Book Blurb:The last time she was in Blue Sky, her world turned upside down.
Twenty years later, Carrie Carter is back in Montana to fix up her family’s long-abandoned cabin and ready it for sale. Laying some painful memories to rest in the process is an unpleasantry she’s prepared for but meeting her neighbor on the first night is a surprise. A hot, handsome-cowboy kind of surprise.
Clay West, son of one of Montana’s most successful ranchers, has big dreams, and his fame on the rodeo circuit as an amateur bull rider has him believing he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to. Well, almost anything. He’s ready to settle down but can’t seem to find the right woman.
Until an accident on a snowy night brings him face to face with his past.
When Clay stops to help the stranger on the road, it doesn't take long to realize she’s the girl he had a crush on when he was fifteen. He’s never forgotten her. Why doesn’t she remember him?
Unable to make sense of it, he doesn’t fill in the blanks for her, even while hoping to rekindle their old spark and make her fall in love with him. When she learns the truth, his plan spirals in the blink of an eye, and he has to come to grips with a situation he can’t control.
In book one of the four-book Blue Sky Series, come visit the small town of Blue Sky, Montana, and get to know the Wests, a family full of faith and love. Find out the lengths Clay goes to for the woman of his dreams and the steps Carrie takes to heal old wounds—all so that she and the handsome cowboy with the blue eyes can find the love they are both dreaming of.
Carrie’s pulse quickened, her hands tightening on the steering wheel as the car swerved. The loose snow at the edge of the dark road kept pulling her off course. She grimaced, straining to make out the path ahead. The good plowing she’d enjoyed for several miles was now reduced to two tire tracks going straight down the center of the road.
She slowed to a crawl as the snow crunched under the tires and switched the high beams on, hoping they would illuminate the next turn for her before she drove past it. It actually made things worse. Siri had already confused her a couple of times on the dark country roads. Her sedan was no match for even the tail end of a Montana winter.
The fact that there was still snow on the ground in May seemed ridiculous to her, but according to the clerk at the small country grocery story she had stopped off at, it wasn’t unheard of in this part of the state. And she thought Colorado got snow.
The closer she got to the cabin, the more distracted she was by memories. It had been twenty years since she was last here in Blue Sky. Cold fingers of sadness squeezed her, hard enough to make her heart ache. She pressed a hand to her chest and breathed through the pain.
The last time she’d been here, she was only fifteen years old. It was the summer of the family reunion, the kayak races on Silver Lake, and the thirtieth annual Mountain Ville Rodeo. She and her brothers and cousins had stayed up late every night telling ghost stories and catching jar after jar of fireflies.
It was the summer of blue bomb popsicles and the whole family eating hot dogs and beans around the fire pit. It was also the summer of her first crush—Mountain Ville’s Junior Rodeo Champion, Clay West. She and the other girls had cheered from the stands for the Junior Cowboy who ended up winning every contest. They’d giggled and whispered about how handsome he was.
She smiled, lost in the memory. The family reunion had started out full of joy, holding all the promise of excitement and carefree adventure that usually accompanied teenagers and summer. It had been good, but as the saying went, nothing good lasted forever. The end of that trip had been anything but good.
Siri’s voice blurted out the next turn startling her so badly that she jerked the wheel. Glaring headlights from a large pickup truck appeared behind her on the left. In her trip down memory lane, she hadn’t noticed it lining up to pass. The truck veered sharply to avoid her and tilted at an unnatural angle, flattening the snow-covered weeds on the far side of the road as it breezed past.
The driver laid on the horn.
With adrenaline coursing through her trembling body, she glided around the corner and stopped the car. She shook so hard she had to sit for a minute to regain her composure. A couple of tears squeezed out.
The long drive today ending in winter weather had exhausted her more than she realized and had her feeling vulnerable and frazzled. She had to pull herself together and get to the cabin so she could rest. Everything would be fine if she could just get to the cabin. It shouldn’t be far now.
Easing her foot back onto the accelerator, she crept forward, this time paying full attention to her dark surroundings. Tomorrow, she’d let someone in town know they were going to have to plow this route and the driveway to the cabin, too.
A small drift covered the road ahead. Confident the car could make it past with just a little speed, Carrie gunned it and surged forward. Her eyes widened and she gripped the wheel as the front tires cleared the drift and the headlights revealed the next section of road.
“No!” She screamed as the front of the car dropped downward at a sharp angle. It came to an abrupt stop, poised as if at the top of a rollercoaster just beginning its descent. What had just happened?
Thankfully, she wasn’t hurt, just shaken up, but visions of repair bills paraded through her mind. She could only imagine what damage this had done to the front end of the car.
It took a minute for her predicament to sink in. Flinging her leg over the center console, she climbed into the backseat and opened the door. She hopped out into the snow, and a bitter chill wasted no time attaching itself to her face. She yanked her scarf up.
As she walked to the front of the car, she saw the problem. A small wooden bridge built three feet over a dry creek bed had rotted out, and she’d just driven right off the edge. There was no way she was getting the car out without help. She pulled her jacket tighter around her neck and debated whether to call someone and wait for help to arrive or walk the remaining mile and a quarter to the cabin. Neither thought appealed to her.
A distant buzzing noise interrupted the silence of the snowy woods. It grew closer and closer, and soon she saw a bright light bobbing and weaving through the trees to her left. She froze, wondering how her normal day could have suddenly gone so wrong. Sending up a quick prayer for safety, she stared as a sleek black snowmobile roared over and stopped a few feet from her.
The helmeted rider lifted his face shield and killed the motor.
Was this a knight in shining armor or a serial killer? Her brain went to the pepper spray in the glove compartment—possibly expired? She’d been planning to replace it last summer from the survival store on Fifth Street but had forgotten until right now. She’d never taken a self-defense class, but she knew a couple of moves. Knee to the groin. Poke to the eyes. Shove his nose into his brain. Bite him and run—through the snow to nowhere.
She stammered out a very weak, “Hello.”
He looked at her and then at the front end of the car. He didn’t say a word, but she couldn’t shake the feeling he was irritated with her. Maybe he didn’t want to feel obligated to help.
“Hi.” She tried again. “I’m so glad you’re here. I could use a little help.” She shivered a little, pulling her jacket closer around her neck. Melting snowflakes in her long hair made it damp and cold.
The driver sat staring at her, emitting vibes of reluctance. He finally swung off the snowmobile and stood to his full height of about six-two. In the beam of his headlight, Carrie’s attention snagged on his black jeans and long legs.
He ruined the moment for her when he said, “Do you make a habit of bad driving?”
“What? Well, no. I... I never have accidents. It’s just that it’s been so long, and it’s dark and it’s snowy...” Why was she defending herself to a stranger?
The guy jumped down into the creek bed and squatted down, shining his phone light under the front of the car.
She followed him over there. “Is it bad?”
He stood up and stared at her again as if she was ruining his evening or keeping him from his dinner or something.
“Yeah. It’s bad.”
She couldn’t miss his condescending tone. He pulled his glove off with his teeth and typed something into his phone. “What are you typing?” He ignored her.
She battled uncharitable thoughts toward her rescuer. If she wasn’t in such a fix, she would’ve told him to take a hike…or a snowmobile ride, or whatever.
While striding back to the snowmobile, he tucked his phone inside his leather jacket and put his glove back on. “Where do you need to get to?”
She stared at him, confused by his rudeness. “I beg your pardon?”
“You want a ride outta here or not?” He lowered his face shield back into place.
Carrie fumed. What was with this guy? His attitude grated on her. A person wasn’t allowed to have an accident and need help?
A few choice words like “neanderthal” and “ogre” appeared in her mind. No way was she getting on that snowmobile with him. She’d sooner walk to the cabin. She pressed her lips together and stormed over to the car. She reached inside to grab her purse and then went around to the trunk to consolidate the groceries she had bought into two bags of absolute essentials.
The guy started the engine and drove a little closer. She slammed the trunk and set off at a furious pace in the direction of the cabin. As she navigated the dip of the creek bed, the driver revved the engine and took off.
She turned around for a split second just to see that he was really leaving. How dare he? In a flash, she went from determined to get away from him to offended that he’d left her to walk down a dark, snow-drifted road by herself in the middle of nowhere.
She knew she was being irrational, but still.
Her jaw clenched as anger and irritation propelled her half a mile down the road before she realized the buzz of the snowmobile wasn’t retreating anymore but coming closer. The light wove through the trees, and she braced herself to tell this guy off. With her back stiff as a board, she clutched her bags, just waiting for him to get close enough so she could blast him.
When he stopped in front of her, before she could even get a word out, he shouted at her over the sound of the engine, “You shouldn’t be here.”
She narrowed her eyes and took a step closer, working up the words for the flailing she was about to give him. What a jerk. “Why did you come back? Being rude once a night isn’t enough for you? Excuse me for having an accident and needing help. Apparently, that’s not allowed out here in the middle of nowhere.”
He cut the engine while she was talking, and her words echoed in the night air, making her sound like a screaming lunatic. She scowled at him.
“I had to go upstream to cross the creek bed. Get on.” He motioned with his head.
“Are you crazy? I’m not going anywhere with you.” She stepped back.
He got off the snowmobile and came towards her. She took a few more tiny steps backwards, sure now that her first instinct of him being a serial killer was about to be proven true.
A gloved hand came toward her. She stumbled backwards over a log and sat down hard in the snow, her groceries spilling around her. He stared down at her, shaking his head as if scolding a small child.
For the second time that evening, he lifted his face shield. “What are you doing all the way out here anyway? Are you too proud to admit you’re lost? There’s nothing around here for miles and you’re headed down a road to nowhere.” The light from the lantern he held up cast a soft yellow glow around them.
Carrie couldn’t reconcile her recent decision to label him as a serial killer with the friendlier tone he was using.
He bent over and offered her a hand up. Almost against her better judgement, she grabbed it. The arm that pulled her up was strong and solid. Now that she was standing close to him, he seemed tall compared to her five-feet-eight inches.
She lifted her eyes to his and was taken aback. His eyes were blue. Like the blue skies of Montana. They were kind, and there was something so familiar about them. About him.
She blurted out, “I’m going to the cabin.” She pointed in the general direction she was heading.
The space between his beautiful blues furrowed into a frown. “What cabin?”
“My family cabin. I haven’t been there in a long time, but GPS says it’s about a mile that way.” She turned and pointed more directly to where she thought it was.
“You mean the Carter place?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.
She smiled, excited that he knew the place. “That’s the one. I’m Carrie Carter.”
A strange silence followed, and Carrie saw him study her. Her eyes. Her face. Her hair. Just when she began to feel uncomfortable with the moment, he snapped out of it. “No problem. I know it well. I can drop you off there—if you’d like.”
She nodded. Cold seeped into her bones. The guy was at least being decent now, and it would be good to end this dreadful day and get on with the business ahead of her.
Before he stepped back onto the machine, he said, “You know the place has been closed up, right? Nobody has been there in years.”
“I do know. I’ve come to clean it out so my family can sell it. Nobody will be coming back.” She forced a smile. “But how do you know about the cabin?” She brushed wet snowflakes off her eyelashes with her glove.
“I live just over there.” He pointed behind him. “On the other side of the woods.”
“Oh.” She smiled. “I guess that makes us neighbors. At least for a little longer.”
He studied her again and nodded. “Neighbors.”
He helped her gather her groceries, and as they climbed onto the snowmobile, they each held a bag. Carrie wrapped her free arm around his waist and hung on. Even through his thick jacket, she could tell his abs were rock solid.
After a brief but cold ride, they zoomed up in front of the cabin. A minute later, she stood on the porch, unlocking the door. Although she was glad things with her neighbor had smoothed out, it was late, and she felt her emotions welling up at the sight of the cabin. She didn’t encourage more conversation.
As she went in, he called, “I’ll be back tomorrow morning around ten to help you get your car out.”
“That’d be perfect. Thank you.” She smiled. “Goodnight now.” He lifted his gloved hand in a wave, and she went inside.
A quick inspection of the rooms told her the cabin was in surprisingly good shape, given the circumstances. Her dad had called ahead to have the utilities turned back on before she arrived, but unfortunately, the refrigerator wasn’t working.
She yawned as she wandered from room to room, looking at photos on the walls and remembering times gone by. Her thoughts drifted to that last summer. It had started off with so much joy but had since come to live in her mind as the summer that had changed everything.
Grandma had died, and their extended family had fallen apart.
She used her finger to move the dust off the faces in the photographs. In a way, she supposed that last summer had been the end of her protected childhood. Her eyes had been opened to the failings of the people who had always loved and cared for her, and she had come to understand that even family bonds had limitations and didn’t offer real security. Things didn’t always work out.
Carrie’s eyes watered and a lump formed in her throat. She hugged herself as she grieved for what she’d lost. She mourned the family she used to have and tried to let go of the hope for the one she still wished for.
Cali Black is a wife, a homeschooling mother of three, a Christian, and a sweet contemporary western romance author.
Cali has long been enamored with country living and with the American West.
Wide open spaces inspire her and there's something about a grassy field with a bunch of cattle grazing off in the distance that she finds beautiful.
Crop fields anyone? A sight soothing to her soul.
She incorporates locations and activities into her books that she has experienced or would still like to experience. Yes, Montana is on the bucket list!
Her writing goal is simply to tell the stories that are in her heart. As she dares to launch them out in the world, she hopes that a few readers, will enjoy them. Maybe one of those readers will be you.