RESCUED BY AN OUTLAW - SNEAK PEEK

NORI
My job has kept me from seeing family during the holidays--but not this Christmas. The wanderlust that’s served me well as a photojournalist covering wars and natural disasters has settled and I’m ready to deliver their gifts in person, if I can make it in time.

The need to see my family has me trying to beat a storm by driving through a mountain pass and snowflakes the size of my fist. Out of nowhere a handsome, if slightly grumpy good Samaritan, rescues me from spending a night freezing my patootie off in my rental car.

DEAN
This year I’m actually looking forward to spending Christmas alone. I’ve had it with the media speculating on my dating life. I just want to decompress and work on some long overdue projects at my cabin.

But the peace and quiet I sought, is quickly interrupted by thunder snow, and a journalist with an attitude twice her size and a pair of the cutest…dimples.

After years of keeping my emotions in check and guarding my heart, my handsome rescuer shows me the best gift of all may just come in a man-sized package.

Rescued by an Outlaw collage.jpeg

CHAPTER 1

NORI

 

This may not have been my best idea. That thought kept rolling through my head in sync with the falling snowflakes as they grew in size and speed. Driving over a mountain pass in a rental that may or may not have all weather tires had been an impulse decision. I’ve been making split-second decisions for most of my thirty-eight years, and I’ve never second guessed myself. Until tonight.

My parents had moved to northern Idaho the year my younger brother had been drafted into the United States Baseball League and I’d yet to visit them. Bad sister. Bad daughter. Now five years into his career, Tyler’s star was rising, and I’d stayed away long enough.

Plus, my mother had been on my case and worried that I hadn’t settled down. There had been something in her voice during our last phone call that hit me differently than before. I’d accomplished so much in my career the last decade and her concern, along with an itch I couldn’t name, had me seriously considering slowing down and to stop running so hard toward that next big story.

An eighteen-wheeler roared past my small SUV, splashing slush and ice onto the windshield. I let out a small scream, then a stream of curse words. Gripping the wheel, I remembered the advice the rental clerk gave me as he handed over the keys. “Whatever happens, don’t slam your brakes if you’re on ice. Pump them and if you slide, turn into it.”

Not sure if the guy was psychic, but it turned out to be the best piece of advice I’d ever received. The glow of taillights faded, but I knew the jerk would have to slow down again soon because there was another incline up ahead. My heartbeat thundered in my ears as I attempted to get my breathing under control. Glancing at the clock, I groaned. I was over an hour behind where I’d thought I’d be.

The gas level indicator lit up on the dashboard. What? The tank had been full when I left Missoula three hours ago. There’s no way I was out of gas. Dammit. “Siri, find the nearest gas station.” Siri didn’t respond, and I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road. Cell service was either down or inconsistent this high up. Okay, Nori. You got this. You’ve been in worse situations. Just breath. For the last twelve years I’d travelled the world interviewing world leaders, insurrectionists, and newsmakers under less-than-ideal conditions. I could handle one little snowstorm.

Flashing lights appeared on the horizon. At least what looked like the horizon. A police officer decked out in thermal gear waved me over to the side of the road. Tiny hairs stood at attention on my neck and along my arms. Same feeling that came over me whenever I was on the edge of a war zone.

“Sorry, ma’am. You’ll have to turn around. The pass is closed.” He leaned down and peered at me through my open window and rubbed his leather gloved hands. “How much gas do you have?”

Whoa, “ma’am?” My mother is a ma’am. I easily and often passed for someone in their late twenties. And gas? Yeah, I was hoping to fuel up at the next exit, on the other side of the flashing lights and barricades.

“Officer, I have about an eighth of a tank, enough to get me to the next gas station. Couldn’t you let me through? I promise I’ll come right back and head for that hotel I saw about ten miles back.

The officer stared at me like I had two heads. “There’s no gas station up ahead, ma’am. At least not for thirty miles. Besides, the roads are iced up and under at least a foot of snow.”

Dang it. “Okay, but I’m not a ma’am. If anything, I’m a Ms. And second, I need to get to Pineville. Tonight.” Looking in my rearview mirror, hoping for what I wasn’t sure. Backup maybe. Other tired travelers to join the cause and talk the officer into letting us drive on. But all I could see were snowflakes and inky blackness. I waited for headlights to appear behind me. But nothing or no one appeared. What had happened to all the other cars?
“Sorry, Ma—”

Holding up a hand, I released a loud sigh. “Please. Please, don’t call me ma’am again.” All hope of making it to my parent’s place faded along with my desire to break the barricade and take my chances on the snow-covered freeway.

“Alright, Ms. I’m not sure where you started your journey from, but this storm has been expected for hours and most everyone heeded the warnings on the emergency radio channel. Your best bet is to go back to Exit 14. Woody Forest has a six-room motel attached to the gas station and mini-mart. I’m sure he’d be happy to rent you a room for the night. The plows will be out at dawn.”

He had to be kidding. Woody Forest? Had to be a made-up name. And there was no way I was going to admit I’d been listening to podcasts instead of checking the weather reports. Usually, I was hyper aware of my surroundings after years on the road and in often unfriendly countries. But the excitement of finally be home with family over Christmas had been hard to tamp down. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d spent the holidays with nothing to worry about expect how much snow I could stuff down my brother’s ski jacket or how many cookies I could eat without my mom finding out.

The officer touched the brim of his hat and nodded. He waved me toward the emergency road connecting the four-lane highway. It looked to have been recently shoveled as I inched my way over and onto the eastbound lanes of I-90. And just like that I was headed away from a warm bed and my mom’s legendary leftovers, back into the fury of relentless snow toward a roadside motel I wasn’t sure I had enough gas to reach.

I’d bribed and flirted my way past tougher looking men than him, but this wasn’t some third world country, and I knew better than to put myself in harm’s way during a storm on its way to a blizzard with rapidly falling temps. In fact, I was pretty much over that period of my life, and I wanted to make sure I stayed healthy and safe for what came next. Even if I hadn’t quite figured out what that was.

Twenty minutes later, a road sign appeared showing Exit 14 was less than half a mile up ahead. Scanning the dashboard, I tapped the button on the steering wheel that brought up the digital menu and flipped through till I found the gas level reading. Estimated miles left were three. Well, at least someone was looking out for me.

Slowing to take the sharp right turn from the exit into the parking lot of the only building for miles, my heartbeat stuttered at the neon sign in the motel’s office window. No Vacancy.

So much for my guardian angel.

 

CHAPTER 2

 

DEAN

“Hey, Dad. Where you at? You get lost in the mountains? I think I have that photographer’s number. I bet he could find you.” Laughter followed my son’s smartass remarks. The voicemail crackled and Heath’s next words were garbled, followed by silence. Service in the mountains was sporadic at best, but with the impending storm, it had finally been cut off.

At nineteen, my son’s sense of humor definitely didn’t jibe with mine. He’d milked my recent spot in the unwelcome limelight every chance he could. A sleeveless workout photo of me at a local gym had gone viral a couple months ago, and it had fed the headlines, becoming clickbait for weeks regarding my private life. My co-workers had had a field day with it even though we were now in the off season.

And by co-workers I meant alpha pumped up athletes who, during time between innings, warming up in the bullpen or strapped into an airplane seat with nowhere to go, loved nothing more than yanking my chain. I was in my fifth year as the head pitching coach for the Idaho Outlaw’s United States baseball team.

Divorced for over ten years, there had been constant speculation about the women I dated or why I was still single. It was the unfortunate part of being in the public eye. But at forty-three, I felt I was just hitting my stride in my career, and I had no intention of marrying again. It had become tiresome dealing with all the speculation, and I’d been hiding out at my cabin every chance I could.

I’d thought it had finally died down, but then I’d taken part in a recent charity bachelor auction and the media had stirred it up again. The poor woman who’d won a date with me had taken all the attention in stride. Okay, well, she’d been hoping for a night in my bed, but she was old enough to be my mom and yeah, the night hadn’t ended well. But at least she didn’t post about it on social media.

I talked Heath into coming up to the cabin for a few days during Christmas. The 1940s structure had turned into a month’s long project, and I’d made a run out to it today to make sure the generator and water were working. The previous owners hadn’t converted it to full electric, preferring to keep it off the grid, but I enjoyed technology too much to go full nature lover. I’d ended up paying through the nose for the hook-up to the local power company, but it was worth the peace and quiet the area offered.

I meant to leave earlier in the day, but the generator had suddenly stopped working after I filled the tank. Two hours later, it was fixed, I think. Checking the weather report, it may be close, but I thought I could make it over the pass before the brunt of the storm would hit.

Grabbing my snow hat, I headed out to my heavy-duty pickup and drove down the winding road toward the highway. I sent Heath a text that I might be a bit late getting home tonight, holding out hope we’d be able to return tomorrow for the holiday.

On his winter break, Heath wanted to hang out with his buddies instead of with me in the mountains with spotty internet. I’d agreed he could spend the first few days at our home in Pineville, but we’d had so little time together between the baseball season with him attending his first year of college in Denver. I wanted one-on-one time so we could catch up—no distractions.

I turned into the parking lot of the gas station-mini-mart and the attached Forest Motel to fill up my tank and grab a couple snack for the road however, the full parking lot of out-of-state vehicles didn’t bode well.

“Hey, Woody. Looks like business is good.” Nodding at the eccentric owner of the connected three businesses.

“Motel’s full up. The pass is closed. You might want to buy more than those mini donuts.” The short, wiry man pointed to a row of dried goods.

Before his words registered, the double glass doors blew open, revealing a petite form wrapped up in a knitted scarf. A pair of dark eyes framed by the longest, snow encrusted lashes I’d ever seen frantically scanned the room.

Tugging down the material, the woman revealed a cute, pert nose, high cheekbones, and smudged lipstick. Rubbing her hands together, she blew on her fingers. No gloves and no boots. Well, snow boots. She was wearing a pair of hikers that had seen better days. No local would be caught in December around here without gloves, lined snow boots and a warm winter jacket. She had a jacket on, but it was too thin for north Idaho.

“A sign on the motel’s office door said to come in here. Please tell me you have a room left?” Irritation laced her plea.

Woody and I shared a look. Mine was probably more interested in the woman than I had a right to be, considering the circumstances and the touch of desperation I picked up in her tone. I found my gaze locking on her delicate features, taking in her wide eyes and full lips, with the smudged lipstick only added to her appeal, and an unexpected desire to find out how they tasted had me shifting where I stood.

“Sorry, Miss. No room. But if you head back to Missoula, I’m sure you’ll find something. Lots of motels there.”

The woman’s jaw dropped, then quickly slammed shut, her once full lips now spread thin. She looked at me, then at Woody, then back at me as if I could change her fate. In less than the time it took to take my next breath, she squinted her dark brown eyes at me, tilted her head in what felt like a move of recognition, but before I could say anything, she whipped her head back to Woody. “Missoula, riiight. Well, thanks.” The drawn-out word rang with sarcasm. She let out a long sigh, wrapped her scarf around her neck and lower face and left in a swirl of snow through the double glass doors she’d just entered.

Frozen from the incredible connection with the woman, I stood staring at the spot she’d just been standing. The look she gave me felt as if she found me lacking in some way while also maybe recognizing me. But that sounded a tad egotistical, even for me. Not everyone knew who I was, let alone a woman who was just passing through.

Woody’s cackle tugged me out of my stupor. “Spitfire, that’s what that one was. Too bad I didn’t have a room. Wouldn’t mind seeing more of her, no siree.” The vertically challenged man peered outside into the night.

Not sure what he was looking at since the snow was now blowing sideways, not even the spitfire’s taillights were detectable. Realizing no one should be driving tonight in that mess, not even me and especially not the winter clothing deprived woman who’d rendered me speechless, I dropped my armful of food onto the check-out counter and ran after her.

Bracing against the icy wind, I raised a hand to shield my eyes and scanned the lot for a running car. I found the spot she’d been parked in, but no car. Dammit. My chest tightened in worry for her, a perfect stranger that in less than five minutes had rendered me tongue tied and turned on.

The storm followed me back into the quickie mart. I might as well stock up as best I can since it looked like I’m headed back to my cabin with the questionable generator.

“A woman like that’ll be fine, Dean. I could tell from the looks of her she’s been through worse situations. Don’t you worry. She’ll be fine. Now, pick up what you need for a few days. I’m shutting down. No one else with any sense is going to show up tonight and you need to get back up that mountain before you’re stuck sleeping in that fancy truck of yours.”

Releases December 8th