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Charlene Sands
The Heart of a Cowboy


“Be ready at two, Sarah. I was meaning to get into town soon anyway.”

“If you insist, but you don’t really have to.”

He grunted his reply and strolled out of the kitchen.

Case settled himself on the back porch steps and took a swig of his beer. The golden liquid slid easily down his throat and quenched his thirst. Stretching out his long legs, he leaned on his elbows and glanced up at the stars, but Sarah’s image appeared, out of nowhere it seemed, and interrupted his peace. He’d been thinking about her all day. Couldn’t rightly get her off his mind.

That night years ago flashed into his head, like a moving picture and plagued his memory. Sarah had looked so beautiful in her flowing pale blue gown, standing there on the threshold, expecting Reid to pick her up for her much-anticipated senior prom. Reid had come down with the flu, but hadn’t wanted Sarah to miss out on the evening. He’d practically begged Case to don his rented suit and replace him for the evening. Case protested—he didn’t want to go to some fancy doings with his brother’s girl, but in the end, for his brother’s sake, he agreed.

The mistake was in not calling Sarah first, to let her know the situation. Reid argued that she wouldn’t go if she knew how sick he’d been, so Case agreed to tell her once he got to her house. But once he knocked on her door, Sarah gave him no time for explanations. The minute she saw him standing there in his brother’s suit, believing him to be Reid, she flowed into his arms and kissed him soundly on the lips. Case hadn’t expected the intense surge of passion that erupted within him. He hadn’t expected to enjoy Sarah’s lips moving over his or her sweet scent nearly buckling his knees.

On pure male instinct, he wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss, thrusting his tongue in her mouth. Incredible sensations wiped all rational thought clear from his head. He forgot all about his mission, the fact that Sarah could never be his.

They kissed deeply, Case pressing her back with small exquisitely sensual steps until he had her braced against the wall. Their bodies touched intimately, the whisper of satin crushed up against his groin. He couldn’t hide his arousal. He couldn’t get enough of her. He needed more, to touch her and continue touching her. He’d never been so taken by a female before. He’d never felt so overwhelmed and completely helpless to the sudden urges consuming him.

She arched back and he traveled kisses along her delicate throat. Her moans of pleasure caused him to throw all caution to the wind. He couldn’t think beyond absorbing Sarah into his heat. Within seconds, her dress was unzipped and his hands found the contours of her smooth back, his lips the beautiful swell of her breasts. She tasted better than heaven, better than anything he’d ever known. He wanted Sarah more than his next breath.

Intense desire seared through him like a burst of flames. He’d pressed himself closer and hiked up her pretty dress. The soft silky slide of her nylons gave way to bare flesh. She burned under his fingertips and moaned his name. His name. “Case, stop. You have to stop.”

Startled, Case did stop, looking Sarah dead in the eyes. How long had she’d known it was him and not Reid, he would often wonder. Why hadn’t she stopped him immediately?

Case slugged back another gulp of beer and shook his head, remembering. Sarah had been furious and called him every name under the sun. Denial played heavily on his lips, but he didn’t defend himself, he couldn’t. But to keep Reid from getting suspicious, he’d finally convinced Sarah to go to the party. They’d both agreed not to tell Reid what had happened and not to speak of it again. It was the only way Case could calm her down.

They’d spent an awkward tense night with Sarah hardly able to look at him. She hadn’t let him touch her. They hadn’t danced. Case knew Sarah thought he played a dirty trick on her. He couldn’t blame her—he’d always teased and tormented her in their younger days often times pretending he was Reid. But Case had to let her believe that he was just plain rotten, that he’d used her in a mean-spirited game rather than to let on to the truth. Because the truth was far worse and it had hit Case right smack between the eyes that night. He’d fallen for his brother’s girl. The girl Reid had professed to love since the age of fourteen. The girl Reid was going to marry.

Case cursed his bad luck and chugged down another swig of beer. The strong smell of liquor was soon replaced by a flowery scent that teased his nostrils as it drifted by.

“Case?”

Sarah’s soft voice from behind had him swiveling his head. She stood in the doorway, dressed in a short white cotton robe. His gaze riveted instantly to her legs, exposed from the knees down. They were still shapely, regardless of her pregnancy and he recalled how damn soft they’d felt when he’d slid his hand up her thigh and touched her there. He wanted that again. He wanted to hold her, kiss her and finish what they’d started that night. Damn. His whole body tightened, just looking at her. “Huh?”

“I forgot to tell you at supper that you had a few messages. Penny Applegate, Josie Miller and Reba Stokely called. They’d heard you were back in town and wanted to say hello.”

Case nodded and averted his gaze. The last thing he needed was to hook up with any of his old girlfriends. He’d had enough female trouble on the rodeo circuit to last him a lifetime. It’d be hell enough living with Sarah, much less getting involved with any other female right now. “What’d you tell them?”

“Only that I’d give you the message.”

He nodded and lifted his eyes to meet hers. “Consider it done. You going to bed now?”

“Yes. Uh, well, good night, Case.”

“’Night, Sarah.”

Case listened as Sarah entered her bedroom and closed the door. Good thing she decided months ago to move into the downstairs bedroom, he thought earnestly. At least, he wouldn’t be bumping into her in the middle of the night.

He finished his beer and rose slowly, trying to banish Sarah and those torturous memories from his head. He cursed his bad luck once more, thinking of the lonely nights ahead and the promise he’d made to his brother. He’d take care of Sarah and the baby for as long as necessary and she’d never know why he’d really come home. Her stubborn pride wouldn’t have it. Case knew undoubtedly if he’d told her of Reid’s deathbed plea, she’d become indignant and refuse his help.

Case needed to do this. He had demons to chase and guilt to absolve. He wouldn’t let Reid down again.

But it wouldn’t be easy. Sarah barely tolerated him. She didn’t want him on the ranch. And she didn’t trust him worth a damn.

Two

Case was used to fast speeds and quick action, but he deliberately took it slow with Sarah seated beside him in the truck. She sat as far away as possible and glanced out the window rather than make conversation with him. He knew he’d bullied her into agreeing to this, but darn it, she could grant him a smile once in a while, couldn’t she?

“What’s the doctor’s name?” he asked.

“Dr. Michaels.”

“Never heard of him,” he said conversationally.

“She came to town about a year ago.”

Case raised a brow. “She specialize in delivering babies?”

Sarah turned to him and nodded. “She’s an OB/GYN, if that’s what you mean. She has a great reputation. Reid and I researched all the doctors in the area and she seemed to have the best credentials. I have a lot of faith in her.”

“That’s good, Sarah. When’s the baby due exactly?” he asked. He had one more rodeo event scheduled this month, but he wouldn’t go, if it were close to the baby’s due date.

“I’ll know more after today’s appointment, but Dr. Michaels thinks the baby will come in about four weeks.”

“You and Delaney go to those classes and all?”

“Yes. She took me to six childbirth classes. She promised to come back when it’s time. She’ll be a great labor coach, having gone through it twice already.”

Case shuddered at the thought of witnessing the baby’s birth. Selfishly, he was glad Sarah had Delaney to rely on to be there for the delivery. Case had pulled many a calf and pony in his day, but it ended there. He knew nothing about delivering babies.

When their brief conversation died, Case glanced at Sarah out of the corner of his eye. So pretty, he thought, with her long golden hair blowing in the breeze. He witnessed her tucking the strands that had brushed her cheeks, back behind her ear. He wished he had the right to run his fingers through her hair, to let the golden lights play over his hand.

She was a feisty one, though, with her chin raised indignantly. She wasn’t going to make today easy on him. But he’d secretly admired that trait in her. He’d put her through a lot as kids, but she’d never buckled under. One thing about Sarah Johnston, she always came out swinging.

The usual thirty-minute ride into Prescott took Case over forty-five, going ten miles under the speed limit, just to make sure Sarah was comfortable. He’d been careful on the pitted road not to hit any big potholes.

Once in town, Sarah directed him to Dr. Michaels’s office building. She was nearly out the door, before he stopped the truck. “Thanks, Case. You can come by for me in about an hour.”

“Hey,” he said, bounding out of the truck in time to help her down. She hung on to his arm, mostly for balance as he helped her feet hit the ground. He’d like it fine if she’d keep her hands on him, but she pulled away from him real quick. “Not so fast. I’d like to come and meet the doctor.”

“W-why?” she said, curiously.

“Why? This is the doctor who’s going to deliver my nephew, isn’t it?”

“Could be a niece, Case. We don’t know for sure and yes, Dr. Michaels will do the delivery.”

“Well then, I’m coming with you.”

“But, I thought you had errands to run in town.”

“That can wait. This is more important.” Although the thought of the delivery scared the dickens out of him, Case was just plain curious about this whole birth process. He needed to understand things, like how would he know that Sarah was in labor? What were the signs? What if Sarah had trouble?
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