Saturday Excerpt: Wyoming Winter by Diana Palmer
Cultivating his vast Wyoming ranch is all security expert J. C. Calhoun wants. His land is the only thing the betrayed rancher can trust in after discovering his fiancée was pregnant by another man. But all J.C. holds dear becomes compromised when a lost little girl leads him to Colie Thompson, the woman who destroyed his life.
Colie stops at nothing to protect the people she loves. Years ago she left J.C. for his own good. Now, for the sake of her daughter, she must depend on a hard-hearted man who won’t forgive her. As a band of ruthless criminals tracks their every move through the frozen Wyoming winter, Colie and J.C. will be forced to confront the lies that separated them—and the startling truth that will bind them forever…
Bonus book! In a classic Long, Tall Texans tale, a hard-hearted rancher falls for an innocent beauty under the mistletoe in Christmas Cowboy
Colie Thompson was in a mild panic. Her brother, Rodney, was bringing over his friend J.C. Calhoun. J.C. was thirty-two, pretty much at the end of his Army Reserve service—the cutoff age was thirty-two. He and Rodney had met in Iraq, almost four years ago. Both men were with the same Army unit. Rodney was serving his first tour of duty. J.C.’s Army Reserve unit had been called up for limited duty, and he was assigned to the same area as Rodney. In one of those wild coincidences, they started talking and discovered that they lived in the same Wyoming town, J.C. having taken a job with another Catelow resident, Ren Colter, whom he’d met during his first tour of duty. Rodney looked up to J.C., who was a little older. The older man had been a police officer before he went into the Army the first time, almost twelve years earlier. Rodney left the Army before his tour of duty was officially up, never saying why. He’d been home for several months. After J.C. finished his overseas duty, he came home with him sometimes, although they’d grown apart since Rodney started a new job. They still went around together, but not often. One memorable visit to the Thompson home was on Colie’s birthday, when J.C. had unexpectedly given her a cat. It was the high point of her recent life. She named the huge Siamese cat Big
Tom and it slept on her bed every night.
Even though he didn’t come home with Rodney much, Colie often saw J.C. around Catelow, which was a small and very clannish town. There were only a couple of restaurants, and Colie, whose real name was Colleen, worked as a receptionist and typist for a law firm down- town. Inevitably, she saw J.C. from time to time, occa- sionally with her brother. And since he was single, and handsome, and mostly avoided women, he was the subject of much gossip.
He always made time to talk to Colie if he saw her. He was polite, teasing, friendly. He made her glow inside. Once, when he brought Rod home after his car had quit, J.C. had helped her into her jacket when she was going outside to get the mail. Just the touch of his hands was like an explosion of pleasure. The more she saw of him, the more she wanted him.
Rodney had invited J.C. to come to supper before this, but he’d always had an excuse. This time, he accepted. It had been just after Colie had started walking back to the office, in the snow, and J.C. had stopped and given her a ride the rest of the way. Sitting with him, in the cozy warmth of the big black SUV he drove, she’d been hesi- tant to get out again. They’d talked about the upcoming presidential election, the state of the country, the beauty of Catelow in the snow. He’d teased her about wearing high heels to work instead of sensible boots, with snow already piling up, and she’d retorted that boots would hardly complement the pretty pantsuit she was wearing. He’d pursed his lips and looked at her, long and hard, and said Colie would look good in anything. She’d gone inside the law office, reluctantly, flushed and beaming after the unexpected pleasure of his company.
J.C. worked full-time locally, but he went back overseas periodically to train troops in Iraq in police procedure. He was supposed to go back in a few months to do it all over again with a new group. J.C. worked as security chief for Ren Colter, who had a huge cattle ranch, Skyhorn, outside Catelow, Wyoming. Ren was ex-military as well, and he had somebody fill in for J.C. while he accommodated a former commander by drilling new recruits.
Giving orders was something J.C. was very good at. He was also gorgeous. He had jet-black hair, cut short, and eyes so pale a gray that they glittered like silver. He was tall and muscular, but not like a bodybuilder. He had the physique of a rodeo cowboy, lithe and powerful. Colie liked to just sit and look at him when she had the opportunity. She’d never known anybody quite like him. He had a unique background, about which he rarely spoke. Rodney had told her that J.C.’s father was a member of the Blackfoot nation up in Canada. His mother had been a little redheaded Irish woman. Quite an uncommon pairing, but it had produced a handsome child. J.C. never spoke of his father, Rodney added.
Colie wanted a family of her own, badly. She and Rodney had lost their mother two years previously to bone cancer. It had taken her a long time to die, but even then, she’d been cheerful and upbeat around her children and her husband. Colie’s father was a Methodist minister, a pillar of the community. Everybody loved him, not just his own congregation. They’d loved Colie’s mother, too. The little woman, named Beth Louise but called Ludie, had always been the first to arrive if there was a sick person who needed caring for, or a child who needed a temporary home. She’d even fostered dogs that were picked up by the local no-kill animal shelter while they waited for an adoptive family.
All that had passed, along with her. The house was suddenly empty. Jared Thompson, Colie’s father, had been almost suicidally depressed after his wife’s death, but his faith had pulled him through. It was, he told Colie, not right to mourn someone who had lived such a full life and had gone on to a happier, more wonderful place. Death was not the end for people of faith. They simply had to accept that people died for reasons that were, perhaps, not quite clear to those left behind.
Colie and Rodney had grieved, too. Rodney had been overseas for almost four years, with only brief visits. He couldn’t come home for his mother’s funeral, although he Skyped with his father and sister after the services. He was a sweet, biddable boy until he went into the service. When he came home, he was…different. Colie couldn’t figure out why. He became fixated on fancy cars and designer clothes, neither of which fit in his small bud- get. He’d obtained a job at the local hardware store when he came home, because it was owned by a friend of the reverend Thompson. Rodney seemed to be a natural salesman. But he complained all the time about getting minimum wage. He wanted more. He was never satisfied with anything for long.
The one thing that bothered Colie most was that her brother wasn’t quite lucid much of the time. He had red- rimmed eyes and sometimes he staggered. She worried that he might have been hurt overseas and wasn’t telling them. She knew it wasn’t from alcohol, because Rodney almost never took a drink. It was puzzling.
During Rodney’s tour of duty in the Middle East, J.C. and Rodney hung out together when Rodney was off duty.
Rod didn’t write often, but when he did, he mentioned things he and J.C. had done overseas during the time
J.C. was there. They went out on the town when Rodney was on liberty. Odd thing about J.C., Rodney had commented. He never drank hard liquor. He’d have the occasional beer, but he didn’t touch the heavy stuff. Like Rodney. But the brother who used to tease her and bring her wildflowers and watch television with her seemed to have gone away. The man who came back from overseas was someone else. Someone with a darkness inside him, a lust for things, for material things.
He’d been vocal about the old things in the house where he lived with his sister and father. It was primi- tive, he scoffed.
Colie didn’t find it so. It looked lived-in. The small house was immaculate, Colie thought as she looked at her surroundings. The sofa had a new cover, a pretty burgundy floral pattern, and her father’s puffy armchair had a solid burgundy cover. The spotless wood floors had area rugs, which were beaten clean by Colie on a regular basis. There were no cobwebs anywhere. The marble-topped coffee table that her father had found at an antiques shop graced the living room, where an open fireplace crackled with orange flames and the smell of burning oak.