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Molly Popp noted that the cattle guard in front of her was like a giant billboard proclaiming in bold letters NO TRESPASSING, and yet, she was about to cross it anyway.
If she wanted a picture of the house that sat a hundred yards from the road"and she did"then she needed to cross this cattle guard, drive through the herd of bored-looking black cows and top the hill that left only the red rooftop visible from where she sat. Piece of cake.
She told herself Bob Jacobs, the owner, wouldn't mind.After all, this was a win-win situation.
Then why did she feel she was about to do something she was going to regret? She'd never used photos before, but her editor thought a picture would add a new touch to her popular weekly newspaper column. And he'd thought Bob's ranch would be a good image to start withâ€¦especially since he believed readers would be very interested in the ranch after her column came out tomorrow.
Gripping the steering wheel of her convertible VW Bug, she told herself to relax. But it actually wasn't just the picture that was bothering her.
It was tomorrow's column.
Had she stepped over a boundary with it? Remember, win-win, mutually beneficial. "Yeah, yeah!" she sighed, and tried to calm the churning pit that used to be her stomach.
Just do it, Molly! This is a good thing. Reaching for her camera, she dipped her head through the strap, and made certain it was turned on, since there was no need to waste time once she was there"after all, this was a surprise.
That's right! It's a surprise, so perk up, Molly, and do this, think positive.
On that note, reassured somewhat, Molly pressed the gasand in a teeth-jarring instant shot across the row of steel bars of the cattle guard. Hair whipping in the wind, dust flying behind her, she guided her little Bug as it sped up the gravel road toward the crest of the hill. This was for Bob's own good!
She hadn't made it twenty yards when the formerly slow-moving, bored-looking cows in the field suddenly started trotting toward her, converging on the road ahead of her and surrounding her on all sides! It was as if she was the magnet and they were paper clips. Not wanting to hit the animals, she was forced to switch from gas to brake and within seconds she was at a complete standstill surrounded by the big curious bovines.
"Shoo!" she called weakly. This was not in the plan. Not the plan at all. It occurred to her too late that a topless car might not be the best thing when one was encircled by a group of cows. But she didn't know what to expect from cows. She was a city girl and she'd just bought her new VW convertible because her friend Lacy had a convertible and seemed to have a lot of fun in it.
She'd never thought about drool. But there it was, dripping over her front hood from an alltoo-inquisitive cow. "Shoo! Shoo!" she called a bit more strongly. "Go away."
The herd just looked at her with eyes that said, yeah right. One cow started rubbing its side against her passenger door and another one joined in slobbering on the car. "Yuck!" she exclaimed, as yet another one licked her window then started to nibble on her windshield wiper. "Aw man, that's just not right." In reflex she honked her horn. So much for surprise. But she couldn't let them eat her car. To her dismay they didn't run from the blast of her horn. As a matter of fact they suddenly came closer. It dawned her as one stuck its head into the back seat that maybe a horn was used to call them to dinner. Hadn't she seen that somewhere? When one started to place its head between her and the steering wheel, she screamed"to which the cow suddenly threw its head back and vamoosed away from the car.
Okay then! Maybe that was the way to get something done, Molly thought and opened her mouth to scream again but stopped when she heard the low rumble of thunder. She was startled to see the cattle part as if they'd been struck by lightning. She realized it wasn't thunder she'd heard when her attention was drawn to a fastmoving object barreling down on her through the path between the departing cows.
One minute Molly was sitting behind the wheel of her car and the next instant she was scrambling to get into the passenger seat as the biggest, blackest humpbacked bull charged straight into her car door! Just ran into it like a runaway train!
The impact threw Molly into the air and her camera hit her in the chin, which she barely even noticed. She was too busy screaming!
The crazed mass of writhing muscle slammed into her car again and again while, heart in her throat, Molly clung to the headrest and struggled to get a grip of the terror threatening to immobilize her. When the car lifted on two wheels, she realized the road was built up from the ground slightly. The car was at a precarious disadvantage"toppling over from the leverage and power behind the bull's colossal bashing was almost unavoidable. When it bounced back onto four wheels she knew she was going to have to make a run for it or chance getting squashed if it flipped.
The thought had just clicked into place when Bob's white truck blasted over the top of the hill and raced in her direction. It was a sight Molly would never forget.
She was saved, she thought.
However, the raging bull swung its massive head to the side and glared at the intruder and to Molly's dismay pawed the earth, spun toward the truck, then charged. Unable to believe that the bull would take on the huge truck, Molly sprang to her feet to stand in the seat. She was totally unprepared when in a flash the crazy animal changed its mind, whirled back around and attacked her car again. Molly sailed backward. Flipped like a pancake right out of the car, she hit the ground with a thud. The wind whooshed right out of her and she figured she was a dead duck.
The shout was music to her ears as she struggled to stand, then slipped on a wet cow patty and almost went down again. Bob Jacobs sprang from his white truck, Indiana Jones to her rescue, whip cracking above his head"the answer to her prayers. Was he ever!
Like the rodeo bullfighter he'd once been, the gorgeous cowboy was in his element, charging the startled brute. "Sylvester, get out of there. Move on!" His command was as sharp as the crack of the whip he wielded with such skill.
Molly relaxed a little, still standing in the bull's sights but reassured by the authority in Bob's voice and the steel in his eyes. He was a beautiful sight to see, working the whip around, letting it explode once more just above Sylvester's head.
Mild-mannered Bob is a hero!
Suddenly adrenaline pumped through her veins like water churning over Niagara Falls.
Modern-day Knight To The Rescue! The headline flashed across her brain, bumping the shock out of the way and driving her to react. This was good. Really good! Instantly the reporter in her took over and, despite the danger, she lifted her camera and started snapping shots.
Watching Bob in action through the viewfinder of her camera proved she'd been right all along. She'd known the first day she'd arrived in Mule Hollow and watched him carry hay bales down Main Street that he was the kind of man dreams were made of. Once she'd come to know him, she realized it was true in more ways than just his good looks. The easygoing cowboy had a heart as big as Texas.
And he was going to make her dreams come true. The belligerent bull snorted and swung toward her, a menacing glare in its eyes"
Retraction"Bob was going to make her dreams come true after he finished saving her life!
Sylvester had literally trampled Molly's tiny car and, as Bob flung himself between the irresponsible reporter and the unpredictable animal, he thanked the Lord for looking out for those without sense enough to look out for themselves.
"Put that camera away," he shouted, unable to believe she was taking pictures! On the other hand, he couldn't remember seeing her without her camera except during church on Sunday, or when she had her laptop or pen in her hand. The woman was always working on a story.
Her reply was to snap some close-ups of him. Reporters! Disgusted, he grabbed her arm and pressed her behind him. "Back toward the truck. Now," he demanded. "Sylvester's not finished, he's only deciding what he's going to stomp next"you, me or the car again."
At last, letting the camera swing from the strap around her neck, she locked her hands around his biceps, cutting off all circulation she squeezed so tightly.
"I thought you knew him!" she gasped. "I thought you could control him. I mean, he listens to you, right?" Her breath brushed his ear as she stretched to her tiptoes behind him, her camera digging into his back.
"I own him. Big difference." He angled his arm behind him, pressed his hand to her side and directed her toward his truck, keeping his eyes glued to Sylvester, his whip ready for action.
"Believe me, when a two-thousand-pound animal goes into a rage no one controls him if he doesn't want to be controlled."
"C'mon just back up, nice and slow," he urged, instinctively wanting to reassure her.
She nodded against his shoulder. Her hands moved to his waist clutching like vise grips, and her chin dug into his shoulder as she stood on tiptoe watching Sylvester. They'd almost made it without stumbling over each other when Sylvester lowered his head, turned back toward the poor car and charged again.
The impact was so unforgiving that the animal and car both lifted from the ground for a solid second. The sound rocketed through the air like an explosion.
"You have got to be kidding me!" Molly cried, springing toward the animal like a wildcat protecting her cubs. It was a reflex reaction, Bob understood as he managed to catch her bolting past him. Scooping her around the waist, he hauled her back. "Oh no, you don't," he grunted when her elbow rammed him in the ribs.
"Let me go!"
"Ouch," he grunted again when her heel hit him in the shin. "I'm not going to let you commit suicide. Not after all the trouble I just went through to save you."
"But my car!" She waved toward the calamity. Still clutching her around the waist, he spun