After losing half his cattle herd in the Great Blizzard of 1886, rancher Konrad Windsor needs a way to keep his cattle contained. Tomboy Anora Huxley, age 24, daughter and granddaughter of sheep ranchers, trains the Australian Shepherds and Kelpies that run the family’s herd. What Konrad doesn’t need is for Anora to tell him how to run his operation while in the middle of the mercantile.
At later encounters, the pair learns they have common interests and draw closer. A threat to Anora’s ranch is overheard, and Konrad rides out with a warning, and a crew, to offer protection. Through the tense situation, they share confidences. Although torn about honoring her grandfather’s dislike of cattlemen and listening to her own heart about Konrad’s request to court her, Anora’s heart is swayed by Konrad’s grand gesture at the Christmas Eve church bazaar and is compelled to obey his silent signals.
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For the third time in what felt like the same number of minutes, Anora pulled her elbow from the burly man’s grasp. “I possess the ability to walk unaided, Mr. Swinton. Thank you.” She stepped along the wooden boardwalk, keeping her focus away from her granddad’s foreman who hovered on her right. Cold air nipped at her exposed cheeks, and she tugged her woven scarf tighter on her neck.
As she walked, she noticed the small ridge of dirty slush along the outside edge of the planks. So far, this December in Aspen, Colorado, the snow depths hadn’t come close to those from the previous year’s harsh blizzard. The memory of the long cold spell sent an irrepressible shiver through her body. She’d seen a newspaper article that dubbed the storm The Great Blizzard of 1886.
“Anora, I’ve asked you several times to call me Nyle.” The thick-bodied man leaned close and nudged her arm. “I’m escorting you like your grandfather would want.”
I think not. Pawing me in public is closer to the truth.
“Huh. Granddad would never doubt my ability to walk unaided from the wagon to the mercantile.”
“Now, don’t get snippy. You know my intention is to keep you safe.”
Straightening, she took a longer stride. “I can handle myself.” She pitched her voice low to avoid drawing what her granddad would consider undue attention. Probably the same reason he treated her more like a grandson, encouraging her to dress in dungarees or split skirts and loose-fitting coats. She glanced ahead at the dozen or so pedestrians within sight on this chilly Wednesday morning.
Unfortunately, she spotted no one familiar whom she might hail and engage in conversation. If she met up with someone, then maybe the ranch foreman would give her ten minutes’ peace. And he’d get the message she was not interested in his attentions.
“Let’s cross here.”
Knowing what was coming, she sidestepped his attempt to again claim her arm and glanced toward the painted window to her left.
Stitches In Time. The dressmaker’s shop.
“Mr. Swinton, I need to stop here. You go on to Toussaint’s Mercantile, and I’ll be there in a short while.”
He frowned, which only emphasized how his bushy eyebrows jutted over his pale blue eyes. “Your grandfather didn’t inform me about this stop. We should stick together.”
Biting back a sigh, Anora planted her feet in front of the shop’s door. “I wish for a few moments to discuss…” Must I truly have this conversation? Heat rose in her cheeks, and she averted her gaze. “Um, unmentionables with the seamstress.”
Swinton cleared his throat and shuffled his boots on the boardwalk. “In that case, ten minutes.” He gave a curt nod.
Her back stiffened. Why would he think he could dictate a time constraint? She stared into his eyes, barely lifting her chin to meet his gaze across the space separating them. “When I’m done with my discussion, I will meet you. I can see the mercantile from here and am sure no harm will come to me on the short journey.” She reached behind her for the knob, turned it, and stepped inside. The click of the closing door echoed with her relieved sigh.