“I’m scared,” she said in a small voice that ripped at him.

“Me too.”

“Oh God, here comes another one.”

His mind went blank momentarily at seeing her face twist into a mask of pain. Then something clicked and he remembered what he was supposed to do. “Come on, breathe with me.”

Her eyes locked onto his as he led her through the worst of it. Then she slumped against him, burying her face in his neck. “I’m so glad you’re here. I can’t do this without you.”

Jack kissed the top of her head. “Every minute it took me to get here was pure torture.”

Doc Monroe came into the room. “Jack, glad to see you made it.” She snapped on protective gloves and sat on a small rolling stool at the end of the bed. “Let’s see where we are.”

The nurse said, “Keely, you need to scoot down so the doctor can check you.”

Keely didn’t snap off a snarky comment, which was unlike her, especially since she was friends with the doctor. She clutched Jack’s hand as she wiggled into position.

Jack never took his eyes off Keely as Doc Monroe examined her.

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“Well, you’ve only dilated another centimeter since my last check. Since it’s been fourteen hours since your water broke, and you’re not progressing, we’ll need to put you on Pitocin to move the labor along.” She spoke to the nurse, who nodded as she jotted down the details.

Doc Monroe stood and removed the gloves. “How you holding up, Keely?”

“Better now that Jack is here.”

“I figured as much.” She eyed Jack—probably so see if Keely’s verbal lashing had left physical marks. “Thought you’d be in the doghouse for a lot longer, to be honest.”

“The day isn’t over yet,” Keely retorted.

She laughed. “Okay, Daddy, here’s the deal. You are gonna do whatever Keely wants, needs, asks for, to get her through the next couple of hours.”

“Hours?”

“Yes, hours. Keely has a ways to go before she’s ready to deliver. Pitocin will create stronger, more consistent contractions. I’ll be back in a few hours to check on her.”

“Don’t I need to change into scrubs or something?”

“Not until we’re close to the finish line.” The doctor spoke to the nurse and they wheeled the IV over.

After starting the IV drip, another contraction hit.

The nurse brought Jack a chair. “Sit. Get comfy. You’ll be here a while. If you need anything, hit the call button.”

Another seven hours passed and Jack was wrung out.

Keely, his beautiful, wonderful, tough cowgirl held it together. She hadn’t taken a swing at him, like her brothers had warned him she’d do. She hadn’t tried to twist his dick off or knee him in the family jewels, like her brothers had warned him she might try. Good thing, he’d left his cup at home. She’d only called him fuckface-asshat-sonuvabitching-goddamn bastard, twice—pretty much a normal day for them.

The harder the contractions, the quieter she became. When the contractions seemed to come without pause, she breathed through every one, keeping a death grip on his hand. Focused on him, she connected so intimately to him he swore he felt her labor pain several times.

Jack fed her ice chips and wiped her face with cool cloths. He rubbed her back. He offered her lots of praise. He did everything he was supposed to do but none of it seemed enough as she struggled to bring their child into the world.

“Jack,” Keely panted.

“Yes, sweetheart, what do you need?”

“You should say that to me all the time. Oh God-oh God-oh God—that fucking hurts!”

“Look at me.”

She shook her head and kept her eyes closed. “Get the nurse. I need to push. I need to push now.”

He hit the call button.

The nurse checked her and gave them the thumbs up. “She’s at nine.” She tossed him a set of scrubs. “I’ll stay with her while you change.”

Everything in the next fifteen minutes passed in a blur.

Keely had gone into a trance-like state as she faced the final hurdle. He stayed by her side, but he wasn’t sure if she knew he was there.

Medical personnel came in and out of the room.

Finally Doc Monroe returned. “Okay, Keely, let’s do this thing. Keep focused on your breathing. There are times I’ll want you to push and times I won’t. Listen to Jack. He’ll help you through it.”

“Oh God, it fucking burns so bad I need to push,” Keely shouted.

“All right, gimme a push.”

Jack had to grit his teeth at the painful sound coming from his wife. He didn’t know if he’d survive this. He didn’t know how he could ever ask this of her again.

“Hold on one second sweetie and breathe. Jack, get her a little more upright and hold on to her.”

He tilted the bed and grasped her shoulders.

“Okay, Keely, go ahead and push again,” Doc Monroe said.

Keely made a grunting cry. Once. Twice. Then she slumped against him. “I can’t.”

“You can,” he assured her. “We’re almost there. I promise.”

“Just two more pushes, Keely, and your baby will be here.”

He felt Keely gather herself. Then she bore down so hard her entire body shook.

“Hold one second. Good. All right. One more.”

Keely reached for his forearm. “Jack—”

“I gotcha. Squeeze me as hard as you need to.”

She emitted a triumphant cry and nearly broke his forearm, but he didn’t care because he knew she’d done it.

He peered down her body but couldn’t see anything.

Doc Monroe laughed. “Congratulations, Donohues, you have a baby girl.”

Jack was stunned. If he hadn’t been holding on to Keely he might’ve crashed right to the floor.

A girl?

What the hell did he know about little girls?

Then the bloody, slippery thing was laid on Keely’s stomach.

They both just stared at her.

“Omigod. There she is,” Keely said in awe. “She’s real. She’s...ours.” She turned her head into Jack’s bicep and started to cry.

Jack pressed his cheek into the top of Keely’s head, so overwhelmed he couldn’t speak.

“Daddy, do you want to cut the cord so we can get her cleaned up and checked out?”

“Ah, sure.” But as he reached for surgical instrument, his hand shook so violently he almost dropped it.

Doc Monroe patted his arm. “It’s okay. I’ve got it.”

Snip.

Then the nurses whisked the baby away.

She screamed bloody murder.

Jack wanted to go see what they’d done to her to make her cry like that. That wasn’t natural...was it?

“Jack?”

“What?”

“You can let go of my shoulders.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Keely leaned back into the mattress. Jack kissed her forehead. Her temple and finally her lips. “I love you. That was amazing.” He kissed her again. “You’re amazing.”

“Keely, gotta give me one more push.”

She wrinkled her nose. “This was the gross part in the books. The placenta.” She sat up and pushed.

“All done. No episiotomy. No tears as far as I can tell,” Doc Monroe said and stood. She patted Keely’s knee. “Good job, Mama. Lemme check on your girl’s stats so you can have her.”

Keely placed her hand on Jack’s cheek and turned his face toward her. “You okay?”

“No.” He shook his head to clear it. “A girl.”

“You surprised?”

“To say the least. Both our families are male dominant.”

“Well that’s about to change in our household,” Keely said.

“She weighs eight pounds two ounces,” Doc Monroe announced. “She’s twenty-two inches long. And she...” She laughed. “You’ll see.” She wandered over with the bundle and stopped at the foot of the bed. “You feeling up to holding her?”

Keely held out her arms. “Gimme.”

“We’ll give you half an hour in here and then we’ll move you into a regular room.”

“Can I have some food, too?”

“I’ll let them know.” The medical personnel vanished.

“Jack, hand me that pillow.”

Keely placed the pillow lengthwise on her lap and laid the baby across it. “Let’s unwrap our girl and check her out.”

As soon as Keely removed the pink hat, Jack said, “Holy shit. She’s got red hair. A lot of red hair.” He touched her tiny head. “It’s so soft.”

They looked at her fingers and toes. Poked at her chubby legs. Marveled at her long arms. Studied her perfectly round, perfectly beautiful little face. She’d mellowed out. She let them poke and prod her without fussing at all.

“Well, what do you think?”

“Honestly? I’m speechless. She’s...not an alien,” Jack said softly. “But she might as well be. She’s so little.” He stroked her cheek and she turned her head.

Then she opened her eyes.

And Jack Donohue fell completely in love for the second time in his life.

Jack wasn’t surprised when the nurse told him that Keely’s parents had remained in the waiting room.

After getting Keely settled in upstairs, and fed, he tracked them down. “Come and meet your new granddaughter.”

Carolyn practically tackle-hugged him.

Carson just grinned.

Keely was propped up in bed, looking exhausted, but absolutely serene. “Hey. I can’t believe you guys stayed after the way I acted...”

“Already forgotten, dear.” Carolyn patted her shoulder. “So, let’s see her.”

“This is Piper McKay Donohue.” Keely unwrapped the blanket and pushed the hat back.

“Good Lord, that child has red hair. Well that’s a first in the McKay family.”