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Charlene Sands
The Heart of a Cowboy

Another shudder ran down his spine. Damn, the whole thing made him jittery.

“I don’t know, Case,” she said, a doubtful expression marring her face. There was mistrust there, too, along with a large dose of reluctance.

“You can decide inside,” he said, glancing at his watch, then taking her arm gently. “Or you might be late for your appointment.”

Once inside the office, Case took a seat next to Sarah in the waiting room. For all anyone knew, they must have appeared like a loving expectant married couple. Case breathed in her subtle flowery scent, noted her shapely legs peeking out from her pretty dotted dress and marveled at the serene glow on her sweet face. Damn, being near Sarah still had a powerful effect on him. If he could claim Sarah as his, he would and be done with it, and they’d really be the loving couple they seemed to portray. But Case knew beyond a doubt that would never happen.

“Mrs. Jarrett,” the medical assistant called from an opened doorway.

Sarah struggled to rise. Case stood and helped ease her up slowly. He laid a hand on the small of her back and guided her to the door. She stopped and turned to him. Case didn’t want to bully her again. This had to be her decision. “I’d really like to come in with you, Sarah,” he said softly.

Sarah stared into his eyes for a moment and he noted wariness mixed with reluctance, but when she relented with a brief nod, Case felt a small sense of relief that he’d won this round with her. The medical assistant led them into a small examining room. There, the assistant asked Sarah to step up onto the scale. “Don’t look,” she said firmly, before she took off her shoes to get on.

Case stifled a chuckle and glanced out the window. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” He’d never understand a woman’s vanity. Sarah was as big as a house, beautifully so, but still she worried that he’d find out how much she weighed.

After her temperature and blood pressure was taken, Dr. Michaels walked into the room and stopped dead in her tracks when she noticed Case. Confusion mingled with uncertainty and she gave Sarah a questioning look. “Mrs. Jarrett,” she said, darting a glance from her chart to Case and back. “I’m sorry, I was under the impression—”

“Oh,” Sarah said quickly, “this is Case Jarrett, Dr. Michaels, my husband’s brother.”

“Identical twins?” she asked, realization dawning instantly.

“Yes,” Sarah answered.

Case put out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

After blinking once, Dr. Michaels took his hand. “Nice to meet you, too. Are you planning on attending the birth, Mr. Jarrett?”

“No, he’s not,” Sarah put in. “My sister will be here for the delivery. You might remember her. She took me to all my appointments during the summer.”

“Yes, I do remember her. Well, then, let’s get started. You’re due for an ultrasound, I see.”

After the doctor did an assessment of Sarah, checking, measuring and answering her questions, the assistant brought in the ultrasound machine. “Here we go,” Dr. Michaels said, once Sarah was all hooked up. “You might want to stand a little closer to Sarah’s side of the bed, Mr. Jarrett. The screen isn’t very large.”

Case positioned himself by Sarah’s side and watched in utter fascination as the doctor applied a jellylike substance to Sarah’s abdomen, then moved an instrument around slowly. The picture on the screen appeared to take form and Case witnessed a miracle in the making. Awestruck, he asked Dr. Michaels, “That’s the baby?”

“Uh-huh, but the little babe doesn’t want to turn so we can see the sex. Healthy one, though.”

“Are you sure, Doctor?” Sarah asked, motherly concern apparent on her questioning expression.

“He looks fine to me, Sarah. The baby’s got a steady strong heartbeat.”

Case watched the baby move around on the screen. He glanced at Sarah, captivated by the look of joy and serenity on her face. He was so moved, he had to put his hand on her shoulder. Surprisingly she reached up to touch his hand. The contact ripped right through him and the solid rhythm of his heartbeat went a little crazy.

“He’s beautiful, isn’t he, Case?”

“Couldn’t agree with you more,” he said, completely taken by the moment. “He’s so small.”

“But it doesn’t feel that way to me,” she said softly.

“No, I don’t suppose.”

Case cleared his throat, humbled by what he was witnessing. “But he or she is keeping us in suspense. Don’t know if we should paint the nursery blue or pink.”

Sarah slowly lowered her hand away. “The room is yellow and green, Case. Delaney and I already painted it.”

The magic of the moment was suddenly gone. Sarah had made herself perfectly clear. She wasn’t including him in with her plans for the baby. He couldn’t say he blamed her, with him showing up spur of the moment and expecting…what had he been expecting? He knew damn well Sarah wouldn’t welcome him home. But he was the baby’s uncle. He did have some rights in that regard.

“I’d like to speak with Dr. Michaels privately now, Case.” she said gently.

He nodded. “Sure thing. I’ll be in the waiting room.”

Dr. Michaels shot Case a thoughtful expression, then handed him a brochure about what to expect when the baby comes. “Here you go. Interesting reading, when you get the time.”

“Thanks, ma’am,” he said, grateful for small favors. “Appreciate it.”

Case sat in the waiting room staring blankly at the brochure. For a minute there, he thought Sarah was softening toward him. They’d shared a moment of sheer joy and fascination, witnessing the baby make its subtle movements. Case had never experienced anything quite so awe-inspiring. And the look on Sarah’s face was worth a thousand eight-second rides.

From behind, he heard Sarah’s voice. She was making her next appointment at the reception desk. Case stood and faced her. She smiled tentatively and he walked toward her.

“Ready to go?” she asked.

“I’m about famished. C’mon, we’re going out to dinner. Anywhere you want.”

Case silently groaned when Sarah suggested a diner notorious for health food salads and soy dishes. The lady certainly wasn’t going easy on him. No sir. And soft sweet Sarah knew exactly how to hit a man below the belt.

He put a hand to her back and led her out to the truck. “Tofu Sally’s, it is,” he said, unruffled. “I can hardly wait.”

Sarah shuffled her salad around on her plate, aware of Case’s eyes on her. He’d been watching her intently as they sat at the diner and ate their meal. He’d already polished off two veggie sandwiches without complaint and was working on peach pie with two scoops of some soy concoction of ice cream.

“So, the good doc thinks the baby will arrive right on schedule?” he asked, after taking in a forkful of pie.

“Yes, four weeks and counting,” she replied.

“And Delaney will be able to get away in time?”

“Yes, she’s going to leave the girls with her neighbor during the day. Her husband Chuck will be able to handle the rest. She’s going to stay at the ranch one week.”

“Good. That must take a load off your mind.”

“It does. I don’t know…” she began and the urge to cry suddenly reached up and grabbed her. Overwhelming feelings of melancholy, of grief, of her gratitude toward her sister, descended on her at once. She managed to hold back tears, but her voice cracked a little. “I d-don’t know what I w-would have done without her d-during the h-hard times.”

The usual hard edge in Case’s eyes softened a bit, and he said carefully, “Your sister wants to help you, Sarah. She loves you.”

“I know. It’s just that she’s sacrificed so much already for me.”

“Delaney wouldn’t think of it that way.”

Her sister had postponed their family vacation to Hawaii just to stay with her for the summer. She’d left her husband for weeks at a time, and disrupted her household. Sarah hated asking anything more of her. Being an independent soul and having lost her parents at a young age, Sarah had gone all through her adult life without depending on anyone. Except Reid. But that was different, she surmised because married people were supposed to help and support one another. Without Reid by her side, Sarah knew she’d be on her own. The grandmother who raised her and Delaney passed away three years ago.
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