After a hard day's ranching, Wyatt Black wants to kick back with
a cold beer. But when he steps onto his porch he has unexpected
company - his tiny abandoned baby niece!
Against her better judgment, his neighbour Elli Marchuk agrees
to help Wyatt for a few days.
And the girl next door!
Elli soon falls in love with baby Darcy, but it's her grouchy,
gorgeous protector who's got her head over heels...
Elli rubbed her eyes and slid a
bookmark into the textbook, pushing it to the side. If she read
any more today about profit and loss statements she'd go
cross-eyed by the end of the week. Taking the courses by
correspondence had benefits and hindrances. Still, they'd help
her get back on her feet, something she needed to do sooner
rather than later. Being laid off from the hospital was just
the icing on the cake after the year from hell. It was time to
take action. To find a purpose again.
Right now she just wanted a cup
of hot chocolate and something to break up her day - make her
stop thinking. She'd had way too much time to think lately.
About all her failures, mostly.
She jumped as a knock pounded
on the front door, and pressed a hand to her heart. She still
wasn't used to the way things echoed around the vaulted ceilings
of the Cameron's house, including the sound of her footsteps as
she went to the foyer. The house was so different from the
condo she'd shared with Tim in Calgary. It had been nice, in a
good area of town, but this was...
She sighed. This was exactly
what Tim had aspired to. This was the sort of McMansion he'd
mapped out for them. Maybe he'd get it yet. Just not with her.
The pounding sounded again.
She peered through the judas hole and her lips dropped open. It
was the neighbour, the new rancher who lived next door. Her
teeth clenched as she recalled their one and only meeting.
Wyatt Black, he'd informed her in a tone that could only be
considered brusque at best. He'd yelled at her and called her
stupid. The remark had cut her deeply. Normally she would have
brushed off the insult - she'd been called enough names as a
clerk in the emergency room that she'd developed a thick skin.
But in light of recent events, it had made her eyes burn with
humiliation. She'd called him something too, but she couldn't
remember what. She vaguely remembered it had been more polite
than the words going through her mind at the time. She'd
stomped back to the house and hadn't seen him since.
Now here he was, all six brawny
feet of him. Elli pressed her eye up to the peephole once more
and bit down on her lip. Dark hair and stormy eyes and lips
pulled tight in a scowl. And in his arms...
Dear Lord. A baby.
As he knocked on the door
again, Elli jumped back. Now she could hear the thin cries
threading through the solid oak. She reached out and turned the
heavy knob, pulling the door inward, and stepped out into the
"Oh thank God."
Elli's eardrums received the
full blast of the infant's cries mediated only by Wyatt's deep,
but stressed, voice.
"What on earth?"
Mr. Dark and Scowly stepped
forward, enough that his body started to invade her space and
she stepped backwards in reflex.
"Please, just tell me what to
do. She won't stop crying."
Whatever Elli's questions, they
fled as she looked from his harried expression down into the
scrunched, unhappy face. First things first. Her heart gave a
painful twist at the sight of the baby. He clearly expected her
to know what to do. She hated how her hands shook as she
reached out for the soft bundle. The little girl was clearly in
discomfort of some kind. And this rancher - Black - was
certainly not calming her in the least.
Elli pushed the door open
further with her hip, inviting him in as she moved aside, trying
to ignore her body's response to feeling the small, warm body in
her arms. This baby was not William. She could do this. She
pasted on an artificial smile. "What's her name?"
He swallowed thickly as he
stepped over the threshold, his Adam's apple bobbing. Elli's
gaze locked on it for a moment before looking up into his face.
He had the most extraordinary lips. The bottom one deliciously
full above a chin rough with a hint of stubble. The lips moved
as she watched. "Darcy. Her name is Darcy."
Elli felt the warm little
bundle in her arms, the weight foreign, painful, yet somehow
very right. She pressed a hand to the tiny forehead, feeling
for fever. "She's not warm. Do you think she's ill?"
Black came in, shut the door
behind him and Elli felt nerves swim around in her stomach. He
was not a pleasant man. And yet, there was something in his
eyes. It looked like worry, and it helped ameliorate her
"I was hoping you could tell
me. One minute she was asleep, the next she was screaming like
a banshee!" He raised his voice a bit to be heard over the
Her, tell him? She knew next
to nothing about babies, and the very reminder of the fact hurt,
cutting deep into her bones. She scoured her mind for the
things she'd learned about soothing babies from the books she'd
bought and the prenatal classes she'd attended. Food seemed the
most obvious. "Did you try feeding her?"
"She seemed to be fine after I
gave her the bottle from the bag," he explained, rubbing a hand
over his hair. "She drank the whole thing, sucked it right
Elli wrinkled her brow, trying
to recall if Sarah Cameron had mentioned that their reticent
neighbour had a child. She didn't think so. He certainly didn't act like a man who'd come into contact with babies
before. He was staring at her and Darcy with his eyes full of
concern - and panic.
A detail pierced her memory, a
remnant of classes taken what seemed like a lifetime ago.
you heat the milk?"
The full lips dropped open
slightly and his cheekbones flattened. "I was supposed to heat
Elli's shoulders relaxed and
she let out a small chuckle, relieved. Immediately Elli lifted
the baby to her shoulder and began rubbing her back with firm
circles. "She's probably got cramps," she said above the
pitiful crying. It seemed the easiest solution at the moment and
she put the baby against her shoulder and began patting her
back. Hungry - gas - cramps. Elementary. At least she could
fake knowing what she was doing.
"I didn't know," he replied, a
light blush infusing his cheeks beneath the stubble. "I don't
know anything about babies."
"You might as well take off
your boots and come in for a minute," Elli replied, not wanting
to admit that she knew little more than he did and determined to
bluff her way through it. She knew she'd made a mistake going
into his bull pasture earlier this summer and she already knew
what he thought of her common sense. She'd be damned if she'd
let him see a weakness again.
They couldn't stand in the
foyer forever. An enormous burp echoed straight up to the
rafters and a laugh bubbled up and out of Elli's lips at the
violence of the sound coming from such a tiny package. She was
pleased at having discovered the cause and solution quite by
accident. The expression on Black's face was such abject
surprise that she giggled again.
"I'm Ellison Marchuk," she
introduced herself, her shoulder growing warm from the soft
breath of the baby as she sighed against her sweater. "I don't
think we met properly last time."
"I remember," he replied, and
Elli felt the heat of a blush creep up her neck straight up to
her ears. "Wyatt Black, in case you forgot," he
continued pointedly. "Thank you. My ears are still ringing. I
was at my wits' end."
Elli ignored the subtle dig.
Of course she remembered meeting him. It wasn't every day a
perfect stranger yelled at her and called her names. She was
more polite than that, and had been making an attempt to start
fresh. She lifted her chin. "You're welcome, Wyatt Black."
Goodness, Elli thought, as the
name rolled off her tongue. The name matched him perfectly.
She watched with her pulse drumming rapidly as he pushed off his
boots with his toes. Even in his stocking feet, he topped her
by a good four inches. His shoulders were inordinately broad in
a worn flannel shirt. And his jeans were faded in all the right
She swallowed. She needed to
get out more. Maybe she'd been hiding out in the Cameron's
house a little too long, if she were reacting to the irascible
next door neighbour in such a way. Especially a neighbour with
"Read "Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle"
& Enjoy Donna Alward's Unique Voice at Its Best!"
emotional and classic love story... feel-good romance at its
best and I loved it!" Realms on our Bookshelves
"PROUD RANCHER, PRECIOUS
BUNDLE pairs two heart-warmers, cowboys and babies, with an
interesting plot and fascinating characters to deliver an
engrossing read." Cataromance.com
"This is a fast-paced, heartwarming
tale..." Romantic Times Book Reviews, 4 stars
"Reading a Donna Alward
novel is like meeting a new best friend and curling up on
the sofa to dish all the heartache."
Renee Field, Author
of Wild and Tender
Rancher, Precious Bundle has traveled from my TBR pile to my
"I enjoyed their... love story and found
their backstories touching." All About Romance
writing is just getting better
and better. A book not to be
missed." Lynne, Eharlequin
"If you like
a romance with depth and heart
that will stay with you long
after you turn the last page, do
yourself a favor and read this
one!" Deborah Hale, Author of
"Wyatt is one
of my favorite types of
heroes... He's strong, he's
capable, and he's scared out of
his mind. I wanted to take this
guy home to meet my Mom."
Wendy the Super Librarian
From Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle by Donna Alward
Harlequin Romance, Feb 2011
Copyright 2010 by Donna Alward
Cover art used with permission
This edition published by arrangement with
Harlequin Books S.A.
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