He helped her sit up, and she threw her legs over the couch as he stood up. He reached down to pull her up beside him then he scooped her into his arms and headed for the bedroom.

Her hands curled trustingly around his neck. The baby kicked and rolled against his chest, and his grip tightened around her as a surge of emotion swept through him.

Careful not to jostle her, he set her down on the bed. He reached for the covers and pulled them down, working them around her body. When he was finished, he crawled in beside her and pulled the comforter back over them.

He held her close to him, enjoying the feel of her soft skin against his.

“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, baby,” he murmured. “I don’t want you to think the wrong thing about why I wouldn’t make love to you.”

She grimaced and then her lips turned up into a rueful smile.

“You’re way too overprotective, but I love you dearly,” she said. “And I understand why. I don’t agree, but I’m not taking it personally.”

“Good. Because, baby, if I wanted you any more, I’d spontaneously combust. But if I hurt you… I’d never forgive myself.”

She smoothed her hand across his cheek and cupped his jaw in her palm. “Stop torturing yourself. Just hold me. I need you so much.”

His heart turned over, and he felt such a strong rush of love at her words. “I need you too. You’ll never know just how much. I’d do anything for you. I hope you know that.”

She rose up to kiss him. “If I promise not to try and rape you anymore, would you stop avoiding me?”

He burst out l


aughing. He held her close, his chest shaking them both as he chuckled. “I’ll make you a deal. Just as soon as you have our baby and have sufficient time to heal, I’ll let you rape me all you want.”

Chapter Four

Holly moved around the kitchen, humming softly to herself. As she put the last of the dishes away, she checked her watch. The guys were out exercising the horses and would be gone for a little while yet.

She felt up for some fresh air and a short walk. Her back had been nagging at her all morning, and maybe if she could get out and stretch, she’d feel better.

She exited the house and set out on the path beyond the barn. She loved exploring the land surrounding their cabin. There was always a spectacular view to be had, no matter which direction she went.

Today, she circled behind the barn and headed into the trees up a gentle incline. She knew once she reached the top of the slope she’d be able to look out over a small valley and the river that cut through it.

She paused at varying intervals as the stitch in her side increased in intensity. God, she’d become such a wimp since becoming pregnant. She leaned against a tree for support as she heaved for breath.

She looked up and gauged the remaining distance. Not too far and then she’d sit on her favorite rock and enjoy the view.

When she reached the top, she paused a moment, putting a hand to her back while she stared down at the running river. She turned her head to locate the bolder she usually sat on when a cramp rippled through her abdomen, knocking her off balance.

She panicked as her foot slipped over the edge. She wobbled precariously, fighting for balance. For a moment, she seemed suspended in midair. Then she fell backwards.

Her fingers grasped at the ground, knocking against rocks and roots and she landed with a thud and slid rapidly down the incline toward the river below.

Pain shot up her leg when her foot caught between two rocks and her ankle twisted. But it stopped her downward progress and she came to a jarring halt.

When she was sure she wouldn’t plunge down any further, she curled her arms around her belly, feeling for the baby’s movements. Mentally, she took stock of where she hurt.

Her ankle throbbed, and she looked down to see her foot still solidly stuck between two large rocks. When she tried to reach down with her hand to shove at the stones, her shoulder protested vehemently.

Damn it.

She was okay. She was reasonably sure nothing was broken. Her shoulder hurt like the devil, probably just pulled, and her ankle had received a good wrenching. If she could wrest her foot free, she could crawl back up the incline.

Another tremor began low in her back and spread around to the front of her belly, tightening uncomfortably. She rubbed with her free hand and tried to keep her right shoulder motionless.

Well, this was a fine mess. But she knew she didn’t have to worry. She might have to hang out here for a bit, but the guys would find her. They’d return from riding and probably freak when they couldn’t find her.

A twinge of guilt nagged at her. She shouldn’t have gone walking until they returned, but she hadn’t imagined falling, not when she’d walked this path so many times before without incident.

They’d be worried until they found her, but find her they would. Of that she was confident. Until then, she’d just have to try to relax. Maybe even take a little nap to get her mind off her aching back and her throbbing ankle.

Her abdomen tightened again, and she soothed her hand over her belly, trying to work away the discomfort. Then she closed her eyes and willed herself to be patient.

* * *

Holly opened her eyes and blinked rapidly, trying to make sense of her surroundings. She shivered as the cool evening air blew over her skin.

Raw, aching pain centered in her stomach and gathered in her groin. Her back felt as though someone was stabbing a fire poker in it.

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