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Blakely Daniels' world had turned upside down. Literally.
Her gaze darted throughout the cab of her tour vehicle, her breath ragged. Three tons of metal groaned around her, protesting against the copse of aspens that had stopped their free fall. The splintered windshield resembled a complex spider web and the indented driver's door pressed against her leg.
Head throbbing, Blakely squeezed her eyes shut, trying to get her bearings. She'd been driving these mountain roads since she was a teenager. Yet here she satrather, hungwho knows how far below the cliff's edge, her pickup in ruins.
How could she have made such a dangerous miscalculation? Praise God she was alone. She didn't even want to think about the outcome if she'd had a truckload of guests.
A pungent odor touched her nostrils. Her eyes flew open.
She had to get out of here. Now.
Thanks to the seatbelt's taut hold, she dangled precariously. Her ponytail swayed in front of her like the pendulum of the clock in Gran's living room. Traffic on these old mine roads this time of year was few and far between. So unless someone happened along
God, I really need Your help. I know You already know that, but if You could please show me what to do.
Slipping a thumb under the satiny webbed fabric that held her captive, she moved her hand upward until she reached the harness. Her grip tightened as she wiggled, willing her back against the seat, trying to make herself as small as possible. Then, bracing one hand against the roof, she fingered the red button.
Pushing up on all fours, she crawled across the soft gray fabric that lined the top of the cab and took hold of the latch on the passenger door. Because the truck rested on an incline, opening the door vertically would take all the effort she could muster. Pulling on the handle, she pushed with her shoulder but the door refused to budge.
She peered through the window. The sight of crumpled metal made her heart sink. She could only pray the damage wouldn't impede the window's descent. If so, she'd have to break the glass.
With the odor of gas growing stronger by the second, she hit the switch and the window disappeared into the door.
Thank You, Lord.
Blakely pushed through the opening.
Grasping at roots and spindly limbs, she clawed her way back up the steep slope. Cold mud seeped through her jeans, chilling her to the core.
Thirty feet later, she hoisted herself over the edge and stumbled across the narrow strip of road. The late morning sun warmed her face as she drooped against the wall of rock and filled her lungs with mass quantities of fresh spring air.
The untouched beauty of Colorado's San Juan Mountains spread in every direction. Still adorned with their winter white, the jagged summits splayed across a pristine blue sky.
She rinsed her hands in a steady stream of run-off that rained down the face of the mountain before retrieving her phone from the pocket of her denim jacket. She unlocked the screen to see her favorite nine-year-old smiling up at her from the device, his big brown eyes alight with excitement.
For nearly ten years her greatest fear had been losing her son. At this moment she couldn't help wondering, what if Austin had lost her?
She glanced down at her bright pink tour vehicle, unable to stop the tears trailing down her cheeks. Who would take care of Austin if something happened to her?
Using the sleeve of her jacket, she wiped her tears away as she dialed Dan Carthage. Her mechanic and part-time guide would know what to do. "Please, please be there."
One ring. Two. Th
"This is Blakely. I need your help."
Forty-five minutes later, Dan's Toyota SUV rounded the bend. But he wasn't alone.
Surely he hadn't brought her grandmother. The old girl would be beside herself if she saw the wreckage.
Dan, who was more family friend than employee, bolted from the SUV and hurried to meet her. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah." She gestured toward her 4x4 pickup that had been specially outfitted to carry up to nine passengers in open-air comfort. "It's the truck I'm worried about." Memorial Day weekend was just a little over a week away. The kickoff of the high season. The loss of a vehicle would mean fewer tours. Fewer tours generated less income. Income she counted on to pay the bills.
Ross Chapman would have a field day with this. Only a couple of hours ago, her rival had offered to buy Adventures in Pink.
Talk about nerve. Granddad started this company thirty-five years ago with a dream. A passion for sharing the splendor of these mountains with others. And he left Adventures in Pink to her. She couldn't imagine selling.
Dan let go a low whistle, distracting her from thoughts of Ross Chapman. "You walked away from that?"
"Piece of cake." Glancing over her shoulder, she watched as the other persontall, dark and definitely not Granrounded Dan's vehicle.
She blinked twice, her pulse racing once again.
His dark brown hair was shorter than she remembered, but those root beer eyes that had haunted her dreams for longer than she cared to admit hadn't changed one bit.
Tugging at her jacket, she crossed her arms over her chest. "What are you doing here?"
"Blakely ." Dan dragged out her name as though she'd embarrassed him. If he only knew. "I'd like you to meet Dr. Lockridge. I was at the doctor's office in Ridgway when you called. He offered to come along and help."
Of course, he did.
She visually traced the outline of his face, the high cheekbones, his lazy smile. The last time she heard from Trent Lockridge he was in Albuquerque, riding off into the sunset with someone else. So he'd made it through medical school after all.
"You two know each other?" Dan's gaze flitted between them.
"It's been a while, but yes." Trent's scrutiny had her feeling like a disfigured bug under a microscope.
No telling how many kids he and his wife had now. Probably a whole houseful. Aside from becoming a doctor, Trent's greatest dream had been to have a family.
Looked like he'd gotten everything he ever wanted.
Jutting her chin out, she said, "I'll ask you again. What are you doing here?"
His stare faltered as he toed an embedded rock. "I thought Dan explained that. I work at the clinic."
He looked at her now. "Since Monday." Was it her imagination or did Trent's shoulders drop a notch?
"Well, you're not working on me." Simmering anger and more what-ifs than she could count propelled her toward the SUV. A few swift steps into her escape, though, her head swam. Flashes of white light darted through her vision. She tripped.
"Easy." Strong hands grabbed her by the arms and kept her steady until she regained her wits. When she did, she quickly extricated herself from Trent's grasp.
"Looks like somebody's had a little too much excitement." He turned to Dan. "Let's get her to your truck."
To her dismay, they flanked her, wet gravel crunching in surround sound. Her mud-covered jeans had begun to dry and were slapping against her legs like a sandwich board. Miserable. And oh so unattractive.
Dan opened the door and Trent offered his hand to help her inside. She ignored the gesture. The last thing she needed was help from Trent Lockridge.
"You probably ought to give her a once-over, Doc." Dan adjusted the brim of his faded Broncos cap. "Rose Daniels would have my head if I let anything happen to her granddaughter."
Great. Trapped between two wannabe heroes.
She settled sideways in the backseat, keeping her filthy duck boots on the threshold. "I'm fine."
"What were you doing up here anyway?"
"Checking out the four-wheel drive." Not to mention venting after Ross Chapman's visit. Still, with all the rain they had yesterday, she should have been on the lookout for rock slides.
"Works just fine." She glanced over the edge. "Or did, anyway."
"Let's just be grateful you're okay." The sincerity in Trent's expression sparked something deep inside of her, but she stomped it out like a wayward ember on parched grass. After all, he was a married man. Along with a multitude of other things.
"He's right." Dan visually scaled the face of the mountain. "Things could have been a lot worse, regardless of how well you know these roads."
Focusing on her grubby hands, she picked at the dirt imbedded under what little fingernails she had. "How long do you think the truck will be out of commission?"
Dan shrugged. "Can't say until we get it back to the shop."
While Trent disappeared around the back of the vehicle, she slid the elastic band from her ponytail. "Were you able to call the wrecker?"
Dan nodded. "Promised to get up here as soon as possible."
"Good." She worked her fingers through the tangled tresses. "What do you think the odds are of us keeping this little faux pas under wraps?" In a town as small as Ouray, news like this spread faster than butter on a hot griddle. Damage control would be imperative.
"I'll certainly do my part."
Blakely grimaced and sucked in a sharp breath. Pain radiated from a hefty lump on the left side of her head. Regrettably, Dan caught her pained expression, too.
He inched closer, his hazel eyes narrowing. "Uh, Doc, I think we've got a problem."
"It's nothing. Really. Just a little bump."
Trent pushed in front of Dan and set a small bag on the floorboard. "Why don't I have a look? Just to be safe."
"She's all yours, Doc. I'm gonna go check on the truck."
"Be careful," she said as Dan turned away. "The gas smell was pretty strong."
"Did you shut off the ignition?"
She cringed. That should have been her first instinct. She shook her head. "Guess I wasn't thinking."
"Gee, I can't imagine why." With a quick smile, Dan disappeared over the ledge, leaving her alone with the one person she never wanted, or expected, to see again.
Trent's broad-shouldered physique hovered over her now, so close she caught a whiff of his aftershave.
"Where does it hurt?"
She pointed to the side of her head, eager to be anywhere but in Trent's presence.
His fingers ran along her scalp, unleashing a f lood of emotions.
"Ow!" She thrust a protective hand over the sore spot. But as Trent's deep-brown gaze collided with hers, long-suppressed memories escaped the darkened corners of her heart.
The heady rush of first love. The crushing blow of betrayal.
They say time heals all wounds. Evidently, eleven years wasn't long enough.
Trent recognized the hurt and trepidation in Blakely's blue eyes. Pain that had nothing to do with her head.
"You've got a goose egg the size of Mount Sneffels."
"Oh, it's not that bad." She waved a dismissive hand through the air.
"I'll be the judge of that." He pulled a penlight from his breast pocket. "Look straight ahead."
As much as he'd tried, Trent had never forgotten Blakely or that summer. When they finally said goodbye, they were counting the days until they could be together again.
Unfortunately, that never happened.
Instead, she got a phone call and news that he was marrying his ex-girlfriend.
The memory clamped around his heart.
If only it had been Blakely who carried his child instead of Lauren.
He flicked the tiny beam in and out of her line of vision. "Dan tells me you have The Jeep Company now."
"You mean Adventures in Pink."
He chuckled. "That's interesting."
Her gaze remained fixed somewhere over his shoulder. "More than interesting. We're Ouray's premier adventure destination. And we've got the best maintained vehicles in town. Besides, real men aren't afraid of pink."
He pocketed the light again, his gaze drifting toward the ledge. "I don't expect you'll be using that one anytime soon."
Her shoulders slumped, her long golden waves tumbling around them. "Unfortunately."
He took a step back. "Without turning your head, I want you to follow my finger." He moved it back and forth, up and down.
"So you live in Ridgway?"
"Ouray, actually." The picturesque town was what had enticed him to take the temporary job.
Her eyes widened. "With your family," she said more as a statement than a question.
He dropped his hand, wishing he could turn back time and erase the pain he'd caused Blakely. "My wife died two years ago."
She straightened. "What about your children?" She shook her head. "I mean, child?"
"Lauren miscarried shortly after we married." Then proceeded to inform him she wasn't interested in having children at all. Robbing him of the only thing he wanted more than becoming a doctora family.
"I see." Blakely's brow furrowed, her full lips pursed. A reaction he only wished he could interpret.
"Anything besides the dizziness I should be aware of? Any nausea?"
"So far, so good. Are your grandparents still at the motel?"
"Gran is. Granddad died last fall." The news felt like a physical blow. "Bill was a good man." Without him, Trent never would have come to know Jesus.
Memories took over, making him smile. "Quite the card, too. I'll never forget when he drove me up to Black Bear pass. Had me in stitches the entire way." He held open his palms. "Now squeeze my hands."
"I need to test your strength."
"You must be out of your mind." Blakely hopped out of the vehicle, started toward the ledge, then turned, her blue eyes penetrating like a laser. "So how did you know I was here? Internet? Social media?"
"What? No. I had no idea you were in Ouray until Dan mentioned your name on the ride up here." After all, her dreams had been in Denver, picking up where her father's left off when his plane crashed. All she'd ever talked about was getting her degree and claiming the helm of BD Industries.
She kicked at a rock, sending it sailing over the ledge. "You must still think I'm the same naive girl you knew all those years ago. But come on, Trent, we both know how much you wanted a family. So why don't you admit the real reason you're in Ouray."
He'd always loved her fiery spirit. A perfect match for that strawberry-blond mane of hers. But apparently he'd lost his touch in their battle of wits.
"Blakely, what are you getting at?"
"Do I really have to spell it out?" She closed the distance between them, her face growing redder with every step. "Austin is my son. You chose not to be a father to him. So if you think I'm just going to let you waltz in here after ten years "
Her words pummeled him like the boulders that fell from these mountains. Son? Father? Ten years?
His mind raced back to one special night almost eleven years ago.
It wasn't possible.
Blakely knew all about his childhood. How he'd been passed from one foster home to another, never knowing what it was like to be part of a real family. She was the only person he'd ever confided his longing to someday have that family. She would have told him he had a child.
Feeling as though a horse had kicked him in the stomach, he struggled for his breath.
"I have a son?"