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Francesca Talbot barely registered the lines of wind turbines in the fields as she headed out of Sagebrush toward the hospital in Lubbock, Texas.
A wave of dizziness washed over her, leaving her suddenly weak. Over six months pregnant, she'd ignored her thirst for the past few days, attributing it to takeout food. As a neonatologist she should have known better. But she'd planned to discuss it with her doctor at her monthly appointment at the end of the week.
The road pitched and bent
She quickly swerved back to her lane, blinking against the gray dots dancing before her eyes. The blur-riness grew worse. Dizziness enveloped her. She felt bumps, a huge jerking motion that threw her against the door, then she sank into unconsciousness.
Six hours later, Francesca found herself in an unfamiliar position at the hospital where she workedthat of a patient! She tried not to panic at the diagnosis her doctor had given hergestational diabetes. The condition would probably resolve after her pregnancy, but she had to handle her diet carefully. Everything else looked good with the baby, and
She now knew she was having a boy.
Grady should know.
Francesca had been talking and singing to her baby ever since she'd learned she was pregnant. She laid her hand on her rounding tummy awkwardly due to the cast on her arm. Even after more than six months, she vividly remembered her out-of-character one-night stand with Grady and, more important, her decision to experience her pregnancy on her own to give herself time to consider how Grady would fit into their child's life.
"I don't know what will happen when I call your daddy," she murmured to herson. "He told me he wanted to be involved in your life after you were born. Maybe we'll have to include him now just to make sure you'll have a backup."
Tears burned in her eyes. She had two very good friends, Tessa and Emily, who used to be her housemates. She hadn't called them yet, either. She was sure they'd come running to help. So why did she feel as alone as she had when she was a child, cowering in her closet to stay safe?
The phone was one stretch of the fingers too far. Francesca looped her index finger around the cord, pulled the receiver off and grabbed it. She punched in the numbers for Grady Fitzgerald's saddle shop.
To her relief he picked up himself. "Sagebrush Saddles."
His deep baritone rippled through her as it had the night they'd met. They'd attended a reception for a lawyer opening offices in Sagebrush and had bumped into each other periodically during the evening, feeling the buzz of attraction, each time having something new to talk about. With the party stuffy and crowded, Grady had invited her to the building a few doors down where he worked. They'd had a glass of wine, sat on his couch
Erotic pictures flashed on her mental screen and she switched them off.
"Grady, it's Francesca."
He must have noticed something in her voice because he asked immediately, "What's wrong?"
"I had an accident this morning. The baby's fine," she rushed to add. "And it's a boy. I had a sonogram."
Silence lay heavy between them for a few beats. "Are you okay?"
The concern in his voice washed over her. She hadn't expected him to ask that. She'd expected, "What caused the accident? What happens next?"
"My arm is broken, but that's not the problem. I have gestational diabetes. It caused blurry vision and dizziness. That's why I had the accident."
In the silence, Francesca pictured Grady's ruggedly handsome face, the sweep of his black hair, the intriguing depth of his blue eyes.
"That's something I'm not too familiar with. Explain it to me," he said.
Nervous about calling him, she blurted out the medical explanation. "Pregnancy hormones produced by the placenta can block insulin. As the placenta grows larger, more hormones are produced and insulin resistance becomes greater. When the pancreas makes all the insulin it can and there still isn't enough to overcome the effect of the placenta's hormones, sugar builds up in the blood and gestational diabetes results. It can happen without much warning."
"But you and the baby are okay?"
He really was concerned. That knowledge made her heart hurt. She sucked in a big breath, seeking to escape to facts rather than her emotions. "We will be. At thirty-seven, I'm at a greater risk than someone younger. The diabetes usually clears up as soon as the baby's born."
An awkward pause settled between them, neither of them knowing quite what to say. She added, "I just thought you should know. Especially that we're having a boy. And " This was so hard to get out. "And I guess this changed the way I'd been looking at the future I just want to make sure our baby has another parent to rely on if need be."
She did know Grady had come from a big loving family and looked at family differently than she did. To her, family ties had only hurt.
"When are you being discharged?"
"This evening. My doctor will be making rounds around seven."
"Do you have a ride home?"
"I have friends. I haven't called them yet."
"Don't. I'll take you home."
She thought about facing him again, fighting the pull toward him, riding in his car "Grady, that's not necessary."
"I think it is. We have a few things to discuss. I'll be there by seven unless you find you're being discharged sooner."
She'd kept away from him the past few months for more than one reason. Her last relationship had taught her she wasn't over her past. She'd chosen the wrong man. After a long-distance relationship, which had lowered her defenses, she'd moved to Lubbock to begin a life with Darren. But after he convinced her to move into his condo with him, he'd changed, becoming a man like her father.
After she'd made love with Grady, she'd been afraid to take a risk again. However, now they had to figure out how to be parents together. "All right. I'll see you at seven."
"Seven," he repeated, and clicked off.
Francesca took the phone from her ear and just held it in her hand. She'd learned early on fate wasn't kind. Each decision she made mattered.
Had she made the right decision in calling Grady Fitzgerald?
Grady rapped on the hospital door. He'd decided to bide his time with Francesca. Look what had happened.
He'd never expected an automobile accident. But as he'd learned before, life was made up of unexpected surprises. Some nice, some not so nice. One thing he knew for surethis baby was his main priority and he'd do whatever he had to to protect him.
A boy. Francesca had said they were having a boy.
He heard a sweet "Come in." The first night they'd met, her voice had been easy, pleasant, almost hypnotizing. She'd been so interesting. And she'd been curious about him about his family. Her voice that night had wrapped around him like perfume, arousing him.
He pushed open the door and stepped inside the room. Francesca was standing beside the bed, dressed, only
She was wearing a light blue maternity sweater that looked soft and lay enticingly over her. He hadn't seen her since she looked pregnant.
"Hi, Grady." Her greeting was hesitant, her eyes searching.
"Hi, yourself. How do you feel?" His gaze went to her arm in the cast. The sleeve of her sweater came just below her elbow where the cast began. She looked pale and he was worried about her. Worried about his baby.
"I'm better now."
He couldn't keep from approaching from standing in front of her from touching the bruise on the side of her cheek.
She backed away from his hand and joked, "Better than my car."
The car was inconsequential. Her pregnancy wasn't. "How long are you taking off of work?"
Suddenly a physician swept into the room. He was wearing a white coat over his suit and a stethoscope hung around his neck. He was as tall as Grady, fit and good-looking.
He responded to Grady's question. "I told Francesca she should rest for a few days at least." The man gave her a wink and then extended his hand to Grady. "I'm Jared Madison."
Francesca spoke up. "Jared, this is Grady Fitzgerald."
Jared looked from one to the other. "I'm going to give Francesca some instructions. Maybe you should step out."
"No, it's okay," Francesca told him.
Grady could sense the familiarity between the two of them.
"Jared married my former housemate, Emily," Francesca explained.
Grady felt himself relax a bit and his snap-buttoned shirt collar didn't feel quite so tight. "Is Francesca really okay?"
Jared arched a brow at Francesca, and she nodded. "She is right now. She will be if she can control her sugar. She's going to have to be more strict about her diet, exercise and get more rest."
"Would it be better if she had someone with her for a few days?" Grady asked, a plan forming in his mind.
Francesca's "That's not necessary" was overridden by Jared's "It wouldn't be a bad idea." He continued. "We don't want her getting dizzy again and falling or worse. Maybe Emily or Tessa could stay with you."
"They have kids," Francesca protested.
"She can stay with me" Grady insisted without thinking twice about the decision he'd just made.
Silence fell over the room.
Finally, Francesca responded, "I'm not going to impose like that, Grady."
"You won't be imposing. There's nobody there but me and a few horses. Your friends have their responsibilities. My employees in the saddle shop can work whether I'm there or not."
"The two of you should discuss this," Jared said, obviously feeling the tension between them. "I'll send in one of the aides with the paperwork to get you discharged. My receptionist will make you an appointment with the diabetes specialist to go over diet and any questions you might have."
Then Madison put his hand on Francesca's shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. "You already have your next appointment set up with me. I'll see you through this, Francesca. You'll have a successful labor and delivery."
"I wanted Emily to be my midwife," she protested.
"I know you did. But she's only taking on low-risk pregnancies. She can coach you, though."
Grady had seen the story in the papers about Emily Diaz Madison and her past. But apparently she was going to practice as a midwife again. And if the "Tessa" Madison had mentioned was Tessa Rossi, Grady knew the pediatrician and her new husband, Vince. When Tessa was a little girl, Grady and his dad had delivered her first saddle to her. And Vince He had worked at the saddle shop while Grady was in college.
Madison extended his hand to Grady once more. Grady shook it; then the doctor exited the room.
Immediately, Francesca began, "Grady, I don't know if it's such a good idea for me to stay with you."
She reflectively glanced down at her stomach, and he did, too. Their gazes met.
He felt a zing to his midsection.
Damn, if there wasn't still chemistry between them. He'd let Francesca cut off personal contact after she'd told him she was pregnant and he'd stipulated she e-mail him with a doctor's report after each visit. He'd had the sense she'd run if he demanded more. He'd also realized the two of them were very different. However, every time one of her reports arrived in his e-mail, he could picture her sleek, long, brown hair lying across his sofa, her body under his, and the way his desire had gotten out of control. In spite of that, he'd kept his distance.
He wouldn't let a career woman make a fool of him again. He wouldn't let someone whose values didn't match his play a significant role in his life.
But Francesca Talbot was carrying his child. His son. That meant he had to watch over her. That meant they would be connected for a very long timeif he had anything to say about it.
From their first meeting, Grady had guessed Francesca was an independent woman. Having someone take care of her was a hard pill to swallow. He had to tread carefully now or he suspected she'd stubbornly walk the other way.
"We have to put the baby first, don't you think?" he asked.
She worried her lower lip, and he suddenly had the urge to take her into his arms and kiss it.
After studying him for a few long moments, she replied, "If I consider staying with you, I don't want you to hover."
Independent was right. "You have a cell phone. I have a cell phone. I can spend most of my time in the barn. But at least I can get to you within minutes if you need help. Speed dial is a great technological advance."
A small smile crossed her lips at his wry tone. "Do you cook?"
He shrugged. "Cook is a relative term, but I told you I come from a big family. My mother or sister drops off meals once or twice a week. I do know a saucepan from a frying pan, though. Most men these days do."
He saw remnants of emotion in her eyes. Memories of men who didn't?
He kept his voice gentle as he would with a spooked mustang. "I know this isn't something you want to do, Francesca. I get it. So why don't you just try it for a couple of days and see what happens? I promise not to wait on you hand and foot. But I'll be close by if you need something."
She sank down onto the hospital bed and he was by her side in an instant. "Are you okay?"
"I'm just tired." When she looked up at him with those big green eyes that packed so much punch, he almost wished he hadn't issued the invitation.
She said simply, "I don't depend on anyone, Grady. That's not me. I wanted to see this pregnancy to its finish on my own."
"I know you did. But this is my child, too."
"That's why I called you."
"I'm glad you did."