Written in 62 minutes.
Jason had already tossed the horse’s reins aside when Elizabeth began to sway, but he had taken no more than a step when she collapsed, falling backward straight into the stallion—Dusty had come a long way since the summer but the quick movements started him and he reared—
Putting Elizabeth’s fragile form at the mercy of more than nine hundred pounds of agitated animal—and he’d never make it in time to stop—
But Johnny was already there, grabbing and yanking Dusty’s reins, the horse veering sharply away but still fighting against the Irishman’s. “Whoa—”
Jason raced to Elizabeth, sliding hard against the ground as he dropped next to her, taking her hand and checking for a pulse in her wrist, then he scooped her into his arms and turned towards the fence. “Cameron—”
He only now registered the little boy’s cries, not realizing that Cameron had slid between the posts and was already across the training yard—where Johnny was still calming the agitated Dusty and Jason’s horse was wandering around.
“Damn it—” he swore, jerked his head back. “Cameron, get back—”
“Mama!” His face was red and stained with tears. “Mama!”
“Get back over the fence,” Jason ordered, more harshly than he wanted to, but the fear was pounding in his veins—for the pale, unconscious woman in his arms, and for the small child at the mercy of animals who towered over him— “Now! You know the rules!”
“I got him!” Johnny looped Dusty’s reins over a hitching post, then dashed past Jason to lift Cameron into his arms with ease. “Come on, little guy. Let’s get your mother some help.”
Satisfied, Jason went towards the pasture gate where another stable hand, who had heard the ruckus, was already tugging it open. “Johnny, send for the doctor—” He didn’t bother to check if his order had been heard, just tightened his grip on Elizabeth, his long legs eating up the distance between the training yards at the house.
“Mama!” Cameron sobbed from behind them. “Make her wake up!”
Jason reached the steps at the back of the house, almost relieved to see Alice coming to the open doorway, drawn by Cameron’s cries.
“What on Earth—” She pushed the door open, stepping back hastily as Jason barrelled past her, making for the stairs at the front of the house. “Mister Jason—”
“See to Cameron,” Jason tossed over his shoulder. “Johnny—”
“I got it—” Johnny set Cameron on his feet, then crouched down. “Hey, there. You stay with Alice, and I’ll head to town for a doctor. You’ll see. Everything will be right as rain—”
“I’ll get you some milk and a couple of those cookies,” Alice promised, trading a troubled glance with the stablehand.
“I b-broke the r-rules,” Cameron sobbed. “Papa mad—”
“Papa’s just scared,” Alice assured him. “Go,” she told Johnny. “I’ve got it handled.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Johnny disappeared out the door, and it swung closed with a thud behind him, and Alice went to look after Cameron.
Jason laid Elizabeth out on their bed, the blood still pounding in his ears as he went to the water and pitcher on the nearby table. It was the heat, he told himself. He’d get some water into her and shed some of the heavy clothes, and it would be all right—
It would be just fine.
He turned back, a cloth damp with water in his hand, relieved to see Elizabeth’s eyelashes fluttering. She blinked at him, then raised herself up on her elbows. “What—what’s going on—”
“Just rest,” he said, sitting on the edge of the bed, gently dabbing at her cheeks with the cloth, the streaks of dirt disappearing. “I’ll have someone go fetch ice—” The closest icehouse was just outside of town by the Grand Lake—he knew he should have had one built nearer the ranch—
Elizabeth blinked at him, her eyes still glazed and slightly unfocused. “How did I get inside?”
“I brought you in.” Jason unlaced her boots and tossed them to the floor. “Sit up for a second—” She was still sluggish, her movements delayed, so he able to strip off her shirtwaist and skirt, leaving her clad in nothing but a chemise and a thin petticoat—
Her color was already getting better, Jason decided, helping her to lay back and propping a pillow behind her bed. “I’ve sent for the doctor.”
“So silly, all this fuss. I was out too long,” Elizabeth said, but her eyes drifted closed again. “You’ve warned me about the heat—”
And he hadn’t done anything to remind her, had he? He’d let her work all these weeks under a hot sun as if she’d been born and raised to work a ranch—Jason clenched his jaw. “Not enough,” he muttered, relieved when Alice came in with a fresh bowl of water. “Cameron?” he asked, thinking of their son for the first time since coming upstairs.
“Enjoying some cool milk and cookies. Worried over his mother, so I said I’d come to see.” Alice smiled brightly. “And there you are, missus. Looking much better.”
“I feel silly,” Elizabeth said. She stifled a yawn. “I’ve simply worked a bit too long—”
“Burned the candle at both ends, didn’t you?” Alice said. She handed Jason the new bowl and retrieved the old. “In town planning with Missus Lila, and then out here with the horses, and then reading with Master Cameron in the evening.” She leveled a glare at Jason who scowled. “Seems to me a few days rest is in order.”
“I didn’t mean to worry anyone,” Elizabeth said, sighing. “I’m so sorry—but I won’t need to be in town as much—the harvest festival was quite a success, and the Christmas assembly doesn’t require as much attention—”
“We’ll just wait to see what Doctor Drake says,” Jason said, bringing her a new cloth and dabbing at her neck and collarbone. “Rest—”
“And Cameron—he was outside. He must have been so worried—” Elizabeth grimaced. “And scared. I don’t think he’s ever seen me sick. Will you check on him?”
Jason started to refuse, unwilling to leave her side until he was sure she was going to be all right, but he remembered now he’d yelled at Cameron and how the little boy had cried. “All right. I’ll be right back.”
Cameron was in the kitchen, a cup of milk and a trio of cookies set in front of him, all looking quite untouched. His cheeks were stained with tears and dirt, his eyes puffing from crying.
Jason crouched next to him and Cameron sniffled, more tears sliding down his face. “Hey. Mama’s okay. She’s awake. We’ll have the doctor say for sure, but she’s okay now—”
“You mad at me.” Cameron wiped his nose his sleeve. “I broke rules.”
“Yeah. You did. But I wasn’t mad—” Jason hesitated. “I was angry, and I was scared,” he admitted and Cameron’s gaze focused on him. “There were horses that could have hurt you. You can’t be in the training yard alone. So, yes, you broke a big rule. But I know you were scared, too. So I’m sorry for yelling.”
“I-I’m sorry for breaking the rules.” Cameron hugged him, burrowing his face into Jason’s neck. Jason hugged him tightly, lifting him out of his chair as Jason rose to his feet. “Mama okay?”
“I think. I hope so. Doctor Drake will tell us—” He turned towards the front of the houses when he heard the clatter of hooves. Cameron still in his arms, Jason strode towards the entry way, relieved to see Patrick Drake looping the reins of his horse over the post just below the porch, Johnny just behind him. “You made good time—”
“Caught me on the way back to town,” Patrick said, lifting his black medical bag and coming inside the house. “Johnny said your wife collapsed?”
“I think it was just the heat,” Jason said, setting Cameron on the ground. “She’s upstairs and awake, but—”
“But we’ll see.”
Jason left Cameron with Johnny and Alice, then walked Patrick up the stairs and down to the bedroom where Elizabeth was sitting up. Her cheeks flushed when the doctor came in, and she started to tug the bedclothes in front of her thin chemise. “Patrick, this is Elizabeth. Elizabeth, Doctor Patrick Drake.”
“Hey there, Missus.” Patrick flashed her one of his famous dimpled grins, then set the medical bag on the dresser. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” Elizabeth admitted, flashing a hesitant smile. “I felt a bit tired all day, honestly, and I should have stopped for water. I just get…I forget when I’m working with the horses.”
“Heat can sneak up on you, and it’s been tricky this fall.” Patrick fitted an instrument into his ears, then pressed the end against Elizabeth’s chest. “Heart is a bit rapid, but not too much.” He tilted his head, studying her form. “Are you eating all right? Sleeping? Everything else, uh, regular?”
“Sleeping, yes. Eating, I suppose. More than usual.” Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed. “And regular—” Her mouth closed. “Oh. Oh. Dear. I hadn’t—I lost—I lost track.”
“Happens.” Patrick patted her hand. “You got a bit overheated, and bit overextended. Time to take it easy and rest. I’ll let you fill in the husband.”
“Fill me on what?” Jason demanded as Patrick packed up the bag. “You barely looked at her—”
“And that’s why I’m the doctor and you’re not. Clear to me she’s overheated and overworked. Anything else, not really my place. I’ll send the bill. You come and see me, Missus Elizabeth, when you have a need.”
Jason nearly followed Patrick down the hall, intent to demand the damned doctor actually do more than ask a few questions, but then turned back to his wife who had sat up. Jason’s scowl deepened. “You’re supposed to rest.”
“And I will—I just—” Elizabeth slid her legs over the side of the bed and rose. “I don’t want to be lying down for this part.” She held on to one of the posts at the end of the bed. “I feel even more silly. I quite lost track—” She bit her lip, then looked away.
“Your cheeks are red again. I’m going to get that damned doctor—”
Elizabeth caught his elbow as Jason turned away again. “No, they’re—I’m a bit embarassed to have caused all this trouble. It’s not as though I’m a green girl, you see. I ought to have seen the signs. It’s just—it’s quite different this time. And I really did just lose track—” She took the deep breath. “I’ve missed my courses, Jason. And if I recall correctly, it’s been at least two months.”
Jason was stunned into silence as he grappled with the meaning of the statement. For her to have missed two months— “You—there’s a—you—” He took a deep breath. “You’re with child, then. There will be a baby.”
“Yes.” Her lips curved into a hesitant smile, even as her eyes remained sober, searching his. “Sometime in May if my guesses are right. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve certainly been trying.”
Jason raked a hand through his hair, the reality sinking in. A baby. She was carrying his child—their child, he corrected.
He exhaled slowly, forcing himself to smile. This was good news. Of course it was. Even if his brain was already racing with newfound worries. She’d been working so hard nearly every day she’d been in this condition. Out in the heart or driving herself back and forth to town. And women died in childbirth. Hell, babies died in childbirth—but he’d been silent too long and her smile was fading.
“You should rest,” Jason said, scooping her into his arms and setting back in bed. “You’ve been working too hard, and we need to take care of the baby.” He kissed her forehead. “And you.”
“This is good news, isn’t it?” Elizabeth’s hands rested on his arms, stopping him from stepping back. “We—you said you wanted children. The day we met. You said—”
“I do. I just—it’s it’s good news,” Jason added. “I was—” He sat on the bed, then sighed. “I’m sorry. I think part of me is still stuck back in the paddock, worried that the horse would hurt you. Or that you were sick. I can’t seem to shake loose of it.”
“Well, that’s all right.” She smiled, taking one of his band between both of hers. “It’s lovely, isn’t it? This time next year, a new little life to look after. You’re such a good father, Jason. It’ll be wonderful to do this together, won’t it?”
“Yes. Yes,” Jason repeated, because it would. He leaned forward to kiss her. “It’ll be great, and you’ll be amazing.” He just hoped they’d all survive it.