Authors: Lynnette Kent
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Adult, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Sensual, #Hearts Desire, #Marshall Brothers, #Series, #Wyoming, #Cowboy, #Western, #Rancher, #Minister, #At-Risk Kids, #Childrens Camp, #Doctor, #Faith, #Christian, #Inspirational, #Spirituality, #New In Town, #Community, #Circle M Ranch, #Second Chances, #Family Ranch
She met his gaze directly as he sat down across the table. “This isn’t a date.”
His eyebrows rose. “Not technically. No.”
That response didn’t reassure her. “Not even remotely.”
He folded his arms on the table. “Would it be such a bad idea?”
“We aren’t a couple. Aren’t
to be a couple.”
“That’s a pretty sweeping prediction. We only met this morning. Do you dislike me so much already?”
She had to tell the truth. “No, of course not. But the two of us are incompatible.”
“I disagree. I think we’ve had a good day together.”
A pretty, brown-haired woman came to their table. “Hey, Garrett. Long time no see.”
“Hi, Terri. Yeah, we’ve been pretty busy out on the ranch with the kids plus the regular chores. Let me introduce you to the newest citizen in town—this is Dr. Rachel Vale. She’ll be operating the Bisons Creek Medical Clinic.”
Terri’s face brightened. “I heard we were getting a doctor. Welcome! It will be so great to be able to visit a clinic in town when one of the kids has an ear infection instead of driving half an hour just to get a prescription.”
Rachel smiled. “I’m glad to be here. I look forward to helping you out when you need medical advice.”
“I’ll be sure to call. But for right now, what can I get you two to drink?”
“Water,” she and Garrett both said at the same time.
“Got it.” Terri scribbled on her notepad. “We still have some of the special available, which is meat loaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and Kate’s slow-cooked green beans. I’ll be back in a minute to take your orders.”
“So,” Garrett said when the server had left, “you were going to tell me why we’re incompatible.”
“We have different worldviews.” Rachel clasped her hands on the table. “As a minister, you operate on the assumption that faith will make things right. But as a doctor, I use science and facts to deal with the world.”
Terri reappeared with a glass of water for each of them. “And what will you have to eat?”
Once they both ordered the meat loaf, Rachel resumed her explanation. “People with such opposite perspectives can’t find common ground for a relationship.”
Laughter sparked in his blue eyes. “Are you hoping to persuade me or yourself?”
She glared at him. “You’re awfully sure I’m attracted to you, aren’t you?”
“I wasn’t, till you started trying to convince me we can’t go on a simple date.”
“There’s nothing simple about dating.”
“So you’ve had some bad experiences?”
“Hasn’t everybody had a bad date?”
“Sure. A few years ago, I went out with a woman who brought her grandmother along with us to dinner.”
Rachel had to laugh. “You’re kidding, right?”
“At first, I figured her grandmother just wanted to check me out. But when Nana showed up for the second go-round, I decided I’d had enough of the two-for-one program.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Especially since Nana monopolized every conversation with details of her surgical adventures.”
“Can you top that?”
“I don’t think so. Most of my bad dates were with guys who thought buying dinner entitled them to play doctor afterward.”
“Rude.” He waited while Terri set their plates down and left again. “I promise to keep my hands to myself.” After a moment, he winked. “Tonight.”
Rachel frowned at him. “You’re a problem.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes, giving the delicious food the appreciation it deserved. “At least now I know where to come for a decent meal,” she said when her hunger had been eased. “I don’t have to depend on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.”
“You’re not a cook?”
“I can make a salad, boil pasta or bake a potato in the microwave. Being a doctor hasn’t offered much opportunity to develop complex cooking skills.”
“So what do you do on your days off?”
“There haven’t been many of those. But I usually go for a run if I’ve got an hour of daylight. And I like to read.”
Garrett grinned at her. “See, we do have something in common. I like to read, too. What do you read?”
“Not religious texts.”
“We were talking about free time. And you’re determined to pigeonhole me, aren’t you?”
She pushed her empty plate away. “I’m a doctor. That role defines my whole life. You’re a minister. Wouldn’t you say the same?”
“But you’re also a runner and a reader. And probably a few other things I’ve yet to discover. I’m a minister, yes, but I also work on a ranch. I rode bucking broncs in the rodeo. I volunteer with at-risk kids. I’m a brother and soon to be a brother-in-law to a friend of yours. Do you have family?”
Rachel swallowed hard. “No.”
He studied her for a moment, his eyes narrowed. “You lost somebody recently.”
She shook her head. “Not so recent. My mom died two years ago.”
“I’m sorry.” His voice was gentle. “You still miss her.”
Just like that, tears stung her eyes. For something to do, Rachel picked up her glass and took a long swallow of water. Blinking hard, she said, “Sorry. I must be tired.”
“No problem. Losing a parent is tough. If you ever want to talk about it, I’ll be glad to listen.”
“That’s okay.” She sent him a forced smile. “I’m fine.”
“Dessert?” Terri asked, appearing suddenly beside them. “We’ve got fresh lemon meringue pie.”
The idea of so much sugar after a day spent dealing with diabetes didn’t appeal to Rachel. “Just some coffee, please.”
“Me, too,” Garrett said. “Then I’ll help you get your car unloaded.”
“No, please,” Rachel started. “I can manage—”
“But it will go faster with two people working at it.” He winked again. “You can’t get rid of me. You might as well give in.”
“Then you can let me take care of dinner.” When Terri put the check on the table, Rachel managed to get her fingers on it first. “So there.”
He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I recognize when resistance is futile. But I will get even.”
Darkness had fallen before they arrived at the clinic. Rachel stared through the truck window at the building she’d visited only briefly this morning. “Seems like days ago I arrived.” She blew out a deep breath and turned to Garrett. “You should go home.”
“Soon. You don’t even know where your apartment is, do you?”
“Sure I do. Evans Street.”
“How do you get there from here?”
“Caroline sent me a map...”
“Just get in your vehicle and let me lead the way. You can worry about maps tomorrow.”
Suddenly too tired to protest, Rachel did as she was instructed. In five minutes, they pulled up at the curb in front of an older two-story house with a wraparound porch.
Garrett came to her window. “This is it. You’ve got Caroline for an upstairs neighbor, though she’s not here much this summer. Luckily, the first-floor tenant moved out just at the right moment to give you a home.”
“It seems to be a nice place.” She pulled the key she’d been sent out of her purse. “So far, so good.”
The interior was cozy, filled with secondhand furniture that appeared comfortable, if a little dated and dusty. The kitchen was bigger than Rachel would need, the bathroom smaller than she would have preferred. “This will work for me,” she said as she and Garrett approached her car. “Compared to the places I lived during med school, it’s a palace.”
He pulled a couple of suitcases out of the back of the SUV. “We make sacrifices when we really want something, don’t we?”
She didn’t answer because it disturbed her that he understood what she’d been through without having to be told. He was altogether too easy to talk to, too perceptive and too easygoing. It would be better if he got angry or at least annoyed when she resisted him. Instead, he just smiled.
In a few short minutes, all the belongings she’d labored to fit into her vehicle were set in convenient places around her new apartment. Garrett put the last box of books on the coffee table and straightened. “Do you have more stuff coming?”
“No, this is it. I got rid of a lot of things before I left Seattle. I wanted to start new here.”
“An admirable plan.” He put his hands in his pockets. “I should leave and let you settle in. Thanks again for helping out with Lena today—it made a big difference to have a doctor available to deal with this crisis. You’re going to be a real benefit to this community.”
“I’m glad I could help.” She followed him as he walked to the door. “Thank you for helping carry all this inside. It would have taken me a lot longer. And I’m pretty tired.”
“My pleasure.” He faced her at the door. “Justino and I will be heading to the hospital in the morning. Can I pick you up?”
“I’m meeting with my new nurse early tomorrow,” she said, determined to set some limits. “But I’ll check on Lena as soon as possible. I’m sure the doctors on staff have her condition under control. I’ve applied for privileges at the hospital, but I’m not currently Lena’s doctor. And—” she gave him a pointed look “—I’m not her family.”
“Of course. It’s just been such a relief to have someone around who really understands what’s happening.” His serious blue gaze captured hers. “Your support meant a lot to me today.”
The hall light was dim, and they stared at each other in the shadows. The moment seemed more intimate than it should, more important.
“Good night, Rachel Vale,” he said finally, his voice low.
“Good night, Garrett Marshall.” She wanted to break the connection between them but couldn’t quite seem to do it.
Then he bent forward and kissed her on the cheek. The press of his lips burned like a brand. “Sleep well.” His boot heels thudded on the porch floor as he walked quickly away.
Rachel didn’t watch him drive off. That would be foolish and romantic, neither of which she intended to be. She was practical and logical, she told herself as she went into the bedroom, rational and pragmatic.
Rummaging through her overnight bag for pajamas and a toothbrush, she assured herself that there wasn’t a mark on her cheek from that kiss, and proved it when she went into the bathroom and turned on the light over the sink.
But she could still feel his lips on her cheek when she put her head on the pillow and tried to fall asleep.
Garrett found himself whistling while he drove home. He recognized the tune as a love song by one of his favorite artists and grinned.
Not that he had fallen in love. Not yet. But all day long, even through the worry and distress over Lena, he had been aware of an effervescence in the air, a sense of excitement and anticipation he could only relate to Rachel Vale. Even when she gave him those cute frowns of hers, he wanted to smile. He appreciated her caring approach to Lena’s very real fears and her calm expertise in the face of a crisis. Her direct refusal to consider their dinner a date appealed to his sense of fairness. At least he knew where he stood with her.
He had to agree that their relationship would be complicated. His faith was the foundation of his life, and Rachel’s skepticism presented a serious obstacle. Garrett suspected the reason for her resistance had something to do with her mother’s death. He hoped she would confide in him about that reason and let him help her deal with her grief.
He would have to earn her trust to make that happen, a task he looked forward to with pleasure. Setting up in a new town, Rachel would no doubt feel isolated, maybe even lonely. Bringing her into the community, into his circle of friends and family, would be his primary goal.
As he turned onto the county road that would take him to the ranch, Garrett blinked hard at the sudden vision in his mind’s eye—Rachel and him as a couple, serving Christmas day dinner to the guests at the shelter in Casper, alongside a couple of red-haired kids. Their kids.
The image stopped his heart for a second. That kind of family—mom, dad and kids—had disappeared from his life when he was twelve years old. His memories from before that time were few, but he could recall an afternoon at the county fair. He had ridden the roller coaster with his dad and Wyatt and Ford while his mother held baby Dylan. He’d eaten cotton candy, visited the animal barns and the craft exhibits, ending the day with a ride on the Ferris wheel. Without a doubt, the day had been one of the best of his life.
Something about Rachel Vale had dredged up that sense of joy. Maybe it was her gentleness with Lena, or a certain sweetness in her smile. Beautiful, intelligent, dependable and devoted to her patients—now that he considered the matter, the lovely lady doctor struck him as the perfect woman with whom to build the kind of family he’d been missing for more than twenty years.
Garrett shook his head. “Slow down, man,” he said aloud, driving under the sign for the ranch. “You don’t even have the horse and the cart in the same county, let alone one in front of the other.”
First, Rachel would have to relax her guard, accept him as a person she could rely on. Not to mention resolving the small matter of her resistance to the fundamentals of his job description.
Then...if she shared this powerful attraction he’d experienced all day...
they could investigate this falling-in-love business. Together.
When he parked the truck near the ranch house, he realized that tonight had been designated a homemade ice cream event. All the teenagers—except for Lena—were gathered on the front porch with bowls in their hands. Caroline and Ford sat in rocking chairs with their own servings.
Caroline got to her feet as he came up the steps. “Perfect timing. Let me get you some ice cream.”
He put up hand. “No thanks. Not tonight.” After a day spent worrying about Lena’s blood-sugar levels, the thought of a sweet dessert didn’t hold much appeal.
She stared at him with a worried frown, since he always enjoyed their ice-cream concoctions. “Are you okay?”
“Sure. How’s everybody here?” He noticed Justino sitting on the corner of the porch, focused on his phone. “Did he get dinner?”
“He didn’t really want anything, but I convinced him to finish half a burger and some salad. And he did eat his dessert.” She sighed. “He’s been texting constantly since he got here. I didn’t have the heart to cut him off. Lena must be so scared.”
“The nurses are taking care of her. She ate some dinner and was feeling much better when we left.”
Ford stepped up and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m guessing you had a pretty hard day.”
“I just stood around. Lena’s the one with the illness.” Garrett opened the screen door and led the way into the living room, for a less exposed conversation. “Did you reassure the rest of the kids?”
“We explained that she was getting better but didn’t define the exact problem.” Ford gave a slight shrug. “We weren’t really sure how to deal with that.”
Garrett shook his head. “Me, neither. Teenagers hate being different. And Lena’s pretty image conscious. I’ll have to talk with her about what she wants everybody to know. Though, really, I don’t believe we can keep it quiet. We all live pretty close together here.”
“The whole situation is going to be complicated,” Ford said. “Just making ice cream will challenge Lena’s new lifestyle. But the others will be disappointed if we don’t continue the events.” He paused for a moment. “I’m wondering if the best thing wouldn’t be for Lena to be at home as she learns to adapt—fewer distractions and temptations in an environment she can control.”
“Not at all.” He hadn’t discussed his conversation with Mr. Smith over the telephone, but he described it to Ford and Caroline now. “He basically abandoned Lena to my care. So, ready or not, I’m her support system.
are her support system. We’ll have to figure out how to help her adjust.”
“Mr. Garrett?” Becky Rush and Lizzie Hanson, the other two girls in the camp, stood at the front door. “Can we come in?”
“Sure. How are you tonight? Did you have a good afternoon?”
Becky, a redhead with freckles, nodded. “We went for a long trail ride to part of the ranch we hadn’t seen before.”
“We came to a pond,” Lizzie added. “Deep Pond, is that right?” She looked at Caroline, who smiled. “There was a whole herd of deer grazing in the grass. They stared at us for a long time and then bolted into the trees. They were beautiful.”
“They had fawns with them,” Becky said. “Pretty big ones, but they still had white spots.”
“We wanted to ask about Lena.” Lizzie played with the ends of her blond hair, not meeting Garrett’s gaze. “When can she come back?”
“It’ll be a couple of days,” he said. “She has to learn how to take some medicine when she leaves the hospital, so they’ll be helping her with that new routine. But soon enough we’ll have her here again.”
Becky swallowed hard. “It was scary when she fell. I was afraid she hurt herself.”
“We all were,” Caroline said. “But this was a problem that had been getting worse for her over a period of days or weeks, not something that suddenly happened.”
“And nobody else will get sick?” Lizzie asked, cheeks flushing bright red under her makeup.
“Nobody else can get sick,” Garrett assured her. “Don’t worry.”
“I want her to get well.”
“We all do.”
Having asked their main question, the girls returned to the porch.
“I’ll discuss this with Lena tomorrow,” Garrett said. “And advise her that giving the other teens the whole truth is the best idea. I promised Justino we’d go to the hospital after breakfast.”
Ford shifted his balance, a familiar sign of irritation. “We need you here, too. These six kids deserve attention. Then there’s ranch work to do, and Wyatt’s a long way from being ready. Dylan’s spending more of his day in the studio working on his sculpture. Caroline and I both have jobs in town that we’ve been neglecting.”
“And I have a church to take care of.” Garrett pulled in a deep breath. “I understand that we’re all stretched to the limit. I’ll do the best I can to be in three places at once.”
“We all will,” Caroline said, easing the tension. “Did you like Rachel? I loved how she dealt with Lena.”
“She’s great.” He was careful not to sound too enthusiastic. “Having her at the hospital made everything much easier. And I think Lena already understands she can depend on Dr. Vale.”
“I imagine we’ll be depending on Dr. Vale quite a bit ourselves,” Ford said. “We’ll require someone to help us cope with Lena’s condition. None of us is remotely educated.”
“I’m sure Rachel will provide great backup.” Which would, luckily, give him a chance to know her better. “I did pick up some information at the hospital this afternoon when the nurse talked to Lena about insulin. And tonight I’m going to research diabetes more on the internet.”
Ford shook his head. “You’re not her parent, Garrett. You can’t manage this as if you were.”
“Her dad consigned her to my care. What else can I do?”
Caroline put a hand on his arm. “We’ll work it out, Garrett. All of us together will support you and Lena through this.”
He put his palm over her fingers. “Thanks. Between the Marshalls—you included, Caroline—and Rachel Vale, Lena’s got the best family available.”
But the next morning, Garrett wasn’t sure even the Marshalls and Rachel Vale would be enough. When he and Justino arrived at Lena’s room, Kim Kaiser was there. And Lena was in tears.
“No, no, no,” she wailed. “I can’t.”
Justino rushed to the bed. “What’s wrong?”
She threw herself against his chest. “I can’t give myself shots. It hurts!”
Kim stood calmly on the other side, with a syringe and other equipment laid out on a cloth. She glanced at Garrett. “This isn’t unusual. It’s a pretty challenging prospect, giving yourself a shot. But—” she moved her gaze to Lena “—it has to be done.”
“Even with the insulin pump?”
“The pump portal has to be changed, which is similar to an injection.” As the sobs continued, Kim moved her equipment to a nearby table. “I’ll give her a few minutes,” she said and left the room.
As if Rachel were there to tell him so, Garrett knew he had to respond rationally to help Lena calm down. She was a high-spirited, emotional girl. But she would have to exercise some logic in order to save her own life. Still, there was something to be said for the empathetic approach he’d learned as a minister. Maybe the two could work together...
He waited until she quieted and reclined again on her pillow, still holding tightly to Justino’s hand. “I can understand how upsetting this is,” Garrett told her. “Why would you deliberately stick yourself with a needle?”
Lena sniffed. “I hate shots. Since I was little.”
“Here’s the thing, though.” He’d stayed up reading and now had a good grasp on the facts. “Your blood sugar will change during the day depending on what you eat but also on what you’re doing and other factors you can’t even control. Because your body isn’t monitoring that level for you, you have to do it yourself. Sometimes your blood sugar will be low, and you’ll need to eat. Sometimes it will be high and you’ll need insulin.”
He paused and made sure he had her attention. “The thing is, if you want to stay well—to feel good and do the things you enjoy, including being with Justino and your friends—you must take injections. Now, you can find somebody to do that for you—me, for instance. But that would mean finding me, interrupting whatever I’m doing, pulling up your shirt or pulling down your pants so I can inject you.”
“Or you can take responsibility for your health. Learn to accept that this is something you have to do to take care of yourself, like brushing your teeth.”
As Lena gazed at him, tears flowed down her cheeks. “I don’t want to.”
Garrett put a hand over hers. “I know. And I’m sorry. But it’s necessary in order to keep you happy and alive.”
When Kim returned, Lena was resigned, though far from cheerful. “I guess I have to do this,” she said. “But I hate it.”
“You’ll get used to it,” the nurse reassured her. “Eventually it’ll be no big deal.” She moved her equipment back to the side of the bed. “Now, here’s what you’ll do.”
Garrett drew Justino out of the room with him, to give Lena privacy. “It’s a hard thing,” the boy said. “I can’t stand that she has to suffer this way.”
Another parental moment. Garrett sighed silently. “But if you are going to help Lena manage her health, you can’t feel sorry her. You have to be brave so she can be brave. Does that make sense?”
The boy heaved a deep breath. “I guess so. I can try.”
“Lena’s dad isn’t much help.” Garrett decided to be honest. “So you and I and Dr. Vale are going to be her team. Her cheerleaders. Can you do that? For Lena?”
Justino nodded decisively. “I can.”
“Good job.” The voice coming from behind him was Rachel’s.
Garrett pivoted to face her. “I didn’t realize you’d arrived.”
“I didn’t want to interrupt your conversation, but I couldn’t help overhearing.” She smiled at Justino. “Garrett is right. You can be a big help to Lena. I’m sure she’ll appreciate your encouragement with the changes she’ll be making in her life.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“I know you will. For you,” she said to Garrett, “I brought books.” She held out a couple of volumes, one a thin paperback but the other quite a hefty load. “The big one is more of an encyclopedia—don’t try to read it cover to cover. The smaller one is about coping with diabetic teenagers. I unpacked the boxes in my office this morning and there they were.”
“Thanks.” In the midst of a serious medical situation, he could still notice how her shirt matched the blue of her eyes, how her khaki slacks showed off a small waist and rounded hips, how her russet hair caught the light. “Did you have a restful night?”
“It was fine.” She didn’t meet his eyes. “How’s Lena this morning?”
Garrett related Lena’s response to the prospect of injections and how he’d handled it. “She agreed to cooperate, at least.”
“I’m afraid it’s going to take more toughness on your part and Lena’s to succeed.” Her voice was cool, her expression distant, as if she didn’t want to be talking with him.
Kim Kaiser came out of the hospital room. “I’m giving Lena a break, a chance to absorb what I’ve showed her. This afternoon we can all go over what she’s learned. Will that work for everyone?”
Justino immediately went inside to be with Lena. Garrett watched the nurse make her way down the hall and then looked back at Rachel. “Having second thoughts?”