Sleigh Ride with the Rancher
Harlequin/Mills and Boon Romance
Holiday Miracles Trilogy
November 2012 North America ISBN 978-0373175345
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Stetsons and Snowflakes...
A week before Christmas, city girl Hope McKinnon finds herself snowbound with rugged rancher and all round do-gooder Blake Nelson. What is it about this handsome, generous man that has her blood boiling and her pulse racing?
Blake knows his ranch is the last place Hope wants to be, but somehow her presence feels so right! Hope is the first woman guarded Blake has wanted to be around in a long time. Her visit may be temporary, but he has one more night to convince her to stay...
The Holiday Miracles Trilogy featuring Snowbound In The Earl's Castle by Fiona Harper, Sleigh Ride with the Rancher by Donna Alward and Mistletoe Kisses with the Billionaire by Shirley Jump is available in an anthology in the UK called A CHRISTMAS LETTER. It goes on sale November 2012.
The cold air penetrated clear through Hope McKinnon's jacket as she stepped out of the rented car and looked up at the home base of the Bighorn Therapeutic Riding Facility. It was hardly December and it felt like the bloody arctic! It was a shock to her system after reluctantly leaving the hot brilliance of the Sydney sun only hours before.
She huddled into the wool of the coat and popped the trunk for her bag. The wheels squeaked and dragged on the snow covering the path to the wrap-around porch of the big log home. Coming up the long lane, she'd thought it had a fairy-tale quality, like a romantic ski chalet nestled in the mountains. Twinkle lights were intertwined through evergreen boughs on the railing, glowing softly in the waning light of late afternoon. But that had been in the warm car with the heater going full blast. She shivered. The house was rapidly losing its winter magic as she gave the case a tug over a ridge of packed-down snow. She heaved it up the stairs one at a time, growing more and more irritated until she plunked it down beside her leg and rang the doorbell.
She huddled into her jacket as she waited.
By this time her legs were cold and her feet beginning to go numb in the soft leather boots she wore. She looked around and saw a truck parked next to the barn. She was supposed to meet a man named Blake Nelson, the guy who ran the ranch. She'd been guilt-tripped by her grandmother into coming and taking pictures of his operation, and she wasn't all that pleased about it. She could think of a million other places she'd rather be in December than in the icy cold of Alberta.
But she was here and she was freezing, so she left her suitcase by the door and made her way across the yard towards the barn. A light glowed from a window within, a warm beacon against the grayness of the afternoon shadows. It would be warm inside, wouldn't it? She quickened her step as she neared the door.
The next thing she knew, she was slightly airborne as her boot hit a piece of ice camouflaged by a skiff of snow. The weightless sensation lasted only a second and was immediately followed by a bone jarring, breath-stealing thump as she landed squarely on her rump.
"Ow!" she cried out as her tailbone struck frozen ground. She fought for a few moments as her emptied lungs struggled for air, and then gasped it in painfully, closing her eyes.
When she opened them, she was looking at a pair of worn leather cowboy boots that disappeared into two very long, denim-clad legs. Humiliation burned up her neck and into her cheeks as she forgot the pain in her bottom. What a way to make a first impression!
"You must be Hope," said a warm, deep voice with just the barest hint of a drawl. "Let me give you a hand up."
The rich voice sent shivers down her spine and she struggled to keep her breath even. She looked up then and couldn't help the gasp that escaped her lips. This Blake guy - assuming it was him - was stunning. Incredibly tall, and the form he cut was that of the quintessential cowboy, complete with sheepskin jacket and a dark brown cowboy hat to match, his breath making white puffs in the wintery air. Her photographer's brain was already framing him as if she were behind the lens, capturing him like a great western icon. Like the old time Marlborough Man, she thought, with all the toughness, strength and reliability - minus the cigarette.
"Did you hit your head or something?" He still held out his hand and she realized she'd been staring at him like he was the eighth wonder of the world.
"Sorry," she said, holding up her hand and grasping his wrist. He gave a quick tug and she was on her feet again. She hid her flaming face by twisting and brushing the snow off her pants and tails of her jacket. She didn't stand much of a hope of dignity now. She might as well make the best of it.
"You have to watch out for the odd bit of ice in the yard," he cautioned. "Those boots don't look like they have much tread. I hope you brought something heavier."
She tried to ignore the humiliation that seemed to burn her cheeks at his chastising tone, making her feel foolish and about five years-old. She lifted her eyes and tilted her head to look up, studying his profile as he turned his head to inspect her heeled boots. The looking up was a rarity. At five-foot-ten, and with the modest two-inch heel, she stood an even six feet. And she still had to look up at Blake. He had to be at least six-four, six-five. Most of the time she felt like an ungainly giant, but next to his strong build she felt positively feminine. Or would, except she could still feel the bump on her bum, reminding her of her grand entrance. Perfect.
He turned his head slightly so he faced her squarely, and the part of his face which had been shadowed by his hat was now clearly visible. Her heart seemed to drop to her toes and a small cry escaped her lips before she could stop it.
For the space of several heartbeats she was back in the hospital again, trying terribly hard to look her best friend Julie in the face as the bandages came off. To smile when she felt like weeping; to tell Julie it wasn't that bad when in truth the raw shock and ugliness of it had made her sick to her stomach. The same queasiness threatened now and she gulped in air, needing to steady herself. Marlborough Man wasn't so perfect after all. A long, grotesque scar ran from his right temple clear to his jaw: pink, ugly, and puckered.
"This... enticing love story contains illuminating characters and a sweet ending." Romantic Times
"Sleigh Ride with the Rancher is a beautifully written, visually stunning and deeply touching holiday story." USA Today
"...a wonderfully uplifting Christmas read full of ‘Hope’ and good cheer." Harlequin Junkie
From Sleigh Ride with the Rancher by Donna Alward
Harlequin Romance, November 2012
Copyright 2012 by Donna Alward
Cover art used with permission
This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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