Brothers of Cooper Ranch

By: Leslie North

The unfamiliar room tilted suddenly, violently, and for a moment Bella feared she would blackout again. She had never been one to faint, and considering she had just spent the last twenty-four hours unconscious, she definitely wasn't eager to do so now.

An entire month?

"An entire month?" She echoed the thought into the room. "An entire month? I can't remember anything!" She stirred beneath the blankets. Her limbs were all there, but they suddenly felt foreign, like somebody else's. Was it her imagination, or were her calves more muscled, her inner thighs and stomach tight, as if she really had been riding a horse? But a horse made of what? Vapor? She couldn't remember what color its coat had been, couldn't remember its name. She didn't even know how to ride a horse!

Bella let out a small, distressed cry, but then Sawyer really was there. His arms encircled her and pulled her in against him, indelicate and impulsive. She heard Dr. Billson protest, but he seemed a long way away. The warmth of Sawyer's embrace encased her completely. "You're all right now, Bella," he crooned. "You're all right."

He's talking to me like I'm one of his brother's prized horses, Bella thought, and she hated that it worked so well. She had never heard Sawyer Cooper speak so softly to anyone. She had heard him schmooze, of course, and ingratiate—God knows she had heard him flirt more times than she cared to admit, and with more women than just herself—but his tone was so strikingly different now that she couldn't help but listen. Relief flooded through her as he continued to murmur low, sweet nothings, and she caught herself leaning into the caress of his fingers as he smoothed a strand of hair from her temple. She didn't fall into his eyes so much as she allowed herself to sink unresistingly into them when she saw that he meant every word of what he was saying. The panicked beating of her heart subsided, though her pulse picked up again the next instant when he took her hand in his. He gripped it tenderly, and Bella was surprised to find her first impulse wasn't to deflect the gesture. She let the solid warmth of his palm engulf her own completely. Callouses? The tips of her fingers brushed hesitantly along the creases of his hand, exploring. The surprises continued.

The look in his eyes when he drew back was almost too much to bear. Bella had no idea why Sawyer Cooper was looking at her like she was the only thing that mattered in his expensively furnished room, but it wasn't unpleasant. In fact, it made her cheeks heat self-consciously beneath his stare. Before she could defuse the situation by asking if there was something on her face—or worse, dare him to act on whatever it was he was thinking, the hovering doctor be damned—she felt Sawyer twist something around her finger.

Bella glanced down at their joined hands. A giant, glimmering diamond adorned her ring finger. Sawyer fidgeted with the band again and didn't appear to realize he was doing it.

Dread pooled in her stomach, which then opened up and became a sinkhole.

"Sawyer?" Bella asked unsteadily. "Did I get married? Who am I married to?"

Sawyer glanced at the doctor, then turned back to her.

"Me, Bella. You're married to me."



There were two great things about stables: the work never ended, and all the doors were built sturdily enough to be slammed.

It was the natural place for Sawyer to retreat to after Bella's disastrous awakening. The horses had been turned out in the east pasture for the evening, otherwise he would have restrained himself; now that the only creatures left to spook were the ranch hands, he went to town. He slammed the office door, the sliding stable doors, and the stall doors. He kicked buckets and old saddles and clods of dirt out of his way. He still felt he was being industrious, even if he interrupted the hands’ chores every time they scrambled to get out of his way.

He had been in the kitchen of the main house, taking a break from the barn, before the call from the doctor brought him pelting up the stairs to the bedroom. It only seemed natural for him to return to work now…and a part of him he wouldn't acknowledge couldn't bear the thought of remaining in the same building as a wife who didn't remember him.

Chill out, Sawyer, he tried to reason with himself, as he blasted a partially cleaned stall with way more water than was strictly necessary. It's not like Bella's completely forgotten you.

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