When a Cowboy Loves a Woman (Creedence Horse Rescue #2) - Jennie Marts
Everything hurts, thought Elle Brooks as she sank lower in the bathtub. Her back and shoulders ached from carrying bales of hay and brushing the horses that morning at the Heaven Can Wait Horse Rescue, where she volunteered. Although she preferred the physical labor over the headache she got from spending the afternoon with her financial advisor, going over the trust and through her finances. Between his company and his considerable life insurance policy, her beloved Ryan had left her with a substantial amount of money. But she’d give it all away for one more day with him.
She pushed a bubbly pile of suds across the spacious garden bathtub as the final strains of one of her favorite Pink songs faded in her ears. Usually the pop star’s music could energize her, but tonight she felt more like a sinking stone than any kind of rock star. With a sigh, she pushed the drain release with her toe and pulled the earbuds from her ears.
That’s when she heard the sirens.
Hair raised on the nape of her neck, and a chill that had nothing to do with the cooling bathwater raced up her spine. She slammed her eyes shut against the onslaught of memories. It had been over a year since Ryan died, but the images of the ambulance’s throbbing lights and the mournful sounds of the sirens were as vivid as if it had happened the day before.
She caught the first whiff of smoke as she heard the fire trucks pull up in front of her house. Water sloshed over the side as she stumbled to get out of the tub. Grabbing a towel, she scarcely had time to run it over her body before she heard the slam of her front door and raised voices.
Reaching for her pajamas, she pulled on the cotton shorts and wrenched the tank top over her head.
Move, her brain screamed. Get out.
The fabric clung to her damp skin as she snatched up her short robe and raced out of the bathroom. From the landing, she could see a flurry of men in yellow coats dragging a gray hose across the Italian marble of her foyer toward her kitchen.
She choked on the acrid smoke filling the air. There were no blazing flames, but the smoke scorched her throat, and she blinked against the sting of it to her eyes.
An older fireman caught sight of her. “You need to get out of the house, ma’am.”
Panic gripped her as she wildly looked around at the chaos invading her home. Then her gaze caught and held on the familiar eyes of the tall cowboy who’d just stepped into view. He was dressed in jeans and boots and a black Stetson hat, and the sight of his broad shoulders filling the doorway somehow grounded her.
She didn’t really know him—she’d briefly met him a few weeks ago. But that one time had shown his ability to stay calm and steady in a crisis situation. His name was Brody—Doctor Brody Tate. He was her best friend Bryn’s veterinarian. But why was a veterinarian at a house fire?
A plume of dark smoke billowed out of the kitchen, and Elle caught the distinct sound of the crackle of flames. She coughed, then turned around and ran back down the hallway.
She heard the older fireman’s voice yelling, “Get her out of here, Tate,” followed by the sound of cowboy boots sprinting up the stairs as she raced to the closed door at the end of the hall.
She pushed through, ignoring the rush of emotions that normally flooded her when she opened the door to the room decorated in pink-and-white stripes. A hand-knit pink blanket lay in the seat of the rocking chair. Elle grabbed it and clutched it to her chest. If she could only save one thing, it had to be this.
She turned back to see Brody in the doorway. He didn’t say anything, just reached for her hand and led her quickly back down the hallway.
They reached the top of the stairs, and she froze again at the commotion below—the rush of the firefighters’ feet, the commanding tone of their voices as they shouted orders, the pulsing flash of red lights against the white walls of her entryway.
Brody pulled at her hand, but she couldn’t move. He turned back and must have seen the panic in her eyes. His tone was soft as he swept her up, cradling her to him as if she weighed nothing at all. “It’s all right, darlin’.