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Overdue

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Overdue

Lorhainne Eckhart

Contents

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The Friessen Family Series Reading order:

Overdue

Overdue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

What’s Coming Next

Other Works Available

About the Author

Links to Lorhainne Eckhart’s Booklist

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h1=. The Friessen Family Series Reading order:

The Outsider Series

The Forgotten Child (Brad and Emily) with bonus short story A Baby And A Wedding

Fallen Hero (Andy, Jed, and Diana) with bonus short story The Search

The Awakening (Andy and Laura)

Secrets (Jed and Diana)

Runaway (Andy and Laura) with bonus short story Overdue

The Unexpected Storm (Neil and Candy)

The Wedding (Neil and Candy)

The Friessens: A New Beginning

The Deadline (Andy and Laura)

The Price to Love (Neil and Candy)

A Different Kind of Love (Brad and Emily)

A Vow of Love, A Friessen Family Christmas

The Friessens

The Reunion

The Bloodline (Andy & Laura)

The Promise (Diana & Jed)

The Business Plan (Neil & Candy)

The Decision (Brad & Emily)

First Love (Katy)

Family First

Leave the Light On

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h1=. Overdue

An Outsider Series Short (JED & DIANA)

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h1=. Overdue

An Outsider Series Novella

OVERDUE

Jed & Diana

Runaway to[_ The Unexpected Storm_] bridge short story

Diana and Jed are expecting a baby, a week ago. And when this overtired couple finally reach their breaking point, it’s Jed’s mother, Becky, who steps in with a creative solution.

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h1=. Chapter 1

“Jed, I’m stuck!” Diana shouted from the bathtub, where the water was beginning to cool. For the life of her, she had no hope of standing gracefully and climbing out. Being pregnant had its challenges, but she was a week overdue and so large that every part of her ached and she could no longer do the simple things she took for granted; like putting on her shoes, bending over, or getting out of the bathtub without help.

“What are you doing?” Jed laughed from the doorway, putting his large hand on the door frame and leaning in, looking as sexy as ever in a pair of worn jeans and a plaid blue shirt.

At least he didn’t have to worry about his body getting all stretched to hell, being tired and cranky, and having to pee every five minutes. “I can’t get out. Please help me.” She gave him a pathetic doe-eyed look, pouting her lower lip.

Jed’s expression turned to one of sympathy as he strode toward her and leaned down, lifting her from the bathtub. He put her down, taking his time, running his hands over her very rounded belly.

“Ouch.” She pressed her hand to her ribs.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, leaning over and draining the bathtub.

“The baby pressed his foot in my ribs,” she said, struggling for breath. Even breathing now took great effort, as the baby was shoving all her insides up, crammed under her lungs.

Jed reached for the towel and started drying Diana; taking care and lingering over her large, very sensitive breasts. He leaned down and touched his lips to hers.

“Jed, I feel about as sexy as a beached whale. Look at me—I’m not even attractive anymore, and you haven’t tried to touch me in…” She could feel the tears about to start again. She couldn’t help it. Lately, everything made her cry. “I couldn’t even get out of the bathtub,” she said, sobbing.

Jed hung the towel up and slid her bathrobe around her; dressing her as if she were a child and not his wife. “It’s okay, Diana. You may not believe this, but carrying my child…you’ve never looked more beautiful.” He touched her cheeks with both hands and kissed her again before guiding her out of the bathroom.

Diana felt the pinching across her belly and down the front of her legs. “Oh, Jed!” She reached for his arm and stopped in the hallway.

“It’s all right. Are you having a contraction?” He reached around her shoulders and rubbed down her arm.

“Yes! Please, God, let this be it.” Diana breathed out and glanced up at Jed, smiling this time because the day was finally here.

“Come on. Sit down in the living room, put your feet up, and we’ll time them.” Jed settled her into the rocker and shoved the stool under her feet.

“Your mom will be so happy. She won’t have to ask me every morning how I’m feeling, when she really means ‘Still no baby?’” Diana sighed, and another contraction swept in, clutching her belling low and squeezing. It wasn’t so hard that she couldn’t think, but it was starting to get uncomfortable. She looked up at Jed, and he checked his watch and noted the time. “How far, Jed?” she asked, willing the seconds to pass, praying for a fast delivery.

“We have a while yet, honey. That’s ten minutes,” Jed said, offering her a smile of encouragement.

“Call Doctor Caldwell. Tell her I’m finally in labor. She better not make plans to do anything tonight, because I’m having this baby,” Diana said sharply.

Jed rested his hands on the back of the sofa across the room and watched her with his light brown eyes. She could tell he was considering what to say. He sighed and dropped his head as he strode to her, lifting her feet from the stool, where he sat down and put them in his lap. “Honey, I know you want to hurry this baby, but you can’t. He’s going to come when he’s ready. I’ll call Doctor Caldwell soon, but let’s just sit here and wait. As soon as they’re a little closer together; I’ll call her.” He lifted her foot and pressed into her arch, massaging it.

She leaned her head back and sighed. “Okay.”

The contractions were getting stronger and closer together. Diana held Jed’s hand as the last one passed.

“That’s five minutes,” he said.

“Jed, can you call her, please?” she pleaded. She’d been sitting with Jed, timing contractions, for hours. It was late, and Danny had been asleep for a while. Jed’s parents were in the loft above the barn, having flown in the past week; two days before Diana’s due date.

He didn’t say a word as he went into the kitchen; picking up the phone to dial. “Hey, Doctor Caldwell, Jed here. Diana’s in labor.”

Diana watched her husband, and the one-sided conversation, as he listened to whatever the doctor was telling him.

He nodded. “Hmm. Well, we’ve been timing them for the last few hours. They’re about five minutes apart.” He glanced up sharply over at Diana and then said, “No.” He shook his head. “Well, I think you should tell her that.” There was laughter from the other end. Jed sighed. “Look, I’ll bring her in. Okay, thanks, Doc.” Jed hung up the phone. “She said to call her again when the contractions are closer together, but if you really want to go to the hospital now, she’ll meet us.”

Diana pushed out of the chair as another contraction clutched at her belly, this time harder. It was really starting to hurt.

Jed touched her arm and rubbed her back. “Breathe through it; just like we learned.”

Her legs were shaky when it finally passed. “I want to go now,” she said.

“Okay, I’ll go wake up Mom and Dad. You get dressed.” Jed kissed her cheek; then went out the front door. Diana waddled down the hall to their bedroom to put on some clothes so she could finally have this baby.

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h1=. Chapter 2

“How could my labor have stopped?” Diana asked quite sharply from the hospital bed in the labor and delivery room.

Dr. Caldwell ripped off a pair of rubber gloves after she had examined Diana and glanced at Jed. “Well, Diana, it happens. This baby isn’t ready to come just yet.”

Diana tried to speak, but nothing other than a sputter would come out of her mouth.

Dr. Caldwell rested her hand on Diana’s leg where the sheet covered her. “You’re only one centimeter dilated. Listen, go home and rest up, because it won’t be much longer.”

Diana wanted to cry when she glanced at the end of the bed and up at Jed. He winced, and she burst into tears. She couldn’t help it. She was tired, the sun was coming up, and she was still pregnant. It seemed as though the baby was never going to arrive.

“Hey there, Diana, it’s going to be fine.” Jed sat beside her on the bed and swept her into his arms; pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “Hey, Doc, is there nothing you can do?”

“To what?” the doctor snapped in a way that implied Jed had asked the most stupid question.

Diana dried her eyes and stared up into the round, dark face of her doctor. She was pretty and strong, and short dark hair was sticking out from the ponytail she had shoved it into.

“Look, we don’t induce unless you get to a point where it’s necessary,” Dr. Caldwell said. “We’re not there yet, and I’m not like some of those doctors out there who’ll cut you open just because the calendar said this is when the baby’s due. That’s not the way it works, Diana, Jed. Babies have their own timetable, and this one isn’t ready to come yet. You’re healthy, and so’s the baby. The heartbeat’s strong. Go home,” she said sharply as she patted Diana’s leg. “Go for a walk when you get home. Relax. It’ll happen. If labor doesn’t start again; I want to see you in my office tomorrow. Jed, you can call to book an appointment.”

Diana wiped her tears and sniffed. “I’m just tired. I can’t breathe, and my back hurts.”

“I know, Diana, I know. Now go home,” Dr. Caldwell said again, patting Diana’s leg.

&Thirty minutes later,& Jed had Diana in his truck; driving through downtown North Lakewood on the way home. It was early morning, and the stores were just opening up. “Jed, let’s stop at the store. We’ll pick up a few groceries while we’re here.”

“Sure you’re up to it?” Jed turned the wheel and pulled into an empty spot in front of the store. He parked and shifted in his seat toward Diana—he looked so tired.

“I’m sorry, Jed,” she said.

He opened his door and stepped out; waving to an older couple on the street as he came around to Diana’s door and opened it. “Honey, stop saying you’re sorry. You heard the doctor: You can’t make this happen any faster.” He put his hands around her waist and lifted her out, guiding her onto the curb. “Watch your step,” he said. With his arm around her waist, he helped her up on the sidewalk, as she couldn’t see her feet.

“Oh, Diana, you’re still pregnant,” Mrs. Harris, the short, squat, wife of the grocery store owner said, as she pushed open the glass door. “You look like you’re about ready to have that baby. When are you due?” she asked.

Diana stiffened, and Jed rubbed her arm over the sweater she’d thrown on to go to the hospital. “Five days ago. I’m overdue,” she snapped.

“Yeah, just on our way home. Hopefully any day now,” Jed said, trying to smooth things over.

“Oh, well, maybe you didn’t get your dates right, is all,” Mrs Harris said. She firmed her lips, punctuating the point with a sharp incline of her head.

Diana felt fire surge through her, and Jed’s arm tightened around her as he hustled her into the store and tossed out over his shoulder, “Nice to see you, Missus Harris. We gotta go.” He turned back to Diana. “Just keep walking,” he said.

Diana let Jed grab a cart, as she walked beside him; stopping in the produce aisle. She was so mad that she tossed a bag of carrots into the cart a little harder than necessary.

“Come on now, Diana. Cool off.”

“Are you kidding? Did you hear what she said? Didn’t get my dates right! What the hell does she think, I’m such a stupid twit that I can’t calculate and—”

Jed put his hand over her mouth to stop her and shook his head. “Don’t go there. Come on. I know how hard it is.” She shot him a look she knew would have had anyone else withering away. Jed just winced graciously. “Sorry, honey. Bad choice of words.” He stopped the cart and slid his arm around her shoulder; holding her to him. “We’re in this together. Stop listening to everyone else.”

“Jed, I just want to have this baby. I feel like I’m being a burden.” She blinked because she thought she was going to cry again.

“Whoa, stop right there.” He didn’t let go of her shoulders as he lifted her chin with his finger. “I love you. You could never be a burden—not to me. You’re carrying my child. You have no idea what that means to me.” He pressed his lips to hers and kissed her deeply; right in the middle of the grocery store aisle.

A man coughed. “Excuse me. Looks like you’ve already had your fun. This store is G-rated.” The cowboy chuckled as he walked past.

Diana blushed and hid her face against Jed’s chest. “Come on. Let’s finish up and get out of here. I think we could both use some sleep when we get home.”

Half an hour later; Jed pulled up in front of their home and parked beside Andy’s black truck.

“Andy’s here. Wonder if he brought Laura and the babies,” Diana said.

Jed opened his door with an odd look on his face. He waved his hand in the air. “Andy,” he called as he shut his door and walked around the truck.

Diana waited for her husband to open the door as she leaned her head back, wanting to shut her eyes and sleep for a few hours. She was wrung out after being up all in night in false labor, and she dreaded seeing Becky.

Jed opened her door. “Come on, you can’t hide.”

“I don’t want to talk to anyone and have one more person ask why I’m still pregnant, because at this point; I’d want to kill them.”

Jed leaned around and unfastened her seatbelt, sliding it off her shoulder and lifting her out just as Andy approached. He was unshaven and wearing just a plain blue shirt and jeans, nothing fancy. His hair appeared freshly cut. Rodney, Diana’s father-in-law, looked distinguished standing right beside him. Both men stared at Diana’s large belly and frowned.

“I thought Diana was in labor,” Andy said. By the look in Jed’s eyes; Diana could tell her husband probably wanted to kick him.

Rodney rested a hand on Andy’s shoulder just as Becky hustled out of the house with Danny perched on her hip and stopped. Her eyes widened, and she winced before starting toward Diana again.

Maybe it was the pathetic look she knew she had pasted on her face; but Diana felt as if she wasn’t doing something right, and she couldn’t help it when she burst into tears.

&Jed was exhausted;& and having Diana cry at the drop of a hat…well, he remembered what the doctor had said about her hormones soaring. Add in no sleep, and weeks of restless nights; and it was no wonder she was a mess.

His mother, thankfully, understood, because she quickly passed Danny to Jed and slid her arms around Diana. “Oh, there, there. It’s going to be okay, Diana.” Becky guided Diana toward the house. “Come inside and go to bed. You have to be absolutely exhausted,” she said; though she glanced back at Jed and mouthed, “What happened?”

“Diana, I’ll be in soon,” Jed said; but Diana kept walking with his mother into the house, as Danny squeezed Jed’s shirt between his tiny fists. Jed kissed his little redheaded boy on the cheek. “Did you eat breakfast?” he asked.

“Uh-huh,” Danny gibbered away. “Daddy, down.”

“Okay, bud, but stay here. Go get your big trucks over there.” Jed put his two-year-old boy down; who then raced right for the small wooden sandbox Jed had built for him at the front of the house.

“So, what happened, son?” Rodney asked. His white hair was cut short, and his eyes danced with sympathy. He was still a tall man, although he was starting to hunch a little in the shoulders.

“Labor stopped. The doctor said the baby is just not ready to come. She sent us home, and Diana isn’t happy. She’s tired of everyone asking when she’s going to have the baby. I know she’s uncomfortable, and I’m trying to make this easier,” Jed said. Maybe it was because he was so tired that he didn’t pick up on how tense Andy seemed. “So, what’s going on?” he asked his cousin before glancing over at his father, who wore a grim expression.

“You have enough to worry about with your wife. Go look after her,” Andy said.

But Rodney said, “Andy here has just been filling me in on his mother’s exploits.” He exchanged a dark look with his nephew.

“Something else happen, Andy?” Jed asked.

Andy shifted uncomfortably. “No, nothing for you to worry about. You and Diana have done enough.”

Jed studied both his father and Andy. Something was being shared; and if he weren’t so tired, he probably would’ve demanded to know what was happening. “If it’s because of Diana, I would appreciate you not bringing it up with her. We’re family, Andy. Not much I can do for Diana right now but be here with her. We’re in a waiting game, and she’s wound pretty tight. I could use a distraction,” he said.

Rodney faced Andy; standing a little taller, with a fire in his bright eyes that Jed hadn’t seen in a long time. Not since he and his brothers had been hauled home by the sheriff as teenagers. It was a moment he’d never forget. His dad’s expression was grim. “No, Jed, go look after your wife. It seems it’s past time that I have a word with my dear brother. After I track him down.” Rodney glanced up at the house. “Not a word to your mother or Diana, Jed.”

Jed watched the way Andy firmed his lips, looking away as if he was holding on to a few choice words. “Maybe you want to let me in on what happened,” he said. “Andy, is this your mother still trying to get rid of Laura; or are we talking about the forged document, terminating parental rights, that Laura signed after Jules said it was a medical form? Did something more happen there? I’ve got to tell you; Diana will be furious, but she’s in no condition now to handle anything—”

“My mother’s responsible for killing Aida,” Andy said, cutting him off.

Jed wasn’t sure he had heard his cousin right; but the darkness he saw in his father’s face, and the way he shook his head, was enough to give Jed pause. “Whoa, hang on. I thought Aida’s death was ruled a suicide?”

Andy shook his head and put his hands on his hips. The lines around his eyes more pronounced, as if something else had happened to shake up his and Laura’s happy family. They didn’t deserve this. Jed had been happy to see Andy step out on his own, out from under his parents’ shadows.

“Jed, you’ve got enough on your plate,” Andy said. “There’s nothing you can do. I just need to protect my family. When your dad came, I needed him to know just in case something happened.”

“Okay, now you need to tell me what’s going on. Yes, I’ve got a lot going on with my wife; but that doesn’t mean I can’t know what’s happening with you. There’s a problem, and we’re family. Spill it,” Jed said. He waited; watching his father raise his eyebrows at Andy, as if questioning whether or not it would be okay to speak.

“It was the same day we found Aida, after she died,” Andy began. “She had left an envelope holding a tape—a recorded conversation with my mother. My mother had threatened her and told her to make sure Laura left; that she wasn’t beyond having my wife brought up on some, trumped-up, criminal charge. If Aida didn’t agree to her terms, she was going to see that she was locked back up in prison.”

Well, that had Jed’s attention. “Excuse me?” he snapped.

“Apparently, dear old Mom found out that Aida had a record—but it was bogus. I don’t want to go into it, but she spent years in prison after having an affair with some man from a wealthy family. She got pregnant; they took her baby and, somehow, had her charged with kidnapping. I checked into it. Thirty-five years ago, in Arizona, Aida was arrested by the Feds for extortion and kidnapping. She didn’t stand a chance; with not a dime to her name, and a wet-behind-the-ears public defender. She spent ten years in prison, and when she was paroled, she disappeared; so she was a parole violator. There was still a warrant out for her arrest. She’d been using an assumed last name. She couldn’t go through with keeping Laura away from me and our babies; so she swallowed a bottle of pills because, she knew, she’d never survive life behind bars,” Andy said, choking back tears as he finished.

Jed was doing his best to absorb what his cousin was saying. He didn’t know Aida personally; though he’d heard of her, and perhaps met her a time or two, when she had taken Laura and Gabriel in. She had seemed kind, and Jed couldn’t understand the lengths that Caroline had seemed willing to go to in persecuting her. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “I hope you’re going to the cops, or the Feds. Your mother deserves to be locked up. She shouldn’t be walking around free. What the hell is the matter with that woman?” He snapped at his father. “How can you be related to Todd, with him marrying a woman like that?”

“Look, in all fairness, Dad may not know…” Andy began.

“Your father was standing toe to toe with your mother when you married Laura and squashed their plans, walking away from the senator’s daughter they wanted you to marry. So why are you defending him?” Jed said. A surge of anger had swept away his sound reasoning, and he even stepped into Andy’s space before shaking his head and throwing his hands in the air. He was tired and needed to get some sleep, but he also wanted to knock some sense into his cousin.

“Jed, it’s not that simple, and I agree with Andy,” Rodney said. “My brother’s done a lot of things I don’t agree with, and marrying Caroline was one of them, but he’s still Andy’s father and my brother. If I find out he knew what Caroline was doing, I will take him down myself.” Rodney spoke with fire blazing in his eyes, his cheek twitching, leaving Jed with no doubt that blood could be spilled.

“Jed, this has to be handled carefully,” Andy said. “My mother is a viper, and she can’t know any of this. I put the tape in a safety deposit box after I made a copy.”

“A copy I now have. A copy my lawyers will have,” Rodney said as he reached out and grasped Andy’s shoulder, squeezing in the supportive way that fathers do with sons.

Maybe Jed was overreacting, but the exchange between his father and Andy was one he’d never seen before. They had obviously worked through some plan—some decision, coming to an agreement; so maybe there was more he wasn’t picking up on.

The front door opened, and his mom leaned out. “Jed,” she called.

He sighed because he was irritated, first with Andy’s mother and then with his own baby for deciding it was safer to stay in Diana’s womb. The baby was sharp, he thought to himself. “Yeah, Mom, be right there,” he said, but his mother waited.

Rodney finally said, “Jed, go look after your wife. I’m helping Andy. Don’t be too hard on him, either.”

Jed started toward the door and then stopped beside Andy, putting his hand on his shoulder. “Sorry, didn’t mean to bite your head off. If you need anything, let me know.”

Andy just nodded and said, “Go look after your wife, Jed. I won’t let my mother get away with anything. Laura and our kids are my first priority.”

When their sharp gazes met, Jed knew his cousin had obviously turned it over in his mind a hundred times, if not more, trying to figure out the best way to handle something so volatile. He walked toward his mother, who stepped out of the house to where Danny was playing with his trucks in the dirt.

“Jed, go get some sleep with your wife,” Becky ordered in a voice she used every now and then when she meant business. “Rodney, Andy, you leave Jed alone. He’s got his hands plenty full and needs to be with his wife.”

Jed shut the door of the house, smiling as his mother continued laying down the law, the rules, how things were going to be with Andy and his father. At times, his mother could be a mighty force that no one could get past, but she had wisdom and knew when to step up and when not to interfere. He loved her—both of his parents. He started down the hall to his wife, their unborn child, and, hopefully, a few hours of sleep.

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h1=. Chapter 3

Diana couldn’t wake Jed. The tiny lines around his closed eyes and mouth appeared to have deepened. His long, dark lashes, which any woman would have killed for, rested against his lightly tanned skin. His brown whiskers were darker, and she couldn’t remember when he’d last shaved. He’d been running this ranch and looking after Danny and cooking and…God, she loved him.

Rodney and Becky always flew in on a moment’s notice to help and stay as long as needed. Diana loved Becky like a mother, and she struggled each and every day to get past her mother issues, or, rather, her lack of a real mother—and just allow Becky to love her.

She glanced at the bedside clock. It was a little past three in the afternoon, and there wasn’t a sound in the house. As she lay there, for what felt like hours, she realized she hadn’t felt the baby kick or move; and something resembling panic had her insides sparking as if a breaker had blown and short-circuited every nerve in her body. She fumbled clumsily, the bed shaking; bumping Jed as she struggled to sit up.

“What’s wrong?” He sounded worried as he reached for her arm and then sat up beside her, tired but awake. He wiped his hand roughly over his face.

“Jed…” She gasped for breath, and he was instantly alert. His eyes widened as if he could read the panic that had taken over all her senses.

“Diana, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?”

“I can’t feel the baby,” she choked out. “The baby hasn’t moved or kicked—nothing.”

Jed let out a sigh as if she was overreacting. She hated that.

“Jed, the baby’s not moving!” she cried.

“Okay, I’ll call the doctor.” He reached for the phone as Diana perched on the edge of the bed, swinging her legs over the side.

“I need to speak with the doctor. It’s Jed Friessen. Sure, I’ll hold.”

Diana eased herself off the bed and walked around it on shaky legs; praying for the baby to kick. She glimpsed herself in the bedroom mirror; her long red hair mussed up, pink nightgown tight against her belly, dark circles under her eyes. She never would have believed she could get so big. She rubbed her belly…willing the baby to kick. She shut her eyes as the stress became almost too much and a tear slipped out. She’d come so far.

“Diana?” Jed stood beside her, sliding his arm around her shoulder, the phone still pressed to his ear; but she got no comfort from him. “Doctor Caldwell… No, she’s not in labor. She said the baby’s not moving.” Jed watched her as he talked and then slid the receiver from his mouth. “How long has it been since you felt the baby move?”

She struggled to sift through her muddled thoughts of the past twenty-four hours. Last night, for sure, she had felt the baby move; and then maybe at the hospital. Although after that, she couldn’t be sure. Her head ached, her body ached, every part of her ached. “I don’t know for certain. It’s been a while,” she said, her eyes burning as she glanced up at her husband. There was concern staring back at her, and exhaustion. She wondered for a moment whether he’d had enough.

“She doesn’t know for sure. It’s been a while. Look, can we just come in…?”

She could hear the doctor talking through the phone Jed had pressed to his ear, but she couldn’t make out anything clearly.

“Thanks, Doc.” Jed hung up the phone and rubbed his head, leaving his hair sticking up here and there. He ran his hand over his bare chest, so strong. Diana loved leaning into it. He had the shoulders and chest to hold her worries, to take them on, as he often did; but they were both tired. He pulled away, walking in a circle; then bent down and picked his shirt up from the floor. He was barefoot in his jeans as he shrugged on the red plaid shirt and started working each button. Diana just watched him as he focused on pulling on his socks; stuck his wallet into his back pocket, and watched her—frowning.

“What are you doing, Diana? Get dressed,” he said. It came out sounding sharp, and she just stood there, watching him; then lowered her eyes toward the floor and her hidden toes.

He let out a sigh…sounding more like a man who could walk out the door than one who’d been by her side night and day for the past little while. She was pushing too hard, too clingy, too needy. That was it. She wasn’t one of those women, except when she needed Jed to just put his arms around her and hold her…like now.

His hand slid over her cheek and then lifted her hair back over her shoulder as he moved closer. “Diana, get dressed, honey.” His other hand skimmed her other cheek until he held her face between his palms and stepped closer, leaning in until he rested his forehead against hers. His warm breath ghosted over her cheek, and she shut her eyes and just leaned into him.

“Jed, I’m sorry I’m leaning on you so much. Don’t be mad, please. I couldn’t take it right now if you were mad.”

He let out another heavy sigh and slid his hand around the back of her head. “Diana, I’m not mad. We’re both tired, but I’m here for you. You’re my wife.” He held her face as he gazed into her eyes; the brown gold sparking with fire as if he was bordering on irritation.

“Maybe you want to get some sleep,” she said. “Maybe I can drive in, take myself…”

He cut her off with a look that had her shutting up, as she could see the muscle bunching in his jaw. “You think I would let a wife of mine, as pregnant as you are, in the shape you’re in, drive anywhere? Are you insane?” This time he did snap, and then walked away in a circle, rubbing the top of his head again; then shaking it as he looked around the room.

“What are you looking for?” Diana said.

“Your clothes. Or do you want to go to the hospital dressed in your nightgown? I don’t care. I’ll carry you out of here just like that. Your choice,” he snapped again. This time he was mad as he snatched her maternity jeans from the chair where she’d tossed them, and held them out as if he meant to dress her. “Step in,” he said.

She held his shoulders as she did what he said; then he ripped off her nightgown and tossed it onto the bed. He grabbed the t-shirt she had worn earlier and pulled it over her head. “Jed, I need my bra,” she said.

He just shook his head as he pulled her arms through, as if she were Danny, as if she were his child.

“Jed…”

He pulled her shirt down and turned away, as if he wasn’t listening to one more word she had to say. He pulled the door open as Diana searched for her bra. “You don’t need it,” he said, while sliding a sweater over her shoulders, and guiding her out and down the hall.

He was tired, pissed, and irritated at her. Then he kissed her temple, as he slid his arm around her; the tension lingering in his arms as he kept her moving.

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h1=. Chapter 4

“I’m so sorry,” she said again. Her eyes were red rimmed from the crying jag she’d been on since Dr. Caldwell had shown them, on the ultrasound, how well the baby was doing.

Jed rested his arm over the steering wheel and leaned against the door as he drove them back home. She wondered if he was pulling away from her, or maybe she was reading too much into it. She didn’t know. Jed had groaned and shook his head when the doctor told Diana, in a no-nonsense voice, to go home, relax, and get some sleep. She pulled her gloves off, with a little more force than necessary, snapping them sharply—or so it had seemed to Diana. She’d burst into tears and cried all the way out to the truck.

Jed glanced her way, and there was a sharpness in his glance that she didn’t mistake this time. He was furious. “Diana, you’re getting too worked up. Your mind is playing tricks on you, and now you’re starting to look for things to go wrong. Don’t start reading me the wrong way, either,” he said.

“I know you’re angry with me, and I’m…”

He cut her off before she could say “I’m sorry” one more time. “Don’t even finish that sentence. It is, what it is, Diana. The baby’s fine, just like Doctor Caldwell said; and she’s not going to induce until you get to week forty-one. You heard her. There’s no need for it, unless something warrants moving things along sooner. You panicking every five minutes, because you think something is wrong, isn’t going to make her. The baby isn’t ready to come.” He glanced from her to the road; talking with less irritation but driving his point home. “No, as soon as we get home, you’re in bed. You’re going to stay there until you get enough sleep. You’re not going to wake up, panicking, because the baby’s not moving; or because you’re worried that I’m not sleeping. When you keep doing that, neither of us gets any rest.”

Diana rested both of her hands over her large belly. She took in a breath and stared straight out the window as Jed parked the truck. The front door flew open, and Becky and Rodney stepped out of the house. She glanced over at Jed, but he was already out of the truck. She just sat there, not wanting to explain how she had screwed up again. She winced when she heard Becky ask, “What happened?”

“Diana panicked, thought the baby wasn’t moving, but the doctor said the baby’s just fine,” Jed answered.

Diana shut her eyes, mortified. She didn’t want to see the looks of disappointment on their faces. No, she was going to sit here until they all went away. Then she’d slink into the house and hide.

&“Jed,& look at her. You can’t leave her there.” Becky put her hand on her plump hip and gazed first at Jed then over to the truck, where Diana was looking away from them, straight ahead, as if she had no intention of setting one foot outside of the vehicle.

The fact was, that Jed was so tired his head was starting to ache; and his pregnant, overtired, overemotional wife was beginning to sorely test his patience. It all had him wanting to leave her there for a few minutes, just so he could get his head together. But as he watched her and heard his mother sigh, he started to feel bad.

“Son, she’s your wife. You can’t leave her there,” Rodney said as he watched Diana with an expression of concern.

“Dad, I’m not planning on leaving her there. She’s just worrying about everything to the point that she’s starting to believe there’s a problem. I don’t know how she’s going to get any rest before the baby comes. Me either, for that matter,” Jed muttered as he watched his wife. By the way she held her head up, he saw, in that second, how hard she was struggling to hold it together. He had taken a step toward the truck when his mother touched his arm and stopped him.

“Jed, let me talk to Diana. I understand how she’s feeling. Your brother Neil put me through the same thing. Just ask your father what an emotional wreck I was; and I had Brad running around, a rambunctious three-year-old, getting into everything.”

Jed glanced at his father, who had the good grace to wince but not say a word.

“Come on, son,” he said. “Sometimes a woman just needs another woman to talk to. Let’s go and try to make ourselves useful.” Rodney put his hand on Jed’s shoulder as Becky approached Diana’s door and knocked on the window.

&Diana couldn’t look& when someone knocked on the window as an overwhelming mortification had her face heating. She shut her eyes for a second. Out of her peripheral vision, she saw her mother in law, who wore a determined look as she opened Diana’s door. Diana squeezed the lap belt as Becky leaned in. She was a short, plump-in-the-middle, woman who exuded such love and strength as she put her hand on Diana’s leg.

“Diana, you listen to me. You have nothing to feel bad about.”

The kindness in Becky’s gaze was such a comfort that Diana released some of the anxiety she’d been holding on to. She actually let out the breath she’d been holding. She needed support, and until Becky leaned in, she hadn’t realized how much she wanted it.

“Jed’s mad at me. Can’t blame him, really. I panicked, is all. Couldn’t remember feeling the baby move or kick, for that matter. I’m just so tired. I’m having a hard time sleeping, and I’m worrying more because of it.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about Jed. Sometimes men just don’t get it. After all, they’re not the ones carrying a baby for nine months; body being transformed and hormones raging. You are tired, of course. Give yourself a break. You’re allowed to panic. It’s better to have Jed driving you in and discovering nothing is wrong than the alternative.” She squeezed Diana’s arm. “Now come on out of there.”

Diana glanced at the house, where the men had slipped inside. The door was open, but she couldn’t see her husband or her father in law.

Becky understood her discomfort, as she glanced over her shoulder at the house. “Don’t you mind them,” she said. “I’ll kick them out of the house if you want.”

“Maybe Jed needs a break from me right now—from all of this. I just want to have the baby. At least then I wouldn’t have to have him waiting on me hand and foot. I don’t like feeling as if I’m a burden to him.” She couldn’t believe she had said it. She loved Jed so much—maybe this was a manifestation of the insecurities she still had, after all these years. After all, everyone had a breaking point; and she’d been wondering, lately, what Jed’s was with her.

Becky sighed. “That’s just the hormones talking. Jed loves you, he worries about you; and he’d beat anyone who tried to hurt you senseless. I’ve never seen Jed as happy as he is with you and Danny. You’re not a burden. He may snap and growl and bark; but he wouldn’t allow anyone to step in and do what he believes is his job—looking after you and Danny and that baby you’re carrying.”

“But, Becky, he was annoyed with me at the hospital as soon as the doctor said the baby was fine—it wasn’t my imagination. I thought, for a minute, he’d walk out the door and leave me there.”

Becky frowned and then patted her leg before glancing sharply at the open door of the house. She started to say something; then shook her head. “Diana, when I was pregnant with Neil, I was ten days overdue before the doctor decided to bring me in and break my water. Those days, they weren’t as careful as they are now. I had Brad, who was a holy terror at three. He could turn the house upside down in two seconds flat, and I had to run after him. Rodney was ranching then, and we lived at the family homestead in Hoquiam. Brad has the place now.

“In those days, women didn’t get much help from their menfolk. We had ranch hands to help with the cattle, the haying; but I still had to get lunch and dinner out, and it wasn’t easy. Rodney, toward the end, made sure to step in more and help; putting Brad to bed, cleaning up after dinner. I know I shouldn’t say this, but we had quite the fight before the doctor called me in; and I was ready to leave, pack my bags, go home to my parents in the Napa Valley. I decided I didn’t want to be a rancher’s wife anymore.

“I was young and stupid; and Rodney was handsome, arrogant, and hotheaded. But he loved me. He helped me out of bed, because I had been having trouble for the last month of my pregnancy, and we had a doozy of a fight. The next-door neighbor, June, was slim and gorgeous, and she called all the time for Rodney’s help. Her husband was away a lot; and she needed help with a cow, moving something—God knows what. Rodney always went. I had never let it bother me too much until that last week. You know, when you’re exhausted because your back aches so badly you can’t sleep; and you have heartburn and end up sleeping upright, supported by half a dozen pillows, so you can get comfortable? When she phoned, I answered; and she, of course, asked for Rodney. It was suppertime, too; but he got up, took the call, and said he’d be right over.

“To this day, I remember my mouth hanging open. Brad was in his high chair, food all over his face, rubbing his eyes because he was tired. Hell, I was exhausted. Rodney said he had to go because June needed help, and I watched him walk to the back door, slip on his coat, and I said; ‘How could you even think about walking out that door to help another woman while your very pregnant wife is left here to clean up and care for your son, needing your help more?’ He just sighed and had the nerve to say, ‘Look, her cow got out again, and it’s too hard for her to catch it. I won’t be long.’”

Diana watched Becky. For a minute, she wondered whether Becky was reliving that moment, the shadow of heartache flickering in her expression. Then she forced a tight smile to her lips as if pulling herself from those thoughts. “Did he go, walk out that door?” Diana asked, and she touched Becky’s arm softly.

“He did, and I swear my heart shattered into a million pieces. I stared at that closed door, and all I could think about was that my husband had walked out that door for another woman. It didn’t matter that it was just a stupid cow. It was the fact that he had chosen her over me.” Becky patted her hand. “By the look on your face, I wonder whether I should have told you.”

Diana ached for the young woman her mother-in-law had once been; understanding that pain all too well. But then she glanced at the open front door; having a picture of Rodney that wasn’t entirely flattering. She didn’t think Jed would ever do that to her. Becky was right, he was just overprotective. However, Diana couldn’t help but remember that time with the lady doctor; when he’d shared her confidence about his brain tumor and hidden it from Diana. It still ached as she thought about it; bringing on a mist that stung her eyes. She blinked it back. “No, I’m glad you did. What happened? I mean, obviously you worked it out, but what did you do?”

“I cried like there was no tomorrow, and Brad watched, terrified, and burst into tears. I cleaned him up, and we both cried. Then I phoned my mother in the Napa Valley, where they used to live, and carried on about how Rodney had left me. My father got on the phone and was furious; said he’d kill Rodney and he was driving up to pick me and Brad up, to bring us home. It would take him two days to get there, and I pulled out the suitcases. By the time I heard Rodney’s footsteps and then him calling me from downstairs, I had a suitcase packed for me and another for Brad.

“When Rodney came up the stairs, I was so worked up and so mad that I picked up the bedside clock and threw it at his head when he appeared in the doorway. Oh, he was quick and ducked, and it shattered against the wall, sending plaster flying. He swore and chased me down, and, Lord, did we scream at each other—loud enough that we could have raised the roof off the house when he saw the suitcases! Then there was Brad, screaming and crying on the bed, watching us behave like two fools. I had made up my mind. I told him I was done and leaving. I was going home. He said I couldn’t take his son with me if I wanted to leave, and of course I was so mad about June that I accused him of having an affair with her. He denied it then, said I was being stupid and that being pregnant had done something to my brain; that I was now imagining things, making things up.”

Diana gasped. She couldn’t believe Rodney, her father-in-law, the most sensitive man she’d met, had called Becky stupid. “I don’t know what to say, Becky. Did you leave?”

“Well, there wasn’t much I could do until my father got there. I cried myself to sleep that night. Rodney moved into the guest room. My father arrived just before supper the next day—he’d driven all night, I think. Rodney and I avoided each other. He went out to work with the cattle, yelling at the ranch hands, never came in for lunch, nothing. I started crying again as soon as I saw my daddy, and he hugged me and asked me to tell him what happened again, because he thought Rodney had left, yet he’d seen him coming out of the barn.

“I sat in that chair, listened to the back door slam shut, and realized I’d partly screwed up. You know when you say things in anger and they’re only half truths? I didn’t have time to explain, because Rodney walked in and took in the look on my face, and my father put his hands on his hips. It was my father who said to Rodney, ‘I think we need to have a talk,’ and they went outside together.” Becky shook her head, taking on a look of sorrow Diana had never seen before.

She touched Becky’s arm, feeling her ache. “What happened? What did your father say to Rodney?”

Becky patted her arm and forced on a stiff smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Diana could feel the moment awkwardness crept in between them. “Oh, I don’t know all of it, but we worked it out. I had Neil the next day. Rodney talked to the doctor, took me in, and the rest, well…” She swept her hand out in an overdramatic way that did little to hide her discomfort.

Diana could tell there was something she was holding on to. “What about the neighbor, June, who kept calling your husband for help?”

“Eventually, we became friends after I had a word with her, woman to woman. Whatever interest she had in Rodney, I put an end to it. But then, she was scared and young and stupid like me. The only thing was that her husband was never around, and she was looking to Rodney to slide in. Of course, he was too handsome for his own good. But enough. This is about you and my son. What you need to do is have some sex.”

“What!” Diana sputtered, staring at the smile that spread across Becky’s face. Where the hell had that come from?

“Look, you want to have this baby now, and you’re overtired because you’re uncomfortable. There’s one surefire thing that will get labor started, and that’s having good old-fashioned sex.”

Diana couldn’t believe she was having this conversation with her mother in law, Jed’s mother! It wasn’t right, and she wondered how red her face appeared, as she could feel the burning heat melting away the last of her dignity. She put her hands over her warm cheeks and couldn’t for the life of her figure out one reasonable thing to say.

“Oh, I know about these things now. Wish I had while carrying Neil, but at least I can tell you, and maybe…you know.” She glanced over her shoulder and then cleared her throat roughly. “So come on out of there. Rodney and I’ll take Danny up into that very comfortable suite above the barn. That way you and Jed can have some time alone.”

Diana unsnapped her seatbelt and then tried to step out of the truck, but she couldn’t see the running board to step down. “Oh, for the love of God,” she said. When she glanced over at Becky this time, they both relaxed and called out, at the same time, “Jed!”

p((((((((()))))))))=.
h1=. Chapter 5

“I want to have sex,” Diana said. She stood in the middle of their cramped bedroom, feeling about as appealing as a five-day-old loaf of bread. She was frumpy and unattractive, and for a moment she wondered whether the horror shining in Jed’s brown eyes could have been any stronger. It wasn’t as if she was suggesting he do something he hated, like heading out to a four-star restaurant, wearing a suit and tie and behaving like a well-polished gentleman; which he wasn’t. Oh, he’d go along for Diana, but he’d complain the entire time. Right now, the impression he gave off was exactly the same. Maybe it was the notion of having sex with her, all fat and completely unsexy, that turned him off.

He was still staring at her as he sat on the edge of the bed, his shirt half unbuttoned. Then he opened his mouth, she was sure, to say something, but nothing came out as he looked away. Of course he was tired; so was she, but she was also determined.

“What?” he said, studying her as if trying to figure her out, suddenly at a complete loss.

“I know I’m not very appealing to you. I mean, how could I be, looking like this?” Damn, those were tears she felt stinging her eyes. She blinked them back, and the bed squeaked as Jed got up. He sighed as he walked toward her. She didn’t miss the way the lines around his eyes had deepened; as if the past few days had aged him, and all he’d done to help her, over the past weeks, was taking its toll on him. He put both hands on her shoulders and held her still.

“Stop right there. Diana, you’re exhausted and you want to have sex? What is this, and what’s really going on? Look at how tired you are, how uncomfortable. I haven’t pushed at all, and you want me all of a sudden?” He lowered his face until it was only inches from hers, and she wasn’t sure if he was about to shake her or hug her.

“Do you want me, Jed?” Her voice was shaky. Diana needed to know, right then, how he really felt about her, and she waited anxiously; holding her breath. She could smell his earthy fragrance. Even when he had worked in the barn, there was never a time his scent turned her off. Just being with him, touching him, she could always smell his strength; and it grounded her. She looked up to him and she loved him, and right then she was absolutely terrified that he didn’t want her.

“Diana, I love you, but good God, woman, you’re going to push me over the edge. You don’t want me pawing all over you right now—no matter how much I want you.”

“So you do want me? Even looking like this?” She gestured to her large belly and then pushed her hands into her aching back.

He let out a rough laugh. “Are you kidding me? Diana, I could never have enough of you.” He reached for her hand and linked his fingers with hers. “Come on, sit down and tell me what’s really going on.” He sat her on the edge of the bed, the springs squeaking. His jeans rustled as he crouched in front of her and put both of his large, calloused hands on her thighs.

Diana couldn’t keep from touching him as she slid her hands over his wrists and the hair covering his forearms. His sleeves were rolled up, and she could feel the muscles bunch under her touch. “Jed, I want to have the baby.” She gazed at him, and his look of confusion changed to something that seemed more like humor.

“Okay, so what does this have to do with having sex?”

“Well, I was talking to your mother….” She watched as his eyes darkened and he seemed a little wary. “She told me to have sex with you if I want to have this baby. She heard it will start labor…” She stopped talking when Jed pulled away, running his hand roughly over his head, rustling his short hair; which was already a mess from him running his fingers through it over and over.

He started pacing in front of her so much like a caged lion, his agitation now rolling off him in waves. “You talked to my mother about sex? Seriously, Diana?” Okay, he was mad. Scratch that—he was furious, and she didn’t know what to say. “What we do in our bedroom, Diana, is between you and me and no one else—especially not my mother. I definitely don’t want my mother involved in my sex life,” he growled, stopping right in front of her.

“Jed, your mother brought it up with me. I didn’t ask her and start talking about our sex life. She was trying to help because she understands my frustration and the fact I’m worrying about everything, including making you angry.”

He dropped on the bed beside her, the mattress dipping. “Diana, honey, I’m not angry with you, but if you keep talking to my mother about our intimate details; I will be.” He leaned in and kissed her, quick and swift, and then pulled away, pulling off his shirt. “Okay, get in bed.”

She looked hopefully at him, and of course he noticed, because he frowned and said, “We’re sleeping, Diana. That’s it.”

p((((((((()))))))))=.
h1=. Chapter 6

Jed lay there beside Diana for the longest time. He was past tired. Maybe that was why he couldn’t sleep—besides the fact that he was so hard for his wife. The last thing he was going to do was start poking and pawing at her when all she needed to do was sleep, and relax. For the love of God, he was irritated with his mother for bringing it up with Diana in the first place. And he was shocked, since his mother hadn’t spoken one word to him about sex since he was a young teen; when she and his father had sat all three boys down and had a heart-to-heart about sex, even though they already knew everything about it from their friends, books, and the talk in and around the school hallway. None of them had said a word as each one sat, red faced, in front of their parents. Now this? His mom wanted him to have sex with his wife. It was weird, was what it was.

He wasn’t about to admit this thought to anyone, but, maybe for a second or two, he had been tempted to prop Diana on her side and have his way with her. Being buried inside her sweetness would have relieved him of his ongoing agony. She rustled beside him and pressed her rounded bottom against his hardness, and he groaned. He felt the instant his wife stiffened and then slid her hand back over his bare ass under the sheets, touching him.

“Diana, no.” He grabbed her wrist before she sent him over the edge and sat up, pulling the sheet over him. He rubbed his face hard and glanced down at the frown on his wife’s overtired face. Even the dark circles under her eyes were deepening to the point that he was beginning to worry.

“Jed, please, could you just try? Please, for me.” She gazed at him imploringly. “You’ll feel better.”

He let out a rough laugh, because he was struggling against the one part of his anatomy that had no business doing any thinking. Before he could do anything stupid, he yanked on his jeans, opened their door, and stormed out.

&Diana wanted& to cry as she stared at Jed’s sculpted back while he stormed out of the bedroom in their very quiet house. It was dim already, and a quick glance at the bedside clock had her stomach growling almost on cue. It was just after five in the evening. At least she’d had a few hours sleep. She eased her legs over the edge of the bed and struggled to her feet. Her back ached even worse than earlier. Maybe the bed was too soft and they needed a new one.

Diana lifted her housecoat from the back of the door and shrugged it on, waddling down the hall, following the trail of light streaming from the kitchen. She could hear banging and scraping, and then the fridge door closed. Diana stopped just outside the kitchen doorway and watched her husband and the darkened scowl that came over his face. Oh, he was definitely in a mood. Why wouldn’t he sleep with her? She crossed her arms across her breasts and felt her face tighten from the frown she was sure matched the one on his face.

Jed yanked open the cupboard door. “Get that look off your face, Diana. It’s not going to happen.”

“Jed, I felt you. I know you want me.” She opened her arms. “So take me. Give yourself some relief.” She pressed her hands over her heart. “It’ll help me, and it’s supposed to bring on labor.” She couldn’t keep the passion from her voice.

He put down the knife with a clatter on the wooden cutting board. It was then that Diana noticed the cold roast beef in plastic wrap and cold vegetables—leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.

“I’m not making love to you to help you, for the love of God,” he said. “Don’t you get it? I’ll hurt you.” He brushed past her, swearing in a tone she’d never heard before, not from Jed.

“Jed, you would never hurt me. Why would you say that?” She took a step to follow him, before he turned on her like a bear stalking its prey. She could feel his anger.

“Are you kidding me? I’ve been patient and ignoring my needs for you, and right now the only thing I want to do is throw you down on that bed and ride you like an animal.” He growled, putting his face inches from hers. “But I won’t, because I’d hurt you and I’d hurt the baby. I can’t go slow and easy right now. I’ll snap. So don’t ask me again.”

Diana put her hand on his bare arm. “You would never hurt me or the baby. Jed, please, just try. Please.” She reached up and slid her hand over his cheek.

He sighed. Even with that frustrated, irritated expression on his face, he couldn’t hide his feelings for her. “The fact that you discussed it with my mother really pisses me off, Diana.”

“I know, and I’m sorry.”

He watched her with an expression that said he could eat her up. For a minute, she wondered if she should worry, maybe take a step back. His eyes flared, and then he lowered his head to touch her lips, but he stopped a hair’s width away, allowing his warm breath to caress her lips. “You better get ready, and, by God, don’t you dare say I didn’t warn you,” he said. Then he put his lips on hers in a passionate, no-holds-barred, kiss.

p((((((((()))))))))=.
h1=. Chapter 7

Diana lay in the crook of Jed’s arm, the covers pulled around them. Still no labor, not even a twinge of anything. Damn it.

She didn’t know what she expected after Jed had followed through in a creative way, turning what she had expected to be nothing but the mechanics of sex, into the most erotic experience she could remember. Not only had she screamed out his name, not once but twice, but she’d also discovered just how overly sensitive her breasts, her thighs, and her skin had become. Jed’s simple touch had become magical, nearly sending her over the edge in a way that had her writhing about, as elegantly as a very pregnant woman could.

After Jed had run his tongue over every erotic spot, he had her bend over, resting her arms on the bed, and took her from behind. With every thrust, she could feel him fighting and holding back, but, damn, did he feel good. She should have been exhausted, beyond tired, but there was something about what he’d done that had filled her with such completeness that she felt deeply loved, and it relaxed her and gave her an energy she hadn’t felt in a while.

Jed was fast asleep behind her, and she could still feel the aftereffects of him inside her. She ran her hand over her belly, where Jed’s arm surrounded her. She was damp and wet, and she felt something warm trickling down her inner thigh. She lay there, wondering in the darkness, and when the trickle didn’t stop; she realized her water had broken.

Diana stopped herself right before she grabbed Jed’s arm and shook him awake. He was so deeply asleep that she couldn’t do that to him. Jed was absolutely exhausted, and, for the first time in weeks, he was relaxed. She didn’t know how long she lay there, waiting for the contractions to start, but they never did. Then she started wondering what she was supposed to do when her water broke and labor didn’t start. She didn’t think that was something they had covered or even talked about.

She checked the bedside clock. It was after midnight, so maybe she had dozed for a bit. The phone was on Jed’s side of the bed, and she couldn’t rightly slip out from under the covers when Jed had her anchored to him so effectively.

He breathed roughly and then moved his hand up, covering Diana’s breasts and then kissing her cheek. Then she felt him stiffen.

“Why’s the bed wet?” he muttered groggily. He leaned over her and switched on the bedside light.

“I think my water broke,” she said. She met the surprise in his eyes, and then he slid back the covers and looked.

“So it worked,” he said in a voice that sounded surprised.

“Well, sort of, I guess. I haven’t had any contractions.”

Jed appeared concerned. He reached over and snatched up the phone, dialing. As soon as someone answered, he said, “Yeah, it’s Jed Friessen. Diana’s water broke, but her labor hasn’t started.” He listened to something and leaned over, pulling the covers down further.

“Jed, what are you doing?” Diana asked, shivering in the chilly night air.

“The doctor asked me to check the color of the fluid,” he said. “Hey, Doc, it doesn’t look discolored to me. The sheets are wet, nothing but clear fluid.” He watched Diana as he spoke. “Well, funny thing, my wife had this brilliant idea that she wanted to have sex, so—we did. Any chance that’s what caused it?” He appeared to listen to whatever the doctor was saying, and Diana couldn’t shake the feeling that Jed thought he had made a mistake.

“You sure?” he asked. “Okay, see you soon.” He hung up the phone and let out a sigh that sounded way too much like frustration. He slid out of bed, rubbed his head and said, “Well, let’s go.” Then he pulled on the jeans he’d tossed to the floor and grabbed a shirt from the closet. He shrugged it on and turned to Diana as she lay there, watching him.

“Diana, do you need help getting up?” He strode around the bed to her, looking at her and raising his eyebrows, expecting an answer when she said nothing.

“You’re mad at me again,” she said. She didn’t move but started to pull the sheet up higher over her breasts, hiding herself from him.

Jed reached down and yanked back the sheet, taking hold of her elbow and pulling her up into a sitting position on the edge of the bed. She shivered against the damp sheet. Jed said not one word as he grabbed a t-shirt from the drawer and then a blue skirt from the closet; one of the maternity skirts she’d lived in for a while. He didn’t look at her as he squatted in front of her. “Diana, step in,” he said. Boy, he was mad.

“Jed, talk to me.” She lifted one foot and then the other into the skirt, and Jed lifted her, standing her beside the bed, pulling her skirt up over her swollen belly.

“Diana, put this on.” He pulled the t-shirt over her head.

“Jed, I need underwear and a bra.”

“Why? You’re going to the hospital, not the supermarket,” he snapped.

Diana refused to budge when Jed grasped her elbow and tried to get her to move, giving her one of his exasperated glances. “Jed, why won’t you talk to me? I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

“Oh, for the love of God, Diana!” He dropped his hand. “You are the most exasperating woman sometimes. I’m mad at me, not you. We need to go because Doctor Caldwell is meeting us at the hospital. Now!”

“Why are you mad at yourself? I don’t understand.” Diana started walking as Jed reached for her elbow again and guided her out the bedroom door, flicking on the hall light.

“Because I’m the one who couldn’t control myself. I was probably too rough with you, I…let’s just go.” He stopped her at the front door, stomped his boots on, and grabbed her coat, putting it over her shoulders. He reached for her shoes and kneeled down.

“Jed, you weren’t too rough. Are you telling me the doctor said you shouldn’t have had sex with me?” She couldn’t believe the doctor would say that, as it made no sense. She lifted her foot, holding on to Jed’s shoulder, as he nudged her shoe on.

“Diana, I didn’t want to because I don’t want to be taking chances with you and the baby. The doctor said not to worry, just bring you in so she can assess you both.”

He stood up, and Diana felt the dribble down her thighs. She peeked at the puddle forming on the floor. “Jed…”

“Yeah, I know. Maxi pad and underwear, right?” He carried on down the hall, and Diana worried as she waited for her husband, listening to him rummage in the bathroom. How could she lessen his guilt and ease his conscience for something she knew, deep down in her soul, had been so right?

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h1=. Chapter 8

“Everything is fine, but I can’t examine you much more, Diana, since your water broke. The risk for infection is so much higher now.” Dr. Caldwell had cut her dark, curly hair to a close-cropped style, and it made her round face and dark, chubby cheeks stand out. She was very pretty, sharp, and all business.

“Doctor Caldwell, can you please tell Jed this wasn’t his fault? He’s beating himself up because I talked him into having sex with me. I wanted this to start labor,” Diana explained. She was dressed in a faded blue hospital gown in the maternity ward of the community hospital of North Lakewood. Jed hovered beside her, and she didn’t need to look up to see his irritation. She could feel how he stiffened beside her as he sat on the edge of the bed.

Dr. Caldwell offered a wide smile, showing a flash of white teeth, and then she laughed softly. “No, let me assure you, you caused no damage, Jed. And…” She cleared her throat roughly before continuing. “I often tell my late-stage moms that sometimes having sex helps to stimulate labor. The water breaking, well, it happens, and generally I’d send you home again since labor hasn’t started, but I think I need to keep you here for a bit. Jed, I’ll get you to help Diana up and start walking the halls; see if we can’t get this labor started.” She headed for the door.

“Are you sure it wasn’t because I was maybe a little rough, and I didn’t hurt Diana or the baby?” Jed said, stopping the doctor. Diana wondered, when the doctor glanced back, if in fact she wasn’t blushing.

“No, they’re both fine. Baby’s good, strong heartbeat. Start walking,” she said. Then she left.

Jed seemed to relax a bit, but Diana could tell he was still annoyed. “Well, you heard the doctor. Up,” he said as he helped her sit and put her legs over the edge of the bed.

“Jed, I need my housecoat or something. I didn’t bring the bag I packed for the baby, and my ass is hanging out the back of this drafty gown.”

“Such a pretty ass, too.” He put a kiss on her lips and helped her down.

The door pushed open, and a short nurse, with her dark hair pinned up, walked in. “How’s everything going?” she asked, stopping in front of Diana.

“I need a housecoat or something to put on. I’m too exposed in this,” Diana said.

The nurse glimpsed her backside and smiled. “I’ll grab you another gown. Wear it like a coat—it’ll cover your behind.” She stepped outside, returning a few minutes later, shaking out a hospital gown. She helped Diana slip it on. “There you go. Okay, Doctor Caldwell just left, but she said you were going to start walking. We’ll keep an eye on you.”

“Walk the halls, yippee,” Diana said with more than a hint of sarcasm, and both Jed and the nurse gave her an odd look.

“So do you think this will help?” Jed asked.

“It can, and it’s a start,” said the nurse. “Start walking up and down the hallway. We’re going to want to check the baby’s heartbeat in about fifteen minutes.”

The nurse left, and Jed urged Diana forward.

“Jed, I need my shoes since I don’t have slippers, either.”

He grunted and grabbed her brown flats, bending down to slip them on her feet.

Diana lost count of the number of times they walked the halls from one end to the other, mostly in silence. “Jed, what if my labor doesn’t start? I’m overdue, my water broke, and still no labor. Why?”

Jed rubbed her back with his hand. “I don’t know, honey.”

Just then, they heard a woman scream from a labor and delivery room. Diana froze. With Danny, she’d had an emergency c-section. She had never experienced giving birth, so she couldn’t help worrying about how bad it was going to be.

&Jed guided& Diana back to her room after the nurse called them. He helped her back on the bed, and the OB nurse checked the baby’s heartbeat. It was then that Diana started wincing.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Jed asked. She glanced his way, and her face took on an edge of surprise and relief; edged with some discomfort, he was sure.

“I think I just had a contraction,” she said.

“Hmm,” the nurse murmured, ripping off her gloves. “Well, keep walking, because we need to get you into active labor, and it could take a while.”

Jed watched the nurse leave. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s keep walking, see if we can’t get this labor going.”

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h1=. Chapter 9

“Come on, honey, that’s it. You’re doing great.” Jed pressed his hands into Diana’s lower back as she struggled through another contraction. She leaned over the bed, resting on her forearms, groaning and breathing.

They had been at this for almost eight hours, and he was wondering how much more Diana could take. He’d asked for drugs for her, and the OB nurse had contacted the doctor but had heard nothing back yet.

“Jed, I want an epidural. I’m so tired, and it hurts,” Diana mumbled. Her voice was scratchy, and she sounded so tired.

Just then, the door pushed open, and Dr. Caldwell walked in, wearing scrubs.

“I was starting to wonder if you’d ever show, Doctor Caldwell,” Jed said, in a voice he knew sounded a little irritated.

“Sorry. Have another mom in labor. Seems to be a busy day. How are you doing, here?”

Diana moaned again and started rocking against the bed.

“She’s in a lot of pain. She wants an epidural. Why is this such a problem?” he snapped.

“Well, I have to order it, and the anesthesiologist is in an emergency surgery right now. Okay, let’s get Diana back on the bed. After this next contraction, I’ll have a look and then I can order it.” Dr. Caldwell motioned upward, putting her hand on Diana’s back and rubbing. “You’re doing good, Diana.”

“I want to push,” Diana snapped. Her face was damp, and she blew out a huff of air and groaned.

“No, not yet. Don’t push.” The doctor put on rubber gloves, and Jed helped Diana up on the bed. The doctor checked and shook her head. “You’re only six centimeters, Diana.”

Diana started crying. Jed could take anything, but her tears always hit him in the gut. “Diana, it’s okay,” he said.

“No, Jed, I’m so tired. I want to push. I feel I need to. This is taking so long.” She went onto her side and grabbed the side rail. She yelled, and he could tell she was getting hit by some pretty tough contractions. She was really struggling to get through each one.

The doctor lifted her leg. “Diana, I’m going to try to open your cervix. I don’t want you pushing. Stop pushing.”

Jed pressed his hand into her back and massaged. “Diana, listen to the doctor. Don’t push.”

“I’m trying!” she yelled.

“Okay, there we go,” the doctor said, glancing up at Jed.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Opening her cervix. I can only do it during the contraction. But, you know, sometimes your body tells you it’s gone as far as it can without some help, and Diana is there.” The doctor gave him a meaningful look. “Okay, Diana, on the next contraction I’m going to get you to push.”

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h1=. Chapter 10

Diana cuddled her baby boy, although her eyelids drooped a couple of times. She was relieved and exhausted. He was big, at nine pounds and fourteen ounces, and she was sore, with five stitches. Thankfully, the nurse had just brought in an icepack, and she was sitting on it. It eased the ache some, but holding her baby boy as she traced the light brown curly hair and touched his nose, which was so Jed, gave her peace. Then she felt him, Jed, as he surrounded her with his arms, leaning over her, them, gazing at his son.

He kissed her forehead again and touched his son’s tiny fingers as he waved them in the air. “Beautiful,” he murmured. “How are you feeling, honey?”

Diana gazed up at Jed; into his sweet brown eyes. He was a man she’d given her heart and soul to, a man she loved more than her next breath, and she could see her future in his eyes. She knew with absolute certainty that this man would treasure her and their children, their family, loving them deeply.

“So what do you want to name this big boy who gave his mama so much grief?” Jed teased.

Diana glanced down at her baby, who grunted. “Our boy, who didn’t want to come out. Hmm, Jed, I don’t know what to call him. You have any ideas? None of the names we talked about seem right for him. He needs a name that suits him.”

“Well, maybe it’ll come to us after we get some sleep,” he said. It was then that their baby boy, the newest addition to the Friessen family, decided to let out a howl.

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h1=. What’s Coming Next

in the Outsider Series

The Unexpected Storm

(Neil & Candy)

He can have any woman, except the one he wants.

—“You can’t help but fall in love with Neil and Candy. Neil is Candy’s knight in shining armor” – Reviewer – April

“It is nice to know that a story can be so powerful that a man can consider a woman’s feelings and show her that love can conquer all and be lover’s and friends” – Reviewer – Theresa

Click here to download THE UNEXPECTED STORM

Read excerpt from The Unexpected Storm

Every once in a while, your heart has a mind of its own. It aches, it weeps, but there are days it soars and pumps with so much joy that you want to shout out to everyone just how wonderful everything is: The sun is perfect, the stars have all lined up, and you feel absolutely mind-blowingly freaking fantastic. The heart can also be responsible for you doing the most stupid, dumb-ass things ever, such as sliding your arms around the first good-looking babe you see and leaning in to taste her sweet lips with an out-of-this-world kiss that zings rockets right through your body, blowing off the top of your head, further proving you’ve checked your brain in to the nearest broom closet.

Maybe that was why Neil Friessen was standing barefoot, his shirt wide open, with the stinging outline of the sexiest hand imprinted on his face, after being slapped by the dark-haired babe he’d just kissed. She was drop-dead gorgeous, even with those smoky brown eyes sizzling with the fires of hell and shooting sparks his way. She had the most stunning set of long dark lashes, full rosy lips, a narrow nose, cheekbones that shaped her oval face, and a strong jaw. My God, this woman had him, Neil Friessen, a tall, “smart and sexy”—the exact words his sister-in-law Diana had used to describe him—man taking a nosedive in the dirt like some fumbling twenty-year-old. And Neil was definitely not fumbling or twenty.

Neil always had women hitting on him anywhere he went, and he loved it. It stoked his ego and made him feel damn good, not to mention he loved the ladies, especially those with mile-long legs and thick dark hair that had that bedroom look, as if he’d just run his fingers through those luscious locks. That was the babe standing before him on the sandy banks of the Atlantic Ocean, about thirty miles northwest of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula, where the forest met the ocean and where her horse, a beautiful smoky gray Azteca gelding, was ground tied on the sandy beach.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t know who she was: Candy McCrae, the daughter of Randy McCrae. Her father had bought this spectacular piece of paradise, two hundred acres of beach and rainforest, a property Neil had been trying to get his hands on for five years. The property backed onto the ten-thousand-acre parcel that Neil owned with his father, Rodney, and it was the missing key to their own paradise, the exact spot where Neil planned to build his five-star resort.

“Just what was that?” she spit out, and he could see the way she struggled to breathe, as if she’d just gone three rounds in a fight.

“Sorry. Lost my head is all, Candy. My brother Jed and his wife had a baby. Just got the news.” Neil held up his cell phone as if to show her he was telling the truth.

She didn’t cry or yell. What she did was fist her hands as if she was going to come at him again and pop him in the mouth this time, not that he didn’t deserve it. But, hell, he’d wanted to kiss Candy as far back as he could remember. The trouble was that she hated him. No, it wasn’t hate—it was the fact that she wished he’d die some horrible, painful death. He was pretty sure those had been her exact words when he asked her out for dinner two years ago and then a second time when he saw her in Cancun, getting supplies, eight months ago. That time, she had added in the “Drop dead” look she’d mastered just for him, and she did so every time since he tried to talk to her.

“Let me get this straight. Because you get news of something great happening in your life, your family, it gives you the right to trespass on my property, sneak up behind me, grab me, and kiss me. Or is there something else you’re planning to do to ruin my life?” she snapped.

Her words were the second slap Neil had gotten in the past five minutes, and then it hit him: the vile, disgusting realization that she thought he, Neil Friessen, who could have any woman he wanted, was trying to force himself on her.

Hell, no! It was the first time he actually stuttered and backed up, waving his hands in front of him. “No, no, I don’t think so. You got this all wrong, Candy.” Then he rammed his fingers through his thick brown hair and took another step back. “Look, Candy, I am sorry. I just saw you sitting there….” Had he lost his mind? He almost said he’d wanted to taste her lips and take them for a test drive for as far back as he could remember. She’d looked so lost and innocent, sitting there in the sand, when he stepped over the dune and saw her. “Well, you stood up, and when you turned to face me, you had a look on your face as if you wanted me to kiss you. I kind of lost my head.”

Neil didn’t think she could get any angrier, but he was wrong. Her mouth gaped, and she appeared to lean closer, as if she was getting ready to blast him. Then she shut her mouth and crossed her arms tightly to her chest, tapping her foot.

“I was excited, and, my God, you were just there….”

“So you thought you could, what, have some fun with me? A romp in the sand and then send me on my way?” She gave him her back and stormed toward her horse, a few yards away.

“No, Candy, wait. I was actually on my way over to talk to you when I got this call. Look, I’m sorry.” This was not going well. Neil was a master at working people, wooing women, and getting what he wanted. He’d always had a silver tongue, and he knew just the right thing to say and the perfect time to say it. He could always make everyone feel good about themselves, even when life dumped shit all around him. He saw the good in everything, including this feisty broad who stared at him as if he were a disease she had no intention of catching. Neil’s sharp-witted tongue and nimble mind, which he counted on to talk him out of this mess with Candy, were, for the first time in his life, blank.

“Look, I want to talk to you about your property. I heard you went to Francisco Kan and asked him for help, offered him part ownership of your land, your property here.” Neil swept his hand out in a dramatic gesture, but she stopped and spun around, planting both fists on her slim, sexy hips, which were exactly where his eyes went. She wore light khaki pants with a drawstring tie and a short sleeveless tee that showed her belly button and pale, flat abs.

“What? How the hell would you know anything about that?” She smacked her hand to her forehead as if she had realized something. “Why, that son of a bitch! Just what the hell did Francisco do, go running to you after he turned me down?”

“Is that what he did, turn you down?” Neil couldn’t believe she wouldn’t have come to him. When she didn’t answer him, instead staring at him in a way that let him know she had shut down, he was certain something more was going on. He knew she struggled, and he didn’t know how she made ends meet. When Francisco, a short, dark-haired Mayan in his late fifties, had come to him that morning and mentioned in his very calm way, without disclosing whatever it was that Candy was trying to hide, that she had come to him to ask him to invest in her property, well, Neil had decided to go and see Candy.

He should have known better, except he couldn’t help worrying about her. He cared, even though she’d kicked him in the nuts one time after another, and he couldn’t figure out what he’d done that had her loathing him. It bothered him, and he’d lost sleep over it, because she was the one woman who could push every single one of his buttons, turning bubbly and sharp-witted Neil Friessen into a raving lunatic.

“Look, I just want to talk to you. Would you come back here?”

“What do you want?” She made no move toward him. In fact, he could see every muscle in her arm tighten, and if he dared to step any closer to her, she’d probably deck him again.

“Candy, I’ve made you several generous offers to buy your property, and you’ve turned me down each time. If you’re looking for a partner, I’d love to sit down with you and discuss it….”

“Oh, I just bet you would.” She cut him off, grinding her teeth and spitting out each word. “Well, let me tell you something, Neil Friessen: I don’t want you as a partner. I would rather go into business with the devil himself than have anything to do with the likes of you. Now get the hell off my property.” She jabbed her finger angrily to the tree line and the path he’d taken to walk there.

“What the hell did I ever do to you, Candy? I can’t for the love of God figure you out, woman,” Neil barked. As he scrambled to think, he was sure he’d never done anything inappropriate. He liked her, he wanted to date her, and she fascinated him.

Candy narrowed those smoldering eyes, and this time he knew he’d get blasted. “You are a piece of work, Neil Friessen. You destroy people, you buy people, and you walk all over them if you don’t get what you want. You use them and toss them away as if they’re nothing, but you won’t ever get that chance with me.”

Candy stomped toward her horse, picking up the lead rope and looping it around his neck. His long mane appeared freshly brushed, and Neil wondered why she never trimmed it. They were both wild in a beautiful, mesmerizing way, completely in sync with each other, reading and anticipating one another’s movements. He could actually picture the feeling of love between them. She mounted easily, riding bareback, and then turned her horse, staring down at Neil with the same blazing anger. It was so intense that even her horse sidestepped and pranced.

“If I find you on my property again, I’ll shoot you.” She kicked her horse and took off in a canter down the sandy beach to where her small two-bedroom home had been built just inside the shelter of the trees.

Neil watched, completely dumbstruck by her. His unbuttoned cotton shirt rustled in the breeze, and he rubbed his hand over light brown chest hair, wondering what the hell she thought he’d done. He spit on the ground. “Well, good riddance.”

He was so done. He had come over here to offer his help, and she had practically spit on him again. Well, no more. He was so over her. He wasn’t a masochist, so why did he keep acting as if he were? It was time he moved on and stopped thinking about her and allowing his guts to get so knotted up over her. He’d date other women, sure one of the two dozen women who’d been flirting with him for months would distract him. At least they appreciated who he was and what he had to offer. He was a fine catch, and he just knew one of them would interest him. Tonight would be the first night of the rest of his life.

Candy spurred her horse on. “Come on, Sable!” she shouted. She leaned forward, racing over the thick white sand. The salty air mixed with the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, and she wanted to run and run. Her horse was responding, flying along with her. “Whoa, easy, boy.” She sat heavier to slow the horse until he walked, and he snorted, breathing heavily just like she was.

They were completely in sync, understanding each other, her and her beautiful gray horse. He had reacted to her jolt of anger at Neil Friessen, her fury, her rage, and she knew better than to allow her blood to boil and her every emotion to spin out of control around her horse.

Being around Neil was an emotional roller coaster. She wanted to hate him, but every time she saw him, his presence shot fire right through her. She tried to tell herself it was because he was the best-looking man in these parts. Attraction and sexuality oozed out of him in a boy-next-door, best-friend kind of way. He had silky short brown hair and a strong, powerful face that reminded her of all those hot movie stars, but his eyes were the color of whiskey, endless, always dancing with a spark of light. Every time she saw him, she couldn’t shake the image of him looking down on her in bed, and then she’d be furious at herself for going down that road—even though he had a body she’d love to explore, with tight abs and pecs under shirts that fit tastefully against his biceps. Lord, with those broad shoulders, it was clear the man worked out, but he probably owned some fancy home gym with a personal trainer and all.

She pulled up to the corral where she kept her horses and slid off Sables’ back, hitting the ground. He was sixteen hands high, a big boy, all solid muscle, but he was sweet and loyal, and he always knew what she was thinking. He nuzzled her cheek, and she kissed his muzzle and patted his shoulder before loosely tying him to the corral fence.

As she brushed her horse down softly, she had to remind herself that Neil Friessen was just playing with her, and it hurt like hell. She wanted to be loved, not toyed with, and she knew the only reason he was nice to her and was pursuing her, all flirty and interested, was because he wanted her land. The first time he asked her out, her dad had still been alive, and he warned her that they were sitting on prime real estate and that the Friessens wanted their property. Going out with Neil would only get her heart broken, because he had an agenda. Her dad had said that Neil would do anything to get their property, even pretend an interest in Candy. She’d listened thankfully, even though it stung beyond belief, because she wanted his interest to be genuine. The last time she saw Neil, he’d just finished with some blonde, carrying her bag and setting it in a cab, hugging her. Then he’d spotted Candy. Candy had been stunned, because she couldn’t believe he had the gall to ask her on a date less than five minutes after he’d been with another woman. Although she was proud of what she’d said, telling him to drop dead, she really wanted to hate him. It would be easier, and her heart would stop flip-flopping from her toes to her head every time she saw him. Even today she’d been embarrassed by how much she wanted that kiss, which was why she’d slapped him as hard as she could. She had known he was there, striding behind her, and when she stood up, her heart had flipped a switch, as if lightning zinged through her when his lips touched hers.

She touched her swollen lips, still burning, and licked the taste of Neil from them. It was so much like the sweetest dessert she anticipated and loved, and she wanted seconds. But she couldn’t have firsts, and she couldn’t have seconds, so she watched her horse prancing in the corral with her two other horses, a dark thoroughbred and a palomino, and she focused on her problems, wondering what she’d have to sell next to buy their feed, to pay the farrier and the local vet. There, it had worked, and she felt like absolute crap.

Click here to download THE UNEXPECTED STORM and keep reading.

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h1=. Other Works Available

Don’t Stop Me (The McCabe Brothers)

The first book in the McCabe Brothers, a spinoff of the big family romance series The Friessens from New York Times & USA Today bestselling Author Lorhainne Eckhart.

Fifteen years ago, Vic McCabe was headed down a one-way road to destruction with the love of his life. But then the unthinkable happened, a mistake that changed their lives forever.

Successful billionaire contractor Vic McCabe is a man every woman wants, but he gives his heart to no one. However, one day a reporter shows up, asking questions about a past he’s buried, a mistake he made fifteen years ago that could destroy his future and that of the woman he’s tried to forget.

After evidence surfaces, dredging up details of the night that changed his life forever, Vic is forced to seek out the only woman he’s ever loved—the woman who has sworn to hate him forever.

***

[*Order your copy today from all retailers. *]Click here to order your copy

Read Excerpt from Don’t Stop Me

There were times memories would come out of nowhere and hold him still for a moment as if he were a hostage. If he were ever to tell anyone about his fears, about the events he still couldn’t believe he’d survived unscathed…well, he knew no one would believe him. He would never share his past, his secrets. They were his—his pain, his hurt, his mistakes. Vic McCabe didn’t share with anyone.

He took a moment, brushing back the thin gauze of the curtain and staring into the darkness, seeing only the glow of the street lights in the distance and hearing the rain, which had picked up in intensity. It was late, and every sane person was tucked in for the night, sleeping soundly, maybe dreaming of something that wouldn’t give him nightmares and have him sitting up in the dead of night, sweating. No, those people most likely had wives, kids down the hall, and maybe a cat and a dog, a minivan and a small compact. Their biggest worry was whether they could afford to take the kids to Disneyland or skiing in Tahoe for spring break.

It would be an easy life, simple, something Vic could never imagine living.

There was nothing about Vic that fit the mold of comfortable, simple, or easy. He wasn’t made that way. He’d been carved out of the gutter. He wasn’t a nice man, and he knew well he should have come with a warning label.

He heard a rustle behind him: the sheets, crisp white cotton, clean and fresh. They would need laundered again now.

“How long have you been awake?” she asked.

He didn’t turn around. He didn’t have to to picture her running her hands through her long dark hair, sweeping it back from her face. He could hear it, sense it.

“Are you coming back to bed?” There it was in her voice. It was always the same, and again he didn’t have to turn to know she’d most likely sat up, pulled up her legs, feeling the awkwardness of the moment.

“I’ll call a car for you,” he said, but the fact was that he had already sent a text and could see the headlights in the distance down his driveway. The black town car was from the executive service he used when he traveled.

“So that’s it?” she said.

He could feel the muscles tighten in his back as he rested his arm on the window frame with the bite of the cool night air on his naked skin. It was welcome in his discomfort.

He heard the rustle again and this time turned only when the bedside lamp flickered on. She was lovely, slim and curvy as she pulled on her underwear and awkwardly stepped around the bed to find her dress on the floor. It was purple and white, sleeveless, but it did nothing for him now as he watched her hurry, slipping her feet into black pumps. Her hair was dark and full, the way he liked it, a tangled mess, and her cheeks were round and her lips lush. Her face had already blended into all the nameless faces of the women he’d bedded and tossed away. Her eyes were the wrong shade of brown.

She was staring at him now, watching him with dark smudges under her eyes from the mascara she’d caked on, the shadow on her lids that had fooled him for a moment, an image of someone else. It was always the same, the appreciation for his body, the marks on his back and the tattoo he shared with no one, always the same. He knew women loved his body, every solid hard part of him, but then, he worked at it with running, weights, and hitting the bag in his gym at dawn before he started each day.

It was the same thing each time, the same way. He was now walking across the hardwood floor, reaching for the black robe he had tossed over one of two blue easy chairs. He slid it on and belted it just as the woman’s expression became set and distant. Yes, he’d hidden himself from her, and he reached for her jacket, also tossed on the floor, and held it up. She stared up at him for a second and then accepted his help, shoving her arms into the sleeves as he settled it over her shoulders. He stepped back, careful not to touch her again.

“Just give the driver your address and he’ll take you home,” he said as she stood there again in front of him, close, with the same familiar expectation. She was waiting for a kiss, some gentlemanly gesture after he’d fucked her, but the problem was that he wasn’t a gentleman. He was everything bad, everything a mother should warn her daughter to stay away from.

“Can I give you my number?” she asked with dimming hope in her eyes, which he couldn’t allow to remain. He had to crush it and slam the door firmly closed so there would be no question in her mind.

“Don’t bother,” he said.

She took a step to the door and paused for a second. “So you really did mean no names.”

Yeah, he really did, and he’d also been clear that he’d never see her again.

***

Click here to order your copy and keep reading.

p((((((((()))))))))=.
h1=. About the Author

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart recently received the 2016 Readers’ Favorite Award for Suspense and Romance for her two titles Vanished & The Bloodline. With over fifty titles under her belt, her big family romance series are loved by fans worldwide. Books that celebrate love, family, commitment, hope, and making a relationship work. With flawed strong characters, characters you can relate to. Lorhainne writes the kind of books she wants to read.

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She is frequently a Top 100 bestselling author in multiple genres, such as romance, western, military, and mystery/suspense. She has written multiple series, including The Outsider, Walk the Right Road, The Wilde Brothers, Saved, The Friessens, Married in Montana, Kate and Walker: Deadly, Dangerous, and Desired, and her newest addition and spinoff of the bestselling Friessen Series THE MCCABE BROTHERS.

Lorhainne loves to hear from her readers! You can connect with me at:

www.LorhainneEckhart.com

[email protected]

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h1=. Links to Lorhainne Eckhart’s Booklist

The following Lorhainne Eckhart titles are available in ebook, audiobook and paperback. Please scroll down for the links or visit her website at www.LorhainneEckhart.com for available retailers.

The Outsider Series

The Forgotten Child (Brad and Emily)

A Baby and a Wedding (An Outsider Series Short)

Fallen Hero (Andy, Jed, and Diana)

The Search (An Outsider Series Short)

The Awakening (Andy and Laura)

Secrets (Jed and Diana)

Runaway (Andy and Laura)

Overdue (An Outsider Series Short)

The Unexpected Storm (Neil and Candy)

The Wedding (Neil and Candy)

Or click here to grab all the books in this sizzling romance series in one boxed set collection, The Outsider Series: The Complete Omnibus Collection.

The Friessens: A New Beginning

The Deadline (Andy and Laura)

The Price to Love (Neil and Candy)

A Different Kind of Love (Brad and Emily)

A Vow of Love, A Friessen Family Christmas

Or click here to grab all the books in this romantic family saga in one boxed set collection, The Friessens A New Beginning: The Collection

The Friessens

The Reunion

The Bloodline (Andy & Laura)

The Promise (Diana & Jed)

The Business Plan (Neil & Candy)

The Decision (Brad & Emily)

Now available, The Friessens: (Books 1 – 5, Box Set). Click here to download your copy.

First Love (Katy)

Family First

Leave the Light On

The McCabe Brothers

Don’t Stop Me (Vic)

Don’t Catch Me (Chase)

Don’t Run From Me (Aaron)

Don’t Hide From Me (Luc)

The Wilde Brothers

The One (Joe and Margaret)

The Honeymoon, A Wilde Brothers Short

Friendly Fire (Logan and Julia)

Not Quite Married, A Wilde Brothers Short

A Matter of Trust (Ben and Carrie)

The Reckoning, A Wilde Brothers Christmas

Traded (Jake)

Unforgiven (Samuel)

Now Available! Click here to grab all the books in this big family romance series in one collection. The Wilde Brothers The Complete Collection

Married in Montana

His Promise

Love’s Promise

A Promise of Forever

The Parker Sisters

Thrill of the Chase

The Dating Game

Play Hard to Get

What we Can’t Have

Go Your Own Way

Kate and Walker: Deadly, Dangerous and Desired Series

One Night

Edge of Night

Last Night

Walk the Right Road Series

The Choice

Lost and Found

Merkaba

Bounty

Blown Away: The Final Chapter

Or click here to grab all the books in the Walk the Right Road series in one boxed set collection, Walk the Right Road: The Complete Collection.

The Saved Series

Saved

Vanished

Captured

Or click here to grab The Saved Series: The Complete Collection, with all the books in this military thriller.

Single Titles

He Came Back

Loving Christine

Boxed Sets & Collections

The Wilde Brothers The Complete Collection

The Outsider Series: The Complete Omnibus Collection

The Friessens A New Beginning: The Collection

The Friessens Books 1 – 5 Box Set

Walk the Right Road: The Complete Collection

The Saved Series: The Complete Collection

Married in Montana

Kate and Walker: Deadly, Dangerous & Desired

Young Adult Christmas

The Gift

A Father’s Love, Illustrated

For my German Readers

Die Außenseiter-Reihe

Der Vergessene Junge

Der Gefallene Held

For my French Readers

L’ENFANT OUBLIÉ


Overdue

Diana and Jed are having a baby... a week ago! From New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Lorhainne Eckhart comes OVERDUE, a Finding Love ~ The Outsider Series bridge short story. The events of this 10,000+ short story take place between the events of the sizzling western romance RUNWAY and THE UNEXPECTED STORM. “Lorhainne Eckhart is a masterful storyteller, who captivates the reader's imagination with just a few sentences!”- LVGAL, Reviewer In OVERDUE, Diana and Jed are expecting a baby, a week ago. And when this overtired couple finally reach their breaking point it’s Jed’s mother, Becky, who steps in with a creative solution. THE OUTSIDER Series: The Forgotten Child (Brad & Emily) A Baby And A Wedding, An Outsider Series Short Fallen Hero (Andy, Jed & Diana) The Search, An Outsider Series Short The Awakening (Andy & Laura) Secrets (Jed & Diana) Runaway (Andy & Laura) Overdue, An Outsider Series Short The Unexpected Storm (Neil & Candy) The Wedding (Neil & Candy) Or grab The Outsider Series: The Complete Omnibus Collection which includes all the books and short stories in this big family romance series. THE FRIESSENS: A NEW BEGINNING: The Deadline (Andy & Laura) The Price to Love (Neil & Candy) A Different Kind of Love (Emily & Brad A Vow of Love, A Friessen Christmas *Available December 2014 THE WILDE BROTHERS: The One (Joe & Margaret) The Honeymoon, A Wilde Brothers Short Friendly Fire (Logan & Julia) Not Quite Married, A Wilde Brothers Short A Matter of Trust (Ben & Carrie) The Reckoning, A Wilde Brothers Christmas *Available December 2014 WALK THE RIGHT ROAD SERIES: The Choice Lost And Found Merkaba Bounty Blown Away, The Final Chapter Or grab Walk the Right Road: The Complete Collection, which includes all the books in this sizzling suspense series. THE SAVED SERIES Saved Vanished Captured

  • ISBN: 9781928085027
  • Author: Lorhainne Eckhart
  • Published: 2017-10-03 02:36:41
  • Words: 17799
Overdue Overdue