Sagebrush Brides

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.