Texas Homecoming


By Carolyn Brown

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The bestselling Queen of Cowboy Romance delivers a heartwarming novel where a doctor and veterinarian get a second chance at true love when a storm traps them together.

After traveling the world, Dr. Cody Ryan has finally come home to his foster family’s ranch in Honey Grove, Texas. But all his time in Doctors Without Borders couldn’t have prepared him for the sudden blizzard that forces him to take shelter in an old barn—or for the shock of watching Stephanie O’Dell yank open that same barn door minutes later. He’s barely seen the gorgeous veterinarian since he returned, so why is she icier than the wind outside?

Stephanie—better known as Dr. Stevie around Sunflower Ranch—has been treating the cattle there for years…and not one of them is as bullheaded as Cody. He’s completely forgotten how he broke her heart, back when she was a teenager smitten by his easy charm and sharp wit. But as the blizzard rages on, trapping Cody and Stevie together, it’s clear that the fire they’ve built to keep warm isn’t the only source of sparks in that barn. Once the storm passes, will Stevie and Cody discover that they’ve fallen in love …and will either of them ever admit it?


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Dear Reader,


I’m finishing this book just as spring pushes winter into the history books. After this past year with all the problems that covid (I refuse to capitalize that word in hopes that I will offend it so badly that it dies in its sleep) has brought to us, I’m glad to see spring coming around. I’m hoping it will bring new life to the whole world and restore some semblance of normal into our lives.

As always there are so many people to thank for helping me take Texas Homecoming from a rough idea to the book you hold in your hands. Some of those have gone on past this lifetime, but they remain in my heart and give me the courage to keep writing. A saying about life says: “You don’t meet people by accident. There’s always a reason—a lesson or a blessing!” Many of the people I have met have taught me valuable lessons, and many others have brought a blessing into my life.

Today I’d like to thank those who came bearing blessings. To my editor, Leah Hultenschmidt, and all the folks at Forever—you are truly a blessing. To my agent, and the folks at Folio Management—you are truly a blessing. To all my family, friends, and fans—you are truly a blessing. And of course, as always, to Mr. B—you’ve always been my biggest blessing.

I hope you enjoy reading Cody and Stevie’s story, and that the characters stay with you long after the last page.

Hugs to you all,

Carolyn Brown

Chapter One

Cody Ryan inched along at less than ten miles an hour on the icy roads. He had driven through sandstorms, outrun tornadoes, and even worked his way over snowcapped mountains, but nothing had ever been like this.

“So much for a big Texas homecoming,” he muttered as his truck slid over toward a ditch and then back again to the middle of the road. His windshield wipers were doing double time, but with the blizzard-like conditions, he couldn’t have seen the yellow line in the middle of the pavement even if there were one.

So, you’re tired of having sand everywhere and living in a tent, are you? The words of his old friend Nate Fisher came back to his mind.

“We don’t have much choice right now. We’ve got to get out of this place, and I’m ready to go home to Texas where it gets cold in the winter.” Cody repeated what he had told Nate last summer when he had hurriedly packed his bags and gotten ready to catch the next military truck headed toward a town with an airport.

“But I didn’t expect a damn blizzard to settle down right over the top of us just weeks after I got home.” His truck tires lost traction again and fishtailed all over the road.

When he finally got control, he hit the speed dial for Sunflower Ranch to let his family know he wouldn’t be home as soon as he thought. Addy, his sister-in-law, answered the phone on the third ring.

“Hey, Cody, everything okay?” she asked. “The roads look pretty bad out there.”

“Yeah, sorry I’m running late. Please don’t hold supper. It’ll be a while before I can get back home in this storm,” Cody said.

“I’m putting you on speaker. I’ve got Pearl, Sonny, Mia, and Jesse all here around the table with me.”

“Hey, everyone!” Cody answered. “Y’all need to stay inside as much as possible, and off these slick roads. Have you heard a weather report?”

“Uncle Cody, they say this snow isn’t going to stop for a couple of days,” Mia chimed in.

“Drive safe,” his father yelled.

“Will do, and save me some supper,” Cody said and ended the call.

Cody’s dad had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a while back, and a few months ago, he’d had a reaction to the drugs in the clinical trial. That incident had made Cody realize just how much he missed family and being home in Texas, so he’d given up his job with Doctors Without Borders and moved back to Honey Grove.

“But I damn sure didn’t miss brutally cold winters,” he muttered.

When he came home, Cody had thought about hanging out his shingle for a family practice right there in Honey Grove. After looking around for a place to buy or rent and not finding a thing that he liked, he came up with the idea of doing old-fashioned house calls in the whole community. Elderly folks, like Max Hilton, who needed him that morning but couldn’t drive more than twenty miles to see a doctor in his condition, had quickly built up his business. Now, between helping his brother Jesse on Sunflower Ranch and trying to keep up with his patients, Cody stayed busy from daylight to dark most days.

“Poor old Max.” Cody kept his eyes on the road, but he said a quick prayer that the ambulance got Max to the hospital without sliding off the slick roads. Max was too stubborn to see a doctor and had said more than once that his time was worth more than sitting in an office waiting for hours for a doctor to see him. But when he found out that Cody would come to his ranch house to see him, he called on him every few weeks. Lately, Cody had been telling him that he needed to see a heart specialist.

“I guess he’ll see one now, whether he wants to or not.” Cody slowed down another five miles per hour and leaned over the steering wheel to better see the road in front of him.

Addy, Cody’s nurse, would be glad that Max would be getting help. She’d been worried about him after the last two times they had been out to Max’s ranch.

Cody hit another slick spot and went sideways in the road for a few seconds before he got straightened out. He started to pull off to the side until his heart stopped pounding, but the smart thing was to keep moving ahead. He made it another quarter of a mile, when a front tire hit a pothole and sent him into another greasy slide. He gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles ached, and hoped that no one would need his doctor services again until the roads were clear.

“And I thought a sandstorm was the most horrible thing in the world. Thank God you aren’t here, Addy. I would never forgive myself if you got hurt and those twins didn’t have a mother.” He thought of the twin boys his brother and Addy had adopted right after they got married. Sam and Taylor were only about three months old, and Cody loved them almost as much as if they were his own sons.

He leaned forward as far as the seat belt would allow, hoping to get a better view of the road up ahead. “It’s only twenty miles to the ranch. Even at this rate I should be there before bedtime. Talking to myself doesn’t help, so why am I doing it?”

The words had barely left his mouth when a buck with a huge rack of antlers jumped out right in front of his truck. Instinctively, his foot left the gas pedal and stomped the brake. The deer disappeared in a flash, but Cody’s vehicle began to spin like a top, and there was nothing that he could do to stop the motion.

The steering wheel had a mind of its own, and neither the brake nor the gas pedal had any effect on what was happening. Adrenaline raced through his body, and he covered his face with his arms, expecting his crew cab truck to hit one of the many potholes in the old country road and begin to roll.

Then Cody felt as if he was flying for a split second, and the truck landed with so much force that it jarred his teeth. For several seconds he wasn’t sure what had happened, but then he realized all the white stuff around him wasn’t snow but airbags. He fought them back away from his face and unfastened the seat belt, only to fall forward nose down.

He slung open the door and rolled out of the truck to land in several inches of snow. When his heart settled enough that he could breathe without panting, he pulled his phone from his hip pocket to call the ranch for help, only to realize that there was no service. He stood up, checked for blood or broken bones, and heaved a huge sigh of relief when he figured out that he was fine.

“Thank you, God!” he said when he recognized an old mailbox. Just last week, he’d met Max at a barn about a quarter of a mile down the lane to check his blood pressure. Cody remembered Max’s blood pressure being too high then and had told the octogenarian that he needed some tests done, but the old guy flat-out refused.

“They’ll put me on some god-awful diet and tell me to exercise,” Max had growled. “I’m going to eat what I want, and I get all the exercise I need right here on this ranch.”

Cody visualized an old potbellied stove in the tack room where he’d done what he could for Max. He’d seen a pile of firewood in one of the stalls out in the barn, and there had been a bunch of kittens playing chase in the hay bales. “Maybe there will be phone service when I reach the barn,” he muttered as he opened the back door of the truck and grabbed his black doctor bag. “If there is, I can let the folks know where I am.”

He pocketed his keys, zipped his coat to his chin, and turned his collar up. Then, bent against the driving north wind blowing snow right in his face, he headed up the lane. He vowed that he would never leave home again without both a ski mask and a stocking hat—even if it was summertime and the thermometer registered over a hundred degrees. At least his cowboy boots gave him protection from the snow.

His nose and ears felt like Popsicles by the time he made it to the barn. He was wearing gloves, but his hands were stiff, and he had trouble sliding the barn door open enough to get inside. Unfortunately, it wasn’t any warmer than the outside.

“But at least it’s dry and out of the wind,” Cody told himself as he removed his cowboy hat and brushed snow from it on the way to the tack room. Bits of snow sifted under the collar of his mustard yellow work coat and down the back of his neck.

The tack room door was already open, and dry wood was stacked neatly in the corner, which, otherwise, was a mess. He threw the stove door open and shoved several sticks of kindling inside, and then stacked three sticks of firewood on top of it. Everything was ready to start a fire, but he didn’t have a lighter or matches, so he went in search of something to light it. He found rusty screws stored in peanut butter jars, several cans of beans, tuna fish, and chicken, a container of cornmeal and one of flour, but no matches.

“Why on earth would Max have food here when he couldn’t even start a fire to heat it?” Cody muttered.

A cast-iron skillet was sitting on top of an old green rounded-top refrigerator, and because he had left his phone in the fridge one time, he even opened the door to see if there were matches in there. Other than a withered apple and two jars of elderberry jelly, the fridge was empty. In the freezer he found a few packages of meat wrapped in white butcher paper—steaks was written on the outside of a couple of them—so he wouldn’t starve. He was disappointed when he turned on a burner and found there was no gas.

“Propane tank must be empty, so I guess I’ll have to use the woodstove, provided I can ever get a fire going,” he said.

He was about to give up ever being warm again, when he glanced around the room and noticed a rusty old match holder on the wall to the left of the stove. The burlap curtain hanging over the window where the vent pipe went outside covered part of it, but still Cody fussed at himself for not seeing it earlier as he made his way toward it. His mama always kept a container of matches a lot like that on the wall beside the stove at the ranch house.

“Country folks put things where they need them,” he said and reached for a match, and discovered that there were only six left.

He held one of the matches close to the little chips of wood and struck it against the stove. Nothing happened. He tried again, and the head of the match popped off, but there was no flame. The same thing happened with the second one.

His heart had begun to beat fast, and he had visions of busting a bale of hay and covering himself with a layer of the stuff just to get warm. “Four more tries, and then Jesse may find me frozen when he shows up here.” He thought of his brother and the rest of the family, all warm on Sunflower Ranch while the cold was seeping into his bone marrow.

At the thought of his brother, he jerked his phone out of his pocket only to see that the battery was almost dead. He didn’t even try to call but sent a text: I’m fine. Slid off the road not far from Max Hilton’s old barn. Will hole up here until storm blows over. He hit send, and the screen went dark.

He tried the third match. When it flared, he held it carefully next to the kindling until a tiny little blaze started, and then he blew on it to encourage the thing to grow. That tiny blaze meant more to him right then than all the money he had in the bank. When the blaze finally ignited and warmth began to spread out from the stove, he slumped down on the old brown-and-orange-plaid sofa not far away. His eyes slid shut, but he snapped them open and recited the signs of hypothermia out loud, starting with shivering and ending with drowsiness.

Afraid to close his eyes again, he stood and began pacing from one end of the room to the other. On one of his trips, he noticed two little beady eyes peeking out from underneath the sofa and came close to jumping up on the workbench, but then a little gray kitten inched its way toward the stove. In a few seconds, a yellow one and then a black-and-white one did the same. And then a big calico cat came from the tiny bathroom with a dead mouse in her teeth. She dropped it beside the kittens, and they began to growl and fight over their dinner.

“I’m not afraid of mice or spiders, and I’ve seen rats as big as possums and spiders that would cover a dinner plate,” he told the cats, “but snakes are a different matter, and for a second there, I thought for sure you were one of those.”

He went back over the symptoms of hypothermia—fumbling and confusion. He ripped his gloves off and held his hands out. No tremors. That was a good sign, but talking to himself and seeing snakes instead of kittens wasn’t.

The mama cat came right over to him and began to rub around his legs, her purrs so loud that they covered up the crackling sounds of the fire. Cody squatted down and rubbed her fur from the top of her head to the tip of her tail. “Are you depending on mice to raise these kids of yours, or has Max got some dry food hiding somewhere in this room?”

As if she understood him, she went over to a plastic bin shoved up under the worktable and sniffed it. Cody pulled the lid off, and sure enough, it was filled to the brim with dry cat food. He found an empty margarine container and scooped out enough to fill it, then set it beside the stove. “That should keep you for a day or two, but you’re a good mama to give your kids a taste for mice. That will keep the varmints out of the barn.”

His hands and feet finally stopped tingling, so he removed his hat and coat and tossed them on the end of the sofa. The room was warming up nicely, and there was nothing to do but settle in for the duration. He laid his head on the sofa arm and closed his eyes. With all the work going on at the ranch, and his doctoring business, he was usually on the run from daylight until after dark. Jesse would come rescue him by morning, so he might as well take advantage of a free evening.

*  *  *

Dr. Stephanie O’Dell, Stevie to the folks around Honey Grove, figured when she left her place that morning that the going could get rough. The roads were icy, and noise similar to shotgun blasts filled the air as the tree limbs laden with a thick layer of ice snapped off. But Dale Watson had called with the news that both of his female alpacas had died giving birth that morning. He was able to save one baby, but he had no idea how to care for it.

She had made a call over to the Sunflower Ranch and talked to Sonny before she ever set out on the twenty-mile drive to rescue a tiny little newborn alpaca—a cria. Sonny had alpacas and was more than willing to see if one of his female alpacas—a hembra—would adopt the new baby. She determined that even on slick roads, she should be able to drive to her destination and back in two or three hours, but she hadn’t figured on the blizzard-like wind and snow that hit when she was returning home.

The weatherman on the television that morning had said there was a possibility of an accumulation of two to three inches of snow in the area. But after she had picked up the cria and was on the way home, she caught a report on the radio that said the storm had taken a sudden turn. Residents of the area should be prepared for at least a foot of snow on top of the ice that was already on the ground.

Stevie still thought she could make it to Sunflower Ranch, pass the cria off to Sonny, and head back home by suppertime. She sure didn’t want to get stuck at the ranch, not with Cody Ryan there. They had dated in high school, and she’d fallen head over heels in love with him, but then he went off to college when she still had her senior year to do. He had his heart set on being a doctor, and according to what he told her that last night they were together, he had to devote all his time to study. He had made the decision to help other people, especially those in foreign countries, and to be involved with a girl would get in the way of his dreams.

“We both knew this day would come,” Cody had said. “I like you, Stevie, but…

He had left the sentence hanging, and she had managed to keep the tears at bay until she got home that evening. When she finally stopped crying, she vowed that she would prove to him that she would have been worth the wait. She would study hard, become a veterinarian, and show him that he made a wrong choice.

She let go of the steering wheel for a brief moment to touch the locket around her neck. Inside was a tiny picture of wildflowers as a reminder to never give every bit of her heart to a man again. She’d taken the picture the last night she and Cody were together, and she didn’t have to open the locket to see the photo of the sun setting over a field of yellow, purple, and red flowers. She had taken the picture out the window of the bunkhouse out on Sunflower Ranch. In the foreground was a blue vase filled with wild daisies and small purple flowers. That had been more than twenty years ago, and she had moved on since then, but the picture was still with her urging her to go on with life like the wildflowers that popped up every spring.

Stevie really thought she had moved past that teenage love until Cody Ryan came back to Honey Grove. Just seeing him again made her angry—proving that she still carried a little torch for him.

The cria began to hum, which meant the poor little girl was missing her mama.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. In another hour or two, we’ll have you in a herd of your own kind, probably in a nice warm barn. You’re going to be fine,” she told the baby. “Just hang on. I’m going as fast as I can.”

Stevie still thought she could get home before the storm hit—right up until the gray skies opened up and began to dump flakes on her so thick that she couldn’t see two feet in front of her van. The wipers could hardly keep up, so in between swipes, she felt as if she were driving blind down the country road. She was still a long way from Sunflower Ranch when she felt a pull to the right and realized she was getting a flat tire. At the same time, she remembered that she was already using her spare tire and had left the other one at the garage to be fixed two days before.

“Sweet Jesus in heaven!” She turned in to the next lane she saw. “I hope I’m where I think I am,” she muttered as she slowed to a crawl and fought with the steering wheel. “Max Hilton’s barn should be right up ahead of us. If I am right, we can stay there until this damn thing passes over us, and we can get some help. Don’t you worry, little darlin’. I’ve got alpaca colostrum in the van to get you started and milk to mix up for you after the first twenty-four hours.”

She glanced down at her phone lying on the console. The last time she had come out to this area, she hadn’t been able to get a bit of service, but today she could see one bar up there at the top of her screen.

“This is damn sure not what I expected when I made up my mind to move back to Texas,” she grumbled.

Up ahead, she saw the shape of the barn and tapped her brakes, but that put her van into a long, greasy slide that ended when she slammed into the big, sheet metal barn doors.

Stevie picked up her phone and tried to call Sonny but got a busy signal. So she sent a text: Had a flat tire. Am at Max Hilton’s old barn. I’m fine. Cria is fine. Send help when this blows over please.

Sure enough, when she opened the van door and glanced down at the phone to see if she’d gotten a response, she had a NO SERVICE message.

“Hope it went through,” she said as she grabbed the handle of the big sliding door and gave it a shove with all the strength she had, but nothing happened. Then a force from the other side slid the door wide open, and there was Cody Ryan standing right in front of her.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she gasped.

Cody folded his arms over his chest. “I might ask you the same question, except that I figure with those two flat tires, you got as far as you could and then tried to plow through the doors and into the barn.”

“I just need to get my van inside so my supplies don’t freeze, and I’ve got a baby cria to take care of.” Stevie pushed past him. “Don’t just stand there letting the snow blow all over you. Help me get the van inside.”

“Give me your keys. The tack room is heated up. Take the baby in there, and I’ll take care of the vehicle. Tires are ruined anyway so it won’t matter if I drive it on the rims,” Cody said.

Stevie shook snow from her red hair and slid the van’s side panel door open.

“Come on, pretty little girl. Let’s get you to a warm place and fix you a bottle. You don’t get to join a new herd tonight. You’ll just have to make do with me.” She crooned as she picked up the cria still snuggled down in an old plush blanket and carried it inside. “I’m sorry your mama didn’t make it, but when we get you to Sonny’s place, there will be lots of alpacas ready to adopt you.”

She took the baby into the tack room and laid her on the floor beside the stove. “You stay right here, and I’ll be back in a minute,” Stevie whispered as she hurried back out into the barn.

Cody glared at her and pointed to the tires. “Why in the hell were you driving in this kind of weather on tires like these? The two that aren’t flat have hardly any tread left on them.”

“Don’t.” She glared at him. “Just don’t. It’s not easy trying to start a business in a small town. I was trying to get one more month out of the tires before I replaced them.”

“You could have been killed, or worse yet, you could have frozen to death if… He returned the dirty look.

Stevie blinked and then looked around the barn. “Where is your fancy-schmancy truck with all the bells and whistles? Don’t tell me… She got inside the van and began digging around in her supplies. “Let me guess. It’s sitting somewhere out there with a flat tire, too, right?”

“Nope, it’s at the end of the lane in a ditch,” he answered. “A deer jumped out in front of me. I swerved and wound up facedown in a ditch. I managed to send a text to my folks, and then I lost power.”

Stevie brought out a bag of powdered colostrum for alpacas and a baby bottle. “Is there water in there?”

“In the bathroom,” Cody said, nodding. “Max told me that he built this barn on top of an old well. Since he had water, and since this is so far from his other property, he put a bathroom just off the tack room. Only cold water, though.”

“I can warm up some on the stove,” she said as she edged past him.

In a few long strides, he was across the barn floor and had opened the door for her. “Guess we’re stuck here together until this storm passes and the folks come to help me.”

“Maybe they’ll be coming to help me. I sent them a message too,” she said.

“Oh, really,” Cody groaned.

“What are you moaning about?” she asked. “At least I got a message out to tell them where they can find me. That’s a good thing, right?”

Cody followed her into the tack room and closed the door. “Can you even begin to imagine the teasing we’re going to face tomorrow?”


  • "Carolyn Brown is one of my go-to authors when I want a feel-good story that will make me smile."—Fresh Fiction
  • "Carolyn Brown always manages to write feel-good stories."—Harlequin Junkie

On Sale
Jan 25, 2022
Page Count
336 pages

Carolyn Brown

About the Author

Carolyn Brown is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling romance author and RITA® Finalist who has sold more than 8 million books. She presently writes both women's fiction and cowboy romance. She has also written historical single title, historical series, contemporary single title, and contemporary series. She lives in southern Oklahoma with her husband, a former English teacher, who is not allowed to read her books until they are published. They have three children and enough grandchildren to keep them young. For a complete listing of her books (in series order) and to sign up for her newsletter, check out her website at CarolynLBrown.com or catch her on Facebook/CarolynBrownBooks.

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