Wrapped and Strapped

By: Lorelei James


She resisted the urge to leave at the crack of dawn the morning after.

Not because she wanted to give him a chance to explain the harsh words he’d spit at her as he’d hastily thrown on his clothes after leaving her bed. No, she’d stuck around, refusing to allow him the satisfaction of believing he’d chased her off.

Even when he had.

She always traveled light. So it hadn’t taken long to pack her belongings. She hugged her sister and said good-bye to the friends she’d made these past four months.

Gravel crunched beneath her tires as she headed for the main road to leave the Split Rock Ranch and Resort. She hit the brakes when she saw him sitting alone on the top of the corral outside the barn.

She exited the car and rested her forearms on the roof, watching him. Only a few hundred feet separated them, but it may as well have been a few hundred miles.

She waited for some kind of acknowledgment. A tip of his cowboy hat perhaps. Or a two-fingered salute from the brim of his hat. A dip of his chin.

But she got nothing.

At all.

He remained so still he could’ve been a bronze statue. Hard. Weathered. Immovable. In the beginning she’d attributed all those characteristics and nothing more to him. But then she’d unearthed the real man beneath the stoic demeanor. She’d experienced his heat and passion. Especially last night.

And then she’d experienced his coldness and disdain.

The beginning she’d envisioned for them turned out to be the end.

So she drove away, ready to put him—and Wyoming—in her rearview mirror.

Chapter One

Three years later . . .

Harlow Pratt panicked when she saw her sister Tierney’s name on her caller ID. She answered with, “Please tell me you didn’t go into labor a month early.”

“No, that’s not why I’m calling.” Tierney paused. “You know Dad is here visiting. He had a heart attack.”

“What? When?”

“This morning. We got him to the hospital in Rawlins right away and they opted to have him flown to the cardiac unit at Denver General.”

“Is he all right?”

“He’s having emergency heart bypass surgery now.”

In shock, Harlow lowered herself into the closest chair. “How do you know what’s going on?”

“There’s a nurse who’s keeping me updated because I can’t travel this late in my pregnancy—”

“Don’t feel guilty, T.” Harlow grabbed a pen and a notepad from the nightstand. “Give me the nurse’s name and extension number.”

Tierney rattled off more info than necessary, but that was her way.

“Got it. Now stop pacing and put your feet up. I imagine Renner is fit to be tied.” Tierney’s husband’s behavior defined tyrannical since Tierney had been prescribed bed rest for the last month of her pregnancy. Sometimes she needed a reminder that she had to limit her activity.

“You have no idea,” Tierney whispered. “He made Hugh drive Dad and meet the ambulance halfway to town because he refused to leave me alone with Isabelle. He worried the stress would put me into labor the second he wasn’t around.”

“It’s a valid concern.” Harlow ignored the way her stomach jumped at the mere mention of the man’s name.

“Where are you?”

“Still in LA.” By the heavy pause, she knew what her sister was about to ask.

“Someone needs to be with Dad, Harlow. I hate to ask you to drop everything and fly to Denver—”

“But it can’t be helped.” Her snarky side pointed out that her father wouldn’t think she was doing “real” work anyway. “I’ll book a flight as soon as possible.”

“Thank you. After the helicopter left Rawlins, Hugh took it upon himself to drive to Denver, which is above and beyond.”

No, that was total brownnose behavior—a typical Hugh response because he’d do anything for Renner, his boss.

“And he’s agreed to stay at the hospital until you get there.”

Oh, hell no. “As soon as I have my flight info, you can call Renner’s foreman and let him know I’m on my way, so there’s no need for him to stick around.” Did that sound harsh? Harlow didn’t care. She could not deal with her father and Hugh Pritchett both on the same damn day.

“I know we’ve both had issues with Dad, but he was really scared,” Tierney said. “I’ve never seen him like that. It actually scared me.”

Harlow closed her eyes. “He’s less of an ass to you since you’re the vessel bringing forth the long-awaited grandson.”

“That’s not it. But Dad and I have reached a place where he can live with my life choices.”