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Babies of Cactus Gulch, Book 1
Avery Johnson, like every cowboy in Cactus Gulch, has sown his share of wild oats. But waking up to find a six-month-old baby on his doorstep leaves him scratching his head. He might know how to soothe a nervous herd, but he has no idea how to care for a crying infant. He needs to find its mother fast or hire a nanny on the double.
Halley Thorpe works at the big house on the Diamond D ranch. She's content to let work help her forget a disastrous marriage. When Avery Johnson shows up with a babe in arms, she wants to stay away. Yet one bat of the baby’s long dark lashes and the tight grasp of five tiny fingers and she finds herself hooked.
Will helping Avery fulfill the ache in her heart, or is she setting herself up for a disastrous fall when she realizes she's in love with the cowboy who has a baby on his doorstep?
Page Count: 106
Word Count: 24875
Outside, the cry began again.
“Shut up, cat,” he yelled, as he pushed the white filter into place and scooped the grounds into it. The wail rose, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight. “I’m coming. I’m coming,” he shouted, and pushed the red button on.
Stomping toward the front door, he stubbed his toe on the boots lying in the way and cried out. He brought his leg up and gazed down at his throbbing big toe for a moment before limping onward to the door. Unable to contain the wrath which boiled over, he yanked the door open. Face dark with anger, Avery stood prepared for battle, only to find the horizon empty. “What the devil?” he cursed. Stepping forward, he gazed to the right, then to the left.
A sound more like a wheeze drew his attention to a metal washtub sitting at the edge of the porch. He blinked and inched forward. The tub overflowed with a soft pink blanket, while alarm bells rattled in his head. Avery leaned forward. There was something alive and very, very, unhappy in that tub. Throwing caution to the wind, he knelt down.
Everything seemed to be playing out in slow motion, like some bad movie, and he had no remote control to change the channel. Hesitant at first, his heart thumping, he grasped the satin edge of the pink blanket and eased back the fullness. The early morning sunlight shone down upon a cherubic face framed by a simple white bonnet. Avery’s eyes widened. The tiny bottom lip began to tremble, and the ear-piercing wail began anew.
“Hey! Stop that!”
The infant cranked it up a notch, adding the flailing of its arms and kicking of its feet. He glanced up the road, looking for someone watching, but the horizon was vacant. “This has to be a joke,” he whispered, then called out, “It’s a joke, right?”
The yard remained quiet except for the child’s rising cries.
“Look, you’ve got to stop crying. I can’t help you if you’re crying.”
He raised his hands. What do I do? A feeling of helplessness sent a wave of nausea toward his center. Now is not the time to puke, he chastised himself.
The screams rose to a deafening level. In order to save his ears, Avery slid his hands beneath the infant’s head and bottom, lifting the child upward. In the warmth of his arms, the cries lessened.
“There, now, baby.” He brought it close to his chest and took a good look. The child was clothed in a pink sleeper decorated with darker pink bows. Avery’s face screwed up in disapproval. “You look like an ad for Pepto-Bismol.”
The blotchy red eyes opened and two bright blue circles stared up at him. Somehow the infant managed to get a fist into her mouth and furiously gnawed on her knuckles.
“Where’s your mama, half pint?”
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