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Saving Dr. Ryan
By Karen Templeton
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Keep your shirt on! I'm coming, I'm coming ... dammit!"
His big toe now throbbing, Ryan Logan continued down the dark stairs in his stockinged feet, all the while fumbling with the buttons to the flannel shirt he'd dragged on over his tee at the doorbell's first shriek. He yawned so widely his jaw popped: he hadn't gotten to bed but two hours ago, at three-thirty. Which meant his blood wasn't yet moving fast enough to ward off the damp, late September chill that permeated the old house. Judging from the rain still battering the roof, there'd be no sunrise.
He'd no sooner plowed one hand through his hopeless hair when the bell blatted again. On a muttered curse, he yanked open the front door: the two little kids standing on the porch jumped a mile. Ryan's heart twisted - the pipsqueaks were soaked through, the boy's dark eyes glittering in terror and excitement underneath a fringe of scraggly bangs. Pale fingers gripped closed a stringless, nothing-colored hooded sweatshirt, his other hand hanging on for dear life to the shivering little blonde beside him. Ryan had never seen either of them before.
The boy stumbled backward a little, taking the girl with him. His eyes went wide and his mouth sagged open, but nothing came out. It dawned on Ryan how scary he must look.
"It's okay, son," he said, squatting down. Wasn't anything he could do about the bed-head, but he could at least reduce his six-foot-two frame into something less intimidating. He lifted his voice just enough to be heard over the rain pummeling the porch overhang. "What is it?"
"You the doctor?"
The trembling child glanced back into the rain-drenched darkness, then at Ryan, still warily.
"Mama said to come."
With a nod, Ryan leaned over to grab his boots off the mat by the door. He was wide-awake now: odd hour calls came with the territory when the closest hospital was forty-five minutes away.
Both floor and kids flinched when Ryan stomped his foot firmly inside the first boot. "Sorry," he said, sparing them both a quick smile. The boy couldn't have been more than five or six, his sister - Ryan assumed - maybe three or so.
"She said to hurry," the boy said.
Ryan shoved on the other boot, grabbed his denim jacket off the stand by the front door and shrugged into it. "Where is your mama?" he asked, clamping his broad-brimmed hat on his head with one hand, snatching his black bag off the hall table with the other.
A beanpole arm flailed out. "D-down there. In the car." The bright eyes glanced back at him over a chin quivering from both emotion and the raw autumn chill, Ryan guessed. "She said to tell you the b-baby's comin'."
Ryan dropped the bag back on the table and pulled the dripping children inside. He took a precious moment to crouch in front of them again, gently squeezing the boy's shoulder, smiling into the little girl's huge, frightened eyes. "Stay right here," he softly commanded, then bolted out into the driving rain before the boy had a chance to protest.
The steering wheel bit into Maddie Kincaid's palms as she choked back a bitter scream. Despite the piercing, damp cold inside the old Impala, sweat drenched her flannel nightgown underneath her car coat. The pains had come on so sudden, her only thought had been to get out, get help. She hadn't even bothered to put on socks - if she could've bent over to begin with - and now her feet felt like Popsicles inside her canvas slip-ons.
The pain crested, passed. On a deep, panicky sigh, she leaned her head on the back of the seat, determined not to cry, even though it was highly unlikely anybody'd hear her over the hammering rain and wind. She'd never meant to send Noah and Katie Grace out in the storm, but they'd been gone before she could stop them. At least she'd remembered seeing the office sign in front of the slightly dilapidated, two-story house when she'd passed it yesterday. Something to be grateful for, at least.
But - a blast of wind plastered another layer of leaves to the windshield - what if nobody was home? What if she had to deliver this baby herself, right here, and take care of two other children besides?
Something like a laugh tried to well up in her throat. Just when you think things can't possibly get any worse ...
"Oh, God, oh, God, oh God," she whimpered, rolling her head back and forth, only to suck in a sharp breath when the next pain began clawing its way through her belly. Her labor with the first two had been nothing like this. Especially Noah's. All that walking, trying to get things moving -
The scream escaped this time as fire blazed through her crotch. She tried to get on top of the contraction, to focus her breathing, as the searing pain obliterated everything but itself -
The car door flew open, sending chilled air and wet leaves swirling inside; a large male hand landed on her rock-hard belly, provoking a little yelp. She glanced over, registering little more than pale eyes, a hard-set mouth and prickly cheeks, all shadowed by a cowboy hat. "Where're my kids?" she managed through clenched teeth.
"Alone?" Fear surged through her, more intense even than the contractions. "They're scared to death of bein' in a strange place by themselves! They're -"
"Fine," the man said quietly. "How far apart are they?" His voice was gentle, low. Totally lost on her. Sheets of water drummed relentlessly into the mud by the car, on the Impala's hood and roof, irritating her no end. She realized the man's hand still rested on her distended belly.
"I hope to heck this means you're the doctor."
"Looks like this is your lucky day, ma'am." He removed his hand; she glanced over, saw he was squatting by the open car door. Rain streamed off his hat brim. "So." Patience weighted the single word. "How far apart -?"
"I don't know," she bit out. "Constant, seems like."
"Can you walk?"
"You think I'd've let my kids out in this rain if I could?"
No sooner were the words out than a pair of strong arms slipped around her, lifting her up and out of the car. With a little cry, Maddie tucked her head against the solid, firesmoke-scented chest, trying to avoid the pelting rain. The doctor cocooned her inside his jacket as best he could, plopped his hat on her head, then gently shifted her in his arms to slam the car door shut.
"Hang on," he shouted over the din. "I'm gonna get you to the house as fast as possible, okay?"
Huddled underneath the coat, the precariously angled hat, Maddie nodded weakly, the pain mercifully subsiding for the minute or so it took for the trek to the house, set back from the road maybe a hundred feet or so.
But only for a minute. The instant they got inside, another contraction vised every muscle from her ribs to her knees. She bit her lip to keep from screaming in front of her babies, standing wide-eyed in the old-fashioned vestibule as the doctor swept her past them and down a narrow hallway. She was barely aware of the children's sneakers beating a tattoo against the bare wood floor as they followed, Noah asking her over and over if she was all right.
"I'm fine, sugar," she managed, somehow, even though she couldn't see him. Still, she winced a little as the doctor lowered her onto the edge of a bed covered in a heavily textured bedspread, flinching in the sudden flash of a bedside lamp being turned on.
"You feel like pushing yet?"
She shook her head.
"Good. Means we got a minute."
He helped her out of her coat, then disappeared. Seconds later, he was back with a pile of linens, what looked like some shirts or something, and his black bag, which he thunked onto the nightstand. Noah and Katie Grace stood rooted to the spot a few feet away, Katie with her thumb in her mouth. Water dripped from both their heads, had turned Noah's gray sweat-shirt - two sizes too big, but she'd found it for next to nothing at some yard sale - nearly black. Maddie moaned and struggled to get up. "They're all wet -"
Another pain slammed into her, grabbing her breath. She doubled up, falling onto her side into the bed, mortified and aggravated and plain scared out of her wits. Her eyes clamped shut, but a tear or two still escaped. Through her nightgown sleeve, she felt a warm, steady touch, which she had to admit did calm her some.
"I'll take care of it," the doctor said. "You just concentrate on having this baby, you hear?" She managed a nod, the bedspread rough against her cheek. "Good. Water break yet?"
"Here -" A thick, white towel appeared in her line of sight. "In case it does while I'm tending to the kids."
Excerpted from Saving Dr. Ryan by Karen Templeton Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.