CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

WIND BUFFETED THE RIG, howling around the cab and making Morgan tighten his hands on the wheel. Gusts had to be hurricane strength, which wasn’t unheard of in this part of Texas but not something he wanted to be out in.

The windshield wipers could barely keep up with the rain. He struggled to keep his gaze trained on the lines he had to remain between. Thankfully, few vehicles were coming this way since the headlights were blinding on the water-covered glass.

Morgan wanted to get to Haskins Corners tonight, but that was looking more and more like stupidity at this point. His frustration grew.

Brooke was with Tara. Would she stay there? He couldn’t lose her again. Hurrying would be dangerous, and in reality, he should pull over under the next overpass. Soon, he wouldn’t have a choice. It was all the cover he’d find out here.

He turned off his stereo and flipped on the radio. It might be static, but he’d find a weather report somehow. He’d tried his phone a while ago, and the storm must have knocked out at least one cell tower. He had battery power, but not much else.

Old, twangy country music crackled through the speakers. Yep, he’d get reports on this channel—he just had to listen to this stuff in between. Finally, the noise came to a halt and a man’s voice came on. “It’s a stormin’ out there tonight, folks. Hope you’re home safe and not out on the roads. The state patrol has just issued a high-profile vehicle restriction until 10:00 p.m. tonight. That means you boys out in them eighteen-wheelers need to pull over.

“Take cover if you can. It’s gonna be a long wait. Could be a while before this one blows through.”

The disc jockey somewhere in musicland pushed a switch and another lovesick fool started crooning through the speakers. Morgan switched it off, not bothering to turn his stereo back on.

Morgan knew this road, and it was too flat and open. He’d be better off stopped, without the momentum of the truck to add to the storm’s strength, but the next overpass was several miles ahead. Maybe he could find a hill.

He inched along, not seeing much beyond the headlight’s beam. A gust caught the back end of the truck, and Morgan felt it slip. He struggled to balance the weight of the truck against the slide.

Stopped out here in the open was better than sliding off the road. Slowly, he applied the brakes, hoping to bring it to a halt quickly, but not too quickly.

He felt another gust yank at the back end. He hard-corrected, knowing he was doing the right thing, knowing that he could pull the truck into control if he timed everything right. He cursed, feeling the pull of inertia and doing everything he could to fight it.

The headlight beams found the edge of the road, found the soft shoulder that was just as soaked as the pavement, maybe worse as the rivers of water ran off the asphalt. Thick grass grew at the edge of the narrow strip of road, and he hoped there weren’t any fences or steep drop-offs he couldn’t see in the darkness.

His heart pounded against his ribs. His arms strained, but he hadn’t tipped and he wasn’t spinning. Not yet. A crack of lightning cut across the sky, blinding him for an instant, time he didn’t have to spare.

Thunder rumbled in tune with the big tires hitting gravel, and just as he felt the truck respond to his commands, his vision returned. A stretch of barbed wire appeared ahead.

He had to hope he’d planned enough time to stop as he hit the brakes harder and hung on. If he hadn’t, this was going to be a bumpy ride.

* * *

THE BIG RANCH house was lit up, with nearly every light in the place on. Who all was here?

Brooke had fallen asleep on the drive, her small head resting on top of the dragon’s. She looked adorable, and if the girl hadn’t been holding so tight to her phone in case Morgan called back, Tara would have snapped a picture for him.

Tara hated to wake her, so she quietly opened the car door. The rain wasn’t much more than a light mist here, but it was still cold. She grabbed what she’d need and hurried around the hood of the car.

Carefully, she opened the passenger door, gently disengaging the seat belt and scooping the girl and her dragon up in her arms. Brooke barely stirred, laying her head trustingly on Tara’s shoulder.

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