Wherever he was, Billy owned the air. It belonged to him, and he took it.
Last year saddle bronc rider Billy Patterson reached the pinnacle of success in his sport and had the championship buckle to prove it. He needed that flashy reminder this year, because now nothing seemed to be going right in his world.
He couldn’t manage an eight-second ride to save his life; the girl he’s wanted forever, his best friend Renie, is oblivious to how he feels about her; and her mother sold him a ranch that he was incapable of taking care of alone. But the worst of it was, with no anchor at the ranch other than her horse in his boarding stable, Renie was probably leaving too, if he couldn’t convince her to stay.
That becomes the least of Billy’s worries, however, when he suddenly becomes a single parent to a child he didn’t even know about. That complicates everything, but he can’t regret having the daughter he quickly falls in love with. The question was—did that mean the end of his chances with Renie?
At her age, asking her to become an instant mother would be selfish, even if she would entertain that absurd idea after her own mother was tied down around the same age. As much as Billy knew letting Renie go was the right thing to do, he also realized letting her go would mean allowing her to run right back into the arms of a man she didn’t belong with…and he didn’t think he could do that.
Renie has been in love with Billy forever. He’s been a part of her life for a very long time and a few people thought he was in love with her mother Liv.
Now Billy on the other hand has just realized he’s in love with her. He’s ten years older and now owns the ranch where Renie grew up. He boards Renie’s horse and he expects her to continue treating the ranch as her home.
Renie and Billy take their time coming to the conclusion they should give this relationship a try. She also convinces him to get back on the rodeo circuit. It’s after the second night of competition the almost unthinkable happens.
Billy is confronted with the grandfather of a girl he remembers hooking up with a couple of times. The information the man has for him is quite the surprise. Apparently Roxanne had a baby that she said is his, and now she’s died in a car accident. Her grandparents can’t take on the responsibility of raising the baby and are asking Billy to take custody. Something he won’t do without a paternity test.
Renie isn’t sure about anything when Billy tells her about the meeting. She wants to see and talk to her Mom.
This is a favorite scene.
At noon, Renie’s phone buzzed.
“Hey, Mom, is Ben on his way?”
“No, honey, they’ve been at the airport, waiting for the weather to clear. It doesn’t look as though it’s getting any better. I’m sorry, sweetheart. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
“It’s okay,” she answered, knowing her disappointment sounded through her words. “We’ll talk in the morning, then. Bye, Mom.”
“Bye, sweetheart. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Bad weather in Gunnison. Ben can’t fly out today.”
“I’m sorry. I know you wanted to see your mom. It’s my fault for talkin’ you into stoppin’ here.”
“You saved me. I might have been stuck on the pass if I hadn’t stopped.”
“Thanks for makin’ me feel better about it. I wish you could…”
“What, Billy?” As much as she hoped he wasn’t about to ask her to go with him, she knew that was what he was about to say.
“I know I’m a selfish prick. You know I’m a selfish prick. I can’t imagine doing anything this big without you with me.”
“You’ve done lots of big things without me.”
“This doesn’t feel like me, Renie. This feels like us. Whatever I find out in Texas affects both of us.”
“Please go with me, Renie,” he begged.
How could he ask this of her? Because he was Billy, that’s why. If he wanted something, he took it. He also knew that she’d be powerless to deny him. Renie put her head on his chest, and sighed, knowing she was about to let go of what she wanted in order to give Billy what he needed. “Okay.”
He held her tight and closed his eyes, saying a silent prayer of thanks.
“Your mom still needs to go with us, Billy. I can’t go if Dottie doesn’t.”
“My mama will still go with us, darlin’. Don’t worry.”
He knew he shouldn’t have asked, but he needed her with him.
It cost him a fortune to get her ticket, and theirs, at the last minute, but he would’ve paid ten times more to have her with him.
Renie sat next to him. Dottie sat across the aisle.
“I didn’t realize we were flying first class, Billy.”
He often flew first class, and even if he didn’t, he would’ve this trip. He was about to ask his mother and the love of his life to help him bring his baby girl home. He didn’t need a paternity test; he felt it in his bones—he was Willow’s father.
He closed his eyes, wishing he could sleep, but knew he wouldn’t.
He lifted the armrest between them and brought Renie closer to him. “Sleep, darlin’. Get some rest.” She was asleep before he finished his sentence. He doubted she’d gotten much more sleep than he had the last couple of days.
The Johnsons had suggested they meet at the hospital the following day. Billy had gone, right after they landed, and given the lab what they needed to run the test. They were waiting in the lobby when he walked in with Renie and his mother. Sophie Johnson was holding the baby.
Billy knew as soon as he looked at her. It didn’t matter what any lab or doctor told him; that baby was his.
Renie saw it too. Billy saw it in her face. He watched her, afraid to look away, afraid he’d miss something. Her look went from shock to…something he didn’t have words for. But when he looked back at Willow, he hoped Renie was feeling the same thing he was. It was indescribable.
“Here,” said Mrs. Johnson. “You hold your girl.”
Billy hesitated, not sure what to do. Willow started kicking her legs, leaning toward him.
“Hold tight, Billy,” said Dottie, smiling through her tears. “She’s a squirmer…like you were.”
“Why don’t you have a seat?” Earl Johnson motioned. “Your mama’s right. Willow’s a squirmer.”
Billy could hear him, understood what he was saying, but he couldn’t move. He and Willow stared at each other as though they were looking in a mirror. He was sure that, any minute, his heart would burst right open. When he did look away, it was at Renie, and he had no idea what the expression on her face meant.
It was as though all the air left her body when Billy took the baby in his arms, and she watched him fall in love. In that moment, she realized she would never hold his heart the way she’d hoped she would. She’d dreamed of Billy holding their baby. Only in her nightmares did she see him holding a baby he had with someone else.
Why had she come with him? She wasn’t part of the scene playing out in front of her. She was a bystander, and not an innocent one. She was a damaged bystander, feeling the worst pain she could imagine.
When Dottie rested her hand on Renie’s back, she flinched, as though the touch burned her.
“Renie?” Billy was walking toward her, with the baby.
“Billy—” Her voice caught. “I can’t do this.”
She felt the walls closing in on her. She couldn’t breathe. Things were happening too quickly for her to explain or even understand the way she felt. All she knew was she had to get away from this…Billy and his baby, as fast as she could. It might make her the worst person on the planet, but this time, she couldn’t put Billy first. This time, she had to take care of herself instead of him. Her heart was broken so badly, she felt as though she was bleeding—soon she wouldn’t be able to contain the tears of her pain.
She turned and ran out of the hospital, and jumped into the cab parked outside the entrance. “Take me to the airport,” she said. “Hurry.” The cab sped away.
She couldn’t look back at Billy, standing outside the door, baby in his arms.
Slade, Heather. Cowboys of Crested Butte Boxed Set Volume 1. Kindle Locations (5330-5384). Sparrow Publishing. Kindle Edition.
It’s not just Billy’s life that changes at this point. Renie too does a complete turn around from what she had planned for her life.
Both of them have so much to think about and ultimately come to terms with.
I did a lot of sniffling reading this book. Plenty of emotional ups and downs, right along with the sizzle between Renie and Billy.
I’m already reading the next book since I bought the collection.
5 Contented Purrs for Heather!
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Collection Books 1-5!
My books are filled with things that bring me joy: music, wine, skiing, families, artists, and cowboys. Not always in that order.
I’m an Amazon best-selling author, and a PAN member of Romance Writers of America. I speak, teach, blog, am an executive sommelier, and all-around entrepreneur.
I grew up an east coast girl, and then spent half my life on the west coast. Now my husband, our two boys, and I happily call Colorado home.