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Back Door Horse by Heather Wallace

Back Door Horse (Excerpt) from Book One of the Green Mountain Romance Series By Heather Wallace

Imogen was having a wonderful but strange dream. She’d always had vivid images that she remembered snippets of the next morning upon waking, then faded slowly. This time her imagination created a big, lumberjack of a man barreling into her home. She didn’t know why he was there, but he was ruggedly handsome with dark hair pulled underneath a trucker cap, piercing blue eyes filled with concern, and wow, quite a muscular chest heaving with exertion. She felt like the heroine of a romance novel.

“Ow,” Imogen moaned and clutched her head. It felt like a bomb exploded behind her right eye as her gaze focused, immediately regretting the light streaming in from the door. While it was weak, it was still enough to make her eyes water so she closed them again. Wait a minute, she didn’t think dreams usually involved discomfort.

A discreet cough made her whip her head to the doorway. A sharp, stabbing pain traveled up her neck, and she cried out at the surprise of it.

Where the hell was she?

She struggled to open her eyes again and when the room swam, she leaned over to vomit, narrowly missing a pair of scuffed boots. Oh god, she felt terrible.

Now she knew she couldn’t be dreaming. This was a nightmare.

A cold nose rubbed against her hand, and she focused on her pup, refusing to be embarrassed that she had just vomited all over her aunt’s rug and a strange man. Serves him right for coming in, uninvited. Who the heck was he anyway?

A glass of water underneath her nose had her looking up into bright, blue eyes. She should have been scared – she was alone and obviously indisposed with a stranger – but the concern in his face was obvious.

With a sigh, she straightened up off the couch. “Not a dream then,” she muttered under her breath. Then she addressed her companion. “Great guard dog you are, you traitor.” Cookie wagged her tail on the ground and opened her square jaw in a Staffy smile.

Imogen refused to be charmed. She turned her attention to the stranger in the room.

“I really hope you aren’t a pervert because I am definitely not in the mood.”

Gabriel burst out laughing, shocked. He took the situation in and decided to be blunt with the sassy woman. “You’ve been in an accident. You found your way to your aunt’s house, but I’m pretty sure you have a concussion.”

“That makes sense, I guess. Now, who the hell are you?”

“Not a pervert, although under better circumstances I could be convinced.”

She blinked at the sudden wattage of his smile. Whoa, he was handsome. No, Imogen, she thought to herself, you will not be charmed by a stranger in a remote mountain cabin. Life is more Dateline than Hallmark movie.

“I’m Gabe, the neighbor. Your aunt told me to keep an eye out for your arrival. I didn’t expect it to be with such drama though. Did you know your car is in a ditch about a mile down the road?”

“Anything worth doing is worth doing big.” Imogen muttered under her breath.

He seemed to have bat ears because he laughed again and responded, “You certainly did at that. You must be her niece.” Closing her eyes again, she leaned back. Any friend of Aunt Josephine’s certainly couldn’t be that dangerous. Cookie loved everyone so she wasn’t a good judge. “Yeah, I’m Imogen.” She pointed blindly at the dog, whose tail she could hear whipping the floor in excitement. “That’s Cookie Monster. But apparently you are friends already.”

Ignoring the sarcasm, Gabe knelt and gave Cookie a head rub and scratched under her big, block head. Her jaw opened wide, and she gave him a proper kiss on the mouth in appreciation.

“Who’s a good girl guarding Mommy?”

Imogen grimaced. Baby talk. Really? It should be annoying but damn if it wasn’t adorable. She was guilty of the same. Good looking and a big softie. Ugh, just her luck swearing off men for the foreseeable future.

He walked into the house, straight back to the kitchen, and opened the freezer.

She sighed. Apparently, he was familiar with her aunt’s home. Good for Aunt Josephine pulling this one. Here she thought she was a lonely old mountain woman, but instead she was playing kissy face and acting like a cougar.

He cleared his throat again, surprising her at his proximity. When did he come back into the room? Maybe he was the cougar; he was damn quiet on his feet. She peeked her left eye open in response. It was all she had to give at this moment.

Gabe handed her a bag of peas and a few Ibuprofens. “For your head. We should probably get you to the hospital and have that checked out. What the hell happened anyway?”

Taking the preferred offering, she swallowed the pills dry, and one got stuck in her throat. She sat up quickly, hacking and gagging. She grabbed the glass of water that appeared in front of her and took a sip, finally catching her breath.

Gabe sat on the coffee table in front of her, petting her dog and looking genuinely concerned.

“Yes,” he decided. “We are definitely taking a trip to the hospital.” He looked at her canine and winked. “Come on Cookie we have to run an errand first.” Then he winked at Imogen, her eyes blurry from coughing taking in the blue of his as he said, “We’ll be right back for you.”

“But I don’t want to go to the hospital!” She yelled at his retreating form, wincing at the loud tone of her own voice. If he thought he was winning, he never met an Irish girl from New Jersey. She didn’t know how to back down.

Still, she probably should get herself together a bit. Her first impression was one for the books but that didn’t mean she had to look like a hot mess, even if she felt like one. While she wasn’t vain exactly, she didn’t want to embarrass herself further.

Imogen glanced down at the vomit on the floor. Okay, further embarrassment wasn’t possible.

Still, a girl had to have some pride.

Imogen maneuvered stiffly onto her feet, wavering only a little, and headed to the bathroom. She moved slowly, her stomach roiling, and used the wall for support.

While the sight that greeted her wasn’t a surprise, it did make her groan for another reason. Bruised cheek, crazy red hair, frizzy on the best of days, and a ripped leather jacket. How did that last one even happen?

She didn’t have a change of clothing. Her bag was in the trunk of her car on the side of the road, so that wasn’t a possibility. There was no way in hell she was borrowing her elderly aunt’s clothing. Rinsing her mouth and brushing her hair was the only option. It would have to do.

When Gabe and Cookie, that flirtatious traitor, came back in the front door she was somewhat ready for company. They found her trying and failing to clean the stain on the carpet. She lacked energy and became quickly out of breath. The short trip to the restroom took a lot out of her.

If Gabe noticed her change in appearance, he was too polite to mention it. He had taken his hat off, and she blinked at how pretty he was once again. His hair was short on the sides but had gone a little unruly up top with an errant curl that fell darkly over one brow.

“Are you ready to go? Sorry for the delay, but Cookie and I had to put my horse in the paddock with some hay. I’m not sure how long we’ll be gone.”

“Horse?” Imogen knew there were a lot of horses around but didn’t realize people rode them places, like for transport. He chuckled good-naturedly. “We could take him to the hospital, but Rowdy isn’t really built for two, and your aunt’s truck will be faster, don’t you think?” He walked over to help her stand and led her to the door. “Do you like horses? You can meet him later if you are good for the doctor.”

Imogen frowned at his words, “What, if I’m a good girl? Please. Bribery doesn’t work on me. Besides, I don’t need to see your horse; we have them in Jersey you know.”

Gabe merely ushered her out the door and into the old beat-up Ford next to the house.

When he moved to put her seat belt on, she snapped, “I’m not a child. I can do it myself. Geesh.” He looked at her reproachfully but stopped fussing and walked around to the driver’s side door. He opened it up, then encouraged Cookie onto the bench as a buffer in between them. Good, she didn’t know him, and she didn’t like feeling vulnerable. Better to have him dislike her a little bit.

They didn’t speak for the ride to the hospital. Imogen knew it was fruitless to argue as he was determined and apparently unflappable. It was annoying.

About the Author

Heather Wallace is the bestselling and award-winning fiction and non-fiction author, known for titles Back Door Horse, Book One of the Green Mountain Romance series, and Confessions of a Timid Rider, her memoir detailing her return to horse riding as an adult with a lot of nerves. She is also the co-host of the popular Adulting with Horses podcast with fellow author Natalie Keller Reinert. In her spare time, she hangs out with her husband, three children, three dogs, and two horses in New Jersey but hopes to have her own farm in Vermont one day!

Back Door Horse
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