Outback Baby Miracle

By: Melissa James

PROLOGUE




Wallaby Station, Outback New South Wales

HOW do you tell a man who’s never spared you a word beyond the occasional “G’day, miss” or “Nice day, Miss Robbins” that you can’t stop thinking about him?

Especially when he wasn’t one of the eager men surrounding her?

Laila excused herself with detached politeness. She’d walked away from eager men for most of the past seven years. Trouble was she’d never known, and probably would never know, if any of those men were attracted to her—or to her father’s wealth and influence.

Brian Robbins had turned his grandfather’s scraggly thousand acres, given to him as a returning soldier from World War One, into two distinct one hundred thousand acre empires, with prize-winning racehorses and prime Angus cattle at the Hunter Valley enterprise, and the toughest Marino sheep here at Wallaby—and plenty of men wanted a piece of it.

At twenty-five, Laila thought she had no illusions left. The only men she trusted were Dar, and her brothers Andrew and Glenn. How many of their warnings had turned out to be true?

Then she’d seen him.

The man she kept her gaze on as she threaded through the five hundred-thick crowd celebrating Dar and Marcie’s fifteenth wedding anniversary.

He stood in a corner as bright-lit as the rest of the house, yet it seemed darker. She didn’t know if it was because he was the only man here in his working clothes—the Outback working-man’s uniform of worn jeans and plain cotton shirt, albeit clean—or the hint of a tortured soul hidden inside his masked expression.

He was hurting tonight. Hurting in a way far deeper than the usual curt withdrawal he used when he cut her off. He was hurting so badly he couldn’t even hide it.

How she knew that, she wasn’t sure—maybe because she spent so much time watching him. The fascination she’d felt from the first glance at him, straight-backed, black-haired and golden-eyed, sitting astride a horse like her girlhood dreams of a wild Cherokee warrior-lover, had only grown with every university break she’d come home. Even when she wasn’t home, no man—student, fellow worker or customer at the restaurant—could compare.

It had been a year since then, and he’d said a total of ninety-seven words to her, sixty of those “G’day, miss.” She couldn’t stand it anymore. It was now or never. She had to know if this was infatuation without solid ground, or if it could be something real.

He didn’t notice her approaching, and Laila wasn’t even certain he’d seen her when she reached him apart from the way he drew deeper inside himself.

But she couldn’t make herself leave him, not now, not when she was so sure he needed help…needed her. She drew in a deep breath for courage, and willed special, wonderful words to say that would make him know all the exquisite turmoil she felt…

“Want to talk about it? This is Dar and Marcie’s happy occasion, but your gloomy face is enough to make the lot of us drown in your sorrows.”

She cursed her clumsy mouth even before she finished. Why could she never say what she felt inside? Why were her words always blunt-spoken when it meant so much to get it right?

Then she realized he hadn’t even heard. He was staring into nothing, the bronzed skin of his slanted cheeks taut, hands clenched so tight around the schooner of beer he’d obviously forgotten the glass might shatter any moment.

“Let me take that for you.” Gently she prised his fingers from their death grip on the glass, and put it out of reach.

Finally he turned to her. The look on his face wasn’t a scowl, or the dark, withdrawn politeness of everyday wear. Those haunting, dark golden eyes were wild, blank—blinded with everything he held inside. He looked at her, but he didn’t see her.

Wrapped in blackness, his pain screamed all the stronger in its silence.

“Jake?” she whispered, and touched his hand.

He didn’t move, didn’t speak. It was as if he couldn’t—then she felt it. He was shaking.

“Come with me. Let me help you,” she whispered. Slowly, terrified because reaching out to him, touching him meant so much, she cupped her palm to his cheek. Overwhelmed, exultant, fragile with hope. Please, please let me in…

The look he gave her was still blinded, still lost. He lifted a hand as if he didn’t know what he did, and touched her jaw, cheek and nose as if he truly had no sight: a man reaching out from behind dank prison bars, starved of human touch. Her head slowly fell back as she drank in not sensuality, but need. The savage, hopeless need of a man so long alone, he’d forgotten the power of a simple touch.

Did he even know who she was? She doubted it—yet it didn’t matter. He needed her because she’d reached out at the right moment—and she had to make that be enough for now.

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