A worldly rancher seeks shelter with a small-town womanand gets snowed in! Only from USA TODAY bestselling author Sara Orwig!
When a blizzard strands rancher Josh Calhoun at a tiny Texas inn, it's not boredom that makes him notice innocent Abby Donovan. There's something about the B&B's owner, with her ponytail and sweet smile. Now Josh can't stop wanting her or kissing her. He refuses to say goodbye
When the roads clear, Abby lets herself be whisked awayto New York City, to Josh's vast Texas ranch, to a wealthy world she's never known. Will she stay with the tempting cowboy? Or return to the life she left behind?
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Josh Calhoun glanced at the red neon sign glowing through the swirling snow. The windows of the Beckett Café were frosted, so he couldn't see if it had closed for the night. As hungry as he was, he was far more interested in finding a bed. Highway patrol troopers had closed the roads, and he couldn't even get back to the tiny airport to sleep on a cold hangar floor or inside his plane. He glanced at the cab's clock: a few minutes past ten. He felt as if it should be around 1:00 a.m.
The taxi left the two blocks of one-story buildings, shops and neon behind as the main street of Beckett, Texas, was swallowed in a white world of howling wind and blowing snow. In spite of the warmth of the cab, Josh shivered. He pulled his jacket collar up while he peered outside at the uninviting storm.
In minutes he spotted a sign swinging in the wind, a spotlight on the ground throwing a strong beam over the announcement of the Donovan Bed and Breakfast Inn. Glumly he stared at the bright red No Vacancy part of the sign.
Even wind-whipped snow could not hide the three-story Victorian-style house that loomed into view. A light glowed over the wraparound porch. Dark shutters flanked the wide windows spilling warm yellow light outside into the stormy night. The driver pulled to the curb.
"Ask for Abby Donovan. She runs the place," the driver said.
"Will do. I'll be right back."
"I'll wait. Abby's a nice person. I don't think she'll turn you out in the cold. You'll see."
Placing a broad-brimmed Stetson on his head, Josh stepped out of the warmth of the cab into the driving wind and streaming snow. Holding his hat against the battering wind, he trudged to the house to ring the bell. Through a window he could see a big living room with people inside and an inviting roaring fire in the fireplace.
When the door swung open, he momentarily forgot why he was there. A slender woman with huge, thickly lashed cornflower-blue eyes faced him. She wore a powder-blue sweater and jeans. He forgot the time, the howling storm and even his plight. Too captivated by eyes that widened and held him, Josh stood immobilized and silent until he realized how he stared at her.
"Abby Donovan?" His voice was husky, and he still was lost in her gaze.
She blinked as if as captured as he had been. "I'm Abby."
"I'm Josh Calhoun. I flew in to see someone about buying a horse, and then I couldn't get back to the airport. I was told to see you about a place to stay. I know you have a No Vacancy sign out, but at this point, I'm willing to sleep on the floor just to get in out of this blizzard."
"I'm so sorry, but we're overbooked. I already have people sleeping on the floor."
"My cabdriver can't get back to the airport. They've closed the roads."
"I'm sorry, but even the overflow space is taken here. I've let two people come in tonight who will sleep on sofas, and we have two on pallets on the floor. That's the most I can possibly accommodate. I have eighteen adults in rooms, plus nine children. Four other people live here at least part of the time. I don't have extra blankets or pillows now"
"I stopped and bought blankets and a pillow at the only store open in this town just as they closed. I'm desperate."
"Oh, my," she said, staring at him with a slight frown. Her rosy lips were full, enticing. He tried to focus on getting a bed for the night and stop thinking about the possibility of kissing her. He couldn't recall ever having this type of reaction to a total stranger, much less under his present circumstances. His gaze roamed over her, and he was even more surprised by his attraction to her, because her sandy-blond hair was caught up behind her head in a ponytail, giving her a plain look that shouldn't have done anything to his pulse. All he had to do was gaze into her eyes, though, and a physical response strummed in him. Her riveting blue eyes were unique.
"Abby, I'm desperate. I have bedding. I can sit in a chair. My cabdriver has little kids and wants to get home to them. Just any corner will do. Even a kitchen floor, and I'll get out of your way in the morning. I'll pay you double what you charge for a room."
Her frown deepened. "Come in while we talk. The air is cold."
"Yes, it is," he said as he stepped inside a wide hallway dominated by winding stairs to the second floor. Warmth enveloped him, and his spirits lifted a fraction. A floor mat was close, and he stamped his booted feet. "I can provide payment in advance, an extra feewhatever you would like. I can't tell you how much I would appreciate this. I really am desperate. I was up until three last night working on a business deal in Arizona and flew in here today on the way home to see about the horse. I didn't have dinner. I'm tired and cold. I can't get home. It's a miserable night and even more miserable without a place to stay. What can I do to help if I stay here? Order in breakfast for everyone?"
Shaking her head, her frown vanished. "There's nowhere in Beckett you could order breakfast. I cook, and it'll be better than trying to order in at this time of night or in the morning. If this snow doesn't stop, no restaurants will be open."
"I'm sure you're right. You're highly praised in town, and I also heard you're softhearted, generous, kind"
"Stop," she said, a faint smile appearing. "Tell me more about yourself. We're going to be in close quarters, more so than if you just called at an ordinary time and checked in for a room."
Josh was amused by being asked to give a reference, because he was well-known in Texas. "I'm Josh Calhoun from Verity, Texas, and I own a business, Cal-houn Hotels."
Her gaze swept over him from his wide-brimmed Stetson to his hand-tooled boots. "You're buying a horse, but you're in the hotel business?"
"I'm a rancher, too. The hotel headquarters are in Dallas, where I have another home, so you can check that out easily by calling the hotel's front desk. The sheriff of Verity can tell you about me because we've known each other all our lives," Josh said as he withdrew his wallet and flipped it open to show her his driver's license and fishing license. He was turning to the next license when she placed her fingers over his.
The contact sizzled, startling him and causing him to look up. She had stepped closer, and he could detect an old-fashioned lilac perfume. Again, he was caught and held by her stare.
She shook her head slightly. "You don't have to show more identification," she said, stepping away. "All right, you can stay tonight. You can sleep on the sofa in my suite, but I will not share my bathroom, so you'll have to go across the hall to a central one."
"That sounds like paradise," he said, smiling at her. "Thanks, Abby. This means a lot to me, because it's a deplorable night." He wondered if he could talk her into going to dinner with him some night. The cold and relief of acquiring a room must have affected his judgment, because she definitely didn't look like his type of woman. He didn't know her, either, and he didn't ask strangers to go out with him. "I'll get my bedding and pay the cabbie. I'll be back in a minute."
"The front door will be unlocked. I'll lock it after you're back inside."
He stepped closer to her. "You're not going to regret this."
She blinked as if startled. "I certainly hope I don't," she replied breathlessly.
He turned and left, pulling the door closed behind him. Holding his hat squarely on his head again, he sprinted to the taxi and climbed inside. "I got the room. Thanks for the ride," he said, drawing bills out of his wallet. "Thanks for getting me back into town after seeing about the horse. And thanks for your encouragement and for stopping so I could buy a pillow and blanket."
"Glad you found a place. Sorry I couldn't help more, but with the kids plus my in-laws staying, my two-bedroom duplex is not the best place, although you could have come if nothing else had turned up. Good luck to you. When the roads open and you're ready to go back to the airport, callyou have my card. I'll come get you."
"Thanks, Benny," Josh said, glancing at the man's identification card attached to the visor, knowing he would have stayed anywhere he could find before imposing on the cabbie and his family with four little ones plus in-laws in a tiny place. "I won't forget all you've done." Josh tucked an extra-large tip in with the other bills he gave the cabdriver.
"Mister, you made a mistake," the driver said, seeing how much money he had in his hand.
"No, I didn't. That's a thank-you. Take care of yourself and your family," Josh said.
The man smiled. "Thanks. That's a generous tip."
Josh started to step outside but stopped and looked back. "Does Ms. Donovan have a husband who helps her run the inn?"
"No. She's singlefrom a big family. Her grandmother used to run the place. Now Abby does, and Grandma Donovan lives up on the top floor with some other elderly relatives or over at her daughter's house, which is next door."
"I see," Josh said, deciding the town was small enough that everyone knew everyone else. "Thanks again." He stepped out into the snow to dash back to the inn.
Abby appeared instantly to lock the front door and switch off the porch light. Wind whistled and howled around the house.
"I'll show you where to put your things," she said, walking down the hall and turning as it branched off. "This is my suite." She stepped into a room and turned on a ceiling light. The room had a polished oak floor with a hand-woven area rug, antique mahogany furniture and bookshelves filled with books and family pictures. Green plants gave it an old-fashioned, cozy appearance that made him think of his grandparents' house. A stone fireplace had a smoldering fire with a screen in front of it.
"I started the fire a while ago so my room would be warm after I told everyone good-night," she said. "Most of the guests are in the big living room, and they go to their own rooms about eleven, when I shut everything down. Tonight is a little different because no one can get up and leave in the morning, so I think some will watch a movie. Suit yourself about what you do. You can leave your things and join us, or if you prefer, you can stay in here. There is a door from my bedroom into the hall, so I can come and go that way and not disturb you. You'll have this room to yourself. As soon as I get towels for you and get you registered, I'll go join them again."
"I'll go with you," he said, placing his pillow and blanket on the sofa before shedding his coat. He wore a thick brown sweater over a white dress shirt, jeans and boots and was glad he had dressed warmly.
"You'll be too long for that old-fashioned sofa. Would you rather sleep on the floor?"
"I'll be fine. Just to have a roof over my head is paradise. I don't mind my feet hanging off the sofa," he said, smiling at her. Once again he received a riveting look that momentarily immobilized him until she turned away.
"I'll get your towels," she said and left. He watched her cross the hall and disappear into a room. She returned to hand him clean towels and washcloths.
"If you'll come with me, you can register."
Josh followed her to the front desk of polished dark wood with scratches from what must have been years of use. He glanced around at the decorative staircase rails. "This place looks Victorian."
"It is. It's been in my family for five generations now." She turned a ledger toward him. "Please sign your name. I'll need a credit card. Since you'll be on the sofa, I'll just charge you a discounted rate. Here are the rates and details about staying here," she added, handing a paper to him. "And here's a map of the inn and a map of the town of Beckett, although you won't be leaving tomorrow, because we're supposed to get a lot more snow and possibly sleet."
"No, I'm stuck probably through tomorrow at least."
"Everything has shut downhighways, roads and businesses will be closed tomorrow. They've already had the announcements on television and said schools will be closed Monday." She reached under the desk and produced a small flashlight. "We heard on the radio that half the town is without power because of ice on electric lines. I'm giving all the guests flashlights. This is an old house, and candles are dangerous."
"Thanks." Pocketing the flashlight, Josh barely glanced at the papers she handed him as he studied her instead. Her smooth, flawless skin and rosy cheeks added to her appeal. What was it about her that fueled this tingling awareness of her? It wasn't her personality, because he barely knew her and had spoken with her only briefly. Her fuzzy sweater came to her thighs and hid her figure, so that wasn't the electrifying draw. She was a nice person who was being helpful. That should be all. Instead, he had a scalding awareness of her that made him think about asking her out, fantasize about dancing with her and holding her, and wonder what it would be like to kiss her and make love with her. She was providing shelter and comfort; maybe it was his long hours of work over the past few days and now the storm that caused his reaction to her. He had slept little for over a week.
When she turned the register around, she read what he had signed. "This gives a Dallas address. Do you consider Dallas home instead of Verity?"
"I live and work in Dallas most of the time. I also have a ranch in west Texas. The closest town is Verity," he replied. She nodded as she gathered more papers to hand to him.
"So you're a hobby rancher," she said.
"Yes, at least for now. Someday I'll move to the ranch and do that full-time and let someone else run the hotel business for me. I go to the ranch when I get a chance, but that rarely happens," he admitted, thinking there weren't many people who knew he missed ranching and wondering why he was telling a stranger.
"Here's the schedule for tomorrow," she said. "Normally breakfast runs from seven-thirty until 9:00 a.m. Since no one can get out tomorrow, we'll start at 8:00 a.m. and go until nine-thirty."
"Thanks. The breakfast time is fine."
"I'll be going back to join the others now unless you have anything else you want to ask me about," she said, looking up, those wide eyes capturing his full attention again.
"Thanks, no. I'll follow you."
"We've been singing. I play the piano or leave it to a guest."