Christmas on the Silver Horn Ranch (Men of the West)

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9780373659296: Christmas on the Silver Horn Ranch (Men of the West)

MERRY CHRISTMAS, COWBOY! 

You can put him in a cast, but you can't keep Bowie Calhoun down. Broken ankle or no, the flirty cowboy has no intention of spending Christmas lying in bed—unless he has company. 

The serious-minded nurse who is hired to tend his wounds isn't biting. Ava Archer is a widow; she lost her husband to war. She'd never consider falling for a patient, especially not a "wild child" like Bowie, who battles fires for a living and takes risks just for fun. But the longer Ava stays on at the Silver Horn Ranch, the harder it is to fight Bowie's magnetism. 'Tis the season to be tempted. Is Ava ready to take a risk of her own...on love? 

 

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

The author of over seventy-five titles for Harlequin, Stella Bagwell writes about familes, the West, strong, silent men of honor and the women who love them. She credits her loyal readers and hopes her stories have brightened their lives in some small way. A cowgirl through and through, she recently learned how to rope a steer. Her days begin and end helping her husband on their south Texas ranch. In between she works on her next tale of love. Contact her at stellabagwell@gmail.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

"No, Dad. She's not here yet and when she does show her face, I'm going to send her packing. I'm sick and tired of being poked and prodded by nurses," Bowie Calhoun barked into the cell phone. "Now that I'm home and away from that damned hospital, I don't want another nurse putting her grubby hands on me!"

"Simmer down, Bowie. Someone has to care for your injuries. Those burns—"

Since his father, Orin, was calling from the horse barn down at the ranch yard, Bowie said the first thing that entered his mind. "Then send Doc Pheeters up here to the house. If he's good enough to deal with Silver Horn horses, he's good enough for me."

Before his father could say more, Bowie ended the call and tossed the cell phone onto a small table next to his armchair. He was being a jerk, but he couldn't help it.

Having second-degree burns on his back and arms was bad enough to endure, but he was also dealing with a broken ankle, which was now held together with screws and encased in a bulky cast.

After being hospitalized for three weeks, getting to come home yesterday had been a great improvement. Still, the idea of being confined to the ranch house for the next few weeks was practically unbearable. Especially to a twenty-six-year-old man loaded with energy. He wanted to get back on the fire line with his buddies. He wanted excitement and fun. He hardly wanted to sit around and watch a herd of cows chew on clumps of buffalo grass.

He bent forward to rearrange his casted foot to a different position on a footstool when a female voice sounded directly behind him.

"Excuse me, but your nurse with the grubby hands has arrived."

Bowie jerked his head around to see a woman in a white nurse's uniform that hugged her tall, curvy figure. He was stunned by the sight. In spite of the frown on her lovely features, Bowie was instantly convinced she was the sexiest woman he'd ever laid eyes on.

Awkward silence filled the room as he searched for the words to help him climb out of the hole he'd dug. "Sorry, I didn't know you were there."

"Obviously."

Bowie had never felt lost in female company. Until this moment. This woman was staring at him as if she wanted to choke him, and he could hardly blame her.

"Well, now that you're here, you might as well shut the door and come on in," he said lamely.

The nurse remained where she stood. "Why should I do that? The vet can tend to you."

Reaching for a crutch propped against the side of the chair, Bowie quickly maneuvered himself to his feet and crossed the parquet floor until he was standing in front of her.

"I'm sorry you had to hear that," he said. "You caught me venting a bit of frustration. It wasn't anything personal toward you."

One black brow arched with skepticism and Bowie couldn't keep his gaze from gliding over her dark brown hair, pale porcelain skin, high cheekbones and full cherry-colored lips. Yet it was her eyes that garnered most of his attention. The color of a clear spring sky, they were almond shaped and framed by incredibly long lashes. Behind the cool blue depths, he could see a wealth of intelligence and maturity—two traits he greatly admired in a woman.

"Not personal? I'm the nurse your father hired, and you clearly stated you don't want me touching you."

Hell's bells, why had she chosen that unfortunate moment to walk through the door, Bowie wondered crossly. And when was he going to learn to keep a rein on his temper? Now he was going to have to do some fast talking or this angel in white was going to walk out and never come back.

"Oh, but I do want you touching me," he blurted, then seeing the line of disapproval on her lips, quickly explained, "I mean, uh, I can hardly take care of myself. And I'm sure you're an excellent nurse—with great hands."

Her nostrils flared and for a moment Bowie thought she was going to reach out and slap him.

"I thought the word was grubby, Mr. Calhoun," she said stiffly.

He shot her a helpless grin. "All right, you've made your point. I'll admit it. I'm a rascal. Please forgive me, Ms.—?"

"Ava Archer."

Bowie was relieved to see her expression gradually begin to soften. Maybe there was a glimmer of hope that he hadn't ruined everything with this woman.

He extended his hand to hers. "Nice to meet you, Ava Archer. I'm Bowie Calhoun. Guess you already know that, though," he added sheepishly.

She hesitated a moment before finally placing her hand in his. It felt soft and warm and surprisingly strong. Reluctant to end the contact, Bowie held on.

She said, "Yes, it's clear that you're the patient."

"Well, I'd be pleased if you'd call me Bowie. Patient makes me sound like I'm an old man, and I'm far from that."

"I can certainly see that, too. Bowie." She cleared her throat and disengaged her hand from his. "Well, if I'm going to be your nurse, then I think we'd better set some ground rules right off."

That didn't sound to Bowie's liking, but he was hardly in a position to protest. Right now he'd be willing to stand on his head if it would keep this sexy nurse around for a few more minutes.

"You're the nurse. I promise to follow your orders."

"Really?"

"Utterly."

She shot him a dubious look before stepping around him. "If that's the case, Bowie, then take a seat and I'll have a look at you."

He pivoted on the one crutch to see she was opening the drapes on the double windows near his bed. Bright sunlight streamed through the windowpanes. Beyond the glass, a ridge of mountains formed a backdrop to a bustling ranch yard full of cowboys, horses and work vehicles.

"In the chair or on the bed?" he asked. "The bed."

While he made his way to the king-size bed, she crossed the room and picked up a large tote bag she'd left sitting on the f loor by the door.

He asked, "Do you know about my injuries?"

She walked over to the bed and made room on the nightstand for the tote. "I'm aware that you have serious burns and a broken ankle. Dr. Pearson is treating your burns. I have his instructions for your home care. Dr. Stillwell is dealing with your broken ankle, and I've been given his instructions, also. But I'm not aware of the circumstances of how you were injured, if that's your question."

With her standing only a step away from him, the faint scent of her drifted to his nostrils. The fragrance reminded him of the tiny flowers his mother used to grow in the backyard.

"I work on a hotshot crew for the Bureau of Land Management. Out of the field office in Carson City," he said. "We were sent to the Texas Panhandle to help with a canyon fire. High winds brought a burning tree down on me."

She paused in pulling items from the bag to glance over her shoulder at him. "You're lucky to be alive."

"Yeah. Real lucky."

Twisting around, she regarded him for long moments. "Are you being sarcastic?"

Surprised by her question, he said, "Why, no. I thank God every day that he saw fit to save me from that burning hell. Why do you ask?"

She folded her arms across her breast, but that was hardly enough cover to hide her ample curves from Bowie's eyes. The fitted line of her dress emphasized a waist that would be no larger than the span of his two hands, while her hips flared out in the most enticing way. She was definitely more woman than he'd ever held in his arms. And he couldn't believe she'd walked right into his bedroom and into his life.

"Because I see patients all the time who feel sorry for themselves. That attitude isn't conducive to healing."

He grinned at her. "Believe me, Ava, I'm not a man who goes around carrying a bunch of self-pity. That's not to say I enjoy trying to walk with a crutch."

Her gaze swept over him and for the first time in a long time Bowie felt a tinge of color burn his cheeks. He'd never been a vain man. The time he spent in front of the mirror was no longer than it took to shave off his rusty beard. When women looked at him as though they appreciated his looks, he hardly noticed. But having Nurse Ava eyeing him up and down was a totally different matter.

"No," she said. "I don't expect you do."

"I'd rather be fighting fires."

Turning back to the nightstand, she laid a stack of packaged bandages next to a pair of scissors. "You'll be back on the fire line soon enough. First we have to get you well."

Last evening Bowie had been wondering how he was going to tolerate the next few weeks of being confined to the ranch while waiting for his injuries to heal. When his father had told him he'd hired a nurse, Bowie hadn't been bashful about expressing his views on the subject.

The last thing he needed or wanted was some battle-ax coming into his bedroom and ordering him to take off his clothes. But this vision standing by the head of his bed had definitely made the coming days look a whole lot brighter.

"You know, I just spent three weeks in the hospital, and I only saw one other nurse dressed like you. And she was probably forty years old."

"So that makes her five years older than me," she replied in a no-nonsense way. "Is anything wrong with that?"

Bowie was stunned. He never would've guessed her to be a day past twenty-eight. Not that it mattered. She was gorgeous. And he hoped she was single.

He tilted his head in an effort to get a glimpse of her left hand. From what he could see, there was no ring of any sort on her finger.

"Not at all. I just meant that most nurses wear those colored things that look like pajamas."

"They're called scrubs. And they're comfortable and efficient. I just happen to wear a dress because...I guess it suits me."

"Well, you look a damned sight nicer."

She stepped in front of him and reached for the top button on his shirt. The beat of Bowie's heart shifted into overdrive.

"Let's get one thing straight, Bowie. I'm not here for your visual pleasure or your amusement. I'm here to help you get well. That's all."

"Should I close my eyes?" he asked with a grin. "Or would you like to put a blindfold on me?"

Ava would like to do more than that to this young lothario. She'd like to pick up her bag and give him a swift and final goodbye before she walked out of his room and away from this three-story ranch house. But she was a professional with a job to perform. She couldn't allow any patient to get under her skin. No matter how sexy or charming.

Before she'd arrived on the sprawling Silver Horn Ranch this morning, she'd been aware that she would be treating the youngest of the Calhoun brothers. The only one of them who remained single. Other than the information she'd been given on his medical condition, all she knew were snippets of gossip she'd heard through the hospital grapevine. A few of the younger nurses had described Bowie Calhoun as "dreamy" and "hunky" and "a stud." Ava had never been one to pay much heed to gossip. Most of it was exaggerated hearsay, anyway. But perhaps this was one time she should have listened more closely. At least then she would've been prepared for the sight of her patient.

Bowie Calhoun was six feet of honed muscle dressed in ragged blue jeans and a gray chambray shirt. Square jaw, thin chiseled lips and gold-green eyes shaded by a pair of heavy brows were all framed by exceptionally thick tawny-brown hair that reminded Ava of a shaggy lion. The wayward waves fell recklessly over one eye and down the back of his neck. He was one dangerous-looking male, and everything inside Ava was screaming at her to run until there was a safe distance between them. Like thirty or forty miles.

Steeling herself, she stepped closer and reached for the button in the middle of his shirt. The male scent of his skin and hair drifted to her nostrils and for one crazy moment she thought her hands were actually trembling. But she immediately drew in a deep breath and gathered her senses. She didn't know what was happening to her, but she was determined to put a quick stop to the crazy reaction she was having to this man.

After working all the buttons free, she pushed the shirt off his shoulders and down his arms, all the while carefully keeping her eyes averted from his muscled chest and arms.

"Right now I want you to lie on your stomach and let me take a look at your back," she said, trying to instill as much firmness in her voice as she could. "I assume your bandages were changed yesterday?"

He stretched out on the nearest side of the bed and turned his head so that it was facing in her direction. "They were changed. Right after my sponge bath. Are you going to give me one of those?"

The sly grin on his face caused her to groan silently. "No. You'll have to get someone else to help you with that. But I will clean your burns and apply new bandages."

"Aw, shucks. I thought I was going to be in for a treat this morning."

A treat? She wanted to remind him that she'd just heard him say he was sick and tired of nurses. Why would he consider her ministrations a treat? Surely a young hunk like him didn't find a woman nine years older than him attractive.

Wrong, Ava. Bowie is the type who'd flirt with a ninety-year-old grandmother if it would be to his advantage.

Shoving away the mocking voice in her head, she said, "Maybe I can find a lollipop in my tote. All kids deserve a treat after they receive medical attention."

"Hmm. And she has a sense of humor, too. Where have you been all my life?"

During the thirteen years Ava had worked as a nurse, she'd dealt with plenty of flirtatious patients. Leering men with glib tongues came with the job. Mostly, she didn't give their behavior a second thought. But something about Bowie Calhoun was different. Even though she was trying to ignore him, he was getting to her in a way she would've never expected.

"I live in Carson City," she said as casually as she could. "What about you? Is this where you normally live? Or are you here because you need your family's help while you recuperate?"

"My job on the hotshot crew is likely to take me anywhere across the West. Especially during the height of fire season. Otherwise, the Silver Horn is my home. My great-grandfather Calhoun first built the place more than a hundred years ago. Now it's one of the biggest ranches in western Nevada. Is this your first visit to the ranch?"

There was no bragging in his voice, just pride, and Ava liked that about him. Especially when he had plenty to brag about. And suddenly she was very curious about this young man and his place in the wealthy Calhoun family. Mainly, why would he be working at a dangerous job with a modest salary rather than doing something here on the ranch?

She said, "I've been out here a few times before. Two of those visits were when Lilly and Rafe's babies were christened. Each time the christening was followed by a celebration here at the house."

Her answer appeared to surprise him.

"So you're acquainted with my brother and sister-inlaw?"

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