“He really shouldn’t be doing that,” the nurse fretted. “I’d better go follow him. If y’all want to take a peek at the baby, she’s in the special care nursery.” I headed to the nursery with Joe, Ella, and Jack, while Gage and Liberty stayed in the waiting room to talk to the doctor. “Poor Hardy,” Ella murmured as we walked along the hallway. “He’s been worried sick.” “My sympathy’s with Haven,” Joe said. “I don’t know the details of what she’s been through, and I don’t want to. But I do know she’s gone through one hell of a battle.” We entered the special care nursery, where the newborn had been placed in an incubator. She had been hooked up to an oxygen tube and monitoring leads, and her midsection was wrapped in a glowing blue pad. “What is that?” I asked in a hushed voice. “A biliblanket,” Ella replied. “Mia had one after she was born. It’s phototherapy for jaundice.” The baby blinked and appeared to drift to sleep, her rosebud mouth opening and closing. Her head was covered with fine dark hair. “Hard to tell what she looks like,” Jack commented. “She’ll be beautiful,” Ella said. “How could she not be, with Haven and Hardy as parents?” “Hardy’s not what I’d call pretty,” Jack said. “If you did,” Joe remarked, “he’d kick your ass.” Jack grinned and asked Ella, “Did Haven tell you what the baby’s name was?” “Not yet.” We returned to the waiting room, where Gage and Liberty had just finished talking with the doctor. “They’re cautiously optimistic,” Gage reported. “It’s going to take three or four days before the HELLP issues are resolved. They’ve already given her a blood transfusion, and they’ll probably do another to help with the platelet count. They’re also going to put her on corticosteroid therapy and monitor her closely.” He shook his head, looking troubled. “They’re keeping her on the magnesium drip to ward off seizures. Apparently it’s a son of a bitch.” Liberty rubbed her face and sighed. “Why don’t they have a bar in a hospital? It’s usually the place you most need a drink.” Gage wrapped his arms around his wife and snuggled her against his chest. “You need to go home and check on the kids. What if Jack and Ella drop you off while I stay here a little while longer? I’m going to stick around and talk to Hardy.” “That sounds good,” Liberty said against his shoulder. “You need me for anything?” Joe asked. Gage shook his head and smiled. “I think we’re fine here. You and Avery go on and get some rest. You’ve earned it.” Eighteen I woke up in the morning with the groggy awareness that I was not alone. Climbing through the blurred layers of consciousness, I recalled the events of the previous night… coming home from the hospital with Joe… inviting him upstairs to sleep with me. We had both been exhausted, sore from hours spent on uncomfortable waiting room furniture, emotionally drained. I had changed into a nightgown and climbed into bed with Joe. The feeling of being held against his big, warm body had been delicious, and in matter of seconds I had passed out. Joe was behind me, one arm tucked beneath my head, his legs drawn up under mine. I lay quietly and listened to the even cadence of his breathing. Wondering if he was awake, I let my toes delicately investigate the contours of his foot. Slowly his mouth came to my neck, finding a place so sensitive that I felt a shot of delight down to my stomach. “There’s a man in my bed,” I remarked, groping back with my hand, feeling a hairy muscular thigh¸ the lean smoothness of a masculine hip. My wrist was gently captured, my hand guided downward until my fingers encountered hard, distended flesh and silky male skin. I took a quick breath, my eyes widening. “Joe… it’s too early.” His hand traveled to my breast, caressing the shape through the thin knit fabric of my nightgown, softly pinching the nipple, enticing sensation from the stiffening points. I tried again, sounding ambivalent even to my own ears. “I’m not a fan of morning sex.” But he continued to kiss my neck and pulled the hem of my nightgown up past my knees. I let out a giggle of nerves and dismay, crawling toward the other side of the bed. Joe pounced, pushing me back down. He covered me, thighs clamping on my hips, deliberately letting me feel some of his weight, his body charged with lust. The moment was playful, but there was intent in the way he handled me, an assertiveness that stole my breath away. “At least let me take a shower first,” I said plaintively. “I want you like this.” I began to wriggle. “Later. Please.” Lowering his head, Joe murmured, “You’re not in charge. I am.” I went still. For some reason, hearing those soft words while he was pinning me down like that sent a deep, deranged thrill through me. His voice curled hotly in my ear. “You belong to me, and I’m going to have you. Here and now.” I couldn’t seem to get enough air. I had never been so intensely aroused. His position altered, his hand sliding beneath the nightgown and between my thighs, searching intimately. I quivered as he massaged into the wetness, two fingers entering in a gentle glide. My hips began to rock back in a tight, unthinking rhythm, and he matched it exactly, pressing deep into the pulse, building sensation until I began to clench at each impetus.