Royce got Chico as close to the overturned SUV as he dared and threw his leg over his horse to dismount. He’d been on horseback long enough for the blood flow to get a mite sluggish. Stomping a little, he pulled a folding shovel from his saddlebag. He often had to use it to dig out one of the cows. Apparently he was going to have to do the same for this stranded human.
“Hey!” Royce called. “Are you okay in there? Any injuries?”
There was a brief pause, and then he heard frantic movement. “Is there someone out there?”
“Yes, ma’am. Hold tight and I’ll dig you out.” Royce couldn’t help but think there had to be someone else in the car. Who drove around in torrential snow all alone? “How many people are in there with you?”
“No one else. Just me.” He heard the sound of someone struggling. “My seat belt is stuck. I can’t get out of here.”
“Just hang on.” Royce pulled the last of the snow away from what he suspected was the passenger door of a black SUV of some kind. “I’m going to open the door.” He tried the door, but it didn’t budge. “Ma’am, can you reach the Unlock button?”
“Um, I think so.” There was a rustle and then an audible click
. “Got it!”
Royce tried the door again. It opened a little and then stuck in the snow. Wedging the shovel beneath it, he used both hands to work it open. He needed just enough room to get his shoulders inside the vehicle. He didn’t even pause to puzzle over the fact that she’d obviously put the windows down before the vehicle shut off.
“How long have you been out here, ma’am?”
“An hour?” Her voice wavered, though he could tell she was fighting hard for her composure. “I think the battery died. I suppose I’m lucky I landed upside down so the exhaust could dissipate or I’d have given myself carbon monoxide poisoning. I figured I’d better put the windows down before I couldn’t in case I had to make a run for it in the morning.”
So she was definitely more than some bimbo tourist who’d gotten lost on her way to a resort somewhere. Royce didn’t point out the first most obvious concern, which was that she’d have probably died of exposure before the sun came up. Montana nights weren’t exactly known for their balmy temperatures.
Finally getting his body into the passenger side of the vehicle, Royce got his first look at the damsel in distress. At that point it was quite possible his brain shut down completely.
She was exquisite. Royce had never seen hair so beautiful, which said a lot considering she was wedged up against the side of the vehicle and practically hanging upside down. She’d twisted in her seat belt, probably trying to keep herself from getting a massive head rush. The white-blonde curls framing her face demanded to be touched. He wanted to stroke each lock with his fingertips right before he touched the pale perfection of her cheek.
There was a phone in her hand. She was using the light to see him. In the glare he couldn’t tell what shade her eyes were, but Royce suspected they were the perfect blue of a Montana summer sky. What other color could they be?
“My seat belt is stuck,” she said huskily. “Can you reach it?”
Royce groped in his pocket for the razor-sharp knife he carried at all times. Flipping the black-washed metal open, he reached across the short distance between himself and the lady.
“Stay very still,” he told her gently.
She sucked in a deep breath and held it. Her gaze followed his every move as he slipped the blade between her thigh and the seat belt. It only took a few sawing motions to sever the webbed straps trapping her in place. The lap belt gave way and allowed the shoulder portion to loosen. She immediately relaxed as the tension across her torso disappeared.
Royce closed his knife and twisted to shove it back into his hip pocket. “Can you get out?”
“I think so.” She started the process of squeezing out of her seat.
When she would have dropped like a rock to the bottom of the vehicle’s cab, Royce reached out and grabbed her. She was so tiny. He cradled her against his chest and tried not to notice how perfectly she fit there. She was cold.
“Are you okay?” Royce asked, wishing his voice was a little less gravelly.
“Good Lord, you’re warm as a furnace!”
She had a heavy dose of the South in her voice. He hadn’t particularly noticed until that moment, but it was adorably sweet. A woman like this belonged in some gazebo on the set of Gone with the Wind
with a frosty mint julep in her hand. What was she doing on a mountainside in Montana in the dead of winter?
“Ma’am, we need to get you someplace safe to thaw out.”
“Oh!” She pulled that full, kissable lower lip into her mouth and nipped it with her teeth. “What about my stuff?”
He fought back a grin. He’d already noticed the pile of suitcases in the cargo area. “I’m going to have to say that your stuff needs to wait, ma’am. There’s no way I’m going to be able to fit that luggage on my horse.”
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head as though she was trying to clear it. “Did you just say your horse
“Yes, ma’am.” Royce started backing out of the SUV the same way he’d come in. “His name is Chico, and he’s been waiting nice and patient out there for a while now. I’m thinking he might have some objections to carrying us and all those bags through this snow.”
It was almost comical to realize she was trying to find something polite to say. At least that was what Royce would have bet money she was doing. She had the most expressive face of anyone he’d ever met.
He scooted the rest of the way out of her vehicle and stood up, grateful to be free of the cramped space. He couldn’t even imagine what it had been like for her, trapped and not even sure she was going to make it to the morning.
“My legs are sort of numb.” She tried to stand up and faltered. Reaching out, she grabbed his forearm and nearly sagged against him. “Sorry!”
Royce had no business doing what he did next, but some weird possessive streak prodded him into it anyway. He put one arm beneath her knees and the other around her back and swung her up into his arms.
NEVER IN HER life had Cara Gentry been swept off her feet. Not physically, and most certainly not emotionally, until this strange cowboy came along and dug her out of a snowdrift in the middle of nowhere.
I don’t even know his name.
Not only was this guy a total gentleman, he was so good-looking he sent her hormones into overdrive. Dillon the cheating asshole had been pretty the way so many city-bred men often were. He dressed to the nines, had his hair cut in the latest fashion, and went to the gym four times a week to stay in impeccable shape.
This guy was rough and strong and handsome in a way that said he had never spent one moment of his life thinking about it. He was tall, at least six feet two or three. He was wearing thick jeans and a winter coat with a cowboy hat, but she could tell there was nothing but lean muscle under the layers. His face was covered in a thin layer of dark stubble, but his jaw was strong and square, and his lips were unbelievably sexy. If only Cara could get a good look at his eyes.
“How are you feeling?” His voice rumbled in his chest, and the vibrations tickled her where she rested against him.
“I’m fine now, thank you.” Cara had never felt this shy with a man before in her life. “My name is Cara Gentry. I’d sure like to know your name so I can give you a proper thank-you for rescuing me.”
He glanced down at her. “Royce King.”
“King.” Her brain snagged on a sudden thought. “Oh, my goodness! That K symbol thing on the gate I opened. That was your gate, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He actually sounded amused.
Cara craned her neck, looking around. “Where am
I anyway? I was heading for the regional airport.”
“You missed the turn about an hour back, I’d guess.” Royce chuckled. “No harm done about the gate, though. I closed it before I found you. In fact if I hadn’t gone to investigate the gate, I might not have found you at all.”
His expression changed then, as if he had a very dark thought all of a sudden. “Why are you out here all by yourself, ma’am? It’s downright foolish to try driving to an airport in the middle of a bad storm like this. Especially when the driver is a stranger to the area.”
Cara didn’t want to talk about it. Certainly not now, when they were fast approaching a cute chestnut horse. Royce hadn’t been kidding when he said he had no way to drag her luggage out of the wilderness.
“So this is Chico?” she asked.
“Yes.” Royce gently set Cara on her feet. “Have you ever been around horses?”
“All the time.” Cara took a small step back, glad that her legs could hold her own weight. She eyed the little horse’s saddle and gear. “Although I must say I’ve never ridden Western. It does seem like it would be far more practical if you have to lug all that stuff everywhere with you.”
“You’re comfortable riding double with me, then?” Royce cocked his head, the quizzical expression making him even more devastatingly handsome if that was possible.
“Sure.” Cara wished she didn’t look like something the cat had dragged in. At least that was what she assumed she looked like after spinning, flying, and crashing in her vehicle and then hanging practically upside down for almost an hour.
Royce gathered up his reins and dusted the snow off the saddle. The thick white confetti falling from the sky had tapered off to nothing more than a few lazy flakes. When Royce swung gracefully aboard his horse, Cara’s belly tightened. Attractive
just really didn’t do him justice. Of course it might well have been the situation that was affecting her so deeply. She’d have been in pretty serious trouble had he not stumbled upon her.
He held an arm down. “Up you go.”
Cara had seen this swing-up move many times in the movies. In her real-life experience it never went like it did in films. She was expecting the awkward drag over the horse’s haunches and then having to heave herself over Chico’s rump. Yet when Royce grabbed her arm, he lifted her completely into the air and settled her without incident in the perfect position behind his saddle. Surprised, she fumbled a bit with where she should hold on.
“Hold on to my coat there, ma’am,” Royce murmured, pulling her arms around his waist. “You can put your hands in my pockets if you need to.”
“It’s Cara,” she said softly. “As opposed to ma’am?”
He patted her hand. “All right, then, Cara.”