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STORM A Bad Boys of Dry River Novel Book 6 Susan Fisher-Davis
Table of Contents Title Page Storm (The Bad Boys of Dry River, Wyoming, #6) DEDICATION Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Epilogue More books by Susan
Erotic Romance STORM Bad Boys of Dry River, WY Book 6 Copyright © 2018 Susan Fisher-Davis First E-book Publication: March 2018 Cover design by Amy Valentini Edited by Amy Valentini/Romancing Editorially All cover art copyright © 2018 by Susan Fisher-Davis ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental. PUBLISHER: Blue Whiskey Publishing Susan Davis www.susanfisherdavisauthor.com ABOUT THE E-BOOK YOU HAVE PURCHASED: Your non-refundable purchase of this e-book allows you to only ONE LEGAL copy for your own personal reading on your own personal computer or device. You do not have resell or distribution rights without the prior written permission of both the publisher and the copyright owner of this book. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file sharing peer to peer program, for free or for a fee, or as a prize in any contest. Such action is illegal and in violation of the U.S. Copyright Law. Distribution of this e-book, in whole or in part, online, offline, in print or in any way or any other method currently known or yet to be invented, is forbidden. If you do not want this book anymore, you must delete it from your computer. WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal
copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
DEDICATION As always, to my editor, cover artist, and most of all, my friend, Amy Valentini. I could never do this without you. You have taught me so much and I will be forever grateful. You’re the best! To my betas, Toby, Sandra, Dedee, and Rhonda. You ladies are the best and I love all of you. To my husband, Rob. You are my rock. To my author friends. You are the best people I know. I appreciate your support more than you could possibly know. You know who you are and you know I love you! Last, but certainly not least, to all of you reading this. I wouldn’t be doing this without you. I never thought when I got into this writing thing that I’d have so many of you pushing me for more books. I’m working on them for you, I promise. You are not just my ‘fans’, you are also my friends. I love each, and every, one of you. Enjoy Storm!
addy, can Santa bring me a mommy?”
Storm Bateman sighed. “No, Mandy. We’ve talked about this. Santa only brings gifts.” “But a mommy would be a gift for me. Santa is supposed to bring you what you want.” “Why the hell do I get into this conversation every time?” Storm mumbled under his breath. “Daddy! You said a bad word,” Amanda Bateman chastised her father making him cringe. Storm glanced in the rearview mirror to gaze at his fouryear-old daughter who was scowling at him in the mirror, her little arms folded across the buckles of the car seat safely holding her in place. She couldn’t understand why Santa couldn’t produce a mommy out of his bag of goodies and he had no idea exactly how to explain the reason. “I’m sorry. It slipped out.” “That happens a lot, Daddy.” Storm glanced away so she wouldn’t see his smile. She was far too wise beyond her years. “Well, sometimes it helps to say a bad word or two.” He shrugged. “It makes me feel better but I’ll try not to say them around you, and you are not to repeat them. Okay.” “I know, Daddy. Nana told me not to say them just ’cause you do.” Storm grunted then covered it with a cough. He continued to drive slowly on the snow-covered road. Their home was only a few more miles up the road but with the way the snow was coming down, the roads were bound to get worse in a hurry. Ahead, he could see taillights flashing, and here he thought he was the only idiot out in this shit. He swore under his breath when he saw a car sitting down in a ditch alongside the road with the emergency flashers going. Storm slowed the truck down and pulled to a stop beside the car.
He turned to look at his daughter. “I’ll be right back.” When she nodded, he put his flashers on and grabbed his flashlight from the glove compartment. Pulling on his leather gloves, he then opened the door and stepped out of the truck into the foul weather. It was bitterly cold. The snow swirled around him, slapping him in the face as he looked around. He tugged his cowboy hat low over his forehead, pulled the collar of his sheepskin coat up around his ears, and gingerly made his way to the stranded car. Grumbling under his breath how damn cowboy boots weren’t made for walking on ice or through snow, he knew he’d be lucky if he didn’t fall and bust his ass. He tapped on the window of the snow-covered car. There was no response. “Hello?” He tapped harder. After a few more seconds of silence, he pulled on the door handle and opened the door. There was no one inside. Storm straightened up and glanced around. Where had they gone? He moved his flashlight beam around but saw nothing other than snow. It was too cold to be out so he hoped someone had picked them up and they weren’t trying to walk somewhere in this, because they’d surely die of exposure. The wind was howling and whipping around him, dipping the temperature to well below zero. Sighing, he started to close the door when he saw faint footprints in the snow heading away from the car. Son of a bitch! Whoever it was, they’d decided to walk instead of staying in the safety of the car. Knowing he could never live with himself if he didn’t at least look, he began following the prints in the growing snow depth. “Daddy? Where are you?” Storm heard Amanda yell from behind him. He spun around and trekked back to the truck and his daughter, who was peering out of a partially downed window. “I’m right here, Mandy.” She gazed up at him with moist eyes the same dark color as his. “I couldn’t see you, Daddy. You were leaving me.”
Storm opened the door and leaned inside the truck to smooth his palm along the top of her silky hair. “No, baby. I wasn’t leaving you. I would never leave you.” “Promise?” Her little bottom lip trembled and he felt his heart break a little. “I promise.” He kissed her forehead and then her nose, making her giggle. “I love you, Daddy.” She smiled at him and his heart hit his stomach just as it did anytime his beautiful little girl looked at him. Storm shook his head, hating having worried her. “I love you too, baby girl. You know that, right?” “Yes, Daddy.” Storm kissed her forehead again. “I’ll be right back, okay? Don’t be scared. I think someone may be lost in the snow, and they need our help.” When she nodded, he closed the truck door and again followed the footprints. They were getting harder to see with the snow quickly filling them up. Sighing in frustration, he trudged back to his truck, got in, and drove slowly along the road, looking for any clue that someone was out there in this. He wasn’t having any luck and was about to give up, again thinking someone must have picked them up when Mandy yelled out from the backseat. “Daddy, stop! I saw something back there.” Storm stopped the truck and turned around to look at his daughter. “Are you sure?” “Yes. I think they were sleeping in the snow.” Storm softly swore. Sleeping in the snow! He sure hoped not as he backed the truck up. When he was back almost to the point where he’d started, he drove forward again. It was then his headlights highlighted something on the side of the road. Stopping the truck, he climbed out and trudged to what looked like a bundle of clothes. He crouched down and reached out to touch them.
There was a body beneath the clothes. Storm gently shook them. When there was no response, he rolled the person over and let out a groan. Damn it! Chloe Baxter. Storm growled, scooped her up, returned to the truck, and put her in the front passenger seat. After putting the seat belt on her, he closed the door, and moved around to his side. Climbing in behind the wheel, he leaned her back against the seat, put the truck in gear, and drove slowly toward home. “I have to put the heat on high for a minute, princess.” “Okay. Is she dead, Daddy?” Mandy asked him. “No. She’s just sleeping and needs to get warmed up.” He didn’t mention that if they’d been any later, she’d probably be dead from hypothermia. Chloe’s coat was soaking wet and although she wasn’t too far from her car, the cold weather and snow had made it a difficult trek. Storm shook his head. Why the hell was she out walking in this? Chloe should know better. “Okay, then I’ll whisper,” Mandy said, lowering her voice. Storm smiled. “Okay,” he whispered back and glanced over to Chloe. Great. Just fucking great. He blew out a breath and then concentrated on getting them safely to the ranch. Once he pulled up to the side of his log home, he let out a breath. It always felt good to come home. The lights glowing inside were a welcoming sight. He opened his door and strode around to the passenger side. When he opened the door, Chloe’s limp body leaned out the door with only the seat belt keeping her from falling out. Carefully, he unbuckled it and lifted her out. Looking at his daughter over the seat back, he told her, “I’ll be right back, Mandy.” She nodded so after shutting the door, he quickly carried Chloe inside the house to the spare bedroom. After placing her on the bed, he quickly made his way back to the truck to get his daughter. He unbuckled her from her car seat, lifted Mandy out, and set her on the ground. She walked anytime she could, and he allowed it. Although, there were times when she seemed to prefer her daddy to carry her everywhere and he
allowed that too, because it won’t be too much longer before she won’t want that anymore. Mandy walked beside him, carrying her stuffed bear, Boo. She never went anywhere without it. She grabbed ahold of Storm’s coat and walked beside him up the steps to the porch. Storm opened the door and they moved into the warm kitchen. Storm strode straight to the spare bedroom and moved to stand alongside the bed. He quickly removed his hat and coat, dropping them on a nearby chair, and then stared down at Chloe. Now what? He blew out a breath, knowing he had to get her out of her wet clothes. He glanced down to his side when Mandy tugged on his hand. “I’m sleepy, Daddy,” she said softly rubbing Boo against her cheek. Storm smiled and scooped her up. “Then let’s get my little princess to bed.” By the limpness of her body against his, he knew she was asleep before he reached her bedroom just down the hall. Her bedroom was pink and white. Storm remembered the day she told him she wanted it pink. He almost got sick. But he painted the walls pink with white trim. The white canopy bed, dresser, and chest of drawers made the room fit for a princess. He undressed her and put her pajamas on her. After pulling the covers up to her chin, he tucked Boo in beside her, kissed her forehead and left to attend to his unconscious guest. When he entered the room, he saw Chloe had rolled to her side and was shivering. Storm strode to the bed and rolled her to her back so he could unbutton her long coat. Pulling her upright, he removed it and narrowed his eyes when he saw she was wearing a wedding gown. On her feet were white stilettos. Most definitely, not fit for walking in snow. Working quickly, he lowered the zipper, pulled the damp dress down, and did everything he could to keep his eyes off her ivory demi-cup bra. He swallowed hard when his gaze fell on her long,
shapely legs. Damn! He’d always been a leg man and he knew just how long hers were. Her underwear was dry but he was sure the gown was ruined. Storm didn’t know anything about wedding gowns, but he’d bet this one had been very expensive. He lifted her against his shoulder then pulled the blankets back and laid her down, sliding her long legs under before pulling the covers up to her chin, and tucking them in around her. Her blonde hair was damp on the ends and her long eyelashes cast shadows on her pale cheeks. A pert nose sat above a sexy pair of Cupid’s bow lips. She sighed against the pillow, and his groin tightened. Oh hell no! He left the room and grabbed some extra blankets from the hall closet. Walking quickly to the mudroom, he tossed them into the dryer, setting it on high for fifteen minutes. Then he walked down the hall to his bedroom and headed for the shower. His jeans were wet from being out in the snow, so he needed warming up too. As the hot water slid down over him, his mind kept going back to Chloe. She sure had a fantastic body. Tight and toned, he wouldn’t mind hopping into bed with her but he just didn’t need the hassle. He saw a woman in town for his sexual needs. Sarah was a good woman and the sex was…well, it was okay. No skyrockets but good enough and she didn’t expect anything more from him than just sex. The one woman he’d fallen in love with and married had left him and their daughter four years ago. Storm had decided a long time ago never to make that mistake again. He turned the water off and dried off with a fluffy black towel, which matched the color scheme of the bathroom. Large black tiles with white swirling through them covered the floor. The walls were white and the black pedestal sink, tub, and toilet gleamed. He walked naked into his bedroom. The large king size bed sat centered on one wall, a large dresser and mirror sat opposite it. Sliding glass doors centered between glass panels made up one entire wall and opened out to a currently covered swimming pool. A fireplace, with wood ready for a match to be set to it, filled the corner opposite the
bed. When he’d built the house six years ago, he’d put a fireplace in every bedroom of the house because the electricity easily could go out in the winter. There was a generator for emergencies but a fireplace was good to have too, and cozier. He pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt then walked back to the mudroom to retrieve the blankets. Storm returned to the room he’d put Chloe in, blankets in hand. He wrapped the warm blankets around her then stared down at her. She was too beautiful to be anywhere near him. He just didn’t need her back around him. He’d done his best to stay away from her before and had actually been relieved when she left town. Sighing, Storm left the room, entered his own, and walked to his bed. Pulling the blankets back, he got into the bed. Chloe’s face arose in front of him. She was so beautiful…and so off limits. What was she doing back in Dry River anyway? The last time he’d seen her was at Dakota and Megan’s wedding reception. His thoughts returned to the one night they’d… No. He wasn’t going there. The snow was getting heavier as the night went on and more was expected. She was lucky he and Mandy had come along. She should have stayed with her car. What was she thinking trying to walk out in that kind of weather? He grunted and shook his head. He’d quit trying to figure out women years ago. He supposed he’d find out what was happening with her tomorrow. With the weather as it was, she was going to be staying here for a while.
CHLOE JERKED AWAKE and quickly glanced around the room. Where was she? The last thing she remembered was getting her car stuck in a ditch, and then trudging through deep snow heading for Kendra’s home. Sitting up, she tossed the blankets back and let out a gasp when she discovered she was wearing only her bra and panties. Who had undressed her?
She moved her gaze around the room once more, taking in the dark mahogany furniture. The bed was a four-poster queen size, and a large dresser sat along one wall. Closet doors lined another wall with a door leading to a bathroom and there was a fireplace next to a row of windows. Another door, one she assumed lead out of the room sat on the other wall. Sunlight poured in from the two large windows. Chloe noticed a robe lying across a chair sitting in a corner. She quickly snatched it up and put it on, even though it was far too big for her. Then she tiptoed to the door, and opened it slowly. Peering out into the hallway, she listened. It was quiet. Was everyone still asleep? A big question, of course, was who was everyone? Glancing over her shoulder, she searched for a clock and saw one on the bedside table. Eleven. Sighing, she opened the door further and stepped into the hallway. It was then she heard a child’s laughter followed by a deep masculine laugh. She headed toward the sound and stopped in the doorway of what was obviously the kitchen. It was a large room with black appliances, and mahogany hardwood floors with matching cabinets. The marble countertops were charcoal and a large table sat centered in the room on top of an oval braided rug. A man stood with his back to her at the stove. For some reason, that butt covered in tight jeans looked strangely familiar. She placed one bare foot on top of the other as she pondered it. “Hi.” Chloe looked down at the beautiful little girl standing in front of her. She squatted down and smiled at her. “Hi. I’m Chloe Baxter. What’s your name?” she asked even though she was sure who the little girl was. Damn. Was this really happening? The little girl smiled, showing deep dimples in her cheeks. “I’m Amanda Jo Bateman and that…”—she pointed over her shoulder—“…is my daddy. His name is Storm. Everybody calls me Mandy.” She leaned toward Chloe and whispered, “’Cept Daddy calls me Amanda Jo if he’s mad.” She put her hand over her mouth and giggled.
Chloe laughed. “I doubt if he gets mad at you very often. You’re way too pretty to get mad at.” Mandy bobbed her head up and down. “That’s what he says.” Chloe smiled at her and turned her gaze to the man standing by the stove, and choked back a gasp. It was happening. Storm Bateman. The man of her dreams stood staring at her. He was the type of man she’d always wanted. Drop-dead gorgeous. His thick black hair touched the collar of his flannel shirt and although his square jaw was clean-shaven, she could see a shadow. His nose was straight and sat over a sexy set of lips. Lips, that she already knew exactly how to kiss a woman breathless. Her eyes moved to his. They were so dark they appeared black…something about him that had always intrigued her. Not being able to stop herself, her gaze moved down over his broad chest, to the front of his jeans. She mentally groaned. He definitely knew how to fill out a pair of jeans. They hugged him in all the right places. From his thick thighs to his ample sex. Chloe’s eyes traveled back to his face and felt her cheeks flame when he raised an eyebrow at her. Closing her eyes, she internally groaned. “Would you like some coffee?” he asked. Chloe straightened up and nodded. “Are you hungry? My daddy makes the bestest pancakes.” Chloe watched as Mandy walked under the table, pushed out a chair, and climbed into her booster seat. “Actually, I am starving.” Chloe smiled. The little girl was the spitting image of her father…from her dark hair to her dark eyes. Her silky hair was up in a ponytail making Chloe smile to think that no one other than Storm could’ve done it for her. “She’s starving, Daddy. Make some more pancakes,” Mandy ordered. “Yes, ma’am.” “Can I do anything to help?” Chloe asked.
“No. I’ve got this…have a seat. We have pancakes every Sunday. It’s just later than usual since we all slept so late.” “This is Boo. He’s my best friend, after my daddy.” Mandy shoved a stuffed bear at her. Chloe took the bear and looked it over. There was nothing special about it. Boo was just a brown stuffed teddy bear with black eyes, but obviously special to this little girl. “He’s very handsome.” Mandy giggled. “Daddy says he’s ugly.” Chloe burst out laughing and glanced over to Storm, who was shaking his head. “Heaven help me but she hears things she shouldn’t,” he muttered. “I heard that too, Daddy.” Mandy laughed. Chloe snickered when Storm groaned. However, her stomach rumbled when he set a huge plate of pancakes in the center of the table. When she looked up at Storm and noticed a pink barrette in his hair, she couldn’t stop the laugh that erupted from her throat. He raised an eyebrow at her. “The barrette is very becoming on you,” she said, grinning. Storm reached up and removed the barrette then grinned. “Mandy likes to play hairdresser, but I draw the line at cutting.” “It’s great that you let her practice on you.” “Help yourself,” he told her, his deep voice making her shiver. “Are you cold? Do you have other clothes in your car?” “Yeah, I have a few suitcases in the trunk.” She gazed up at him. “Thank you. Did you…?” She stopped and glanced down at her body encased in the oversized robe. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth thinking of what he saw if he had. “Undress you?” At her nod, he grinned, showing perfect white teeth. “Yes. Now hurry before the food gets cold. By the way, your shoes and dress are probably ruined.”
Chloe felt her cheeks growing red. Oh dear God! He had undressed her. She groaned as she thought of him taking off her clothes. At least, he’d left her in her bra and panties. Although in all honesty, they didn’t cover much. She pulled the robe tighter around her. But then again, it wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before. That thought made the heat rise in her cheeks again. “Maybe Santa bringed her for me, Daddy.” “Brought. Mandy, I told you that Santa doesn’t bring mommies.” “Then why did we find her? Nana says everything happens…uh, I forget.” “Happens for a reason.” “Yeah, so that’s what happened. A reason.” “I’m not having this conversation with you, Amanda Jo. Eat your pancakes.” “Okay, Daddy.” Chloe cleared her throat. It was obvious to her it didn’t bother Mandy at all that her daddy used her full name. Mandy grinned at her and climbed down from her seat. “Sit by me, Chloe.” Mandy pushed the chair out next to her. “Please sit by me, Chloe,” Storm corrected his daughter. “She’s gonna sit by me, Daddy.” Mandy frowned at her father. Chloe took her bottom lip between her teeth to keep from laughing. Storm glanced at her, blew out a breath, and shrugged. Chloe took the seat beside Mandy and loaded her plate with pancakes. When she took her first bite, she moaned with delight. “These are fantastic.” She glanced at Storm to see him staring at her. She lowered her eyes. “Thank you.”
“Daddy makes the bestest ones ever.” Mandy climbed back into her seat then picked up her fork and dug in. She glanced up at Chloe. “You have really pretty hair. Don’t she, Daddy?” “Doesn’t she,” Storm corrected again. “And yes, she does.” Chloe’s gaze met his. They stared at each other until Mandy interrupted. “I’ll learn when I go to school, Daddy.” “Yes, you will.” He smiled at his daughter. Chloe bit back a groan. The man was so hot and it made him even hotter that he loved his little girl so much. Chloe could see the love in his eyes each time he looked at Mandy and the little girl truly adored her father. “Anyway…I like your hair. I wish I had yellow hair.” Mandy grinned up at her. “But you have beautiful hair, Mandy.” Mandy giggled. “I know. My Nana tells me that all the time. She’s Native ’merican. Her name is Jaya.” Chloe glanced at Storm and took in the high cheekbones, straight nose, and dark eyes. “That’s fascinating. I bet she’s beautiful too.” “Nana is really beautiful. Daddy looks like her and I look like Daddy so I guess that means I look like Nana.” Mandy frowned then suddenly grinned as if just realizing the implication. Storm chuckled. “That was a mouthful, princess.” “Jaya is a beautiful name,” Chloe said. “It means Victory in Cheyenne,” Storm told her. Chloe nodded. “I like that. Well, thank you for bringing me here. After I help you clean up, I’ll be on my way. I’ll just call Kennie…what?” She stopped when she saw Storm shaking his head. “You need to take a look outside, darlin’.”
Chloe stared at him. He’d called her darlin’. It had been a long time since a man had used an endearment when speaking to her. She knew it didn’t mean anything but it was nice to hear. She stood and moved to the window only when she gazed out, she gasped. The yard and driveway lay covered in snow. Deep snow. And more was coming down in a heavy flow. She spun around to look at Storm. He stood leaning against the counter with his arms folded across his broad chest. She thought if he laughed, she’d scream “I don’t think you’re going anywhere for a while,” he said softly. “But…but no, I don’t have any clothes with me.” Chloe knew it was a stupid thing to say but it was the first thing that popped in her head. Staying here was definitely not a really great idea. “I’ll take the truck and get your clothes but trust me…it’s only going to get worse. In the meantime, I’ll give you one of my T-shirts, some socks, and a pair of sweatpants. You can keep the robe too. It’s mine, but I never use it. My mom bought it for me years ago. Your car is only a mile or two up the road. I should be able to get there and back within an hour.” “An hour?” Chloe couldn’t comprehend it taking that long. “The roads are bad but if you want your clothes, I need to go now before it turns to ice.” Chloe nodded. “All right. Do you want me to go with you?” “No. Just stay here with Mandy, please.” “Daddy, no! I want to go with you,” Mandy screamed as she wrapped her arms around his legs. He bent down and picked her up. “I’ll be back soon. Don’t I always come back when I say I will?” He wrapped his arms around her. Mandy nodded but continued to cry. Chloe slowly moved to her and rubbed her back.
“How about we play a game or watch a movie together while we wait for your daddy to come back?” Mandy peered at her. “I want to watch my princess movie. Daddy says I’m a princess. I have tara too.” “Tara?” “Yep, I’ll get it.” Mandy pushed away from Storm so he put her down and she ran down the hallway. Chloe looked at Storm to see him leaning against the counter with his arms folded and a grin lifting his lips. She frowned as she stared at him. When Mandy came back into the room with a tiara on her head, Chloe did her best not to laugh as she realized what a tara was. She narrowed her eyes at Storm. “You could have told me.” “No way. The look on your face trying to figure out what she meant by tara was priceless.” Chloe smiled and crouched down in front of Mandy. “Your daddy’s right, you are a princess with a beautiful, uh, tara. Come on, let’s go watch the movie.” She sighed, her heart melting a bit when Mandy wrapped her arms around her, and so she picked her up. Chloe nodded to Storm. “Thank you, and please…be careful.” “I’ll be right back. If I’m not back in an hour, get Jimmy. He’s in the barn. He’ll come after me. Just in case, my cell reception fades.” “Maybe you shouldn’t go.” Chloe nibbled on her bottom lip. She watched as Storm’s eyes lingered on her lips. “You’ll need your clothes. It’s best if I go now before it gets worse.” “All right. Just please be careful, Storm.” “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He pulled his coat and hat on then left.
fter she changed into the clothes Storm gave her, Chloe cleaned up the kitchen with Mandy’s help…well, with Mandy chatting away a mile a minute the entire time. “I’m real excited for Santa to come. It won’t be long,” Mandy told her. Chloe smiled. “Not too much longer. It seems like Christmas is here so fast after Thanksgiving.” “We’re going to Nana’s for turkey. You can come too.” Mandy jumped up and down. “I’m sure I’ll be gone by then, Mandy,” Chloe said. Mandy stopped hopping and stared up at her. “Where are you going?” “I, uh…I don’t know yet,” Chloe mumbled. “Then you can stay with us.” Mandy nodded her head and lifted a plate up toward the sink. Chloe took the plate and sighed. “Sweetheart, I can’t stay here forever.” “How long has my daddy been gone?” Mandy asked. Chloe shook her head at the switch of conversation and glanced at the clock. “Only ten minutes. Let’s go watch your princess movie and he’ll be back before you know it.” Mandy ran to the living room leaving Chloe to clean up alone, which was probably a good thing. She finished loading the dishwasher, found the detergent, and set it to run then she headed to the living room, where she took a seat on the couch beside Mandy. The movie was already beginning. She gazed around the room. It was a nice room. The interior walls were log. The TV hung above a large stone fireplace and large windows let light filter in giving the room a light friendly feel. The hardwood floors were dark mahogany with scattered rugs. Chloe stood and walked to the foyer, and the full glass door. She opened it and stepped outside. The wind almost had
her running back inside but she wanted to see the house. The front porch ran along the entire front of the house with a swing at one end. A few rocking chairs sat empty and covered in snow. The exterior walls were rough-hewn logs. The snow covered most of the porch but didn’t quite reach the house. She tiptoed around the snow and water spots on the porch to peek around the side. The porch actually wrapped around the side as well and led to the side door. She could see tire tracks in the snow, leading away from the house. Snow and ice pellets blew in, hitting her in the face making it feel as if someone had tossed glass at her. As she stood there peering around the corner of the porch, she saw a man coming toward the house from the barn. He halted in his tracks when he saw her. He put his hand over the top of his cowboy hat to hold it in place as he continued forward and stepped up onto the porch. “Hello,” he said to her with a smile. “Hello.” “Huh, who are you?” Chloe smiled. “A damsel in distress.” The man’s eyes widened, and then he laughed. “I’m Jimmy Howell.” He took the glove off his hand and stuck it out toward her. He was an older man, possibly in his mid to late fifties. Chloe put her hand in his and shook it. “Nice to meet you, Jimmy, I’m Chloe Baxter.” Jimmy was about to say something when Mandy came running around the porch and launched herself at him. He laughed as he caught her. “Hey Mandy Pandy!” Mandy giggled and laid her head on his shoulder. “We’re watching my princess movie. This is Chloe.” “I know. We’ve met. Where’s your daddy?” “He went to get Chloe’s clothes. We found her last night in the snow. She was sleeping.”
Jimmy looked at Chloe. “Really? People shouldn’t sleep in the snow.” Mandy nodded her head. “It’s why we bringed her home.” “Brought.” Jimmy corrected then he turned to Chloe. “You were stranded?” “I tried to avoid a deer and ran off the road. I got out and started walking…” She stopped at Jimmy’s groan and grinned at him with a humble shrug. “Yes, I know. Not a smart thing to do. I remember getting so tired I couldn’t go on and then the next thing I knew, I’m waking up here. Mr. Bateman went to get my suitcases since it doesn’t look like I’ll be going anywhere for a few days.” “It will probably be more than a few days. We’re expecting two bad storms to move in—another in a few days, and one next week.” “Next week is Thanksgiving,” Chloe stated with a frown. “Yes, ma’am and if you have somewhere you need to be, you’d better be letting them know you won’t make it.” “I…don’t,” she whispered. She didn’t really know what her future held for her anymore. Jimmy stared at her. “How long has the boss been gone?” “Not more than fifteen minutes or so, and he said to find you if he wasn’t back in an hour.” Jimmy nodded. “All right. I’m heading home but I live on the property, so if he isn’t back in that time, let me know. My phone number is beside the phone in the kitchen.” “But how will you go get him? Won’t you both get stuck?” Jimmy smiled. “I’ll go after him with horses.” He tipped his hat. “You lovely ladies have a nice time watching your movie. You both need to get inside before you get too cold.” He set Mandy down, walked down the steps, and headed toward the barn. Chloe picked Mandy up and watched as Jimmy walked past the barn and disappeared around the side of it. She
shivered with the cold so she carried Mandy inside and set her on the sofa. She walked over to the fireplace and noticed it was ready for a fire, just needing a match set to it—easy peasy. Her eyes skimmed the mantel where she found a pack of matches and easily lit the fire. She stood back watching it snap and crackle as the flames rose higher then suddenly, smoke began to fill the room. Chloe waved her hand in front of her face, coughing. “Oh my God! Did I catch the house on fire?” “Call Jimmy,” Mandy yelled as she ran around the room. Chloe ran for the kitchen, found his number, and called him. She explained the problem. “Damper? How do I do that?” She listened to him explain as she carried the phone back into the living room. The room was filling up with smoke but the fire seemed to be dying. “The fire’s going out.” Chloe nodded as she listened to Jimmy explain about the damper and that she should have opened it before starting the fire. “How was I supposed to know that? I’ve never started a fire before,” she muttered as she hung up. She sat on the hearth and doing as Jimmy instructed, she opened the damper. Most of the smoke rose up the chimney but quite a bit still filled the room. Chloe sighed as she glanced around the smoke filled room. Storm wouldn’t be happy about this, of that she was sure. “Mandy, we need to open the doors and windows to get the smoke out.” Mandy stopped running and gazed up at her. “But it’s cold out.” Chloe squatted down in front of her. “I know, sweetheart, but we need to get the smoke out of the house.” Mandy put her hand over her nose, and giggled. “It stinks.” Chloe stood. “Yes, it does but if we open the doors and windows, it will get better.” Mandy nodded and ran to the kitchen. “Okay.”
Chloe opened the front door and then entered a room located across the foyer from the living room. A large cherry table with bench seats on each side sat centered in the room. A buffet sat under a huge window…a huge window that unfortunately, didn’t open. A large hutch sat on the opposite wall. She headed through another doorway that took her into the kitchen. She lifted the window over the sink and turned to the door. It was open, but she didn’t see Mandy anywhere. “Mandy?” she called as she walked to the open door. Her heart slammed into her ribs when she saw the child running around in the snow with no coat on. Chloe stepped onto the porch. “Mandy! Get in here. It’s too cold to be out there.” Mandy ran around laughing. When she fell, Chloe ran down the steps and picked her up. Snow covered Mandy’s face but she was fine, if her laughter was anything to go by. Chloe lifted her into her arms and returned to the kitchen. Chloe carried her through the living room. The little girl needed dry clothing. “Where’s your room?” Mandy pointed down the hallway as her teeth started to chatter. “I’m c-cold.” “You shouldn’t have gone out there. Your daddy’s going to be so mad,” Chloe murmured. Mandy started crying. “I don’t want Daddy to be mad.” Chloe hugged her. “Oh, honey, he won’t be mad at you. He’ll be mad at me.” “We won’t tell him.” Chloe laughed. “He’ll know. He’s not going to be happy about all the smoke in the house either.” Chloe wouldn’t be surprised if he tossed her out on her ear.
STORM FINALLY REACHED Chloe’s car. Ice was beginning to fall on top of the already snow-covered roads. His truck was four-wheel drive but that didn’t help on the ice. He hoped to get her things and hightail it back to the house
before it got much worse. She had some serious explaining to do. Why in the hell was she in a wedding gown, and then to be walking to God knows where in it in the snow. She’d been in Wyoming long enough to know not to try to walk any distance in snow like this. She could have frozen to death. Son of a bitch! What was she thinking? Storm parked his truck in the road, put the emergency flashers on, and climbed out. He was certain he was the only one out in this weather. He trudged through the deep snow then pulled open the car door as far as he could with snow piled against it, and pushed the button to release the trunk. He walked around the back of it and started pulling her suitcases out. He was shocked when he heard a horn blow and glanced over his shoulder to see his friend, Montgomery Bradford. They’d grown up together on the Cheyenne Reservation until their mothers moved here to Dry River, where they’d met Lucas Taggart, Cooper Lang, Lincoln Cole, and Dakota Walker. As young boys, they had become inseparable and still remained close friends as grown men. Storm walked through the snow to the cruiser. “Hey, Mont. What the hell are you doing out in this?” “I could ask you the same thing,” Mont said, smiling. “Whose car?” “Chloe’s.” “Chloe? As in Chloe Baxter?” “One and the same. I came across her last night. I found her a little way up from the car. Lying in the snow. She was unconscious. I took her to my house. Good thing I came along when I did. She could have frozen to death.” Storm grit his teeth. It still pissed him off that she’d tried walking in this weather. “Damn. She should know better than that,” Mont said and then grinned up at him. “So, she’s staying at your house, huh?” “Fuck you, Bradford. Don’t even go there.” “Not a very respectful way to speak to a sheriff’s deputy.”
Storm laughed. “I was speaking to you as a so-called friend.” Mont laughed. “I’m on my way home now. My shift is over, unless I get called out for any accidents. No one should be out in this, including you. You need to get home, Storm.” “Yes sir. I’m going as soon as I get her luggage. With this ice mixing in with the snow, it will get worse before it gets better.” Mont saluted. “Do you want me to follow you home?” “I’m good. Go on home to Isabella and those babies.” “With pleasure. I might even have her warm me up.” “Too much information, Mont.” “I’ll see you around. Be careful.” Mont put his window up and drove around Storm’s truck. Storm watched him go down the road then turned to get the rest of the luggage. There were several large and small suitcases. Where was she taking all of this? She’d been in a wedding dress when he found her, which led him to think maybe she’d run off from her wedding but what was the hurry to get back here that she didn’t change her clothes. Chloe getting married. Why did the thought of that bother him so much? Well, he was going to get the story out of her. Soon. Storm loaded the bags into the back seat then climbed into his truck, found a place to turn around, and headed home. Slowly.
THE SMOKE HAS JUST begun to clear out of the house when Chloe heard Storm calling for them. Chloe stood and sighed. “We’re in Mandy’s bedroom,” she called out and cringed, waiting for the reaction. A not happy looking Storm filled the doorway. “What’s with all the smoke? Are you both all right?”
“We’re fine. I lit the fire and didn’t know about opening the damper,” Chloe told him. She watched as he tipped his head down, the cowboy hat hiding his face. When he glanced up, she could see the laughter in his eyes. “Never lit a fire before, huh?” Chloe placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at him. “No.” At least he didn’t seem angry about it. His lips twitched and then he noticed Mandy. “Why is your hair wet, Amanda Jo? Did you take your bath already?” “No. I went outside, Daddy.” “Why?” Chloe heard the anger behind the softly asked question. “I wanted to play in the snow,” Mandy whispered. “It’s my fault—” Chloe started to say but when Storm shifted his dark eyes at her, she stopped. “Is it Chloe’s fault, Amanda?” “No, Daddy.” Mandy wouldn’t look up at her father, Chloe noticed. “Storm, I told her to open the back door and—” “You didn’t tell her to go out into the snow, did you?” “Of course not.” “Then it’s Amanda’s fault.” Storm’s eyes ran over her. “You’re wet too. Your suitcases are in your room. You need to change out of those wet clothes.” There was no doubt, she’d been dismissed and he was going to deal with Mandy going outside on his own. Chloe didn’t know what kind of father he was, but she hoped he didn’t spank the little girl. She walked past him and headed to her room. She started to shiver as she stripped the wet clothes off. Glancing down at herself, she was shocked she’d gone out into the snow with only socks on her feet to get Mandy when she fell. Chloe paused to listen but didn’t hear either of them talking and since she didn’t hear any crying, she felt a little more at ease.
“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, Amanda Jo?” Storm moved into the room, closing the door behind him, and narrowing his eyes at his daughter then walked to the bed. “I wanted to play in the snow, Daddy.” Mandy lifted her head and stared up at him. He squatted down in front of her. “You know you do not go outside alone. We’ve talked about this. There are too many dangers out there for you to be on your own outside.” “Yes, Daddy.” Mandy moved closer to him, wrapped her arm around his neck, and worked her way onto his lap. He did his best not to smile. She knew how to get to him. “So, why did you?” he asked quietly. “I don’t know.” Mandy laid her head on his shoulder. “It’s so pretty.” “What if you’d have gotten lost? What if Chloe hadn’t seen you?” “I wasn’t going to go far. I just wanted to play in it.” “I’ve told you about the wild animals that can be around and I’ve told you how dangerous it is to be out in deep snow. You are never to do that again. Do you understand me, Amanda Jo Bateman?” “Yes, Daddy,” Mandy told him and then kissed his cheek. “Can I take a bubble bath to get warm?” Storm chuckled. “Yes. Let me change and I’ll be right back.” He set her on the bed then headed down the hallway toward his bedroom. How could he stay mad at her? All she had to do was look at him with those dark eyes and he was a goner. He faltered in his steps when he saw Chloe standing in the doorway of her bedroom. She was nibbling on her bottom lip and looking concerned. Storm almost groaned. “Is…is everything all right?” Chloe asked him.
He nodded. “Yes. She knows she’s not supposed to go outside alone. This ranch has over a thousand acres, she could easily get lost and in snow, it would be even worse. I know she says she won’t wander off but she’s a little girl, and curious.” Chloe nodded. “I’m sorry—” “We’ve established this, Chloe. It wasn’t your fault. Amanda knows what she did was wrong. She needs to learn to take responsibility.” “Did you punish her?” “Punish her? No. I scolded her and now she wants to take a bubble bath, which I’ll help her with once I get out of these wet jeans.” “How did you get back so fast?” “They plowed the roads…” He held his hand up when she started to interrupt. “Your car is still buried and they won’t be getting to it for days…or possibly weeks. I’m afraid you’re stuck here. Freezing rain is mixing in with the snow now. It won’t be long before the roads are impassable again. If you need to let someone know where you are, you need to call them if you haven’t already.” “There’s no one,” she whispered. Storm stared at her. “No one? What about…” Then he shook his head. Now wasn’t the time to get into her snowy fashion statement. Chloe cleared her throat. “No. I haven’t let anyone know I was coming back, yet.” He gave a terse nod. “Well, you’re welcome here as long as you need. Now, I need to change or my daughter will think I’ve forgotten her.” Chloe laughed. “I doubt that. She adores you.” “I feel the same about her.” He headed to his bedroom and closed the door behind him. Damn, Chloe had the bluest eyes—eyes that could suck a man in and bring him to his knees. However, he’d been on his
knees once and he wouldn’t be there again. He pulled his jeans off, tossed them into the hamper, and then pulled out a clean pair of sweatpants. After dressing, he strode down the hall to his daughter’s bedroom and heard laughter coming from inside the adjoining bathroom. He smiled when he saw Chloe on her knees beside the tub and Mandy almost covered in bubbles. Mandy turned to look at him. “Hi Daddy. Chloe’s helping me take a bath.” Storm leaned against the doorjamb and folded his arms. “I see that.” “Is it all right? I was heading for the living room and Mandy called me in to help her…” “It’s fine. She gets a little impatient at times.” “What’s in patient, Daddy?” Storm chuckled. “Impatient, it means you can’t wait.” Mandy giggled. “Daddy always tells me to hold my horses.” She shook her head. “I don’t have a horse, but I do have a pony. Her name is Ariel…like the mermaid.” Storm groaned. “I tried to convince her to pick something else but she’s hardheaded.” “I wonder where she gets that from…and I happen to think it’s a great name,” Chloe told him. “You would.” Storm smiled at her, and their eyes caught and held. He cleared his throat and pushed away from the door. “Don’t let her turn into a prune.”
“HE’S WAY TOO GORGEOUS for my own peace of mind,” Chloe muttered. “Do you like my daddy?” Chloe started. “Well…sure. He’s really nice to let me stay here until the snow clears.”
Mandy giggled. “You can’t go anywhere else.” Suddenly, she frowned. “What if we can’t get to Nana’s for turkey?” “I don’t know, honey.” Chloe had no idea what to tell her. She was certain Mandy and Storm wouldn’t be going anywhere, if what Jimmy told her was true. Another storm moving in next week would just make any type of travel impossible. She reached for a fluffy pink towel and had Mandy stand. She lifted her out and dried her. Then still naked, Mandy ran to her bedroom and jumped on her bed. Chloe sighed and laughed. To have even half of Mandy’s energy would be more than enough. Chloe entered the bedroom to find Mandy jumping up and down on the bed. She folded her arms and stared at the little girl. “Are you allowed to do that?” Mandy dropped down quickly and shook her head. “No.” “You’re just doing it to see if I’ll let you. Is that it?” Mandy frowned. “I like doing it but Daddy doesn’t like it when I do.” Chloe walked to the bed. “Then don’t do it. He’s probably afraid you’ll fall and hurt yourself. Didn’t you just get scolded for not listening?” Mandy nodded. “I know,” she whispered. “Daddy doesn’t like to yell at me.” “Then don’t make him. You know Santa is coming soon so you need to be extra good.” Mandy gasped. “I forgot. Santa will be mad at me for going out in the snow and jumping on my bed.” Her little bottom lip trembled. Chloe sat on the bed beside her. “He’ll let those two things go if you behave now. What do you say to getting dressed?” “Okay. I’ll be good.” Mandy ran to her dresser and pulled out pajamas. “Isn’t it a little early in the day for PJs?” “I like wearing them. Daddy lets me.”
“Daddy spoils you,” Chloe murmured. Mandy giggled. “That’s what Nana says.” She ran from the room after dressing. Chloe sighed again and followed the little bundle of energy into the living room. Storm sat in a recliner watching TV. She watched as Mandy crawled onto his lap. Chloe envied the little girl. She took a seat on the sofa. “She wanted to wear her PJs.” Storm nodded. “She loves to put them on after a bath, no matter what time she had the bath.” Chloe nodded and totally understood. She wished she could do the same. “I’ve never asked what type of ranch you have, Storm.” “It’s a horse ranch. I—” “Daddy raises ’rabian horses,” Mandy volunteered by interrupting. Storm smiled at her. “Close. I raise and sell Arabian horses.” “I don’t know horses.” “They’re big animals.” Mandy frowned. Chloe laughed. “I know what a horse is. I meant I don’t know how to tell the difference in the breeds.” “The Arabian is a horse breed that originated on the Arabian Peninsula. They have a distinctive head shape and high tail carriage, and are one of the most easily recognizable horse breeds in the world. It’s also one of the oldest breeds. Archaeological evidence of horses in the Middle East that resemble modern Arabians date back over four thousand years. They have a wonderful grace about them, are easily trainable, and are a dream to ride,” Storm told her. “I think all horses are beautiful. I’ve just never ridden.” “Daddy, Chloe will have to ride with us when we go get our tree,” Mandy said.
Storm nodded. “If she wants to go with us, she will.” “You ride horses to get a tree?” Storm nodded. “Yes. We go up to the north pasture. There are all types of pine trees up there and Mandy likes to pick one out. She always gets the biggest one she can find. Then we drag it back here and set it up.” “Of course, you do,” Chloe murmured. “You don’t have to go. It’s our tradition. Jimmy and Claire go with us and pick out a tree for themselves too.” “Claire?” Chloe felt a stab of jealousy over an unknown woman. What is wrong with you? “Claire is Jimmy’s wife.” “I met Jimmy when I was outside earlier. He came over and introduced himself.” “I’m surprised Claire hasn’t trudged through the snow to meet you then.” Chloe nodded. She was sure Jimmy mentioned her being here to his wife and wondered what he’d said about her. Probably how she was a crazy woman who didn’t know to stay with her car in a snowstorm. Chloe shivered when she thought of what could have happened if Storm hadn’t come along and saved her. She would have frozen to death and been plowed under when the trucks went by. Her body might not have been found until spring. She shivered again. “Are you cold? I can light the fire,” Storm said. “I’ll open the damper first.” Chloe snapped her head up and narrowed her eyes. “Am I never going to live that down?” Storm burst out laughing. “It just happened an hour ago. Hell no, I’m not letting you live it down.” “Daddy! You said a bad word again.” “Sorry,” Storm muttered making Chloe laugh.
“I would love a fire though,” she told him still grinning over the little girl chastising her father. Storm stood and set Mandy in his chair. He walked to the fireplace, reached into the flue to open the damper, but then turned and narrowed his eyes at her. “Once the fire went out, you should have closed the damper.” “Open the damper, close the damper. I have no idea when to do what.” “You open it when you have a fire and you close it when there’s no fire so the cold air doesn’t come in.” “Whatever.” Storm’s chuckle ran over her skin raising goose bumps. The man was way too good-looking, and his voice… She couldn’t take her eyes off him as he added wood to the grate. His damn sweatpants left little to the imagination. Of all the men, she’d dated in high school and college, not one of them could hold a candle to this rugged rancher. She chewed on her bottom lip remembering how it felt when he’d chewed on it. Did he remember? She watched him stand and turn to face her. She allowed her eyes to rake up his tall frame. The heat of a hard blush rushed to the roots of her hair when she met those black eyes. She cleared her throat and tore her eyes away from him. Oh yeah, he remembered. “I want to know about the wedding gown,” Storm said in a low voice, but Chloe shook her head. “You owe me.” She gasped then scowled. “All right…but not right now.” She indicated Mandy with a shift of her eyes. “Please.” Storm sighed and nodded. “Fine, but you will tell me. I don’t need a jilted fiancé storming onto my ranch.” Chloe laughed. “I can promise you that will not happen.” “All right.” Storm lit the fire, and then picked Mandy up and sat back down with her curled up on his lap. She was asleep. Chloe knew she had to tell Storm about her dress and running out on her wedding. Would he understand? No one but
she, and David, understood the reasons behind it. Certainly neither of their parents did. But to tell Storm the entire story would take more than just a few minutes, and certainly not in front of a little girl. It would be a long talk for sure and she hated spilling her guts, especially to this sexy man. They didn’t know each other very well after all…only how well the sex had been between them two years ago.
wo days later, Chloe stood at the back door, peering out. She watched as Storm created a path from the house to the barn with a snow blower. Mandy pushed a chair over to the window and crawled up on it. She got onto her knees and stared outside. “What is Jimmy doing in the corral?” Chloe muttered, more to herself than Mandy. “He’s making it so the horses can play outside. Daddy likes them to run around and play.” Chloe watched Jimmy clearing the corral with another snow blower. Storm made a path to the barn, turned around, and headed back toward the house. “Who watched you before me?” She glanced at Mandy. “Claire did. I went to her house while Daddy worked.” “Oh. I bet she misses you then,” Chloe said. Mandy nodded. “I bet.” Chloe covered her laugh with a cough. The little girl was so adorable and she could wrap her big daddy around her little finger. Chloe had seen it plenty over the past two days. There wasn’t much Mandy couldn’t do and get away with where her father was concerned. Even after her father had scolded her the other day for going outside, she still pushed the limit. Storm spoiled the little girl, just as good daddies should. Chloe felt a deep sadness cover her. Her father never spoiled her. All he cared about was getting her married off to David. Look where that got him. A daughter who ran away and a future son in-law married to someone else. Chloe shook her head. Her parents never should have been parents. All they cared about was their money and making more. Chloe sighed as she watched Storm heading into the barn. “Do you think your daddy would get angry with us if we went out to the barn?”
Mandy’s eyes widened. “Not as long as you hold my hand.” Chloe smiled. “Okay then…let’s get our coats on and go out there.” Thank God, she’d packed to visit Aspen, Colorado and not the Bahamas like they’d first planned for a honeymoon. Chloe and Mandy put on their coats, mittens, boots, and hats and headed out the door. Chloe took Mandy’s hand in hers, but had to hold on to the railing because the sun was so bright bouncing off the snow that she could barely see. They walked the path Storm had made. Just as they got close to the barn, Storm stepped outside and Chloe groaned. Mandy let go of her hand and ran to him. He picked her up and tossed her into the air making the little girl squeal with delight. “He could toss me anywhere,” Chloe murmured under her breath. “Preferably onto a bed.” Storm looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Did you say something?” It took every ounce of willpower not to turn and run back to the house. She shook her head. “Nope.” Storm didn’t look like he believed her, but he shrugged. “What are you two beautiful girls doing out in this cold?” He thinks I’m beautiful. Chloe mentally shook her head. “It’s all right, isn’t it?” “Sure. As long as Mandy isn’t out here alone, it’s fine.” Chloe gasped as she saw the horses running around in the corral. They were beautiful. She walked to the corral and after wiping the snow off the top rail, she laid her arms along the top. Storm stepped up beside her. She glanced over to him then back to the horses. “They’re gorgeous,” she said in awe. “Thank you.” “That’s Daddy’s horse, Dream Catcher.” Mandy pointed at a beautiful black horse with a white blaze down its face—the only spot of white on the animal. As they watched, the horse
trotted over to them and put his head over the rail to butt against Storm’s chest. “Hey, buddy,” Storm murmured. Chloe had to glance away before she butted her head against him to hear him murmur to her in that deep, quiet voice. She really needed to get out of here before she did something stupid with him. Again. “He’s magnificent.” And she didn’t just mean the horse. “He’s a baby. Aren’t you, boy?” Storm rubbed the horse’s neck. When the horse bobbed his head up and down, they all laughed. “Chloe,” Jimmy said from behind them. She spun around and smiled. He stood grinning with his arm around a very pretty woman. “This is my wife, Claire. Honey, this is Chloe Baxter.” Chloe stepped forward and put her hand out. Claire shook it. “It’s nice to meet you, Claire.” “You too, Chloe.” Claire smiled back at her. Chloe liked her immediately. Mandy ran to them, wrapped her arms around Claire’s legs, and gazed up at her. Claire laughed and picked her up. “Hi there, Mandy Pandy,” Claire said making Mandy giggle. “Daddy, when can we get our tree?” “The day after Thanksgiving, you know that.” Chloe felt Storm behind her but refused to turn around. “Can Chloe go?” “Of course. I already said she could…that is, if she wants to.” Storm stepped up beside her and looked at her. “Do you want to go?” “I don’t ride.” “No problem, I’ll put you on the gentlest horse I have.”
Chloe stared up at him and almost got lost in those gorgeous dark eyes as they stared at each other. Finally, Jimmy cleared his throat. Chloe saw Storm frown. She tore her eyes away from him and smiled at Mandy. “I suppose I could go.” “Yay!” Mandy jumped down from Claire and put her hands up to Chloe. She happily picked her up and hugged her. “Looks like I’ve been replaced,” Claire teased. “Oh, Claire, I don’t think so. I’m just new to her.” Claire just smiled at her then kissed Jimmy on his cheek and after saying goodbye, she headed home. Jimmy watched as she disappeared around the barn. “How long have you two been married, Jimmy?” Chloe asked. “Twenty-five years this past August.” “Twenty-five years?” Chloe was shocked. Storm and Jimmy chuckled. “Yes, I know I look a lot older than her, but I’m only six years older. I’m fifty-six. I’ve just been on this damn ranch for so long and worked in all kinds of weather, I look older.” Jimmy laughed. Chloe chuckled. “You don’t look old, Jimmy. Not at all, it’s just Claire looks great for her age.” Jimmy burst out laughing and looked at Storm. “I like her. I’ll see you later, boss.” Chloe watched as he headed into the barn and then she turned to Storm who was staring at her. “What?” she asked. “Nothing. Come on, let’s go in.” He began walking to the house with Mandy running to take his hand. Chloe followed along behind.
STORM BENT DOWN AND picked Mandy up, her little arms wrapping around his neck and her head resting on his shoulder. He kissed the top of her head and entered the house.
Setting her down, he took his hat and coat off then hung them up. Chloe followed them inside and seemed to hesitate but finally took off her coat, mittens, and hat. He crouched down and unbuttoned Mandy’s coat and took it off her. She pulled off her mittens and hat. Then she ran to the living room. Storm sighed. “She really is a bundle of energy,” Chloe said from behind him. He turned to face her. “Yes. But one of the good things about that is she wears herself out every day and goes right to bed when it’s time.” He stepped closer to her. “Your cheeks are red from the cold.” He reached out to touch her cheek but before he did, he dropped his arm. Chloe stared up at him but she didn’t step away from him. He shook his head. “Not a good idea,” he murmured. “No. It’s not,” she whispered. “Then why do I want to do it anyway?” Unable to stop himself, Storm stepped closer yet, wrapped his hand around the nape of her neck, and lowered his face to hers. When she lifted hers up to his, Storm slowly pressed his lips to hers and groaned. When she opened for him, he growled deep in his throat. Her arms moved around his neck as he moved his hands to her hips, pulling her against him, and then moved his hands around to her butt and squeezed. The moan that tore from her had him deepening the kiss. He moved his tongue into her mouth slowly and in response, she moved hers against it. When her fingers sifted through his hair, he slowly lifted his mouth from hers and stepped back. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” “I was right there with you, Storm,” she said as she looked up at him. “I still shouldn’t have kissed you…” “It was just a kiss…” Storm smirked. “Was it? I remember what happened the last time we kissed.” He stared at her remembering just how it
went last time and when his body began to beg for a repeat performance, he huffed. “I need to check on Mandy.” He strode from the kitchen and entered the living room to find Mandy asleep on the sofa with Boo in her arms. He smiled as he gazed down at her. She was the main reason he couldn’t get involved with someone. He refused to allow anyone else hurt his little girl. Mandy knew her mother had left her, and to have her get attached to someone who might leave her again was not going to happen. Not if he had anything to do with it. Leaning down, he scooped her up then carried her to her bedroom. Once he laid her on her bed, he pulled the blanket over her, and before he left her room, he pressed a kiss to her soft forehead. After closing her door, he headed to his office. He had work to do and the more time he spent away from Chloe, the less he’d want her. He grunted. Yeah, right. Storm moved to his seat behind the big cherry desk and booted up the computer. Although the weather was bad, he still had sales to complete. There were quite a few people wanting horses for Christmas. His horses weren’t cheap and he made a lot of money breeding and selling the beautiful horses. His horses sold across the states and he raised, and sold, the best Arabians. He made money through sales and stud fees. Dream Catcher was the most sought after Arabian stud in the country. His horses have sold for up to fifty thousand dollars with stud fees up to two thousand dollars. If he had repeat customers, they received discounts. An hour later, he leaned back in the wingback chair and rubbed his eyes. He’d stared at the screen for too long. His stomach rumbled and he realized he smelled food cooking. He stood and headed to the kitchen halting in the doorway when he saw Chloe standing at the stove cooking. “That smells fantastic,” he said leaning against the doorframe. She spun around and grinned. “Did I forget to mention I can cook?” Storm pushed himself away from the door and walked to her. “Yes, you did. I’ve cooked the past two nights and you
didn’t say a word.” “I think I’ve been imposing long enough. I love to cook. Not only do I own Zellene’s, my grandmother taught me how to cook too. I didn’t think you’d mind if I took over the kitchen.” “I don’t mind at all.” He tried to peer around her. “What are you making?” “I’m just going to grill steaks with onions and mushrooms. I’m sautéing them now. I love the built-in grill. I’m going to make some stuffed potato skins too,” Chloe told him with a glance. “Sounds great. How long before it’ll be ready?” “How do you like your steak? I haven’t put them on yet.” “Medium rare. I’m going to take a quick shower and then I’ll get Mandy up. Will that work?” “Yes. I found a thin steak for her. Is that all right?” Storm nodded. “Yes. I buy the thin ones for her. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Thank you for doing this, Chloe.” Leaving the kitchen, he shook his head…he needed to keep his distance. He headed to his bedroom to shower. Walking into his bedroom, he entered the bathroom and stripped. He turned the water on and stepped in. His muscles were a little sore from using the snow blower, so he turned the water on as hot as he could stand it. He groaned when the hot water hit the back of his shoulders. It was too bad Chloe couldn’t be in here with him. His cock twitched and he shook his head. Not the thoughts to be having right now…or ever. He couldn’t have her. Then again…why not? It wouldn’t be the first time. He knew she was interested in him. She had to be by the way she’d kissed him back, and by what happened two years ago. He groaned thinking about that night. It’d been hot and he wanted her again then and now. He swore as his cock hardened. He needed a woman and there was a beautiful one staying in his home. Sarah had called him and he told her he’d
be in to see her as soon as the weather cleared, only right now she wasn’t the one he wanted to have in his bed.
CHLOE BUSIED HERSELF putting the steaks on the grill and fixing the potatoes. Anything to keep her mind off the singular thought of Storm naked in the shower. She mentally groaned thinking of water sluicing down over his hard body. He was a big man and she knew that for a fact. To start thinking of him in that capacity was going to do her in. Slowly. He was, without a doubt, the sexiest man she’d ever set eyes on, and when he kissed her earlier… Dear God! She’d almost pulled him to the floor. The man definitely knew how to kiss. She had to admit she was happy to see he hadn’t remarried. She had to wonder why though since he was thirty-three and had a daughter who could use a woman in her life. Was he still in love with his wife? Why did that thought hurt so much? It hurts because you have feelings for him. You’ve always had feelings for him, almost since the first time you saw him. She wanted to do her part and work while she was here. On his ranch. With him and Mandy. She didn’t want to stay here and not repay him somehow. He’d saved her life, after all. How, though? The answer came to her as she lifted the steaks from the grill. She turned to Storm when she heard him enter the kitchen. “Is Mandy up?” she asked. “Not yet. I’ll get her in a minute.” He sighed. “Chloe about what happened—” “I want to work while I’m here,” she blurted out, interrupting his attempt to address the kiss that probably shouldn’t have happened. “What?” He frowned at her. “I mean, I want to work as a cook for you and Mandy while I’m stuck here. A cook, housekeeper, and nanny…
anything else I can do to help out.” “Why? If it’s because we kissed—” “It’s not. Honestly, Storm. I need to do something while I’m here or I’ll go nuts. You rescued me and I need to repay you for that. I could have died out there.” “You don’t have to do that though.” “Let’s just try it. I’m stuck here anyway. Why not just let me cook, clean, and watch Mandy for you?” Storm blew out a breath. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt—” “Great! Now, go get Mandy and we’ll eat. Dinner’s ready.” Chloe turned away from him and placed the steaks on plates then set them on the table. She sighed when he left the room but then grinned. She’d won that round. When he entered the kitchen again, he was carrying Mandy. Her little head was on his shoulder. He had a worried look on his face. “She says she doesn’t feel good, and she does feel a little warm to me.” Chloe moved to him and put the back of her hand against Mandy’s forehead. “She does feel a little warm. Do you have a thermometer?” “Yes,” he said. “Can you hold her while I get it?” When she held out her hands, he handed Mandy to her. “Come here, Mandy Pandy. We’ll sit down here for a minute.” Chloe pulled out a chair from the table and sat down with Mandy on her lap. “You call me Mandy Pandy too?” the little girl whispered. Chloe smiled. “If you don’t mind.” Mandy shook her head. “I don’t feel good.” Suddenly, she placed her hands over her mouth. Chloe jumped up. “Oh dear! Hold on, honey,” she told her as she ran to the bathroom passing Storm in the hallway. “She’s sick!”
Chloe got her to the toilet in time, and lifted the lid just as Mandy vomited. Chloe glanced up at Storm. “Poor little girl.” Storm nodded, a concerned furrow dipping his dark brows. “I hate it when she’s sick.” Once Mandy was over being sick, Chloe wiped her little face with a damp cloth then pulled her into her arms, stood and walked to Storm. She handed Mandy off to him. “She probably wants you more than me.” Storm nodded, taking Mandy into his arms and held her. Chloe could hear him murmuring to the little girl as she walked to the kitchen. She wasn’t sure what to do now but she had certainly lost her appetite. She didn’t know if Storm would feel like eating or not either. He seemed so concerned for his little girl. Of course, he was. He loved Mandy and any good father would be upset when his child was sick. Chloe finished cleaning up the kitchen and headed back to the bathroom. Glancing in, she saw it was empty. “Storm?” she said softly. “In here,” he called out from Mandy’s room. Chloe stood in the doorway and her heart ached watching him as he sat on the side of Mandy’s bed brushing her damp hair back from her face. Mandy stared up at him with adoration in her eyes. Chloe knew how she felt. “Is she all right?” Chloe asked softly. Storm nodded. “She does have a temperature of a hundred and one point two though. I gave her some baby aspirin. I think she just needs to sleep. She can barely keep her eyes open.” He didn’t take his eyes off his daughter as he spoke. “I’m sleepy, Daddy.” “Go to sleep, baby. You just call out for me and I’ll be right back in here,” Storm whispered. “Okay. I love you, Daddy.” “I love you too, baby girl. Go to sleep,” Storm repeated.
Chloe blinked tears from her eyes. If her heart was aching for Mandy, she couldn’t imagine how Storm’s felt. She watched as he leaned down, kissed Mandy’s forehead, and then stood. Chloe stepped from the doorway to let him out. He stopped beside her and gazed down at her. “I’m sorry, but I’m not hungry anymore.” She nodded. “No problem. I’m not either. I can put everything in the fridge.” He glanced back to his daughter, and then left the room with Chloe following him. They entered the kitchen and Storm started putting his coat and hat on. “I need to check the horses for the night. I won’t be long.” He tore a sheet of paper off a post-it and wrote on it. “This is my cell phone number. Call me if Mandy wakes up and wants me.” After handing it to her, he left without another word. Chloe watched as he strode to the barn. She looked up at the yard lights and watched the snow floating through the beams. The path Storm made earlier was quickly filling up with snow again. When he disappeared inside the barn, she turned away from the door. She sighed then went about wrapping up the food she’d prepared. She put it away in the refrigerator for another time then she went about making herself a cup of tea. After pouring the hot water over the teabag, she headed to the living room to watch TV for the evening. Thirty minutes later, she decided to check on Mandy. Tiptoeing into the little girl’s bedroom, she walked to the bed and smiled as she gazed down at her. A nightlight gave the room a soft glow. Chloe noticed Boo was lying on the floor. She picked it up, placed it under the blanket, and tucked it under Mandy’s chin. Chloe leaned down and kissed the top of Mandy’s head, and then she touched her forehead. It felt cooler to the touch now, which was a good thing. She turned to leave the room and came to a halt when she saw Storm standing in the doorway with his arms folded across his broad chest. “Does she feel cooler?” he whispered.
Chloe nodded as she walked to him. “Yes. Maybe the aspirin is helping. I wanted to check on her, I hope you don’t mind.” “I don’t mind at all.” Storm smiled at her but then his eyes moved to his daughter. “I hate it when she doesn’t feel good. She’s usually so full of life.” He shook his head. “It just kills me seeing her sick.” “Children get sick, Storm. It’s normal.” He ran his hand over his mouth. “I know but one day she’s out running around laughing and the next she gets sick. Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t get sick any more than any other child, but it’s just hard to watch her feeling bad.” “She’ll be running around again in no time,” Chloe told him as she laid her hand on his arm. She could feel the muscles flex under his shirtsleeve. She jerked her hand back. “I was going to watch some TV, if that’s all right with you.” “It’s fine. I have some paperwork to take care of, so I’ll be in my office. It’s at the end of the hall on the left.” Storm jerked his chin toward the back of the hall. Chloe nodded and stepped around him. She stopped when his fingers wrapped around her arm. She raised her gaze to his. “Thank you for helping me with her.” Chloe smiled. “You’re welcome. It’s my job, right?” She laughed when Storm groaned. “How did I let you talk me into this?” “It’s just while I’m here. Any longer than that and we’d have to discuss wages.” Storm chuckled. “I have a feeling you wouldn’t be cheap either.” “You have no idea, Mister Bateman.” Chloe chuckled as she headed back to the living room. She could hear him grumbling as he walked down the hallway— his boot heels clacking on the hardwood. She shook her head as she sat on the sofa and picked up the remote to turn the TV on. Her parents probably had a good idea she was back in
Wyoming by now, but they’d have heart attacks knowing she was on a horse ranch with a cowboy. She had no doubt they’d look down their noses at Storm, even though the ranch looked prosperous. The horses she’d seen in the corrals were gorgeous animals. Suddenly, she hopped up and walked to her bedroom to see if Storm had gotten her laptop. When she found it, she headed back to the living room, sat down on the sofa again, and opened the laptop. It quickly came to life. Thank God, being in the cold overnight hadn’t damaged it. In the search engine, she typed Storm’s name and smiled when she saw a website for his ranch. The Crooked Tree ranch was more than prosperous. It was a goldmine. She read over the site and sat back in awe. He wasn’t just doing well—he was rich. Mega rich. His horses sold for up to fifty thousand dollars. Who knew a horse could cost so much? According to the website, he’d been running the business for over six years when he inherited it from his grandfather and his horses were in high demand. She skimmed through the website and looked at the pictures of the horses and barn. No personal information appeared and there were no pictures of him. Chloe figured that was a good thing or women would be beating down his door. She was so engrossed in the site that she didn’t hear Storm enter the room until he took a seat in the recliner. “I didn’t hear you come in,” she told him. “Thank you for getting my laptop.” “I thought if you were going to be stuck here a while, you’d want it.” He shrugged. “Is Mandy still asleep?” “Yeah, and she’s cooled down a lot. She’ll be fine.” Chloe smiled. “Of course she will. Where did the name Crooked Tree come from?” Storm’s eyes widened, in a startled expression. “You did a search on me?” “Yes, I thought I’d check out my new boss.”
He stared at her then shook his head, and chuckled. “Should I do a search on you?” Chloe gasped. “No!” “You will tell me what happened, Chloe. I’m letting you live in my house and take care of my daughter.” “Okay…I promise I’ll tell you.” “All right. My grandmother named the ranch for the huge tree out front. It’s an oak tree over a hundred years old and it’s crooked. You can see it tomorrow but when my grandfather bought the land, he wanted to chop the tree down only my grandmother wouldn’t let him. She said it represented their road to owning the ranch. The road they’d traveled to get here was crooked like the tree.” Chloe grinned. “I like it.” “The old farmhouse fell in years ago, so I built this home.” Storm sighed. “I love this ranch. I worked here every summer when I was a boy. My mom let me live here in the summers instead of with her on the reservation. When I turned twelve, I started running with the other guys…well, you know. I was arrested when I was fifteen for breaking and entering.” He shook his head. “My mother wanted me to return to the reservation with her but my grandfather told her he could straighten me out, and he did. Not by disciplining me but by working me. I hated him for so long but as I got older, I looked forward to coming here and working alongside him. He died six years ago and left me the ranch. He left me a letter telling me how proud he was of me and how I’d know what to do with the ranch.” He blew out a breath. “He knew I loved Arabian horses and I’d always said if I had a place, I’d raise them. So it’s what I did.” “He sounds like he was an amazing man.” “He was and he missed my grandmother so much, I believe he died of a broken heart. He only lived a year longer than she did.” “It always amazed me how you bad boys remained friends all these years.”
Storm smiled. “Yeah…we’re all still great friends.” “You all did well for yourselves too.” Chloe smiled. “Yes, but we’re still called the bad boys of Dry River by those who remember. I suppose we’ll always be known as that.” “Do your parents still live on the reservation?” “No. They moved here to Dry River years ago. Mom married Drew Hill when I was three years old and he’s the only dad I’ve ever really known. I love him. I never knew my real father and I had no desire to search for him. He left my mom when she needed him most. Just like Tracy did with Mandy, but I’ll tell her all about Tracy once she’s old enough to understand. I don’t think Mandy will bother looking for her either. Tracy signed over all rights to her. My real father never even married my mom. He got her pregnant and then shirked his responsibilities. I don’t understand how people can leave something as precious as a child who didn’t asked to be brought into the world, but I wouldn’t trade Mandy for anything or anyone.” He stared at her and she knew he was telling her he’d never get involved with her or any other woman for that matter. Chloe stared at him and saw a man who loved his daughter very much, and one who was not interested in a relationship. She pushed to her feet. “I’m going to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow. What time do you get up, so I can make you breakfast?” “You’re not going to tell me what happened?” She shook her head. “Not tonight. What time?” He sighed. “Five.” “Five? As in…five in the morning?” Storm grinned and stood. “Yes. You’re the one who wanted the job.” When he moved past her, she wondered if he was punishing her for not telling her about the wedding that didn’t happen. She watched him as he headed down the hallway.
When she heard his bedroom door close behind him, she shut off the lights and followed. “Who in their right mind gets up at five in the morning?” she muttered as she headed to her bedroom.
torm entered the kitchen the next morning, going straight to the coffeemaker and poured a cup of coffee. He took a sip and raised his eyebrows. “This is good,” he said. “I’m glad you like it but don’t be so surprised. I do own a restaurant, you know. How do you like your eggs?” “I’ll take scrambled this morning. First, I need to check on Mandy but I needed a cup of coffee first. I didn’t sleep well last night.” Leaving the kitchen, Storm walked to Mandy’s bedroom, quietly pushed the door open, and gently went to her bed. She was bundled under the covers, clutching Boo. He lightly touched her forehead and sighed with relief when her skin felt normal to the touch. She was fine. He leaned down, kissed her forehead, and turned to leave intending to let her sleep. “I love you, Daddy,” she whispered, stopping him in his tracks. He never got tired of hearing those words. He turned back to her. “I love you too, baby girl. Go back to sleep now. I’ll see you later.” Storm knew she was asleep again before the words left his mouth. Smiling, he headed back to the kitchen and leaned against the doorjamb as he watched Chloe bending over, peering into the refrigerator. He stared at her ass covered in painted on jeans. Damn, she had a body and he knew that first hand. He cleared his throat and pushed away from the doorjamb. “Do you need some help?” Storm grinned when she straightened up, spun around, and narrowed her eyes at him. “No. I believe I can find what I need on my own. Thank you.” “Mandy’s feeling better. Her forehead feels cool, but please check her again when she gets up.” Storm took a seat at the table and sipped his coffee.
Chloe set a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him. He picked up his fork and took a bite then chewed, and swallowed. “Damn. These are really good.” She smiled at him. “Thanks. I just add some secret ingredients.” “Well, they’re damn good.” “I’ll make Belgian waffles for you tomorrow.” Storm looked at her. “So, was it just your grandma who taught you how to cook?” Having poured a cup of coffee for herself, she took a seat at the table across from him. “I also learned from Jennifer, the chef at my parents’ mansion,” she said quietly. “Mansion? Your parents have a mansion?” “Yes. To say my parents are wealthy would be a huge understatement.” “I know they own a chain of hotels but…” “Yes, all across the states.” “And yet, here you are…back in Wyoming.” “It’s a long story.” “Yeah, well, we’re going to make time for it soon.” Storm lifted a brow at her and she glanced away. When Storm finished one of the best plate of eggs he’d ever had, he stood then rinsed his cup and plate in the sink. He pulled on his sheepskin coat and put his cowboy hat on. He opened the back door and glanced back to her. “Real soon,” he said as he pulled the door closed. Taking a deep breath, the cold air filled his lungs as he pulled his gloves on, trudged through the snow, and then entered the barn. It looked like he was going to have to plow a path again. His ranch hands and Jimmy waved at him as he headed to his office. He gave them a nod and then closed the door. The closed door was a sign to them he was not to be disturbed unless it was an emergency. Storm took his coat, hat, and gloves off then sat down to get some work done.
Three hours later, he sat back in the wingback chair in his office and stared out the window at the Big Horn Mountains. Snow was moving in again. He sighed, thinking about what Chloe had told him. He couldn’t get over it…her parents were more than rich. Although she’d spent summers here as a young girl, he didn’t really know her. But what he did know of her made his cock ache. Storm ran his hand down his face. He’d never forget that night in his truck. Both of them so hot for each other, they couldn’t hold back but then when it was over, she wouldn’t even look at him. He’d gotten out of the truck and walked around the building. When he’d finally convinced himself to go back inside the Fireside, she and Kendra were gone. He’d been disappointed but he also quickly faced the fact that it couldn’t go anywhere between them. Sitting forward, he laid his arms on the old scarred oak desk, and looked at the computer. He woke it up and typed her name in the search engine. The only thing that came up was that she was the daughter of Colin and Candace Baxter. He searched their names and all it said was they owned a string of hotels. His cell phone rang. “Crooked Tree Ranch,” he answered. “You didn’t look to see who was calling, did you?” His mother’s voice came over the line making him mentally groan over her motherly chastise of him. “No. I’m sorry, Mom.” Jaya Bateman Hill laughed. “It’s fine. You must have something on your mind. How are you?” “I’m fine. You know, just trying to get some things done before more snow moves in.” Her sigh came across the line. “That’s why I’m calling. I think we may have to postpone having Thanksgiving at our house.” “Yeah, I think so too. I just hate telling Mandy because she’s really looking forward to turkey day with you and Dad.
It’s a toss-up which she talks about more…that or getting a tree.” “We’ll make up for it after the snow clears, which could be spring at this rate.” She laughed. Storm grinned. “If then.” “Can I talk to my granddaughter? Is she up yet?” “I’m in the barn. She was sleeping when I came out. She was sick last night.” Storm told his mother about Mandy being sick, leaving Chloe out of the conversation. He wasn’t sure he was ready to tell his mother about the beautiful woman staying in his house. “Is Claire with her?” Jaya asked with a not surprising note of concern in her tone. Damn! “Uh, no.” “She’s not alone, is she?” Storm could hear the censorship in her voice. “Of course not…she’s with Chloe. Chloe wrecked her car in the snow. Mandy and I brought her here, and she’s watching her now.” The silence on the other end of the line was deafening. “Chloe?” “Chloe Baxter. She owns Zellene’s in town. I found her in the snow and brought her here. Her car is plowed under now and with more snow moving in she can’t go anywhere anyway so she’s staying here and taking care of Mandy, and cooking —” “Storm, sweetheart, you’re rambling.” His mother laughed. Storm blew out a breath. “Sorry.” “Don’t be sorry. This is the most I’ve ever heard you get tongue tied over a woman in a long time.” “It’s not like that, Mom,” Storm told her. Her laughter came across the line. “Sure. Okay, I’ll let you go, honey. Tell Mandy I love her and we’ll have a special
turkey day soon. I love you, Storm.” “I love you too, Mom. Bye.” Storm hung up and groaned. He had not gotten tongue tied over Chloe. He’d like to tie his tongue with hers though. He stood quickly. The woman was going to be the death of him. She was so beautiful and now living under his roof, taking care of Mandy, and cooking for them. What in the hell are you thinking, Bateman? A knock on the door made him jerk. He strode to it and yanked it open, ready to chew out whoever had the balls to bother him. The frown left his face when he saw Chloe standing there holding Mandy. “Hi, Daddy.” Mandy reached her little arms out to him, and with a big smile, he took her from Chloe. “Hi, baby girl. Do you feel better?” Mandy nodded. “I had pancakes. Chloe makes really good pancakes, Daddy.” “Am I being replaced in the pancake department?” “What’s a ‘partment, Daddy?” Mandy frowned up at him. “Never mind. As long as you get your pancakes, it’s fine. Do you want to see Ariel?” In answer, Mandy pushed away from him and Storm put her down. She put her hand in his and pulled him out of the office, leading him to Ariel’s stall with Chloe following behind.
CHLOE FOLLOWED THEM as they moved down the aisle of the barn. Several horses stuck their heads over the gates and whinnied at them. She stopped alongside one of them and rubbed its soft nose. She saw Storm and Mandy come back to her. “This is Quasar. He’s a three-year-old and going to a new home for Christmas,” Storm said.
“He’s so beautiful,” Chloe said as she rubbed the horse’s velvet nose. “They must come in all colors.” “They do, but Quasar is an unusual shade of tan. He’s a gentle giant.” Chloe nodded and turned to the next stall. She reached out to pet the horse when Mandy grabbed her hand. “Come on, you have to see Ariel.” Storm chuckled. “She gets a little impatient.” “A little? Ya think?” Chloe laughed as she let Mandy lead her to the end stall where a beautiful brown and white Shetland pony stood. The pony walked to the stall door when she heard Mandy’s voice. Chloe glanced at Storm. “She knows Mandy that well?” “Yes. A horse learns fast and always knows its master or mistress. Ariel loves Mandy.” Storm unlatched the door and followed Mandy in then lifted her up onto the pony’s back. Mandy giggled and grabbed a hank of Ariel’s mane. “She’s braver than I am.” Chloe shuddered thinking of the little girl on the back of the powerful animal, which made Storm laugh. “I’ll show you the horse you can ride without worry. We’ll get Claire to watch Mandy while I teach you to ride, if that’ll work for you. I won’t send you out on a horse without learning some basic commands first. I promise.” He lifted Mandy off the pony and with his daughter in hand started walking across the barn. “All right,” Chloe muttered. As far as she was concerned, he could teach her anything he wanted and she knew there were things he definitely excelled at very well. She followed him to a stall across the barn. The horse that stuck its head out was beautiful. “Oh my heavens…what a beauty you are,” Chloe said brushing her fingers along the horse’s nose. “This is going to be Mandy’s horse when she gets big enough to ride her. Her name is Rosa. She’s a four-year-old American Quarter horse.”
“I thought you only had Arabians?” “I do, except for this one. We went to a reigning competition two years ago in Butte, Montana and while we were watching the cutting horse comp, a rider came out on this gorgeous black and white horse. Mandy fell in love with the horse so after the show, I found the rider and asked him if he’d sell the horse––” “He sold you his horse? Just like that?” Chloe raised her voice. Storm shook his head. “No. Wyatt wouldn’t sell him, but he said he had a two-year-old mare he was thinking about selling. He told me the younger female was almost identical to the one I asked to buy, since his horse was the sire.” Storm shrugged. “So we made arrangements for Mandy and me to visit his ranch in Clifton, Montana. Once Mandy saw Rosa, she wanted her. I bought the horse for her on the spot. She’ll need a horse when she gets bigger and Rosa is perfect for her.” “You went all the way to Montana to buy a horse for your daughter?” Storm looked sheepish. “I tried to find one closer but none were as pretty. If you could see Cochise, you’d understand.” “I guess,” Chloe murmured. “Besides, I’ll do anything for my daughter. Yes, I spoil her but I’m all she has and she’ll never go without, if I can help it. If it’s possible for me to get it for her, I will.” Chloe grinned. “Daddies and their little girls.” “Didn’t your daddy spoil you?” Chloe cleared her throat. “No. So, I can ride Rosa and not worry about being thrown?” He stared at her moment, and she suspected he wanted to ask but then decided against it. “She’s very gentle. Come here.” He put his hand out to her. She hesitatingly put her hand in his and he pulled her into the stall. “Just rub her nose and talk to her.”
The horse was beautiful and friendly. Chloe rubbed her nose and crooned to the horse. When Rosa butted her head against her, she almost fell over. Storm caught her. She gazed up at him and watched as his eyes skimmed over her face and settled on her lips. She licked her lips and heard him groan and start to lower his head. “Daddy? Did Chloe fall?” As if burned, Storm set her away from him. “Almost.” Mandy nodded. “Good thing you catched her, huh?” “Caught her,” Storm corrected. “Okay. Pick me up, Daddy. I want to see Rosa.” Storm picked her up and turned away from Chloe. He was going to kiss her. She knew it and she’d wanted it. Very badly. Only, she wanted more than his kiss. She wanted all of him… every single inch of him. Chloe mentally shook her head. The memories tried to enter her head. Maybe it really wasn’t such a good idea to stay here with him but right now, she didn’t have a choice. She watched as Storm held Mandy close to Rosa. Mandy rubbed the horse’s nose and Rosa seemed to love the little girl. Chloe kept glancing at Storm from under her lashes. She shivered and he turned to look at her. “If you’re cold, you probably need to go back inside.” “I’m fine but we’ll get going anyway, and let you get back to work.” She reached for Mandy and the little girl came into her arms. “I’ll see if Claire can watch Mandy tomorrow so you can have a lesson and ride Rosa for a bit.” “All right.” Chloe turned and swiftly walked from the barn, returning to the house. She set Mandy down and took her coat, mittens, and hat off then removed her own. Her thoughts were still back in the barn with Storm. That man was going to drive her insane. She’d made the first move the last time but she wanted him even more now. In the two years since they’d been together,
she’d never forgotten being with him. He was a fantastic lover and she knew all she had to do was think of being with him again, and she’d get hot. She’d only been with three men, or rather two boys and one man, before Storm but she was sure they were lacking in the sex department compared to him, because she never had an orgasm with any of them. Not even Shane, the man to whom she’d been engaged. But in a rushed flurry of sex and in the backseat of his truck, Storm had made her come twice. She shivered again at the memory and then glanced down at Mandy, who was sitting on the floor removing her boots. When she yanked the second one off, the little girl yawned. “I’m sleepy.” Chloe glanced at the clock and was surprised to see it was past one. “Aren’t you hungry? How ’bout a snack or some lunch?” Mandy shook her head. “Nah, I want a nap.” Chloe touched her hair. “Are you feeling all right, Mandy Pandy?” “Uh-huh…just sleepy,” Mandy said around a yawn. Chloe frowned, then called Storm’s cell phone and asked him to come to the house. He was there in minutes. The back door flew open and he stepped inside, the cold following him in. “What is it?” She could hear the worry in his voice. “Mandy wants to nap again. She hasn’t been up that long and she says she’s not hungry.” Storm glanced away from her to his daughter then he squatted down in front of Mandy. He brushed her hair back from her face and cupped her cheek. “Are you feeling all right, Mandy?’ Mandy nodded. “Yes, Daddy. I’m just sleepy.” Chloe watched him frown but he picked his daughter up and carried her to her bedroom. She followed behind them.
Storm placed Mandy on her bed and pulled the covers over her. “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken her outside…” “She was fine earlier and she likes to visit me in the barn. It’s not your fault. Maybe she’s just tired because she was so sick last night. It does takes a lot out of a person. Big or little.” “That’s true. I just panicked when she said she wasn’t hungry and her being so tired.” Storm chuckled. “You’ll get the hang of it. Trust me though, she will test you.” “I love you, Daddy,” Mandy whispered, and then she peered around him and looked at Chloe. “I love you, Chloe.” Chloe’s throat seemed to close with sudden emotion and her heart nearly melted. “I love you too, sweetheart.” Storm leaned down and kissed the top of Mandy’s head. “I love you, baby girl. Take a nap and I’ll see you later.” Then he stood and nodded for Chloe to follow him. When they entered the living room, he turned and he stared at her. “I want to know about you tonight. It’s been long enough.” “All right,” she said, realizing she had held out long enough. “My daughter is getting attached to you and I want to know what’s going on with you. Got it?” “I’ll tell you,” she whispered, not looking at him. “I know it’s been less than a week, Chloe. I know you’re stuck here but I want to know about the wedding gown and what the hell you were doing in it in the middle of a snowstorm.” “I get it, Storm,” she said through clenched teeth. “You have a family in California.” “No. I don’t.”
“Yes, you do and tonight you’re going to tell me about them.” Without another word, he left her staring after him. Chloe flopped down onto the sofa and put her hands over her face. She did owe it to him but to actually sit down with him and tell him was so scary to her. What if he sided with her parents? She snorted. How could anyone side with her parents? Well, David’s parents had, hadn’t they? She fell over to her side on the sofa, closed her eyes, and felt the tears slip out. She wondered why her parents even had her. They had never really been parents to her. Jennifer, the chef at the mansion, and her husband, Albert, who was the chauffeur, were more like parents to her than either of those responsible for her being born. From the time she was a baby, they had adored her and she them. She missed them so much. If it hadn’t been for Albert talking her into leaving, she’d be married to David right now and no doubt, she and David would both be miserable. She curled onto her side and soon fell asleep.
CURLED UP ASLEEP ON the couch was where Storm found Chloe a few hours later. The snow was getting heavier so he had sent the men home and finished the work himself. He was no stranger to hard work and he loved working with the horses. Mucking out stalls wasn’t new to him by a long shot. After lighting the fire, he took a seat in his recliner and stared at her. Her long blonde hair fell down the front of the sofa, silky and reflecting the light from the fire making him want to run his fingers through it. Taking a deep breath, he stood and headed to Mandy’s room where he quietly entered and leaned over her. She was still asleep. He touched her forehead. Her temperature seemed normal so he was sure she was fine. However, she usually only took a two-hour nap and it was going on three. He decided to let her sleep another hour then he would get her up. She needed to eat. Maybe she was simply worn out from being sick.
Storm closed her bedroom door and walked into the living room to see Chloe sitting up and leaning back against the sofa. He almost groaned looking at her with her eyes filled with sleep and her hair mussed. When she stretched her arms above her head, his cock stretched with her then she smiled up at him. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I should check on Mandy.” She stood. “She’s fine. I just checked on her and she’s still sleeping.” Chloe frowned at him and glanced at the clock. “Should she still be sleeping?” “Rest is good. I’ll let her sleep another hour. She’s probably just tired from being sick. Chloe nodded but he noticed that she avoided looking at him. He strode to his chair, sat down and leaned forward with his arms on his knees. He clasped his hands together and stared at her. “I think that will give us enough time.” “For what?” “For you to tell me why you were running away from your wedding.” “Actually, I ran away before the wedding—” “Chloe,” Storm growled. “All right. You already know my parents own a string of hotels.” Chloe shrugged. “I told you they were rich. Anyway, my fiancé, or rather ex-fiancé’s name is David Cook. His family owns the Cook Hotel chain. Our parents have wanted us to marry since we were children as a way to combine the hotels. They didn’t want a merger as much as they just wanted the families connected. With David and I married, we would have income from both hotels but the businesses would be kept in the family names. My mother insisted we be married the same year I returned to California. She threw the wedding together in less than three months.” “I know all of that. I did talk with you at Dakota and Megan’s reception, and Cooper told all of us about it the day before that.”
“Oh…well, I really don’t understand the reasoning behind us marrying. I just know this was how they wanted it. They claim it was so that when they were no longer around, the hotels would stay in the families’ respective names. That way, even if David and I divorced, the hotels would remain with the original families but if we remained married, it would mean more money for all concerned. However, they planned it so that if we ever did divorce, we would lose all income from the hotels, and they’d have it go to charities instead, leaving David and I with nothing. It’s all they care about—money, always money. David and I were never in love. We were more like brother and sister. He didn’t want to get married to me any more than I did to him. He’s actually in love with someone else. You see, he’s gay, but his parents told him he’d be disowned if he married Brad instead of me.” “What about you? Haven’t you ever been in love with someone?” “I thought I was in love twice but one time, my parents paid him to leave me. It hurt me but if he really loved me, he wouldn’t have taken the money. Right? The other man was Shane and he was killed in a car accident before my parents even knew about him.” Chloe shrugged. “My parents said everyone had a price and they’d succeed in paying off anyone I got involved with. They also threatened to disown me if I didn’t marry David. They were giving me a monthly allowance. It’s how I was able to keep the restaurant open and live in the house my grandmother left me. If they cut off the allowance, I’d lose the restaurant and have to close it. I couldn’t let that happen because my grandmother meant the world to me. My parents said it was time to leave Dry River and marry David. At first, I was devastated they would do such a thing but after talking with Albert, I knew I couldn’t live that way anymore.” “Who’s Albert?” Chloe smiled at him. “Albert is the family’s chauffeur and gardener. He’s married to Jennifer, the chef who I told you taught me to cook, along with my grandmother. I love Albert
and Jennifer both so much. They’re more like parents to me than my actual parents are. I miss them though.” “Maybe you should call them. Let them know you’re all right.” “I should, you’re right. I will soon.” She blew out a breath. “The day of my wedding, my parents were already at the church and Albert came inside to get me. The limousine was sitting out front. He walked me out and helped me into the backseat. He got in behind the wheel, but didn’t start the car. I looked up at him in the rearview mirror and he had tears in his eyes. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, ‘This whole thing. You don’t love David as a woman loves a man and he doesn’t love you in that way either.’ I told him I knew that, but our parents would disown us if we didn’t do what they wanted. Albert just shook his head and asked me if that really mattered. Didn’t my happiness mean anything to me?” Chloe shook her head. “It was like a smack in the head. He was right. It was time I did what I wanted to do and that meant, not getting married to David and coming home to Wyoming. I’m twenty-eight years old and my parents are still trying to run my life. They hated me living here in Dry River with my grandmother, but I love it here. I told Albert I wasn’t getting married, that I was going to leave immediately and come back here. He helped me get my suitcases out of the trunk and put them in my car. I called David and told him Albert was going to bring him his suitcases, and that he should marry Brad as well as use our tickets for the honeymoon to Aspen.” Chloe laughed. “He said he hadn’t even left for the church yet either and that Brad was with him. I hit the road, still in my wedding dress, and started driving. I didn’t stop until I ended up here, in a snowstorm. David no longer cared about being disowned either. They got married. He is happy with Brad. Money doesn’t matter to them either.” Storm stared at her, not really sure what to say. “Wow! I’m sure your parents are looking for you though. I’m sure they’re worried.”
“Nope. My mother has left several messages on my phone, but not once has she asked me to call and let her know I’m all right. She doesn’t care. She’s disappointed in me and will never forgive me is all she says. I’ll never go back to California or them.” Her voice caught and he knew she was fighting back tears. Storm stood and moved to sit beside her on the sofa. He took her in his arms and held her while she cried. How could her parents treat her like that? How could any parent treat their child like a possession to be used or discarded for their own ego? He mentally shook his head since he knew all too well how it was for a mother not to care at all about her daughter and discard her as if she never existed.
hloe sobbed on Storm’s shoulder for what seemed ages but couldn’t seem to stop. He handed her a tissue and she blew her nose then pulled back from him. She stared up into his handsome face and saw such great sadness there. Was it for her or was he thinking of the wife who left him and his daughter? She sat up and moved away from him. “Chloe…are you all right?” Storm whispered. She nodded and released a cleansing sigh. “I will be. I’m used to it. They’ve ignored me since the day I was born. As I said, I’m closer to Albert and Jennifer. They never had any children and have always showed me lots of love and affection. My grandma did too. She was such a wonderful woman and was so very disappointed in the way her son treated me. I think it’s why she left me her house and the restaurant.” She couldn’t take her eyes off him as he leaned toward her. When he pressed his lips to hers, she couldn’t stop the moan that tore from her. Her arms wrapped around his neck and she opened more for him. His tongue entered her mouth and tangled with hers. Storm lifted her onto his lap and his fingers combed through her hair as he tilted her head back for a deeper kiss. He growled low in the back of his throat as she ran her fingers up the back of his hair and pulled him tighter to her. His lips left hers to slide across her cheek to her ear. He sucked the lobe into his mouth, making her shiver. She felt him grin against her neck as he trailed his mouth down her neck to her collarbone before coming back to her lips. His lips were barely touching hers when he whispered. “I want you so much.” “I want you too, Storm,” she whispered back. Storm stood in one fluid motion with her in his arms and carried her to his bedroom. He pushed the bedroom door shut behind them, laid her on the bed, and pulled his T-shirt off over his head. Chloe groaned as she ran her gaze over his hard muscled chest and six-pack stomach. He sat on the edge of the
bed, pulled his boots off, and then moved to lay down beside her. “Are you sure, Chloe?” he asked her. “Yes. I’ve thought of nothing but you since the night we —” “I know. I remember it well. It was the best sex I ever had.” Chloe pulled away from him and stared at him. “Really?” “Yes,” he whispered as he lowered his head and lightly kissed her lips. “Then why didn’t you come to see me?” “Because I’m not looking for a relationship, Chloe. I have Mandy to think of.” Chloe rolled away from him, swung her legs over the side of the bed, and stood. “Then what the fuck is this?” She waved her hand at the bed. Storm rolled to the edge of the bed, stood, put his hands on his hips, and narrowed his eyes at her. “Sex.” “Just sex. Well, you can just forget about it, Storm.” “Fine. Then don’t come on to me—” “Come on to you? Are you serious? You kissed me!” “And you sure as hell didn’t push me away,” he growled. “Of course I didn’t. I’ve been attracted to you since the first time I saw you. Do I look stupid to you?” she raised her voice then quieted it again so she wouldn’t wake Mandy. “Do I?” Storm raked his fingers through his hair. “No. I never said you were. I’m just saying you didn’t tell me no.” “Damn, Storm. I just said I was attracted to you. Why would I say no? The night we had sex in your truck was amazing but you took off like a bat out of hell afterwards—” “Because you couldn’t even look at me. It was as if you were ashamed of what we’d done.”
Chloe gasped. “That’s not true. I’m not ashamed of anything we’ve done. Hell, I’ve wanted you for years.” “Then why couldn’t you look at me?” “Because it was so good and I had a feeling you regretted it. I was right, wasn’t I, Storm? You did.” “No—” “Yes! I could tell, by the way you acted. As soon as it was over, the look on your face said it all.” “We were friends, Chloe. I didn’t want to ruin that.” “Well, you did. You ignored me as much as you could after that night. Just as I said at Dakota and Megan’s reception, we were more than friends. After we had sex, that all changed. It doesn’t matter what you tell yourself, there is an attraction between us, and you’re a coward for not wanting to see where it could go.” “And what about Mandy?” “What about her?” “If we had a relationship and she fell in love with you, and then you left. Then what?” Chloe stalked around the bed, marched up to him, and glared up at him. “Not all women are like your ex-wife, Storm.” She watched a muscle twitch in his cheek as he glared down at her. “So says the woman who ran away from her wedding still wearing her wedding dress. I think you need to get out of my bedroom, and then stay away from me while you’re here.” “Fine.” She walked to the door and spun around to face him. “Same goes for you.” She pulled the door open and walked out closing it quietly behind her when all she really wanted to do was slam it so hard that it came off the hinges. She stalked to her bedroom and closed the door behind her then leaned back against it. Anger, despair, and a hard ache welled up her. Damn him.
He’d made her act like a teenager. The only thing she hadn’t done was giggle when he carried her to the bedroom. Idiot! You could be having sex with him right now! “You’re so stupid, Chloe,” she muttered as she flopped down on the bed, lay back, and stared up at the ceiling redirecting her anger at him to herself for nearly falling for the attraction—yet again. Storm was the man she’d wanted from the first minute she’d laid eyes on him. He’d come into the restaurant with his friends when he was sixteen, and she’d been eleven. She was sitting at a table waiting for her grandmother to take her home. She’d just arrived in Dry River for the summer as she did every year since she’d been seven, and had already made friends with Kendra, Emily, and Roni. But when she saw Storm, she fell in love for the first time in her life. As she grew older, that love deepened. She’d never told anyone how she felt about Storm. Not even Kendra, her best friend. Chloe was too embarrassed about it and when she’d heard he’d gotten married, she cried for what seemed like forever. After a while, she knew she had to move on and eventually dated Darren in college. However, he left her when her parents paid him off. Then she met Shane and fell in love, as much as she could with a man other than Storm. Only Shane died in a car accident. They’d been engaged at the time and she was heartbroken. That was seven years ago and sometimes she wondered if they’d still be together had they married because when she heard about Storm’s wife leaving him, she hated to admit but she’d been happy about it. Chloe had been twenty-two and in her last year of college when Storm married Tracy. Just two short years later, Tracy left him and their baby daughter. From what she’d heard from Kendra, Mandy had been less than two months old when Tracy ran off with a man passing through town. She’d hated the isolation of the ranch so she took off when she got the first chance. Kendra said Storm had been devastated. Chloe had often wondered if he’d gone after Tracy. Chloe shook her head. Somehow, she knew he hadn’t. Storm wasn’t the type of man to beg anyone, and he had to
have been so busy trying to raise Mandy on his own. He was a fantastic father from what Chloe could see of their relationship, and Mandy adored her father. Storm was everything a woman would want in a man, and he was definitely Chloe’s dream man. He had been since she first saw him and she knew he would be until she took her last breath. That was why she’d been so hurt when he’d left her alone in his truck and walked off, never to mention it again. It had been the most amazing sex she’d ever experienced and he’d treated it like it was just another fuck with any random woman. Damn man. She just hoped this weather let up soon so she could get the hell out of here and go home to her house in town.
STORM SAT ON THE BED wondering what in the hell had just happened. Damn woman. She’d said fine, and he knew women well enough that when a woman said that, it was anything but. He drew his hand down his face and swore. He hoped the weather cleared up soon because he wasn’t sure how much longer he could be around her without wanting to drag her to bed. That night in his truck years ago had only intensified his want for her. He’d wanted her for a long time and when it finally happened, it was mind-blowing. It had been so hot. Fuck! Now his dick was remembering how good it had been too, sending him back to that night… Storm stood leaning against his truck watching the people going in and out of the Fireside Bar. Chloe stood by the entrance looking uncertain about whether to stay out or go back in. She glanced his way and he saw her take a deep breath before she started heading in his direction. A man stopped her along the way, and Storm watched as she shot him down. Storm grinned. The woman had balls. When she finally reached him, Chloe leaned back against the truck beside him. Neither said anything for a few minutes.
Storm couldn’t take it. He could smell her perfume and he wanted to pull her close and bury his face in her neck. “So…what do you think about Kennie and Cooper?” he asked. Chloe smiled at him. “I think there is definitely an attraction there and that they should go for it.” “Really? Go for it, huh?” Chloe glanced away from him. “I think if people are attracted to each other, they should definitely go for it. Why deny it?” She shrugged. Storm turned to face her, leaning his arm against the truck. “So, do you go for it when you’re attracted to someone?” “Sometimes…most of the time, I guess.” “Why only most of the time?” “Because there could be someone who I’m attracted to, and he may be attracted to me but then he won’t go for it. On something like that, I won’t waste my time.” She glanced up at him then away. “How do you know he won’t go for it?” “Because he ignores me, most of the time. To get him to talk to me is like pulling teeth.” Storm chuckled. “Sounds like a real jerk.” Chloe laughed. “I suppose he’s just scared.” Storm straightened up. “Scared?” “Yep,” she said, nodding her head. “I don’t think he’s scared.” Storm knew all along she was talking about him and now he wanted to defend himself. “No? Then what’s his reason for not going for it? I mean, I’m not ugly, am I?” “Hell no, you’re beautiful. He’s not scared though. Any fool would be attracted to you.”
“Well thank you, I suppose, but again why won’t you— I’m sorry, why won’t he go for it?” Storm grinned at her slip of the tongue. He was having fun with this. “Maybe he doesn’t want it to go past the friendship you have with him.” “Bullshit,” she mumbled. “Why is that bullshit? A lot of friendships are ruined when sex gets involved.” Chloe stepped closer to him. “Want to put it to the test?” she murmured. Storm stared into her beautiful face. “You have no idea how much.” “How about we get in your truck then and…talk about it some more?” Storm hesitated less than a second then opened the truck’s back door. It was times like this he was happy he’d bought a four-door pickup truck. Mostly he’d bought it because of Mandy, but now he was getting Chloe Baxter into the backseat and that was worth the extra expense. He smiled as he watched her climb in and his dick stretched when he looked at her ass in those tight jeans. He was happy he’d taken the car seat out earlier today. Climbing in behind her and once seated, he shut the door and glanced over to her. “Are you sure—” In answer, Chloe straddled his lap, pressing her lips to his to cut off his words and it sent a jolt right through him. She cupped his lightly whiskered cheeks in her hands. Storm put his hands on her waist and moved them up to cup under her breasts. She moaned and he about died. He nibbled on her bottom lip before sucking it into his mouth then he pulled her T-shirt off over her head, tossed it to the floor, and groaned when he saw her breasts popping out of her red lace demi-cup bra. He unclasped it and they spilled free. He’d never seen anything so perfect in his life. Her nipples were a dusky rose and he had an instant urge to taste them. Leaning forward, he took a nipple between his teeth, and tugged on it. Her fingers
combed through his hair and pulled him tighter against her. Her nipples tightened into rigid peaks. Storm moved his mouth over to the other one and only lifted his head away from her when she pulled his T-shirt off over his head. He chuckled when she threw it to the floor, but then quickly returned his attention to her breasts. Her hands moved down over his chest to his stomach, making his skin quiver. “Storm, you have an amazing body,” she whispered as her hands moved to his belt buckle. She pressed her lips to his and Storm groaned into her mouth. The woman really knew how to kiss. “You are so beautiful, Chloe. I need to see all of you,” Storm said as he reached for the snap of her jeans. He pulled the zipper down then after settling her on the seat beside him, then yanked her jeans off flinging them onto the floor. She wore red lace panties that matched her bra. Leaning back against the door, she stared at him. Storm groaned, leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. When she opened for him, he moved his tongue into her mouth as he moved his hand down over her breast to her flat stomach and to the elastic at the top of her panties. He rubbed the back of his fingers above her panties before he slipped his fingers inside and down between her wet slit. He rubbed his knuckle against her clitoris, making her gasp. She was already so wet for him. He continued to rub his knuckle against her clitoris until she cried out as she came. Eager to be inside her before he embarrassed himself, he sat up, unzipped his jeans, shoved them down, retrieved a condom from his wallet, and sheathed himself. He looked at her and her eyes were on his hard cock. Her wide eyes lifted and met his then she smiled. “I had a feeling you’d be impressive.” “Come here,” Storm growled. Chloe grinned, took her panties off, and swung her leg over him and slowly impaled herself down over his shaft. She gasped when she settled down on him. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she raised herself up and down over him. Storm grit his teeth against the pleasure.
“God, you feel so good, Storm.” Chloe leaned forward, pressed her lips to his, and moved her tongue into his mouth. Storm used his tongue to duel with hers as she moved against him, then grabbed her hips and tore his mouth free. “Shit. I’m not going to last. Move faster, Chloe.” She laughed then squealed when he tossed her off him and onto the seat. He pulled her legs up and hooked her knees around his waist, and then got on his knees between them. He thrust into her and groaned when she tightened her legs around him. He continued to pound into her as he leaned down over her. He had no doubt the truck was rocking. Storm could feel her inner muscles clenching around his cock right before she cried out again and bit his shoulder. In reaction, Storm grunted and came, wishing the experience could go on forever. Tucking his face into her neck when it was over, he tried to catch his breath. Chloe was breathing just as hard. Fuck! He lifted up and looked into her face then pulled out of her and sat up. She was looking away and wouldn’t look at him even as he watched and waited for her to do so. Feeling selfconscious, he pulled his jeans up and put his shirt on. After glancing at her in the hope she was watching him, only to find her still avoiding him, he opened the door, climbed out and walked away without looking back. Damn. It had been the best sex he’d ever had but he’d felt like such an ass afterwards and had gotten out of there so fast, he hadn’t realized he still wore the condom until he headed back inside and gone to the bathroom. Now she was here, in his house, and he still wanted her but it couldn’t happen again. No. Not this time. Mandy was all that mattered to him and he couldn’t take the chance that she’d be hurt by someone not wanting to stick around. There was no way he’d ever choose a woman over his daughter like Tracy had chosen another man over her. When Mandy was old enough, he’d tell her all about her mother and he wouldn’t sugarcoat it because she deserved to know the truth. Storm knew she’d ask when she got older and he was more than willing to wait. As of right now, she didn’t ask any questions, she just knew her mother was gone.
Storm ran his hand along his jaw. Chloe really did seem to care about his daughter and Mandy was already getting attached to her. Maybe she’d be different… Shaking his head, he knew it wasn’t a chance he was willing to take. He needed to check on his daughter. She should be getting up and he wanted to make sure she was feeling all right. Mandy was rarely sick but when she was, he worried. He knew kids got sick, but it still worried him when she did. He hoped her still being under the weather today was just a result of a twenty-four hour bug, or perhaps a cold coming on. She really shouldn’t have been outside running around in the snow without a coat. Shaking his head again, he knew Mandy had only done that because Chloe had been watching her. It never would have happened if she’d been with him, Claire, or his mother. His little girl liked to test new people to see how much she could get away with, so he couldn’t blame Chloe. During the summer, Storm had had a teenager in town watch Mandy while he was working in the barn and Mandy had done the same thing with her. She ran outside and into the barn, something she knew she shouldn’t do alone. When Storm saw her, he was angry. The teenager had been distraught, but Storm assured her it was not her fault. Mandy knew what she should and shouldn’t do, so he’d punished her for it by not allowing her to watch her favorite TV shows for a week. It had hurt him more than it hurt her though, because every time he saw tears on her little cheeks because she was unhappy not watching her shows, he almost caved. Storm left his bedroom and headed toward Mandy’s but he heard her laughter coming from the living room. Heading that way instead, he entered the room to see her and Chloe sitting on the sofa watching her princess movie. Again. Mandy glanced up and when she saw him, she ran to him. He caught her and tossed her into the air making her squeal. “Higher, Daddy!” Storm tossed her one more time and laughed when she squealed again. “That’s enough. You’re going to wear me out and besides, you’ve been sick.”
Mandy wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. “Okay. I feel better though, Daddy. Chloe comed in my room. She thought I was sleeping but I wasn’t.” She put her hands over her mouth and giggled. “I guess I should thank Chloe, huh?” Storm looked at Chloe, who glanced over her shoulder at him. “Thank you.” She shrugged. “You’re welcome. I figured you needed time to…calm down.” Her eyes went to his fly. Storm clenched his jaw and he could feel a muscle twitching in his cheek. So, she does have a vindictive side. “Didn’t take long at all.” Chloe snorted and looked at him with a feigned pout. Okay, not vindictive…just honest. He couldn’t stop the grin once he realized she wasn’t mad at him. She laughed, and he shook his head then sat in the recliner with Mandy on his lap. “I’m hungry, Daddy.” “Of course you are.” Chloe stood. “I could make something.” Storm looked up at her. “It’s okay, I can do it.” “Excuse me, but it’s my job. Remember?” Storm groaned. “How did I let you talk me into that?” “It’s only while I’m here, Storm.” “All right.” Chloe looked at Mandy. “What would you like, Mandy Pandy?” “Pancakes,” Mandy shouted. Chloe laughed and looked at Storm. “Pancakes? Again?” “She’d eat them for every meal if you let her.” “How about waffles? I can make some awesome waffles… if you have a waffle iron.” “We’ve got one. It’s in the bottom cupboard by the stove.”
Mandy jumped down from Storm’s lap. “Okay. C’mon.” She started skipping around the recliner Storm sat in. Chloe took her hand and they left the room with Mandy chattering a mile a minute about what she wanted on her waffles. Storm sighed. What the hell was he going to do? Chloe fit in here so well and Mandy hadn’t been this happy in a long time. As for him, he wanted Chloe so much but he couldn’t take the chance she’d change her mind and return to California, even though she said she never would again. He’d already had one woman rip his heart out and stomp on it. He sure as hell didn’t want to go through it again. Although, he had to admit that his marriage to Tracy had been bad from almost day one. Shaking his head, he didn’t even want to think about those years or taking a chance again.
CHLOE STOOD AT THE stove making waffles. Jennifer had taught her how to make great Belgian waffles. The deeper crevices held more butter and syrup. She pulled the first one off the iron and put it on a plate for Mandy. “Come sit down,” she told the little girl. Mandy ran to the table and pushed a chair out. She raised her arms for Chloe to pick her up and put her in her booster seat. Chloe picked her up and put her in the chair then pushed it until Mandy was closer to the table. Chloe shook her head and frowned. Mandy never had trouble getting into the seat before. She supposed the little girl just enjoyed the extra attention. When she turned back to the stove, she saw Storm standing in the doorway with his arms folded across his broad chest. He was staring at her as if trying to figure out something. “What?” She lifted her brows at him in question. “Nothing. I’m just wondering when the men in the white coats will come and get me for letting you work for me while you’re here.”
Chloe placed her hands on her hips. “For allowing me to stay, and I might add…I’m a very good cook.” Storm shook his head. “I didn’t mean that.” “What did you mean then?” “Forget it. You can cook while you’re here and watch Mandy, but no more.” Chloe huffed then pulled out a chair and took a seat beside Mandy. She couldn’t understand why he was so adamant against her working for her keep while she was here. She owed him. He’d saved her life. There was a strong chance she wouldn’t be here, if not for him. She glanced over to him when he pulled out a chair and took a seat. “How far was I from Kendra’s?” “You weren’t even close. In fact, you were heading in the wrong direction.” Chloe gasped. “What?” Storm smiled at her. “You probably got turned around in the bad weather somehow.” “The wind was horrible and the snow was so heavy, I couldn’t see where I was going. But I was sure I was heading to Kendra and Cooper’s place.” “I hate to say this but if I hadn’t come along when I did, you probably would have died from exposure. I can’t believe you even attempted to walk, Chloe. You should know better than that and your attempt to even try to walk in that gown and those heels just baffles me.” “I was afraid to stay in the car. I had an awful feeling that if someone came down the road and slid, they’d hit my car.” “You were worried about your damn car?” “Daddy!” Mandy frowned at Storm. Chloe couldn’t stop the grin. “Busted.” Storm sighed. “I’m sorry, Mandy.”
“It’s okay, Daddy but if you keep doing it, I’m gonna have to tell Nana.” When Chloe snorted, Storm glared at her so she picked up her fork and began eating. The only sound in the room was the clanging of forks on plates. Chloe couldn’t help but smile thinking about Storm getting in trouble with his mother over swearing. She looked over to him and could see he was trying not to grin. When he looked her way, they both started laughing.
ater, Storm was working in the barn but couldn’t keep his mind off Chloe. This was not a good situation. The weather needed to clear so he could get her out of here. Then sudden guilt-filled thoughts made him stop what he was doing. Where would she go? If she didn’t have any money coming in from her parents, would she lose the restaurant? What about the house her grandmother left her? Setting the rake aside, he trudged back to the house and walked up the steps to the back porch, stomped his boots to remove the snow, and then entered the kitchen. He took his gloves, hat, and coat off and put them in the mudroom before heading to the living room. Chloe was on the sofa with Mandy. They were watching a movie. Chloe glanced up at him and his heart skipped a beat. She was entirely too beautiful for his peace of mind. “I need to know something. Once the weather clears, where are you going to go?” Storm asked as he took a seat in the recliner. “Actually, the only thing I had planned was that I was hoping to stay with Kendra for a while.” “What about your house?” Chloe shook her head. “I’d love to stay there but I’m not sure I can afford it anymore. The restaurant doesn’t make a lot of money. I’ve been thinking of renting the house out…but even if I do, I still have to live somewhere and pay rent myself.” “Isn’t there space above the restaurant? I seem to remember Zellene renting it out to someone years ago.” “She did, but it’s such a mess. It has a bedroom with a bathroom and small kitchen. It would probably cost me a fortune to hire someone to fix it up.” Storm grinned. “Have you forgotten about six strong men with skills you have as friends?”
“I couldn’t ask you all to do that.” “Chloe, it’s what friends do. I’m sure the guys would be more than willing to help. Even Nathan would help and I’m sure you women could do something too. Paint or whatever.” “I suppose I could do that.” “What? Is it beneath you?” Storm sneered. Chloe jumped up and took a defensive stance with her arms folded over those luscious breasts, drawing his gaze. “No, it isn’t. My parents may be rich snobs but I’m not, and you should know that. When have I ever acted like anything or anyone was beneath me?” They stared at each other, the anger palpable between them until Storm heard Mandy crying. He looked down at her to see she had tears rolling down her face. Storm picked her up. “It’s okay, baby girl. Don’t cry.” “You and Chloe are yelling.” Storm watched Chloe place her hand on Mandy’s back and gently caress her in a caring gentle manner. “Grownups do that sometimes, Mandy Pandy. We’re just talking loud.” Mandy laid her head against Storm’s shoulder and his heart was breaking that they’d upset her. He’d never purposely do anything to hurt his little girl. He kissed the top of her head. “Chloe’s right, baby. We were just talking loud. Nothing’s wrong.” Storm’s heart melted when she wrapped her arms tight around his neck. He looked at Chloe. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I know you’re not like that, Chloe. You’ve always been down to earth. Never a snob.” “It’s all right. I think we’re just getting cabin fever from being cooped up here.”
“I suppose…we could go look for a tree the day after tomorrow.” Mandy raised her head and a grin split her tear-stained face. “Can we, Daddy?” “Yes, of course.” Storm would do anything to make Mandy happy. The next day, Storm asked Chloe to come to the barn to learn to ride. He knew she wouldn’t learn everything in one lesson, but she’d know enough to follow them when they go to get a tree. Rosa was the perfect horse for a first time rider since she was very gentle. Chloe would be safe on her. Claire took Mandy to her house while he gave Chloe a lesson in riding. Right now, Chloe stood staring at the horse, looking more scared than eager. “She won’t hurt you,” Storm said holding Rosa’s reins and ready to assist Chloe into the saddle. “That looks like a good ways up off the ground.” “Naw, she’s shorter than my horse. Rosa is only fifteen hands. Dream Catcher is eighteen.” “You’re losing me. I have no idea what that means.” Storm laughed. “I’ll explain it sometime but for now, just know that Rosa isn’t a tall horse. Come on, I’ll help you up.” Offering his hand, he glanced over his shoulder and saw the obvious fear on her face. “Chloe, you don’t have to do this. You can stay here while we go get a tree.” She shook her head. “No. I want to do this. I promised Mandy.” Appreciating that she didn’t want to disappoint Mandy, he watched her take a deep breath and step forward. She looked at him and nodded. “Okay, hold the reins in your left hand and grasp the horse’s mane. Then, hold the saddle horn with your right hand. When you’re steady, put your foot in the stirrup and just pull yourself up, and swing your leg over. I’ll give you a push. I’m right here and won’t let you fall.”
Storm watched her do as he told her. She tried to pull herself up but was having trouble so he put his hand on her ass and gave her a shove. Once she was in the saddle, she glared down at him. He grinned up at her and shrugged. “Please. It’s nothing I haven’t touched before.” He chuckled when she huffed then he adjusted the stirrups for her. Once she was settled, he took the reins from her and started to lead Rosa around the indoor corral. “Just relax. The horse will feel your tension but if you stay calm, she will too. If you stay tensed up, you’re just going to be sore tomorrow. Go with the flow of the horse. Keep your legs relaxed and don’t squeeze them around her. She’s been trained to move by nudges with your legs,” he told her glancing over his shoulder at her. She smiled at him and looked a bit more relaxed. “I like this,” she told him with a nod. Storm smiled up at her and continued to lead the horse around in a slow walk. He stopped after a few laps and handed her the reins. “Okay, hold them both in one hand. Now, pull them to the right a little.” Storm watched as she did what he told her. Rosa turned her head to the right. “Now…to the left.” He nodded his approval when she did it correctly. “Good. That’s how you turn her when you’re walking her. You won’t have to do much more to tell her where to go because she’ll follow behind Dream Catcher tomorrow. There won’t be much for you to do but hang on, and enjoy the ride. When you turn the reins, nudge her with your leg on the same side to get her to go in that direction. Try it now.” He watched as Chloe took a deep breath, pulled the reins to the right, and nudged Rosa with her right leg. The horse turned and walked in that direction. Storm chuckled when Chloe laughed. “I did it. It’s not too hard, and I never thought I’d like this. I can’t wait to go tomorrow.”
“Let’s hope the snow holds off while we go. We usually don’t go until after Thanksgiving, but the weather is supposed to be worse next week. My mom already called to say she probably wouldn’t be having dinner because we wouldn’t be able to make it.” “What are you going to tell Mandy?” Storm shrugged. “The truth. She’ll be disappointed but that’s how it goes. Mom said we can do it later. In the meantime, I have a turkey in the freezer, so we can at least have Thanksgiving here.” “Sounds good. I’ll make it.” Storm stared at her and then nodded. “All right. I already have all the fixings in the pantry.” “That’s good then. Mandy will get her turkey day.” Chloe smiled down at him. Storm stared at her. She was so beautiful and she made him think that maybe it was possible to find love again perhaps even with her, but the thought of his daughter being hurt made him very wary. Mandy was already getting too attached to Chloe and a day would come when she’d be leaving them. Then what? What if she left town again? Even if she didn’t, he probably wouldn’t see her again. He rarely left the ranch and when he did, it was only to go to the feed store or meet his friends for lunch, which he did once a week and usually at Zellene’s. Damn. Chloe’s restaurant. But Chloe hadn’t been there for months. She’d left this past summer after Dakota and Megan’s wedding. Would she still be working at Zellene’s? He mentally shook his head to push away all of those thoughts. “Let’s get you down. I don’t want you to get saddle sore.” She frowned at him. “All right. Okay…and how do I do that?” “Take your right foot out of the stirrup and swing it over her back. Step down easy. Don’t scare her. Keep your hand on
the saddle horn.” Storm moved close to the horse. “I’m right here.” Chloe nodded and did as he told her. She stepped down and when her foot hit the ground, her knees gave out. Storm caught her. She spun around in his arms and laughed. “Wow, my knees are weak from just that little bit of riding.” “You don’t realize how much work it is to stay on a horse until you actually do it,” Storm said in a low tone of voice. He couldn’t stop his eyes from roaming over her face. “Storm,” she whispered as her hands moved up his coat and around his neck. He knew he shouldn’t but he couldn’t stop himself from kissing her as if his life depended on it. When his lips touched hers, he groaned and deepened the kiss. He moved his hands to her hips and pulled her tighter against his aching cock. She pushed her hips against him and he slowly raised his lips from hers. “Storm,” she whispered, then put her face against his neck, and nipped at it with her teeth. “Chloe, you’re driving me insane.” She pulled back from him and stared up into his face. “So let’s go crazy together.” He knew what he had to do as he stepped back from her. “Go back to the house.” “What?” “Go…go inside.” He turned away, stifling a grin as he started loosening the cinch on the saddle. “How can you kiss me like that and then just turn me away?” Storm grabbed her arms, pulled her to him, and took her lips in another deep kiss. “I’m not turning you away. I have to put the horse up so I want you to go inside, and wait for me.”
Chloe gasped, gave him a huge grin, and then spun on her heel. He chuckled as she practically ran from the barn. Storm worked quickly to rid Rosa of her saddle and blanket then led her into the stall and wiped her down. The thought of Chloe’s soft body against his, with her lips open under his, had his dick so hard he could hardly move. He wasn’t going to deny himself of her any longer. It was probably foolish to give in to his desire, and it might end in disappointment and regret, but it had been two long years since he’d had her and he’d never forgotten how good it felt to be buried deep inside her. Fuck! After finishing in the barn, he strode out of the barn and into the house. Once inside, he took a deep breath and blew it out. If someone were to accuse him of being nervous, he’d have to agree with them. He was. He was nervous that she might change her mind. He took his gloves, hat, and coat off then, after putting them in the mudroom, he strode out of the kitchen and down the hallway toward his bedroom. He stopped by her door and glanced in. He was glad to see she wasn’t in there. It meant she had to be in his room. He hoped anyway. At his door, he put his hand against it and slowly pushed it open. The bed was empty. For a moment, his gut clutched thinking she’d changed her mind after all as he stepped into the room. “Took you long enough,” she said quietly as she appeared by the bathroom door. “What are you doing over there?” Storm asked as he advanced toward her. “I thought we could take a shower together. It was cold in the barn and we’re both kind of horsey smelling.” Storm grinned and stopped in front of her. He took a few strands of her silky hair between his fingers and lifted it to his nose. “I think you smell wonderful, and I can warm you up.” Chloe laughed softly. “I have no doubt about that.” Her arms wrapped around his neck. “But I’d love to share a shower
with you.” She kissed his neck making him shudder. “Sounds good,” he murmured against her lips before pressing his to hers. Her moans shot right through him. Through every part of his body. No woman—ever—had made him feel the way she did. “Do you remember how good it was, Storm?” she asked him in a low sexy voice. “I can’t forget it. I need you now, Chloe. A shower can wait.” Storm took her hand and led her to the bed. Scooping her up into his arms, he placed her in the center, and then stared down at her. She scrambled to her knees and her hands went to the buckle of his belt. She lowered the zipper then moved her hand inside to wrap around his cock. He leaned over and kissed her then groaned against her lips. “I love how hard you are for me, Storm.” He pulled away from her to lift his T-shirt off over his head. She raked her fingernails down his chest and stomach, causing him to draw a breath in on a hiss then she leaned forward, and kissed his chest. Storm thrust his fingers into her hair, delighting in the softness while her sweet scent filled his nose, as she moved her mouth across his chest to his nipple. Her tongue swirled around it making it stiffen and a groan escaped him. She started kissing down his stomach and his hands fisted in her hair. She pushed his jeans and boxer briefs down but Storm stepped back from her, turned, and sat on the edge of the bed to toe his boots off. He watched as Chloe crawled off the bed, pushed his boots aside, and then pulled his jeans down to his feet. Stopping her from doing anything else, he stood and stepped out of them while keeping his eyes on her as she gazed up at him. “Get up,” he growled. She quickly stood. Storm made quick work of stripping off her clothes then picked her up again and lay her back down on the bed. This time, he moved to lie down beside her. Leaning over her, he pressed his lips to hers then moved down her neck, along her collarbone, and down to her breasts.
While he suckled on one taut nipple, he rubbed her other one with the pad of his thumb while his other hand traveled down her stomach to the curls hiding what he wanted. He slipped a finger between her slit and moved it up and down. In response, her hips moved in rhythm with his hand. Storm kissed her shoulder and neck then ran his tongue along the shell of her ear. She placed her hand over his and pushed it against her. “You’re getting wet, Chloe,” he whispered against her ear as he pushed his hard cock against her leg. All of a sudden, she pulled at his hair. “Kiss me,” she groaned as her body tensed against his touch. Storm took her lips in a hard, deep kiss. He was going to explode if he didn’t get inside her soon. “Damn, I need a condom…in my wallet.” Reaching over the side of the bed, he retrieved a condom from his jeans. Chloe took the packet from him as soon as it appeared in his hand, and ripped it open then rolled the condom down over him. Pushing her to her back, Storm slid between her legs and inched into her. When her legs wrapped around his waist, he about lost it. Damn, it felt like coming home. He pumped in and out of her, his lips never leaving hers. He sure as hell was going to last or die trying. Storm pulled his lips from hers. “Chloe,” he growled as he felt her clenching around his cock then he slammed his lips down on hers. “Yes,” she cried into his mouth. Storm thrust harder into her and unable to hold back any longer, he came hard, groaning into her mouth. He swore he almost blacked out. Lifting his head, he rested his forehead on her shoulder and tried to catch his breath. She was breathing hard against his neck. Once he could breathe again without feeling like his lungs were coming up through his throat, he rolled off her. Then rolling to lie alongside her, he gazed into her beautiful eyes. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” she said breathless and smiling. You?” Storm grinned. “I’m good.” Chloe burst out laughing. “Why do I think that is an understatement?” Storm laughed. “Yeah…I guess we can stop trying to ignore each other. It’s more fun this way.” “Excuse me? I wasn’t the one doing the ignoring.” “Guilty. I’m sorry, Chloe. What the hell was I thinking?” Storm swung his legs over the bed, stood, and walked to the bathroom to dispose of the condom. When he came back out, he pulled his jeans and shirt back on then pulled his socks and boots on. “As much fun as it would be to just stay here with you for the rest of the day and into the night, I have to go get Mandy. I won’t be long.” “All right. I’ll start dinner. I’m making chicken and dumplings so it will take a little while.” Storm nodded and started to leave the room but then turned back toward her, leaned down over her, and kissed her. Standing, he winked at her and made himself leave the bedroom, and her lying naked in his bed.
CHLOE COULDN’T KEEP the smile off her face. Wow! Sex with Storm had been even better than what she remembered, and she had always remembered it as fantastic. This time had been very amazing. Storm truly knew how to please a woman. She’d always had a feeling he’d be able to for some reason. Perhaps it was just the way he came across, he was so confident. He was such a total male. She stood and walked to the bathroom. Glancing in, she saw a gleaming black Jacuzzi tub sitting beneath a stained glass window. The black sink and toilet were shiny and the black marble tiled floor matched the color scheme. Everything about this man continued to surprise her. He was not just some cowboy. He had good taste, a kind heart that was very soft
where his daughter was concerned and to top it all off, he was neat and clean. Suddenly, she wondered if Storm would let her sleep in his bed with him tonight, or would he make her stay in her room because of Mandy. Turning away from the beautiful bathroom, she walked to the wall of glass in the bedroom, and gazed out at what looked to be a covered pool. The snow continued to fall making her sigh. How long was it going to keep her stranded here? Actually, she wasn’t looking forward to leaving, but knew she’d have to as soon as the weather cleared enough so the roads could be plowed. More concerning to her, as she watched the snow fall and add to the depths already covering the ground, was how they would get a tree tomorrow if it continued to snow. She mentally shrugged. They probably wouldn’t be able to, and that would greatly disappoint Mandy and if she had to admit it, she would be disappointed too. Chloe scooped up her clothes then walked to her room to dress. She pulled on sweatpants, a T-shirt, and thick socks then headed to the kitchen to start preparing dinner. A few minutes after she entered the kitchen, the back door opened and Mandy came running in with Storm right behind her. Chloe greeted Mandy with a hug, and then helped her out of her coat, hat, and gloves. She glanced up at Storm to see him taking his coat and hat off too. He walked to her, took Mandy’s things from her, and entered the mudroom. Chloe took a deep breath as she waited for him to return. Was he going to ignore her again like last time? Her answer came almost immediately, making her just about jump out of her skin when she felt his hand on the back of her neck. She turned to look at him. He smiled at her and leaned in close to her. “Later,” he said quietly near her ear, his voice sending a shiver over her. She smiled at him. “Looking forward to it.”
“Come here, Mandy. So tell me what you did with Claire today.” Storm pulled a chair out from the table and took a seat. Chloe watched as Mandy crawled onto Storm’s lap and envied the little girl. She planned to crawl onto it later herself. The thought made her laugh making Storm and Mandy look over at her. “Uh, never mind,” she muttered. “Daddy, did Chloe ride Rosa good?” “Yes. She did very well. If it’s not snowing tomorrow, we’ll go get a tree. Claire and Jimmy will go too.” “But…when is turkey day?” Uh-oh. Chloe wondered how Storm would handle this. He’d told her that he’d tell the truth. “It looks like we might not be able to go to Nana’s—” “But I want to,” Mandy said with a frown interrupting her father. “I know, sweetheart, but it’s supposed to snow again and if it does, we’ll have to have turkey day here.” “What about Nana?” “She’ll be fine. Chloe will cook us a turkey here.” Chloe glanced over to Mandy to see her looking up at her. Chloe gave her a nod and smile, and the little girl smiled back. “Okay.” “Dinner will be a little longer, if you two want to watch TV together,” Chloe said. “Good idea, princess, let’s go watch some TV,” Storm said as he stood and carried Mandy from the kitchen. Chloe finished up, checked on the food then walked to the living room and halted when she saw Storm sitting on a small chair and Mandy was behind him with a hairbrush and barrettes. “You need a haircut, Daddy,” Mandy said.
“I know. Just a little off the ends, please,” Storm said then looked at Chloe and winked. Chloe widened her eyes thinking he was crazy to allow Mandy to cut his hair but Storm chuckled, put two fingers up, and made the motion of them cutting. Chloe bit her lip to keep from laughing when she realized it was just pretend. Mandy looked as if she was really concentrating on cutting her daddy’s hair. Chloe took a seat on the sofa, watched Mandy run her little fingers through Storm’s thick hair then she picked up her hairbrush, and brushed it. Chloe gave a small laugh when Mandy picked up a purple barrette and clipped it into his hair behind his temple. “We’re doing purple this time, Daddy,” Mandy told him. Storm looked at Chloe and rolled his eyes. It was so sweet that he showed such patience with Mandy and allowed her to do such non-manly things to him. She knew he really loved his little girl, and that he was an excellent father. It made her heart ache that she’d never had a father like him. Her father had never spent any time with her. He constantly worked and worse, neither of her parents ever attended any school activities. The only time she’d felt any love was when she spent time with Jennifer and Albert or when she was in Dry River with her grandmother. Her parents only cared about money and nothing else. Chloe was sure they had only had a child to pass the hotels down to so they stayed in the family. She’d always loved when summer would arrive, and she could spend time here in Dry River. She’d always missed Jennifer and Albert though—and still does. It was sad that she had missed the chauffeur and chef more than she’d missed her parents during the summer months. However, she’d made wonderful friends here in Dry River. Kendra Mattingly had quickly become her best friend and she always missed her so much anytime she left to return to California. She feared she’d never see any of her friends again when she left after Dakota and Megan’s wedding. She thought she hadn’t any other choice because her parents threatened to take her allowance away if she didn’t return and marry David
—a man who was more like a brother to her than anything else. She thanked God for Albert advising her to do what made her happy, not her parents. She had no idea how she was going to make it here, but she’d do it somehow. Storm’s idea was a good one. She could rent her home out and live above the restaurant. It might just work. She could also try to find a part-time job. Jobs were scarce in the little town, but there had to be something she could do. She’d figure something out. Smiling, when she noticed Mandy adding yet another barrette to Storm’s hair, she turned and headed back to the kitchen to check on dinner. Since it was ready, she called for Storm and Mandy. Mandy came running into the kitchen, pushed her chair out, and started to climb up into her booster seat. “Did you wash your hands, Amanda Jo?” Storm asked her as he entered the room. “No, Daddy.” She started to run past him when he placed his hand on her shoulder, stopping her. “Walk, please.” “Okay,” Mandy said and skipped off. Chloe looked at Storm, and saw him sigh and shake his head. He looked at her with an expression of exasperation. “She didn’t run,” Chloe said giving a small shrug and smiling. “She didn’t walk, either. She runs everywhere. I just don’t want her to fall.” He walked toward her and stopped a few feet from her, glanced over his shoulder then looked at her. “You will spend the night with me tonight, right?” “If you want me to.” She nodded. Her heart was trying to leap out of her chest even as she tried to appear calm. “I do. I’ll get you up too. You have to make breakfast, after all.” Chloe huffed and then grinned. “Maybe I’ll get you up first.”
“Go for it, darlin’.” Chloe blushed at the endearment. She knew he didn’t mean it. He was a cowboy, for God’s sake. They all used that word. After all, if she had a dime for every time a cowboy called her darlin’, she wouldn’t have to go to work to keep the restaurant. She was about to say more to him when Mandy came skipping back into the kitchen. Chloe served up chicken and dumplings from the pot and set the plates on the table. “I’m hungry,” Mandy announced as she started to climb up into her chair. Instead, Storm picked her up, settled her into her seat, and then pushed her chair in closer to the table. He politely waited for Chloe to take her seat then he took his, and they all began eating. “This is really good, Chloe,” Storm said tipping his fork at her in gratitude. “Yep, really good,” Mandy added as she spooned more into her mouth. “Thank you. It’s my grandmother’s recipe.” “My nana is my grandma,” Mandy said in a serious voice. Chloe did her best not to smile. “I thought so.” “She cooks good too. If we do go to her house for turkey, you can go too. Can’t she, Daddy?” “Sure,” Storm said, sounding anything but excited about her joining them. Suddenly, Chloe had no doubt he didn’t want to take her to his mother’s for dinner. Why would he? She wasn’t anything special to him. Besides, if the roads were clear enough to go to his mother’s house for Thanksgiving, they would be clear enough for her to go…wherever it was she was going to go. Chloe realized she really should have thought all of this through before she headed back to Dry River. She just ran so fast to get away from California that she didn’t even call Kennie to let her know she was on her way. Of course, she hated the idea of imposing on Kennie and Cooper too. They hadn’t been married very long and Chloe would feel like a
fifth wheel. She supposed she could stay in her house for a while. She had some money put away, probably not enough to live on for a long period but she had enough to make it for a while. Maybe she would take Storm up on his offer and have he and his friends work on the apartment above the restaurant. Depending on how long it took them to finish it, she could stay in the house until then. Of course, she really didn’t have a choice. If they were willing to work on it for her, she’d let them. “I’ve been thinking…if you think the guys wouldn’t mind, I’d love for you to fix up the apartment above the restaurant for me. I can live in the house until it’s finished. I do have some money to get by on for a while. However, I can’t pay you, except by feeding all of you.” Storm chuckled. “Sounds good. I think I can vouch for the guys. We’ll work for food. Emily fed us in payment when we fixed her house after her ex-husband shot out the windows.” “Good. As soon as I’m able to get out of here, we’ll talk more about it.” “Okay. I’m sure it won’t be a problem. I’ll talk to the guys tomorrow.” He stared at her. “No hurry.” She smiled, understanding his unspoken words. No, there was no hurry at all.
he next morning, the snow having stopped during the night, Storm saddled the horses and waited for Chloe and Mandy to join him in the barn. Claire and Jimmy couldn’t go because Claire wasn’t feeling well and Jimmy said he preferred to stay back and keep an eye on her. Storm envied the couple their devotion and loyalty to each other. That was something he never had in his marriage. Was it possible to have it with anyone? Chloe perhaps? Thinking of Chloe, he almost groaned aloud when he thought back to last night. Chloe was so hot, and completely uninhibited in bed. She gave as good as she got. His dick started to rise when he remembered the things she’d done to him. “Daddy,” Mandy yelled as she ran into the barn with an exuberance that startled him out of his thoughts. He looked in her direction and saw Chloe following close behind her. Hell! Storm quickly moved to the other side of the horse. He sure didn’t want Chloe to see he had a hard-on. He’d never hear the end of it. He looked over the saddle at her and bit his cheek to keep the groan from emerging. She looked so very good in her tight jeans tucked into knee-high snow boots. He could see a red sweater under her jacket that was unzipped. “You should have your jacket zipped up. It’s colder up in the north pasture.” “I’ll zip up before we go. I was hot in the house. I thought it was rather hot all night.” Storm stared into her eyes and saw a mischievous glint. He burst out laughing, catching her innuendo. “Can you get up on your own?” He jerked his chin toward Rosa. “Can you?” she asked as she tugged her wool cap down lower on her head, while giving him a naughty wink. “I may need help with that later.” Chloe snorted, making him chuckle. She walked to Rosa and in a manner that impressed him, pulled herself up onto the
saddle just as he’d taught her. She beamed a smile at him. She was definitely a good student. He shook his head, laughing then lifted Mandy onto his saddle and vaulted up behind her. She leaned back against him. “Ready, baby girl?” “Yep. Let’s go.” Storm laughed and nudged Dream Catcher to lead the way. He glanced over his shoulder to see Chloe following. She looked good on the horse. A real natural at it. Some people could sit a horse almost from the start while others bounced around so much in the saddle he was surprised they didn’t get sick. He was glad to see she’d bundled up because it was damn cold out. The snow had stopped the night before, but the temperatures were close to freezing. They rode out into the sunshine and Storm stopped Dream Catcher to remove his sunglasses from his pocket. He turned to tell Chloe she should go in and get hers, when he saw her putting hers on. Smart woman. The sun reflecting off the snow made it almost impossible to see. Sunglasses were a necessity. Chloe looked at him and tilted her head. “What?” She smiled at him. “I was going to suggest you get your sunglasses but…” “When I stepped out onto the porch and was almost blinded, I went back inside to get them.” She laughed. “Good idea. I should have told you about it earlier, but I didn’t even think about it. It’s habit for us. Even Mandy knows to have them with her on days like this.” Mandy leaned around him to wave at Chloe then pointed to her Mickey Mouse sunglasses. “Oh wow! I need Mickey Mouse sunglasses.” Chloe grinned when Mandy giggled. “They’d look good on you, darlin’.” Storm winked at her, and then nudged his horse. “Let’s go.”
“I thought Claire and Jimmy were coming?” Storm shook his head. “Claire’s not feeling well. Just a cold, but she doesn’t need to be out in this weather. Jimmy’s staying back with her.” “Sweet,” he heard Chloe say with a nod. She was right. They rode up to a gate, which Storm unhooked the chain from, and then nodded for Chloe to go through first. Once she did, he followed, and closed the gate behind them. The sun felt good on his face, even while the air was crisp. He glanced down at Mandy to see her blowing her breath out to make puffs of air. She’d giggle each time making him smile. He kissed the top of her head. “I want a big tree, Daddy,” she told him. “Don’t you always?” “Bigger than last year.” “Amanda Jo, that tree was so big last year that I had trouble getting it into the house.” Storm wasn’t lying. He had to have three ranch hands help him get it into the house and help set it up. Once it was up, his men looked at him like he was crazy. It topped the twelve-foot ceiling and was so big around he had to cut it back. He shook his head. One day he’d have to learn to tell her no, on more than a few things. Mandy huffed. “Okay. Not as big then.” “Thank you for that.” Storm chuckled. He glanced back to Chloe. She was still doing fine. She was glancing around at the landscape. He didn’t blame her, the view was amazing, and he never got tired of it. The Big Horn Mountains rose in the distance. Snow covered the tops but the sky was clear. It looked like they were going to get a reprieve for a few days. Maybe the roads would be cleared soon and Chloe could get on her way. Did he want her to leave though? Thanksgiving was next week and she said that she’d make dinner. Weather reports predicted more snow coming in by then. Should he ask her to stay until after Thanksgiving? He reined his horse to a stop and waited until she moved up beside him.
“Even if they clear the roads, will you still stay through Thanksgiving?” he asked. “Sure.” She smiled at him and his stomach tightened making him frown. As if suddenly realizing the implication of what he’d asked, he gave her a terse nod, and nudged his horse to get moving.
WHAT THE HELL? Chloe frowned as he rode off acting all pissed. What was that about? He asked her if she’d stay and when she said she would he suddenly frowned like he regretted it, and rode off without another word. And they say women are hard to understand. She took a deep breath and felt the cold air fill her lungs. She had to be out of her mind to be out in this. She glanced around again and cold or not, she couldn’t get over the beauty of it. Pine trees lined the pasture on both sides and the trees were flocked with snow, weighing down the branches. The Big Horn Mountains rose gracefully in the distance against a beautiful, clear blue sky, and seemed to glisten with the sun shining down brightly. It was bitterly cold but in all honesty, she wouldn’t have missed this for the world. The chance to be with Storm and Mandy while they picked out a Christmas tree was something, she was sure she’d never forget. But seeing this beautiful pristine landscape was unforgettable. Her parents always hired someone to put up a tree and it was always a fake one. Chloe had never experienced a real tree until a few years ago when she visited Kendra during the holidays. The smell of pine made it seem more like Christmas. Chloe had never put a tree up for herself. After all, it was just her, so why bother. But now, doing this, she was seriously considering it this year. She never thought it would be so much fun to go out in biting cold weather to pick out a tree. She knew Storm did it for Mandy, but she would bet her life on it that he’d still do it when Mandy got to the age she didn’t want to go anymore. Chloe would love to tell Mandy never let that day come, that her daddy adored her, and she
needed to spend as much time with him as she could. If only Chloe had a father who cared half as much for her as Storm did for Mandy. She frowned when she thought about her parents. Her mother had left another scathing message on her phone last night. This time, telling her they would be coming to get her to take her back to California. How in the world did they think they were going to do that? She was a grown woman and she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do. Although, for years, she had let them tell her what to do at every turn. They’d drilled it into her head that she couldn’t survive without their money supporting her, and she’d believed it for so long. She credited her grandmother for changing that. She used to tell Chloe that she could make it on her own and soon, she began to believe it. Chloe was sure that was why Zellene had left her the restaurant and her home. She’d had faith in Chloe, even if Chloe didn’t always have it in herself. Lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t realized Storm had stopped, until she almost rode past him. “Chloe,” he said from beside her. She reined in Rosa and glanced over to him. “Sorry, I was lost in thought. Are we there?” Storm nodded as he continued to stare at her. “We’ll go through there on foot.” He pointed over to the trees. “All right.” Chloe dismounted without any trouble, and held on to the reins. “Where do I tie her?” “Just drop the reins. She won’t go anywhere if they’re touching the ground.” Chloe dropped the reins and watched as Storm lowered Mandy to the snow-covered ground then he dismounted, and pulled an axe and a bow saw from the saddlebag. He tugged his hat down lower and started trudging through the snow holding Mandy’s hand. Chloe took a deep breath and followed them. The snow was deep, almost to her knees but she trudged behind trying to keep up. She laughed when she saw Mandy trying to run through the snow.
Chloe scooped up snow and formed a ball then threw it at Storm, hitting him in the back. She saw his shoulders hunch up then he slowly turned around. “Seriously?” he said with a mischievous grin and started to set his tools down. Chloe laughed and started to run but the snow was too deep causing her to fall face first into the snow. She could hear Storm laughing as he leaned down to help her up. “I guess running in snow this deep isn’t possible,” she said as she spat snow from her mouth. “Nope. I won’t even bother hitting you with a snowball now. The face-plant was fair karma.” “Gee, Bateman, thanks for that.” They both turned when they heard Mandy yell out that she’d found a tree. Storm chuckled. “Come on. Let’s go see what monstrosity Mandy has found. I refuse to get one like last year.” “What was wrong with it?” “It took four men to get it into the house, and it was so big it hit the ceiling and so wide, I had to chop it back. Waste of a good tree, but I did get a lot of firewood out of it.” Chloe laughed. “That’s the bad thing about a real tree. Cutting down a living tree.” “Yes, but we come back in the spring and plant another one.” “That’s great. What a wonderful idea. We need trees.” Storm was about to say something when Mandy yelled again. He grinned. “I think she’s getting impatient. Come on.” He reached for her gloved hand. She smiled and placed her hand in his. She couldn’t keep her eyes off him. Those dark, good looks were heart stopping. He’d appealed to her from the first time she saw him. Now, the stubble on his lower face, jaw, and neck was so sexy and those lips. She shivered. Oh, what those sensuous lips could do.
“Are you cold?” he asked her. She tugged on his hand to stop him. He turned to look at her and raised a black brow in question. “Not really. I was just thinking about last night.” Storm groaned. “Not the time or the place, darlin’. Later, though.” He glanced around then kissed her quickly. She laughed. “Let’s go see this tree she’s picked out.” Chloe tugged on his hand. They found Mandy standing in front of a beautiful, tall tree. She jumped up and down in the snow. “This one, Daddy, this one!” She pointed to it. Chloe heard Storm sigh. “At least it’s not too big around,” he muttered. She laughed. “I think it’s beautiful. What kind is it?” “A Fraser fir. They have the best aroma too—in my opinion.” Chloe leaned forward and inhaled. The scent of pine was wonderful. “It smells so good.” “Well then…let me get it cut down. You two stay back. Keep an eye on her for me.” Chloe nodded and took Mandy’s hand. Chloe watched as Storm lay down on the cold, snowcovered ground and slid under the tree. The sound of the saw cutting through the wood echoed through the surrounding woods. She held on tight to Mandy’s hand but soon both of them started stomping their feet, and bouncing up and down on their toes. Damn! It was cold! “Hurry, Daddy. I’m cold.” “You’re the one who wanted to get a tree, so hush up,” Storm’s muffled voice came from under the tree.
“Why couldn’t we have ridden in your truck?” Chloe muttered. “Where’s the fun in that?” Storm laughed. “Might not be as much fun but it would’ve been warmer.” Chloe’s teeth were chattering. Even though they had all dressed in layers nearly to the point of not being able to move, the air had a mean snap to it. She watched Storm slide out from under the tree, and stand. Snow covered him from head to toe. He wiped his gloved hands down his coat to brush it off and shook his head to knock the snow off his hat then moved to stand beside the tree. “Move behind me while I push it over.” Chloe led Mandy to stand behind him and they both watched as Storm put his gloved hands against the tree and pushed it. She heard the wood snap and watched as it fell to the ground. Storm used the ax to shape the cut end of the tree so it would fit more readily into a tree stand back home. Then he returned the ax and saw to his saddlebag, and came back with a long piece of rope. He tied the rope around the bulk of the tree, down over the base, and then dragged it to where the horses waited. She and Mandy followed him. He tied the rope to the saddle horn, and turned to look at them. “We can go home now. Come here, Mandy.” “Can I ride home with Chloe?” Storm looked at Chloe. “Sure, if it’s all right with her.” “Of course, it is.” She walked to Rosa, and mounted the horse so Storm could hand Mandy up to her. “You can lead the way since I have the tree,” Storm said. Chloe nodded and wrapped one arm around Mandy to keep her safe, and to try to keep her warmer. She watched Storm vault into his saddle and give her a nod to go ahead. She pulled the reins to turn Rosa and then nudged her. She was wishing she could just get the horse to run back to the house so they could all get warm, but she wasn’t that comfortable controlling the horse yet. When the gate came into view, she sighed with relief.
“We’re almost home, Chloe.” “Yes, we are, Mandy Pandy. Almost there.” Chloe hoped she could still feel her feet once she got her boots off since this day was almost as cold as the night she decided to walk to Kendra’s home. Thank God, Storm had found her that night. What were you even thinking, Chloe? Apparently, she hadn’t been thinking at all. The only good thing that came out of that mishap was getting to know Mandy and of course, spending time with Storm. She shivered and it wasn’t from the cold this time. Just then, he rode up beside her. “Go into the barn. I’ll be in right after I untie the tree.” “All right.” Her teeth were chattering but she tried to hide it. Storm grinned at her. “Fun getting a tree, isn’t it?” “Oh yeah, a blast,” she muttered and turned Rosa toward the barn. As soon as Rosa entered the barn, a young man walked toward her. “Hello. Hi, Mandy,” he said as he smiled up at Chloe. “Hi. Can you take Mandy for me?” “Yes, ma’am.” He reached up for Mandy and she went to him willingly. After Mandy was down and clear, Chloe dismounted and held tight to the reins. “Where’s Storm?” the man asked her, with a big grin, but not making any effort to look around for him. “Right here, Eli,” Storm said from behind them, making Eli flinch. Chloe hid a grin, feeling sorry for the young man having been caught flirting with her by the boss. Chloe turned to watch Storm striding into the barn leading Dream Catcher behind him. He was all cowboy and too sexy. He glanced at her then back to Eli and narrowed his eyes a bit. Was he jealous? If only!
“Can you put the horses up, Eli? The girls are cold, and I could do with a hot shower.” “Sure I can, Storm.” Eli grinned, took the reins for each horse, and led them away. “Come on, let’s get in the house before you two turn into popsicles.” He winked at them. “I’ll get a fire going, and I think some hot cocoa is in order, don’t you?” “Sounds great! You don’t have to tell me twice.” Chloe picked Mandy up, who was hopping up and down clapping her hands, probably over the idea of cocoa. She quickly walked the path from the barn to the house. Behind her, she could hear Storm chuckling. She smiled. It was a good day, and she hoped the night would be even better.
A SNOWSTORM MOVED IN the week of Thanksgiving just as predicted, bringing the entire town of Dry River to a halt. No one could go anywhere. Storm was sitting in the living room watching TV when the phone rang. He smiled when he saw his mom’s name on the screen. “Hi, Mom,” he answered. “Hi, honey. It doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to have Thanksgiving dinner as planned. Not this week, anyway.” “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. I told Mandy it was doubtful. She was upset until I told her we decided to have it here. I have a turkey and the side dishes. Chloe will make it.” “She’s still there?” his mother asked with a surprised tone. Son of a bitch! Storm wanted to smack himself. “Uh, yeah. Her car is still buried—” “And you couldn’t drive her anywhere because…?” “It’s a long story, Mom.” Jaya laughed. “I bet it is.” “It’s not like that and besides you know I’m not interested in any long term relationships,” he said then turned when he
heard a noise behind him. Chloe stood in the doorway, staring at him with a hurt look on her face. Shit! It felt like someone punched him in the gut when she spun on her heel, and walked down the hallway. “Can I talk to Mandy?” “Sure, Mom. Hold on.” Storm entered the kitchen to see Mandy sitting at the table, coloring in her new book. “Here, Mandy. Nana wants to talk to you.” After handing her the phone, he walked down the hallway, and knocked on Chloe’s door. She opened it almost immediately. “What is it, Storm?” He sighed and combed his fingers through his hair. “Chloe, you have to know this is just temporary. A casual thing.” “While I’m here, you mean? Then you’ll get me out of here and we’ll never speak of it again. Just as we never spoke of what happened between us two years ago. I can’t understand that. It’s so good between us and yes, I understand that you’re afraid of getting hurt again…but what about me, Storm? Don’t you care at all that I might be getting hurt here?” “Of course I care, I don’t want to hurt you but you knew going into this, that it was casual, nothing more and that it wouldn’t last. I’m not interested in having a relationship. I’ve been honest about that from the start.” “You have, I know, but I was hoping you’d change your mind. It’s never been as good as it is with you.” “I can’t tell you what you want to hear, Chloe—” “Daddy? Nana said to tell you bye and to call her on turkey day,” Mandy said from behind him. He hoped she hadn’t heard them talking so he turned to her and smiled. “All right, baby girl. I will.” He took the phone from her and looked at Chloe. “I’m heading to the barn for a while. Please keep an eye on Mandy.” “Of course. It’s my job after all.” Chloe moved past him and took Mandy’s hand. They walked down the hallway leaving him standing there alone.
Damn it. Storm knew better. He never should have let things go as far as they had. Perhaps his mother had a point about Chloe still being here. She was too much of a temptation and having her under his roof was slowly killing him. When Tracy left him, he’d become a broken man and consequently, he swore he’d never put his trust in another woman. She’d had him fooled. He had fallen hard for her and she’d played on that. He’d discovered that she’d only married him hoping to convince him to sell the ranch and travel the world. She’d only been interested in what his money could do for her. This ranch was his life and he’d refused to leave it— then or ever. The only way he’d ever leave was if he had to do it for Mandy’s wellbeing. He’d do anything for her but she was a healthy child and she loved the ranch as much as he did. Chloe seemed to like Dry River, but so had Tracy. He’d never forget the day he came in from the fields and heard Mandy screaming from her crib. He’d shouted for Tracy only to be met with silence as an answer. So he ran to Mandy’s room to find her soaking wet from her diaper and her little face red from crying. Storm picked her up, cleaned her up and changed her all the while soothing her the best he could then carried her to his bedroom to look for Tracy. She wasn’t anywhere to be found. Still carrying Mandy and talking soothingly to her, he went to the kitchen to make her a bottle. He couldn’t figure out where Tracy was. It was while he was putting the bottle in the microwave that he saw the note leaning against the coffee pot. He slowly reached for it, dreading what it would say. Storm, I can’t do this anymore. I hate the ranch! I didn’t even want to have a baby. She’s all yours. You will never hear from me again. Good luck in this godforsaken place. I found a man who wants to treat me like a queen, not a rancher’s wife. Don’t try to find me. Goodbye, Tracy
Storm shook his head, remembering that terrible day. Don’t try to find her? There was no chance of that. If she wanted out, so be it. Once she left, he never had the time nor, as time passed, the inclination to find her. What a fool he’d been over her. He’d wanted her the first minute he saw her. She’d come on to him one night in the Fireside, and they had spent the night together. It didn’t take long before he thought he was in love. Looking back, he was sure it was just lust. Oh, she was beautiful but she used that to play him for a fool. She knew he was a rich rancher and money was all she loved. She didn’t even love her own child. In all the time since that day, he’d never heard from her at all, just as she’d written. He couldn’t understand how a mother could leave her child behind. Even if she didn’t want to have a baby to begin with, hadn’t she ever felt any love for Mandy at all? He did his best with caring for his daughter on his own because he would walk through fire for his little girl. It had been rough at first because he had to run the ranch too, but then Jimmy mentioned that Claire was willing to help out with her. She was great. Either she’d come to the house or he’d take Mandy to her. Storm didn’t know what he would have done without her in the beginning. He’d deliberately worked himself so hard so he wouldn’t think of Tracy and eventually, she no longer invaded his thoughts. Eventually, he got to the point where he was nothing but angry for having played the fool and being taken in by a pretty face. Never again, he promised himself. Storm had all he needed with Mandy. She was the most important person in his life and he wouldn’t let her be hurt by anyone, and especially by a woman who would leave her again. He had no desire to go through that hurt again —with anyone. Chloe included. It was the major reason he didn’t want to get involved with anyone. It was not only his heart at stake. It was Mandy’s too. He knew now, that the sooner he got Chloe out of here, the better.
hloe finished stuffing the turkey and shoved it into the oven with a little more force than was necessary. What she’d really like to do was shove Storm in there with it. Damn him. However, she really shouldn’t put all the blame on him. Ever thinking he’d change was her fault. She should have learned her lesson two years ago. When he walked away from her after the best sex she’d ever had, and ignored her afterward, that spoke volumes about him. Then at Dakota and Megan’s wedding reception, she’d gotten into an argument with him about the night they’d been together. At that time, he told her it had been a mistake, and her heart broke knowing she’d never have him so why had she thought he’d change now. There is no second chance with Storm Bateman and he was never going to want more from her than just sex. When she’d left Dry River the next day, she thought she’d never return. She reconciled never seeing Storm again. Her decision to return to the little town had made her happy, but now she was only going to end up with him hurting her again. In fact, if it were possible, she was going to be hurt more than she was before. Just then, the back door opened and Storm entered the kitchen. They’d hardly spoken to each other this week except in regards to Mandy. “Smells good,” he said as he took his gloves, hat, and coat off. After he came out of the mudroom, he leaned against the counter and stared at her. “I’d rather you not be in the kitchen while I’m cooking.” “Really? I’ve been in here several times when you’ve been cooking.” “Yeah, well, I’ve got a lot to do and…we were…talking then.” He pushed himself away from the counter and walked to her then stopped in front of her.
“I miss you, Chloe,” he whispered as he lowered his head and kissed her neck. “You miss the sex,” she said in anger and stepped away from him. Storm blew out a breath. “I can’t win with you, can I?” “No. So stop trying. The weather is supposed to clear next week, so I’ll be leaving and I won’t be seeing you anymore. You should be happy with that.” She moved to the counter to start peeling potatoes. “You will see me when I’m working on your apartment or did you forget about that? I already asked the guys and they’re all willing to help. Once the holidays are over, we’ll begin the work.” “Fine. I’ll give the keys to Kennie and she can give them to Cooper. The less I see of you, the better.” Chloe could feel him staring at her through her back. She released a tense sigh when she heard him leave the room. Wiping away a tear, she continued making dinner and tried not to think about Storm. Dinner was a loud affair only because Claire and Jimmy were there and kept the conversation going. Mandy talked about Christmas almost non-stop. Chloe rarely spoke and kept her head down. She’d never felt so uncomfortable in her life, even worse than dinner with her parents. She noticed Storm didn’t speak much either. Chloe could tell Claire thought something was up by the way she kept glancing in her direction and then Storm’s. This dinner couldn’t be over soon enough. A while later, Chloe and Claire stood in the kitchen cleaning up and loading the dishwasher. “Everything okay, Chloe?” Claire asked her. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just tired.” She gave her feigned smile. “Okay. If you ever need to talk—I’m here.” “Thank…” Chloe cleared her throat. “Thank you. I guess it’s just that I’ll be leaving next week. I’m going to miss
Mandy.” “And Storm?” Claire said quietly. Chloe let out a breath. “A little—perhaps.” Claire laughed. “Sure. Okay, I won’t call you on that but I can see the way you look at him. He looks at you the same way.” “No, you’re mistaken, Claire. Not Storm. He’s made it quite clear…he doesn’t want to get involved with anyone after what Tracy did to him.” “Tracy was a bitch and he’s better off without her.” Chloe paused what she was doing and looked at Claire, who shrugged. “Oh, he knows that now but I think he’s scared to take a chance, and I suspect he’d rather die than see Mandy hurt ever again.” “I know, and I guess I understand that. I’ll be all right. I’m moving back to town to run my restaurant and get on with my life.” “Wonderful. I love Zellene’s. Jimmy and I eat there at least once a week. It’s a great place.” “Thank you.” Chloe smiled for real for the first time in hours. She was very proud of Zellene’s. “Let’s finish up in here. I’m tired and still getting over that cold.” Chloe nodded and they hurried to finish up so they could call it a night. After Jimmy and Claire left, she walked to the living room and sat on the sofa. Storm was taking a shower and Mandy was asleep in the recliner. She hated the idea of leaving here. She really was going to miss everything about being here. Mandy. The ranch. And Storm. Who knew she’d fall in love with the cowboy, his little girl, and his ranch? Okay, she admitted it. She was in love with Storm, and had been for a long time. The idea of finding anyone new, anyone better, was foreign to her. She jerked when Mandy crawled into her lap. “I thought you were sleeping?”
“Just a nap. Daddy says turkey makes you sleepy. Where is he?” “Taking a shower. He should be out soon. I’m sure there’s a Christmas movie we could watch.” “Okay.” Mandy laid her head against her shoulder and Chloe choked up. She’d truly grown to love this little girl. “You’ll have to have your daddy bring you to visit me after I go home.” Mandy sat up and stared at her. “No. You can’t leave us, Chloe.” “Oh, honey. I have a job to go to…a restaurant to run. I’m only here until the weather clears up. Hey, I won’t be that far away and you can visit me.” Mandy hugged her. “Promise you’ll come see me on Christmas.” “I promise,” Chloe whispered and kissed her on top of her head. She glanced up when she realized Storm had entered the living room. “Is everything all right?” he asked, his brows knitted together with obvious concern. “Yes.” “No! Chloe’s leaving.” Mandy jumped down from her seat and ran to Storm, who picked her up into his arms. “Amanda, you knew she wasn’t staying very long. She’s just visiting.” “I want her to stay.” Storm sat in the recliner and held his daughter on his lap, her head against his chest. He looked at Chloe over her head. “I told her I’d see her on Christmas.” Storm nodded. “See, Chloe will come out Christmas day. How’s that?” “Okay. I’m sleepy, Daddy. I want to take a bath and go to bed.”
“It has been a long day.” He stood. “Let’s get you a bath. I’m kind of tired myself. Chloe, we’ll see you in the morning.” “Sure. Goodnight.” Chloe watched as they disappeared down the hallway and couldn’t help but wish this could all be different. She hadn’t realized how long she’d sat there alone until she glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. It was almost nine. No wonder she was so tired. She’d been up since five to start dinner preparations. She pushed herself up from the sofa and headed down the hallway. When she passed Mandy’s room, she could hear the little girl laughing and Storm’s deep voice talking to her. Chloe walked on to her room and closed the door behind her. She headed to the bathroom where she turned the shower on then stripped her clothes off as the bathroom filled with steam. Stepping under the spray, she moaned as the hot water slid down over her. Turning her back, she let the water hit between her shoulder blades. Tension had taken up residence there and she hoped it would help. The thought of leaving here soon was stressing her out. But she had to go, Storm didn’t want her here any longer. When the shower door suddenly opened letting cold air invade, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Pushing the water out of her eyes, she saw Storm standing there staring at her. “What do you think you’re doing, Storm?” “Watching you shower?” “Go away.” She turned her back to him and tried not to let tears well up in her eyes. “If you really want me to go, I will…but turn around and tell me to my face.” Chloe shook her head. There was no way she could look into his handsome face and tell him to go. She wanted him too much. Then again, why not take what she could get with him. She spun around to look at him, and her gaze met his sexy dark eyes. She watched as he allowed his gaze to run down over her body. When his eyes lingered on her breasts, her
nipples hardened in reaction. Down his eyes traveled to her flat stomach, her curls, and down her legs before they came back up to meet her eyes. “What do you want me to do, Chloe?” “Get in here with me.” She groaned chastising her body for not being able to resist him then smiled when he quickly stripped his clothes off. When he pulled a condom from his wallet and grinned at her, her knees went weak so she turned her back to him. He stepped in behind her and picked up the soap. After lathering it up, he ran his hands easily over her breasts and rubbed the pads of his thumbs over her nipples making her moan. He moved his mouth along her shoulder and up her neck and she dropped her head back against him, allowing him access. “I love your breasts. I swear they’re perfect. Just like the rest of you,” he whispered in her ear. She tried to turn around but he wouldn’t let her. “Storm,” she pleaded. “Soon.” He nipped her neck then moved one hand down her stomach to her curls and rubbed his fingertip against her clitoris making her buck against him. “I love how responsive you are to my touch.” Chloe groaned, wishing his touch didn’t affect her so, as he kept moving his finger against her. His other hand was still on her breast, rubbing the pad of his thumb over her nipple. She pushed back against him and felt his hard shaft against her back. She laughed low in her throat. “It seems you’re responsive to me too.” Storm chuckled. “You have no idea.” He removed his hand from her breast and moved it along her side around to her butt. He slipped his hand between her legs from behind and inched two fingers into her. Chloe gasped as his fingers hit her G-spot. She couldn’t seem to catch her breath as she placed her hand over his finger on her clitoris.
“Harder?” he whispered. “God, yes.” She groaned as her orgasm hit her making her knees buckle. Storm quickly removed his hand and caught her then spun her around to face him. “You are so fucking hot.” He picked her up and set her on her feet outside the shower. He reached for a towel and dried her off. When he started to dry himself off, she took the towel from him and started drying him herself. As she moved the towel down his stomach, his dick protruded out. She looked up into his eyes. “I think this…” She wrapped her hand around his length. “Needs to be blow dried.” Dropping to her knees in front of him, and still looking up into his face, she placed her mouth over him. Storm didn’t take his eyes from hers as his hands clutched fistfuls of her wet hair. Chloe pulled back from him and licked his hard length. She ran her tongue over his balls and smiled when he growled. Moving back up, she ran her tongue to the tip and swirled it around the head and all the while, pumping her hand up and down along him. She moaned and grinned when he shuddered. With her other hand, she cupped his balls and massaged them gently. His hands tightened even more in her hair. “Chloe,” he groaned. “I’m too close. It’s too fast and too fucking soon. Stop.” She laughed. “Nope. Enjoy.” “I want to fuck you.” “We have all night…if you want.” His lack of denial told her all she needed. “So shut up, Storm.” Storm blew out a laugh. “Yeah, right.” Chloe put her mouth down over him again and sucked hard, making him tense beneath her fingers. A deep growl tore from his chest as he came in her mouth. His hips pumped against her as she took all of him. Once he relaxed, Chloe pulled away from him and kissed her way up his six-pack stomach, hard pecs and finally, to his lips. He took control of
the kiss and deepened it then he picked her up, carried her out of the bathroom, out through her bedroom, and entered his after looking toward Mandy’s door. He closed the door tight behind them and placed her on the edge of the bed. He ran his hands down her legs to her ankles, wrapped his hands around them, and tugged her to the edge of the bed. Dropping to his knees between her legs, and after spreading them wide, he kissed the inside of her thigh then he blew on her curls. Chloe gasped as he pulled her slit apart with his thumbs and moved his tongue over her clitoris. She grabbed fistfuls of his hair as her already aroused body rolled with pleasure. “Don’t stop,” she pleaded. He chuckled and flicked his tongue against her then placed his mouth over her and suckled. Chloe couldn’t stop the groan from bursting from her throat. He was slowly killing her with his administrations, and as his tongue moved down along her slit and back to her clitoris, she knew no man would ever make her body soar like he could. “I’m going to make you come, Chloe, with just my mouth,” he said against her. Blindly nodding, she didn’t doubt that he could do it because she was already very close. When he pushed his tongue hard against her clitoris, she pulled his hair harder. Then he put his mouth over her and sucked. “Storm…” She moaned and then began to draw in deep breaths feeling as if there wasn’t enough air in the world, and it was amazing. “Yes, baby.” He sucked harder, making her body arch closer to his mouth. Chloe reached for the pillow to muffle her scream as her orgasm ripped through her. Stars burst behind her eyelids and she shattered into a thousand pieces. Tossing the pillow aside, she lay flat with her arms outstretched, and tried to catch her breath. She could feel him kissing his way up her stomach to her breasts and when he finally reached her lips, she tasted her
arousal on his tongue keeping her arousal heightened enough that she was thrilled when she heard him tear open a condom. She was on the verge of coming almost immediately again when he inched his tongue into her mouth as he inched his cock into her. “Hold on, this is going to be hard and fast,” Storm told her and then took them both soaring over the edge. It was the best Thanksgiving of her life.
STORM AWOKE WITH A jerk, sat up, and listened. He swung his legs out of the bed and pulled his jeans on. It was probably just his imagination or part of a dream, but his gut told him he needed to check the house. “What is it?” Chloe asked from behind him. “I don’t know. I heard something. Could be nothing. Stay here. I’ll be right back.” When he reached the door leading to the hallway, he pulled the door open and listened. He didn’t hear anything but he needed to check around anyway. He’d just feel better. Pulling the door closed behind him, he walked down the hallway to Mandy’s door. He opened it quietly and peeked in. She was asleep like an angel, hugging Boo. Storm smiled and closed the door then walked to the kitchen. Nothing seemed amiss in any part of the house. Peering out the back door to the barns, he saw they were dark. He blew out a relieved breath. He wasn’t sure what he’d heard but nothing was out of place anywhere. Maybe he’d been dreaming after all. He walked back down the hallway, and entered his bedroom closing the door behind him. “Storm?” Chloe whispered. “Yeah, it’s all right…nothing’s wrong.” “I wouldn’t say that…” She pointed toward the yard outside the patio doors. “…is nothing.”
Storm walked to the doors and looked out. The full moon’s bright beams lit up the area and his gut clenched when he saw a cougar standing by the pool. “Shit. I need to get him out of here. This is one reason I keep the barns closed up at night.” “Would he hurt the horses?” “Oh yeah. If he’s hungry enough, he’d go after one to kill and eat. He must be hungry if he’s this close to the house.” Chloe gasped and Storm quickly looked at her, she was pointing again. “She.” Storm looked out again and saw two cubs following the cat. “Damn, that makes her more dangerous. I have to run them off. Could you go into Mandy’s room and stay with her? If the sound of a gunshot wakes her up, I don’t want her to be scared.” “You’re going to shoot her?” Chloe climbed out of the bed and pulled on a pair of Storm’s sweatpants and his T-shirt over her head. As he watched her cover her beautiful body, he regretted that they weren’t otherwise occupied while awake in the middle of the night. “No. I’m going to fire the gun into the air to scare her. She’ll run off and take her cubs with her. No way would I want to kill her and leave her cubs alone.” Chloe smiled at him and met him at the door. “Good. I’ll go into Mandy’s room now. Please be careful.” Storm kissed her and let her lead the way into the hall. “I will.” He strode to his office, unlocked the gun safe, and removed his pistol. Locating the ammo, which he kept in the back of a drawer in his desk, he loaded it then strode down the hallway to the kitchen. After pulling on his boots and coat, he opened the back door and stepped onto the porch. After walking around to the back of the house, he leaned over the rail, held the gun up, and fired a shot into the air. The cougar raised her head and quickly looked around. Storm fired again and the cat along with her cubs ran off into the nearby woods.
Storm blew out a relieved breath. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen one on his ranch and it wouldn’t be the last, but the thought of one being even close to Mandy terrified him to death. It was one of the major reasons he never wanted Mandy to wander off alone. Cougars didn’t hibernate, they hunted all winter, and if this one had found a way into the barn and gotten at the horses, she’d keep coming back for more. Storm would keep an eye out for her to return but he hoped the gunfire scared her enough to keep her away for a long time. He returned to the kitchen where he found Chloe sitting at the table. She looked up at him with wide eyes, and his heart slammed into his ribs. Just as she came to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, the phone rang. Storm saw it was Jimmy and answered. “It’s all right, Jimmy, it was just me scaring off a cougar with two cubs out by the pool. The gunshot did the trick.” “Okay. I just wanted to make sure. If everything’s okay, I’ll say goodnight.” Jimmy hung up. Storm set the phone down and wrapped his arms around Chloe. “Mandy okay?” “Mandy didn’t stir, she’s sound asleep. I just wanted to make sure you were all right,” Chloe said. Storm hugged her closer to him. “I’m fine. She ran off with her cubs following just as I said she would.” “I can feel the cold coming off you and you weren’t even out there that long.” “Yep, it’s fucking cold out there.” Storm stepped back from her to remove his coat and she dropped her arms. It was strange that he missed her immediately. He pulled a chair out and sat down to take his boots off. Once he did that, he stood, then took her hand in his and led her back to his bedroom. He knew a great way to get warmed up again.
WHEN CHLOE WOKE UP the next morning, she glanced at the clock only to see it was past six. She quickly jumped out of the bed and crept to the door. She opened it and peered out then ran across the hall to her room so she could dress. Hurrying, she left her room to head to the kitchen but came to a stop when she saw Claire sitting at the table with Mandy, watching her color in her book. Had Storm replaced her already? Had he told Claire he wanted her to watch Mandy from now on? “Good morning,” Claire said to her with a smile. “Good morning. I’m sorry I slept in.” “Hi, Chloe. Claire is helping me color in the lines.” “I see that. Have you had breakfast?” “Yep. Oatmeal. Claire makes good oatmeal.” Claire laughed and kissed the top of Mandy’s head then she stood. “Do you want some oatmeal, Chloe?” “No, thanks. I’ll just have some coffee. Did Storm call you to come over?” “No. I was in the barn with Jimmy when Storm came in. He asked me to come in to wait for Mandy to wake up since you were sleeping in. He told me he got you up early this morning to stay with Mandy because of the c-o-u-g-a-r.” Claire spelled out the name of the animal so as not to alarm the little girl. Chloe nodded and sighed. “Yes. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.” “You saw it? Storm said it was out by his pool—oh…” Claire cleared her throat and trained her attention on Mandy. Well hell! Way to go Baxter! Claire had to know the pool sat outside of Storm’s bedroom since she stayed with Mandy so much. Chloe could feel her cheeks getting warm. She glanced away and decided to make herself a cup of coffee, refusing to look at Claire. The back door opened just then and Storm walked in. He came to a halt when he saw Chloe then
smiled, which surprised her. She was feeling too embarrassed right now to react. “I thought you’d sleep later,” he said then walked to Mandy and kissed her cheek. “That looks good, baby girl.” Mandy smiled up at him. “Thanks, Daddy.” “I’ll go now since Chloe’s up. See you all later,” Claire said as she walked out. Storm moved to stand by Chloe. “What’s wrong?” “I slipped up. I mentioned that I saw the cougar and Claire…well, she mentioned you said it was out by your pool, so…you know,” she whispered, closing her eyes against the embarrassing thought. Storm burst out laughing and Chloe punched him. “It’s not funny. She knows I was in your room.” “So what? We’re adults.” It figured he wouldn’t understand. Chloe moved away from him. “The weather is supposed to be nice through Sunday. I should be able to leave tomorrow.” “All right. I’ll see about getting your car dug out. If I can’t, I can take you to town and once it is out, I’ll get it to you some way.” Chloe frowned. Damn him. He could have put up a little fight about her leaving. Well, two could play at this game. “That’s fine.” She leaned closer to him, lowering her voice even more. “Once I leave here, this…” She waved her hand between them. “…is over. I won’t have you coming to town thinking you’re going to have sex with me. I won’t be a booty call for you, Storm Bateman.” She noticed how he clenched his jaw in reaction, making a muscle tick in his cheek. “If that’s the way you want it.” “It’s not how I want it…it’s the way it has to be. I knew the minute I met you that you would break my heart, and I’m a fool to even have had a single ounce of hope where you’re concerned.”
Storm stared at her and she thought he was going to say something or perhaps it was just her hope, but then he spun on his heel and walked out the door, slamming it behind him.
STORM TRUDGED THROUGH the snow. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling but he didn’t like it. If she wanted to leave, he’d help her do so. When he entered the barn, he saw Claire and Jimmy standing in the center of the aisle talking. They stopped when he walked toward them. Jimmy lifted his brows in question, and Claire seemed to be trying to see into his brain. “Jimmy, I want you to go with me to see if we can get Chloe’s car out of the snow. They’ve plowed the roads and she’s anxious to go home.” “She is, huh?” Claire asked him, folding her arms across her chest. Storm narrowed his eyes at her. “Yes,” he said through clenched teeth. “She is.” “Bullshit,” Claire muttered then walked away. Storm looked at Jimmy to see him running his hand over his mouth. When Jimmy saw him looking at him, he shrugged as if to say don’t ask me. “I’ll grab some shovels. When do you want to go?” “As soon as possible. She’s ready to leave.” “And you want her to leave?” “Jimmy, I haven’t anything to say about it. She wants to leave…besides, there is nothing going on between us. Just as well, I won’t allow a woman to rope me in again.” “If you think that sweet gal in there is anything like Tracy then you’re more of a cynic than I ever believed possible.” “It doesn’t matter how I feel. It’s not about me. I won’t have Mandy hurt again.”
“You think she’s going to go through life and never be hurt? If only that were true. We all get hurt in one way or another. That’s life. You can’t always protect her and you deserve happiness too.” “Shut up and just get the shovels. I’ll warm up the truck.” Storm walked away, gritting his teeth when he heard Jimmy chuckling. He entered the house and grabbed his keys then walked to the living room to find Chloe. She was sitting on the sofa with Mandy, watching a Christmas movie. She glanced up at him and then back to the TV without any further acknowledgment. “I need your car keys,” he said without fanfare. “If Jimmy and I can get it out, he’ll drive it back here.” Chloe blew out a breath, stood, and headed down the hallway. Mandy watched her go so Storm winked at her when she looked at him. “I’m watching Rudolph, Daddy.” “I see that.” Chloe came back and handed him the keys without even looking at him. He swore under his breath and after telling them he’d be back soon, he left to go back outside. Jimmy stood beside the truck. When he saw Storm, he shook his head and climbed into the truck. Storm opened the driver side door, climbed into the cab, and glanced over to Jimmy as he buckled up. “Not one word.” Jimmy put his hands up but grinned. Storm muttered under his breath how no one understood. No one knew how much it would cost him to let a woman into his life again. It wasn’t just him, he had to think about getting hurt. Mandy was already in love with Chloe too and…too? Oh hell no! He was in no way, no how, in love with Chloe Baxter. Then why did it bother him so much that she was leaving? No! No! No! It was just infatuation, and once she was gone and he didn’t see her as much, she’d get out of his head.
Storm cleared his throat and avoided looking at Jimmy as he ran his hand around the back of his neck. Damn it. He couldn’t be in love with her. No, he refused to be in love with her. He would just quit thinking about her and eventually this —whatever this was that he thought he was feeling—would disappear. When he pulled out of his driveway, he was surprised to see the roads were clear. However, her car might still be buried, worse even. Especially if the road plows didn’t see it since it was already covered. They would’ve just thrown more on top of it. Oh well, they’d find out when they got there. If it was too deep to dig out, maybe he could convince her to stay a little longer. What the fuck is wrong with you, Bateman? You just said you needed her to go so she’d get out of your head. “Son of a bitch,” he swore aloud, and then threw Jimmy a dirty look when the man chuckled.
ince Storm was in such a hurry for her to leave, and had left to dig her car out, Chloe decided to pack her clothes. Mandy sat in the middle of the bed staring up at her with tears in her eyes. Chloe smiled encouragingly at her. “You’ll see me again, Mandy Pandy, I promise. We live in the same town, after all.” “But you’ll be far away from here.” “Not that far and remember we’re going to be together for Christmas.” Chloe hated the idea of returning to the ranch and being around Storm since he didn’t want her, but she’d promised Mandy. The ranch now held far too many memories. It was going to be bad enough if she saw Storm in town and of course, he was going to help fix up the apartment above the restaurant. She also knew Storm would meet with his friends at Zellene’s for dinner since they ate together there once a week. All six of the bad boys of Dry River converged on the restaurant. It was always boisterous and loud but they enjoyed themselves, and she actually loved it when they came in. Not only to see Storm but they all loved giving her a rough time and she gave it right back. In a way, she was anxious to get back to it all. She’d missed her life here since she’d been gone. The manager had kept it going but being in a town the size of Dry River, it didn’t make a lot of money. Dry River was off the beaten path and not very close to any larger city in Wyoming. Although both Zellene’s and the house were paid for, she still was going to have trouble making enough money to keep both up and running if her plans didn’t pan out. The electric was high for the restaurant, what with all the cooking equipment. The house was fine too, but it was too big for just one person. She planned to try to rent it out to a family. It really was made for a family and that way she wouldn’t have to worry about paying anything other than the bills for the restaurant.
“You have to come and see what Santa brings me, huh?” “Of course, I will, and I’m sure he’ll be good to you too. Have you told him what you want yet?” “I haven’t talked to him yet this year but last year, I asked for a mommy. He didn’t bring one.” Mandy gazed up at her with a sad expression. “Daddy says Santa doesn’t bring mommies.” Chloe sat down on the bed. “I think your daddy’s right about that. Santa doesn’t bring gifts like that. What else do you want?” “A new bike and coloring books. I like to color.” “You’re very good at it too. What else?” “A baby doll. I wish I could have a new baby sister or brother but if I don’t have a mommy, I don’t think I can have one so I want a pretend baby.” Chloe had to look away so Mandy wouldn’t see her grinning. The girl was wise beyond her years. “I’m sure you’re right about that.” With that, she stood and continued to pack. “What do you want Santa to bring you?” The question startled Chloe. No one had ever asked her that before. Oh, sure Kennie bought her presents but her parents never asked her—ever. They’d get her something expensive every year whether she wanted it or not. Last year, it was her Mercedes, which now sat buried under snow. The one thing she really wanted, she knew she couldn’t have. Storm. “I don’t know. I have just about everything I want.” “There has to be something.” “I’ll think about it and let you know.” “Okay. Can we watch another movie?” Chloe sighed. The little girl loved watching movies. “Sure. Let’s go.” Mandy jumped off the bed and started to run out the door. “Walk, Amanda Jo.”
Mandy skidded to a halt and turned to look at Chloe with wide eyes. “Okay.” Chloe gave her a nod of approval, and then almost burst out laughing when Mandy skipped down the hallway.
“THERE’S NO WAY WE CAN dig this car out yet. I guess she’ll be staying a while longer.” Jimmy grinned at Storm over the pile of snow covering Chloe’s car. “All it means is that I’ll be driving her to town.” “Now, that’s a real shame.” “Get in the fucking truck,” Storm growled then scowled at his friend when Jimmy chuckled and trudged through the deep snow surrounding the car. Storm watched him toss his shovel into the bed, and then he climbed into the cab of the truck. Shaking his head and knowing what Jimmy was trying to do, he muttered under his breath about nosy people as he trudged through the same snow toward his truck. A few minutes later, Storm climbed in and started the truck. He glanced over to Jimmy then turned to look out through the windshield. “I suppose we can try next week to get it out. If we don’t get any more snow, that is. I guess she can do without her car for a while since her house is just across the street from the restaurant.” “Sure, I guess that sounds good. Although, I think you’re an idiot for letting her go at all.” Storm turned to glare at his passenger. “Jimmy, this really is none of your business.” “All right.” Jimmy raised his hands in defeat and was silent for a few seconds. “Whatever you say.” “Shut up,” Storm snapped. He wrapped his gloved hands around the steering wheel and gritted his teeth when Jimmy snorted.
They drove back to the ranch in silence. When Storm stopped by the back of the house, Jimmy climbed out, winked at Storm, and closed the door. Storm climbed out and looked over the hood at Jimmy who was walking away. “I can fire you, you know,” Storm yelled at the man’s back. “Again?” Jimmy waved over his shoulder without turning around. Storm shook his head but couldn’t stop the grin. He stomped his snow-covered boots on the porch and then entered the kitchen. He could hear the TV going in the living room. From the sound of it, it was another Christmas movie. Mandy did love the holiday and everything that went with it. He took his gloves, hat, and coat off, put them in the mudroom, and then walked to the living room. He found Chloe and Mandy lying on the sofa together. He leaned against the doorjamb and folded his arms watching them. Mandy glanced over to him and shot off the sofa to run to him. Storm grinned and squatted down to catch her. She squealed when he stood and tossed her into the air. Her greeting never got old for him. “Me and Chloe are watching Frosty,” Mandy said as she looked at him, her hands cupping his cheeks. “You’re really getting in the Christmas spirit, aren’t you?” Storm didn’t bother correcting her this time. “Yep.” She pushed away for him to put her down. He did and then he looked at Chloe, who was watching him. “Were you able to get my car out?” “Nope, sorry. It’s buried but maybe next week, if we don’t get any more snow.” “Then you can stay with us.” Mandy jumped up and down clapping her hands. “No, honey. Your daddy will just have to take me to town.” Chloe looked at him. “Are the roads clear enough?”
He could lie so she’d stay but he didn’t like lying to anyone about anything, so he nodded. “Yeah, they’re clear so whenever you want to go, I can take you.” “How about now?” “Now?” “Yes. I’m packed and ready. I’m anxious to get to the restaurant and I want to check out the apartment.” “Okay. You know…I’d like to see it too. I’ll call Claire to see if she can watch Mandy for a few hours.” “No! I want to go too, Daddy.” “Not this time, sweetheart. Maybe once Chloe gets settled, I’ll take you to visit her at the restaurant.” “Oh! Okay.” She conceded but pushed out her lower lip in a pout then ran to Chloe and hugged her. “Bye, Chloe. I’ll miss you.” Chloe noticeably blinked away tears when she hugged Mandy. Seeing her genuine affection for his daughter tugged at Storm’s heart. “Goodbye Mandy Pandy. We’ll see each other soon. Promise.” When Chloe finished saying good-bye to Mandy, she walked away toward her bedroom. He presumed to get her luggage, so Storm followed her. She had stopped alongside her bags so he reached around her, and grabbed the suitcases. She looked up at him with moist eyes. “Thank you for everything, Storm. I want you to know how much I appreciate all the time I was here and what you did for me. I would have died, if not for you finding me in the snow.” “Anyone would have done the same thing.” He spun on his heel and walked out of the room before he took her in his arms and kissed her until she pleaded to stay. He stopped in the kitchen, set the suitcases down by the door,
took a deep breath, and then called Claire. After he told her what he needed, she told him she’d be there in a few minutes. When Chloe entered the room and set the smaller cases down, Storm went to the mudroom and came back out with her coat. They stood there staring at each other until Chloe glanced away from him. Damn. He didn’t want her to go. Not yet. “Chloe—” He started to tell her just that when the back door suddenly opened, and Claire stepped into the kitchen. “Chloe, you’re leaving?” “Yes. It’s time. The roads are clear, and I want to get to the restaurant and back to my life.” “Is the electric on in your house? I mean, won’t it be too cold if it’s off?” “It was kept on while I was gone. My manager at the restaurant has been keeping an eye on the house for me, and she knew to turn the heat on once it got cold.” “Oh.” Claire walked to her and hugged her. “I’ll miss you. Don’t be a stranger.” Over Chloe’s shoulder, she glared at Storm. He raised an eyebrow then lowered his gaze, suddenly ridden with guilt over disappointing everyone. “She’s coming back for Christmas. She promised Mandy.” “Well, that’s great. I’ll see you then. Okay then, I’d better go check to see what mischief Mandy is in.” With a shake of her head, Claire walked away. Storm took a deep breath. “Let’s go, if you’re ready.” “I’m more than ready.” Chloe put on her coat, hat, and gloves then picked up a couple of her suitcases, and walked out the door. Storm hung his head, already missing her. He picked up the other suitcases and followed her out the door.
STORM PARKED IN FRONT of the house that had once upon a time brought her such joy and good memories with her grandmother. Chloe stared at it. It looked the same but she wished she was somewhere else—the ranch. Oh, she’d missed the big old house so very much, yet was only vaguely happy to be home now. It was an old Victorian painted dark gray with white gingerbread trim. There had been so many good memories in this house with her grandmother. She looked across the street to the restaurant and was pleased to see a full parking lot. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped out into the cold. She opened the back door and retrieved a couple of her smaller suitcases. Storm grabbed the other ones and after closing the door, he walked around the truck looking up at the house. “This is a great old house,” he said from beside her. “It is. I’ve always loved it but really, it’s made for a family. There are four bedrooms.” “Yeah, too big for just you, I suppose.” He glanced across the street. “The apartment may be the best choice anyway.” “Yes.” The word wasn’t much more than a whisper because where she’d rather be was back at the ranch with him and Mandy. With a deep breath to ward off tears, Chloe climbed the steps to the porch and stopped by the door. She unlocked it and stepped across the threshold. The memories rushed at her like a freight train. The house always held the scent of roses, and she could never figure out why since she never kept cut roses, but they had been her grandmother’s favorite flower. “What a great house,” Storm said from beside her. She nodded. To the left was the living room filled with antique furniture. Dark walnut wood surrounded a fireplace with a mirror above it. To the right was a large dining room. In front of Chloe and Storm were stairs leading to the second floor. A hallway ran alongside it leading to the kitchen, which her grandmother had modernized the year before she died. Upstairs were four bedrooms each with fireplaces. She loved
this house and never wished to part with it but she knew she couldn’t afford it on her own so she hoped she could find a good family to rent it. A family who would love and care for it like she had. Of course, if she lived across the street, she could keep an eye on it. The door closed behind her and she turned to look at Storm. He seemed to fill the space with his presence, and she still wanted him. “Do you want me to take these upstairs?” he asked her, indicating the luggage. “Um…no, I’ll do it later. If you don’t mind, we could go look at the apartment now and I’d love to check in at the restaurant.” “Sure.” She nodded and set the suitcases down. Storm set down the ones he was holding and turned to the door. He stepped out onto the porch and Chloe followed him. The sun was shining making it a beautiful day. It was still cold and snow covered everything but the cleared sidewalks and streets. Thankfully, her manager must have shoveled the walk or they wouldn’t have made it to the door with the bags. She smiled, remembering why she loved living here. Even with snow, the sunshine made it appear warmer. They walked down the steps, crossed the street and parking lot, to the entrance to Zellene’s. When they entered the restaurant, a server approached them, smiling. “Hi. Welcome to Zellene’s. Two?” Chloe smiled. “I’m Chloe.” The girl frowned at her then smiled again. “Okay. Hi, Chloe…will it just be the two of you?” When Storm snorted out a laugh, Chloe glared at him and he shrugged. “I’m the owner of Zellene’s.” “You’re…? Oh! I’m so sorry. It just didn’t click. I’m Janie. I just started here last week. It’s so nice to meet you.” “It’s nice to meet you too, Janie. Is Bev here?”
“Um…yeah…in the kitchen,” Janie said, obviously flustered by her accidental blunder. “Thank you.” Chloe nodded for Storm to follow her and they weaved their way through the tables. A few people called out to Chloe welcoming her back and making her smile. She loved this town. They entered the kitchen and she was happy to see it running smoothly. Spotting Bev, she headed toward her and tapped her on the shoulder. Bev spun around and laughed then pulled Chloe into a hug. “I’m so happy to see you. Are you back for good or just visiting with your—?” Bev looked past her in anticipation. “Yes. I’m back…and alone. Do you happen to have the key to the apartment upstairs?” “Oh…um…yeah, it’s in the office.” Suddenly, Bev cleared her throat and indicated the direction of the door to the kitchen with her eyes. “What is the gorgeous Storm Bateman doing here?” “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it later.” “Okay,” Bev said with raised brows then walked ahead of Chloe to the office to get the key for her. Chloe followed behind knowing Bev was dying to ask her a million questions. “I didn’t get married.” “Good. You didn’t want to anyway. I’m so glad you’re back. Don’t get me wrong, I love working here, but this is your place. The good news is that we’ve gotten busier. I had to hire two new girls.” “That’s great news. I already met one of your new hires. I trust you. That’s why I left this place in your hands. I’ll talk to you about it all later. I may be living upstairs and renting out the house so I can save some money. My parents have cut me off, so I have to make this work somehow.” “If it will help, I’ll take a cut in pay—” “No, you will not. We’ll figure something out. Okay? In the meantime, I need to take a look at upstairs.” Chloe walked out of the office and waved for Storm to come over to her.
He glanced around the kitchen. “Damn, it’s busy in here.” Chloe laughed. “This is slow compared to some days. Come on, the door to the apartment is back here.” She led him out a back door and then up metal stairs still bearing a coating of snow. After carefully climbing them with Storm behind her, she took a deep breath, put the key into the lock, and turned to look at Storm. He raised an eyebrow in question. “I’m afraid to see what’s inside. It’s been a while since I’ve been up here.” “Just open the door. I’m freezing my balls off out here.” She chuckled then turned the key, and pushed the door open. A strong musty smell immediately assaulted her nose making her cough. She reached in and flipped the light switch. Storm stepped around her and entered the apartment. Chloe stepped in and closed the door. She glanced around the room and wanted to cry. It was a mess. She looked at Storm. “It’s a total mess.” It was so cold in the space she could see her breath. “Yeah, but it has potential.” He walked further into the room. “You didn’t tell me it had a fireplace. We’ll have to make sure it’s usable. The flue may need cleaning out before you can ever use it. In fact, I’d have that done anyway just to be safe.” Chloe watched him walk around the apartment then followed him into the kitchen. The white appliances were in pretty good shape. They just needed a good cleaning. The living room needed new carpeting. What was there was very threadbare. The front of the apartment had a row of windows that looked down over the street and gave her a great view of her house. Storm’s boot heels clacked on the wooden floor as he walked down a hallway. She quickly followed him to the one bedroom. He pushed the door open and entered the room. Chloe stood in the doorway and looked around.
“It’s not too bad,” Storm said as he looked around. “It really just needs some cleaning and polishing…and airing out.” “Not as bad as I thought.” When he opened another door that she knew led to the bathroom, Chloe tried to look over his shoulder but he was too tall, so she elbowed him out of the way. He glanced down at her. “Sorry,” he muttered. Chloe gasped when she saw the large claw foot tub. There were two bathrooms in her house and both had claw foot tubs. She absolutely loved taking a bath in them. “I’m so happy to see that tub. I love taking a bath in those.” She looked around. “No shower though.” “That’s an easy fix. They make shower kits for these types of tubs. It won’t be a problem to put one on it.” “I think this will work for me, after all.” She looked at Storm and smiled. He walked to her and her smile faded. She backed up but didn’t get too far, making him smirk. He leaned down and kissed her softly. “I’ll make a list of things we need to do and what needs to be done first then I can let you know when we can start on this. In the meantime, get some ideas for colors and carpeting.” “All right. I’ll have Kennie take me to pick some out after you get the measurements.” She followed him back through the apartment and when he stopped in the kitchen, she watched him as he glanced around. “Paint is first. Kennie can take you if you can’t wait for your car. I don’t think it will take us long to make this livable.” He opened and closed the cabinet doors as he spoke. “Thank you.”
Suddenly, one of the cabinet doors slipped off its hinge and Storm grabbed it. He handed Chloe his phone, and hooked it back on, tightening the remaining screw with his fingertips. “I guess we need to check all the hinges too.” The phone in her hand vibrated gently, and a text popped up on the screen. It was from someone named Sarah and read: Hey cowboy, the roads are finally clear, how about a visit? You bring the condoms I’ll supply the sexy underwear. A kiss emoticon followed the text. Chloe nearly dropped the phone because the words were like a punch in the chest. “Do you need me to walk you back home?” Storm’s question made her jump in response. What the hell was she thinking? He would never settle down with her and as far as sex goes, he could get it whenever he wanted. She was just convenient because they’d been snowed in together. “No. I’m fine.” She knew her tone was too snippy but she wasn’t in the mood for niceties right now. “I’m going to get something to eat downstairs. I didn’t have breakfast this morning.” Storm nodded, seemed like he was about to say something then reconsidered. “I’ll call you and let you know when we’ll be able to start.” He didn’t move from where he stood, but instead reached out and took a few strands of her hair between his fingers. “So soft,” he murmured. “And not yours,” she replied and stepped away. “Here’s your phone. Thank you for bringing me home.” He stared at her and for a moment, she thought she saw something sad cross his face but then he took his phone, spun on his heel and walked out. She heard the door close behind him and let the breath out she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She was going to miss seeing him and Mandy every day. She’d fallen in love with the little girl and Storm was a good father. He loved his little girl and that made him even
sexier to her but now she understood that she wasn’t anything to him—never was. Her cell phone suddenly rang, startling her. She pulled it from her pocket and smiled when she saw it was David. “David, how are you?” she said by way of answer as she walked to the thermostat to turn the heat up. His laugh came across the line. “I’m wonderful. How are you doing, Chloe?” “I’m good. I’m very happy to be home.” “You sound like it. Look, I called to thank you again. What you did was so brave. We both had to do this but you led the way. As much as I love you, it never would have worked for us.” “I know. I love you too. How are your parents taking it?” “Believe it or not, they’ve come to terms with it.” “What? Are you serious?” “I am. I was shocked. My mom came over to my condo when Brad and I got home from the honeymoon. She said she was sorry for what she and Dad did. I deserved to be happy and she was only trying to make herself happy.” “Oh, David…that’s so wonderful. What about your dad?” “He came here the other day and apologized too. They both seemed to like Brad and said they just want me to be happy. Have you talked to your parents?” “No. My mother has left horrible messages. She blames me for ruining their plans. I can’t believe how rude she’s being. She’s never been a mother to me and I don’t think that will ever change. Her latest message was that they were going to come to Dry River and drag me home. Lovely, huh?” “That sucks, hon. I’m sorry but we are both better off not getting married to each other.” “I know. You love Brad, and I—” She stopped herself. “You what?”
“It’s nothing. Never mind.” “Chloe…?” “It doesn’t matter, David. It’ll never happen. I’ve been in love with him for a long time and he’s not into relationships. He was terribly hurt years ago and he doesn’t trust women. He has a little girl he has to think about and he won’t let her get hurt by having a woman in his life who could leave him and his daughter behind like his ex-wife did.” “I can understand that. Don’t give up though. Never give up. We made the right decision, babe. I gotta run. We’ll talk soon. Love you.” “I love you too. Give Brad my love. I’m happy for you both.” Chloe hit End, put the phone in her pocket, and then walked around the apartment. The hardest thing was going to be sleeping alone tonight, waking up tomorrow, and not seeing Storm and Mandy. She needed to go home and take a nice hot bath in that big tub she loved, and she would do just that right after she got some food in her. She had a feeling it was going to be a long, lonely night.
torm drove through town and wondered, yet again, what he’d been thinking to get involved with Chloe. It couldn’t be what she wanted it to be. Now she was pissed off at him because he can’t be what she wants. He just couldn’t take that risk. So, you’re going to be alone for the rest of your life? “If that’s what it comes to, yes,” he said aloud and fisted his hands around the steering wheel. All of his friends were happily married now. Five of the six bad boys of Dry River had settled down and seemed to love it. They were having kids and adored their wives. Part of him was envious but he’d had a wife he’d adored too, once upon a time. Now, if he never saw Tracy again, it would be too soon. As he drove toward the feed store, he decided to stop in and get some oats while he was in town. It never hurt to have too much. He pulled into the parking lot and shut the truck off then climbed out and entered the store. The people inside waved or called out to him. He smiled and nodded to them as he walked to the counter. “What can I get you, Storm?” the clerk asked him. “Fifty-pound bag of rolled oats, please.” Nodding, the clerk processed the order while Storm glanced around the store. It seemed like everyone was out, and about, today. He supposed they all had cabin fever. It was strange how it hadn’t affected him that way—this time. He’d enjoyed being with Mandy…and Chloe. Shaking that thought from his head, he stiffened when he saw Melinda Brooks strolling toward him with a smile on her face. Aww hell! “Hello, Storm,” she said in a husky voice as she ran her hand up his coat sleeve. Storm put his fingers to his hat. “Melinda.”
“I thought you’d call me.” There you go thinking. “I don’t recall saying that.” “Come on, Storm. We’ve only gone out once but we had fun.” Storm clenched his jaw. That was another mistake on his part. Taking Melinda out. She’d been on him like white on rice, and he’d caved and had sex with her. What a mess that turned out to be. He couldn’t get out of there fast enough once it was over. She was boring in bed. He would have had more pleasure being by himself. “I’m sorry, Melinda, but I’m just not interested. You should move on,” he said in a low tone of voice so no one else would hear. “I don’t want to move on, Storm. I want you,” she exclaimed. Everyone in the store turned in their direction with smiles on their faces. Storm wanted to disappear. He pulled his phone out of his pocket figuring he’d fake a call if he had to get rid of her. It was then he saw the text from Sarah. It had come in quite some time ago. Shit! It came in while he was with Chloe. Had she seen it? Of course, she had. No wonder she was so short with him. Can things get any worse? “Now is not the time to discuss this. I’ve gotta get going.” Storm turned from her to pay the clerk, who had a grin on his face. It quickly disappeared when Storm glared at him then picked up his ticket and after nodding politely at Melinda, he practically ran out the door. The woman had been after him for years and the one time he’d given in, he’d regretted it immediately, and ever since. For some reason, she came across as some type of sex kitten but she sure didn’t show any claws in bed. Not that he was into the rough stuff, but he liked a woman who showed a little passion in bed. Like Chloe. Damn it! Of course, it would come back around to her. Storm muttered under his breath as he handed the ticket to one of the men at the dock and waited for his order. He looked
up when a horn blew and grinned when he saw his friend, Lucas Taggart pulling into the lot. He watched as Lucas parked his truck, climbed out, and strode to him. They shook hands. “What’s going on, Lucas?” “Just need to get some oats.” He glanced behind Storm and laughed. “I see you did too.” Storm grinned. “I was in town so I thought I’d go ahead and get some. Hey, how about we start on Chloe’s apartment the weekend after New Year’s? I just looked at it and it’s rough but fixable.” “You just looked at it?” “Yes…when I brought Chloe back to town today.” “I see. Were you that anxious to get rid of her?” Lucas grinned. “She wanted to go but her car is still buried.” Storm shrugged. “I drove her in.” “You are seriously passing up a good opportunity, Storm. She’s a beautiful woman.” “Yeah, well, you all are beating a dead horse and I don’t think Emily would appreciate you talking about Chloe like that.” “Shit, Emily knows I love her. I really don’t get you though. I know Tracy did a number on you but Chloe’s not Tracy. Hell, no woman is and Chloe most of all. She’s had it bad for you for a long time. If you two got together, I’m sure…what’s that look for? Aww, hell. Did you and Chloe sleep together?” Storm glanced away then back. He lowered his voice to just above a growl. “None of your damn business.” Lucas burst out laughing. “That’s true, but you just answered my question.” He slapped Storm on the back. “Of course, if it was that bad, I understand why you don’t want her.”
“It wasn’t…shit! Fuck you, Lucas.” Lucas shook his head. “You’re like a brother to me but you’re a fool for not going after what you so desperately want. Gotta get going. I’ll see you later.” Storm watched him walk away then turned to take the bag of feed and load it into the truck bed. “Who the hell said I wanted her?” he muttered under his breath. “Everyone’s got a fucking opinion regarding my love life or lack of one. And it’s no one’s business but mine.” Storm drove out of the parking lot and headed home. He didn’t want to be away from the ranch too long right now. There was work needing done and he worked just as hard as his men did. Since the weather was clearing for a few days, the first in quite a while, he’d let the horses out in the corrals for a few hours for fresh air and exercise. Arriving home, he pulled into his driveway and parked by the back door. After stepping out of the truck, he climbed the steps and stomped his boots to remove the snow. Before going inside, he glanced to the Big Horns to see them shrouded in snow. Well, so much for being clear for a few days, that reprieve didn’t last long. It was a good thing he’d gotten Chloe home when he did. Really? No, not really. He opened the door and entered the kitchen to see Mandy running to him. He crouched down and caught her to his chest. “What have I told you about running in the house, Amanda Jo Bateman?” “I forget,” she told him as she cupped his cheeks in her loving way. Storm couldn’t help but laugh. “I don’t think you have. Please don’t run in the house. I don’t want you to fall and hurt yourself.” “Daddy, when can we put the tree up?” “Now, if you want.” Genuinely excited as only a child could be, Mandy began hopping up and down, clapping her hands. “Yes, please.”
Storm sighed and stood. He saw Claire standing in the doorway. “Can you watch her a few more minutes while I get Jimmy to help me bring the tree in?” “Of course.” Storm frowned. “Are you all right?” “Yes. Are you?” He gritted his teeth. “Why wouldn’t I be?” Claire shrugged. “I have no idea. Come on, Mandy Pandy, let’s go color.” “Okay. Bye, Daddy.” Mandy ran off. Storm shook his head. What part of no running in the house didn’t she understand? He pulled out his phone to call Jimmy and saw the text from Sarah. He took a deep breath then deleted the text. After calling and asking Jimmy to meet him in the barn where he’d put the tree, he left the house and walked to the barn. When he entered the barn, he stifled a laugh. Jimmy stood beside the tree with his hands on his hips staring at it. He glanced over to Storm. “I’m amazed. How in the hell did you convince her to get a smaller one?” Storm chuckled. Small didn’t exactly fit the description of the ten-foot Fraser, but it was certainly smaller than last year’s. “I told her before we went to get it that she couldn’t get one as big as last year’s tree. I’m not sure she really understood the difference, but I think she actually did pretty good this year. It’s not as big around either. It will look great in front of the window.” “Claire and I are planning to go tomorrow, but we’re taking the truck.” Storm nodded. “Good idea. It was damn cold up there the day we rode up. Mandy and Chloe were turning blue. Besides, from the looks of the snow gathering on the mountain tops, bad weather might be moving in soon.”
“Yeah, good thinking. You know, Mandy’s going to miss her too.” “You’ll see her when you go in to the restaurant.” “I wasn’t talking about me and Claire.” “Let it go, Jimmy. Christ, you people are more interested in my love life than I am.” “Someone needs to be. Come on…let’s get this into the house.” Jimmy picked the tree up by the top, leaving Storm to grab the trunk. They carried the tree into the house and leaned it in the corner until Storm got the tree stand then set it up in front of the windows. The house filled instantly with the smell of fresh pine. Mandy stood beside it jumping up and down. Storm took his coat off and laid it on the recliner. “Get the dec…the deca…” She stopped and frowned up at Storm silently asking for the right word. “Decorations,” he said grinning. “Yeah, those.” Mandy grinned back. She’d learn soon enough. “I’ll be right back.” He looked at Claire. “As always, thank you for watching her. I’ll see you in the morning.” Claire nodded, kissed Mandy’s cheek, put on her coat, and left with Jimmy. Storm walked down the hallway, pulled the attic door down from the ceiling, and lowered the ladder. He climbed up and then carried several boxes of decorations down. Mandy loved decorating the bottom while he took care of the top, until it was time for the placement of the angel at the very top then he held Mandy up for her to put it on. She’d been doing it since she was two and each year got better at it. If she placed it crooked, Storm never told her. He’d just adjust it after she went to bed. He carried the boxes to the living room and unpacked the lights. After stringing them around the tree, he opened the boxes containing the decorations and Mandy got to work on
the lower branches within her reach—chatting non-stop the entire time. “Daddy, when can we go see Santa? I have to tell him what I want.” “How about this weekend?” “Okay. Do you think Chloe really will be here for Christmas?” “She said she would.” He didn’t want to discuss Chloe with anyone and especially not his daughter. The sooner Mandy forgot about Chloe, the better. The same with him. Once he finished working on her apartment, he’d never have to see her again—if he didn’t want to. That thought didn’t make him feel as good as it should, but he couldn’t get involved with her. There was just no future there. “Who are you kidding? You’re already involved,” he muttered. “What?” Mandy frowned up at him. “Nothing, sweetheart…just talking to myself.” “I hope Chloe comes out ’cause I don’t want her to be alone on Christmas.” “Chloe’s a big girl and has a lot of friends I’m sure she’ll be able to spend Christmas with.” He hoped so anyway. No one should spend Christmas alone. Her closest friends were all married now, so did she really have somewhere to go? He glanced at Mandy. “I’ll call to remind her.” Mandy smiled up at him and he knew he was doing the right thing. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and punched in Chloe’s number. “Hello?” she answered in a breathless voice. “Are you running?” Storm asked. Chloe laughed. “I never run when I can walk. No, I’m scraping the paint from the trim in the apartment. What’s up?” “Already? Well, you’re eager to get it going.”
“Yep.” “Would…” He cleared his throat. Why did he feel like a nervous teen calling a girl for the first date? “I know you said you’d visit on Christmas but would you like to come here Christmas day and spend it with us, dinner and all?” Then he quickly added. “Mandy’s worried you’ll be alone.” “Not you, though?” “Sure—yeah. Of course.” Her soft laughter came across the phone. “Liar.” “Seriously, if you don’t have other plans, Chloe, we’d both love to have you join us.” “I don’t have plans. Kennie and Coop go to her parents for the day, so I’ve got nothing in the works. Will you need me to fix dinner?” Storm chuckled. “No, but thanks…my mom makes it. She and my stepdad get here early, and she cooks loads of food.” “Your mom?” She sounded hesitant suddenly. “You aren’t afraid of her, are you?” Storm grinned. “No, but what will she think of me being there?” “That I invited a friend. Don’t worry about it. She won’t give you the third degree, if that’s what you’re worried about, and she won’t bite either.” “Okay then, sure, I’d love to come but what if my car is still buried. How will I get there?” “Jimmy and I will check on your car in a few days, but there is more snow moving in. If we don’t have it out by then, I’ll come and get you.” “I’d like to get Mandy something. What do you think she’d like?” “You don’t have to do that.” “I know. I want to. She mentioned a baby doll. Actually, she mentioned a real brother or sister…but I’m afraid I can’t help her with that.” She laughed.
“You never know.” He paused and there was a brief awkward moment of silence. “Get what you want. I’m sure she’ll love it if it’s from you. I’ll call you about your car.” He hung up. Why the hell did you say that? You never know. What the fuck is wrong with you? He mentally shook his head, put away his phone, smiled at Mandy, and set about helping her finish decorating the tree.
CHLOE SMILED AS SHE put her phone back into her pocket. She knew she shouldn’t go spend Christmas at the ranch but any chance to spend time with Storm, she’d take it. Maybe she’d eventually wear him down. A girl could hope. A sudden knock on her door startled her out of her thoughts. “Who is it?” she called out. Who would know she was here? No one. For safety reasons, she’d have one of the guys put a peep-hole in the door. “Kendra and friends. Open up.” Chloe ran to the door and unlocked it then pulled it open. Kendra, Emily, Isabella, Megan, Patsy, Shelly, and Roni stood on the stoop. A simultaneous squeal sounded from the entire group then each one hugged her as they entered. Chloe pushed the door closed after the last one entered and turned to face them with a big smile. “I’m so happy to see you. I can’t believe you didn’t call me as soon as you got back,” Kendra scolded. “Well, getting back was kind of interrupted when I was rescued by a handsome man. I got stuck in the snow when I tried to walk to your house in the snow.” “What? Lucas said you were staying with Storm for a while,” Emily commented sounding confused. “Montgomery said the same thing,” Isabella added. “Yes, I was staying with Storm. He’s the handsome man who rescued me. I thought I was close enough to your house, Kennie, to make it but Storm said I was heading in the wrong
direction. When he found me, I was passed out in the snow.” The woman all gasped. Chloe waved her hand. “I swerved to miss a deer and ended up in the ditch. I got out of the car, in heels and a wedding gown, no less, and started to walk. Thank God, Storm came along.” “You were in heels? Chloe, why would you even try to walk in those with that much snow?” Emily asked her. “I sat there for a while but no one came by, and I thought I was closer than I was. The gown was ruined but I don’t care. I didn’t pay for it and the thought of trying to change my clothes in the car was not appealing at all, although I really should have changed shoes, if nothing else.” “So…we assume since you were in your wedding dress that you ran out on your wedding…why? I mean, we know you weren’t happy about getting married, but what was the final straw?” Roni asked her. Chloe took a deep breath and told them what had happened. When she finished, they were all staring at her. All of a sudden, Kendra burst out laughing. “I love it. I bet your mother had a fit.” “Oh, that’s an understatement. You should hear the messages she’s left me. I haven’t talked to her yet, but David called to tell me his parents have accepted his decision and lifestyle. He’s so happy. If only my parents were so forgiving and understanding. I’ve been meaning to call Jennifer and Albert though, but still haven’t gotten around to it.” “Who are they?” Patsy Murphy asked her. “Two people who always were better to me than my parents ever were—my parents’ chef and chauffeur. Albert was instrumental in my decision to do what I wanted not what my parents wanted for me. I miss them. I have to call them soon because I don’t want them to worry.” Megan laughed. “But it’s no problem worrying your parents?” “Oh, hell no!” Chloe laughed along with everyone else then stood. “So, what do you all think?” She waved her hands
around the apartment. The women explored the apartment before returning to the living room. “I think it has excellent potential,” Shelly said with real optimism. “Kennie, can you take me one day to pick out paint?” “Sure, but is there something wrong with your car?” “It’s still buried in snow out by Storm’s place. If he can’t get it out, he’s going to pick me up Christmas day…what?” she asked when she saw them all staring at her with smirks on their faces. “Christmas day, huh?” Roni asked her with a surprised expression. “Yes. He called to ask me if I wanted to spend the day with him and Mandy. I was going to visit them sometime on Christmas day anyway, but hadn’t planned on the entire day. I promised Mandy.” She shrugged. “So I said yes. That reminds me…I need to get Mandy a baby doll.” She nibbled on her bottom lip. “Should I get Storm something?” “Just how close did you and Storm get while you were there? I mean, for him to ask you to spend the day there with the family…” Chloe knew Kendra wanted to know details so when Chloe blushed at her friend’s question, Kendra jumped on it. “Was it good?” she asked quietly. Chloe looked at the women and saw that all of them were eager for an answer. She laughed. “Fanfuckingtastic! But…it wasn’t the first time we’d been together.” “What?” the women all asked in unison. Chloe burst out laughing and looked at Kendra. “Remember the night at the Fireside when Storm and I both disappeared for some air?” Kendra nodded. “Well, air wasn’t the only thing we got while we were out there. We were in his truck.” Kendra swatted at her. “You bitch! You didn’t tell me that. In fact, you lied to me when I asked you if you’d seen him
outside.” Chloe put her arm around her friend. “Honey, you were finally getting your time with Cooper. I didn’t want to take away from that.” “I call bullshit,” Kendra told her but laughed. Chloe laughed. It was time to change the subject far away from her. “Have you all had lunch yet?” They told her they hadn’t. “Fantastic. I know this great little restaurant just a few steps from here. Come on. I’m starving.” They walked down the stairs and through the back door of Zellene’s. Chloe waved at the kitchen staff. She stopped by Bev. “Are we crowded? We want to get a late lunch.” “There are a few tables empty. You’ll just have to push them together.” “Great.” Chloe smiled and led the way to the dining area. She had to admit, she was on cloud nine since Storm had called. She was thrilled to be going to his home for Christmas day but a little worried about how his mother would receive her. He might have said Chloe being there wouldn’t bother his mother, but what would she really think of Storm inviting her for dinner. Chloe had two waiters push tables together and as soon as the women were seated, they placed their orders. They spent the next hour, laughing and eating. At one point, they all turned on Patsy about FBI agent Micah Turner. “Oh, dear God. Get off it. I’m about as interested in him as he is in me.” “So you admit it then?” Isabella smirked. “Shut up, Bella. He is not interested in me. We rub each other the wrong way too much to ever have anything happen between us.” “Maybe you should try rubbing each other the right way,” Chloe said with a waggle of her eyebrows.
Patsy gasped as the women laughed. “You’re all horrible. I don’t know why I hang out with you all.” “Because you love us,” Shelly said with a laugh. “There’s a thin line between love and hate and you, my friends, are right on the edge,” Patsy muttered making the women burst out laughing again. “So what colors are you thinking of, Chloe?” “Well, as you know, Kennie, my favorite color is blue so I’d like to paint the rooms in different shades of blue. You know, the men think we women should do the painting so I’m counting on you all to help.” They all groaned. “I hate to paint, but I will try to help out. I repainted the animal hospital and I think I had more paint on me than on the walls,” Roni told them. Chloe glanced around the table at each woman. She loved them like sisters. She’d always been closer to Kendra for some reason, but she loved them all. They’d all gotten so close. Closer as each one of them married the man of their dreams and she had been either an attendant or helper in all of the weddings, except for Emily and Shelly’s. Emily had married Lucas at the courthouse and Chloe hadn’t known Shelly yet when she married Nathan. She envied them all. They all seemed so happy with their lives and she wanted the same for herself so badly. She wanted it with Storm. However, she’d decided when he brought her home, that she wouldn’t make a fool of herself over him anymore but all he had to do was call and ask her to spend Christmas day with him and Mandy, and she was dancing on air. Now she was resolved that she was going to do her best to get that man. She loved him, and if she didn’t at least try, she knew she’d regret it for the rest of her life and life was entirely too short not to go for what she wanted. She wanted Storm Bateman and she might come out of this with a broken heart, but how she felt about him was worth the risk. A risk she was willing to take.
After a good meal with great company, the women parted ways with promises to get together to paint the apartment. Later, she sat in her house, staring out the window. Taking a deep breath, Chloe picked up her cell phone and punched in a number. When she heard Albert’s voice, tears filled her eyes. “Albert, it’s me…Chloe.” Her voice was raspy from the tears clogging her throat. “Oh Chloe, honey. We’ve been so worried about you. How are you?” “I’m good. I’m back in Dry River. I’m so glad I listened to you, Albert. I would have been miserable and so would David. He’s happy now.” “I know, honey. Are you doing all right though? Moneywise?” “I will be. I’m working on it. How are you and Jennifer? I miss you both so much.” Albert chuckled. “We’re fine, don’t worry about us. I’ll give Jennifer your love. She’s been so worried.” “I should have called sooner, but it’s been hectic. Have… have my parents said much about me?” Albert cleared his throat. “Not to us. They fired us the day of your wedding. They had a feeling I’d helped you make your decision, and I didn’t deny it when they asked me.” Chloe gasped. “Oh no! What are you going to do?” “Don’t worry about us. We have enough money to retire on. In fact, we might just come to visit you one day.” “Please do. I’d love to see you both. I love you both very much.” “You know we love you. We’ll visit in the spring. How does that sound?” “Sounds great. All right then…I’ll let you go for now but stay in touch, please. Merry Christmas.” “Merry Christmas to you too. Love you.” He hung up.
Chloe couldn’t believe her parents had fired them. Well, in all honesty, yes she could. Her parents were not nice people. She hoped that one day they’d change their ways but it didn’t look like it would happen any day soon.
torm was sleeping soundly when he heard Mandy talking to him from beside his bed. He did his best not to smile as he continued to feign sleep. He knew what she wanted and he suspected it was far too early for anyone to be up yet. “Daddy,” she whispered. “Santa came. Daddy?” She leaned closer to him and patted his cheek. When he didn’t open his eyes, she crawled up on the bed and sat on his chest. “Daddy,” she said in a louder voice. He felt her lean down close to his face. “Daddy!” He opened one eye. “What?” “Santa came. Come on, get up. Hurry!” He glanced to the patio doors. “It’s still dark out, Amanda Jo.” Then he looked at the bedside clock and groaned. The digital numbers showed four fifteen. “Are you going to get up?” Storm scooched up against the headboard and pulled her against his chest. “Do I have a choice?” Mandy giggled. “No. I want to see what Santa bringed me.” “Brought, and what makes you think it can’t wait until the sun’s up?” “Daddy,” she whined. Storm sighed. “All right. Let me up. Go out and turn the lights on.” “They’re already on. I looked to make sure he did come and he did!” “He probably just left too,” Storm muttered as he swung his legs over the bed. He wore sweatpants because he knew she’d be in here first thing in the morning, but he thought the sun would be up too. He usually slept in his boxer briefs and since Mandy was standing on the bed with her little hand on
his shoulder, he was glad he’d thought ahead. He glanced over to her. “Are you in a hurry?” “It’s Christmas, Daddy.” She kissed his cheek and he was sure his heart burst. She really was precious. “I know, baby. If you’ve been out there, you already know what he brought you, so why do I have to get up?” “He left me wrapped presents too,” she whispered as if it was the most special secret ever. Storm chuckled. “Imagine that.” He stood, scooped her into his arms when she nearly leaped into them, and carried her to the living room. The lights were on, just as she’d told him they were. He set her down and watched as she slowly stalked toward all the gifts, her hands out, her little mouth in an angelic round pose, the word oh frozen there, and her eyes wide. There was nothing like experiencing Christmas through the joy of a child. Storm ran his hand down his face and yawned. He’d only just gotten to bed around twelve-thirty after putting her bike together and traipsing out in the frigid cold to retrieve the dollhouse he’d hidden in the barn. He flopped down in the recliner and watched her. She looked back to him and grinned with excitement. “Can I open them?” “Of course you can. What else would you do with them? Unless you want to wait until Nana gets here.” “No.” She touched the handlebars of her pink bike and turned to look at him. “It’s so pretty. I love pink.” “I know.” Inwardly, he cringed at thinking of the pink walls in her bedroom. Mandy pulled on the streamers hanging from the white bike handles. Then she ran her hand over the seat. He was glad he’d gotten her the bike and looked forward to helping her learn to ride it and eventually take the training wheels off. Of course, it would have to wait until the snow cleared…or he
supposed she could learn to ride in the barn. He yawned again as his thoughts drifted. When he glanced over to her, he saw she was just sitting on the floor staring at the presents. “Mandy? Open your gifts, sweetheart.” “I got so many, Daddy. I don’t know what to pick first. Can you come down here?” Storm stood and then sat beside her on the floor. “Well, you have to start somewhere, so just pick one. At the rate you’re going, I’ll have to go back to bed and wait. You can wake me when you make up your mind.” Mandy giggled then picked up a box and ripped off the paper in which Claire had so carefully wrapped them. Storm shook his head and leaned back against the sofa as she squealed through all the gifts. So, he’d gone a little overboard. She was his baby and deserved it all. Glancing over to the clock, he saw only an hour had passed. Mandy was busy with her new toys and things so he pushed himself up and headed to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. He leaned back against the counter while the coffee brewed. After pouring himself a cup, he walked back to the living room and came to a halt when he saw Mandy asleep on the couch. He smiled, shook his head, and set his cup down then he picked her up and carried her back to her bedroom. After tucking her in, he returned to the living room and turned the TV on to watch the news. Storm sipped his coffee and thought about the plan for the day. Once his mom and stepdad arrived, he’d go pick Chloe up and bring her back to the ranch. Her car still wasn’t dug out and could be buried until spring at this rate. He glanced up at the TV to see the weatherman announcing more snow, but not much accumulation was expected. Thank God, for small favors but Storm knew it was just a reprieve. January and February were tough on Wyoming. Even March saw snow at times, especially in the early part of the month but nothing to the point of no one being able to go anywhere.
Finishing his coffee, he stood and stretched. Not much sense to going back to bed now, he’d just be up in an hour so he figured he could check the horses while Mandy slept. The men had the day off so he needed to feed and water the horses himself. He headed back to his bedroom to dress, after which he walked through the living room, and into the kitchen. He pulled out a chair and sat to pull his boots on then stood to get his coat and hat. After pulling on his coat, he placed his hat on his head then pulled his gloves on as he walked out onto the porch. It was bitterly cold and the wind was howling. Although it wasn’t actually snowing, the wind blew loose snow so hard across the yard that he could barely see the barns. He shook his head thinking that it looked like the horses would be staying inside today. He held his hat on his head, strode to the barn, and entered. The aromatic warmth felt good. Storm pulled his gloves off and stuffed them into the pockets of his sheepskin coat then fed the horses and checked their water. He refilled their buckets and talked to each of them while he mucked out the stalls. An hour later, he entered the back door and stepped into the kitchen. After shedding his coat, hat, and gloves, and hanging them up, he got himself another cup of coffee. He then walked down the hallway to check on his daughter. Slowly pushing the door open, he stuck his head in to see her still sound asleep. Must be nice. He’d known she would have him up before dawn on Christmas morning though…each year she’d gotten earlier. He hoped that wasn’t a pattern because he hated to see what next year would bring. Storm sat in his recliner to watch the TV. He leaned his head back and the next thing he knew, he heard his mom calling his name. Damn. He must have fallen asleep. Shaking the sleep from his head, he lowered the footrest, stood, and stretched. It was going to be a long day. “In here, Mom,” he called to her. Jaya and Drew Hill entered the living room. She hugged him and then he hugged Drew.
“Where’s Mandy?” Storm grinned and chuckled. “She woke me up at four fifteen, opened her gifts, and then fell asleep. I put her back to bed. She’s still there.” Jaya laughed. “It’ll get worse as she gets older. Could you go help Drew carry in the gifts from the car?” “Of course.” Storm narrowed his eyes at her. “You didn’t go overboard, did you?” Jaya glanced behind Storm at the variety of opened gifts, and toys then raised an eyebrow at him. “Like you didn’t?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Storm mumbled making Jaya and Drew laugh. “Go you two. I need to start prepping for dinner, as well as make some breakfast for you and my girl, right?” Storm shrugged then kissed her cheek. “Oh, Mom…by the way, we’re having a guest for dinner. I have to go pick her up in a couple of hours.” “Her?” “Chloe Baxter. She didn’t have anyone to spend Christmas with, and Mandy wanted her to come.” “And you too?” Storm glanced at Drew to see him looking everywhere but at him. He looked back to his mother. “It’s not like that.” “Sure, honey. We’ll have plenty so she’s more than welcome. Now, you two go do what I asked and I’ll check on Mandy.” Storm and Drew walked out the back door to where his parents’ SUV sat parked by the steps. Drew reached into the back and pulled a pile of Christmas presents out. He handed them to Storm then reached in for more. “Why do I get the feeling Mom doesn’t believe me about Chloe?”
Drew looked at him. “You are asking the wrong person here, Storm. That woman can say one thing and I know damn well, it means something entirely different and I don’t always know what it is. We’ve been married thirty years and I still don’t know how she does it, son.” Storm laughed. “At least she keeps you on your toes, Dad.” “Yep, and I love every minute of it. Let’s get these inside and under the tree before she comes out here looking for us.” They carried everything inside and took it to the living room to place it around the tree. Storm looked at the clock then whipped his head around when he heard his stepdad chuckle. “What time are you supposed to pick Chloe up?” “I’ll leave in an hour.” “Papa,” Mandy squealed as she jumped onto Drew’s lap. “Hi cupcake…was Santa good to you?” “He was. Did you see my bike?” Storm grinned as he watched Mandy tug on Drew’s hand and had him sit on the floor with her. She picked up each present and showed it to him then her eyes widened when she saw more presents. Jaya entered the room and Mandy ran to her giving her a big hug then made her sit on the floor too. “I’m going to give Chloe a call,” Storm said as he left the room. He entered his bedroom and punched in her number on his cell phone. “Hello,” her voice croaked sounding hoarse. “Chloe? Are you all right?” “No. I’m sick, Storm. I’m sorry I can’t make it. I’m so sorry to disappoint Mandy but I feel awful, and I’m probably contagious. I’ll give you her gift when you come by to start work on the apartment.” The level of disappointment that he wouldn’t see her today shocked him. “All right. I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. Let
me know if you need anything, okay?” “I will. Storm? Thank you for inviting me though. Give my love to Mandy and explain that I wish I could be there, and please, give my apologies to your family.” “Sure. Yeah, I will. Take care.” Storm hung up and after taking a deep breath that seemed to do nothing to ease the strange ache in his chest, he walked to the living room to break the news to his family.
THE FIRST WEEK OF JANUARY was unseasonably warm which usually meant a cold front would be moving in soon, but for now it felt wonderful as Chloe painted the bathroom. It was the last room to be painted. The guys were coming by in a few minutes to lay the carpeting and haul some of her furniture over from the house. She was leaving the larger pieces at the house. There was only so much room here at the apartment. A new family was moving into the house at the end of the month and she was thrilled with the young couple. They were from Utah and moving here for a new job he’d been offered as a partner in a law firm. She was a full-time mother to their threeyear-old twin daughters. Chloe loved them the minute she met them, and she had a good feeling about them. A knock on the door startled her and she ran down the hall to pull the door open. “Shouldn’t you ask who it is before you open the damn door?” Storm growled as soon as the door opened. “Since I was expecting you, I didn’t feel the need. Who pissed in your corn flakes?” Lucas chuckled and pushed Storm into the room. “Hi, Chloe. Damn, smells like paint in here.” “Probably because I’m painting, Lucas.” “Smartass.” He glanced around. “Hey…not a bad place.” “It was a lot worse before, wasn’t it, Storm?”
Storm shrugged then walked over to the windows and looked out. Chloe frowned then looked at Mont, who shrugged one shoulder and shook his head. In turn, Cooper, Linc, Nathan, and Dakota all shook their heads too. “We’ll clean out the flue first then we can work on the carpeting. I brought a shop style vacuum,” Cooper told her. “I use it in the motorcycle shop, so it’s a big industrial one.” “Thanks Coop.” Chloe glanced back to Storm who hadn’t moved from the window or said anything further. “Let’s go get the carpeting,” Nathan said, tilting his head toward the door. Mont, Cooper, Lucas, Linc, and Dakota all followed him out. Chloe shoved the door closed and spun around to look at Storm. “If you don’t want to be here then leave.” “I said I’d help. Your car is in the parking lot.” “What is wrong with you?” “You broke Mandy’s heart on Christmas.” Chloe gasped. “I didn’t mean too. Storm, I was sick. Did you want me to come out there and get her sick too?” Storm strode to her and stopped in front of her. “Were you really sick or was it just an excuse not to come visit? I know it wasn’t just because my mom was going to be there. You didn’t want to be there because of me. You hurt Mandy because of me?” “No. I really was sick. You heard me, Storm. Did I sound like I felt good?” He stared down at her and she refused to look away. He swore. “No.” “If I didn’t want to come, I wouldn’t have lied about it. I would’ve told you from the start. I was about to call you when you called me. I wanted to be there…for Mandy. In fact, I have a few gifts for you to take home to her.” She started to turn away.
Storm grabbed her arms and pulled her to him. “Chloe…I can’t get you out of my damn head,” he murmured right before he slammed his lips down on hers. Chloe tried to pull away from him but he held her tight against him. She moaned, and then as if they had a mind of their own, her arms wrapped around his neck. His tongue moved into her mouth and dueled with hers. Storm’s groans filled her mouth. They sprang apart when someone pounded on the front door and Mont’s voice came through loud. “Open the door. This damn carpeting is heavy.” Storm stepped away from her and walked to the door. He pulled it open for them. Mont, Lucas, and Cooper entered carrying the carpeting with Nathan, Dakota, and Linc carrying in the padding behind them. “We can put this in the bedroom until we get the flue cleaned out,” Lucas said. They carried the carpeting and padding to the bedroom then reentered the living room. Cooper headed for the door. “I’ll go get the vacuum,” he said, pulling the door closed behind him. “Are you putting the same carpeting in the bedroom?” Mont asked as he looked down on the street below. “All through the apartment…except for the bathroom and kitchen.” Chloe rubbed her hands up and down her arms. It wasn’t that she was cold…she was unnerved by Storm’s kiss. Cooper came back in and walked to the fireplace. He plugged in the vacuum and used it to suck up the soot from the grate then he opened the damper, and lit a creosote log to clean the flue. “Make sure you remember to open the damper when you light a fire,” Storm said from behind her. Chloe whipped her head around to see him leaning against the window with his arms folded, staring at her. His sexy lips twitched.
“I’ll try to do that.” She smiled remembering the mess she’d made of his beautiful home that first day. “Did we miss something?” Linc asked as his eyes went from Chloe to Storm and back. “No.” Storm pushed himself away from the window and walked into the kitchen. Chloe nibbled her lip. What the hell? She didn’t understand him at all. First, he told her he can’t stop thinking about her, and then he kissed her. Now, he was acting all pissed off—again. She looked at Linc hoping for something—anything, but he was looking toward the kitchen. Obviously, Linc was as bewildered by Storm’s behavior as she was because he shook his head and headed down the hallway to the bedroom. As the day wore on, the men got a lot done. The padding and carpeting was down and now they were carrying furniture over from across the street. Chloe was glad she had seven big men as friends. All she had to do was point out where she wanted everything, and they’d do her bidding. It was early evening before they were finally able to quit. “Okay, downstairs everyone, so I can feed you,” Chloe said with arms held wide as if exclaiming a grand announcement. “About time. I’m starving,” Nathan said with an exaggerated drop of his shoulders then followed the others as they all headed out the door. She laughed, picked up her keys, and followed them all down the stairs. Storm hadn’t said a word to her since the comment about the damper. They entered the back door of the restaurant, worked their way through the kitchen, and then entered the seating area. While the others took seats around their normal large table, Storm stood beside it, his hands on the back of the chair he’d yet to pull out. Without looking at her, he simply said, “I’m going on home. It’s been a long day and I want to see my daughter before her bedtime.”
“Oh…but I have gifts for you to take to her,” Chloe said wishing he’d said something before so she could have retrieved the gifts from the house. He stared at her. “I’ll get them the next time I’m in town.” Then he walked out without looking back. Chloe quickly blinked her eyes. Damn him. She jerked when someone touched her arm and glanced down to see Nathan looking up at her. “Are you all right?” Chloe smiled. “Of course. Now, you guys decide what you want and it’s all on the house.” She left them to their menus and entered the kitchen to find Bev. “Whatever those men want, make sure they get it, okay? No charge. They worked their asses off for me today.” “Yes, ma’am.” Bev smiled at her. Chloe entered the dining area again and stopped by the table. “I’m going upstairs to relax. I can’t thank you guys enough for all you did today. I really appreciate it.” They stood and each one hugged her. When Linc put his arms around her, he held her tight to him. “Give him time,” he said in her ear. Chloe pulled back and stared up at him. “It feels like that’s all I’ve done as far as he’s concerned.” Linc kissed her cheek. “Then a little more patience won’t hurt, will it?” Chloe nodded, smiled, and thanked them again before leaving the restaurant and climbing the stairs to enter her apartment. She turned the lights on and smiled as she looked around. It looked so nice with the deep blue carpeting and light blue walls with white trim. The furniture sat facing the fireplace, where the guys had talked her into hanging a TV. She walked to the window and drew the blinds closed then headed down the hallway to take a bath in that big tub she’d been dying to try out. Perhaps the joy of that would put that stubborn man, who continued to haunt her dreams, straight out
of her head. She sighed as she stared at the lovely tub. It was going to have to be one helluva a soak.
INSTEAD OF DRIVING straight home, Storm stopped at the Fireside. He parked the truck, stepped out, and entered the bar. It was virtually empty. Why wouldn’t it be? It was too early for the regular crowd, and the biggest part of that crowd was over at Zellene’s. He took his gloves off and stuffed them in his coat pockets then removed his coat and hung it on the back of the nearest barstool. Sliding onto the stool, he signaled to Leo to bring him a beer. Damn woman. He didn’t need this shit. For years, he’d been content just to have Mandy in his life, but then he found Chloe in the snow and let her stay with him for a while, and look what happened. Now, he can’t get her out of his fucking head. If he were to be honest with himself his feelings for her began long before he found her in the snow—it was years ago. She had about brought him to his knees anytime he saw her, but then that night in his truck— Leo set a beer in front of him, interrupting his thoughts, gave him a nod, and walked away. Storm was sure Leo knew he wasn’t looking for conversation. He’d been there a while when someone elbowed him. He glanced over to see Linc standing there, and swore under his breath. “Go away,” Storm muttered before picking up his beer and taking a long pull on it. Linc laughed and climbed onto the stool beside him. “This is like déjà vu, except it was you bothering me about Roni. Remember?” Storm glared at him, but Linc continued to grin. “It’s nothing like that, Linc, and you know it.” “Really? I was in here drowning my sorrows over Roni and you bothered the shit out of me until I got my head out of
my ass. Now, here you are, drowning your sorrows over Chloe, and I’m bothering you for the same reason.” Storm slammed the bottle onto the bar causing some of the beer to spit out of the neck. He also made Leo spin around to stare at him. “I am not drowning my sorrows. The difference was that you thought you’d lost Roni. Turns out you didn’t, so you got a happy ending. Now that we’ve established that, go the fuck away.” Linc laughed. “I’m not going anywhere. You’re my closest friend out of all the guys, Storm, and whether you want to admit it or not, you’ve got it bad for Chloe. I don’t know why you acted the way you did earlier at her place, but something’s going on with you two. I’ve never understood why you don’t go for it with her. She’s a beautiful, smart, sexy woman—” “You know why. I can’t trust any woman after what Tracy did—” “Bullshit, Storm. That’s gettin’ old. You can’t judge them all against one bad one. Tracy was a bitch. Simple fact. All she wanted was your money and you were blinded by love—” “Who the hell says I’m not this time too?” Storm stared into the mirror behind the bar. “You’re in love with her?” “Yes, damn it and it terrifies the hell out of me. But it’s about more than just me, and you know it.” “I know you worry about Mandy, but I’d bet money on it that your little girl is already in love with Chloe too. In fact, have you considered that she’s missing her and is probably hurt that she doesn’t see her anymore?” Linc shrugged. “We all get hurt in life. It’s a part of life and inevitable, but why not enjoy what life gives you while you can. It’s too fucking short. I don’t know what I’d do without Roni in my life but if she wasn’t with me, for whatever reason, I’d cherish every minute I’ve ever had with her. Sure, I’d be hurt. Shit, I’d be devastated but eventually, I hope I’d be able to look back and be happy that she had been in my life at all, if only for a short time.”
Storm looked at him. “Damn. When the hell did you become so philosophical?” “Love makes you see a lot of things in a way you otherwise wouldn’t.” Linc put his hand on Storm’s shoulder. “Think about it. I think Chloe’s the one for you and if you’re smart, and I believe you are, you’ll see it too. Don’t let her get away. Been there, done that…and it sucks.” He slid off the stool and laid money on the bar. “The beer’s on me. Now go home, or better yet…go see Chloe.” Storm didn’t say anything as Linc walked out of the bar. He spun the beer bottle around then took a deep breath and slid off the stool to go home to his daughter. He had a lot to think about. Later, when Storm pulled up to the back of his house, he sat in his truck for a few minutes. He had been really hard on Chloe today. Why did he have to be that way to Chloe? There was no excuse for it. She didn’t do anything wrong. He’d been angry with her because she’d hurt Mandy by not showing up for Christmas, but she’d been sick. Worse, he hadn’t believed her. Now, what made him angrier than anything was that he had been so disappointed in her not being there. He hadn’t wanted to go to her apartment today but he knew the guys would never let him get out of it. After all, it had all been his idea. Fuck! He punched the roof of the cab and swore when he hurt his hand. It was a good thing he wore gloves or it could have been worse. Linc was right about everything but the idea of being in love with Chloe, and letting her into their hearts and life, pissed him off. He shoved the door open and stepped down from the truck then walked up the steps and entered the kitchen. As soon as he cleared the door, Mandy came running at him. “Amanda Jo, stop running,” he shouted in anger without thinking. Mandy skidded to a halt and looked up at him with wide eyes. Her bottom lip began to tremble and her eyes became moist with tears. Storm felt like an ass. He blew out a breath
and squatted down. He had never before raised his voice with his daughter. This was what all these feelings regarding Chloe were doing to him. Turning him into somebody, he wasn’t. “I’m so sorry. Come here, sweetheart.” He put his arms out to her. She stepped into his arms and hugged him. “Are you mad at me, Daddy?” “No, baby girl. It’s just been a long day and I’m tired.” He picked her up and strolled to the living room. Claire stood when he entered. “Did you get everything done?” “Yes. Thanks for staying so long, Claire.” “You know I don’t mind staying with Mandy, Storm.” She moved closer to him. “I half-expected you’d be longer. Is the place finished?” “Yes, and it looks real nice. Better than I thought it would actually.” “Things are rarely as we expect them to be. You need to look at what’s in front of you, Storm. It’s tearing you up. You never yell at Mandy. Ever.” She touched his arm and smiled up at him. “I know. You’re not the first to bring it to my attention. I’ll give it some thought.” He wasn’t going to pretend he didn’t know what Claire was talking about. “Good. I’ll see you both tomorrow then. Goodnight.” “I’m sleepy, Daddy, but I wanted to see you before I go to bed.” And you yell at her the minute you open the door. “Let’s get you to bed then.” He carried her to her room, and placed her in the bed. She hugged him and kissed his cheek then cupped his face as only she could do. “I love you, Daddy.” “I love you too, my little princess. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He kissed her forehead and left the room then headed to his
bedroom, and a long soak in the Jacuzzi. After turning the water on to heat, he stripped and stared in the mirror. Claire was right about things not always being the way we expect them to be, and that includes life. The last place he expected to be was the one place he was—in love.
month later, Chloe stood in the restaurant watching the line of people entering. She smiled with happy pride. Bev had been right, Zellene’s had gotten busier. While Janie seated a large group of people, Chloe stepped forward to assist the next couple. “Hello, welcome to Zellene’s. Just the two of you?” “Yes.” The woman smiled and she looked vaguely familiar, but Chloe couldn’t place her. “Follow me, please.” She led them to a table and turned to them. “Will this do?” “It’s perfect. Thank you.” The couple took their seats and Chloe handed them menus. When she started to move away, the woman stopped her. “Excuse me?” Chloe turned to her and smiled. “Yes?” “Is Chloe working this evening?” Chloe was startled. “I’m Chloe.” “Oh, I didn’t mean to alarm you. I was hoping to meet you Christmas day but you were sick. I’m sorry. I’m rambling. I’m Jaya, Storm’s mother…and this is my husband, Drew Hill.” Chloe was sure her mouth dropped open in surprise. No wonder she looked familiar. Once she knew who she was, she instantly saw the resemblance to Storm. “It’s so nice to meet you, Mrs. Hill. And I apologize again for not coming for Christmas but I was sick.” “Jaya, please…and of course you’re forgiven, it couldn’t be helped. It’s funny, but we come in here to eat at least once a month. I’ve seen you in here but never made the connection. Did you get settled into your apartment?” “Yes! Yes, I did and it looks great. The guys did a great job.” Chloe glanced around and saw Bev waving to her. “I’m sorry, excuse me, I’m needed in the kitchen.”
“Of course. It was nice meeting you, Chloe.” “You too. Enjoy your meal.” She smiled and headed to the kitchen. As soon as she entered the kitchen, she wanted to scream because she wanted to rush back out there and ask about Storm. What was he doing? Was he all right? What about Mandy? Did they miss her at all? She was so hoping to hear from Storm, and hurt so deeply that she hadn’t. “Bev, I’m going home. I’m exhausted.” “No problem. I was going to tell you to go anyway. We’ve got it covered, and you’ve been here all day…so go home and relax.” Chloe hugged her, slipped out the back door, and began walking up the stairs to her apartment. She stopped mid-way up when she saw Storm sitting on the top step. “What are you doing here?” “Waiting for you.” She stepped past him and unlocked her door, but then turned to stand in the doorway. “Why?” “Because I want to see you. Can I come in?” “Storm, if you came here for sex, you may as well leave right now.” “I didn’t.” Chloe sighed. She didn’t know what he might want, if not sex. Shaking her head, she held the door open for him to enter and told her heart to shut up as his sexy scent sent a shiver through her. Once he was inside, she watched him glance around the space. “It looks good.” “Your parents are downstairs having dinner.” “Really?” “Yeah, your mom introduced herself and your stepdad to me. They’re very nice. She’s beautiful, just as Mandy said. Speaking of Mandy, where is she?”
“With Claire and Jimmy.” She watched him take his gloves, hat, and coat off then hang them over the back of the sofa. “Why are you here?” she asked again, becoming impatient as she took her coat off and hung it in the closet beside the door. “I told you I wanted to see you.” “Spit it out, Storm.” He reacted to her snapping at him, by combing his fingers through his hair. “Chloe, you know how I feel about relationships. They scare the shit out of me. I don’t want to go through a broken heart again, and I don’t want Mandy to either.” She was getting tired of hearing the same broken record. “I understand that––” “Let me finish, please.” Chloe closed her mouth, set her stance, folded her arms across her chest, and waited. “However…it’s killing me not being with you. I think of you constantly. From the minute, I wake up until I fall asleep. I can be sitting in my office and think of you and my dick gets hard. Spending time with you has never been that good with any woman. Ever. You’ve ruined other women for me because none of them can live up to you. But it’s not just me I have to think of…it’s Mandy too. But the thing is, I know you love her as much as she loves you. I know you’d never, ever, intentionally hurt her.” He stopped and stared at her. “No, I wouldn’t.” Chloe wanted to scream that she’d never hurt him or Mandy. She loved them both so much that she would die rather than hurt them. “That’s the one thing that makes me think I should take a chance––” A sudden loud knock on the door startled them both and Chloe wanted to tell whomever it was to go away. She marched to the door and pulled it open ready to do just that but when she saw who was standing there she nearly slammed the door again. She shook her head slightly thinking she was
seeing things but she wasn’t. She saw her parents standing on the stoop. Without a word or invitation, they strolled into the apartment and glanced around with their typical condescending expression when something was beneath them. Chloe saw them dismiss Storm and swing their gazes back to her. “This is where you’re living?” Candace Baxter took her coat off and held it rather than place it on her daughter’s inferior furniture. “Looks that way.” Chloe pushed the door closed. Colin Baxter stared at Storm and he stared right back. Chloe wanted to throw her arms around him after seeing how he didn’t allow her parents to intimidate him. “What are you doing here?” Chloe asked her parents. “Shouldn’t you tell your handyman to leave first?” Colin asked, dismissing Storm as someone far beneath them. Storm snorted. “I’m not her handyman. I’m a rancher. Who the hell are you?” “These—” Chloe waved her hand at them and hoping it was as dismissive as they were to Storm and her apartment —“are my parents. Candace and Colin Baxter. This is my… friend…Storm Bateman.” “Whatever. We need to talk and we don’t need to do it in front of…him,” her mother said with her nose in the air. “He’s not going anywhere. You, on the other hand, need to leave—now. I don’t know why you’re even here, and I don’t care because I’m not leaving Dry River.” “You will regret this, Chloe. This restaurant won’t make it and even if it survives, you can’t possibly live on what you make from it.” “I can try. I’d rather try, and fail, than go home with you. All you ever cared about was making more money and using me to do it. I won’t be a part of it anymore. If I fail at this, I’ll find something else to do, but I will not, in no way, return to California or to you two. I’m a grown woman and I don’t have
to listen to you anymore. Everything, and everyone, I love…” She glanced at Storm who was watching her, his arms folded across his broad chest, and she could swear a smirk was riding the edges of his lips. “…is right here.” She heard him hiss in a breath then he was grabbing her arms and turning her to face him. “Do you mean that, darlin’? You love me?” “Yes. I have loved you since the first time I saw you when I was only eleven years old. Although, I do have to tell you I did have a crush on Mont when I got older.” She laughed when Storm’s eyes narrowed at her. “But I always only wanted you.” “You think this rancher can give you everything you want?” Candace asked her with a huff. Chloe laughed. “This rancher is a very rich man, but I wouldn’t care if he was dirt poor. I love him.” Storm stepped in front of her. “Zellene’s will never falter because I’ll make sure it thrives. You claim Chloe may not be able to make it on her own…well, as her husband, I’ll give her everything and anything she needs to keep it going.” Chloe gasped and pulled on his arm making him turn to face her. “That is, if you’ll marry me. I didn’t get to ask you—” She cut him off by kissing him and he kissed her back then she pulled back from him. “You love me?” Storm frowned at her. “Didn’t I say that?” “No, you didn’t. You said you were thinking you could take a chance but you didn’t say what you were willing to take a chance on.” Storm pulled her into his arms and smiled down at her. “Us. I love you, Chloe. I think I have for a very long time only I was too scared to put my heart out there again. I know this… no matter how much Tracy hurt me, I know that if you ever left me, I’d want to die.” “How touching,” Candace Baxter sneered, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Trust me, neither one of you will
make the restaurant work. You need a lot of money for that, especially in this one horse town.” Chloe watched as Storm’s eyes narrowed as he turned to face her parents. “It just so happens that I have a lot of money. Check out my ranch, The Crooked Tree, on the Internet then come back and tell me we don’t have enough money.” Then Storm stalked to the door and opened it. With a wave of his arm in the direction of the open doorway, Storm added, “Too bad we won’t see you at the wedding. Have a nice trip back to California.” Her parents stood there staring at Chloe as if waiting for her to intervene, but then Colin Baxter shifted his eyes to Storm. Chloe figured he’d seen the determination in Storm’s eyes because her father suddenly nodded and helped Candace on with her coat as her mother grumbled at him to do something. He then practically pushed his wife out the door. Storm shut the door in a casual manner surprising Chloe because she half expected him to slam it behind them. Once they had left and she was sure they were gone, Chloe blew out a breath. Storm came to her putting his arms around her. She hadn’t realized how tense she was until the warmth of his body calmed her shaking. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.” “Don’t be. I’m used to their arrogance,” she said gazing up at him. “Did you really mention a wedding?” “Yes. We can’t live in sin…I have to think of my impressionable and rather precocious young daughter.” Storm winked at her. Chloe let out a laugh, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him. “We have a daughter to think of, and she’s going to need a brother or sister for Christmas one year. It’s her Christmas wish.” Storm burst out laughing. “I’ve never denied her anything, but how about in a year or two? It’s going to be hard enough sharing you with just Mandy for now, much less another one.”
Chloe nodded. Whatever he wanted was fine with her. “I love you so much, Storm.” “I love you too, darlin’,” he whispered against her lips before taking them in a deep kiss.
torm stood at the altar and watched as each beautiful woman walked down the aisle toward him and his best friends. Isabella was first, followed by Megan, Roni, Emily, and then Kennie who was the matron of honor, of course. He grinned with pride when he saw Mandy come walking down the aisle throwing rose petals along the path. He stifled a laugh because he knew her instructions were just to drop them because he’d watched her practice but apparently, she had other ideas. The guests chuckled as they watched her reach into the small basket she carried, lift out a handful of petals, and throw them above her head. The petals went everywhere. Storm shook his head as he heard his best man and groomsmen laughing. “She’s totally enjoying herself,” Linc whispered from beside him. “I’d say so. She has a mind of her own, that’s for sure.” Lucas snorted. “What female doesn’t?” “And we wouldn’t have them any other way,” Dakota said quietly. “They’re all breathtakingly beautiful,” Mont whispered with a grin. “I agree, Mont,” Cooper said in a low tone of voice. Storm nodded then hissed in a breath when Chloe appeared in the archway at the back of the church. The music changed to a bridal march and Storm watched as Albert led her down the aisle toward him. He clenched his jaw as he thought of her parents not showing up even after she insisted on inviting them against his prediction that they wouldn’t attend. It had to hurt her, but no one ever would know it by the gorgeous smile on her face. Her cheeks were blushing bright pink and her bouquet was shaking but she was the most beautiful bride he’d ever seen. Storm smirked when she glanced at him then he chuckled when she stuck her tongue out at him. They’d had a conversation about this at last night’s rehearsal dinner.
“There is no way I’ll be nervous. I’ve waited too long for this,” Chloe whispered to him as they sat at the table with their heads together. “Really? Want to make a bet on that?” “Like what and how will you know if I’m nervous or not?” “I’ll decide on what I win, when I win, but win I will.” “How will you know though?” Chloe sat back in her chair and folded her arms. “I’m sure those nerves will show up some way. Maybe you’ll be glancing around or biting your lip, which you do when you’re nervous by the way, or…or your flowers will be shaking.” Storm grinned. Chloe waved her hand. “Pffft. We’ll see. But if you lose, I get to pick what I want.” Storm leaned closer to her. “Win or lose, I’ll give you anything you want, darlin’. Just name it.” “I have everything I want in having you and Mandy. But… I’m sure I can think of something you could do for me in the bedroom.” “Like I said, just name it,” Storm said then leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. Clearing his thoughts, he smiled when she stepped up beside him. Taking her hand in his, he nodded at Albert who stated that he and Jennifer were giving her away then took his seat in the pew. “Hi, sweetheart,” Storm whispered. “Hi yourself. I suppose you know you won the bet,” she muttered. Storm chuckled. “Yep, and I can’t wait to collect.” Chloe’s eyes crinkled as she stifled a laugh then stared into his eyes before leaning forward until her lips were almost touching his. “I’ll give you anything you want, darlin’. Just name it.”
Storm sucked in a breath then quickly stole a kiss and gave a nod to the priest. This was the woman for him and he would do whatever it took to make sure she remained as happy as she was in this moment—for the rest of her life.
CHLOE WALKED AROUND the town hall, where their reception was being held, talking with everyone who had blessed them with their attendance. She glanced around to see where her husband was and spotted him along with the other bad boys of Dry River, Mont, Linc, Lucas, Cooper, Nathan, and Dakota. They were all standing against the back wall. Men were bad enough but when they are cowboys, they are even worse about social gatherings. When the lead singer of the band announced it was time for the bride and groom to have their first dance, as husband and wife, all the men straightened up. Chloe smiled when she saw Storm walking toward her. As he wove his way through the tables and all the while, he kept his eyes on hers. When he reached her, he put his hand out and she placed one of hers in his then he led her to the dance floor. She had let him choose the song for their first dance but he wouldn’t tell her what it was. She secretly feared this moment but she couldn’t do anything about it. She’d have to wait until the song played to know if she needed to fake a faint or anything. When the song started, she knew it immediately and approved one hundred percent. No Doubt About It by Neal McCoy. She blinked tears away when Storm took her in his arms and kissed her forehead. She wasn’t sure if what they were doing could be called dancing, but she was fine with it. Smiling, she remembered thinking the same thing at Megan and Dakota’s wedding when she’d watched them sway to the music. That seemed like forever ago. “You all right?” Storm whispered in her ear. “Yes. I love this song. It’s perfect. Thank you,” she whispered then kissed his neck.
“I thought so too. Mandy looked adorable as flower girl.” Chloe softly laughed. “When I saw her throwing the petals in the air, I about lost it laughing.” Storm laughed. “All of us were trying not to laugh.” “Storm, she asked me if she could call me mommy. I told her it was okay. Is that all right?” she asked hesitantly. But when Storm stared into her face and quickly blinked his eyes, Chloe was sure she’d already blundered a make or break item. “If not––” “Chloe, no…it’s fine…she asked me if she could, but I told her it was up to you. I’m so glad you told her yes.” “I love her, Storm. Just as I love you.” Storm kissed her. “You are so special, Chloe. You are her mother.” Chloe ran her hand down over his black vest covered chest and toyed with the top button. “You know, I’m thinking we should start on her Christmas present for next year.” Storm frowned at her. “Her Christmas present?” “She wants a little brother or sister, remember?” “Oh yeah.” He laughed. “Well, we will definitely have to practice a lot before we can get the timing just right for Christmas.” Smiling up at him, she wrapped her arms around his neck. “I do like practicing with you––” Her words halted when she heard applause and looked around to see everyone watching them. Storm laughed and leaned close to her ear. “Music ended a few minutes ago.” He kissed the shell of her ear. Chloe groaned feeling the heat of a blush rising in her face and neck. She put her forehead against Storm’s chest and she could feel him laughing. He led her from the dance floor to their table and everyone applauded again, so she gave a smile. She never could think coherently if she was talking about sex
with him. She’ll have to remember to pay attention in the future since he might try to distract from important things with sex talk…and it would work. They took their seats at the long table in the middle of all their friends and family. She loved these people. Her friends. Her family. Even if not by blood. Along the table to her left sat Storm, Linc, Roni, Dakota, Megan, Albert, and Jennifer. To her right sat Kendra, Cooper, Lucas, Emily, Mont, Isabella, Jaya, and Drew. These people were her family and she loved every one of them. She’d been especially surprised to see David and Brad at the wedding. She had sent them an invitation and she wasn’t sure they’d make it, but she was so happy that they had. Chloe and Storm stood when the priest approached them. He shook their hands then stared at Storm. Chloe noticed Storm wouldn’t look at him. She elbowed him. “What? He’s just here to gloat,” Storm muttered under his breath. “Gloat? About what?” Chloe frowned and looked to Father McCartney. “What? I can’t say I told you so?” Father McCartney laughed. “All right. I won’t say I told you so—but I did.” Storm shook his head. “Okay, I admit it. You were right. Now, all the bad boys are married.” Father McCartney kissed Chloe’s cheek. “I knew it would just take the right women to tame them all. Have a wonderful life, you two.” He walked off and Chloe laughed. “What are you thinking?” Storm asked her. “How blessed I am to have such a wonderful group of friends, who really are more like family than just friends.” “My friends are my brothers and their wives are great, so I guess they are our sisters.” Chloe turned to face him. “And your mom…I love her.” “She loves you too. So does Dad.” “We had a beautiful wedding, Storm.”
When Storm lifted her hand and kissed her palm, she almost swooned. She hoped he never tired of doing things like that. “You look amazing and you are a beautiful bride. I promise I’ll cherish you for the rest of my days, Chloe.” She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him. “As I will you, Storm.” “I believe you will.” He kissed her lips. “I’m glad Claire and Jimmy were able to come, not only because it means a lot that they were here but to help keep Mandy out from under foot. They are a godsend. I know he wasn’t feeling well the other day.” “Not much keeps him down but I think he was ready to leave after the ceremony, and Mandy was too. She was getting sleepy after her big performance.” Chloe laughed. “I’ll make sure they all get pieces of the wedding cake. Mandy reminded me before she left for home. The photographer told me she got some great shots of Mandy throwing those flowers.” “Great. Something we can embarrass her with when she’s a teenager.” Storm grinned. Chloe had no doubt he would do just that but she couldn’t wait for that to happen, because it was part of her future with Storm. Even if they didn’t have any more children, or even if they had a dozen, she knew with each passing day she’d love him more, and would never leave him. He was her soulmate and she was his. Mandy and any future children were just icing on the cake.
More books by Susan
JAKE, Men of Clifton, MT - Book 1
very time I pick up one of Susan’s books, I wonder to myself why haven’t I just packed my bags and moved to Montana. This woman makes me dream of hot cowboys with no shirts. –– S. Pritt GABE, Men of Clifton, MT - Book 2 Gabe is book two in the Men of Clifton Montana Series and as much as I loved Jake in book one, I do believe Gabe stole my heart. –– Jennifer Schultheis BRODY, Men of Clifton, MT - Book 3 This author never fails! I have loved each and every one of Susan Fisher-Davis books! –– AFB WYATT, Men of Clifton, MT - Book 4 This is my favorite story from Susan…OMG Hotness, that Wyatt. Sexy, sexy sexy is all I can say. –– Honey RYDER, Men of Clifton, MT - Book 5 Containing all the elements of a perfect romance, Ryder is a book that is sure to capture your heart and warm it to the core. –– CA Knoble RILEY, Men of Clifton, MT - Book 6 Who knew that I would fall in love with another sexy cowboy? –– T.L.S. SAM, Men of Clifton, MT - Book 7 I LOVED this book and would recommend it to everyone who loves a hometown cowboy who knows how to keep his woman happy!! –– Rhonda
FIT FOR A KING (a standalone) Another 5 star read from the brilliant Susan Fisher-Davis! I love a strong, sexy cowboy and Wade King is definitely that! –– Dawn LUCAS, Bad Boys of Dry River, WY - Book 1 I flipping LOVED this ~~ the characters. Outstanding. So you wanna feel like you are jumping on a horse ready to ride. Let Susan take you there. –– SassyLuvBugSusan MONTGOMERY, Bad Boys of Dry River, WY - Book 2 The love scenes were so passionate and sexy!! I couldn’t put the book down. I highly recommend this book and this series!!! –– Brenda Gremli COOPER, Bad Boys of Dry River, WY - Book 3 Love this book! –– Penny LINCOLN, Bad Boys of Dry River, WY - Book 4 Lincoln is my new favorite Susan Fisher-Davis cowboy! –– Jennifer DAKOTA, Bad Boys of Dry River, WY – Book 5 Absolutely loved it. I hope you love it as much as I did!!!— gpearson BRAYDEN, The Beckett Brothers – Book 1 Watching these two circle each other was both heartbreaking but yet beautiful at the same time. I thoroughly loved reading this book. I can’t wait for more in this series.— Stacy Jordet
A COWBOY FOR CHRISTMAS (a Callahans novella) Kudos to Susan Fisher-Davis for this holiday romance! –– Gack A COWBOY OF HER OWN, The Callahans – Book 1 Just like her other series this looks like the start of another fantastic series. Love the storyline especially loved the characters. Now I don’t know which cowboy I love best. Can’t wait for the next book.—M.A. McHugh