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The terrified eyes in the middle of the highway belonged to a woman—battered, bruised and barely conscious.
Nick Red Shield swerved his pickup and empty horse trailer to avoid her, but neither he nor the mysterious Lauren Davis could avoid the collision of their lives....
Though Nick's loner instincts kick into high gear, Lauren's vulnerability tugs at him in ways he'd thought long since shut down. More comfortable with horses than people, he's drawn to the secretive runaway. But even in the safe haven of his South Dakota ranch, among the magnificent painted horses of Western legend, the danger shadowing Lauren's life will compel her to new acts of desperation to save her young son and force Nick to confront demons bent on destroying them both.
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New York Time and USA Today bestselling author Kathleen Eagle published her first Silhouette Special Edition, an RWA Golden Heart winner, in 1984. Since then she has published more than 40 books, including historical and contemporary, series and single title novels, earning her nearly every award in the industry including Romance Writers of America's RITA. Kathleen lives in Minnesota with her husband, who is Lakota Sioux and forever a cowboy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Twenty-seven miles of dark road and driving rain were all that stood between Nick and the bed he'd reserved for what was left of the night. He might have pulled over and waited for the downpour to pass, but he was set on having himself some pleasure this night. Real, rock-solid pleasure. He was this close to laying himself down f lat, stretching out his whole long, bone-tired body over fresh white sheets and soft pillows. If he had just pulled over, he might have spared himself the one thing he always took care to avoid. Nicholas Red Shield hated surprises.
But more than the surprise of a pair of wild eyes staring back at him in his high beams, he hated making roadkill.
Eyes left.Wheel right.
It was a tricky maneuver. His empty horse trailer fishtailed as he shifted into Neutral, kicked the brake and arced the steering wheel to the left. Getting the trailer in line was only half the battle now that the rubber no longer met the road. Every scrape against the pickup's precious chassis felt like a bloody gouge in Nick's own leathery hide. His beautiful blue twoton dually—as near to new as any vehicle he'd ever had—mowed down a mile-marker post, jolted, shuddered and went still.
Rain pelted the roof of the cab.
Nick took a deep breath and slowly loosened his grip on the steering wheel. He glanced in the rearview mirror, searching for familiar eyes.
"You okay back there, Alice?" His passenger popped her head up to assure him that she was only slightly less bored with him than usual.
Nick was okay, too, thanks for asking. A little shook up, but he wasn't going to let it show, even when nobody but the cat was looking. Bad form was bad form.
And stuck was stuck. He couldn't tell whether the main cause was mud or the mile marker, but his efforts to get loose soon had six tires spinning in all gears.
Nick was not a man to curse his luck. He wasted nothing, including breath. Ever equipped to handle his own problems, he practiced taking care of business to perfection. If the mile marker was the hang-up, he hoped the business of jacking his baby off the damn thing wouldn't take all night. He chuckled and started humming as he reached under his seat for the f lash-light. "Jackin' my sweet baby off," he sang softly. Times like this, a little humor couldn't hurt. He exchanged cowboy hat for yellow rubberized poncho and climbed out of the truck with an unconscious smile. He could really be funny when nobody was listening.
But the sight of his truck's skewered underbelly was nothing to laugh at. It would take more than a f lash-light beam to assess the damage, especially with the cold spring rain rolling off the hood of his poncho. He could have sworn he heard her groaning softly, just like a real woman.
"What do you expect me to do in this rain, girl? Beam you up?"
Something behind him snapped. Nick pivoted and swept the light over the roadside slope until it hit on a clump of bushes and a clutch of bobbing branches. Damn, had he clipped that deer after all? He grabbed his pistol and a loaded clip from the glove box and then sidled down the steep, wet slope. He'd been lucky. Better his precious pickup had impaled herself on a post than gone tumbling trailer over teakettle down the hill.
The bushes weren't much taller than he was, but they were dense and filled out with new foliage. And they weren't moving on their own. There was definitely something in there. Nick parted the branches with his gun hand, f lashed the light into the tangled thicket and found two more of the night's thousand eyes.
They weren't doe eyes, but they were almost as big. "Don't," a soft voice pleaded as the eyes took refuge from the light behind a small, colorless, quivering palm. "Please don't."
A woman? A child? Nick's heart wedged itself in his throat. He f lashed the light away from her face.
"It's okay. I won't..." He shouldered branches aside and dropped down on one knee to discover a woman who wasn't much bigger than a child. "That wasn't..." He could barely get the words out. She was curled up, soggy and shaking to beat hell. "Jesus, that couldn't have been you in the road. Could it?"
"Wh-who are you? Who sent you?"
"No one sent me. Listen, did I...did I hit you?"
"Who are you?" she demanded, pumping up the volume.
"Name's Nick Red Shield. I could've sworn I missed the, uh..." He gestured toward the scene of the crime with the barrel of his pistol. "Sorry. I was expecting a deer." He tucked the gun in his belt and then pulled the poncho over his head. She needed it worse than he did. "How bad are you hurt?"
"I don't know."
"Anything broken? Can you move your..." Move what? The arms she'd knotted around her knees? He felt like some idiot hunter who'd awkwardly wedged himself into a rabbit's hole. They were nearly nose to nose, but he didn't dare touch her, and she didn't dare move. She couldn't draw back any farther without becoming part of the undergrowth. Her violent quivering made his bones vibrate.
"Let me help you." He offered his hand, palm up, as though she might want to sniff it f irst. "I'll be real careful."
"What kind of a name is Red Shield?"
It seemed like a crazy question, under the circumstances. Check out my hand, sure, but my name?
"I'm an Indian." He couldn't help bristling. Squaring up, he braced the rebuffed hand on his upraised knee. "Sioux. South Dakota. Look, I didn't see you until you were right in front of me, and I did everything I could to avoid hitting you. If you want me to try to f lag someone else down, I will, but there isn't much traffic tonight, and I don't have any way to call anyone. Do you?"
"A cop or an ambulance."
"You...you'd call the police?"
"I would, but I don't have a phone. And if I leave you here and go for help, I'll damn sure get charged with hit and run. So make up your mine. What'll it be?"
"What are my choices?"
"Trust me or don't. Can you walk?"
She stared at him, sizing him up while she drew several breaths, miserably shaky on the uptake. Finally she loosened her grip on her folded legs and felt around for something besides him to hang on to. She didn't seem to care what the bushes were doing to her hands, and he could barely hear her answer.
"I think so."
But it was tricky. She was such a little thing, he could have carried her like a baby if the rain hadn't made the hill slicker than a cat's ass. He put the f lash-light in her hand, covered her with his poncho and hauled her up against his side, which left him one hand for grabbing whatever solid ground he could find. And, like a cat, she hung on. He could feel her trembling, feel her fighting for control against chills, pain, fear—probably all three—and he gave her credit for holding back on the noise she could have been making, tears she should have been crying, curses she must have been saving up for a time when the man who'd done this to her wasn't the only help around.
He put her on the backseat of his crew cab, took the wet poncho and started backing out the door.
She grabbed his arm. Shivering and scared, she was little more than the huge pair of eyes that questioned his every move.
"I've got blankets in the trailer, and maybe something to..." What he could see of her face now gave him pause. Mean dark patches spattered over frail and pale skin added up to battered f lesh and f lowing blood. "Listen, lady, I've gotta get you some help."
"Can you...please...get me away from here?" She had him by both arms now, had him with her eyes and surprisingly strong hands. "Can you, Nick?"
"Yeah." He nodded, swallowed hard, tried to ignore the goose bumps crawling over his shoulders and down the back of his neck. He slid into the seat beside her and felt her relax her grip. "Sure. I can do that." He reached over the front seat and felt around for his denim jacket. Locating the jacket also meant he found the cat, but he was able to claim the jacket without trading a strip of skin. Alice wasn't totally pitiless after all.
"What's your name?" He didn't mean to pry, but he'd told her who he was, and he needed to say something while he was wrapping her in his jacket.
But the question set her off on a sobbing jag. Damn. Now what? He drew the jacket tight around her, his fists coming together beneath her chin, whispering, "Try to keep it together. You've been doing so good. Do you live around here?"
"No. Oh no." Head bowed, she slumped toward him, shuddering and sobbing and saying, "Oh no, oh no, oh no."
"Shh. Just tell me your name."
"Ohh..." She was like a wet rag, starch draining away, drooping, dripping, sagging against his chest.
"Joe-eeey, Joey, Joey..."
But she was all out of answers. And he'd never been one to ask too many questions. Part of a name was enough for now. She could give the rest of it at the next stop, where somebody with a form and a uniform would be writing it all down. "You want some dry clothes?"
Still leaning on him, she shook her head against his chest, forming his chilled nipple into a glass bead.
"You'll have pneumonia on top of—" She shook her head again and whispered blubbery words that made no sense but sounded as desperate as he was beginning to feel.
"Okay, Joey." He patted her hair clumsily. "Okay, we'll get movin'."
With a hydraulic jack and a heavy dose of cowboy ingenuity, he was able to lift the pickup off the hook he'd accidentally made of the steel post, then twist the thing out of the way without ripping the guts from his sweet ride. He'd unhooked the gooseneck trailer in the hope of getting the truck back on the road. But nobody ever expected great traction from a dually, and his four back tires were only spinning themselves deeper into the Missouri mud. Without a push, his baby would soon be up to her axles in moonshit. He threw her into Neutral, braced his chin on his left arm and glowered at the road untraveled.
A glance in the rearview mirror revealed nothing. He hadn't heard a peep out of her since he'd turned the heater on full blast and she'd thanked him before he'd gone back out into the rain. He turned now and...
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Book Description MIRA, 2007. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0778325083
Book Description MIRA. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0778325083 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.0336799