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Colton Christmas Rescue

Colton Christmas RescueJoin the Coltons of Wyoming for a holiday showdown at Dead River Ranch

Deep undercover, Wyoming special agent Slade Kent comes to Dead River Ranch with only one thing in mind: justice. Bent on solving a string of recent crimes, as well as his father's long-unsolved murder, he won't let down his guard for anyone. Until beautiful heiress Amanda Colton and her baby are attacked. He'll do anything to protect them?even put his heart on the line.

Amanda's done with deception, but the irresistibly mysterious Slade draws her trust. When danger—and uncontained passion—spark, they must both put aside secrets and agendas for survival?and love?

"This is a really good book, ... The suspense of this story was fantastic. It had twist that left me shocked. This book had a few emotional moments that choked me up. I didn't shed tears, but it was close. This was a great book. I was glad all the mystery's were solved by the end of the book." -- Paula Legate, GoodReads

Fantastic wrap up of the series. As the concluding book in the series, everything got tied up very well. I suspect that pulling it all together while keeping it believable was not an easy task. There were some interesting twists. I loved this series and hope to see more Colton stories." -- Susan, GoodReads

"There are some significant twists in this book that I did not see coming. Tying everything up into a neat bow is hard. Cornelison did an amazing job keeping up with everything that was outstanding. She provided the final reveals for the kidnapping story and the Mastermind, a status update for all of our HEAs that happened along the way, and crafted a new story. I’m sad to see the Colton’s of Wyoming end. But I’m thrilled that I was along for the ride." -- Toni, GoodReads

"COLTON CHRISTMAS RESCUE is a great end to the Colton's of Wyoming series. This series is different from most. Each of the six books have been written by a different author. Although I did not read the prior novels, I had no problem following along. The others appear and their back story is mentioned briefly, but the focus is on Amanda and Slade. I had an idea of who I thought was behind the kidnapping of Cheyenne, but when the plot enfolded, I was way off, and totally surprised. I highly recommend reading this series! You will not be disappointed." -- Sherri M., FreshFiction

"Good pacing and a solid mystery, complete with an unexpected twist in the end, cap off a well-crafted story." -- Melanie Bates, RT BookReviews

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Present day

The trill of a ringing phone woke Amanda Colton from a deep sleep, but her maternal instincts had her fully awake in seconds. She grabbed the phone before the next ring, praying the noise hadn't woken eight-month-old Cheyenne. Her daughter had been fussy last night at bedtime because of a stuffy nose, and Amanda had worked for two hours to get her to sleep.

She glanced at the alarm clock as she dragged the phone to her ear. 3:23 a.m.

Her gut tightened. Nothing good ever came of a call at three in the morning, and her family had had enough bad news and tragedy in the past several months to last a lifetime.

"Hello?" she said warily.

"Amanda, thank God! I need your help!"

Hearing the fear in her youngest sister's voice, Amanda sat up and shoved her hair from her face. "Gabby? What's wrong?"

"It's Peanut. I think he has colic, and he keeps trying to lie down!"

Dread speared her chest. "Oh, no."

Equine colic could be deadly, especially if the horse tried to roll on the ground, which could cause the intestine to become wrapped around itself.

Amanda tossed back the covers, disturbing the fuzzy orange cat sleeping beside her, and swung her feet to the floor. "Is Trevor there with you?"

Trevor Garth was head of security for the ranch. But more important, in this case, he was Gabriella's fiancé.

"Not yet." Gabby's voice cracked, and she sniffed hard, clearly trying not to cry. "He's on his way. He said to call you."

Peanut, Gabby's horse, had been a birthday present when her sister was seven and Peanut was still a foal. Gabriella and Peanut had grown up together and her softhearted sister loved the horse dearly. Amanda hated the idea of Gabriella losing Peanut.

"Who's going to stay with Avery?" Amanda asked, her mothering instincts again surging to the forefront when she thought of Trevor's infant daughter.

"Mathilda, I think. She— No, Peanut! Stop. Please, stop!"

"Okay, I'm on my way. Until I get there, do not let him lie down."

"I know he's supposed to stay up," Gabby said, her voice tense with frustration and panic, "but you try keeping a fourteen-hundred-pound animal on his feet when he wants to roll on the ground."

"Gabby, it's critical! Do whatever you have to." With one hand Amanda stepped into a pair of jeans while she held the phone with her other hand. "Are any of the hands there? Do you have any help at all?"

"No. The place was deserted when I got here a little while ago."

Amanda groaned, lamenting the shortage of ranch help, thanks to the National Finals Rodeo competition taking place in Las Vegas that week. She shoved her feet in her boots without bothering with socks. "I'll make some calls, see who's around to help. Meantime, try to get Peanut to walk, even if just up and down the center aisle of the stable."

"Okay. Hurry!"

Amanda keyed off the connection to Gabby and pushed speed dial 4, ringing the land line in Tom Brooks's room. Tom was a retired Marine and former police officer who had been shot in the hip five years ago and forced to take a desk job. Trevor had hired him this summer after it became clear Cheyenne was the target of kidnappers. He answered with a crisp, "Tom Brooks."

Amanda tucked her night shirt into her jeans and grabbed a sweatshirt from a drawer. "Tom, it's Amanda. I'm so sorry to wake you, but there's been an emergency."

She heard the rustle of sheets and squeak of bed springs as Tom flew into action. "What's happened?"

"Gabriella's horse is sick."

"And you need me to guard Cheyenne while you see to the horse."

"Yes, please. I know you're supposed to be off duty, but—"

"No such thing as off-duty. My job is to protect that sweet babe of yours, whatever and whenever. I'll be there in two."

"Thank you, Tom. You're a godsend."

Amanda disconnected and stuck her cell phone in her back jeans pocket as she hurried into the adjoining room where her daughter slept. In the dim glow from the bunny-shaped night-light over the crib, Amanda peeked over the railing at her sleeping child. Her whole world. Her life.

As it always did whenever she looked at her precious baby girl, Amanda's heart swelled until she thought it might burst. How could someone so tiny and fragile stir such a deep, consuming love?

Cheyenne gave a snuffly sigh, and Amanda bit her bottom lip, concerned over the baby's congestion. Levi, Amanda's half-brother and the doctor who was caring full-time for her ill father, had assured her it was nothing but a cold, that Cheyenne would be fine in a couple days. But as a first-time mother, Amanda still fretted over every runny nose and hiccup.

Bending over the crib rail, Amanda rubbed Cheyenne's back and tucked the fuzzy pink blanket around her daughter's feet. Straightening, she whispered, "Oh, chickpea, what would I do without you?"

A soft knock heralded Tom's arrival, then he opened the door and peered into the nursery. "Miss Amanda?"

Amanda waved him in. "I don't know how long I'll be. Maybe all morning. If she wakes up all congested, Levi said to give her a dropperful of this." She handed him the decongestant bottle and backed toward the door. "Thanks again."

Tom nodded gravely. "Yes, ma'am. You go help that sick horse."

Amanda grabbed her veterinary bag from a bench at the foot of her bed and hesitated at the bedroom door. In recent months, it had become all too clear that her daughter was the target of kidnappers intending to extort money from Amanda's wealthy family. Leaving Cheyenne, even for a few minutes, even with a trained guard, always reminded Amanda how vulnerable Cheyenne was, how quickly her baby could be snatched, how devastated she'd be if anything happened to her daughter.

Tom noticed her hesitation and smiled. "Go on, Miss Amanda. I'll protect your little princess as if she were my own."

With a sigh and a smile of gratitude, Amanda ducked into the hall and hustled to the stairs. She took the steps two at a time, grabbed her work gloves and a parka from the back closet, and was practically running by the time she reached the back door. She'd just pulled her cell phone from her back pocket to start waking ranch hands when a tall dark-haired man barreled out of the employees' wing.

"Hey," she called, squinting in the darkness to determine which of the ranch hands he was. But when he raised his head, glancing her way as he strode briskly across the ranch yard, she didn't recognize him, and a tingle of apprehension crawled down her spine. In light of the recent tragedies at the ranch, a stranger wandering the grounds in the predawn hours sounded all kinds of alarms for Amanda. "Hey, stop right there, pal!"

The man stopped, shifting his weight restlessly and sending her an impatient glare as she hurried to catch up to him.

She returned a hostile stare, sizing him up as she approached him. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

He flicked his black Stetson back from his face and frowned. The blue-white security lights cast harsh shadows across his square jaw and rugged cheeks. "Slade Kent. Word is there's a horse with colic needs tending, so I'm headed to the stable."

Somewhat mollified, Amanda hitched her chin for him to accompany her as she continued toward the stable. "So you're a new hand?"

"Who's asking?" Slade fell in step beside her, his long-legged strides outpacing her so that she was nearly jogging to keep up.

"I'm Amanda." When he sent her a look that said, So? she added, "Amanda Colton. Dead River Ranch belongs to my family. It's my sister's horse that has colic."

He gave a little nod. "I see. Well, ma'am, I promise to take good care of the horse. You can go back to the house and stay warm. I'll be sure someone keeps you posted on how the horse is doing."

His patronizing tone grated her already-stressed nerves, and she barked an ill-humored laugh. "I also happen to be a vet." She held up her medical bag. "I'll be the one treating Peanut."

He gave a dismissive scoff. "Unnecessary. Any ranch hand worth his salt has dealt with colic before. I don't need your help."

Her eyebrows shot up, and she gave him an incredulous look. "Oh, really? Who died and made you king?"

"Not king. Foreman. Which means decisions about the livestock and horses are my call."

She slowed to a stop, stunned by his audacity and his job title. "You're our new foreman? Since when?"

He stopped when she did and faced her. "Since Dylan Frick hired me."

"Dylan?" She cocked her head, suspicious. "Dylan moved out of town." To be precise, he'd entered Witness Security with his fiancée, but Slade didn't need to know that.

Slade gave her an impatient glance. "He made the arrangements before he left. I have an employment contract with his signature I can show you if you need proof. But later. Right now, that horse is my only concern."

He spun on his boot heel and continued up toward the stable.

Clamping her mouth in a line of frustration, Amanda ran to catch up again. "Foreman or not, I'm the one with the veterinary degree, and I'm in charge of medical issues with the animals."

The Coltons of Wyoming
December 2013
Harlequin Romantic Suspense #1780
ISBN 978-0-373-27850-3

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