“I’ll be there in less than ten minutes.”
Heading inside, Sienna knocked on the bedroom door before entering. Lucas had pulled on a pair of sweatpants and sat behind Sascha on the bed, one hand tangled with hers, the other petting her abdomen with soothing strokes. “How long till Tammy arrives?”
“Under ten minutes.”
Sascha blinked. “So soon?”
“You think I’m an idiot?” Lucas’s voice was a growl, his touch unbearably tender. “I knew you were having contractions, stubborn woman.”
Sascha laughed, then winced. “Oh, here we go again.”
Sienna started timing.
SASCHA felt another contraction building as Tammy walked in through the door, a competent, unruffled presence. “I’m so glad to see you.” She’d been so sure she’d timed it right, except her own body had decided to reschedule things.
“I was never far away,” the healer said with a smile as she checked the progress of the labor, her touch gentle and capable. “Sienna’s in the kitchen with Nate. She’s putting together food for the people she knows are going to start dropping by any minute—that girl is terrifyingly efficient.”
“I thought,” Sascha said, clutching at the topic to keep her mind off the rippling waves of pain, “she was going to pass out when my water broke.”
“No, that was me,” Lucas growled next to her ear. “Now, remember, don’t try any more shit—do it like we practiced. Funnel the pain through the mating bond and into me.”
It went against everything in Sascha’s nature to cause him pain, but she knew he’d never forgive her if she didn’t allow him to help her through this. “You have a terrible bedside manner.”
A nip on her ear. “This is my first time.”
Her heart bloomed. “Me, too.” Gripping his hand as her abdomen rippled, she diverted the pain along the mating bond to the panther who held her so tight, so close.
His body jerked before he hissed out a breath. “Jesus H. Christ. I have new respect for the female of the species suddenly.”
Tamsyn snorted. “You ain’t seen nothing yet, buckaroo.” Glancing at Sascha, she added, “I think it’ll help if you walk around for a while. Nate will keep everyone from the back of the house if you want to go out there.”
“Yes, okay.” The next several hours were the most scary—and most wonderful—of Sascha’s life. Exhausted, her hair sticking to the side of her face, she clung to Lucas’s hand and rode out the contractions as they got progressively longer and closer together, until she couldn’t stay on her feet. He took most of the pain, her panther, but her muscles ached, so many strands of jelly in her body. “Oh dear,” she said toward the end of the third hour.
“What?” Tammy and Lucas asked at once, acute concern in their voices.
“The baby’s decided it wants to stay right where it is.” Sascha could feel its anger at the current circumstances clear as day. “It is not impressed by all this squeezing and jostling about and could we please stop.”
Tamsyn’s eyes widened. “Wow, everyone knows babies must feel like that, but you actually know. Since you do—you’re going to have to convince the little darling to come on out. Your body is ready.”
Sascha touched her babe’s mind. It’s warm in my arms, too, she cajoled. Your papa’s waiting to kiss you, pet you. Don’t you want that?
A vocal negative, for all that their child had no words yet.
“Come on, princess,” Lucas murmured in his deep voice, stroking Sascha’s abdomen with strong, loving hands as she lay with her back to his chest, “you know I’ve been waiting a long time for you. How am I ever going to hold you if you stay in there?”
The baby wasn’t convinced, but Sascha felt a slight hesitation. “Keep talking,” she said, continuing to reassure their child with her own loving murmurs until another contraction bowed her back.
The baby was shocked, scared.
You’re safe. You’re safe. She wrapped it in a warm blanket of love. I’ve got you, my baby.
“This time,” Tamsyn ordered, “push.”
“Hear that, princess?” Lucas whispered, pressing his lips to Sascha’s temple. “Help your mama out.”
Their child still wasn’t sure they knew what they were talking about, but it was ready.
Just in the nick of time.
The next contraction almost lifted Sascha off the bed. She forgot all about funneling pain, all about doing anything but pushing, her grip on Lucas’s hand a steel trap.
“One more time,” Tammy’s encouraging voice. “Come on, sweetheart.”
As Sascha shuddered, tried to breathe, Lucas tangled his fingers with those of her other hand, too, bent to press his lips to her ear. “I’ve got you, Sascha darling.”
Those were the last words she heard before she pushed one final time, and suddenly, her child was no longer inside of her, its angry screams filling the air. Our baby. Her heart clenched, and she felt Lucas stop breathing. “Go cut the cord,” she urged him, knowing he was torn between the need to hold her and cradling their baby. “Go.”
Sliding out from behind her with care, he followed Tammy’s directions to cut the cord. The wonder on his face as he took their squalling child into his arms was a gift for Sascha’s heart, a moment she would never, ever forget. “Hush, sweet darling.” A deep murmur that washed over mother and child both. “Papa’s got you.” When he looked up, those wild green eyes shimmered with such protective love that she knew their child would never, for one single minute, feel unwanted, unloved.