin. Suddenly she was in his arms. He didn’t know how it had happened, only that she was there. Cal absorbed the sobs that racked her body and hugged her tightly, bending down to bury his face in her soft hair. He would leave in a moment, but for now… “Shh, Sara, it’s okay.” He straightened, trying to ignore how good she felt pressed against him. Cal wanted to pull back so he wouldn’t feel her softness, but he couldn’t. Instead, he shifted from one foot to the other and did his best to comfort her while ignoring his body’s immediate response to her nearness. “Can you talk with her, please?” the nurse asked. “She’s still under sedation and too unsteady to be out here.” Her tone softened. “I know the waiting is difficult, but as soon as we hear something about the child’s condition, we’ll let you know.” “It’s okay,” Cal said. “I’ll take her to her room.” He reached for Sara’s elbow, but she shoved his hand away, surprising him with her strength. “Get away from me. I’m not budging until someone tells me what’s going on with my baby.” She hobbled around him, wincing as she went. Cal turned in time to catch the tail end of her gaping hospital gown, trying not to notice her long, coltish legs as he pulled her to a stop. “Sara, wait. I just left the doctor.” She spun to face him, catching the back of her gown to hold it closed. “How is she?” “Jessie’s fine. Now, let’s go back to your room, and I’ll tell you everything.” Her lower lip trembled again, and she walked back into his arms. Cal held her against him and settled his chin on the top of her head. Her shoulders shook, and he patted her awkwardly, stirring the air, which teased his nostrils with her sweetness. He shouldn’t want to hold her. He shouldn’t need to comfort her. And he shouldn’t like it this blasted much. “Come on, Sara. Let’s get you back to bed.” The sight of this strong woman coming all undone, a woman who had just gone through natural childbirth on the side of the road, touched something deep inside him. Sara tipped her head back to meet his gaze. “I have to see her, to touch her. Please, Cal, I need to know she’s okay.” The soft, warm quality of her voice beckoned him. Cal took a step back and cleared his throat. “The doctor wants to keep Jessie under close observation for a few more hours. When it’s safe, they’ll bring her to you. But we have to go back to your room. That’s where they’ll call.” He turned Sara around and, with his arm about her slumped shoulders, guided her down the hall. She leaned against him, her arm circling his waist as if his strength might be the only thing holding her upright. Cal didn’t want to get drawn into her problems, but Sara needed someone strong to depend on for a while. He told himself he could do at least that much without getting any more involved. Though Tiffany had assured him it was over between them, he still needed some time to think through everything, to reevaluate the direction of his life. The last thing he wanted was to get tangled up with another woman. Sara relaxed against him, her breast pressing into his side. He did his best to ignore the way she made him feel and his sudden need to hold her tighter. Now that they knew Jessie was safe, he probably should leave. When they entered her room, he urged Sara toward the bed. This should have been one of the happiest days of her life, a time shared with someone she loved. Instead, her daughter was in isolation. And Sara was here with him—a man incapable of love—because some scumbag who didn’t rate being called a man had walked out on her. Cal had learned early in life about broken dreams and disappointments. That she’d had to deal with the same feelings of defeat and failure ate at him. Sara deserved a man who would take care of her, worship her, love her. For one insane moment his control slipped, and he wished he could be that kind of man. But he knew he wasn’t and never would be. The next morning Sara pushed the breakfast tray aside and sat on the edge of the hospital bed, her heart broken. “This is all my fault. I should have left home sooner.” Cal leaned against the wall, arms folded over his chest, legs crossed at the ankles. He listened and frowned. “I waited too long to start for the hospital, then my darned car wouldn’t start.” Sara pushed a lock of hair back from her face. “I don’t think I can bear the thought I might be to blame for Jessica’s breathing problems.” “You did what you thought best.” The bitter taste of defeat filled Sara’s mouth. Every day since Gary had walked out, the fight to survive had grown more difficult. At first it was almost as if he’d taken everything good with him. But now she knew that, too, was a lie. Using pretty words and a too-sexy smile, Gary had made her think things were great. Eventually she’d seen through the illusion he’d painted. Now she had a reason to go on. Jessica was the only good and decent thing left in Sara’s life. Fresh tears ran down her cheeks, but she couldn’t summon the energy to wipe them away. The adrenaline rush she’d felt after Jessica’s birth had deserted her. The need to lie down and curl into a ball tugged at her, but she refused to give in. Cal cocked his head to the side and looked at her. “Listen to me, Sara. Dr. Moore said this deal with Jessie is just one of those things that happens sometimes. None of it is your fault.” “I’d never intentionally do anything to harm Jessica.” “I know you wouldn’t.” Sara bowed her head. She hadn’t had a chance to get to know her own mother, who had died in childbirth. She’d had no mothering, no one to learn from until the fourth grade when her father had returned to the rodeo circuit, sending Sara to live with her maternal grandmother. Despair settled like a rock in her stomach. “Maybe I’m not fit to be a mother.” Cal pushed away from the wall and ambled toward her, his boot heels marking off the distance between them, his musky cologne embracing her. He paused beside her. “I never figured you for a quitter.” Her head snapped up and she glared at him. “I’m not.” He caught a tear running down her cheek on the tip of his finger and looked at her, his eyes filled with challenge. “Could’ve fooled me.” Sara didn’t know why she even bothered to argue with the cowboy. “I’m not crying. It’s postpartum depression. Surely you’ve heard of it.” “You know,” he said, giving her a cocky grin that deepened the dimples bracketing his mouth. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a mare suffering from that particular malady.” A warming sensation wound its way through her. She wondered about this man who seemed so different from any she’d known. The door opened, and Jessica’s cries filled the room as a nurse maneuvered a bassinet inside. Sara’s heart swelled. When she tried to ease off the bed, Cal clasped her about the waist and lowered her to stand on the floor. She pushed his hands aside. “Quit it. I’m not helpless.” “Never thought you were.” She dismissed him and hurried to her child as fast as her sore body would allow. The nurse pointed to a chair. “Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll hand your child to you.” After Sara complied, she settled Jessica in Sara’s arms and smiled. “If you need anything, hon, just ring the nurses’ station.” The woman left, pulling the door closed. Sara nuzzled a cheek against her infant’s tiny head and inhaled the sweet baby scent. All her worries melted away. “You gonna cry again?” Cal sat on the edge of the hospital bed and stretched his long legs out in front of him. She glanced at him. “I don’t think so. I’ve got my baby now. She’s what I needed. She’s all I’ll ever need.” With that Sara tugged on the top tie at the back of her hospital gown. She bared her shoulder and paused, her gaze riveted on Cal. “I know one udder is pretty much like another, but I’m kind of new at this and…” Sara tried to ignore Cal’s wicked grin, but couldn’t. Heat filled her cheeks as he continued to watch her. She sighed. “Cal, I can’t do this with you staring.” His gaze flicked over her again, and the corner of his mouth twitched. He slid off the bed and sauntered across the room, pausing beside her. “Sara, I’ve seen you from the inside out. There’s no reason to be embarrassed now, but I need to go, anyway. I just dropped by to check on you and Jessie.” Sara tried not to notice the hurt expression he wore and the way he lingered at her side. “Thanks, Cal,” she said, clearing the tightness from her throat. “I appreciate everything you’ve done.” After a moment, Cal nodded. With long strides, he ambled to the door, pulled it open and stepped into the hall. The door closed behind him with a quiet click. After putting Cal from her mind, Sara cleansed herself, then lifted her child who instinctively began to nurse. A sharp rap on the door sounded as Cal entered. She grabbed a receiving blanket and covered her exposed breast. “Cal!” His gaze settled on the flannel covering. Heat climbed Sara’s neck, and she wished he’d look away. Finally, he removed his hat and fingered the brim. “I—I’ll swing by later to see how things are going and find out when you’ll get to go home,” he said, tossing out an uneasy smile. “I came back to ask if you need anything.” “You don’t have to do this, Cal. I appreciate everything you’ve done for Jessica and me, but I know you have a life and a business to keep going.” He replaced his hat, tugging the brim low on his brow. She did her best to ignore the heat of his gaze, but couldn’t quite manage. Something about his eyes, the way he looked at her, made her feel as if he actually cared. “I’ve already made arrangements to take off. My partner’s covering the clinic.” “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but you don’t have to come back. We’ll be all right.” Though he seemed somehow different from Gary, Cal was still a man. The last thing Sara wanted was to get used to having another one around. Each and every one she’d known had brought her nothing but trouble, and she’d already had enough of that to last a lifetime. Cal stared down at the floor a moment, then met her gaze. “I know it sounds strange, but I feel somehow responsible. I need to know you’ll be okay. You and Jessie.” “Well, you don’t have to feel responsible. We’re fine. I appreciate everything you’ve done for us, but we don’t want to take up any more of your—” “Actually, the doctor said this thing with Jessie might have some lingering effects, so if it’s just the same to you, I’ll—” The room seemed to tilt. “Why didn’t you tell me?” He shrugged. “I didn’t want to worry you.” “I’m her mother. I’m supposed to worry.” She regarded Jessica, who still nursed. When Cal continued to stand there, she frowned at him. “What are you not saying? Does the doctor think she’ll have problems?” He met her gaze, his expression serious. Too serious. “Don’t get upset. The doctor said some kids have problems, but others don’t.” Sara’s world crumbled around her, but she wouldn’t tell Cal that. She didn’t need to drag him into her problems. He shook his head. “I can’t go yet. You need me.” She almost choked on the breath she drew. “Granted, I may need a lot of things, but right now a man’s not one of them.” His look suggested he disagreed. “It’s not what you think. Just friends,” he said, the brim of his hat casting his face in shadow, preventing her from seeing his eyes. “No strings.” Sara stared at him a long minute. She had no idea what he wanted or why. Worse still, she didn’t know what to do about him. Or herself for that matter. “Weren’t you getting married or something yesterday?” He hooked a thumb in his belt loop and shrugged. “Not anymore.” “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be.” He touched the brim of his hat and said, “I’ll be by later.” Then he sauntered out the door. The things Sara noticed about Cal made her uneasy, not to mention the way he made her feel. A woman who’d just had a baby had no business having those kinds of thoughts. Granted, he had stayed with her through childbirth and afterward, when she’d feared losing her daughter. As much as Sara hated to admit it, she’d leaned on him and he’d stood fast, never wavering, never letting her down. The problem was Cal had this male thing going for him. He was sexy in a no-frills, down-to-earth way. And despite her vow to push him away—her denial that she needed him—she had found herself listening for the sound of his boot heels in the hall. She’d also noticed the hungry glances the nurses sent his way, as if he were a chocolate bar. Even though her reactions to him were nothing but an excess of jumbled hormones, Sara admitted to doing a double take once, twice…Okay, maybe three times. He stood at least six-two with muscles in all the right places. The deep tan he wore suited him, giving him an earthy, outdoors look. Dressed in jeans, scuffed boots, and a faded-blue chambray work shirt with the cuffs rolled back, Cal looked better than he had in the tuxedo. His every move, his every touch, made her more aware of him as a man. Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39926298&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.