A Baby in the Bunkhouse Read online





  When Rafferty walked into the bunkhouse that evening, the men were gathered around Jacey and the baby, paying both the homage they deserved

  Rafferty watched from the fringes.

  There was no denying it. Jacey and her daughter had brought joy to the bunkhouse, the sense that with the two of them there, it would feel like Christmas all year round. The only problem was how to get them to stay on Lost Mountain Ranch for more than just another week.

  Because when they left—if they left—for good, he knew it was going to feel as if his heart was breaking all over again….

  Dear Reader,

  Christmas is a time of great emotion, and if you are very lucky, great joy. But what happens when all that matters to you is taken away and the yuletide season is not something you look forward to?

  This is the dilemma facing rancher Rafferty Evans. As a child, he loved everything about the holidays. That’s no longer the case. Thanksgiving and Christmas serve only to remind him of a tragic loss. His plan to survive the season? Work doubly hard and avoid all holiday celebrations—even if it means being dubbed a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge.

  At least, that’s his plan until one dark and stormy November night, when Jacey Lambert finds herself stranded on Lost Mountain Ranch.

  Despite an unexpected turn of events that has left her without a job or a place to call home, Jacey loves life. She loves the holidays. And most of all, she loves the child she is carrying inside her. Jacey knows there is always something to celebrate. And soon she decides that, with her help, Rafferty Evans will recapture his Christmas spirit and realize that, too.

  This story, dear readers, is my gift to you. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

  Best wishes,

  Cathy Gillen Thacker

  A BABY IN THE BUNKHOUSE

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Cathy Gillen Thacker is married and a mother of three. She and her husband spent eighteen years in Texas, and now reside in North Carolina. Her mysteries, romantic comedies and heartwarming family stories have made numerous appearances on bestseller lists, but her best reward, she says, is knowing one of her books made someone’s day a little brighter. A popular Harlequin author for many years, she loves telling passionate stories with happy endings, and thinks nothing beats a good romance and a hot cup of tea! You can visit Cathy’s Web site at www.cathygillenthacker.com for more information on her upcoming and previously published books, recipes and a list of her favorite things.

  Books by Cathy Gillen Thacker

  HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE

  997—THE VIRGIN’S SECRET MARRIAGE*

  1013—THE SECRET WEDDING WISH*

  1022—THE SECRET SEDUCTION*

  1029—PLAIN JANE’S SECRET LIFE*

  1054—HER SECRET VALENTINE*

  1080—THE ULTIMATE TEXAS BACHELOR**

  1096—SANTA’S TEXAS LULLABY**

  1112—A TEXAS WEDDING VOW**

  1125—BLAME IT ON TEXAS**

  1141—A LARAMIE, TEXAS CHRISTMAS**

  1157—FROM TEXAS, WITH LOVE**

  1169—THE RANCHER NEXT DOOR†

  1181—THE RANCHER’S FAMILY THANKSGIVING†

  1189—THE RANCHER’S CHRISTMAS BABY†

  1201—THE GENTLEMAN RANCHER†

  1218—HANNAH'S BABY††

  1231—THE INHERITED TWINS††

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Epilogue

  Chapter One

  “I figured I’d find you here, burning the midnight oil.”

  Rafferty Evans looked up from his computer screen to see his father standing in the doorway of the ranch-house study. At seventy-four, Eli Evans had finally agreed to retire. Which meant he had more time on his hands to stick his nose into his son’s business. Sensing a talk coming on he’d rather avoid, Rafferty grumbled irritably, “Someone’s got to do the books before the fall roundup starts.”

  Eli settled into a leather club chair. “The last two days of rain has you chomping at the bit.”

  Actually, Rafferty thought, he felt this way every November. Ignoring the flash of lightning outside, he went back to studying the numbers he’d been working on. “A lot to get done over the next six weeks.”

  Eli spoke over the deafening rumble of thunder. “Including the job of hiring a new bunkhouse cook.”

  “The hands chased away the last three with their incessant complaints. They can fend for themselves while I search for another.”

  “You know none of them can cook worth a darn.”

  “Then they should be more appreciative of anyone who has even a tiny bit of skill.”

  Eli thought about pursuing the matter, then evidently decided against it. “About Christmas…” he continued.

  Rafferty stiffened. “I told you. I don’t celebrate the holidays. Not anymore.” Not since the accident.

  Eli frowned with the quiet authority befitting a legendary Texas cattleman. “It’s been two years.”

  Rafferty pushed back his chair and stood, hands shoved in the back pockets of his jeans. “I know how long it’s been, Dad.” He strode to the fireplace, picked up the poker and pushed the burning logs to the back of the grate. Sparks crackled from the embers.

  “Life goes on,” Eli continued.

  “Holidays are for kids.”

  Eli fell silent.

  Tired of being made to feel like Ebenezer Scrooge, Rafferty added another log to the fire, stalked to the window and looked out at the raging storm. Rain drummed on the roof. Another flash of lightning lit the sky—followed closely by a loud clap of thunder. Car headlights gleamed in the dark night and turned into the main gate.

  Rafferty frowned and looked at the clock. It was midnight. He turned to his dad. “You expecting anyone?”

  Eli shook his head. “Probably another tourist who lost his way.”

  Rafferty muttered a string of words not fit for mixed company. The car wasn’t turning around. It was just sitting there, inside the ranch entrance, engine running.

  His father came to stand beside him. “You want me to go out there, set ’em straight?”

  Rafferty clapped a companionable hand on his dad’s shoulder, and tried not to notice how frail it felt. He didn’t know what he would do if he lost his dad, too. He pushed aside the troubling thought. “I’ll do it,” he said. Then ordered gently, “You go on to bed.”

  “Sure?”

  Rafferty knew this kind of damp cold was hard on his father’s arthritis. He shook his head. “I’m sure they’re just turned around. I’ll make sure they get back to the main road.”

  “The news said the river’s rising,” Eli warned.

  Rafferty grabbed his slicker and hat from the coatrack in the hall. Shrugging on both, he swung open the front door and stepped out onto the porch. The chill air and the fresh green scent of rain were invigorating. “I won’t waste any time making sure they get on their way.”

  OF ALL THE THINGS Jacey Lambert had expected to happen to her today, coming to the end of the road was not one of them. But after miles of traversing an increasingly rough and narrow highway that had dead-ended into the entrance of the Lost Mountain Ranch, that was exactly where she was.

  She had gotten completely turned around.

  She was tired and hungry. Her car was low on fuel.

  Worst of all, her cell phone hadn