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Authors: Stella Bagwell

The Rancher's Blessed Event

BOOK: The Rancher's Blessed Event
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“There's no way in hell I'll leave now.”
Emily stared at him with fury in her eyes. It was incredible that he was saying this to her now. Ten years too late! “Get this straight, Cooper Dunn, I am no concern of yours. You might own part of this ranch, but you don't own me.”
 
Emily took a deep breath to get her anger under control. “My being pregnant has nothing to do with you,” she told him.
 
“But you need someone here to look after you.”
 
The gentle regard on his face both touched and infuriated her. If only he'd shown her as much ten years ago.
 
“You're not a man who could stay in one place for more than a week, much less look after a pregnant woman.”
 
But, oh, how her heart wished he was that man!
Dear Reader,
 
Unforgettable Bride
, by bestselling author Annette Broadrick, is May's VIRGIN BRIDES selection,
and
the much-requested spin-off to her DAUGHTERS OF TEXAS series. Rough, gruff rodeo star Bobby Metcalf agreed to a quickie marriage—sans honeymoon!—with virginal Casey Carmichael. But four years later, he's still a married man—one intent on being a husband to Casey in every sense....
 
Fabulous author Arlene James offers the month's FABULOUS FATHERS title,
Falling for a Father of Four.
Orren Ellis was a single dad to a brood of four, so hiring sweet Mattie Kincaid seemed the perfect solution. Until he found himself falling for this woman he could never have.... Stella Bagwell introduces the next generation of her bestselling TWINS ON THE DOORSTEP series. In
The Rancher's Blessed Event,
an ornery bronc rider must open his heart both to the woman who'd betrayed him...and her child yet to be born.
 
Who can resist a sexy, stubborn cowboy—particularly when he's your husband? Well, Taylor Cassidy tries in Anne Ha's
Long, Tall Temporary Husband.
But will she succeed? And Sharon De Vita's irresistible trio, LULLABIES AND LOVE, continues with
Baby with a Badge,
where a bachelor cop finds a baby in his patrol car...and himself in desperate need of a woman's touch! Finally, new author C.J. Hill makes her commanding debut with a title that sums it up best:
Baby Dreams and Wedding Schemes.
 
Romance has everything you need from new beginnings to tried-and-true favorites. Enjoy each and every novel this month, and every month!
 
Warm Regards!
Joan Marlow Golan
Senior Editor, Silhouette Romance
Please address questions and book requests to:
Silhouette Reader Service
U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269
Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Oat. L2A 5X3
STELLA Bagwell
THE RANCHER'S BLESSED EVENT
To Mary-Theresa Hussey and Melissa Senate.
Thanks for keeping the Murdock family alive!
Books by Stella Bagwell
Silhouette Romance
 
Golden Glory
#469
Moonlight Bandit
#485
A Mist on the Mountain
#510
Madaline's Song
#543
The Outsider
#560
The New Kid in Town
#587
Cactus Rose
#621
Hillbilly Heart
#634
Teach Me
#657
The White Night
#674
No Horsing Around
#699
That Southern Touch
#723
Gentle as a Lamb
#748
A Practical Man
#789
Precious Pretender
#812
Done to Perfection
#836
Romeo Rider
#878
*
Their First Thanksgiving
#903
*
The Best Christmas Ever
#909
*
New Year's Baby
#915
Hero in Disguise
#954
Corporate Cowgirl
#991
Daniel's Daddy
#1020
A Cowboy for Christmas
#1052
Daddy Lessons
#1085
Wanted
:
Wife
#1140
†
The Sheriff's Son
#1218
†
The Rancher's Bride
#1224
†
The Tycoon's Tots
#1228
†
The Rancher's Blessed Event
#1296
 
*Heartland Holidays Trilogy
†Twins on the Doorstep
 
Silhouette Special Edition
 
Found: One Runaway Bride
#1049
STELLA BAGWELL
sold her first book to Silhouette in November 1985. Now, more than thirty novels later, she is still thrilled to see her books in print and can't imagine having any other job than that of writing about two people falling in love.
 
She lives in a small town in southeastern Oklahoma with her husband of twenty-six years. She has one son and daughter-in-law.
Dear Reader,
 
Writing a trilogy is a lot like reading one. In the process you become so attached to the same characters, you grow very reluctant to finally tell them goodbye. Such was the case when I finished the last of my TWINS ON THE DOORSTEP trilogy. So you can imagine what a special thrill it was for me when my editor asked if I would like to continue writing about the Murdock family!
 
Telling you how Rose, Justine and Chloe found their twin siblings—and love in the bargain—was pure pleasure for me. And I would like to express a big thank-you to all you readers who read and responded so warmly to each book. You are the reason my job is so rewarding, and I can't convey how much I appreciate each and every one of you.
 
Now with great delight, I would like to invite you back to Lincoln County, New Mexico, where you'll find old familiar friends and meet new ones, too. Beginning with Emily Hamilton and her unexpected reunion with an old flame, you'll find the Murdock children have all grown up and, ready or not, are about to find love of their own!
 
Love and God bless,
Chapter One
E
mily Dunn bolted upright in the bed. Her heart was thundering in her chest and nothing about the dark room felt familiar.
Jerking her head to the right, she saw a row of curtained windows. Back to the left, her eyes fixed on a nightstand. There, beneath a table lamp, the red glowing numbers of a digital alarm clock glared twelve forty-five.
Slowly her senses began to right themselves and everything came rushing back to her. The accident. The funeral. The awful realization that her husband was never coming back.
Swinging her legs over the side of the mattress, she reached for a robe lying at the end of the bed. It was a cold October night, but whatever had awakened her so abruptly had left her sweating beneath her nightgown. She swiped a hand against her damp forehead, then stood on shaky legs to pull the burgundy velour robe over her bare arms and shoulders.
Knowing sleep was out of the question now, she headed to the kitchen to make herself a cup of cocoa and switch on the radio. Snow had been predicted in the mountains around Alto, Ruidoso, Lincoln and Hondo. An hour ago when she'd gone to bed, the sky over the ranch was low and gray, but no snow had yet fallen.
Halfway to the kitchen Emily stopped in her tracks. She was certain she'd heard a rattling noise outside. Perhaps something other than her troubled thoughts had interrupted her sleep? It could have been a piece of loose sheet iron whipping in the wind, but an inner feeling told her something or someone was out there.
Quickly tightening the sash of the robe around her waist, she hurried to the nearest window and pulled back the curtain. Throughout the ten years she'd lived on the Diamond D, she couldn't remember them ever having a prowler or anything stolen. But now that Kenneth was dead someone might view the place as easy pickings. The ranch was located on a lonely stretch of land north of the valley where the mountains turned to desert. Certainly no one came here unless they meant to.
The noise came again and this time Emily decided it was definitely the rattle of a stock trailer. What in the world was going on? Her father, Harlan, would never drive over here in the middle of the night unless it was an absolute emergency. At ten, she'd spoken to him briefly on the telephone and he'd been on his way to bed. As for the rest of her family, they would never show up in the middle of the night without calling first.
An uneasy chill swept through her as her mind began to spin. Her uncle Roy was the sheriff of Lincoln County. She could call him. But he and Aunt Justine lived a good thirty minutes away. She didn't want to disturb them unless it turned out to be a real emergency. Besides, if a thief was already out there, he could drive off with a whole trailer load of cows and horses by the time the law could get here.
Her jaw grimly set, she walked quietly but quickly back to the bedroom and took a .30.30 rifle down from a rack on the wall. A box of bullets was in the nightstand. Her heart tripping over itself, she loaded the rifle full, then jacked a shot into the barrel. She didn't intend to shoot anyone. But she wouldn't hesitate to scare the hell out of them.
Rifle in one hand, she pulled on a pair of cowboy boots, then dropped a cellular phone into the pocket of her robe. If she did find more trouble than she could handle outside, she would at least be able to call her uncle Roy for help.
Moments later, she slipped soundlessly from a door at the back of the house. Wind was blowing from the north and Emily realized the mist stinging her face was actually bits of snow too fine to see in the dark.
Shivering from cold and fear, Emily made her way to the corner of the house, then carefully peeped around the edge toward the barn. The yard lamp at the corner of the corrals would normally have illuminated the front of the barn, but the light had been broken for months. What little moonlight there might have been was blotted out by the clouds. The most she could discern was the back of a two-horse trailer.
Realizing she had no one but herself to handle things, Emily stepped away from the shadow of the house and moved stealthily toward the barn.
Whoever had driven here was more than likely in the barn, looking for saddles or tack to steal, she decided. A good saddle was always worth several hundred dollars. Especially if the saddle had been handmade as were the ones on the Diamond D. She'd be damned before she'd let someone take them!
Inching forward, she could see the club cab pickup pulling the horse trailer. It was a fairly late model with Texas plates. This thief was obviously a long way from home. Not to mention traveling in style.
She was creeping closer to the open doorway of the barn when suddenly a light flared on inside the building. Stopping dead in her tracks, she held her breath and waited. Only a bold thief would turn on a light.
A few more seconds passed. A horse nickered, but nothing else stirred. With sudden decision, she stepped into the open doorway of the barn, the rifle aimed and ready.
“Who's in there?” she called loudly. “Come out or I'm going to shoot!”
Two horses Emily had never seen before were tied to the top rail of a nearby stall. Both animals, a bay and a gray, skittered nervously at the sound of her raised voice.
To the left of her, hinges creaked. Her head twisted in the direction of the sound and her heart beat like a drum in her throat as she watched the door to the feed room slowly swing forward. When the man finally stepped out and into the dim light, she stared in shock as the room seemed to tilt around her.
“Cooper? Is that you?”
The man slowly pushed the brim of his Stetson back off his forehead, then turned to face Emily head-on. Inclining his head toward the .30.30, he asked, “Is that the way you greet people on the Diamond D now, or just me?”
It suddenly dawned on her that she was still pointing the barrel of the rifle straight at him. Lowering the weapon, she drew in a bracing breath and took a couple of shaky steps toward her brother-in-law.
“No one prowls around in my barn at this time of night. What are you doing here?”
Cooper didn't miss the
my
in her answer or anything else about the woman standing a few steps away from him. It had been a long time since he'd seen her. Ten years to be exact. Yet he would have known her in a crowd a thousand miles away from this place.
“This was as soon as I could get here.”
Emily hadn't expected him to get here at all. And the fact that he had stunned her ability to think, to do anything but continue to stare at him. Slowly and purposely her eyes took in everything between his brown boots and gray hat.
He looked as he had ten years ago, she decided, only a little older. His hair was still a tangle of sable brown curls against the back of his neck. Beneath the gray down jacket he wore, she could glimpse his trim waist and muscled thighs. If he'd put any weight on his six-foot frame, she couldn't see it.
Cooper had never looked anything like his brother Kenneth, who'd been blond with a heavier build and smooth, almost classical features. The difference in the two men struck her even more as her gaze settled on his lean face. Cooper could not be called a handsome man. The bone structure of his face was roughly chiseled, his lips thin and his eyes hooded. Yet put all together he had a striking, masculine appearance. One that she had certainly never been able to forget.
“Kenneth's funeral was two days ago,” she said bluntly.
His gray eyes caught and held her blue ones. “I figured as much. But the news of his accident didn't catch up to me until yesterday. I've been driving ever since.”
If that was supposed to make her feel better, it didn't. His few hours on the road to get here didn't make up for ten years of neglect.
“I really don't know why you bothered to come at all.”
Cooper's gaze slid over the silk curtain of blond hair lying against Emily's shoulders, the slender curves of her body beneath the heavy robe. She had to be thirty-five or six now. The same age as himself. Yet she looked far younger. And oh so achingly beautiful.
“Kenneth was my brother. That's why I bothered.”
So he wasn't here because of her. Emily had known that, but hearing him say it cut her anyway. Which was ridiculous. Cooper had never really cared for her. She'd known that for a long time now.
Gripping the rifle, she said, “I'm cold. I'm going in. Are you staying here tonight?”
Her question brought a twist to his lips. “You might not think so, but the Diamond D is still my home.”
Her brows arched with disbelief. He'd not stepped foot on the Diamond D once in ten years. She couldn't see how he could still consider it his home. As far as she knew, the man didn't have a home.
“That's debatable,” she said stiffly, then turning to go, she tossed over her shoulder, “I'll make you up a bed.”
“Emily.”
Pausing at the door she looked back at him. The moment her eyes connected with his, warm, sweet memories flooded her mind and brought searing tears to her throat. She wanted to run straight to him and cry her heart out against his chest. It was a shocking, reckless feeling that overwhelmed her with guilt. Yet it was there inside her just the same.
“I just wanted to say... I'm very sorry about Kenneth.”
And so was she. For so many reasons. “Me too, Cooper.”
She left the barn and Cooper turned back to his horses. And in that moment he realized he'd never felt more alone in his life.
 
Fifteen minutes later he found Emily in the kitchen. She was still in the robe and cowboy boots, but thankfully the rifle was nowhere in sight.
Shrugging out of his jacket, he hung it and his hat on a peg by the door, then turned and let his eyes drink in a room that had once been so much a part of his life. Other than the curtains on the windows and the Formica table being replaced with a wooden one, it looked the same as Cooper remembered.
Though the room was bare now he could easily imagine what it had looked like two days ago when they'd buried his brother. The kitchen had probably been crammed with friends and distant relatives. All sorts of food dishes would have lined the cabinets and tables. There had surely been lots of tears and hugs meant to comfort, and talk about what a good man Kenneth had been, and how tragic it was for him to have been killed in the prime of life.
Cooper was actually glad he hadn't been here. He could do without all those people with their endless questions and pointed looks. Without having to ask, he knew people around here considered him the black sheep of the Dunn family. The prodigal son who'd waited too late to come home.
“I'm making cocoa. Would you like a cup?” she asked, breaking the silence.
The room was cold. He drew closer to her and the cookstove. “Yes. It's been a few hours since I've eaten.”
Not trusting herself to look at him, she motioned with her head toward the refrigerator. “There's plenty of leftovers if you want to dig them out.”
In other words she wasn't going to bother feeding him. Well, Cooper hadn't expected her to go out of her way to see to his comforts. But he had planned on her being a little bit warmer than this.
“The cocoa will be enough,” he told her.
Her eyes remained fixed on the saucepan of milk as she stirred it back and forth with a hypnotic rhythm. In the brighter light of the kitchen, Cooper could see the lines of fatigue on her face, the deep bruises of lost sleep beneath her eyes.
He'd expected to find her grieving. After all, Kenneth had been her husband for nearly ten years. Yet the longer he studied her, he decided she was more weary than anything.
“I was in east Texas yesterday. Before that, Montana. I'm sorry I missed Kenneth's funeral.”
Emily doubted the sincerity of his words. Yet he was here now. She should at least give him credit for making any sort of appearance, she decided.
“The eulogy was very nice. The church was packed—even some of my old accounting clients came—and I've never seen so many flowers.”
Her voice was wooden and Cooper wondered if she was deliberately making it so to keep from breaking down in front of him.
“I'm glad for that much at least. Can you tell me what happened? The message I got only stated that Kenneth had been killed by a fall from a horse. Is that right?”
The cocoa was bubbling around the edges. Emily carried the pan over to the cabinet counter and filled two large mugs. At the end of the table she placed a mug for him, then sat down with her own.
“You know how Kenneth never would let a horse get the better of him,” she began. “But this one was mean all the way through. I'd begged him to get rid of it but—” Her eyes on the mug in her hands, she shrugged. “He didn't listen to me.”
Cooper joined her at the table. “Was this a green horse he was breaking?”
It seemed incredible to Emily that she was sitting here talking to him as if he'd never really been away. As if nothing had ever happened between them. Down through the years she'd imagined him coming home so many times and how it might feel to see him again. Yet none of her imaginings came close to the strange mixture of pain and joy surging through her at this moment.
BOOK: The Rancher's Blessed Event
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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