Authors: Dahlia Rose,Tressie Lockwood
Christmas at Twin Falls
Tressie Lockwood and Dahlia Rose
Copyright © December 2012, Tressie Lockwood and Dahlia Rose
Cover art by Mina Carter © December 2012
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Sugar and Spice Press
North Carolina, USA
Cody stood up and pulled his jeans on. He left the button undone and the zipper down while he worked his boots on his feet. A moan sounded behind him, and he gritted his teeth. He’d hoped she wouldn’t wake up before he got out of there.
She stretched with her arms over her head and allowed the sheet to slide down so her breasts were uncovered, but she no longer interested him. Even the kittenish purr did nothing. “Where are you going so early? I thought we would have breakfast together.”
He frowned but didn’t look at her. His boot finally on, he stood again and tugged his shirt over his head. Where did he leave his jacket—in the car or somewhere in her living room? “I have a ranch that won’t run itself and cattle to feed.”
“You’ve got hands to do that.”
“Look, I had a good time last night, but that’s all it was. I made that clear.” He walked to the door, and when he stuck his hand out to grab the knob, a high heel hit the wall, just missing his head.
“You’re an asshole, Cody Everett. Get out! I don’t ever want to see you again.”
He stuffed his hat on his head and tapped it. Then walked out without another word. He resented her behaving like he owed her something. Sherrie was in that bar last night looking to find a man for her bed. They both knew that, and he’d been looking for the same thing—sex. A relationship wasn’t on the menu, not now at least. This time of year, close to Christmas, all of his effort went into fighting depression. She didn’t need to know that. No one did, not even his brother. Then again, Beau had his own issues around this time. Neither one of them had celebrated the holiday since their parents were killed. What would be the point?
He jumped into his truck and pulled out of the lot. As he drove along the highway, dawn just touched the horizon. He made out the shape of Cloud Peak Mountain, beyond his and his brother’s ranch. He loved that scene, which meant home and safety. He couldn’t believe he’d walked away from it for three years, leaving everything in Beau’s hands. He was back now though—to stay.
Cody hit the button to lower his window a bit and breathed in the crisp Wyoming air. While it didn’t exactly raise his spirits, it did clear his mind a bit from the night spent slugging back beers at the bar and chatting up women. He needed to focus on getting the barns cleaned out, feeding the cattle, and placing orders for more supplies.
When the sign arching over Twin Falls Ranch came into view, he also spotted Henry, driving the tractor with the shovel fitted on the front. The snow hadn’t been that bad, but he and Beau insisted all roads leading into and around their ranch be clear. He admitted they were anal about it, but who could blame them when their parents had been killed on an icy road.
Bringing the memory to mind constricted his breathing even after all this time, and he gripped the steering wheel tighter. He nodded at Henry as he drove by and caught the sound of Macaulay barking somewhere on the property. He pulled in front of his house and stepped out of the truck. A sharp, loud whistle brought his dog bounding to his side. Cody stooped to scratch behind Macaulay’s ears.
“Hey, boy, whatcha doing? You keeping them in line? Not yet?” He chuckled. “I know, I know. I have to do my part, huh? Sorry for making you wait.”
He knew he’d be sweaty and need another shower after work, but he took one anyway and changed his clothes. After supervising his hands to be sure the stalls in the buildings where he housed the cattle in winter were mucked out, he helped mix the feed. When that was done, he brought in bales of hay to dump in the troughs at the ends of the pens to round out his animals’ diet.
Cody straightened from the last feeding and swiped an arm over his head. He always marveled at how he could sweat so much when the temperature in winter dropped so low.
Cody swiveled around at Henry’s voice. “Hey, Henry. Things going okay?”
Henry nodded. “Nope. Was something like seventeen below this morning when I woke up. The missus going at me like it was something I ordered to piss her off.”
Cody chuckled. “Yeah, well maybe she’ll cheer up by lunchtime.”
His ranch hand shook his head. “Wait until you find the right woman and settle down. Then you’ll have more compassion for us guys who already fell into the trap.”
“I don’t see that happening too soon.” Cody had been denying any intention of getting married for years, yet everyone seemed to push him in that direction. Not just the women either. The men rode his ass about it, but he would not give in.
“You’ll fall in love, and then look out. She’ll have you wrapped around her little finger.” Henry’s big grin irritated more than convinced him, but he thought he hid his sour attitude well behind the smile.
“I’ll take your word for it, Henry.”
The older man wandered off, calling over his shoulder. “Who knows. Maybe Santa will bring you a cute little beauty you can’t resist.”
Yeah, Cody would have one of those all right, but she would last for the night, maybe two, and then she needed to be on her way. Then again, he never brought women to the ranch. He convinced them to take him home. He slept with them and left in the morning. That’s how it always was and how it would continue to be.
After lunch, he hopped back into his truck to drive to Huntsford, the closest town, for supplies. He checked the list he’d made in his palm. The hardware store was the first on the list. Not like it wasn’t always, even if he didn’t need anything. The hours spent mulling over various tools was the best time of the day. After that would be what he didn’t relish, which was grocery shopping. Maybe he
get a wife.
He drove to the end of the property and stopped to lean across the seat to open the passenger door. Macaulay jumped in, wagging his tail. “Okay, boy, you can go, but remember it’s a leash in the hardware store. The only reason they let you in there is because they started selling dog food.” His five-year-old black lab barked once, and Cody shook his head.
They pulled out. The long stretch of road leading to Huntsford was boring most of the way with nothing to see except ranch or farmland. A few trees dotted the landscape, fencing, a farmhouse here and there, and mountains in the distance. What grass that wasn’t dead from the frigid temperatures was covered in snow from the night before. At least the sky cleared today, and the forecast hadn’t predicted more snow for another week at least. They were frequently wrong, though.
Macaulay barked, and Cody lowered his window a little. His dog pushed his nose out the gap and whined. Cody scratched his head with one hand on the steering wheel. “Calm down. You’re the one that insisted on coming along. If you wanted to rip and run all over the place, you should have stayed home.”
Macaulay continued to whine, but Cody ignored him and drove on. At the hardware store, they wandered around, Cody content to plan building projects in his head. He did light repair like a fence or a board here and there on the ranch, but serious construction wasn’t necessary. Beau had run both enterprises—the cattle and the horses at Twin Falls—with efficiency. All Cody had to do was come back and take the reins of his part. In many ways he was grateful to his brother. In others, resentful. Maybe he had expected Beau to call and beg him to come back home. A sense deep inside told him no one truly needed him, but that thought could depress the hell out of anyone, so he tamped it down.
“Hey, Cody. Macaulay.”
Cody stiffened and turned. “Tammie. How’s it going?”
She leaned all her weight into one leg and put a hand on her hip. “I’m good. How’s that twin brother of yours?”
“Involved,” he lied. If Tammie couldn’t have him, she wanted Beau. Cody had been with her once or twice, but Tammie was clingy and word around town was she hunted a husband.
She frowned at him. “I was only asking after his health, Cody Everett. Didn’t your mama teach you any manners at all?”
He felt a muscle jump in his jaw. “Let’s not talk about my mama.”
Macaulay tugged at the leash. His dog hated being tied down. Must be like his owner, he guessed. Cody clicked his tongue and gave a sharp command. The dog stilled. “If you’ll excuse me—”
“Why don’t we go see that new movie that came out last week?” Tammie stepped closer to him and laid a hand on his chest. She peered up at him with wide blue eyes. “You can buy me dinner, and I’ll…”
Open your legs.
The thought of how cheap she was turned him off while he’d been sniffing around her not long ago.
“I’m sorry. I still have a lot to do to make sure the ranch is running smoothly. Too busy right now to date.”
“Not too busy to see Sherrie last night,” she snapped.
The fact that word had gotten around didn’t surprise him, nor did he care. “Have a nice day.”
He bought a few items he didn’t need and left the store, then continued with the rest of his errands. When he stopped at the grocery store, he left Macaulay with a friend in his shop to keep warm. Afterward, he and Macaulay headed back along the lonely road to Twin Falls.
In the same spot where he’d barked and whined, Macaulay started up again. This time, Cody peered out over the land. A sharp decline led to a small pond, but it wasn’t visible from the road. Sometimes in winter, kids skated on the surface of the water when it froze, but he knew from his own experience, it wasn’t worth it because of the tiny pond size and unevenness in the ice.
He slowed down, and that’s when he spotted the skid marks in the slush. Tire treads led over the side. His heart hammered in his chest, and Cody pulled to the side of the road and opened his door. Macaulay jetted past him and ran over the slope. Cody followed and stopped cold at the sight.
A black sedan lay on its side, the driver side having cracked the surface of the pond. Cody slid down the incline. He had spent hours in town, but Macaulay whined to stop here on the way in.
While he waded through the freezing water, he chided himself for not listening to Macaulay the first time. Still, there was no telling how long ago the accident happened. He just prayed he wasn’t too late.
The climb to the top of the car to reach the passenger door took forever, partly because his boots and jeans were now weighted down. He felt his energy lagging because he had started to freeze. Twice he lost his footing and fell, but he kept going. When he drew up to the window, he pressed a hand to the cold glass to block out the light and tried not to fog it over with his breath. Peering inside, he made out two people. Neither moved.
“Damn it.” He debated going back to get his phone to call for help, but that might take too long.
At his words, the woman stirred and opened big, brown eyes. Something shifted inside Cody, but he focused on the situation at hand. The woman began to look around, but he tapped the window. He needed her focused on him.
“Look at me, sweetheart,” he called out through the window. “No, don’t try to take off your seatbelt. Wait until I get you. Can you reach the lock?”
Confusion clouded her beautiful eyes, but he kept talking to her, wondering if he would end up having to break the back window. That would come with the risk of injuring her, that last thing he wanted to do.
The woman managed to click the lock, and he slid over the back door to try getting the front one open. Working against gravity with his hands freezing, he used all his strength. After more maneuvering, he held the door open with one foot and reached between his legs for her.
“Jeff,” she murmured. She started to turn her head toward the driver side, but he touched her chin and kept her looking at him.
“What’s your name, honey?”
She blinked at him as if she wasn’t sure. Blood stained the smooth, cocoa skin on her forehead, and he wondered if the head injury caused amnesia. Then her expression cleared. “Kaleena. My name is Kaleena. My fiancé…”
Cody’s stomach dropped. For just a second, he allowed his gaze to shift to the driver, a man. His head tilted completely underwater, and Cody knew from the time it took for him to slow his car, get out, and climb up here, it had been at least ten minutes, not to mention how long ago they had the wreck. This poor woman’s fiancé was gone.
He got her unbuckled and took her full weight into his arms. Shoving against the door, he raised her out of the car. “Can you put your arms around my neck?”