Authors: Patricia Hagan
For Helen P.
and eighteen years of zany and treasured friendship
A soft breeze wafted through the window, overpowering the medicinal smell of the hospital room with the sweet breath of spring.
Jade O’Bannon Coltrane lay quietly on the iron poster bed. Her eyes were closed, her long dark lashes feathering her pale cheeks. Even in her state of exhaustion, her rare and delicate Irish-Russian beauty was breathtaking to behold. She was royal, a Romanov by blood, and everyone who knew her agreed that she was as lovely in nature as she was in looks.
Jade was having her first child. She placed her hands on her swollen stomach as another contraction caused her to moan suddenly.
Colt Coltrane stared down at his wife. God, he loved her. To think that he had lost her once…
He shook his head, as if to cast away painful memories. That was a lifetime ago. Those turbulent times didn’t matter anymore, because they were together now, and they always would be. Until a few hours ago, Colt had been eagerly looking forward to having their first baby, but something was wrong. It was too early—the baby wasn’t due for another six weeks or so.
Colt tore his gaze from Jade and looked across the bed at his mother. Kitty Wright Coltrane was as magnificently lovely in her maturity as she had been in her youth. Her startlingly beautiful lavender eyes still sparkled with glints of gold, and her red hair still glowed like the fiery embers of sunset.
Kitty met her son’s pleading eyes and solemnly shook her head. She could not give him the reassurance she knew he desperately wanted…and needed. The baby would be premature, tiny, and weak. The odds that it would survive were not strong. She did not, however, speak her negative thoughts. Instead she said, “I told you before, labor for the first baby always takes longer.”
Colt nodded in resignation, looking down at his wife once more. Her eyes remained closed, and she was biting her lower lip to stifle a scream as the pain bore down. He reached out to hold her hands, whispering words of love and encouragement until the contraction subsided.
Jade began to breathe evenly once more. She looked up at him and whispered hoarsely, “She’s right. It’s going to take a long time. Please go and get some rest, something to eat.”
Colt shook his head adamantly. “I won’t leave you.”
Kitty told him that he had no choice. “I’m surprised the nurses have let you stay this long. Having a baby is a very personal, private time for a woman.
“Now…” She walked around the bed and placed a firm hand on his shoulder. “You go home and see how your father is doing. No doubt he’s pacing the floor. Get something to eat and rest for a while. When you come back you’ll probably still have some time to wait…outside,” she emphasized.
Just then the door opened and a nun wearing a nurse’s starched white habit walked into the room carrying a cloth-covered tray. With an authoritarian tone, she introduced herself as Sister Fifine, then declared, “There are some things I need to do to prepare
Coltrane for the birth. I must ask you to leave.” She looked at Colt impatiently.
“You couldn’t have come at a better time.” Kitty laughed. “I was just running him out.”
“Please give me a minute with her…alone,” Colt said.
The three women looked at him and saw that he was not to be dissuaded. Sister Fifine frowned. “One minute,” she snapped, setting the tray down before stiffly walking out. Kitty followed, closing the door behind her.
Colt knelt beside the bed, clasping Jade’s hands once more. “I love you, Jade. Believe that.”
“And I love you, my darling.” She lifted her hand feebly to push back a strand of his coal-black hair, smiling at the way he was looking at her with the intense gray eyes she adored. “This is the beginning—for our baby, for us, and for our future together. Nothing else matters.”
Colt nodded absently in agreement as that strange feeling began to come over him again…the feeling that Jade was not as happy about the baby as she pretended to be. He thought it even stranger that when her labor had begun prematurely, she had actually seemed glad.
Jade licked her parched lips, took a deep breath, and held it against another rising contraction. Even though he heard the door opening, Colt did not move from her side until her latest pain subsided.
…” Sister Fifine said, sounding extremely agitated.
“Colt…” Kitty coaxed, her voice soft with compassion.
He leaned to kiss Jade one more time, then reluctantly backed toward the door. “I’m not leaving this building. I’ll be outside.” He winked. “I’m not leaving till John Travis Coltrane, Junior, arrives.”
Jade managed a smile. “You mean when
Katherine Wright Coltrane
Kitty gave Colt a gentle push toward the door. “Katherine, or Travis, or whatever you name it, just be gone with you!”
Sister Fifine was not amused by their bantering. With a stem look at Kitty, she jerked her head toward the door and said, “If you please,
, I should like for you to also leave us.”
Kitty stiffened, raising an imperious eyebrow. “I certainly do
please! This happens to be my grandchild who is about to be born, and I’ve no intention of going anywhere until that happens.”
Sister Fifine shook her head in resignation. She knew from the way
Kitty Coltrane’s eyes flashed that she meant what she said. She replied haughtily, “That will be up to the doctor, but for now, I must ask that you wait outside until I finish what I must do.”
Kitty blew Jade a kiss. “I’ll see you in a little while. I’m going to try to talk this stubborn son of mine into going home for a while.” Jade nodded her approval.
The instant the door closed behind them, Colt exploded. “Mother, I’m not going anywhere! Jade’s having a rough time. You know as well as I do that it’s too early for the baby, and it might not live.”
“I won’t lie to you,” she replied. “We may lose the baby, but we won’t lose Jade. She’s young and strong, and there will be other babies. Think that way, Colt—and let’s pray it will all soon be over.”
“I won’t lose her again. I swear it…”
Daylight turned to dusk, then night fell like a velvet drape against the glittering, diamond-studded sky over Paris, the City of Light.
Within the hospital, all was quiet. Around midnight, a trio of heavyset, grim-faced nuns had escorted Colt to a waiting room out of sight and hearing of the maternity ward. He found himself sitting alone in a small, cheerless room, furnished only with rows of wooden benches. There were no windows, and only a large crucifix hung on the wall.
Every so often his mother would come to tell him the same thing—that they still didn’t know when the baby would be born. Finally he exploded and told her not to come back until it was all over, because every time he heard the door open, his heart leaped into his throat. It was better, he thought, when a woman gave birth at home, but the elite of Paris no longer believed in home deliveries. And the Coltranes were certainly the cream of the elite, he reflected somewhat wryly.
Colt had never wanted to return to Paris. Born and raised in America, he had come to Europe for the first time a few years ago to visit his parents. His father, Travis Coltrane, wealthy and successful, had only accepted the appointment as emissary to France out of respect for his friend President Harrison. His parents had fallen in love with France, leaving him behind to manage the family ranch and silver mines in Nevada. Colt’s visit had resulted in meeting Jade and falling eternally in love. He smiled, lost in the happy memories of his past, thinking of their beautiful, royal wedding in Russia, and their unforgettable honeymoon sailing around the Greek islands in the Czar’s magnificent yacht. Then his smile faded as he remembered another voyage…a trip to America to begin a new life in New York, ended by a storm at sea. Jade had been washed overboard, and he’d been knocked unconscious by flying debris…and stricken with amnesia.
Then a true nightmare had begun for them both.
Jade had been found drifting at sea by Bryan Stevens, a wealthy widower still grieving over the recent deaths of his beloved young wife and son. Mesmerized by Jade’s beauty, he doggedly set out to make her his new wife, but she had clung tenaciously to the hope that Colt might somehow be alive. Determined to keep her, Stevens had hired Pinkerton detectives and kept from Jade the most important part of their findings. Oh, he had told her that Colt was alive, gloating over the discovery that he was married to another woman, and they were happily expecting a baby. But Stevens did not tell her that Colt had amnesia. He was not really married, but was, in fact, the victim of a scheme by society matron Triesta Vordane to achieve respectability for her unwed and pregnant daughter, Lorena.
Furious to think Colt could have forgotten her so quickly, Jade fell into Bryan Stevens’s trap and married him, only to discover the truth later.
Colt thought about that fateful night only seven months ago, when he’d regained his memory, and shuddered. When Stevens realized that Jade had learned the truth, he had forced her to leave New York, intending to take her to his private island in the Caribbean and hold her forever his prisoner of love. Colt had gone after them in the midst of a raging storm. He’d been washed overboard, holding on to Jade with all his strength. In that instant, struggling above the snapping jaws of death, it all came rushing back to him. He remembered everything…and when he awoke later, the nightmare had mercifully ended. Jade was his, forever and always, and he hoped that Bryan Stevens was burning in hell for the way he had made them suffer…hoped that Triesta Vordane would join him one day. Colt held no hatred for Lorena, for she had stood up to her domineering mother in the end. He had even come to care for her son, Andy, and hoped one day to see him again. But he and Jade had decided it best that they leave America for a while to let the wounds heal.
Jade was drifting once more…but not in the cold, chopping waters of the ocean. She was swirling within the turbulent sea of her own taunting doubts and fears.
When she had found Colt, she’d been shocked to realize that he did not know who she was, could not remember ever having been married to anyone but Lorena Vordane. However, the passion between them could not, would not, be denied. Colt had not understood why and how he could love her so quickly, so completely; knew only that he could not control his all-consuming desire for her. Jade could not tell him the truth, for she had talked with a doctor who had told her that the shock of reality might take him over the brink to insanity.
With her heart breaking, Jade had decided that she would have to leave him. She could not settle for a tawdry affair, especially after Triesta Vordane had found out and threatened to expose them. She was also going to leave Bryan, the man who had so cruelly manipulated her with his lies of omission. But Bryan had been determined not to let her go, and had taken her against her will, forcing himself upon her that raging, storming night.
Now, floundering helplessly in the sea of pain that rocked her, waves of torment striking her relentlessly, Jade saw Colt’s face above her, claiming her for his own. Then he melted away, replaced by Bryan, taunting her, swearing that he would never let her go…
Jade and Colt had never talked about what happened that night, whether Bryan had succeeded in forcing himself upon her then, or at any time during those last frenzied weeks and months when she and Colt had found each other again. Although it had been a mockery, a sham, Bryan had been her husband. Colt had not wanted to know if they’d had relations, and she had certainly not wanted to tell him, so they had avoided the subject altogether. When they learned that she was going to have a baby, it still was not discussed. Jade kept her fears to herself, and suffered her own private hell.
That was the reason she had not been overjoyed to learn that she was pregnant. God forgive her, she had no way of knowing whether Colt or Bryan was the father…until now. The baby really wasn’t premature, and Colt
to be the father!
Kitty’s voice called out to her from somewhere beyond the dense fog that engulfed her. “Push, darling, push. It’s almost here… Push… It will soon be over…”
Consciousness faded away. Jade was too weak, too weary from the long, long hours of labor to help in the delivery.