Authors: Debra Clopton
Men of Mule Hollow
“Hop on,” he said with a lopsided grin that made her mind go momentarily blank.
She swallowed hard, reminded herself this was just a ride homeâon a motorcycleâand took his hand. Climbing on behind him, she sat stiffly.
“How long are you in town for your visit?” she asked, then wanted to kick herself. She hoped he was leaving the next day. He was
her forever cowboy!
The engine burst to life. He glanced over his shoulder at her and his eyes glinted in the moonlight. “Depends on a few things, but I'm here for a few weeks.”
A few weeks.
“That long?” she said, but her words were drowned out by the roar of the motorcycle. Or so she thought until Cole shot her another sly look.
“Yeah,” he said, over the growl of the motorcycle. “I think it's going to be real interesting. Now hang on.”
The Trouble with Lacy Brown
And Baby Makes Five
No Place Like Home
Dream a Little Dream
Meeting Her Match
Operation: Married by Christmas
Next Door Daddy
Her Baby Dreams
The Cowboy Takes a Bride
Texas Ranger Dad
“A Mule Hollow Match”
His Cowgirl Bride
Her Forever Cowboy
was a 2004 Golden Heart finalist in the inspirational category, a 2006 Inspirational Readers' Choice Award winner, a 2007 Golden Quill award winner and a finalist for the 2007 American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year Award. She praises the Lord each time someone votes for one of her books, and takes it as an affirmation that she is exactly where God wants her to be.
Debra is a hopeless romantic and loves to create stories with lively heroines and the strong heroes who fall in love with them. But most importantly she loves showing her characters living their faith, seeking God's will in their lives one day at a time. Her goal is to give her readers an entertaining story that will make them smile, hopefully laugh and always feel God's goodness as they read her books. She has found the perfect home for her stories writing for the Love Inspired line and still has to pinch herself just to see if she really is awake and living her dream.
When she isn't writing, she enjoys taking road trips, reading and spending time with her two sons, Chase and Kris. She loves hearing from readers and can be reached through her Web site, www.debraclopton.com, or by mail at P.O. Box 1125, Madisonville, Texas 77864.
When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you,
O Lord, who know my way.
This book is dedicated with much love and appreciation to my new friends Sharon Howell and Jo Anne Faerber.
Jo Anne, I'm so glad you came to my book signing and brought Sharon to meet me. God blessed me that dayâyou gals have inspired me to step out of my comfort zone this year and let God lead me forward. Bless you both for listening to His voice!
usan Worth rubbed her eyes, fighting the exhaustion threatening to overtake her. She'd spent most of the night saving the life of an unborn calf and mother and her adrenaline had kept her moving. Emergency calls had kept her out three nights in a row and she was dead on her feetâthe drone of her truck's engine and the dark, deserted road were working against her. Tightening her fingers around the steering wheel, she dug deep, sat up straight and concentrated on keeping her eyes open.
She still had an hour's drive to make it home. Once again she was alone in the middle of the night on a deserted road, halfway along the seventy-mile stretch between the tiny ranching town of Mule Hollow and the larger town of Ranger, where her clinic and apartment wereâfor the time being.
She loved her job and had worked hard to have her career as a small-town vet. But the exhausting pace was sometimes too much to take. The threat of falling asleep
at the wheel was a risk for anyone who covered a full day's schedule and handled all emergency calls. More so for her, since her large-animal business had grown so big over in the Mule Hollow areaâgreat for the bottom line, but bad on the body.
And bad on her personal life. With her hours growing longer and longer, quality life after work had become almost nonexistent.
She blinked hard and glanced at the clockâ2:00 a.m. This was the third night in a row she'd been out this late. Third day in a row she'd not had time to catch up on lost sleep. Daytime emergencies and scheduled small-animal appointments had her hands tied, but she'd been warned it would be this way. The retiring older vet, a male, had told her that since she was a woman she should concentrate on small animals and leave the big stuff to a man. That advice hadn't sat well with her.
She smiled, tiredly remembering how insulted she'd been. But her dad always said, “Susan, take advice, then do it your way.” And that was what she'd done.
She'd bought her clinic and embraced the loyal, small-animal clientele that came with it. But though she dearly loved and adored dogs and cats, her passion was working with large stock. She'd gone after that clientele with a vengeance and proved to the men who'd give her a chance that she knew what she was doing. She loved horses and cattle and as her reputation grew, so had the business. Now she was burning the candle at both ends and in between, too.
She loved her life. She really didâ¦but something had
to give, and she understood this clearly. Either that or she was going to crash and burn.
Maybe right now if you don't snap to!
She rubbed her neck and watched the road. A few weeks ago she'd finally forced herself to come to the conclusion that she wanted a changeâ¦a family. She'd lost her mother during childbirth and had been raised by her dad. Since his death she'd felt so alone, and no amount of work could fix that. Her dad had filled his life with work and she'd striven all her life to please him, but she needed more. He'd had herâ¦she had no one now.
As if God was giving her the nod, she'd gotten an offer for her small-animal clinic almost the instant she'd come to the realization that she wanted to make a change. God's timingâwhat an amazing thing.
Sighing, she shook her head to wake herself upâthis week was proving to her that she'd made the right decision. She hoped relocating her large-animal clinic to Mule Hollow, to the heart of her business, would give the heart of her love life a boost, too. Only time would tell.
Susan shook her head, her chin dipped and she realized she'd closed her eyes momentarily. She still had fifty miles to go.
She took a deep breath and pressed the button to roll down her window. She inhaled the fresh air. She thought about hanging her head out the window, but didn't. Instead she let her thoughts churn. It wasn't that she couldn't find a date. She managed short relationships from time to time. Short being the keynote,
because either the guys ended up being big losers or the ones who were nice were interested in a woman who wasn't so focused on her work. As most of them put it, “a woman who isn't owned by her work.” Who could blame them? Really, a man wanted a woman to be there for him. A woman who worked a hundred or more hours, on a normal week, wasn't exactly what a man would consider marriage materialâ¦.
Susan's eyes closed.
A flash of light had her jerking awake to see a motorcycle in the beam of her headlights just as her truck swerved off the road. And straight for a stand of trees!
“Oh, my goodness!” she exclaimed as the truck bounded over the rough ground and the back end fishtailed and swerved around. Susan fought for control as the truck slid broadside toward the large solid treesâbut it was useless. One thought hit her as she held on tight and everything started to spinâshe'd made the decision to change up her life, but maybe she'd made the call a little too late.
The driver was a woman.
Her arms were crossed over the top of the steering wheel and her forehead was resting on them. She wasn't moving.
Cole Turner's heart thundered against his ribs. Playing chicken on his Harley at two in the morning with an oversize hunk of truck hadn't been his idea of a great welcome home.
But it was exactly what had just happened.
His motorcycle helmet fell unheeded to the ground as he placed a hand on the open window. “Ma'am. Are you okay?” His gut tightened with tension when she didn't answer and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. “Ma'am,” he asked again, with more force. His adrenaline kicked into high gear and he spoke louder. “Can you hear me?” When she still didn't respond, he reached through the open window to check for a pulse. Her skin was warm, but at his touch she lifted her head. Relief washed through him as she eyed him groggily.
He recognized herâshe was the vet his brother Seth used at their ranch in Mule Hollow. Seth seemed overly impressed by her and often sang her praises when they talked on the phone.
But Cole hadn't been nearly so impressed when Seth had introduced them at his wedding six months agoâthe woman hadn't given Cole the time of day.
“Coleâ” she said, her voice wobbling.
The wobble got him, and despite her snub before, he felt for her. “Cole Turner, at your service,” he drawled, tugging open her door and offering her a grin and a hand. Getting her out of the truck would help put some color back into her face. She was as pale as the shimmery moonlight cascading over her. “Are you okay?”
“I fell asleepâ¦” she said, her stunned eyes holding his. “I can't believe I fell asleep.” Disbelief turned to disgust.
Scowling, she slid from the seat, ignoring his offered hand. He reached to help her anyway. All long-legged and lanky in her jeans and boots, she was almost as tall
as he was. He'd forgotten how beautiful she was, even with weariness and anger etching her face.
“Well, you've been working hard,” he said, trying to make her feel better. He was assuming her being out this late was work-related, since she was a vet.
“No excuse,” she snapped. “I shouldn't have fallen asleep.”
So the doc wasn't going to give herself a break. “You're right, you shouldn't have. But you did.” That got him a startled glare. “Fact is, you look like you're about to drop on your feet. That bein' the case, what are you doin' out here in the middle of nowhere at
in the morning when you are so worn out?” And what was he doing sticking his nose where it didn't belong?
“I am a
I was heading home to Ranger after running an emergency callâfor your brother, actually. We almost lost a momma and her unborn calf.”
“You were at
place? Seth let you head back to Ranger in this condition?” Cole's temper shot sky-high. Bone weariness hung over her like a cloakâSeth had to have seen that. “What was my brother thinking? One glance at you and anyone can see you're in no shape to travel. Look in the mirrorâyou look like you haven't slept in days.”
Her shoulders squared. “I beg your pardon. Seth didn't
me do anything. I did my job, saved that calf, then leftâit wasn't any of Seth's business what I did after that. And it sure isn't your businessâ”
That did it. “Lady, it's two stinkin' a.m. When you almost ran me down with your truck it sorta
business. So don't even think about getting defensive. Four seconds farther along the road and you'd have been topping that hill the same time I was. You'd have wiped me out with your big truck while you were taking your little nap.”
He was stepping across boundaries and he knew it. But he'd been involved in far too many rescues and recoveries that had nothing to do with careless acts on the part of the victimsâ¦good people died from no fault of their own every day.
was carelessness on the doc's part and he'd witnessed itâthat made it his business. Whether she wanted it to be or not.
He hadn't asked for it, but he wasn't the kind to back off from what was right if it would save a life. Even that of a gal who'd taken one look at him six months ago and stuck her pretty nose so high in the air that if it had started to rain she'd have drowned on the spot.
Nope, if there was one thing he had no use for, it was a stuck-up woman. But he couldn't, in all good conscience, just walk off, either.
Being nearly run down by Susan was the last thing he'd expected when his brother Wyatt had basically blackmailed him into coming home for a visit. It would have suited him fine not to have seen her again while he was in town.
Susan suddenly lifted fingers to her temple and, looking at her, he thought his words might have hit home.
“If you must know I've had emergency runs three nights in a row,” she said. “Plus I've had packed schedules during the day, so that doesn't leave much time to sleep.”
Her excuse slid off Cole like water off a duck's back. “Some things you make time for. A dead vet doesn't keep appointmentsâno matter how important they may seem. Do you not realize what a narrow escape you just had?”
She flinched. “It didn't happen, thoughâ”
Cole shook his head, realizing this was going nowhere. “This is a waste of time. Come on, I'll take you home. We'll worry about your truck in the morning.”
Susan felt as if she was in a big tunnel full of thick fog as she stared at Cole. She was still trying to process everything that had just happened. Falling asleep at the wheel was horrible; nearly running over a motorcycle rider was horrific; nearly killing herself was terrible. But looking up after all of it to find drop-dead gorgeous, flyby-the-seat-of-his-pants Cole Turner leaning in her window was her payback for all of it.
She'd almost run the poor man down!
She could only stare at him as he jumped all over her. His T-shirt-clad chest was bowed out and his eyes were clashing with hers, and like the cold waves of an angry ocean he took her breath away. It had been the same way at his brother's wedding when she'd first met him.
“Well,” he drawled, lifting a ridiculously attractive eyebrowâ
oh, for cryin' out loud!
She was so tired she was now noticing how attractive his eyebrows were.
“Look, I'm sorry,” she said, struggling to get her head back on straight. “I'm doing the best I can at the moment.”
“It's not good enough.”
“Excuse me.” She might feel guilty, but if he thought he was going to stand there making her feel worse with all his high-handed tactics he was wrongâmatter of fact, he was starting to irritate her. “I'm not going anywhere with you. My truck is fineâ”
“You're not fine.”
“I am, too,” she argued. “So what are
doing out here at two in the morning? I thought you were rescuing people on the coast.”
“I decided it was time to come home for a visit. Somewhere around Waco, I decided to drive on through the night. Good thing, too, since you were the one in need of being rescuedâ¦which sort of puts a spin on you being fine.” He cocked his head to the side, sending a thick lock of hair sliding forward across his forehead.
Susan rubbed her temple and stared at the man Mule Hollow folks called the rolling stone. He'd left town straight out of high school and rarely came home to visit. He was probably wishing he'd stayed away tonight.
She knew she sounded ridiculous every time she denied being worn-out. The look in his eyes told her he knew that if he blew hard enough she'd topple over.
“You're right,” she said reluctantly. “I did need your help. But now I'm fine. Really. I almost ran you over. The last thing I'm going to do is make you take me the hour back to Ranger.” Especially on a motorcycleâ¦she was terrified of the things. Not that she'd dare tell him that, she thought as she turned back to her truck.
“Whoa, there. Look at it from my point of view.” He placed a hand on her arm to halt her. “I can't let
you get back in that truck. What kind of man would I be to do that?”