Baby in the Bargain
Willamenia Cogsdale, queen of barrel racing, has “history” with Lee Hawks, local rancher. On her return to Cactus Gulch with a two-year-old little girl, she still refuses to name the father. Her widowed father and grandfather aren’t happy with that situation, but they recognize the rodeo isn’t the place to raise a child.
In love with Willamenia since their school days, Lee has made a life for himself after leaving her, and the rodeo circuit, a couple of years earlier. Encouraged to make his feelings known, he seems unable to do that in words, but his actions are clear.
Even though deep down Willamenia is still in love with him, she’s not yet ready to admit it—not until a small fire and her grandfather's words push her into Lee's arms. Willamenia will do anything for her child, but revealing the truth may be one of the hardest things she's ever done.
Willamenia pulled the truck to a stop at the entrance to the ranch. Taking her hands from the wheel, she lifted them upward and watched as they trembled. “Some things never change.”
From the moment she’d entered the feed and seed, the hairs on her arms stood on end. She didn’t see him. Still, she knew he was there.
“Lee Hawks, I didn’t think you’d still be in town.”
Lawd! She put her forehead on the steering wheel. How was she going to keep her heart safe?
“Breathe,” she reminded herself. “Just breathe.” She lifted her head and focused on the picturesque ranch scene in the distance. “There’s no way Lee Hawks would ever lower himself to work for my father.” She summoned her courage, reached for the key, and the truck hummed back to life. “No matter what happens, I can never let him know.”
The truck pulled into the drive. Willamenia noticed her father standing shoulder to shoulder with another familiar figure. Shifting the vehicle into park, she turned the motor off and slipped from behind the wheel. She grabbed her hat and slapped it into place, and then, as calm as she could, she sauntered over to the fence where they stood.
The sound of her boots on the gravel drew their heads around. She recognized the second figure. His face was a bit older than she remembered, but the sparkle in his eyes had never changed.
Willamenia extended her hand. “Mr. Davis, it’s good to see you again.”
He took her hand and gave a firm shake. Then, throwing protocol to the wind, he pulled her to him for a deep bear hug.
“Come here.” He gave a squeeze. “When I heard you’d come home, I wanted to be the first one to welcome you back.”
The hug ended, but he only released her as far as his arms would extend. “My, you’ve grown into a beautiful young woman.” He gave a wink. “I’m jealous of these young boys.”
A blush crept into her cheeks and filled them with heat.
“No need for that, Mr. Davis. You’re still the most handsome.”
He gave a deep chuckle. “You keep them on their toes, young lady.”
“Will do,” she murmured with an affirming nod.
Behind them, a horse neighed. Willamenia shifted her gaze to the corral. “Oh, my, that’s a pretty one.”
She stepped up to the fence. Her boots found the first rung, and then she swung the other leg over the top rail and climbed on board. Her eyes caught every movement of the burnished chestnut whose coat resembled a patchwork quilt, white splotches scattered across her body from her neck to her tail. The mare pranced back and forth along the fence line, her eyes focused on the corral at the far end.
“She’s out of my mare Stardust.”
“She’s got some fine moves, sir.”
Willamenia continued to watch as the silky mane tossed. The ends caught in the breeze, and the sun captured the rays of light before settling the flaxen hair against her neck.