Nash is on his way home to his Montana cattle ranch one stormy winter night when he comes across a car stuck on the bank of a frozen lake. He looks inside and sees a young, unconscious woman, and pulls her free just moments before her vehicle crashes into the ice and disappears underwater. When she awakens, she can’t remember who she is, where she’s from, or what she’s doing here. As they wait for her memory to return, Nash welcomes her to his home and town as everyone prepares to celebrate Christmas. Romance begins to blossom between the couple. But is anyone looking for this mysterious woman? Does she have someone waiting for her back home? And what brought her here to begin with?
It was dark by the time Nash left the bar, and the rain lashed his face sideways as he fought the storm to reach his truck.
Shouldn’t have stayed for that second beer, he thought, starting up the engine and squinting through the windshield, trying to make out the road. ~The tarmac was already slippery after all this snowfall.~
After navigating his way through the few parked vehicles, he pulled onto the road leading back to his ranch.
He was glad that he’d been able to sell off his cattle before the bad weather came. Now, he only had to worry about the horses and would have some time to fix up the house.
Out of nowhere, the engine revved, and Nash found himself facing the small woods to the side of the road.
With his heart in his mouth, he gripped the steering wheel with both hands and straightened the truck again.
“Damn black ice.” He rolled his window down. The cold air quickly penetrated his bones, but he knew it would keep him focused. “Just a mile to go, Nash. Stay alert. What the—?”
As the woods cleared, and he approached the lake, he saw two beams of light pointing into the sky.
He resisted the urge to speed up along the dark, treacherous road, but as he got closer, he saw a small car in the ditch, its trunk pointed down the muddy bank and toward the ice-covered water.
The truck skidded to a halt, and Nash jumped out, using the strength in his shoulders to stop the wind from slamming the door into him.
Shielding his eyes from the stinging rain, peering through the spaces in his fingers, Nash moved up to the driver’s door.
Is someone in there?
He couldn’t see the person’s face, but resting on the steering wheel was a messy nest of blonde hair.
It’s a woman.
“Hello? Ma’am?” Nash reached for the handle on the door, but before he could grab it, the car slid down the bank a little. “Ma’am, can you hear me? You’ve gotta get out of the car right now.”
The car slipped again, and one of the back wheels touched the ice of the lake. A spider web of cracks appeared across the glistening surface before it shattered.
Nash took a step down the bank, trusting, hoping, that the grip in his heavyset boots would keep him from tumbling in the mud and into the subzero water.
He pulled the door open, positioning his body beneath it to stop it from closing again, then reached inside to move the woman back and away from the steering wheel. Her eyes were closed.
Nash knew better than to move an injured person after an accident, but at that moment, he had no choice. He had to get her out right away.
The car slid a little more, pushing him through the mud and closer to the freezing lake.
He reached over the driver’s front and pressed the buckle to undo her seatbelt.
After snaking one arm behind her shoulders and the other under her legs, he pulled her out of the way just as the car slid again.
Even with the rain and wind lashing his numbing ears, Nash heard the ice snapping under the weight of the car.
Before he could even catch his breath, the vehicle disappeared under the black water.
He adjusted his grip, making sure the woman in his arms was in no danger of slipping, then made his way up the muddy bank, step by careful step, and took her around the passenger side of his truck.
After climbing back into the driver’s seat, he took a deep breath to calm his nerves, followed by several short ones to warm up his hands. He cranked up the heat.
Without the threat of being dragged into the lake, and without the hail and snow pummeling his face, Nash looked at the lady properly for the first time.
His breathing hitched at the sight of her.
She has the face of an angel.
She wore a pair of knee-length leather boots with heels, so he figured she must not be from around here, and definitely hadn’t planned on getting caught in this weather.
Her coat, too, although full-length, was not one meant for winter.
“Ma’am, can you hear me?” Nash tried to speak as softly as possible so as not to alert her.
“I have no idea if you’re injured, but there’s no way we’re getting to the doc in this storm. I’m going to drive you to my place, it’s real close.”
When he pulled back onto the road, he glanced at the woman just in time to see her eyes flicker open before closing again.
She’s alive at least.
“You’re going to be all right, ma’am,” he said, more to himself than to her, and when he entered his ranch a few minutes later, he made the sign of the cross over his chest and thanked God.
Nash parked as close to the house as he could, then went around to other side of the truck, lifted her into his arms, and carried her up to the front door, using his elbow and foot to get inside.
The barking border collie jumped up to greet his master, keen to sniff the woman.
“Down, boy.” Nash placed the lady on the sofa and removed her coat and boots.
She had on a sleeveless dress, and her skin was cold to the touch. She mumbled something Nash couldn’t make out, but he saw that her lips were blue.
“Let’s get her warmed up,” Nash said to the dog, picking the woman up again to carry her into a spare bedroom.
He put her on the bed, did his best not to look as he undressed her, put one of his shirts on her, and then covered her up with several blankets.
“Stay and keep watch over her, Moe.” He patted the dog’s head. “I’m going to call the doctor to find out what I should do. That’s a good boy.”
Before turning to leave, he took in the woman’s face and felt a weird twinge in his heart.
“I can’t tell if I’ve seen you before or if I’ve just imagined someone like you, but you’re one beautiful woman.
“I’m going to phone the doc, then I’ll be right back to sit in this chair beside the bed. Should you need anything, I’ll be right here.”
Waking up with a throbbing head, she opened her eyes, trying to focus on her surroundings.
The room was small, the drapes were wide open, and she could see the blanket of snow outside the window that seemed to stretch on for miles.
“Where am…? What the…? Ah!”
She felt something soft and wet against the back of her hand, but before she could process it, a big black and white dog was pressing its nose against her, wagging its tail with great enthusiasm.
Her hand shot back, and she pulled the covers up to her chest. “Go away!”
“It’s okay, he’s friendly.”
Her eyes darted toward the voice coming from across the room.
There, by the door, was a man she didn’t recognize. He was tall, with dark hair, and was ruggedly handsome. The sleeves on his shirt strained over his muscles.
Fear filled her throat as she tried to back away from him, pushing herself back against the headboard behind her. “Who are you? Where am I, and what am I doing here?”
“My name is Nash Harris, and this here is my dog, Moe. Don’t you remember what happened to you?”
“No,” she answered, pulling the blanket up further, all the way to her chin.
“You were in an accident. I pulled you from your car before it went into the lake. I wanted to take you to the hospital but the storm was too bad, so I brought you here.
“What is your name and why on earth were you out in a blizzard?”
“My name is, um, I-I don’t know.” She looked at him, hoping for a spark of recognition or inspiration, but her mind was blank. “Why can’t I remember? Where am I?”
“You’re in Montana, on my ranch. You hit your head pretty hard judging by the bump on your forehead. I’ll call the doctor and ask him what we should do.”
“Thank you,” she said, glancing down at the dog.
“I bet you’re hungry.”
As if on cue, her stomach growled. “Yes, actually, I’m starving.”
“I’ll go make you something to eat. If you want to take a bath, it’s down the hall. There are fresh towels, and there’s a new, unopened toothbrush in the drawer.”
He gazed down at Moe. “Come on, boy, time for you to go out and do your business.”
“Wait, where are my clothes?”
“I had to wash them. Right now, they’re in the dryer.”
“Whose shirt is this that I’m wearing?”
She gripped the blanket even harder. “Who put it on me?”
Her cheeks flushed red. “You saw me naked?”
“Your clothes were wet, and there’s no one else here, so I had to. I give you my word that I behaved like a perfect gentleman and did my best not to look.”
Despite feeling violated, she forced herself to meet Nash’s gaze. His eyes were warm, familiar, and something told her she could trust him. “All right.”
After a warm bath, her aches had reduced, and she felt a little more human.
Still, without her clothes, she had no choice but to put the stranger’s shirt on again before she followed the smell of cooking downstairs.
He turned his head when she entered the room. “I could hear your stomach rumbling all the way down here.”
She didn’t smile. It took all her energy not to run scared. As strange as this Nash seemed, all her focus was on herself; she couldn’t remember who she was or where they were.
“Please, sit down, breakfast is ready. I wasn’t sure what you liked, so I went ahead and made pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast.”
Her mouth started to water the moment he put the food on the table.
“It smells good,” she said, piling up her plate.
“Would you like some coffee?”
“Please.” She chuckled a little.
“Nothing… I can’t remember my name but, apparently, I know I like coffee.”
When he poured her a mug, she took a sip, and a twisted expression appeared on her face.
Nash laughed. “It looks like you like it with milk and sugar too.” He pushed the two toward her.
His smile faded. “I know you’re probably scared right now—not knowing what’s going on and being here with me—but I promise you’re safe.”
She wrapped both hands around the cup, fingering the porcelain with her thumbs. “Thank you. I admit that not knowing who I am is scary. What if I never get my memory back?”
“I’m sure you will. In the meantime, the sheriff is checking into missing people to see if anyone is looking for you. Hopefully, he’ll find something. Till then, I guess, you’ll have to stay here.”
She looked at him over the rim of her mug. “Thank you. And thank you for saving my life. I’ll try not to be a burden. Maybe I could cook and clean for you to pay you for your hospitality?”
“There’s no need for that, and I think you should be resting, not cleaning. Do you not remember anything at all?”
“No, my mind is blank.”
“And you don’t have any ID on you?”
She shook her head. “If I did, I guess it was in the car, which you say is at the bottom of a lake, right? Don’t suppose you saw the license plate number before you pulled me out?”
She set her fork down on the empty plate. “Do you live here alone or are you married?”
“No, I’m not. It’s just me and Moe.”
Hearing his name, Moe’s ears raised.
“He is a beautiful dog. What breed is he?”
“A border collie. I found him a couple of years ago; he was abandoned and hurt in the woods, so I brought him home. He’s been my sidekick ever since.
“Very smart. Very loyal. Too loyal, sometimes. Actually, you are the first person he hasn’t had to warm up to. Usually, he doesn’t bother with anyone but me.”
“Are you in the habit of rescuing animals and women who are in trouble?”
“When the need arises.”
She put the mug down and pulled the hem of the shirt a little lower. “I should get dressed.”
“Of course, I’ll get your clothes. They should be dry by now.” Nash disappeared into a room off the kitchen.
When he didn’t come out right away, she followed him through to the utility room. The dryer was open and empty already, and Nash was taking her bra and panties off the line.
He was still holding them when he saw her looking at him, his face turning red. “I, um, wasn’t sure how to wash women’s under…things. I hope I didn’t ruin them.”
Taking her bra and panties from his hand, she smiled. “I’m sure they’re all right. I’ll just go get dressed and then do the dishes.”
He cleared his throat. “Okay. I have some errands to run. Got to feed the horses. I’ll be outside in the barn if you need anything. I won’t be long.” He waves at Moe. “Come with me, boy.”
She thought it was cute how bright his face had become.
The dog watched her and wagged his tail a little more before deciding to go with Nash.
She grabbed her mug, finished the last of the coffee, then put it in the sink. In the tap, she caught sight of her reflection. She couldn’t help but notice her own cheeks looked a little warm.
Even her striking green eyes didn’t ring a bell.
“Who are you, stranger? And what are you doing here?”