Stranded in the middle of the road in big sky country, Wyoming, at eight months pregnant isn’t exactly what Sofie Pennington had planned when she decided to pack up and surprise her sister. Fly Creek is a fresh start for her, one where she’s finally free from her controlling ex and can figure out this whole single parent thing. First, though, she needs to get there. To her shock, her rescuer comes in the form of a frustratingly handsome cowboy.
Dan Rigby is on his way out of town—for good—when he stumbles across a very pregnant Sofie. She’s the most obstinate, exasperating woman he’s ever met…and the most appealing. She drives him crazy, in more ways than one. When her sister suddenly has to leave, and Dan becomes Sofie’s welcoming committee, they find themselves growing closer despite their desire for conflicting things. Can Dan convince Sofie that Christmas miracles do happen?
Chapter OneSofie Pennington rubbed her eyes and looked out the windshield again. Sure, she was tired and aching and about ten other adjectives to describe an eight-month pregnant woman who’d driven cross-country, but her eyes told her there was a hoard of large things blocking the road, and they sure as heck looked like cows.
Shifting into park and letting out a string of inventive words that her baby better never, ever repeat, she flipped up the hood of her parka and opened her door. Moos and grunts greeted her with nary a look. The bovines were just chilling in the middle of a two-lane road in Godforsaken Wyoming. This was just her luck.
Why her sister had moved out here, she still didn’t understand, but as Sofie needed Emily, and Emily was here, well, now, so was Sofie. And in order to get to Emily, she needed to make it through this roadblock. A roadblock that she had no idea how to handle, and that was about to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of a complete and utter meltdown.
Wind whipped across the flat plain and lashed her long brown locks against her face. It seemed to find every little crevice in her way-overpriced parka and currently caressed her shivering body in ways no woman wanted to be caressed. Not even a pregnant woman who felt as attractive as the cow patties no doubt littering the road.
“Move,” she shouted and was rewarded with one turned head and a snort that released a puff of steam into the my-god-how-cold-did-one-state-actually-get night. She knew she was close. Her GPS said Fly Creek was only ten more miles down the road. This road. This apparently made-for-cattle-crossing road.
Sofie moved closer and several more heads turned her way, eyed her up and down, and definitely found her lacking.
Well, join the club. She made a shooing motion with her hands.
The baby shifted and Sofie cradled the massive bump. Leave it to her to look ten months pregnant with at least another four weeks to go. A foot or maybe an elbow protruded into Sofie’s ribs, and she rubbed her palm to try to force the little stinker back down so she could possibly breathe a bit.
The cows shifted and mooed, advancing about a foot. At this rate, Sofie would be a damn Popsicle by the time the road was clear. She stomped back to her car and settled in, blasting the heater until her fingers regained some composure. Fumbling through her tote, she grabbed her cell and angled it toward the dashboard.
“No service. Of course not. Why would anything about this trip, and frankly my life, at this point, be easy?” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the seat. A year ago, she’d been happily married to an up-and-coming politician, living a great life of teaching and playing the dutiful spouse. Now, she was divorced, pregnant, and stuck behind a bovine roadblock.
Her heart pounded against her chest as a lump formed in the back of a very dry mouth. If she let them, the tears she’d managed to hold at bay would spill over, and she didn’t know if they would ever stop. Blindly reaching for the water bottle, she lifted it to her mouth, only to remember she’d downed the last few drops about twenty miles back. Limbs too heavy to move, she let the bottle drop and clatter to the floor.
She needed Emily. Needed family that wouldn’t judge. That would support her and not ask twenty-million questions about what she was doing and what had happened and where she was going from here. That would let her create this new life on her own terms with her decisions leading the way.
Tension seeped into her muscles, and she forced her fingers to relax. Wiggling each one and rotating as many limbs as she could, given the cramped space and her blown up body. She could do this. She had done this. She just needed to get a little farther down the road. Like Dorothy.
“You wanted to be in charge, Sofie. Well, make a choice.” Go back or stay here?
Wind shook her little sedan, and Sofie’s eyes flew open. Decision made. But just as she grabbed hold of the shifter, she thought she caught a glimpse of headlights somewhere among the dark hoofs and massive bodies. Maybe whoever else was stupid enough to be out on a Wyoming road at three in the morning would know how to handle this situation. If they did, she would be sure to show her gratitude in the form of pretty much anything that got her moving in the right direction. Once she made it to Fly Creek, her fresh start could finally begin.
Dan Rigby slowed his pickup and took in the roadblock. He should have known something like this would happen. When sneaking away from the only home you’ve ever known, things probably shouldn’t be easy. Plus, the Gunthers always moved this herd late at night, when it was least likely to disrupt traffic. Something he would have remembered if he hadn’t been so focused on getting as far away from Fly Creek as possible.
Shifting into park, he slid his seat back and settled more comfortably. Nothing short of a feed bell would get these heifers moving any faster than they planned on moving.
Guilt crept in the minute he closed his eyes. Images of the people he’d left, the animals, his cabin—they flashed before him in a montage, and they all wore disappointed looks. Even the horses. Would they be upset? Shelby, his surrogate mother, would be. He just hoped she’d read the note he left and try to see it from his point of view.
The images became too much, and he opened his eyes and sighed. Several animals shifted, and through the littlest gap, Dan saw the headlights of another vehicle on the other side. Well, crud. He’d specifically chosen this time of night to ensure he wouldn’t run into anyone on his way out of town. He wasn’t proud that he was essentially running away, but he couldn’t take the suffocation anymore, the feeling that everyone was settled right where they were supposed to be, and once again he was the odd man out. All he knew was he needed to get away from Sky Lake Dude Ranch and the town of Fly Creek.
Damn it. Closing his eyes again, he leaned his head back, trying to get comfortable. Maybe whoever it was would give up and turn around. If they were from around here, they would know as well as he that this could take a while, and if they weren’t, then he had nothing to worry about.
The bang on the window sounded like a gunshot, sending a flight or fright response through every nerve of his previously relaxed body. Dan’s eyes flew open to see a hooded figure peering in through the tinted glass.
“What the hell,” he said as he lowered the window. Large doe eyes widened, and air leached out of Dan’s lungs right on the gust of wind that whipped the hood off the stranger and revealed long brown hair swirling around the face of an angel.
“What are you doing?”
Maybe a temperamental angel, if her tone and accusation had anything to say about it.
“I was sleeping, until I was so nicely woken up.”
His visitor threw her hands up and muttered something about men that had even Dan raising his eyebrows.
“Do you normally sleep in your truck in the middle of this godforsaken place? Is that what you locals do for fun and entertainment around here?”
Dan straightened in his seat and leaned into the window. Satisfaction settled when the fired-up beauty cataloged him briefly before taking a step back. “No. Sleeping’s usually reserved for after more active pursuits and maybe a little cattle tipping.”
He waited and was rewarded with the crossed arms and jutted chin of a woman who clearly didn’t have the patience for his charm. And he had charm. For all the good it did him.
“Now that you’ve had your fun, can you please do something?”
“Seriously? With them.” She pointed at the cows with all the affront of a pampered princess who’d had her tiara stolen. Her accent placed her way to the east, and from the looks of the shivers wracking her body, he would guess her clothing was about as prepared as she was for Wyoming in December.
“Let this be your first lesson, Ms… ?”
She narrowed her gaze. “Pennington.”
“No one can make them do anything they don’t want to do, short of feeding them, mating them, or shocking them.”
Her full lips turned down. “So I’m stuck until they make up their minds.”
“Yep. They’re female, so it could be a while.”
Fire shot from the depths of her angelic face, and Dan swallowed his laugh. Best not to piss the princess off too much.
“Thanks for nothing,” Ms. Pennington said, before turning and heading for the herd. It was then he noticed her waddle and the rather large protrusion leading the way.
With a heavy sigh, Dan cut the engine and hopped out of his truck. “Where are you going?”
Pure condescension poured off her as she glanced back. “Good Lord, are you all so slow around here? I’m headed back to my car to wait this thing out.”
“But you’re pregnant.”
She stopped and turned. “Didn’t your mother tell you to never assume a woman’s pregnant without her first confirming it?”
“No.” He wasn’t going to tell her his mother didn’t share much of anything with him other than DNA. Now, his surrogate mother would have probably slapped him upside the head and told him he didn’t deserve the sense he was born with, but he would bet his life savings that the woman in front of him was pregnant and about to pop. No way was he letting her try to get through the cattle like that. Or at least, not again, since she’d obviously made the trek once and survived. No sense tempting fate.
She glared at him, and he crossed his arms. “I notice you’re not contradicting me, and it was foolish the first time you made your way through those beasts. Trying it again is just plain asinine.”
She waddled back toward him. “I’ll have you know, Mr. Cowboy, that I don’t take orders or insults from anyone. I can manage me and my life just fine.” Delivering a definitive humph she spun around, the motion invested with all the attitude and swagger a very riled-up, really pregnant city slicker could muster.
Dan was impressed. Or he would have been if she hadn’t overbalanced. The extra weight of her front carried her farther than she’d anticipated and left her to stumble and lose her footing. He reached for her, but wasn’t quick enough, only managing to spin her slightly more so she fell on her backside.
He was beside her a second after her padded bottom hit frozen Wyoming dirt. Panic washed across her features as her hands ran over and over the massive bump in her front.
“My baby,” she said, as tears openly coursed down her cheeks.
Moans and stamps reminded him that a rather large grouping of animals prone to startle was less than five feet from them.
He placed a hand on her cheek and forced her widened eyes to his. “Ms. Pennington. You’re going to be fine. It wasn’t that hard of a fall, and I’m sure your baby’s perfectly peachy all snug in there. Now let me help you up, and we can get you to the hospital to be checked out.”
She stared at him, and he wondered if shock had overtaken her ability to speak, but with one more raking glance, she nodded and reached for his other hand. It was awkward, not because she weighed much, but because their positions and her top-heavy front made things a comedy. Of course, the only audience was the bovines, who offered some moos of encouragement.
Dan held her hands until she seemed steady, the slenderness of her gloved fingers belying the strength underneath. A tingle of awareness coursed through him.
He let guilt flush the feeling away. She was pregnant and probably married, to boot. It was wrong on multiple levels to notice anything attractive about her.
“Feel anything? No sprains in your knees or ankles?”
She shifted from side to side and he studied her face for any sign of pain. When he was satisfied that she felt okay, he led her to his truck. Suddenly she stopped.
“Why not my car?”
He laughed. “Well, your car is through that.” He thumbed back to the slowly thinning mass. “And the hospital is on this side of the road. I’ll call Gunther, the owner of this ranch, and let him know to come check on it.” He paused and strained to hear. He looked back over to the passenger he’d acquired. “It’s still running?”
She nodded, and he bet if the sun were shining, he would see a blush across her straight, long nose.
“Good, it will make it easier for them to move it.”
He maneuvered her to the passenger side and opened the door. She glanced at the lifted seat and back at him, arching an eyebrow.
He winked. “Pretend you’re getting on a horse.”
Panic entered her eyes. “I’ve never been on a horse.”
Dan shook his head and gave her the boost needed to slide her pregnant body onto his bench seat. He ignored the firm curves under his calloused palms, even though her sucked-in breath and refusal to meet his gaze seemed to indicate she wasn’t unaware of his status as a man. Even if he was a slow Wyoming cowboy.
She went to work on her seatbelt, and he hurried around and slid into the driver’s seat. Pulling a fast three-point turn, he headed back into Fly Creek and toward the hospital—the exact opposite direction he’d wanted to go. It seemed tonight he wasn’t making his getaway. Instead, he was shepherding some headstrong, fish-out-of-water woman to check on the status of her unborn child.
The North Star blinked in the dead-of-night sky, and Dan laughed.
“What’s so funny?” his guest asked as she rubbed her swollen stomach.
“I was thinking it’s almost Christmas, the star there is guiding us, and I have a pregnant woman beside me.”
She smiled, and it was as Madonna-like as anything he’d ever seen. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m no virgin.”
Copyright © 2018 by Jennifer Hoopes. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
I loved how this book began–Sofie’s middle of the night arrival at Fly Creek delayed by slow-moving cows was definitely unique, and made me smile. She’s left her disastrous marriage behind her and is determined to do things on her own from now on (though this is kind of undermined by the fact that she’s making a surprise move to the small Montana town where her sister now lives, isn’t it? If she really didn’t want any help from anyone, wouldn’t she move somewhere where she knows no one instead? But I digress…) She meets Dan before she even gets into town–he was sneaking out of town, intending to leave for good but also runs into (not literally, thank goodness!) the cattle road block, and ends up deciding to stay. Sofie, of course, ends up playing a pretty big role in that decision…
Their relationship develops fairly quickly–it is a bit insta-love-ish–and most of the obstacles in the way of them really being together are caused by Sofie’s “I’m going to do it on my own” ‘tude and the hangups she still has from her marriage. I couldn’t help but feel that her actions often didn’t match up with her words–if she was really determined to do it all herself, then why wasn’t getting things ready for her baby’s arrival her #1 concern when she got to town? Two weeks before her due date she still didn’t have anything at all–for a first time mom who’s anticipating the birth happily, this just didn’t make sense to me.
So, yeah, Sofie wasn’t always my favorite character. Dan was better, though I couldn’t help but feel if he had just talked to the people who cared about him a little more often about what he perceived as their treatment of him made him feel, 95% of his hangups would have gone away…in other words, there was a lot of exasperated hmphf-ing going on over here while I read parts of this book. Still, it did keep me turning the pages, waiting for them to figure out how to get to an HEA. The epilogue was very sweet, and I closed the book the same way I started–with a smile.
I haven’t read any of the previous books in this series, but that didn’t effect my enjoyment of this one–it worked just fine as a standalone.