The Texas Cowboy's Baby Rescue

By: Cathy Gillen Thacker

CHAPTER ONE

It was the day, Bridgett Monroe liked to say, that changed everything. She was on her way to work, same as always, when a puppy galloped out of the predawn shadows and dashed in front of her small SUV.

She slammed on the brakes, barely missing him, then watched as the mutt pranced around her vehicle, barking at her with ferocious urgency before looping back in front of her once again. The adorable beagle/golden retriever mix was splattered with dried mud and burrs, and dragging a tie-out chain and stake behind him.

Clearly, if she didn’t do something, he was going to get hit.

Afraid to move her vehicle at all lest the two of them collide, Bridgett shoved her car into Park, turned on the emergency blinkers and got out.

“Hey there, little guy,” she urged softly, kneeling down in front of the pup and holding out her arms in an attempt to coax him out of the path of her vehicle. “Why don’t you come see me?”

He stared at her with liquid brown eyes, thinking.

“I won’t hurt you, I promise. I just want to be your friend.” Bridgett reached out to rescue the runaway pet.

To no avail. He eluded her grasp, jumped swiftly back out of reach and let out another commanding bark.

Tossing his floppy ears in the direction he wanted her to go, he headed on up the block, still dragging the tie-out chain and stake behind him. Periodically he looked back to see if she was following him.

Worried about what would happen if she left him to his own devices, Bridgett headed up the street after him. The cute little mutt let out a happy woof, raced over several lawns and crossed the street. He waited for her to catch up, then darted past a few more houses, out of the residential area into historic downtown Laramie, Texas, and behind the fire station.

The bays were empty, which meant the crew was out on an emergency run.

Too bad, Bridgett thought, as she stopped just short of the tall brick building. She could have used some help lassoing this frisky pup. Frowning, she glanced at her watch again, debating how much time she could really afford to devote to this when she had a car still parked in the middle of the street two blocks away, and patients in the hospital N-ICU who needed her, too.

And that was when she became aware of a whoosh of frantic activity as the pup dashed up to her once again, caught the leg of her nursing uniform pants between his teeth and pulled ferociously.

Determined, it seemed, to have her continue to follow him.

Curious, she did, the leg of her scrubs clamped in his jaws as he led her along the side of the big brick fire station. Over to a…fairly large cardboard box?

The pup let go abruptly and sat down next to the shipping carton, panting loudly. He stared up at her as if he expected her to know exactly what to do.

Taking a deep, bracing breath, Bridgett leaned over, cautiously opened up the loosely folded flaps and felt her heart stall with a mixture of shock and disbelief. “Oh, puppy,” she whispered in startled dismay as she sank to her knees and reached inside. “No wonder you needed my help!”

* * *

ELEVEN HOURS LATER, the rugged Texas rancher who had been systematically avoiding all of Bridgett’s calls and messages strode purposefully onto the maternity and pediatric floor of Laramie Community Hospital.

She wasn’t surprised that the notoriously unsentimental rancher appeared to have come straight from the range. His short, curly, espresso-brown hair still bore the marks of the Resistol in his hand, his handsome face the burn of the spring wind and sun.

Nor was she surprised that he would want to have this conversation in person, rather than over the phone.

What she wasn’t prepared for was the way her heart was suddenly pounding.

It’s not as if he’s all that much older. He’d only been five years ahead of her in school.

Or more successful. Professionally, both were at the top of their game. Although, she had to admit, given his rising success as a cattle breeder and land owner, he was likely a far sight wealthier.

Not that he flaunted that, either, she realized on a sigh as her knees went all wobbly. He was a man’s man, through and through. The dusty leather boots on his feet were well broken in. And though there was nothing unique or expensive about his rumpled chambray shirt, it still cloaked his broad shoulders and muscular chest as if it was custom-made, and his faded Wranglers did equally showstopping things to his sinewy lower half.

Oblivious to the forbidden nature of her thoughts, Cullen McCabe slammed to a halt just short of her. His dark brows lowered like thunderclouds over mesmerizing navy blue eyes.

Her breath caught in her chest.

“Is this an April Fool’s joke?” he demanded gruffly.

Feeling a little angry about how this all had transpired, too, she gestured at the infant slumbering on the other side of the nursery’s glass window. The adorable newborn had a strikingly handsome face, ruddy skin, short and curly espresso brown hair and gorgeous blue eyes.

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