Pregnant and protected, p.1

  Pregnant and Protected, p.1

Pregnant and Protected
 

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Pregnant and Protected


  Courteous, courageous and commanding—these heroes lay it all on the line for the people they love in more than fifty stories about loyalty, bravery and romance. Don’t miss a single one!

  AVAILABLE FEBRUARY 2010

  A Vow to Love by Sherryl Woods

  Serious Risks by Rachel Lee

  Who Do You Love? by Maggie Shayne and Marilyn Pappano

  Dear Maggie by Brenda Novak

  A Randall Returns by Judy Christenberry

  Informed Risk by Robyn Carr

  Five-Alarm Affair by Marie Ferrarella

  AVAILABLE MARCH 2010

  The Man from Texas by Rebecca York

  Mistaken Identity by Merline Lovelace

  Bad Moon Rising by Kathleen Eagle

  Moriah’s Mutiny by Elizabeth Bevarly

  Have Gown, Need Groom by Rita Herron

  Heart of the Tiger by Lindsay McKenna

  AVAILABLE APRIL 2010

  Landry’s Law by Kelsey Roberts

  Love at First Sight by B.J. Daniels

  The Sheriff of Shelter Valley by Tara Taylor Quinn

  A Match for Celia by Gina Wilkins

  That’s Our Baby! by Pamela Browning

  Baby, Our Baby! by Patricia Thayer

  AVAILABLE MAY 2010

  Special Assignment: Baby by Debra Webb

  My Baby, My Love by Dani Sinclair

  The Sheriff’s Proposal by Karen Rose Smith

  The Marriage Conspiracy by Christine Rimmer

  The Woman for Dusty Conrad by Tori Carrington

  The White Night by Stella Bagwell

  Code Name: Prince by Valerie Parv

  AVAILABLE JUNE 2010

  Same Place, Same Time by C.J. Carmichael

  One Last Chance by Justine Davis

  By Leaps and Bounds by Jacqueline Diamond

  Too Many Brothers by Roz Denny Fox

  Secretly Married by Allison Leigh

  Strangers When We Meet by Rebecca Winters

  AVAILABLE JULY 2010

  Babe in the Woods by Caroline Burnes

  Serving Up Trouble by Jill Shalvis

  Deputy Daddy by Carla Cassidy

  The Major and the Librarian by Nikki Benjamin

  A Family Man by Mindy Neff

  The President’s Daughter by Annette Broadrick

  Return to Tomorrow by Marisa Carroll

  AVAILABLE AUGUST 2010

  Remember My Touch by Gayle Wilson

  Return of the Lawman by Lisa Childs

  If You Don’t Know by Now by Teresa Southwick

  Surprise Inheritance by Charlotte Douglas

  Snowbound Bride by Cathy Gillen Thacker

  The Good Daughter by Jean Brashear

  AVAILABLE SEPTEMBER 2010

  The Hero’s Son by Amanda Stevens

  Secret Witness by Jessica Andersen

  On Pins and Needles by Victoria Pade

  Daddy in Dress Blues by Cathie Linz

  AKA: Marriage by Jule McBride

  Pregnant and Protected by Lilian Darcy

  LILIAN DARCY

  PREGNANT AND PROTECTED

  LILIAN DARCY

  has written nearly eighty books for Silhouette Romance, Silhouette Special Edition and Harlequin Medical Romance (Prescription Romance). Happily married, with four active children and a very patient cat, she enjoys keeping busy and could probably fill several more lifetimes with the things she likes to do—including cooking, gardening, quilting, drawing and traveling. She currently lives in Australia, but travels to the United States as often as possible to visit family. Lilian loves to hear from readers. You can write to her at P.O. Box 532, Jamison P.O., Macquarie ACT 2614, Australia, or email her at [email protected]

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 1

  It only took a few seconds for Lauren Van Shuyler’s whole world to change.

  She heard a man’s voice yelling, “Watch the crane. Watch the damned crane!”

  Too late. Above her, the nineteenth-century brick façade she was here to inspect swayed forward, blocking out the light from a cool and drizzly late afternoon May sky. There was a clatter of falling bricks like gunfire, sporadic at first, then as dense as rain. The three-story façade toppled with the appearance of slow motion against the fretwork of scaffolding that outlined the structure of the new building going up behind it.

  Several pieces of platform from the scaffolding spun through the air like playing cards.

  “Back! Back! Back!” yelled the same man’s voice.

  Something heavy and warm rammed into Lauren, sending her to the ground. It—no, he, because it was a man’s body—rolled on top of her, then pulled her with him, rolling once more. The movement dropped both of them onto their sides in a cold, narrow channel in the building’s unfinished concrete floor, just a quarter second before several of the scaffolding platforms landed on top of them, followed by a thunderous dumping of bricks.

  For at least a minute longer, Lauren expected death. The noise was like a bomb blast. The dust was choking, as dry and hard as chalk in her mouth and nose. The impact of the rain of bricks crushed and splintered the scaffolding platforms, which were acting as a bridge over the cramped space, shielding their two bodies. She felt a sharp stab of agony in her shin, followed by an oddly soothing spread of warmth, and then the gradual onset of numbness.

  She couldn’t move. The darkness was total, as thick and tactile as paint. She knew she was crying only because she could feel the way her chest was jerking, and knew the man lying beside her still lived only because the tight, fast shaking wasn’t coming from her body, so it had to be coming from his. She’d never known such heart-hammering, gut-churning fear.

  There was a roaring in her ears that deafened her to other sounds, and so many points of pain that she didn’t know where to start counting. The roaring began to fade, and she could hear him—the man who was half crushed against her body—talking.

  “Are you okay? Are you alive?”

  “Yes. I’m alive.” She gave several dry sobs like hiccups. “I’m alive.”

  “Good. That’s good. That’s one thing. That’s one good thing.” His body made one last jerky shudder, then was still.

  “Is it finished?” Lauren asked. “The…the collapse?”

  All she could feel now was his breathing, hard and slow and heavy against her body. She felt sick to her stomach, and wanted to cradle herself there with her arms, but she couldn’t move them. One was stretched along the concrete channel, cold against its roughness. The other was pressed behind her, stretching the muscles tightly.

  “I can’t hear anything more falling. Can you move?” the man said.

  “Not much.”

  “No. I guess not.” His voice was deep and strong in his chest.

  They both lay there for another minute, waiting and listening. Lauren’s senses were in survival mode, alert and sizzling. She could feel cold air on her face, a thin breeze lazily winding its way along the channel. This suggested that it wasn’t completely blocked at either end, and took away one of the most potent sources of panic. They weren’t going to suffocate.

  The air had the musty, limey smell of new cement, but there was plenty of it, and even the tiniest filtering of light, too, now that her eyes had adjusted. It must have come from the same distant source as the chilly stream of air, because it was weak and diffuse. The blackness had only shadings in it: midnight, charcoal, steel and storm. And she could see the faintest suggestions of shape. There was a smooth curve which had to be the man’s
shoulder, and a more blurred curve that must be the outline of his head.

  Movement was almost impossible, however. Lauren was lying on her side, pressed length to length against the stranger. A piece of rough gravel beneath her hip bone made it throb with pain. The designer leather backpack she’d been wearing was squeezed between her lower back and the side of the concrete channel, forcing her spine to arch.

  Splintered wood from the partially crushed sheets of scaffolding platform rasped her shoulder. She could feel one of the man’s hands flattened beneath her rib cage. His knuckles must be grinding painfully into the gritty concrete. She had the impression, without much data to go on, that he was big. Her breasts were tender against the crush of his strong chest, and one of his thighs was lying across hers, heavy and solid and warm.

  “Did—did you save my life?” Lauren asked him finally. She felt an instinctive need to get a fix on this new universe.

  “That’s a little too close to call, at this stage.” His humor was edgy.

  “I’m scared.”

  “Yeah…don’t be, okay? Please, honey?” No one ever called her honey. No one would ever dare. But today, she liked it. It made her feel safe. “We’ll do a lot better with this if we stay calm.”

  “I’m calm.” But her teeth were chattering and she could feel the panic rising in her like the tide rising in an ocean rock pool.

  “Cold?”

  “I’m not dressed for this.”

  He laughed softly. “Atta girl! I didn’t know there was a dress code for lying under a heap of bricks.”

  “I mean it, I’m not—I’m wearing a thin blouse.” Silk. Expensive. Ruined. “I’m cold.”

  “Shh…bits of you are, yeah, but we’re warm. Our core temperatures are warm. We’re keepin’ each other that way. We’re okay.”

  His tone cajoled and soothed her, as if she were a nervous animal. If she stretched her neck back, she could see the faint outline of his face, rainy gray against a night gray background, and she could just make out his eyes. All of this was so close that it was only a blur. When she stopped trying to look at him and relaxed her neck muscles, her mouth or her forehead pressed against the soft cotton front of his shirt.

  “My arm is going numb.” Like her injured leg, but her leg was too far away to worry about.

  “Let’s try to move.”

  “How?”

  “Planning and communication. The keys to any joint operation.”

  She tried to laugh, but the sounds were more like sobs. “How about some goal setting, too, while we’re at it?” she managed to say.

  “Good idea. Mine is mainly to get my fingers out from under your ribs. You have hard ribs, lady!”

  “I…I’ve lost a little weight lately. And my name’s Lauren.”

  “Ah, yeah, okay…don’t apologize, Lauren. We wouldn’t have fit in here at all if you were packing ten extra pounds.”

  “What’s yours? Your name?”

  “Lock.”

  “Lock,” she echoed, tasting the short, masculine sound of it on her tongue. “Lock, can I move my arm?” It felt as cold and dead as marble. “And my backpack?”

  “That’s what I can feel with my fingertips? Leather, right?”

  “Yes.”

  “Got anything useful in it? Food, or something to drink?”

  “Some mineral water and a chocolate bar.” She’d been a Girl Scout. She was—almost—always prepared.

  “So I picked the right person to rescue, huh?”

  “Only you didn’t pick me. It all just—”

  “No, I didn’t pick you. Hell, yes, it was instinctive! I yelled at the others and rolled you into this duct cavity because you were the one I could reach. You and I were the ones right under that damned crane with its damned idiotic operator.”

  “You work on this site?”

  “No, just visiting. Hell of a welcome, wouldn’t you say?”

  “I’d just arrived, too. I was looking for the foreman. Did—did everyone else get clear?”

  “I don’t know. A couple of ’em were clear already. A couple of ’em might have made it. Not everyone.”

  “No, I didn’t think so.”

  They both listened again. No voices. No cries. No movement. There was a siren in the distance, but it must have been going somewhere else. Not enough time had passed yet, for help to have arrived. They both knew it would have to arrive soon.

  “How long will it take them to get to us?” She didn’t know why she was deferring to his judgment. Rationally, she knew that this experience had to be as jarring and new to him as it was to her, and there weren’t many people in her life to whom she had to defer.

  He took her question seriously, though. “We don’t know how much stuff came down, how stable the site is, who else is under this.”

  “No. Of course. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t expect you to have all the answers.”

  “It’s okay. Hey, let’s work on getting that chocolate.”

  They tackled it the way they’d agreed. Goal setting, planning and communication. First, they had to get his fingers out from under her ribs. Lauren felt them sliding around her side, coming to rest against her lower stomach. She heard him groan.

  “I hope this isn’t going to be worse,” he said. “Can you reposition your arm now?”

  “I think so.” She scraped her elbow on the cement and the splintery wood, then realized aloud, “I don’t know where to put it instead.” She laughed, and there was a note of hysteria in the sound, which they both recognized.

  “Hey, calm down,” he soothed her. “Around my shoulder, okay?”

  “Okay.” It felt good there. His chambray shirt was soft, and the pad of muscle beneath it big and thick and warm. As feeling began to return, her arm tingled painfully but she rode it out without saying anything.

  “Okay, now I’m going to try to get that backpack off of your shoulders.”

  “Please! Tell me what you need me to do.”

  It took several minutes of pain and effort, and the intimate contact of their bodies. At one point, his face was pressed hard between her breasts, which were unusually full and tender right now. A minute later, she had to shimmy her hips against his to make an essential change of position, and she could sense his sudden tension as she brushed against his groin.

  Touching each other didn’t feel wrong or bad, though. There were moments, in fact, where it felt like the only proof that they were both alive. Warmth, pressure, breath, the vibration of a human voice. Lauren hadn’t felt such an urgent need for physical contact in a long time.

  Finally, when she had to push her face into his chest so he had room to unwrap the chocolate bar, she found herself thinking, This is good. Let’s stay like this. I don’t want the chocolate. I don’t want to move.

  His shirt, and the smooth skin beneath it, smelled good. Safe. Beyond the lingering odor of brick dust, she detected a soapy scent with a masculine flavor. Sandalwood, maybe, and pine. It was fresh and somehow reassuring. Finally, although it didn’t seem logical, there came an unmistakable nuance of applesauce.

  “Got it!” he said.

  “I’m thirsty. We should have gotten the water out first.”

  “You’ll be thirstier after the chocolate. We should save the water until after we’ve eaten.”

  “Yes, you’re right.”

  Her stomach and her taste buds still didn’t respond to the idea of chocolate at all. She heard the brittle, low-pitched snap of the bar breaking and smelled the sweetness of it without appetite.

  “Here,” he said. “I’m sorry, Lauren. Clumsy. There’s no choice.”

  She felt him cram the bar awkwardly into her mouth. A big, calloused thumb brushed her bottom lip, its texture rough in contrast to the silky chocolate already melting on her tongue. The flavor was too strong and rich and sudden. Why had she dropped the bar into her bag this morning? Why hadn’t she chosen a packet of chips instead?

  She managed to swallow the thick, sticky sweetness, but it seemed
to cling to her throat. Her stomach heaved suddenly, a potent reminder of her new vulnerability in so many areas. She wasn’t accustomed to feeling vulnerable. Not consciously anyhow.

  “I’m sorry,” she gasped, fighting it. “Water, Lock! Please!”

  “Can’t get to it.” He apparently guessed what was about to happen. “You’re not going to throw up, okay?” He barked the words like an order. “Breathe! Blow! Don’t think about anything else. Just take a slow breath, then round your mouth and blow it out again. Steady. And then again.”

  She did it, desperately at first, then gradually with more control. Breathe in, round your mouth and blow. Breathe in, round your mouth and blow. Yes. Yes. It helped. It had worked. How had he known what to tell her?

  “Thanks,” she said.

  “You okay?”

  “I’m pregnant,” she blurted abruptly, and started to shake. The adrenaline of finding herself alive and not alone had worn off now, leaving a deep inner chill of fear. “Dear God, I’m pregnant. What is this going to do to the baby?”

  The panicky, tear-filled question was punctuated by the sound of sirens, faint at first, then whooping and keening as they gradually got louder and closer. Their shrill pitch was dulled by the thick blanket of bricks.

  “How far along are you?” he asked against the rising crescendo of noise. “You don’t feel pregnant.”

  “Five and a half weeks, the way doctors count it.” She gripped his shirt, down near his waist. “I’ve only known for sure since the weekend. I don’t want to lose my baby!”

  “Shh, you won’t lose it. You won’t!” He managed to hold her. The pressure of his well-muscled arms was tight, awkward, yet intensely comforting. “It’s tiny at five and a half weeks, just a bunch of growing cells, and so well protected in there, I promise. You didn’t hurt your stomach. It’s pressed right against mine. Are you having any cramping?”

  “No. No, nothing like that.”

  “I promise you, little five-and-a-half week babies don’t just jump ship because their mom had a little scare. Or even a big scare. It’s growing away in there and it’s doing just fine.”

  “How do you know?” she said harshly. “How can you possibly know? You’re not a doctor, are you?”

 
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