Your fourth book this Holiday Reads Extravaganza is a sweet story with a hint of spice. A little naughty with your nice. ;-) The author has assured me though, it's sweet through and through, but she keeps that tension right where you like it. So don't miss this one!
A Native American cowboy and a national TV news anchorwoman have nothing in common except for their pasts. Is love preordained? An old diary from when Jessie and Clare Coleman settled on the land in the 1840's provides a history of their life. But tucked between the pages is an unrequited love between Clare Coleman and a tall Native American. Does love and land come full circle? In this season of giving, will fate reach through time to give a gift of love?
Andy Coyote settled into the job as foreman on the Coleman ranch. He's got custody of his thirteen month old daughter and the situation is perfect for both of them until Caroline Coleman returns home for Christmas and one of the worst blizzards in years hits the area. He's forced to accept Caroline's help to move a herd of cattle and mixed in it are several head from another ranch in the community. Cattle rustling still happens.
Caroline Coleman has her dream job as a Washington, D.C., news anchor for a national broadcast, but home is in Wyoming on her family's ranch. She has everything that money can buy, but the things that she really wants can't be purchased. Raised with solid, hard working, family values, she knows her life in the spotlight isn't real. She wants a man who appreciates the ranch, loves her for who she is and not what she is, and she wants a family of her own. And she doesn't like the idea of Andy Coyote taking advantage of her grandmother.
Caroline Coleman hadn't seen the place look this good since she was a teen. The flowerbeds were mulched and tidy. There was a new coat of green paint on the shutters and front door. Garlands of fresh pine wrapped the porch rails that encircled the log house, and a pretty, matching, pine wreath hung on the front door.
She knocked once and opened the door. "Grandmamma. It's me! I'm home."
"Thank goodness, you're here," a voice from a distant room called back. "I was worried about you coming in with this snowstorm on its way."
The stress of her journey slipped from her shoulders as she breathed in the familiar scent of home. Caroline let go of her rolling suitcase and looked around. Inside, everything looked the same, even though it was decorated for the holiday. A beautiful Douglas fir tree, covered with ornaments, stood in front of the window. Its tiny lights twinkled as if they were welcoming her.
The house was neater, cleaner, except there was a basket of toys next to the sofa. But everything else was exactly the way it had been all of her life. That familiarity wrapped her in a warm blanket.
"Darling, I'm so glad you're here. You're needed. This storm is going to be bad," Barbara Coleman said.
Caroline turned to her grandmother. The woman was holding a toddler whose eyes were filled with tears.
"What are you doing? Babysitting?" She hugged her grandmother and offered to take the child, but the child clung to the older woman.
"I guess you could call it babysitting. I'm trading, and I got the best end of this bargain. This is Sarah Anne Coyote. Isn't she a cutie?" Barbara took the child to a highchair in the kitchen. "Coffee?"
"Thanks. I'll get it. How did you wind up with a child?"
"Long story. You remember Margaret Simpson?" The older woman started fixing a snack.
"Double T ranch, of course."
"Her kids are selling everything since she died. Remember when I told you I was buying some of her land?" She put a handful of baby carrots on a plate, and stuck them in the microwave.
"Yes." Caroline poured a cup of coffee, then watched her grandmother fix a cup of milk with a sipping lid, and hand it to the toddler.
The child's enormous chocolate brown eyes were still washed in unshed tears and her long eyelashes were clumped with moisture. Chubby hands grabbed at the handles on the sippy-cup and tipped the cup of milk to her mouth. She watched Caroline with a reserved curiosity.
"Are you thirsty? Did you just wake up from a nap?" Caroline asked the child.
Little Sarah pursed her lips and banged on the tray in front of her. "Milk."
"How old is she? She's adorable. She's got the prettiest eyes."
"Thirteen months. She's a little handful. She's really coming out of her shell since she's been here." Barbara put several crackers spread with cheese on the child's tray. "Eat, sweet baby. You like creamed cheese." The microwave beeped and Barbara lifted the plate of baby carrots off the unit's carousel and put them on the child's tray after checking each one. "She's such a good thing. Just never thought I'd be playing with a baby at my age."
"Why did you nuke her carrots?"
"It slightly softens them. Makes them easier to eat. She doesn't have all her teeth."
"Grandmamma, you still haven't told me how you've wound up with a child."
"Well, I'm buying the eastern portion of Margaret's land, which includes her house and barn because it backs up to mine."
"Yes, it is. I'm hoping to rent it. The one barn is in perfect shape, but the other barn has some problems and that's going to take more money."
Caroline rolled her eyes. Sarah giggled.
"Anyway, when Margaret died, her foreman lost his job."
"Oh, no. Sarah is one of those Coyotes?"
The back door opened and Andy Coyote walked into the kitchen. "Miz Barbara…"
Caroline stared at Andy. He wasn't the scrawny kid she'd known most of her life, and if it hadn't been for the scar across his cheek, she wouldn't have recognized him. His shoulders were broad and he'd grown very tall. The long straight nose, strong cheekbones, and his coloring conveyed his Crow Indian heritage, except he was taller than most.
"Excuse me, I didn't know you had company." He took his jacket off and hung it on the peg by the back door.
"Company? I doubt that anyone would call me company," Caroline shot back at him. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him, maybe high school.
He looked at her for a brief second, then grabbed a mug, and poured a cup of coffee.
"Caroline, you remember Andy?" Barbara asked.
"How could I not remember Andy?" Memories of the young man and his family flowed through her brain like a bad news story.
Sarah squealed with delight as Andy took her in his arms. "How's my baby girl?"
The child pointed to Caroline.
"Yes, that's Caroline," Andy said with a big grin. "Have you been playing with her? I thought you just got up from your nap."
"She did just get up from her nap as Caroline came through the door. I brought her in here for her snack. She hasn't had a chance to play."
He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and looked at it. "We're in trouble."
"What kind of trouble?" Barbara asked as she cleaned up the crumbs off the child's tray and handed the toddler the last tiny carrot. "Are you talking about the storm?"
Andy turned on the TV and watched the weather channel. "I've been watching the storm track on my phone. I'm gonna need help getting that herd down here. I can't do it alone. If I can find help, I'll leave tonight. That is if you don't mind keeping Sarah for me."
Barbara turned to her granddaughter. "Caroline'll go with you."
Andy turned around and stared hard. "You? You think you can ride herd?"
"Darn right, I can ride. Won't be the first herd I've ever brought in, but I…" She bit her tongue.
She forced a smile. "Let's just say I always ride with a gun, and I know how to use it."
"Good. So do I. We'll leave at six. Make sure you're saddled and ready to go."
Hot anger boiled through Caroline. "I'll be ready."
She stormed out of the kitchen, grabbed her suitcase, and headed for her room.
"She'd better be able to ride. This isn't going to be an easy cattle drive," Andy said.
"That little thing knows every square inch of this ranch and this business. My husband used to say, 'Let her go, and when she's done, she'll come back.' I hope he was right."
"Ma'am, I don't need a prissy female. I need a man for this job or I'll never get that herd back here."
"Oh, she can do it. She and her grandfather moved herds all the time. She's knows what she's doing and she knows this land. Listen to her."
Andy kissed his daughter's nose and put her to the floor. "Are you sure you can handle her overnight?"
"I can handle your daughter overnight." Barbara laughed. "Just don't try to handle my granddaughter, or she'll be bringing you back in a sack."
"Miz Barbara, one female in my life is plenty. I don't need anymore."
Caroline cinched the saddle and adjusted the stirrups before tying on her pack. Her mind drifted over the stories of Jessie and Clare Coleman and the things that they endured to start this ranch in the 1840's. She had vowed to write their story one day. Clare was barely fifteen when she married Jessie and went west with him. The handwriting in that diary was difficult to decipher, but Caroline managed to read it when she was a teen. Snowstorms were nothing new, and if Jessie and Clare could survive them, there was no reason why she couldn't do it today. Except instead of doing it with her grandfather at her side, she had Andy Coyote. She grimaced as bile rose from her stomach.
"You ready to ride, Caroline?" Andy asked.
"Yes, I'm ready." She pulled her scarf over her head and shoved her old felted Stetson over the hot pink angora.
"Don't wimp out on me. I need another man for this job, not a fancy Washington, DC, TV news anchor."
"Well, I have a job to do, and the idea of having you along for the ride has no appeal. As far as I'm concerned, you're strictly brawn, and you'd better do as I say."
"This is gonna be hell," he mumbled as he yanked on his horse's reins.
"That's right, and don’t forget it." Caroline put her foot into the stirrup.
Caroline pulled her scarf tighter around her face. An occasional snowflake floated down as they rode. She wasn't going to let on that she was dead tired, but she was certain that if she'd blink her eyes, they wouldn't open again. She had worked yesterday doing the six and eleven o'clock nightly news broadcasts, and then caught an early morning flight out of DC. Three hours of sleep was not enough.
She gasped and righted herself.
"You're falling asleep."
She looked over Andy and frowned.
"If you talked to me, you might stay awake," he suggested.
"What would you like to discuss?" she snarled.
He chuckled. "You want my opinion on the Senate's newest budget?"
"Oh, save your breath."
"I didn't think so. Why don't you tell me what it's like living in the big city and having a hotshot job?"
"Nothing to tell. I have a condo overlooking the Potomac River. I have a driver who takes me to and from work. The clothes I wear are chosen by someone else, even my hair is styled according to the network's consultant, and I don't have a say so in any of it."
"I think you look mighty pretty. Miz Barbara and I always watch you while we eat our dinner."
"Why are you living in the house with my grandmother?"
"And not living in the foreman's apartment in the barn?"
"Yes." The idea of a Coyote living under her grandmother's roof bothered her. As far as she was concerned they were all filthy criminals.
The only sounds were theirs, the horses' breaths, the soft slap of leather reins, and the clomping of hooves on the frozen earth. Finally he answered, "She didn't want me out there in that small apartment with the baby. She thought it was easier on Sarah if I stayed in the house."
"Where's Sarah's mom?"
"Don't know and don't care." He nudged his horse to pick up the pace.
"Yours sucks, too."
"I don't have a child," she retaliated.
"I have two. I'm not allowed near my son."
She shook her head. "What did you do to prevent visitation?"
"Fathered the boy."
"How old is he?"
"He'll be fifteen in February."
Her mind spun back in time to Andy and Katelyn as teens. They were inseparable. The image of the fun loving, petite female with wide set eyes had always been a fierce competitor in 4H and was an amazing trick rider. Then Katelyn vanished. "So the rumors were true?"
"Half true. I never raped her. We were kids and thought we were in love. When she found out she was pregnant…her dad came looking for me with a rifle in his hand. Three years later, the judge threw it all out. I was forced to sign an order to stay away from Katelyn and my son."
Somehow she understood the wealthy family's rage. She could also imagine Katelyn's tears at being torn from the boy she loved. But Andy was a Coyote, and those boys were hellions. "She still here?"
"If you mean still in the county, no. According to a few friends, she's living outside of Boulder, raising horses, and happily married to some hotshot lawyer."
"And your son?"
"He's with her. She'll tell him the truth someday."
"What about Sarah?"
"Another big mistake. Sarah's not, but her mom was. I'll be honest. My life was a mess. I was living in Casper when I meet Jessica. We went out a few times and then we started living together. She was hot. Then one day she tells me that she's pregnant. Two weeks later, the warehouse where I'd been working closed. I started searching for any job I could find."
Andy's momentary silence hung in the cold air.
Caroline straightened her back and rolled her shoulders. Fatigue was robbing her body, but she wanted him to keep talking. He was right. Conversation kept her awake.
"It was a bad situation. I needed money and there were no jobs. Eventually, I found a job working back here for Double T. They needed a hand. But Jessica didn't want to come. She wanted to live in the city. Had a big fight. I tried a half dozen times to patch things up. Then the phone quit working and my envelopes were returned with no forwarding address. When Margaret Simpson died her kids kicked everyone out and started selling everything off. I got lucky and got a part-time job working at Kalab's Store."
"Anything. Didn't matter to me. It was a job. Had to cover the payment on my truck and put food in my belly. That's where I found your grandmother. She was complaining to BillieJo Kalab about not being able to do everything. That evening I came out to her house. I begged for a job and a place to sleep."
"My grandmother does not complain about anything."
"Well, call it whatever you want, but those two women were commiserating about how hard life was."
"Oh, big word."
"Knock it off, Caroline. Just 'cause I didn't run off to some big university in Virginia doesn't make me an idiot."
She nudged her horse. "You never were an A student."
"No, I wasn't. But you don't have to get uppity with me."
She looked over at him. "You calling me a snob?"
"I really don't care what you are, as long as you can get this herd back to where I can take care of them. Your grandmother doesn't need to lose her livestock because they've frozen to death."
She hid her snarl. "So how did you wind up with Sarah?"
"I'd been here about three weeks when Miz Barbara got a phone call. Seems Social Services tracked me down. Sarah had been abandoned. She was in bad shape. If it weren't for your grandmother…I don't know what I'd do."
"She's adorable.""She is. I'll do anything to make sure nothing ever happens to her again."