When rodeo superstar Mix Malone announces he’s retiring from the bull riding circuit, his family is furious. Mix is tired, hurt, and disillusioned, but broken bones and concussions are not good enough excuses for quitting, according to his family whose fortune is built on Mix’s success. They’ll do anything to keep him riding.
Blossom Deavers has always told her special education students to follow their dreams—but finds herself faltering in her own attempts to run the Outlaw Café. Making it work is a lot tougher than she’d ever imagined. She has no time or energy to waste on good-looking superstars who seem to have it all.
But when Mix Malone staggers into her café and passes out at a table during the blizzard of the century, she is drawn into a family brawl with no holds barred. Blossom discovers that she can’t just abandon him. Her already hectic life is about to get a lot more complicated when she sets herself against his family’s wishes and advises him to quit.
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The biting snow tore around him. Clutching at his hat, he jammed it further onto his brow. Pain exploded up his arm from his broken wrist to his separated shoulder and pounded down to his bruised ribs. He gritted his teeth. At least I’m still alive.
Nothing says ‘Christmas’ in eastern Oregon like the ‘Blizzard of the Century.’ He groped for the door of the coffee shop amidst the blinding flurries. It didn’t help he needed his coat unbuttoned for the sling. Tiny slivers of ice ran down his collar and through the neck of his shirt.
Although the rodeo doctor cleared him of his concussion yesterday morning, Mix Malone’s head rang like a bell with every step, and driving in this furious snowstorm to meet with the family threatened to break it wide open. He needed a cup of coffee and to sit for a few minutes and let the nausea recede before heading into the maelstrom awaiting him at the ranch.
His casual comment to his cousin, hinting this might be his last time riding a bull, sparked a storm in his family dwarfing the blizzard outside. After his triumphant final performance at the National Bull Riding Championship, he got in his truck to come home. He should have been relaxing. It wasn’t like he rushed home for Christmas every year. Sometimes, he got here, but not always.
Christmas wasn’t anything the Malone’s made a big deal about. It was just another day at the ranch for as long as Mix remembered. Likewise, birthdays and other holidays came and went without celebration at the Malone spread. It was the intensity of the family’s reaction to his threatened retirement that made him jump in the truck and hope the storm wasn’t as bad as predicted. He wanted to head this off as soon as possible. Once the family rallied, it’d be tougher convincing them his decision was in everyone’s best interests.
This coffee shop was new. He’d lived here in Sieve his entire life and never seen it before, but he thanked God for it. With this raging blizzard, nothing else was open. He shook his head, sending fresh flashes of pain through his skull. He didn’t really live in town, although his name was on the mortgage and his battered flesh paid the bills. His career since turning pro kept him away from home and on the road. Businesses came and went, so each time he came home, the landscape of the town changed. His mother spent an enormous portion of her efforts promoting commerce in the town. The changing face of the main street was good for business, but it saddened him. The town was growing up without him. Mix dreamed of getting his life back and reacquainting himself with the town and its small town ways. Everyone benefited from his retiring while at his peak. Convincing his family would be the trick.
He dragged the door open and it threatened to pull away from him and take off on a ferocious gust, but the large hand used to holding a ton of angry bull gripped it tightly. He pulled it closed behind him. Warmth buffeted him and nausea rose as his eyes lost focus. The doctor exhorted him not to drive in the blizzard, but Mix tried to beat the monstrous weather system. An unbroken blanket of white in front of his windshield caused his brain to throb so much he worried he might lose consciousness while driving. The ranch lay less than ten miles ahead, but he needed rest and coffee before making the attempt.
Snow slid off his boots and he stomped once, forcing tiny bolts of pain up through his leg to his brain. The world tilted and he flailed for a moment, his good arm slamming into the solid oak counter. He clung to it as a lifeline until his stomach settled. Colored flashes filled his eyes and he remembered the doctor warning him about vision problems. His balance returned and he realized every surface possible was covered in blinking lights. The smell of pine was overpowering and holiday music played softly. Tinsel shimmered with the last traces of wind he’d brought in.
Christmas on steroids. Mix breathed deeply. He expected the assault on his senses to bother him but instead, a smile played about his face.
He patted his pockets for his phone. Someone from the ranch would pick him up for the family meeting. Everyone grumbled when he called that it was just before Christmas. He wished he’d relented, but he wanted to get this over and done with. In his experience, the more time he allowed his mother, the greater her resistance would be to the idea. His style was easygoing, but he could be stubborn too. Must be a family trait.
His mother, Delaney Malone, rolled through life with a force as tough as the blizzard. She ruled the clan, and he admitted his fame as a household name in the bull riding world was a result of her guiding hand. The family occupied a position as a powerhouse of the cattle industry, too, due to her skill and dedication. If she got a little demanding at times, it was with good reason. He owed her everything, so if she called, he jumped. Right now, the jump was more of a shuffle.
As soon as he rested for a minute, he’d call. He patted his pockets.
His phone must still be in the truck. Darn. He gazed out at the sea of impenetrable white. No guarantee he’d make it back here safely if he went out again. He might not even make it to his truck. He was sure his truck was within a few yards but not a hint showed of the beat-up pickup, his constant companion for the last ten years. He smirked. Mother tried to replace it with an eye to sponsorships, but as his fame rose, he resisted every effort at an upgrade. It became part of his branding, as she called it, and she began to use it in her advertising.
The nearest table seemed unreachable but he trudged without lifting his feet, sliding his cowboy boots and collapsing into the chair. It was a cozy room with padded chairs and tables covered with red and white checked tablecloths. The heat lulled him, and he relaxed even as his eyes slid closed. He stopped, forcing himself to stay awake.
He glanced around, moving his head as little as possible. A gigantic Christmas tree stood to his left. The ornaments on it were various shapes cut out of construction paper and colored with copious amounts of glitter. Someone spent hours on the decorations. There were popcorn strings and so much tinsel, he wondered that the tree’s limbs weren’t bowed.
No one manned the counter. Deserted their post to celebrate the holiday? If he wanted coffee or a phone, standing up again would be mandatory. He laid his battered head on his good arm and rested for a moment.