Read an Excerpt
Veterinary assistant Gabi Newberry pulled her light jacket tight, useless as it was against the rain. She huddled inside it and stared at the tire of the cattle trailer she'd been pulling behind the clinic's truck. Buried axle deep in thick clay mud, the trailer was sitting at a very risky angle. Grimacing, Gabi felt embarrassment creep up her skin as she studied her handiwork. What had she been thinking?
Susan Turner, her new boss and the local vet here in Mule Hollow, had asked Gabi if she was comfortable pulling a trailer. "Sure," Gabi had quipped with confidence. She was, but she hadn't planned on the torrential rain blowing in and crashing her party. What a mess.
The two black calves in the back of the small trailer bawled loudly, making her feel even worse. The poor animals were struggling to keep their balance in the precariously tipped trailer. Gabi empathized with them, having felt as if she'd been trying to do the same thing with her life, up until a few weeks ago.
"I'm sorry, little fellas" she said, just as thunder boomed and lightning struck, far too close for comfort.
At the same instant, a ferocious gust of wind whipped her baseball cap from her head! Gabi squealed and made a wild grab for the hat. A lost cause, she watched in dismay as it flew up and out of her reach, then dove dramatically, straight into the rushing water of the deep ditch beside her.
Watching how quickly the swift current swept her hat away sent a shiver of alarm running through Gabi. A few more feet and she'd have been in real trouble, with the trailer very likely tipping all the way over with the poor calves inside.
"This is bad," she muttered, her gut twisting with unease.
When she'd come back home to Mule Hollow, she hadn't expected to get caught in a flash flood her first week here. Her grandmother, Adela, would be worried about her out in this weather. Though she'd been raised till she was twelve near the Texas Hill Country, it had been thirteen years since she'd spent more than a week during the summer here. But still, she remembered how quickly flash flooding could happen and the dangers involved.
The sky had just been threatening rain when she'd headed out to return these calves to their owner less than an hour ago. Now it was almost black as the distant thunder clouds had taken a sudden swing in her direction. The lower peaks of the ominous clouds dipped in ice-cream-cone-shaped tags. Anyone in these parts knew that clearly spelled "tornado warning."
Without her hat Gabi's hair was drenched in seconds and rivulets of water washed down her face. Blinking, she studied the situation. There was no way she could get the trailer out by herself. Cellphone service was awful out here too, so calling for help wasn't an option. Bottom lineshe was on her own.
Turning, she searched the horizon, squinting against the wind and rain pelting her face. Spying a rooftop in the distance, her heart jumped with a rush of hope.
It was pretty far off and the lightning was bad. Still, she knew despite the risk she needed to seek help there.
The only other choice though was to get in the truck and wait for someone to come by. With the calves bawling louder, Gabi stood there contemplating what to do. The situation was worsening by the second.
Her mouth went dry as panic crept over her.
She could not just sit there and wait for someone to come rescue her. Gabi pushed her hair out of her eyes and decided cutting cross-country to the house was her best chance.
Drenched from head to toe, she started toward the water. Then she hesitated. Should she let the calves out of the trailer? She decided getting back here with help was still her best possibility, and so she continued down to the edge of the rushing water.
Sticking her foot into the water, she braced herself then trudged forward. The water was higher than she'd realized, the ditch much deeper. Struggling against the rushing water, she managed to make it across without taking a plunge. Lightning exploded across the sky and thunder boomed just as she started up the incline
The fierceness of it was startling and took Gabi's breath. She slipped and fell to her knees. Gasping, unable to catch her balance, she plunged straight toward the rushing water!
Jess Holden couldn't believe what he was seeing! The trailer was in a dangerous position, but it was the woman careening toward the rushing water that had him slamming on his brakes.
Bursting from his truck at a dead run, he slipped on the wet clay mud but held his balance as he went down on bent knee and skated the incline like a runner sliding feet first into home plate. She'd just started trying to regain her balance after hitting the water, but the current and the slick mud weren't cooperating. She lost her footing again and the water carried her swiftly downstream. Her head went under and her hands flailed above water. Jess staggered through the water after her, grabbed for her but missed. Diving for her again, he snagged the first thing he could reachthe collar of her shirt! Dragging her up out of the water, she coughed and sputtered, twisting around as her feet scrambled to find purchase in the muddy water.
"It's okay," he yelled over the wind. "I've got you." Holding his ground in the rising water, he seized her around the waist and hauled her up and out. Her feet came free of her boots as he slung her over his shoulder.
"What are you doing?" the woman sputtered. "Put me down. My boots!"
Concentrating on keeping them both upright, he held tight and turned back the way he'd come. "I'm saving you, lady, that's what I'm doing."
"But my boots. They're" She struggled like a wildcat in a tote sack.
When he made it to the top of the muddy incline, he set her loose.
She immediately put distance between them. "I could have done that myself," she snapped, pushing a wild mass of wet hair out of her face. She had mud on her cheek that the rain quickly washed away.
"Are you kidding me? You weren't doing so well, and I wasn't taking any chances." Ignoring her anger, he turned his attention to the trailer and the unhappy animals staring at him.
"We need to get them out of here. What were you doing on the other side of that ditch anyway?" Jess asked, shaking his head.
"I was crossing the pasture to get help at that ranch, that's what." She waved a hand in the direction of the ridiculously distant house. "I couldn't get the trailer unstuck and I needed to get help for these little guys."
"Crossing a pasture during a thunderstorm like thisnot smart," he scolded. "That trailer is down for the count right now." He strode toward his truck. The clueless woman trailed him.
"I know that. But I couldn't get it unstuck by myself. What should we do?"
The storm raged and he gauged the angry-looking sky. Flash flood and tornado warnings were in effect all over the area. "We're getting out of here. That's what."
Her eyes flared wide. "But you can't just leave them" She stuck her hand on his chest.
He chuckled, despite the dire situation then, sidestepping her, he yanked open the back door of his double-cab truck. Quickly he flipped up his seats, then winked at the bedraggled gal as he backtracked past her in an attempt to ease her alarm. It was hard to tell what she really looked like with her hair being plastered to her face. Her big eyes widened at his wink.
"You're going to put them in there?" she asked, slipping and sliding to keep up with him.
"Yep, that's the plan," he drawled.
When he got the latch up on the trailer, she automatically grasped the door and held it open for him. Easing inside, careful not to slip, Jess grabbed the nearest calf and hoisted it into his arms.
After he got the first terrified calf in the truck, she was waiting at the trailer, ready to open the door for him when he went in for the second baby.
In a matter of minutes, working together they had both dripping-wet calves in the backseat area of his truck cab. Lightning crackled across the sky as they finally slid into the front seat and slammed the doors against the storm.
"I'm Jess Holden," he said the second they hit the road.
"I'm Gabi Newberry," she practically yelled over the wailing calves. "Thanks for coming along when you did."
Finally relaxing a bit, he shot her a grin. "You're welcome. But listen, the next time you get caught in the middle of a storm like this or even just a lightning storm, don't take off across open pasture. You were asking to get yourself killed back there." He'd lost his hat somewhere out in the storm so he took one hand off the wheel long enough to sweep his wet hair from his eyes.
Her big eyes narrowed as he glanced at her. He hadn't noticed before but they were a sharp, clear John Deere green and looked almost unreal as they caught the flash of lightning that lit the sky in front of them. Her skin was a soft gold, having gotten some color back after he had first snatched her from the water. She sort of resembled Gwyneth Paltrow. In short, wet hair and all, the woman sitting in the truck beside him was beautiful. Though the hike of her brow at the comment told him there was more spunk in those gentle features than met the eye.
"I wasn't getting killed," she denied, her spine stiffening. "I was getting help like I needed to."
"You were on a collision course with a lightning bolt, if you didn't drown before that."
He slid his gaze back toward the road, worried they might not make it back to the main road before the gravel washed away. Leaving them stranded out here.
He kept that bit of info to himselfno need to rile her up anymore.
She suddenly smiled. "You know what, you're right. I'm so glad you showed up when you did. God sent you along just at the right moment. Thank you, Jess Holden, my knight in shining armor."
Jess chuckled. He wasn't surprised by much, but she'd gotten him with her complete turnaround. "You're welcome. You're Adela's granddaughter, right?" He'd heard the fellas talking about her down at Sam's Diner. Adela Ledbetter Green was one of the older ladies in town. She was married to Sam who owned the local diner and there had been much excitement surrounding Adela's granddaughter coming to town.
"Yes, I am."
He grinned. "Seeing as how Adela is one of three older ladies known as the Matchmaking Posse of Mule Hollow, do you know what you're getting yourself into by moving back here?"
They'd finally reached the blacktop and Jess breathed a little easier. He paused at the stop sign and studied his passenger, waiting for her to answer his question. He'd been holding off the matchmakers for a while, a bit startled that they hadn't tried harder to match him up with someone. Those three ladies had the "fix'n up" on the brain.
Gabi smiled, exposing a deep dimple. "Oh, I'm aware of what my grandmother does. But I already told her I was off-limits for now. Believe me, I'll be looking for a husband againI mean, someday soon. But right now I just want to get settled." She cocked her wet head to the side, her gaze probing. "Do you know the Lord?"
Jess had been caught off guard by the "again" and then by her wanting to know if he knew the Lord. "Sure," he very nearly stammered, feeling a little uncomfortable. He and God knew each other, but they kept their distance.
"Oh, wonderful," she gushed, grinning, bright and beautiful. Her eyes warmed with joy. "Just wonderful! I gave my life to God about a month ago and I'm about to bust figuring out what He has in store for me."
Excitement radiated off Gabi like sunshine off new snow. It had Jess forgetting to press the gas pedal, leaving them sitting at the edge of the road. She winked at himprobably because his expression mirrored his surprise.
"I know, I know, I get a little excited over this. And I have to admit that getting stuck on the side of the road in tornado weather isn't exactly what I was expecting today. But you know what?I think God must have meant for me to meet you today and that's what all of this is about. And if so, this craziness has been well worth everything."
"Thanks," he chuckled. The woman had an infectious way about her and he couldn't help the grin that lingered as he held her gaze. She was studying him like he was a painting on a wall or something. He lost his train of thought for a second and decided it was time to drive. He eased the truck onto the pavement. At last, after miles of soggy dirt road, he felt his wheels meet with solid ground. Feeling her gaze, he glanced at Gabi again and yup, she was studying him again.
"Nothing's wrong." She sighed. "I'm just trying to figure out why God sent you into my life."
One thing was for certain, Gabi Newberry was different. "That's easy enough," he teased, hiking a brow as he looked back at the road. "You obviously needed someone to rescue you from the water and tell you to stay out of the elements." He was only half joking.
"You're one of those men who has to be bossy, aren't you?" she asked, reaching to turn up the heat in the trucksince they were both soaked, it was a bit chilly in the cab.
"I'm just being honest."
She gave a short laugh. "You're being bossy. I wouldn't have drowned. I can swim like a fish."
The rain had slowed up to a drizzle and he could see a patch of sun peeking through the gray clouds. The lightning had moved farther off but still flashed in the distance over Gabi's shoulder. He glanced at her just as a flash sparked behind her. It mirrored the spark of challenge he saw in their green depths. "Um, you were drowning when I pulled you out. You risked your life when you should have been waiting for help."