Caidy Bowman had been the apple of her family's eye--until a devastating tragedy forced her to hide from the world. She was used to devoting her time to the animals on her family's ranch. Then widower Ben Caldwell and his two adorable children arrived in Pine Gulch, and suddenly, Caidy wanted more than a life in the shadows....
As the town's new vet, Ben needed a place to stay for the holidays--and for his family to heal from their own loss. He absolutely wasn't looking for love again! But Caidy Bowman's sparkling green eyes and sweet smile touched Ben's broken heart, giving him hope for a new future. Their future--if he could convince the beautiful cowgirl that Christmas was a time for new beginnings....
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"Come on, Luke. Come on, buddy. Hang in there."
Her wipers beat back the sleet and snow as Caidy Bowman drove through the streets of Pine Gulch, Idaho, on a stormy December afternoon. Only a few inches had fallen but the roads were still dangerous, slick as spit. For only a moment, she risked lifting one hand off the steering wheel of her truck and patting the furry shape whimpering on the seat beside her.
"We're almost there. We'll get you fixed up, I swear it. Just hang on, bud. A few more minutes. That's all."
The young border collie looked at her with a trust she didn't deserve in his black eyes and she frowned, her guilt as bitter and salty as the solution the snowplows had put down on the roads.
Luke's injuries were her fault. She should have been watching him. She knew the half-grown pup had a curious streak a mile wide--and a tendency not to listen to her when he had an itch to investigate something.
She was working on that obedience issue and they had made good strides the past few weeks, but one moment of inattention could be disastrous, as the past hour had amply demonstrated. She didn't know if it was arrogance on her part, thinking her training of him was enough, or just irresponsibility. Either way, she should have kept him far away from Festus's pen. The bull was ornery as a rattlesnake on a hot skillet and didn't take kindly to curious young border collies nosing around his turf.
Alerted by Luke's barking and then the bull's angry snort, she had raced to old Festus's pen just in time to watch Luke jig the wrong way and the bull stomp down hard on his haunches with a sickening crunch of bone.
Her hands tightened on the steering wheel and she cursed under her breath as the last light before the vet's office turned yellow when she was still too far away to gun through it. She was almost tempted to keep going. Even if she were nabbed for running a red light by Pine Gulch's finest, she could probably talk her way out of a ticket, considering her brother was the police chief and would certainly understand this was an emergency. If she were pulled over, though, it would mean an inevitable delay and she just didn't have time for that.
The light finally changed and she took off fast, the back tires fishtailing on the icy road. She would just have to trust the salt bags she carried for traction in the bed of the pickup would do the job. Even the four-wheel drive of the truck was useless against black ice.
Finally, she reached the small square building that held the Pine Gulch Veterinary Clinic and pulled the pickup to the side doors where she knew it was only a short transfer inside to the treatment area.
She briefly considered carrying him in by herself, but it had taken the careful efforts of both her and her brother Ridge to slide a blanket under Luke and lift him into the seat of her pickup. They could bring out the stretcher and cart, she decided.
She rubbed Luke's white neck. "I'm going to go get some help, okay? You just hold tight."
He made a small whimper of pain and she bit down hard on her lip as her insides clenched with fear. She loved the little guy, even if he was nosy as a crow and even smarter, which was probably why his stubbornness was such a frustration.
He trusted her to take care of him and she refused to let him die.
She hurried to the front door, barely noticing the wind-driven sleet that gouged at her even under her Stetson.
Warm air washed over her when she opened the door, familiar with the scent of animals and antiseptic mixed in a stomach-churning sort of way with new paint.
A Cold Creek Noel
By: RaeAnne Thayne