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Eleven months later
It seemed to require more effort than usual for Cole Westmoreland to open his eyes, and the moment he did, he wished he'd kept them closed. A sharp pain ripped through his body, starting at the top of his head and working its way down to the soles of his feet. To fight off the excruciating throb he tightened his hands into fists, and then it occurred to him that he was lying flat on his back in the middle of a bed that wasn't his.
He forced himself to gaze around a bedroom that wasn't his, either. In fact, he was at a loss as to whose bedroom it was. He closed his eyes against another sharp pain and wondered just where the hell he was.
He recalled getting off the plane at the Bozeman Airport and renting a car to drive to his sister and brother-in-law's home on the outskirts of town. Casey and McKinnon weren't expecting him for another three weeks. His early arrival was to have been a surprise. He also remembered dismissing the car rental office's warning that an April snowstorm was headed their way. He'd assumed he would reach his destination before the storm hit.
But he had been wrong.
He'd been driving the rental car along the two-lane highway when out of nowhere, blankets of snow began falling, cutting visibility to zero. The last thing he remembered was tightening his grip on the steering wheel when he felt himself losing control of the car and then mouthing a curse before hitting something.
He reopened his eyes when he heard a sound. He forced his head to move, and his gaze locked on to the woman who entered the bedroom. She definitely isn't my sister, Casey, so who is she? He watched her place a basket of clothes on a table nearthe fireplace, and when she began folding up the clothes he studied her face.
She looked familiar and he searched his mind, trying to recall where he'd seen her before. He was not one to forget an attractive face, and even while flat on his back with pain racking his body, he was male enough to appreciate a pretty woman when he saw one.
And she was pretty.
She was tall. He figured her to be at least five-ten, and to his way of thinking, one gorgeous Amazon who could certainly complement his six-four. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Her cocoa-brown face had high cheekbones, a pert nosefull lips that caught his gaze in a mesmerizing hold. He seemed to recall that he'd gazed at those same lips before and had gotten the same gut-wrenching reaction. Suddenly his stomach clenched in recognition.
They had met last year at a party given in his sister's honor by his stepmother, Abby, and McKinnon's mother, Morning Star. He and his brother, Clint, had flown in from Texas for the affair. Cole distinctly remembered how Patrina had kicked his libido into gear that night when he'd first seen her. The very air he'd been breathing had seemed to get snatched right from his lungs the moment their eyes had met. And then when his gaze had scanned her full-figured body, he'd been a goner. He was a man who appreciated a woman with some meat on her body, and Patrina's voluptuousness had been like an exploding bomb, sending all kinds of sensations rocketing through him.
According to his cousin, Durango, she was twenty-eight, and since he'd said that close to a year ago, she was probably twenty-nine now. And his cousin had also told him that Patrina was the gynecologist in town, and that she had lost her husband a few years back. A sheriff, her husband had died in the line of duty.
He'd also seen her in November at Casey and Mc-Kinnon's wedding, although she'd left before he'd gotten a chance to say anything to her. But the heated chemistry had still been there, even from across the room.
He continued to watch her fold the clothes and couldn't help wondering why he was lying flat on his back on a bed in her home. He moved his mouth to ask, but no sound came forth. Instead, for some reason he didn't quite understand, he suddenly felt tired. The next thing he knew, he was succumbing to darkness once more.
Patrina Foreman hummed softly as she folded the last of her clothes. She took a sidelong glance at the man sleeping in her guest-room bed and noted he was still asleep. If he didn't wake up pretty soon, she would have to wake him and check his vital signs again. It was sheer luck that she'd come along Craven Road when she had; otherwise, no telling how long he would have remained in that car, unconscious. And with the weather as it was, she didn't want to think about what might have happened.
Once she'd seen that his injuries were minor, although the force of the impact had literally knocked him out, she'd managed to bring him around long enough to get him out of his vehicle and into hers. And then when she'd reached her ranch, it had been quite a challenge to get him into the house, since he wasn't exactly a small man. By taking advantage of the moments he regained consciousness, she'd managed to coax him into doing whatever she askedlike stripping down to his boxers and getting into bed under plenty of blankets to stay warm. She seriously doubted he would remember any of it, but she was certain it was something she would never forget.
She hadn't averted her gaze quickly enough and had seen his manly physique before he'd slipped beneath the covers. She had been nearly overtaken by emotions she couldn't even begin to name, emotions she hadn't had to deal with in quite some time. For as long as she lived, she wouldn't forget the sight of his broad shoulders, taut hips and long, masculine legs. She'd been shocked at how the fire of desire had flickered across every inch of her skin, and how her breath had gotten lodged in her throat.
She'd recognized him the moment she'd opened the door to his car to find him slumped over the steering wheel. Cole Westmoreland, a Texas Ranger who was related to all the other Westmorelands living around these parts. He was Corey Westmoreland's son, Casey Westmoreland Quinn's brother and Durango Westmore-land's cousin. She also knew he was a triplet to Casey and their brother, Clint, whom she'd heard had recently gotten married.
Because the roads were blocked and getting help for Cole would have been next to impossible, she'd made the decision to bring him here. So far he'd been an easygoing patient. It had been five hours since she'd gotten him settled. She figured that pretty soon he would wake up, if for nothing other than to go to the bathroom. And just in case he was hungry, she'd fixed a pot of beef stew.
She glanced out the window. The snow was still falling heavily. The phones lines were down and she could not get a signal on her cell phone. The battery-operated radio in the kitchen said it would be another two days before things let up. It was one of those rare blizzards these parts were prone to in April. While most of the country was enjoying beautiful spring weather, Bozeman, Montana, was still in the clutches of what had been a nasty winter. So at the moment the two of them were stranded here at her ranch. She was glad she'd taken a week off workwith no babies due to arrive this month, she'd planned to spend her time reading and relaxing. She hadn't counted on having a visitor.
Suddenly she felt an elemental change in the air that had nothing to do with the weather. And then she heard the sound of her name, a whisper so soft it caressed her skin and almost made her shiver. She looked across the room and found her gaze trapped with Cole Westmoreland's.
For an endless moment she stared into the dark depths of his eyes before pulling in a deep breath. This very thing had happened the first time she'd seen him last year at a party given for his sister. It seemed that the moment she'd entered the room that night his gaze had connected to hers and held. Now he was looking at her in a way she'd figured she would never experience again. And her response to his stare was affecting her in a way she wasn't prepared for.
His request had her moving across the room to him and the pitcher that sat beside the bed. She tried ignoring the way he was looking at her while she poured him a glass of water. And then she placed her hand behind his head for support while he took a sip, and tried not to notice how warm he felt. He didn't have a fever. If anyone did it was her. She could feel her body get hot and tingly.
This was the first man she'd been attracted to since Perry's death. She had dated but not on a regular basis, and none of the men had stirred her the way Cole Westmoreland had done before and was doing now. His gaze was sweeping slowly across her face, and to her way of thinking, it shifted and zeroed in on her lips and stayed there.
"Do you want more?" she asked after he had drained the entire glass.
His gaze returned to her eyes. "No, and thanks."
His deep, raspy voice floated across her nerve endings. Trying to retain control of her mind and senses, she eased his head back onto the pillow while trying to avoid thinking about the large, masculine body beneath the blanket. Even with the blanket's thickness she could make out his long, hard limbs. Elemental. Powerful. Male.
"Why am I here?" he asked, causing her to shift her gaze and look at him.
She lifted his wrist to take his pulse and could feel how erratically her own was beating. "Don't you remember?"
"No," he said simply.
That wasn't unusual and she nodded. "You were in a car accident and took a bump to the head."
"And how did I get here?"
"I came across you on my way home. I figured you must have been trying to make it to Casey and McKin-non's place before the storm hit. You're lucky I came along when I did."
"Was I unconscious?"
"Just about," she said, returning his arm to his side, satisfied with his pulse rate but not with the way he was still staring at her mouth. "I was able to get you to cooperate, which is how I managed to get you out of the car and into mine. The same thing when I arrived here. Although you had to lean on me, I was able to manage you pretty well."
She couldn't help but smile when she said, "I was even able to get you to take off your clothes on your own and get into bed."
Cole nodded. He could believe that, since he'd never had a problem with taking off his clothes for any woman, and she definitely would not have been an exception. But he found it hard to believe that she alone had managed to get him in and out of her car. She wasn't a tiny woman, but compared to him, she was a lightweight. He was all solid and she was all soft curves.
"How long have I been here?" he decided to ask, not needing to dwell on her shape and size any longer.
"About five hours. You've been going in and out most of the time, but you've slept rather comfortably over the past couple of hours or so. But eventually I was going to have to wake you. When you take a hit on the head it's not good to sleep too much."
He nodded again, thinking, so he'd been told. There were two doctors in the Westmoreland familyhis cousin Delaney and his cousin Thorn's wife, Tara.
"Are you hungry?"
He glanced up at her. "No. Thanks for asking," he said. He then glanced around the room.
"Power is out. I have a generator, so we have electricity, but the phone lines are down and the signal for the cell phone is nonexistent. I don't have any way to let Casey or your father know you're here and all right."
His gaze returned to hers. "That's fine. Neither she nor Dad was expecting me for another three weeks, anyway. I was going to surprise them."
Patrina nodded. Casey lived a few miles down the road as did Durango and his wife, Savannah. Patrina had delivered their baby last September, a beautiful little girl they had named Sarah after Durango's mother. And Cole's father, Corey, lived on what everyone in these parts referred to as Corey's Mountain. She rarely saw Corey these days unless he and his wife, Abby, came down to visit their good friends, Morning Star and Martin Quinn, McKinnon's parents. But she usually ran into Casey at least once a week in town or just passing on the road.
"I've changed my mind."
His words intruded into her thoughts. She met his gaze and tried not to drown in the dark depths. She thought he had such beautiful eyes. She licked her lips. They seemed to go dry around him from some reason. Probably from her heated breath. "About what?"
"Food. I'm feeling hungry."
"Okay. I'll bring you some stew I've made."
"I can get up," he mumbled. "I'm not an invalid." Cole didn't like the thought of anyone, especially a woman, waiting on him. He felt fine. So fine that he'd almost slipped and said he was feeling horny, instead of hungry. Hell, just being this close to her had his heart thudding hard against his ribs, and had other parts of him throbbing.
"I would prefer that you didn't get up, Cole. You should stay put for a while. I checked you over and didn't feel any broken bones."
He lifted a brow. She'd checked him over? Hmm, he wondered if she'd felt something else besides no broken bones. As if she'd read his mind she quickly said. "I am a medical doctor, you know."
He couldn't help the smile that touched his lips. "You deliver babies and take care of womenfolk, right?"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean I can't take care of a man if I have to," she said as she turned to leave the room.