The Cowboy's Surprise Baby

By: Ali Olson

CHAPTER ONE

Amy McNeal stepped through the sliding glass doors into the cool autumn air of Texas and breathed it in greedily, ignoring the smell of the exhaust fumes from the waiting cars. After two months in Northern Africa in summer, any temperature below blistering was a refreshing change.

As she walked toward the line of vehicles moving at a snail’s pace through the pickup area, her phone started buzzing inside her large travel purse. Amy shifted the suit bag she was carrying to her left hand and dug through the purse with her right, then pulled out her phone and tapped it to answer the call. “Hey! I’m almost at the pickup location,” she said.

“I know. I can see you. You better hurry or I’ll need to loop around again,” answered her brother from the other end.

She looked along the line of cars, trying to peer through the windows for a familiar face. “I don’t see you. A little help?”

“I’m in the black truck,” he told her.

She rolled her eyes. “This is Texas, Brock. I’m looking at about six black trucks.”

“You know, maybe I’ll just leave you to find your own way home, if you’re going to be like that,” he said, but she could hear the smile in his voice and knew she wasn’t actually in any danger of being left at the curb.

“Look right. I’m waving out the window,” he said.

She spotted him, fifty feet farther along. “I see you! Wait there and I’ll be over in a second,” she told him.

Amy dropped her phone back into her purse and strode quickly through the crowd of people waiting with their luggage along the curb. When she got to her brother’s car, a man in an orange vest was telling him he needed to keep moving, that he wasn’t allowed to wait there. “I’m here!” she said breathlessly, slinging her backpack off and into the truck bed, then hopping into the passenger seat.

With a little wave to the airport employee, she settled into her seat and Brock steered them out and away from the airport. “You know we get in trouble here if we sit idling at the curb, right?”

Amy shook her head. “I always forget about how many rules there are in America.”

Brock raised an eyebrow and glanced at his sister from the corner of his eye. “If you came home more often, you know, you might remember them.”

Amy crossed her arms and turned toward Brock. “You’ve been back in Spring Valley for two months and already you’re starting to sound like Ma,” she commented.

“She misses you,” he told her, sending a small stab of guilt through her. “It’s good to have you back.”

Amy gave her brother a smile. “It’s good to see you, Brock.”

“You’re back for the whole month, huh?”

Amy nodded. “I had to be here for my big brother’s wedding.”

There was a moment of silence, and she knew Brock was waiting for her to say what had happened that made her decide to change her plans and come home so early, rather than just for the weekend of the ceremony. Up until the day before, that had been the plan. But she wasn’t ready to explain the events of the last couple weeks, so she stayed silent.

After waiting a few more moments for her to add anything else, Brock said, “Well, I’m glad you’ll be around. Be careful, though. You might find yourself deciding to settle down in Spring Valley, regardless of your plans.”

Amy snorted. There were at least two very good reasons she would be leaving Spring Valley again. One was her lucrative career as a travel writer, and the other was a handsome cowboy with cornflower-blue eyes. She had some loose ends to tie up with said cowboy, but that didn’t mean she’d be sticking around afterward. She was here to set things straight, not make herself miserable. Or him, for that matter.

“Hey, it happens,” Brock said defensively.

“Speaking of settling down, how’s your fiancée doing?” Amy asked, both because she was interested and because she wanted to change the subject.

Brock looked for a second like he might not accept the topic shift, then gave her a wide grin she didn’t remember ever seeing on his face before Cassie came into his life. “She’s great, Zach and Carter are great, the ranch is—”

“Great?” Amy said for him.

“Really, really great,” he said, nodding, his smile even wider, if that was possible.

“So you don’t miss bull riding at all?” she asked, wondering if he’d really given up the rodeo circuit without a qualm.

Brock shook his head decisively. “Not one bit. Giving that up was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and it gives me more time around the people I love. With the wedding, the ranch and twin boys, time is one thing that always seems to be in short supply.”

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