Authors: Judy Christenberry
Judy Christenberry has been writing romances for fifteen years because she loves happy endings as much as her readers do. A former French teacher, Judy now devotes herself to writing fulltime. She hopes readers have as much fun reading her stories as she does writing them. She spends her spare time reading, watching her favorite sports teams and keeping track of her two daughters. Judy is a native Texan.
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
579—WHO’S THE DADDY?
612—WANTED: CHRISTMAS MOMMY
626—DADDY ON DEMAND
701—IN PAPA BEAR’S BED
726—A COWBOY AT HEART
735—MY DADDY THE DUKE
744—COWBOY COME HOME
773—ONE HOT DADDY-TO-BE?
777—SURPRISE—YOU’RE A DADDY!
785—THE LAST STUBBORN COWBOY
817—THE GREAT TEXAS WEDDING BARGAIN
842—THE $10,000,000 TEXAS WEDDING
867—RENT A MILLIONAIRE GROOM
878—STRUCK BY THE TEXAS MATCHMAKERS
901—TRIPLET SECRET BABIES
Russ Randall glanced at his watch. It was only two in the afternoon, but the sun was long gone, buried behind the clouds that had brought the snow. It was early December in Wyoming, and snow wasn’t unusual, but this storm had the makings of a fierce blizzard. He hoped he could make it home.
Normally the drive from this point was half an hour, but he’d be lucky if he made it in an hour. The heater was on full force, but he could feel the cold creeping into the truck.
He leaned forward over the steering wheel, pressing for every advantage. Then he slowly hit the brakes, coming to a halt opposite the car sitting at an awkward angle in the ditch. He had to make sure no one was stuck in there before he continued on his way. Ignoring a stranded motorist was like signing his, or her, death warrant.
He undid his seat belt and reached for the door handle just as his passenger door was jerked open. He couldn’t even get a word out before a fur
bundled person shoved in a baby carrier and then slammed the door, remaining out in the storm.
“What the…?” Russ began, when he heard a small sound from the carrier. If he’d avoided anything the past year and a half, and he had avoided a lot, he’d avoided babies. Even among his family, no one asked him to hold their babies. They understood.
He heard the same sound again and he peeled back the covering blanket to discover the sweetest face he’d ever seen.
He stared at the beautiful baby. Finally he forced himself to move, reaching for the middle seat belt to strap the carrier in place.
Movement reminded him of the person outside. He zipped up his coat and climbed out of the cab to discover that several suitcases and boxes had been loaded in the back of the truck. He went around his vehicle to the car in the ditch, a Cadillac with New York plates. A couple more boxes were in its open trunk.
He assumed the person was a woman, for she was wrapped in a full-length mink coat and wore a muffler wrapped around her head. He put the rest of the boxes on his truck bed. Then he opened the front passenger door and bundled the woman inside. She seemed to be resisting, but he was anxious to be on his way. The blizzard was worsening.
Once he was back behind the wheel, he opened his coat a little to let in the warmth from the heater. He turned to suggest his passenger do the same and
he discovered a beautiful woman, her mink coat shoved off her, her cheeks red with heat, her eyes glittering.
“You’re ill!” he exclaimed, recognizing the signs of fever. “Uh, keep your coat on.”
“Too hot,” she muttered, not looking at him.
“Does the baby need anything?”
“No, Angel’s fine.”
Russ wasn’t going to argue with that. He decided his job was to get these two stranded ladies to town.
He tried to keep focused on his driving, but he couldn’t help looking at his passengers occasionally. He’d avoided the company of all women, and in particular babies, the past two years. Abby, his wife, had been pregnant with their child when she died.
He knew he’d never marry again, so he’d never fulfill his dream of children. His family had babies. His twin brother, Rich, and his wife, Samantha, had a little boy. His cousin Toby and his wife, Elizabeth, had two babies. Tori, his cousin and partner in the accounting firm, had a little boy.
He would never have children.
That was why he avoided them. He did his work. That was all there was in his life. He was satisfied with that.
It suddenly occurred to him that he was going to be stuck with the woman and the baby. The town of Rawhide would be shut down, everyone locked safely in their homes. And they wouldn’t come out until the storm ended.
Maybe he could make it to the ranch where his parents and aunts and uncles lived. The women there could take care of this lady and her beautiful baby. And they would, if he could get there.
But the ranch was on the other side of Rawhide, a good half-hour drive. Making it there was impossible.
“I need something to drink,” she muttered fuzzily.
He took a good look at her. Her fever still seemed high. He thought she was referring to water, but he didn’t have any with him. “You’ll have to wait just a little while. I’ll get you something to drink as soon as we reach town.”
She didn’t appear to have heard him.
He reached over and felt her face. Lord have mercy, she was on fire! Was he going to have to take her to Jon’s? Tori had married Jon Wilson, the new doctor, last year. He’d come to replace Doc, intending to stay only four years. Tori took care of that, he thought with a smile.
Russ caught the shadow of a building through the snow. Had he reached the outskirts of town? Not that Rawhide was big. There was no hotel, not even a motel. They’d had a bed-and-breakfast for a couple of years, but no longer. So he was stuck with his passengers.
He pulled his pickup to a stop right beside the stairs that led up to his apartment over the accounting office he and Tori shared. He drew a deep
breath and tried to relax his muscles. Then he said, “We’re here.”
No response. He lifted the blanket from the baby. He could see the baby breathing, but the infant’s eyes remained closed. The woman didn’t open her eyes, either. Okay. He couldn’t take them both up at once. He’d carry the baby up first and turn on his gas fireplace. The heating was already on, of course.
After he’d released the seat belt, he opened his door and slid out into the storm, the baby carrier sheltered against his chest. He kept a hand on his truck as he went around it. Then he reached out to find the stairs to the apartment. Afraid he’d fall and harm the baby, he kept a tight hold on the banister and climbed slowly.
Once he was inside, he put the carrier on the sofa and crouched down to start the gas fireplace. Then he took the blanket off the top of the carrier. The baby stirred, but then settled down again. He was relieved.
He left the baby and headed out into the storm again. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he opened the passenger door of the truck. “Lady, you’re going to have to help me. Are you awake?” he yelled over the storm. He pulled the mink coat back on her shoulders and fastened the hook.
She accepted the coat, but as he pulled her out, she lay her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. “Lady, we’ve got to get upstairs to the baby. Come on. Hold on to me. We’ll be fine.”
Despite his request, she wasn’t much help. But they eventually reached the top of the stairs. He dragged her the few steps to the front door and opened it, then got her to the sofa and lowered her to the cushions. He felt her face again and headed to the small kitchen for some pain reliever and water.
After giving her the pain reliever and some water, he moved the baby carrier and let the woman lie down on the sofa. He covered her with the mink coat. The baby opened its eyes and suddenly let out a yell.
“So, we’re hearing from you, are we?” He stared at the baby, not sure what to do for her. “Hmm, Mom said your name is Angel. That would make you a girl, wouldn’t it?”
Of course, he received no answer, though the baby continued to scream. He’d thought the mother had passed out, but she pushed herself up and reached for the baby. “Whoa!” Russ said. “You can’t go anywhere. What do I do for the baby? Change her diaper? Feed her?”
“Bottle,” she mumbled.
“Where is it? In the back of the truck?”
She turned to look at him. “I…I don’t know.”
“In the boxes? We loaded boxes from your car in the back of my truck.”
“Yes. I…I think so.”
He zipped up his coat and pulled on his gloves and hat. “Stay under your coat and relax,” he said. Then he hurried out into the storm again, which
showed no indication of letting up. He grabbed two boxes. One was diapers, the other appeared to contain bottles. He carried them up the stairs and set them inside. The baby was crying, but the woman was sleeping. He made two more trips, bringing up the suitcases and a third box.
Each time he entered, the baby was still yelling and the woman still sleeping.
He opened the box labeled “feeding system.” Fortunately there were instructions that were fairly easy to follow. He put the milk mixture in the microwave and heated it for the time given. Then he put the nipple on it and shook it. He felt like a pro when he tested it on his arm the way he’d seen his mother do.
“Okay, baby, I think it’s ready. You want to try?”
He stuck the nipple in the little mouth, which instantly clamped on. He held the bottle with one hand and unfastened the straps holding the baby in the carrier. He should pick her up, shouldn’t he? Then he reached for the phone, leaving her in the carrier. He dialed a number with one hand, knowing it by memory.
“Mom?” he replied to the voice he heard. He was lucky that one of the women on the ranch answered.
“I’ve been wondering about you, Russ,” Janie, his mother, said. “I called half an hour ago.”
“I know, but I just got in. I have a problem. Do you pick up a baby when you’re feeding it?”
Janie remained silent, apparently stunned by his question. Finally she said, “You have a baby?”
“I picked one up on the highway with her mother. The mother is passed out with a high fever. The baby was screaming. I followed directions and fixed the bottle and she’s eating, but—”
“How old is the baby?”
“I’m not sure, but she’s really little.”
“I think so. Her mother said her name is Angel.”
“You haven’t changed her diaper?”
“No. Should I do that?”
“Yes. Halfway through the bottle, burp her on your shoulder. Then change her diaper. Then finish feeding her and burp her again.”
“Okay,” he said, staring at the baby. Then he said, “Thanks, Mom.”
“Wait! Don’t hang up. Is there anything I can do? Do you want your father to drive me into town?”
“No! The storm’s really bad and it’s not ending anytime soon. I’ll call you later when I get this feeding taken care of.”
“Okay, dear. I’m proud of you.”
Russ shook his head. He hadn’t done anything to make his mother proud. Anyone would’ve figured out how to feed that screaming machine. He put the phone down and pulled the bottle out of Angel’s mouth. Immediately the screaming started again. “Baby, you’ve got a siren like I’ve never heard.”
He shrugged out of his jacket, then picked up the
baby. That change of behavior startled the baby and she took a breath. Any hope she was going to stop screaming disappeared, however. He put her on his shoulder and patted her back. She continued to cry, but it wasn’t nonstop.
Her mother stirred and Russ didn’t know what to do. Then a large burp ripped out of the baby. He drew her down from his shoulder, staring at her. This delicate little bundle had made that sound? He hurriedly laid her down on the carpet and grabbed the box of diapers. Then he undid the sleeper and undid the tapes on the diaper.
“Ooh! Definitely ripe, young lady.” He set the dirty diaper aside and spread out the fresh one. It wasn’t too hard to figure out. Finding the right snaps on the pajamas was more difficult. Especially when she continued to scream. He quickly offered the bottle again.
Peace! Her mother stopped trying to get up, now that the baby had stopped screaming. Russ felt as if he’d scored a real success. When the baby got close to the end of the bottle, its little rosebud mouth stopped working. He eased the bottle back, and the little jaws started working again. The third time the baby didn’t move. He thought about skipping the burping again, but he was afraid that would harm the baby. So he put her on his shoulder and burped her again.
This time, after burping, she fell asleep and remained asleep. With relief, he put her in the carrier and covered her with the blanket.
For the first time since he’d picked them up, Russ could take a minute for himself. Then he felt the woman’s face. It was still hot, but not as hot as earlier. He picked up the phone again.
“Dr. Wilson,” Jon said when he answered.
“Jon, it’s Russ.”
“Hey, you doing all right? Some storm, huh?”
“Yes. I picked up a stranded woman and her baby on the road. I managed to feed the baby and she’s sleeping fine. But the woman is very hot. I got some pain relievers and a little water down her, but is there anything else I need to do?”
“Did you put her in bed?”
“No, she’s on the sofa, but I can do that. I’m using her mink coat as cover right now.”
“She’d be better off if she was in bed with regular covers on her. She may get overheated under the fur. What’s her temperature?”
“I don’t know. It’s come down a little since I gave her the medicine, but she’s still hot. I don’t see any rash or anything. I don’t know how long they were stuck out there, either.”
“It’s hard for me to say without examining her. But do you have some soup? Preferably chicken, or beef consommé you could heat up and feed her?”
“I’ll check. Okay. Put her in bed and feed her soup. Anything else?”
“All the liquids you can get down her. Clear liquids, like juice.”
“Okay. If you don’t mind, I may call you later if that doesn’t work.”
“Of course, Russ. Call if you have any questions. Is the baby all right?”
“Well, she’s got the healthiest lungs I’ve ever heard. But she’s sleeping just fine now.” Russ started to hang up, but then he thought of another question. “Hey, how often does she take a bottle?”
“How big is she?”
“Probably every four hours. Don’t wake her. I’m sure she’ll wake you up when she’s ready to eat. Did you change her diaper?”
“Yeah. Okay, I’ll see what I can do for the mom before the baby gets hungry again.”
“Good job, Russ.”
Russ wasn’t used to all the praise coming his way today. He was only doing what he had to do. He shoved those thoughts away and reached for the largest suitcase. He found a pair of silk pajamas in forest-green. He looked at them and then at the woman. They looked conservative enough. He carried them into his bathroom. Then he turned down the king-size bed.
He returned to the couch and pulled off the mink coat. “C-c-cold,” she muttered, not opening her eyes.
“Come on, lady. You’ve got to put on your pajamas and go to the bathroom. Then I’ll put you to bed.”