WE FOUND LOVE
All books in this series are stand alone stories, but are best enjoyed in order.
Ford was the Winter sibling everyone liked. He did good when it was needed. Didn’t break the law—okay, there was the one time, but mostly he walked a straight line. But lately he felt like something had changed inside him. He was now the grumpy, pissed-off Winter, which was the title his younger brother Nash usually held.
He’d spent the past three days at a conference, which he usually enjoyed, but this time hadn’t. In fact, he was heading home as soon as possible to ride the ranch and not speak to anyone for as many days as they’d let him.
He’d come because his parents apparently wanted to step back and enjoy life for a change. It had been news to him that they hadn’t been. That meant their sons, Ford and Nash, were stepping up and running most of the operation at Sleepy River Ranch.
He didn’t mind it. Ford, like his brother, enjoyed hard work, especially if the added bonus was it made him fall asleep when his head hit the pillow. If only for a few hours.
Sleep wasn’t something he did well.
Standing under the shower’s hot, pulsing water, he let it soothe the kinks that hours spent seated, listening to lectures or talking, had given him.
Bracing his hands against the smooth tile, he let the water ease him into a better mood.
He wasn’t in a bad one exactly; he just felt like he always did when he left the ranch for too long. Ready to head back. He was a home boy, his mother said, and didn’t mind leaving and playing outside his sand pit—her words, not his—now and then. But he was most comfortable at home in the surroundings he knew that allowed him to do what he liked when he couldn’t sleep.
Lately his demons had come back with a vengeance, and he wasn’t sure why. Wasn’t sure why he couldn’t block out the memories of that time when his life had gone off the rails.
After shutting off the water, stepping out, and drying off, he pulled on his sweatpants without once looking in the mirror. Ford knew what he looked like, had seen the same reflection for years. A variation of his father and brother.
He’d order room service tonight and then sleep. He didn’t need a lot, and if he could fall asleep early, when others were still awake, it often meant he could get more than three or four hours.
A sound outside his door had him moving to open it. The handle rattled. He unlocked it and jerked it open. He wasn’t in the mood for peopling. If someone was trying to break in, they’d be met with an angry, pissed-off Ford.
He had a glimpse of dark hair in a messy knot, then his arms were full of soft, curvy woman. His hands steadied her and then eased her off his body.
“Wh-why you… my r-room?” Her eyes were unfocused and half-closed, her face pale and pinched. She had one of those faces that deserved a second and possibly a third look.
“Pretty sure this is my room.” He steadied her as she stumbled. Her sweater was soft pink with a V-neck that showed him a glimpse of the smooth skin of her neck. Long legs were in worn jeans. She squinted again.
“You drunk?” he asked.
She shook her head and then winced.
“Sure about that?”
“M-migraine,” she whispered. “Sorry. I’ll go.”
The words sounded loud in the otherwise silent hallway.
“You have a migraine?”
She made a hissing sound that he thought might be agreement. His mom got migraines, so he knew how debilitating they could be. They often put her in bed for days.
“This is my room. Where’s yours?” He still held her shoulders and was pretty sure if he released her, she’d topple over.
“I hoped it was here.” The words were spoken in a slow, concise way, as if saying them was an effort.
“Not here, no. What number is your room?”
When she didn’t speak, he eased open her fingers and took the key card to read the number on the envelope.
“502 is on the next floor. This is 402.”
“’Kay,” she managed and then pulled back. She turned without her key card, as if she were marching in a parade, and promptly fell.
He caught her, swinging her up into his arms. He then strode to the elevator and stabbed the button.
“P-put me down.”
“I won’t hurt you, just taking you to your room. Relax.”
“I don’t know you.”
“I promise not to hit on you until you’re well and can see only one of me.”
“I don’t know you,” she said again.
“You can trust me.”
She mumbled something he didn’t understand and then looked up at the bright lights. They made her wince. Ford placed a hand on the back of her neck and forced her face into his shoulder. The doors opened, and he stepped in to face two men.
“Big night?” One of them smirked.
“Biggest. We’ve just had sex on that lounger, far right, by the pool. She’s out now, so we’re going to bed to regroup for round two.”
The man’s smirk fell away, and the silence was loud as they traveled to the next floor.
Ford had zero tolerance for smart-assed dickheads, and while he didn’t know the guy’s character, his words had pissed him off, as had that smug look on his face.
“You all have a good night now.”
He stepped out when they reached the next floor and then made his way to her room. Easing her to one side, he used the key card and opened the door.
“Th-thank you.” She whispered the words as he lowered her to her feet.
He watched her walk a few paces to the wall, stop, then press her forehead into it.
Sighing because food and his bed were still a ways off, he picked her up again and carried her to the bed.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “R-really.” The words were clearly hard for her to say, each one coming through gritted teeth.
“You go now.”
“Sure, I will. Where are your meds?”
“I got it.” She tried to rise.
Ford held her down with a hand as she moaned. “Just tell me.”
He lowered the blinds and headed to the bathroom. There was a huge pile of what seemed to be woman stuff. Bottles, makeup, and other shit. He found a small bag and unzipped it and hit the jackpot. Meds. Reading the bottles, he found the one that was the same as his mother used. After checking the instructions, he shook two into his hand and filled a glass of water before heading back and dropping them to the nightstand.
“Okay, let’s sit you up so you don’t choke and make me resuscitate you, because that would really ruin my day.”
He eased her upright. Her pink sweater fell off one shoulder, and that smooth expanse of skin drew his eyes because just below that was the swell of one breast.
Jesus, cut it out. The woman is sick, for fuck’s sake. Snapping his eyes to her face, he grabbed the pills.
She did like a baby bird, and he put the pills in her mouth and then held the glass for her to drink.
“Okay, so that will start working in about twenty minutes, and you’ll feel better.”
Her eyes opened slowly and locked on his. “Thank you.”
“Everyone needs someone sometime.” He shrugged. “I’ve always wanted to be a guardian angel. I guess I get to finally live out that particular fantasy.”
Her smile was small and tight.
“Good guy,” she whispered, as if talking hurt too much.
“I have my faults.”
He looked down and noticed she still wore her sneakers, so he took them off and pulled up the covers.
“You should change.”
“No, you mean it’s all too much right now and you’ll change later?”
“That,” she whispered.
He went to refill the glass of water and brought the wastebasket for her in case she needed to be sick, then returned to the bathroom and found a washcloth. After rinsing it, he soaked it in warm water and then wrung it out. Taking it back to her, he lowered it over her eyes.
She sighed. His mom liked this too.
“Where’s your phone?”
He slid his hands under her jeans and found the pocket situated over a very nicely shaped butt cheek. Pulling it out, he placed it beside her on the bed. As he was about to leave, her hand reached out and took his. Ford looked down at the small fingers wrapped around two of his larger ones and felt something inside him shift. A surge of heat filled his chest, so fierce that it dropped him into the seat beside her bed.
Vulnerable, he thought. Ford’s Achilles’ heel had always been vulnerability.
She turned, dislodging the facecloth. He let it drop because her eyes caught and held his. Brown or a deep green. He didn’t know this woman and would likely never see her again, but in that moment he felt closer to her than he had to a woman in a long time.
“Don’t leave me,” she whispered.
Thank you for sitting with me, Ford. I feel vulnerable when I have a migraine. The pain makes me weak, and being alone is hard. He remembered his mom’s words then, so he leaned in and brushed a finger down her cheek.
“Go to sleep now. I won’t go until you’re out, okay?”
“’Kay,” she whispered. There was silence for a while, but her eyes were still on his. “Wh-what are your faults? You said you had some.”
“My siblings could name several, but the main one is I don’t get much sleep.” He said the words softly.
“Th-that’s not a fault.”
“Feels like it,” he muttered. And why he’d said that to her right then, he had no idea. Maybe because he’d never see her again. It felt kind of freeing to say the words he’d held inside for so long.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t tried to talk about his problem, but the time had never been right. Plus he was Ford, the oldest Winter and the one others looked up to. He didn’t have weaknesses.
Except he did. A huge one.
“I don’t like thunder,” she said slowly.
“I’m hoping you don’t dive under the bed like my sister’s puppy. Bee wears this thing called a ThunderShirt. Maybe you could get one fitted?”
She snuffled like a puppy and then went quiet. She still gripped two of his fingers tightly, but he knew she was sliding into sleep. He watched her until her eyes closed and her breathing eased into a steady rhythm. Only then did he rise and pull the blanket to her chin. After ensuring she had everything she needed, he bent and kissed her on the forehead.
“Sleep well, angel, and have a good life.”
After letting himself out of her room, he went back to his.
Dropping onto the bed, he closed his eyes even if it would be only for an hour or two. He lay there, worrying about the woman with no name who had needed him for a brief moment in time. The woman with serious curves whom he’d felt closer to and unguarded with for the first time since hell had rained down on him in college.
READ THE COMPLETE RYKER FALLS SERIES