Authors: Debra Cowan
“I'm glad to have some proof,” he said huskily, his gaze so soft on her face that she felt herself flush.
“Hey, look here!” Davis Lee appeared in the doorway of the bunkhouse, holding up a pair of shoes with a cow hoof attached to each sole. “Looks like your and Annalise's theory about this was right. It couldn't have been easy to imitate the stride of a cow, but they did it. They strapped these shoes on over their boots on the nights they stole the cattle. It's pretty ingenious.”
Bram and Russ tied their horses to the back of the wagon loaded with bodies and started toward Whirlwind. Davis Lee took the cow-hoof shoes and the running iron, riding off with Riley.
She and Matt were alone. He studied her face. “I'm going to drive you back.”
He wasn't asking permission, Annalise recognized, yet he was waiting to see what she said. He probably expected her to protest, but she didn't.
They needed to talk. She didn't yet know whether she was going to stay in Whirlwind, but she knew she had to tell Matt about the baby.
As he helped her into the buggy, he replayed that image of Julius holding her hostage. Matt had felt as though his heart might never beat again. He could've
lost her. Remembering his last words to her, he realized he still might.
He offered her his canteen of water. After she drank her fill, he slid it beneath the seat and climbed in beside her.
She kept her attention on the prairie stretched out before them. “You said Quentin told you he'd seen me leave Whirlwind. Did he come to the ranch?”
“No. I was in town.”
Her gaze searched his, but she didn't ask the question plain in her eyes.
“I was in town for you. It didn't take me long after you left the ranch to figure out I had to find you and apologize.”
An uncertain look crossed her face. “Matt.”
“Please, let me.” He hoped with all he was that she would listen to him,
him. And change her mind about them. “There's no excuse for those things I said to you earlier.”
“I just don't understand why you did. I thought we had started fresh.”
“So did I.” The lingering hurt in her voice made him want to gather her close, but he didn't. “That's what I wanted.”
“You have a funny way of showing it,” she said sharply.
He winced. “I know. I was a real bastard.”
“Fear, for one thing.”
She frowned. “Fear?”
“Coming home and finding Pa like thatâ¦. He looked as though he was already dead and it brought back memories of my ma.”
“Because she died of a tumor?” Annalise's voice softened with understanding.
For the first time, Matt felt a flare of hope. At least she was still listening. “Partly, but more because when she died, Russ and I promised we would take care of him.
“Coming home to find him in a coma scared me out of my wits. Here he'd had a surgery I knew nothing about, and I felt like I let him down, let them both down.”
Annalise sat silently with a thoughtful look on her pretty face. Matt realized he'd stopped the buggy at some point and they were stock-still in the middle of Eight of Hearts land.
Looking at the gunshot hole in her skirt, he lightly fingered the fabric. “I love you, Angel. I've never loved anyone but you and I never will.”
Her blue eyes were full of anguish and confusion. “That wasn't enough before.”
“It was, but I was too much of a fool to know it.”
“Earlier, you asked me to leave you be, but I can't. I'm truly sorry for the things I said. I know I busted something we'd only started to put together again. I do trust you. All I want is a chance to prove it.”
She studied him for a long moment, the silence scraping across his nerves. “You didn't hesitate when you learned I had an idea about how to get away from Julius. You didn't even blink.”
“That's because I knew you wouldn't do anything rash.”
“You trusted me even though you didn't know my plan.” A soft smile curved her lips. “That told me more right there than a thousand words.”
Hope flared. “Does this mean you can forgive me?”
Her green eyes searched his face. Finally, she nodded. “Yes.”
“Does this mean you still love me?”
“Are we truly reconciled? For good?”
Emotion tightened his chest. Matt dragged her into his lap and kissed her hard. When he let her up for air, she laid a palm on his chest.
The sober, slightly dazed look on her face had him asking, “What is it?”
“We aren't just talking about us anymore.”
“We aren't?” He held his breath. Was she truly pregnant, as he'd suspected when he spotted the lemons in the kitchen?
Taking his hand in hers, she laid both on her stomach. Matt felt tears prick the backs of his eyes.
“We're going to have a baby.”
Overwhelmed with joy and fear and gratitude at this second chance, he couldn't speak. He closed his eyes then opened them to find her looking uncertain.
He kissed the end of her nose, unable to keep from smiling.
She drew back to look at him. “You knew,” she said in disbelief.
He laughed. “Not for sure. I found lemons in your kitchen and Quentin told me you had only lemonade at the Pearl today.”
“Just hours ago, you would've accused me of keeping it from you.”
“And I would've been wrong.”
“Did you really believe I would tell you?”
“Yes, I did.”
“You didn't doubt it once?”
He rubbed his hand across her stomach, feeling the stiff shell of her corset. “When I first realized you might be expecting, I wondered if you had kept the news from me because I was such a jackass earlier.”
“That wasn't why.”
He grinned. “It was because you didn't know yet.”
“That's right. Why were you so sure I'd tell you?”
Lifting her chin, he leveled his gaze into hers. “Be cause I believe you've never knowingly held anything back from me. Took me a while to figure that out, huh?”
Tears filled her eyes. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Angel. This has been a long time coming.” He brushed his lips against her temple. “Whatever happens from now on, I'll be there and you can trust that.”
She framed his face in her hands, saying softly, “I do.”
ater that evening after washing up, Matt and Annalise stood in the Whirlwind cemetery with their arms around each other. A light breeze drifted around them as the sun set. They stared down at the new grave marker for their son.
Matt reached out and traced the carving in the sandstone memorial. “Hardy Fine Baldwin,” he read, his voice gruff. “When did you do this?”
“About a week ago, just after you and I discussed it.”
“Do you know how much this means to me?”
“I think so.”
Squeezing her waist, he brushed a kiss against her temple. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome.” She laid her head on his shoulder.
He was getting another chance with her. She was giving him another chance. Matt wasn't going to botch this one. He could've lost her permanently during that shoot-out. He had no intention of wasting any more time.
Reaching over, he laid a hand on her stomach. “I want this baby to have my name. I want
to have my name.”
She searched his face. He hoped she could see his commitment.
“We'll make it this time, Angel. Whatever happens, we'll face it together. I never want to be without you again.” She had to believe him.
A slow smile curved her lips, her green eyes shining up at him. “I feel the same way.”
“Soâ¦you'll marry me?” He was even more nervous than he'd been the first time he asked her. She hesitated.
“What is it?”
“Where will we live?”
“We'll work it out.”
“You'll need to be at the ranch.”
“We can build you a clinic halfway between the Triple B and Whirlwind.”
Pleasure warmed her face. “You've given this a lot of thought.”
“I'm really hoping you'll say yes.”
“Yes,” she whispered.
After a long kiss, he murmured against her lips, “What do you think about having four kids?”
“You really have been thinking about this!”
“So? What do you think?”
“Four?” She wrinkled her nose. “That's an awful lot of lemons.”
“And I'll be here for every one of them.” He pulled her close. “I'll be here, Angel. Always.”
She cupped his cheek and said the most important words she'd ever said to him, “I know.”
Copyright Â© 2011 by Debra S. Cowan
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