“Ma’am, is anything wrong? Can I help you?”
Leigh Bransom didn’t even see the man until he knocked on the window of her car. Overwhelmed by the pain that gripped the lower part of her body, she had been incognizant of all else. Now, lifting her head from the steering wheel and swiveling it toward the voice that had distracted her, she moaned in renewed agony. Her would-be rescuer looked like anything but a knight in shining armor.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
No, she wasn’t, but she didn’t want to admit it to this rough-looking man who could easily get away with any crime he chose to commit on this lonely stretch of highway. His clothes were filthy, stained with grease and sweat. His large brass belt buckle with the state seal of Texas on it was at Leigh’s eye level as he bent from what must be a height of at least six feet to peer at her through the window. The well-worn jeans and short-sleeved plaid cotton shirt fit a large muscular frame. A battered straw cowboy hat cast a sinister shadow over the man’s face. Amid the pains Leigh felt her heart contract with terror.
Perhaps if it weren’t for the dark sunglasses that prevented her from looking into his eyes—
As though discerning her thoughts, the stranger took off the glasses, and Leigh stared into the bluest eyes she’d ever encountered. She saw no threat in that anxious blue gaze, and the spasm of fear passed. The man might be dirty, but he didn’t seem to be dangerous.
“I’m not going to hurt you, ma’am. I only want to know if I can help.” Leigh heard the concern in the stranger’s voice, which, like his eyes, was oddly reassuring.
Another pain rippled through her, starting at her spine and creeping around her middle to her abdomen. She caught her bottom lip between her teeth to bite off the scream she felt rising in her throat and slumped forward, bumping her head on the steering wheel.
“Godamighty,” she heard on an anxious rasp before the door was flung open. When the man saw her distended stomach, he whistled through his teeth. “What in the world are you doing out here by yourself in your condition?” he asked. Carelessly he tossed the sunglasses onto the dashboard over the steering wheel.
Leigh panted, trying to count out the seconds until the contraction subsided. His question was apparently rhetorical, as he seemed not to expect her to answer it. He laid his hand on her shoulder. It felt hot and dry against her cool, damp skin.
“Take it easy now. Okay? Easy. Better?” he asked when she sighed and leaned back against the seat.
“Yes,” she said. For a moment she closed her eyes, trying to regain some strength, some dignity, with which to face the stranger while in the throes of labor. “Thank you.”
“Hell, I haven’t done anything yet. What do you want me to do? Where were you headed?”
“So was I. Do you want me to drive you there?”
She looked at him quickly, cautiously. He had squatted on his haunches between her and the car door. One strong, tanned hand was on the car seat, the other on the steering wheel. Now that the sunglasses were gone, she could study the deep blue eyes looking up at her with solicitude. If the eyes were truly the windows to the soul, Leigh knew she could trust this man.
“I… I guess that would be best.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “I think I should drive your car and leave my truck here. Its—Oh God, another one?”
She had felt the contraction coming even before the pain hit her. Pressing her hands against the taut sides of her abdomen, she tried to remember to pant, forcing relaxation and control. When the contraction was over, she sagged against the seat.
“Ma’am, it’s forty miles or so to Midland. We’re not going to make it. How long have you been in labor?” He was speaking soothingly, calmly.
“I stopped about forty-five minutes ago. I had had some pains before then, but I thought they were indigestion.”
He almost smiled, and she saw a hint of laugh lines around the startling eyes. “No one stopped to help you?”
She shook her head. “Only two other cars drove by. They didn’t stop.”
His eyes scanned the interior of the car to assess its limited space. “Do you think you can walk? If not, I’ll carry you.”
Carry her? To where? He read the panicked questions in her eyes. “You can lie down in the bed of my pickup. It’s not a delivery room, but the baby won’t know any better.”
This time the smile was for real. The laugh lines were prominent and deep, the creases white in contrast to the rest of his skin, which was darkly tanned. His teeth flashed white and straight in the coppery face. Leigh realized that under other circumstances she would have found the face disarmingly attractive.