Authors: Alannah Carbonneau
A Tender Touch
A Donnelley Brother Novel
By Alannah Carbonneau
Copyright © 2014 Alannah Carbonneau
All rights reserved.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Ebook formatting by
Table of Contents
I startled awake by the sound of my father’s booming voice seeping through the thin walls of our home. Beneath my weight, the springs of my bed protested as I shifted to pull my blanket up beneath my chin.
The room was dark. The only light spilling into the small square box of a room was the white light of the moon peering in through the small rectangular window. My body knew I should be sleeping, but I couldn’t when just outside my bedroom door, there was chaos.
“Damn it, Allison!” His voice speared through my mom’s pleading words. “I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. I
“What?” My mother’s voice was frantic as she asked - never demanded - only asking, for answers. “What can’t you do, Jim?”
“This!” My father screamed the word and I flinched against my mattress. I knew my father, and I knew that tone he used. It was the tone where his face would turn red to match the brilliant locks of his hair, and the veins in his neck would rise. His fingers would curl into tight fists - that would frighten my mother - even though he’d never stooped so low as to use their force on her.
His chin would quiver with words he restrained.
Even at twelve years old, I knew there were words left unsaid - words he longed to scream at the top of his lungs, but felt he couldn’t. I’d wondered for years what those words were.
Little did I know that tonight would be the night I received all my answers.
“Jim.” My mother sniffled. “Talk to me. We can get through this.” Her voice turned pleading and I felt my little heart break in my chest. “We’ve made it this far.”
“You don’t get it, Allison!” He roared. “I never wanted to make it this far. I never wanted this - you did.” His tone was accusing and my mom whimpered.
I could hear the small sound through the walls that separated me from them, and I ached to climb out of my bed to comfort my mother, as I so often did when they fought. I just had to wait. I had to bide my time - because soon enough, I knew my father would stomp from the front door to visit a table at The Old Bar. I just had to wait a little longer - then I could slide from between my sheets and hold my broken mom while she struggled to put the pieces of herself back together.
“What are you saying?” My mother surprised me with her words. She was usually so quiet - so submissive.
“I’m saying it’s over.” My skin pebbled with goosebumps as I strained to hear my father’s words.
“No.” I imagined my mother shaking her head. “No. No. No. Nononononoooo!”
“Allison!” His voice stopped her wailing. “I told you twelve years ago that I didn’t want this. I told you to get rid of it.” My skin felt stretched tight over my bones as my mind worked to understand the words my father spoke. “I told you, Allison!”
“But you stayed.” My mom cried. “You stayed, Jim! You’ve been her father for twelve years - what are you going to do? Just walk out and never look back?”
There was a pulsing beat of silence and then he spoke. “I told you I didn’t want this.”
“I fucking told you, Allison!” His words shook the walls. “I told you to abort. I offered adoption. I wanted you to do anything but have her!”
“You can’t mean that.”
“I do.” There was resolution in my father’s painful words. “I can’t do another six years, Allison.”
The thumping of booted feet sounded against the floor of the hall outside my bedroom. And then the patter of smaller feet chased the thumping until my mother and father were standing in their bedroom. Amber light spilled beneath the crack of my bedroom door. It’s stark light was an unwelcomed contrast to the cool glow of the moon igniting the dark of my four walls.
“You’re packing?” My mother’s question broke through the numbness of my thoughts and I refocused on my parent’s conversation.
“I can’t do this.”
“I love you, Jim.
Ember loves you!”
My mother’s voice was rising on hysteria. “How are we supposed to live without you?”
“You have the shelter.” My father replied. “It brings in enough money.”
My father sighed. “I’ve never loved you, Allison.” My mother hissed in a breath. “I stayed because it was what everyone said was the right thing. I’m done listening to the right thing. I’m done.”
“Ember?” My mom whispered my name. “She’s your daughter.”
“No.” He said bluntly. “She’s just a kid. I’ve never looked at her and saw
. She’s just
, Allison.” His voice turned sad for the first time tonight. “Ember deserves more than me for a dad. You’ll find someone else with me gone, Allison.”
“I don’t want anyone else, Jim!” My mother’s screech was earthshattering. “I only want you!”
“You should’ve aborted, Allie.”
Those were the last words I would ever hear my father speak.
Those four words would haunt me for the next ten years.
“Kamilla Re,” I stuttered over her recently changed last name. “Donnelley!” Kami laughed into the phone and I fought my own smile, grateful she couldn’t see the curl of my lips. “I’m nearly out the door.”
“But you’re not yet out the door.” She stated. “You’re running late and I...”
“I’m waiting to say bye to mom, Kami.” I said as I slouched down into the cushion of the couch. “She’s just left the shelter.”
“Oh.” Kami grunted. “I can’t wait to see you.”
“I know.” I mumbled. “I can’t wait to see you either, but I have to say bye to mom. I won’t see her for nearly four months!” I grunted. “This is the longest vacation I’ve ever taken, Kami. I’m worried about leaving her for so long.”
“It’s okay, Ember.” My best friend assured me. “You just drive safe and get here when you get here. But be careful on the roads, okay? It’s slippery.”
She sighed. “You just had to wait until there was snow covering every surface before you made the trip, didn’t you?”
“Hey!” I scolded. “It’s the beginning of March! Since when do we get snow like this in March?” I huffed my defense before stating. “I’m a more cautious driver than you! And I’ve been there before. Your accident was one of your first times driving on those roads. You forget, I know the road to the Ranch.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” She sighed. “I’ll be waiting for you! Text me when you pass through Calgary so I know where you are.”
“I will.” I promised. In the background, I heard the low hum of mom’s shelter van pull into the driveway. “Mom’s home. Gotta go.”
“Love you too!”
Tossing my phone onto the cushion beside me, I shifted on the couch to peer out the window in time to see my mother kick open the door of her white van with paw print decals adorning the side in haphazard patterns. Her black pants were nearly white with dog hair - or maybe it was cat hair - I was never certain. Her wild ebony hair was pulled into a high messy bun on the top of her head and her cheeks were flushed. There was no doubt in my mind she’d sped to get herself home and she was still late. But that didn’t surprise me. My mother’s entire life revolved around the Animal Shelter and me, her one and only child.
I watched her skate up the walkway of our house on the soles of her worn boots and thought to remind her once again that she had to keep up on the ice melt while I was away. I’d never left my mom for long. Even throughout University, I’d been home nearly every night. Whenever we left home, we left together. My being away from March to September was a definite change for the both of us. I knew we were both nervous.
The front door swung open and I felt the blast of cold air connect with my flesh and I fought a shiver as I stood. “Hey, mom.”
“Brrr!” She rubbed the red, cracked flesh of her hands together to generate heat. “It’s cold out there, Ember! Jeez, I thought it was supposed to be spring.”
“The weather network says it’s supposed to be the last cold-spell.” I smiled gently, walking toward her to take her chilled hands into my warm ones. I rubbed her hands between mine and she sighed.
“The weather network hires liars!”
I chuckled. “I have to get onto the road soon, mom, if I want to make it there before it’s dark.”
Her eyes blinked rapidly and I knew she was struggling with the thought of me going away for so long. “Yes, you should be on your way.”
“I’m going to miss you.”
“Oh, baby.” The weight of her breathy words was heavy. “You know I’m going to miss you. But I also want you to know that I’m going to be fine. You need to stop worrying about me, honey, and enjoy your time with Kamilla at the Ranch. I’ll be there in July for our usual summer vacation.”
“I will, mom.” I felt my throat tighten and I knew she sensed it, because she pulled me into her chest.
“Say hi to Kami for me, okay?”
“I will.” I promised. “I love you.”
“I love you, baby.” She kissed my temple. “I’ll see you in a month.”
“Yes.” I nodded. “In a month.”
She pulled away with a gentle, emotional smile on her face. It was that smile you see moms give when their heart is both breaking, and beating, with joy. Her cerulean eyes, so similar to mine, misted with tears. The sight made me choke on my own emotion.
Pulling in a ragged breath, she spoke. “Is your car loaded?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“Alright,” she cupped my face with still cold hands. “You’re going to give me a hug and then you’re going to pick your phone up from the couch and then you’re going to drive to the Donnelley Ranch. When you get there, you’re going to call me and let me know you’ve made it alive.”
I laughed through my sudden tears as nodded. “Okay, mom.”
“Don’t cry, baby.” She wiped my tears away. “This will be a beautiful adventure for you. I can feel it.” She placed her palm over her heart. “Right in here.”
The sprawling canvas of the winter land was just as stunning as the summer beneath the glimmering hues of the purple and orange backdrop of the setting sun. Crystalized fresh snow blanketed the terrain, capturing the sunset’s colors in their pebbled prisms of icicled magic.
As my tires slowed to roll over the fresh powdered fluff of white, I breathed a breath of utter joy. The Donnelley Wild Land Tours Ranch was my favorite place on earth. Since I was thirteen, the summer after my father had left my mother and I in the dead of the night, never to return, I’d been coming here. This was the first time I had come to this place without my mother - and it was the first time I had come while snow still blanketed the vast expanse of wondrous land.
I had come to this Ranch every summer since I was thirteen years old - apart from last summer. Last summer I had been working as an assistant to a local Equine Veterinarian after completing my fourth year at the University of Alberta, earning a bachelors degree in biology. I was now facing the daunting applications to veterinary colleges, which if I got in, would have me studying for another four years.
I loved working with horses. My love of horses had started here - at The Donnelley Ranch - where I’d first encountered the majestic beings. I loved horses and couldn’t imagine spending my life doing anything but caring for them, but I also couldn’t imagine spending another four years studying. I was twenty-two. By the time I was finished school, I would be twenty-seven, because I had decided to take the next year off.
I needed a break - desperately. Thankfully, Kami thought I needed to spend my much-needed break at the Ranch. Now that I was here, I definitely agreed. Plus, I hadn’t seen my best friend in over a year, when she’d left for the Ranch on a spur of the moment decision to leave Rhett, her abusive boyfriend.
I missed my best friend.
Putting my Chevy Cruze in park, I wasted no time in pushing open the door of my car as I saw Kami dart from the check-in shop to race down the steps toward me. Her long chocolate hair bounced with every excited step she took toward me.