The midwife cried, “Push, missus!”
Cara Lee bore down hard. A great relief washed over her. She closed her eyes, unwilling to see the man who now betrayed her.
Cara Lee heard a slap and a hearty cry. She opened her eyes and saw her baby. Love burst from her.
“It’s a boy, missus. Hale and hearty.”
“He’s mine,” she spit out, glaring at Gordon Fisher. “You can’t have him.”
He took the baby and wrapped him in a shawl and said, “This child will prove I’m respectable. Max will leave me all his money. Thank you for all you did, my dear.”
Gordon retreated from the room. She let out an anguished cry.
“Well, I never …” The midwife shook her head. “Let’s see if I can make you comfortable, dearie.”
Cara Lee moaned as the woman fussed over her. She was having trouble breathing again, just as before. A great weight pressed upon her.
“The worst is over now, missus. Let me just deal with the afterbirth. Maybe I can staunch the bleeding.”
As the midwife lifted the sheet again, she gasped. “Oh, no. Oh, my lord.”
Cara Lee broke out in a cold sweat. The pain was back, even worse than before. Her body, her spirit, her faith in her husband. All had been broken. How much more could she bear?
The midwife clucked loudly. “Another one’s coming, child. You’ll have to be strong a little longer.”
The burning urge to push herself to her limit had returned. She bit her lip hard and willed the baby to exit the birth canal. The burden eased from her and the midwife cut the cord as before.
“It’s another boy. Spittin’ image of the other tyke.”
Cara Lee smiled weakly at the newborn. The room began to grow dark. She reached out to touch her child. “I love you, sweet boy,” she croaked.
The baby gurgled happily.
“You mustn’t call him back. Don’t ever let …” Her voice trailed off.
The midwife pulled the stained bedsheet over the woman’s head. She stared blankly at the wide-eyed baby in her arms.
“Lord Almighty. I never even knew your mama’s name.”
“I believe I have quite a number of useful facts, Ben. I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to interview you.”
Maggie pulled money from her reticule and stood, ready to pass it along to the cowboy.
“Thank you for your valuable time. This should be more than enough to pay for your room tonight.”
Ben rose and waved it away. “The whisky and company are thanks enough.” He corked the bottle and picked it up. “I think I’ll take this with me if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.”
They stood close in the nook, facing each other. Maggie remembered how much she wanted to kiss this man earlier. She’d almost forgotten, losing herself in his stories.
Looking at him now, her lips ached. Her pulse began to race as she stared into his mesmerizing eyes. She was near enough to smell the soap on his skin and the clean cotton of his brand-new shirt. She decided to take a wild chance. She’d never see him again. Why not?
Before she acted on the impulse, he leaned down and pulled her into his arms. His lips grazed hers, softly at first, then they demanded more. She started to ask what was going on and his tongue thrust into her mouth. It began stroking hers, dancing along the roof of her mouth, running along magically, sending chills through her.
She grabbed his shirtfront to steady herself. Her stomach tossed about as wildly as her beating heart. His grasp on her tightened and she melted into his hard, muscled chest. She lost all sense of time.
Then he pulled away from her slightly, their lips almost touching. “Thank you, Miss Rutherford,” he whispered. He kissed her again, swift and hard, tipped his hat, and was gone.
She fell back into the chair. Brought her fingers to her pulsating lips. She still tasted his whisky and something that was simply the essence of Ben Morgan.
Maggie smiled. She definitely needed to do more research on kissing. And she wanted to investigate the possibilities with him.
Serena reached the last railcar. Only two gentlemen occupied it, one engrossed in his newspaper and the other snoring openmouthed.
Then a touch on her elbow made her gasp. She turned to find Daman Rutledge beaming at her.
“Come on.” He tugged on her gently, then slipped his hand around hers. “We need to hurry.”
Serena needed to make a decision. If she rode to the first station, she put a good bit of distance between her and the sheriff. Or she could continue on with her charming benefactor and throw caution to the wind.
She allowed Daman to pull her quickly down the aisle, where he opened the door to the rear platform. The whistle blew and she could feel the train’s momentum starting to pick up.
What should she do?
“Let’s move rapidly, Miss Sullivan.” Daman threw a leg over the rail and slid the other one over. “Steady your hands on the rail.” He tightened his hand around her wrist.
Nerves fluttered wildly through her. Serena looked desperately at Daman. “This was the best you could come up with? I thought you promised me a different plan.”
Daman shrugged, proffering a guilty smile. He gave her wrist another squeeze. “Come on, Miss Sullivan. I have faith in you.”
Instinct took over. Serena lifted her skirt with her free hand and awkwardly climbed over the rail, stepping onto the other side. She clung a moment to the bars. Her mind told her to stay. She still had a little money and change from the ticket. And she didn’t know a thing about Daman Rutledge.
But her heart told her she should trust him. If not, maybe she could shake him off at one of the stage stations.
With a leap of faith, Serena took the hand he offered. They let go of the railing and dropped to the dust. They landed in tandem, low to the ground. The impact stung her feet and Serena flung out her right hand and touched earth. She gave a grateful sigh as she watched the train chugging away.
Daman pulled her to her feet as the train moved on. Serena saw it started to pick up speed. Another half-minute and she’d probably have been too frightened to jump.
He took her hand again and it seemed to Serena to be the most natural thing in the world.