Sunset Embrace

By: Sandra Brown

Dear Reader,

Several years ago, my career underwent a transition with my novel, Slow Heat in Heaven. Before then I had written genre romances under several pseudonyms. Because so many of my new readers have expressed an interest in my earlier work, Warner Books is making these books available.

I feel that Sunset Embrace tells a compelling love story while staying within the framework of romance fiction and reflecting the elements that characterize it, such as a high level of sensuality and a happy ending.

Thank you for your many requests to have these books reprinted, and please enjoy ...

Sandra Brown

Chapter One

Why has God made it so painful to die? the young woman wondered.

She gripped her distended abdomen as another pain tore through her lower body and shimmied down her thighs. When it was over, she panted laboriously, like a wounded animal, trying to garner strength for the next assault, which she knew would seize her within minutes. Undoubtedly it would come, because she didn't think she would be allowed to die before the baby was born.

She shivered convulsively. The rain was cold, each drop a tiny needle that pricked her skin, and it had soaked through the tattered dress and the few undergarments she had managed to hold together with clumsy knots. The rags clung to her like a damp shroud, a cloying weight that anchored her to the marshy ground as securely as did the relentless pain. She was chilled to the bone, but perspiration had clammily glazed her skin after endless hours of painful labor.

When had it begun? Last night just after sunset. Through the night, the ache in the Tower part of her back had intensified until it crawled farther around her middle to twist her womb between angry fists. Cloud-obscured sides made it difficult to determine the time of day, but she guessed it to be midmorning by now.

She concentrated on the leafy pattern of the tree limbs against the gray sky overhead as the next contraction wrung her insides. The rainy clouds scuttled by, heedless of the woman barely twenty years old lying alone in the Tennessee wilderness, giving birth to a being she didn't want to think of as a baby, even as human.

She turned her cheek sideways into her bed of sodden, rotted leaves, remnants of last fall, and let her tears mingle with the rain. Her baby had been conceived out of shame and humiliation and deserved no happier occasion than this to be born.

"Sweet Jesus, let me die now," she prayed as she felt another abdominal upheaval rolling through her. Like the summer thunder, it rumbled inside her, gaining impetus before crashing against the walls of her body, just as the thunder seemed to collide with the mountainsides. The pain echoed through her as the thunderclap reverberated through the foothills.

Last evening she had tried to ignore the pains and had kept walking. When water had gushed between her thighs, she had been forced to lie down. She hadn't wanted to stop. Each day meant another few miles' distance between her and the body that surely had been discovered by now. She hoped it would decay and never be found, but really didn't expect such a piece of luck.

This merciless pain she was suffering now was no doubt God's punishment for being glad to see one of His creatures die. That, and her wanting no part of the life she had carried in her womb for nine months. Despite the sinfulness of it, she prayed that she would never see the life struggling so hard to be expelled from her body. She prayed that she would die first.

The next seizure was the most vicious of all and brought her to a half-sitting position. Last night, when her bloomers had been ruined by the pinkish flood, she had taken them off and cast them aside. Now she picked the garment up and mopped her rain- and sweat-soaked face with it. She trembled uncontrollably, as much out of fear as pain. She had felt herself tearing with that last rebellion of her body. Gathering the frayed hem of her dress and the cobwebby remains of her petticoat up over her raised knees, she tentatively lowered her hand between her legs and touched the spot.

"Ohhh . . ."she whimpered, and began to weep. She was open, stretched wide. Her fingertips had touched the babes head. Her hand came away covered with blood and slime. Her mouth opened with terror, but the sound that issued out was a piercing wail of agony as her body strained and squeezed, trying to eliminate the being that had become foreign matter after being snugly harbored for nine months.