Excerpt from Harlot at the Homestead
“Kenan!” The cry pierced the night like a flaming arrow. “Help me!”
Kenan jumped to his feet, instantly alert. Just moments ago he’d been slumped in the fireside chair, losing the battle against exhaustion as the rain pattering against the windows and the crackling of the fire had lulled him to sleep. After two months on the cattle trail, he’d been relieved to be back at the Duggan homestead and his mind and body had begun to unwind.
But someone needed help. He grabbed his gun belt from the floor by the chair and fastened it around his waist.
“Kenan!” The anguished cry came again, carried on a voice filled with pain and fear.
He turned to check on his siblings, but the three of them stood wide-eyed and pale behind him like unearthly spectres haunting the dimly lit room.
So who, on earth, had called him?
“Kenan, what was that?” Rosie rushed to his side and took hold of his arm. The alarm in her amber eyes was echoed in his racing heartbeat.
“It sounded like…” He squeezed his twin sister’s hand. “Like…but it can’t be.”
There was a thud from outside as something landed on the wooden porch. Kenan took hold of Rosie’s shoulders and pushed her back towards their two younger brothers.
“Stay here,” he growled.
As he turned and walked towards the door, he removed his gun from its holster. He held it steady in his right hand and placed his left one on the door handle.
“Matthew, keep Rosie and Emmett well back.”
Matthew nodded his dark head, his own gun already cocked.
Kenan released the catch and slowly opened the door, letting in the black night, the rain and a dead woman.
“Dear Lord in Heaven!” Rosie appeared at Kenan’s side as he lifted the inanimate woman in his arms and carried her towards the warmth of the fire. She was drenched and ice cold. He laid her on the rag rug in front of the hearth and gazed at her.
“Kenan?” Rosie patted his shoulder and he stared into her bewildered eyes.
“It can’t be.”
Matthew knelt at Kenan’s side and frowned at the sight before him. “How…why…I mean…”
Kenan shook his head. “I have no idea but she’s soaked through and most likely has a fever.” His thudding heart threatened to explode at any moment and as he reached out to smooth back the girl’s sodden red hair, his hands trembled violently.
This didn’t make any sense.
He couldn’t fathom how or why, but Catherine Montgomery, the fiancée he’d grieved for the past two years, had appeared out of the blue at his homestead. His mind raced with unanswered questions but a flicker of hope sparked deep in his gut. He realised that in spite of his uncertainty and regardless of his fears, he was darned glad to see her—the woman he’d thought he would never see again.
“We’d better get her out of these wet things.” Rosie nudged Kenan’s shoulder.
“Yeah…of course.” He leaned over and lifted the unconscious woman from the hearth.
She was as light as lamb’s wool and blossoming warmth seeped through her damp clothing. Everywhere their bodies touched, his skin burned like it had been seared with a white-hot poker. He’d dreamt of holding her in his arms so many times and he’d even made silent promises to whatever deity existed that he’d ask no questions if she could just reappear in his life. But now that she had, Kenan was aware that he had a whole barrel full of questions that couldn’t remain unanswered.
“Take her through to my room,” Rosie whispered.
Kenan walked slowly, careful not to bump Catherine’s feet against the table or the door frames. He looked down into her beautiful pale face and savoured the beauty of her petite freckled nose and her coral rosebud mouth. Suddenly, she opened her eyes wide. She frowned for a moment then her pupils enlarged and Kenan’s heart leapt with a mixture of love and fear. She’d come back from the dead but how and why? And what had happened to her?
Excerpt from A Rancher for Rosie
“Oh Rosie…it hurts so much.”
Catherine’s clenched teeth and ashen face made Rosie’s stomach churn. She had never helped a woman in labor before and she didn’t have any personal experience to draw upon.
Though at my age a woman would hope to have delivered a few babes of her own.
She shook her head. No sense dwelling on that now. She had a job to do. She had to help her sister-in-law through this.
“Rosie, I’m certain it’s too soon. I thought the little one wasn’t due until April.”
Rosie placed a hand on Catherine’s shoulder. “I’m sure it will be fine. The whore I spoke with in town told me that sometimes a woman can get her dates muddled and sometimes a babe is ready earlier than expected.”
Rosie’s cheeks grew hot as Catherine stared hard at her. Catherine was no fool, and Rosie knew that her twin brother’s wife could see right through her attempts at reassurance. But Rosie could also sense Catherine’s desire to be comforted and her need to be supported in the absence of her husband or a more qualified birthing partner.
Right now, Rosie was all Catherine had.
Rosie fluttered like a nervous butterfly as Catherine shuffled around the small homestead. Catherine had stripped down to her shift as her body had overheated with the pains that had increased in intensity by the hour. At intervals, she grabbed the nearest piece of furniture and held on tightly as she rode the waves that shook her petite frame. Rosie trembled along with Catherine as the laboring woman’s knuckles grew white with the force of her grip on table edge or bench. The color only returned to Catherine’s skin when the agony receded. But Rosie had learned quickly that the routine would begin all over again. Soon. And she could do nothing to help.
She longed to rush out to the stable, saddle a horse and gallop straight into town to find Matthew but she feared leaving Catherine alone. What if something happened while she was gone? But what if something happens while you tarry here afraid?
Oh, Matthew, hurry up with help!
And, Joshua, please bring Kenan home soon.
Joshua—sweet, handsome Joshua Hampton, who had the power to lift Rosie’s heart up to the clouds. Just the thought of his handsome face with its bright blue eyes and full, sensual mouth made her heart beat faster. The thought of running her hands though his thick, sandy blond hair as he pressed his lips to hers made her body tighten in a way she had never experienced before their first embrace. He made Rosie feel beautiful, desirable and safe. And she wished with all of her heart that he was here.
“Come now, Catherine. Why don’t you lie down? This could take a while and you should rest. You need to save your strength.”
Catherine nodded and waddled toward the rear of the house. She opened the door that led to a short corridor and four bedrooms then went into her own. Rosie helped her to climb onto the bed and tucked the blankets around her.
“Try to sleep now, Catherine.”
Catherine eased herself out of the blankets. “I’m too warm to lie beneath these and I doubt that the pains will allow me to sleep, Rosie.”
“I know, dear heart, but you must try. At least rest between them. I’m sure that Matthew will be back soon.”
Catherine offered a wan smile before closing her eyes and sinking into the feather-stuffed pillow.
Rosie paused for a moment, wondering whether to take the chair in the corner of the room. But she realized that her presence might disturb Catherine, so she decided she would leave the doors ajar and listen instead. She tiptoed out of the room and headed back into the kitchen area, where she slumped into a fireside chair.
Matthew had headed out at first light when it seemed that the pains afflicting Catherine were not false signs of labor—as they had hoped—but real ones. It was now almost four in the afternoon. Where is he? Rosie’s shoulders ached with tension, her head hurt from worrying and her heart ached for another reason.
She leaned forward and rested her forehead on her arms.
Will Joshua ever ask me to marry him?