Publish Date: June 2010
Lea Curran was raised in the tough Western Australian Kimberley region. She will do anything to save her four year old daughter’s life, even if that means persuading a man she cheated out of one child to give her another so the baby’s cord blood can be used to treat its sister.
But sexy ex-rodeo star Reilly Martin isn’t interested in just being a sperm donor. The two children are the chance at family he thought he’d lost forever. Lea may only want his genes but for Reilly it’s all…or nothing.
Copyright © 2010 by Nikki Logan. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
Their Newborn Gift
Not only was Reilly not expecting anyone, he definitely wasn’t expecting anyone with legs like that. What was she doing, trying to climb in the back seat through the window? It looked like the car was trying to swallow her.
Or was she just trying to make a memorable first impression? She wouldn’t be the first woman to drive all the way out here to try her luck.
A waste of their fuel and his time.
He had nothing to offer them. Not these days. They came expecting Reilly Martin the National Champion. King of the Suicide Ride. They left cursing him and kicking up dust in their haste to be gone. The in-between had grown too predictable. Too painful.
If this one turned around with suitcases in her hand, he was going back inside and locking the door. Bush Code be damned.
No suitcases. His spine prickled and he squinted against the afternoon sun, watching her climb the stairs until she was the best part of a rose-edged silhouette against the sun blazing fiery and low in a deep blue West Australian sky. Quite literally the best part. With her t-shirt tucked into her jeans, she was pure hourglass and she moved towards him like one of his best mares.
This was no circuit-chaser.
‘Hey,’ the silhouette said softly.
Only his dirt-crusted boots stopped him from flinching backwards from the hoof-to-the-belly that was her voice. One word–one syllable–and he knew in an instant. The soft voice was burned into his memory like his Diamond-M marked the flesh of Minamurra’s horses.
It was her.
Hard to forget the woman who’d made you feel as cheap as a motel television. It had started as sex–a typical, sweaty, body-rush circuit encounter–but it hadn’t ended that way. Not for him. There’d been something so raw about her. She’d been almost frantic at first and he’d had to gentle her like a skittish brumby using his voice, his body, his strength.
It wasn’t until she’d looked up at him with those old-soul eyes that he’d realised just how lost she was. It was the same look from the bar. A fish that knew it was miles from its nearest water, but was determined to stay on dry land even if it killed her.
The look that intrigued the heck out of him.
It had been a long, memorable nineteen hours holed up in that motel. He’d never in his life been so ensnared by a woman–by her body; by her quiet, empty conversation; by the…something…that had called to him in the bar. It was the first and only time he was a no-show for an event. But dropping his place on the ticket had been worth it.
She’d been worth it.
And then he’d woken up to an empty bed and her share of the room-rental lying on top of the budget TV. No phone-number, no forwarding address, not even a sorry note. No matter how many trophies he had, how many newspaper clippings, how many fans, she was a painful reminder of what he was really worth.
And that was hardly about to change, now.
His heart hammered against his moleskin shirt as she paused on the top step.
‘Do you know who I am?’ The same nervous quality underlain with a huskiness that took him back five years to that room.
Like he could forget. But he wasn’t giving her that much. He tipped his akubra up and squinted at her, swallowing carefully past a dry tongue. ‘Sure. Lisa, right?’
She stepped forward into the shade of the veranda and he caught the tail end of an angry flush. ‘Lea.’
‘Sorry. It’s been a while. How’ve you been?’ Dropping back into casual circuit banter came all too easily.
Her breath puffed out of her. ‘Is there somewhere private we can talk?’
Apparently, the lovely Lea wasn’t as gifted in the meaningless chat department. He followed her glance back to her tinted car. A haze of emissions issued from her exhaust. He frowned. Was she so eager to be gone she’d left her motor running? He finally noticed how sallow she was beneath the residual blush. Almost green, in fact.
That combined with the getaway car finally got his attention.
He looked at her seriously. ‘We can talk right here. There’s no one in the house.’
‘I… Your parents…?’
‘Don’t live here.’ Why would The Beautiful People choose to hang out in the depths of outback Western Australia? Visit, absolutely. Live and die here. Nope. That was fine with him.
His eyes dropped to her lips briefly. ‘No.’
She glanced around at the stables and yards. ‘Station hands?’
‘What do you want Lea?’
Her back straightened more than was good for a spine. Sorry, Princess, a few great hours in the sack do not entitle you to a thing.
Okay, a night. And part of a day.
She glanced back at that damned car. ‘I… It’s about…that weekend.’ She cleared her throat. ‘I need to talk to you about it.’
Despite her obvious nerves, he felt like needling her. It was the least he could do. ‘It’s five years too late for an apology.’
The flush bled entirely away. ‘Apology?’
He leaned on the nearest veranda post. Far more casually than he felt. ‘For running out on me.’
Her colour returned in a rush. ‘We picked each other up in a bar, Reilly. I didn’t realise that entitled either of us to any niceties.’
Oh yeah, he much preferred her angry. It put a glint in her eye only two degrees from the passionate one he remembered. ‘How did you find me?’
The anger turned wary. ‘I… You were the talk of the town that weekend. I heard your name somewhere, remembered it. I looked you up in the championship records.’
Her enormous pupils said she was lying. Why? And damn her that he still gave a toss.
‘Which brings us full circle.’ He straightened so he could glare down at her. ‘What do you want, Lea?’
She blew out a breath through stiff lips and turned to walk a few paces away. ‘There’s something about that night… Something you should know.’
Understanding hit him like a hammer blow. ‘You told me you were clean.’
She stumbled to a halt. ‘What?’
‘You told me you were clean and on birth control. It’s why we didn’t use more protection.’
That was feeling like a critically stupid decision, now. But somewhere in the back of his thumping head, a rational voice told him he hadn’t caught anything off this woman. It would have shown up in one of the multitude of tests he’d undertaken since then. Just pure luck considering how dumb it was to have gone commando. But his big brain hadn’t been doing the thinking that night.
Her eyes flared. ‘I am clean. I’m not here to tell you I’ve given you something.’
‘Then what the–‘
‘I came away with something that night.’
What? ‘Not from me, lady–‘
She hissed ‘Yes, Reilly. From you.’
‘Are you the man with the horse?’
The little voice threw him. He and Lea spun at the same time and she dropped instantly to her haunches before a tiny, dark elf standing at the top of the steps. Her brown fringe was cut off square across her forehead and fell down straight on either side of her pale, pale face. She seriously looked like something from a storybook. Not in a good way.
‘Molly, I told you to stay in the car.’ Lea pushed the girl’s fringe back from her forehead and laid a hand against her skin. ‘Did you climb all these stairs?’
It was only then he noticed the kid was wheezing. Badly.
She wriggled free of her mother’s fussing and looked straight at Reilly with enormous, chocolate brown eyes. Somewhere deep in his gut a vortex cracked open. He knew those eyes. His pulse began to hammer but he managed to keep his voice light even as he towered over the tiny girl.
A spasm of coughs interrupted her wheezing.
Lea slipped her fingers around to the girl’s pulse, concern etched on her face. She threw him a desperate look.
He stepped closer then put the brakes on. Not his problem. ‘Is she okay? Does she need a drink of water or something?’
Reilly was only too happy to get away from the surreal scene for a moment. He let the screen door bang shut behind him, knowing he could see out better than she could see in, and he turned to watch the woman and child framed in the doorway.
Lea was older than when he’d last seen her, but it only showed in the stress lines marking her hazel eyes. The rest of her was still as long and lean as when they’d first met. She loosened the little girl’s shirt and pushed sweaty hair back off her face, and then she lifted her into an embrace. Two tiny sticks-of-arms slid effortlessly around Lea’s neck and mother and daughter had a low, private conversation punctuated with soft, loving kisses.
It was so foreign. Yet he couldn’t take his eyes off them.
I came away with something that night.
His blood chilled. Not possible. Just not possible.
Five years ago, a frozen inner voice reminded him. Very possible.
Little Molly tilted her head and rested it on her mother’s shoulder, staring straight down the hallway to where he knew she couldn’t see him through the tinted mesh.
He recognised that face. It was in the one photo he had kept of himself as a child.
A black hole opened up in his gut. And a million possibilities rushed in right behind it. Possibilities he’d thought lost to him forever. He kept his heart rate under control by pouring two glasses of ice-cold water in the kitchen and then he tossed a shaky one back himself before steeling himself to return. Mother and daughter whipped around as the screen-door opened, and he indicated the comfortable cane setting further along the veranda. She lowered Molly into one. It dwarfed her, her little legs stuck straight out in front.
‘Thank you,’ Lea’s voice was as unsteady as the hands that took the water from him. She gently placed the other one out of reach. ‘Molly can’t be near glass.’
Reilly frowned. She tipped her own water up to Molly’s bloodless lips. The girl gulped greedily. Then Lea drank from the glass herself, visibly mastering her breathing. Max, his housecat chose that moment to appear and twist himself amongst Lea’s feet. She leaped six inches off the timber floor.
Not a discussion to have in front of a child but he had to know. Right now. ‘Is she mine, Lea?’
Lea’s head snapped up, her eyes wide, fearful.
‘Kitty!’ Molly’s delighted squeal broke the silence. Reilly snagged Max up off the ground and dumped him unceremoniously in Molly’s chair. The girl fell on him with open, child’s arms. Max looked suitably disgusted.
Lea’s mouth opened to protest, but then she snapped it shut.
‘What? She can’t be near cats either?’ Shock was giving way to sarcastic fury.
Lea shot to her feet and spoke to Molly. ‘You play with the kitty, sweetheart.’ She crossed to the far corner of the veranda. Reilly followed.
‘She’s mine, isn’t she?’ He loomed over her intentionally. He wanted the truth from her almost as much as he wanted to smell her. Lea nodded and his chest constricted, bright light exploding behind his eyes. His mind worked furiously.
‘Did you not think I’d care?’ he asked. Lea turned away from him. ‘Did you think I’d tell you to get lost?’
‘I wasn’t looking for a relationship,’ she whispered back over her shoulder. ‘I saw no need for you to know.’
‘No need?’ She winced and he struggled to keep the edge out of his voice. He knew what impact it had on his toughened men. Lea was neither. ‘I got you pregnant, Lea. I would have stood by you. By Molly.’
No matter what the world expected of him. He would have done that much. She spun. ‘There was no need for you to stand by me. I was fine. I made the decision to go ahead with the pregnancy. It didn’t need a team.’
Suspicion stained his words. ‘I can’t believe it took you five years to find me.’
Her furtive glance told him it hadn’t. Ah. ‘You weren’t going to tell me.’
Her chest heaved. ‘No.’
‘Nice.’ He meant for her to hear his mumble.
‘Don’t you judge me, Reilly Martin,’ she hissed furiously. ‘If you cared so much where your DNA ended up, you wouldn’t have distributed it so liberally across the district.’
Slap! Being true didn’t make it any less pleasant to hear. He could have little Mollies scattered across the state. In theory. He’d loved and left enough women…
‘No-one forced you to have sex with me. Fatherhood is a risk you were taking every time you went with any woman–‘
‘Particularly a deceitful, immoral one.’
Pain streaked across her face. She sucked that up, took a deep breath. ‘Look, it happens, Reilly. Birth control fails. It’s why they print warnings on the boxes. You could have walked away that night.’
Nope. Not if he’d tried.
They glared warily at each other, like a cattle dog and a steer sizing each other up. ‘Why me, Lea? Of every man in that pub?’
Her eyes rounded–ot the question she was expecting, obviously–but she pushed her shoulders back and answered. ‘You stood out for two reasons. You were–‘
‘Male and stupid?’
Her eyes hardened. ‘Attractive but unhappy.’
An ugly laugh cracked through his lips. ‘Unhappy? I’d just won the Champions cup, I was surrounded by women and working my way through a keg of celebratory beer. Why would I be unhappy?’
If she noticed how he remembered so damned much about that night five years ago she didn’t comment. Lucky. It would be tough to explain.
She barrelled on, ignoring the question. ‘I’d had… I wasn’t feeling the best that night.’ Something in her expression told him there was a heck of a lot more to that story. ‘And there was something in your eyes that I recognised. Some pain that spoke to me.’
He snorted to cover up how close to the mark she suddenly was. No way was he going there. ‘I’m guessing my inheritance probably spoke to you loudest. Is it speaking to you now?’
She gasped. Her nostrils flared and she tossed her thick hair back. ‘Have I asked you for money?’
‘I’m sure you’re getting round to it.’
‘I’m not here for that.’
‘Then why are you here? Why now, Lea? Five years into my daughter’s life?’ There was that word again. It was going to take some getting used to.
Deep shadows crossed her eyes. ‘Believe me I wouldn’t be here at all if I had a choice,’ she blazed up at him. ‘We were doing just fine, Molly and me.’
Were? His eyes drifted to the little girl who had Max in a delighted stranglehold. The cat swished his tail impatiently but knew better than to lash out. Lea took a deep, deep breath.
‘My daughter’s dying, Reilly.’
Reilly staggered backwards and his eyes fell on the little piece of innocence tangled around his cat. He’d only discovered her moments ago… Lea played a particularly stinking card.
‘Our daughter’s dying.’ she continued, her voice dead and tight. ‘She has Aplastic Anaemia. It’s a disease of her bone marrow. I’m not a tissue match.’
He turned back to her tortured face, his mind buzzing. ‘You want to know if I’m a match?’
She shook her head. ‘Even if you were, the success of adult-to-child transfer is too low.’
He ran stiff fingers through his hair. ‘I don’t understand. What do you want from me?’
She took a deep breath and locked her hazel eyes onto his. He’d never encountered anything quite as beautiful as the loving determination burning there. For a split-second, he wished it burned there for him. When had anyone looked at him like that? Ever?
The silence screamed. And then she spoke.
‘I need you to get me pregnant again so we can save Molly.’