Winter's Proposal

By: Sherryl Woods

In White Pines, Texas, family comes first.

The Cowboy and His Baby

A year and a half ago, a tragic mistake cost single mother Melissa Horton her one true love—and a father for her baby girl. Now Texas rancher Cody Adams is back, shocked to discover he is a parent and determined to make Melissa his wife. But with newfound independence, Melissa has surprised herself—and him—by being unwilling to settle for a marriage of convenience.

The Rancher and His Unexpected Daughter

Widower Harlan Adams has plenty of experience raising boys. But when a rebellious teenage girl steals his truck and goes for a joyride, Harlan is baffled. Then he confronts her intriguing, sassy mother, Janet Runningbear, and is totally thrown for a loop. While he might not know anything about girls, he thought he knew everything about women. Until Janet makes him realize he still has a lot to learn!







1


Damn, but it was cold, Cody Adams thought as he chased down the last of the herd of cattle he was rounding up. Texas had never been this frigid, not even in the middle of January. He was surprised half the livestock hadn’t flat-out frozen in the harsh Wyoming winter. They’d lost a few head of cattle, but nothing like what he’d anticipated the first time the temperatures had dropped below zero and the snow and ice had swirled around him.

The bitter cold and the frequent blinding snowstorms did serve one useful purpose, though. They kept him so busy—kept his brain cells so frozen, for that matter—that he hardly ever thought about home. He’d freeze his butt off and suffer frostbite on most any part of his anatomy for the blessing of a blank memory. He didn’t want to think about Texas or his family. Most of all, he didn’t want to think about sneaky, conniving Melissa Horton and the way she’d cheated on him.

It had taken him a long time to block out the image of his longtime girlfriend wrapped in his best friend’s arms. Even now, more than a year later, that terrible, gut-wrenching moment sneaked up on him when he least expected it and reminded him that that kind of pain might hide out, but it seldom went away.

With the last of the herd rounded up and dusk falling, Cody gestured to one of the other hands that he was leaving and headed back toward the small but cozy line shack he’d insisted he preferred to the bunkhouse. He’d claimed it kept him closer to the cattle for which he was responsible, but the truth was, he craved the isolation.

For a man who had been a very social creature back in Texas—okay, a notorious flirt—it was quite a change and, for the time being, a welcome one. It was the only surefire way he could think of for staying out of trouble and avoiding the sort of heartache that falling for some woman just about guaranteed.

His boss, impressed by the fact that for years 28-year-old Cody had been running White Pines, his family’s ranch back in Texas, hadn’t argued with his idiosyncratic decision. Lance Treethorn had insisted only that a phone be installed so he could reach Cody on business. He was the only one with the number. He rarely used it. Cody dropped by the ranch house often enough to stay in touch.

On the tiny porch Cody stomped the snow off his boots, gathered up an armload of firewood and went inside. Within minutes he had a fire roaring and had shucked off his skeepskin jacket. He stood in front of the blaze, letting the heat warm his chilled body. Unfortunately, it couldn’t touch the cold place deep inside him.

He’d been standing there for some time, lost in thought, when he noticed the stack of mail sitting on the table in the kitchen area of the one-room cabin. It was sitting atop a foil-covered pan that he suspected from the sinful, chocolaty aroma, contained a batch of freshly baked brownies. He grinned and ripped off the foil. Sure enough, brownies. Apparently, Janey Treethorn had been by again.

The fifteen-year-old daughter of his boss had a giant-size crush on him. Thankfully, though, she was painfully shy. She limited her overtures to dropping off his mail, always with a batch of brownies or his favorite apple pie. In the summer it had been fresh fruit cobblers. She was usually careful to stop by while he wasn’t home. On the one occasion when he’d caught her, she’d blushed furiously, stammered an apology for intruding, and fled on horseback before he could even say thanks.

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