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A Baby For Dry Creek
By Janet Tronstad
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChrissy Hamilton figured her life couldn't get much worse. On the morning of what was supposed to be her wedding day, she had found another woman in her fiancé's bed. And that wasn't even the worst part. After she'd stomped out of Jared's bedroom and driven almost all the way to Dry Creek, Montana, in her cousin's truck, she'd met a man who made her knees melt so fast she wouldn't have cared if an entire cheerleading squad had been camped out in Jared's bed.
Of course, nothing could come of her attraction. She was two and a half months pregnant and just about as confused and miserable as an eighteen-year-old in trouble could be.
Besides, if Chrissy couldn't trust the man she'd loved since she was fifteen, she certainly wasn't going to risk trusting some Montana rancher she'd just met.
It was too bad about the rancher, though. With his black hair and sky blue eyes, Reno Redfern was the sexiest man she'd ever seen. Which was one more reason to leave Dry Creek.
* * *
Seven and a half months later
Dry Creek did not have a postmaster. It didn't even have a post office. Everyone knew that. Still, the letter addressed to the postmaster sat there on top of all the other letters the mail carrier had left on the counter of the hardware store this cold spring morning. The mail carrier hadn't even looked at the letter before crawling back into the postal truck and heading down Interstate 94 to the next small Montana town on his busy route.
The hardware store sold everything a rancher needed, from weed killer to waterproof gloves, and most of it was sitting on long wooden shelves that lined the walls. A stack of ceramic mugs stood on a cart beside the stockroom door and the smell of brewing coffee welcomed customers every day of the week except Sunday, when the store was closed.
Of course, not everyone was a customer. The hardware store served as an informal community center, and some retired ranchers, like Jacob, spent most of their waking hours there arguing about cattle prices and waiting for the mail.
"Who'd be writing to our postmaster?" Jacob asked as he lifted the first envelope and read the address. He had been a rancher for sixty of his seventyseven years, and his gnarled fingers showed it as he held up the letter.
"We don't have a postmaster." Mrs. Hargrove also waited for the mail. She didn't sit, like the men, preferring to stand on the rubber mat by the counter so her muddy boots didn't dirty the wood floor as the men's boots were doing. She would rather distribute the mail herself, since she could do it more efficiently than Jacob, but she was a fair-minded woman and Jacob had gotten to the mail counter first.
In addition to Mrs. Hargrove, a half dozen ranchers were waiting for their mail, and the door was opening to let more into the store. Each time the door swung back or forth, a gust of wind came inside. As usual, spring had started out cold, but everyone had expected it to warm up by now. Most of the ranchers said they could still smell winter in the air and they didn't like it. They should be planting their fields, and it was too muddy to even plow.
"We might not have a postmaster, but we got us a letter," Jacob said as he put the envelope up to the light and tried to see through it before lowering his eyes and looking around at the others. "From a law firm. In California."
"What would a law firm want with our postmaster? We haven't broken any laws." Another retired rancher, Elmer, spoke up from where he sat by the black woodstove that stood in the middle of the hardware store. The morning was chilly enough that a small fire was burning inside the stove.
As he was speaking, Elmer stood up and frowned.
The inside of the hardware store got quiet as Elmer slowly walked toward the counter. The people of Dry Creek had a large respect for the law and an equally large distrust of California lawyers. They also knew that Elmer had an instinct for trouble, and if he was worried enough to leave his chair, they were worried, too.
"I keep telling folks we need to get a more regular way of sorting the mail," said a middle-aged rancher, Lester, as he looked up from the bolts he was sorting along the far wall. He scowled as he took up the old argument. "You're not supposed to see other folks' mail - it's not legal. The FBI can get involved."
"The FBI has better things to worry about than who sees your seed catalogs," Elmer said as he finished walking over to Jacob and looked down at the letter the other man still held. "Besides, no one in California would care how we sort through our mail. Would they?"
"Well, open it up and read it to us," Mrs. Hargrove finally said. She had a raisin bread pudding baking in her oven and she didn't want the crust to get too brown. "We haven't got all morning."
Jacob took out his pocketknife and used it as a letter opener. Then he cleared his throat and carefully read the entire letter aloud word by word. Jacob had always been proud of his speaking abilities, and he hadn't had many chances in his life for public performances. If there hadn't been so many people gathered in the hardware store, he probably would have listened to what he was saying instead of just focusing on getting all the words spoken correctly and loudly the way Mrs. Baker, his first-grade teacher, would have expected.
Excerpted from A Baby For Dry Creek by Janet Tronstad Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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