Wild Rain (Women Who Dare #2) - Beverly Jenkins
Spring Lee held tightly onto the reins of her wagon and cursed the blinding blizzard she was driving through. With her hat pulled low, muffler wound up to her eyes, and wearing the thick oversize buffalo coat given to her by her cantankerous grandfather Ben, she was dressed for the brutal weather. It was early afternoon and having spent the past fifteen hours helping a friend with a difficult foaling, she was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to get home, take a hot bath, and sleep. Instead, she and her mare, Lady, were as snow covered as the surroundings and could barely see the road. It was mid-April. By all rights winter should be on the wane, but the seasons in Wyoming Territory moved by a calendar all their own. Buffeted by the howling wind, she chanted inwardly: Another half mile. Another half mile. And she and Lady would be home.
Up ahead on the deserted road, a horse appeared out of the storm. She thought she’d imagined it, but a break in the gusts showed the animal walking slowly, head lowered, its mane and body crusted with the elements. As she came abreast of it and stopped, she took in the bags attached to the saddle and the thick bedroll riding the rump. Where’s the rider? She scanned the area. Not seeing anyone, she got down and waded through the calf-high drifts. Urging the animal forward, she trailered its reins to the wagon’s bed, climbed back up to the seat, and resumed the drive.
She was familiar with the mounts of her neighbors, but she’d never seen this horse before. Had the rider been thrown and was hurt somewhere up ahead? Weariness and the freezing cold might have made another person leave the mystery for someone else to worry about, but she’d been raised better, so she kept an eye out for the rider as best she could.
It didn’t take long.
She rounded a bend and saw a hatless, snow-covered man slowly limping his way up the road. He turned to look back, revealing a brown-skinned, ice-crusted face. Upon spotting her, he waved frantically.
When she reached him, she pulled her muffler down and yelled over the wind, “Climb on!”
He didn’t hesitate, but his injury made the ascent slow. “Thank you!” he said, once settled.
“There’s a couple of blankets under the tarp behind you! Wrap up!”
While he complied, she got them underway. A glance over her shoulder showed he’d placed one blanket over his head and wrapped the other around his brown wool coat. She had no idea who he was, but his story would have to wait. Getting them home came first.
A short while later, the sight of her cabin filled her with a weary joy. She alerted her passenger, “We’re here! Go on inside and start a fire. I’ll take care of the horses.”
Draped under the blankets, he climbed down and haltingly made his way to her door while she drove to the barn.
By the time she got Lady and the man’s gelding bedded down and a big fire built in the grate to keep her other three horses warm, she was weary enough to lie down where she stood. Hating having to face the weather again, she rewound her muffler, pulled on her gloves, and stepped out into the frigid wind.
Inside her cabin, there was no fire. The stranger, still wrapped in the blankets, was stretched out on her fancy new sofa, head back, snoring loudly. She set his bedroll and bags on the floor. The younger, wilder Spring Lee would’ve given his foot a swift kick to wake him up, but the more mature version of herself settled for grumbling while tossing logs into the fireplace. As the flames rose, she viewed him. He was handsome, she supposed, but a pretty face often masked an ugliness inside, so she wasn’t impressed by the strong jaw or the pleasant features it anchored. “Hey! Wake up!” she called crossly. The wet blankets would ruin the sofa her sister-in-law Regan recently convinced her to buy, and Spring was the only person allowed to damage it.
As he snored on, she shook his shoulder. “Mister. Wake up.”
His eyes opened.
“I have a spare room. You can sleep there.”
He looked confused.
“Ruin my couch and I’ll feed you to a bear.”
“Can you stand?”
His eyes swept her face. The confusion gave way to wariness. Finally, he whispered, “Yes. Sorry for falling asleep.”
She noted his shivering, but she was too bone tired to fire up the boiler