Read an Excerpt
By Judy Christenberry
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRuss Randall glanced at his watch. It was only two in the afternoon, but the sun was long gone, buried behind the clouds that had brought the snow. It was early December in Wyoming, and snow wasn't unusual, but this storm had the makings of a fierce blizzard. He hoped he could make it home.
Normally the drive from this point was half an hour, but he'd be lucky if he made it in an hour. The heater was on full force, but he could feel the cold creeping into the truck.
He leaned forward over the steering wheel, pressing for every advantage. Then he slowly hit the brakes, coming to a halt opposite the car sitting at an awkward angle in the ditch. He had to make sure no one was stuck in there before he continued on his way. Ignoring a stranded motorist was like signing his, or her, death warrant.
He undid his seat belt and reached for the door handle just as his passenger door was jerked open. He couldn't even get a word out before a furbundled person shoved in a baby carrier and then slammed the door, remaining out in the storm.
"What the ...?" Russ began, when he heard a small sound from the carrier. If he'd avoided anything the past year and a half, and he had avoided a lot, he'd avoided babies. Even among his family, no one asked him to hold their babies. They understood.
He heard the same sound again and he peeled back the covering blanket to discover the sweetest face he'd ever seen.
He stared at the beautiful baby. Finally he forced himself to move, reaching for the middle seat belt to strap the carrier in place.
Movement reminded him of the person outside. He zipped up his coat and climbed out of the cab to discover that several suitcases and boxes had been loaded in the back of the truck. He went around his vehicle to the car in the ditch, a Cadillac with New York plates. A couple more boxes were in its open trunk.
He assumed the person was a woman, for she was wrapped in a full-length mink coat and wore a muffler wrapped around her head. He put the rest of the boxes on his truck bed. Then he opened the front passenger door and bundled the woman inside. She seemed to be resisting, but he was anxious to be on his way. The blizzard was worsening.
Once he was back behind the wheel, he opened his coat a little to let in the warmth from the heater. He turned to suggest his passenger do the same and he discovered a beautiful woman, her mink coat shoved off her, her cheeks red with heat, her eyes glittering.
"You're ill!" he exclaimed, recognizing the signs of fever. "Uh, keep your coat on."
"Too hot," she muttered, not looking at him.
"Does the baby need anything?"
"No, Angel's fine." Russ wasn't going to argue with that. He decided his job was to get these two stranded ladies to town.
He tried to keep focused on his driving, but he couldn't help looking at his passengers occasionally. He'd avoided the company of all women, and in particular babies, the past two years. Abby, his wife, had been pregnant with their child when she died.
He knew he'd never marry again, so he'd never fulfill his dream of children. His family had babies. His twin brother, Rich, and his wife, Samantha, had a little boy. His cousin Toby and his wife, Elizabeth, had two babies. Tori, his cousin and partner in the accounting firm, had a little boy.
He would never have children. That was why he avoided them. He did his work. That was all there was in his life. He was satisfied with that.
It suddenly occurred to him that he was going to be stuck with the woman and the baby. The town of Rawhide would be shut down, everyone locked safely in their homes. And they wouldn't come out until the storm ended.
Maybe he could make it to the ranch where his parents and aunts and uncles lived. The women there could take care of this lady and her beautiful baby. And they would, if he could get there.
But the ranch was on the other side of Rawhide, a good half-hour drive. Making it there was impossible.
"I need something to drink," she muttered fuzzily.
He took a good look at her. Her fever still seemed high. He thought she was referring to water, but he didn't have any with him. "You'll have to wait just a little while. I'll get you something to drink as soon as we reach town."
She didn't appear to have heard him. He reached over and felt her face. Lord have mercy, she was on fire! Was he going to have to take her to Jon's? Tori had married Jon Wilson, the new doctor, last year. He'd come to replace Doc, intending to stay only four years. Tori took care of that, he thought with a smile.
Russ caught the shadow of a building through the snow. Had he reached the outskirts of town? Not that Rawhide was big. There was no hotel, not even a motel. They'd had a bed-and-breakfast for a couple of years, but no longer. So he was stuck with his passengers.
He pulled his pickup to a stop right beside the stairs that led up to his apartment over the accounting office he and Tori shared. He drew a deep breath and tried to relax his muscles. Then he said, "We're here."
No response. He lifted the blanket from the baby. He could see the baby breathing, but the infant's eyes remained closed. The woman didn't open her eyes, either. Okay. He couldn't take them both up at once. He'd carry the baby up first and turn on his gas fireplace. The heating was already on, of course.
After he'd released the seat belt, he opened his door and slid out into the storm, the baby carrier sheltered against his chest. He kept a hand on his truck as he went around it. Then he reached out to find the stairs to the apartment. Afraid he'd fall and harm the baby, he kept a tight hold on the banister and climbed slowly.
Once he was inside, he put the carrier on the sofa and crouched down to start the gas fireplace. Then he took the blanket off the top of the carrier. The baby stirred, but then settled down again. He was relieved.
He left the baby and headed out into the storm again. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he opened the passenger door of the truck. "Lady, you're going to have to help me. Are you awake?" he yelled over the storm. He pulled the mink coat back on her shoulders and fastened the hook.
She accepted the coat, but as he pulled her out, she lay her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. "Lady, we've got to get upstairs to the baby. Come on. Hold on to me. We'll be fine."
Excerpted from Randall Wedding by Judy Christenberry
Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.