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Authors: Jillian Hart

Almost Heaven

BOOK: Almost Heaven
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Grief weighed down his soul.

Cameron's late wife had been gone four years, and the pain of heading home to an empty house still ate at him.

Is that going to change anytime soon, Lord?

The elevator inched to a halt, and the doors whispered open. The outside world beyond the long wall of lobby windows was dark, and he hated the thought of going out in it.

Then he saw Kendra through a glass partition in the far wall. The overhead light haloed her golden hair and caressed her creamy complexion. She looked so lovely.

Cameron supposed it was loneliness that made him look. He missed a woman's soft and gentle presence in his life. He'd glimpsed plenty of women over the years, but not one of them made him feel as if the world had simply melted away until there was only her.

Kendra didn't know he was watching as she leaned against the counter, turning to talk to her sister. She sparkled, laughing, tilting back her head to study the array of cheerful balloons floating just out of reach.

Looking heavenward, he couldn't help thinking the good Lord had just given him his answer….

Books by Jillian Hart

Love Inspired

Heaven Sent
#143

*
His Hometown Girl
#180

A Love Worth Waiting For
#203

Heaven Knows
#212

*
The Sweetest Gift
#243

*
Heart and Soul
#251

*
Almost Heaven
#260

JILLIAN HART

makes her home in Washington State, where she has lived most of her life. When Jillian is not hard at work on her next story, she loves to read, go to lunch with her friends and spend quiet evenings with her family.

A
LMOST
H
EAVEN
J
ILLIAN
H
ART

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

—
Corinthians
13:7

Dear Reader,

Thank you for choosing
Almost Heaven
. It has been my pleasure to return to the McKaslin family and tell another sister's story. Kendra aches for a family of her own but believes an earlier tragedy will keep her from trusting a man again. Thankfully, Cameron enters her life, a man as stalwart as the Montana mountains. He teaches her an important lesson: that true love is strong enough to heal any wound and bring us into the light.

Wishing you peace and a life filled with love,

Chapter One

I
t had been a long, hot day. Exhaustion dulled the edges of Kendra's vision, but the familiar sight of her hometown fortified her, as it always did. The green of a well-kept park. The neat line of railroad tracks on one side of the main street and the tidy row of old-fashioned buildings on the other. The cheerful awnings of businesses. The friendly neon sign of her family's coffee shop still burned a bright blue and green in the front window.

She glanced at the clock on the dashboard—thirty-four minutes past four. Maybe she'd stop and beg for food and drink so she wouldn't have to find something in her practically empty cupboards at home. There was probably a box of her beloved macaroni and cheese, but she lacked the energy and the will to make it.

The brief blast of a siren startled her and she glanced in her side-view mirror. Sure enough, there
was a patrol car behind her. Was she speeding? No, the speedometer's needle was a hair past twenty. If anything she was going too slow.

Maybe the sheriff needed to go around her. Well, she was towing a full four-horse trailer. There was no oncoming traffic. Couldn't he just pass her?

No, he stayed stubbornly behind her, not looking as if he intended to pass. That must mean he wanted her.

What did she do? Too many cars were parked along the street, so she signaled and crossed the yellow lines to the other side of the road. She hoped that wasn't illegal or anything, but it wasn't as if she had a choice.

The patrol car followed her over, lights flashing. Brace yourself, Kendra, here he comes.

The town sheriff stalked toward her. Gun on one hip, his powerful arms held to his sides, he walked with an athlete's strength and confidence.

Cameron Durango. One of the last men she wanted to be alone with in the universe. Had he always looked this good in his uniform? Why hadn't she noticed that before?

She was staring at him! And he was likely to notice that. What was wrong with her? She'd given up putting her faith in men a long time ago. It was a done deal, signed, sealed and delivered. A life decision she'd made, and that was that.

The
last
thing she should be noticing was how striking Cameron looked in his uniform. Get a grip, Kendra. He's the sheriff. Nothing more. Nothing less. He
arrests people. He pulls over perfectly innocent drivers for no reason at all.

His boots crunched in the gravel beside her pickup.

Don't look at him. “I wasn't speeding.”

“Hey, Kendra.” He whipped off his hat and the breeze ruffled the dark ends of his military short hair. “How are you doing this fine summer's day?”

“Hot.”

“Yeah? A fine rig like this ought to have air-conditioning standard, right?”

“Sure, but I'm pulling a full load. I don't want to overheat the engine.”

“I understand. I'd baby a new truck if I had one. You got this, what, a month ago?”

She stared straight ahead, not wanting to answer. Okay, she wasn't rude by nature and she felt lame acting that way. But Cameron Durango knew something about her that nobody else did, not even her sisters.

It didn't matter how fine he looked or how friendly he seemed, he reminded her of things best left forgotten.

Couldn't he just go?

“Yeah,” she finally said. “That's why I haven't been driving around the truck I used to have, the one that kept breaking down on me.”

“Right.” Maybe he got the hint, because he paused, as if debating what to do next. Did he leave? No. He rested his forearms on the door of her truck. “Bet
you're wondering what you did wrong to get me on your tail?”

“No. I wasn't speeding.” Maybe if she was difficult, he'd leave her alone. Ticket her or whatever he was going to do and be on his way. So she wouldn't have to remember.

“I was sitting in the shade in my air-conditioning, tucked behind the Town Welcomes You sign, hoping to catch a hoard of speeding tourists and boost the town's income, when you meander along, driving responsibly and under the limit.”

“You admit it.”

“I noticed you were about to lose a tire on your trailer and decided to leave my shady spot behind to come warn you.”

Was he trying to be friendly? And it bugged her because she didn't want to like him. It would be way easier if he was going to unjustly ticket her, instead of help her.

She didn't need his or any man's assistance. “I've got doubles.”

“Still, you're carrying a heavy load.”

“I checked all the tires before I left the auction.” He was right, and she realized the same thing herself, but was she going to tell him that? No. “Which tire?”

“Back right. Wouldn't want you to have a blowout or anything. You could get hurt.”

He had kind eyes, dark and deep, and a rugged face. Not classically handsome but chiseled as if made from granite. He had a straight blade of a nose, an uncom
promising mouth and a square jaw that gave him an air of integrity.

If he were mean, it would have been much easier not to like him. But he wasn't. The worst thing about Cameron Durango was that he was a decent guy. He may carry a gun on his hip and look powerful enough to take down a two-hundred-pound criminal with a body blow, but he had a good heart.

Not that you could tell it from the outside.

Don't think about that night. Cold snaked through her veins, where her heart used to be. If there had been anything redeeming about that horrible night when everything changed for her, it was Cameron's kindness. He'd been truly kind, when she'd neither wanted it nor needed it.

Remembering, she couldn't meet his gaze. Staring hard at the steering wheel, she ran her fingertip around the bottom of the rim. Since that night she hadn't wanted to be alone with any man. Especially Cameron.

“I'll get that changed. Thanks for letting me know. It was decent of you.”

“I try to be decent when I can. Especially to a pretty lady like you.”

The way he said it wasn't flirtatious or anything, but he
was
sounding friendly. It made her start to shake.

She really wanted him to go. “Thanks again.”

But he didn't leave. “Let me guess. You were at
the sale today. The Bureau of Land Management's auction.”

Was he trying to make small talk? It was probably a slow day for him. Hardly anyone was out and about in this heat, but still. She didn't know Cameron well and that's the way she wanted it. Could she be outright rude and tell him so? No.

“I saw the flier—it came to the office. You got wild mustangs back there?”

“Yes.”

She kept staring at her steering wheel. Icy sweat broke out on her palms. This was the way it was whenever she was alone with any man near her age.

Would it always be this way? Prayer had helped her; at least she didn't shake so hard that he might notice.

“Wow. Mind if I take a peek at them?”

Oh, so he was interested in the horses. Kendra relaxed a little but the quaking didn't stop. “Sure. Just be careful. They're not used to people yet.”

“I'll just look.” His grin was in his voice.

Kendra's gaze flashed to the side mirror where he was ambling away, his boots striking the dirt at the side of the road with a muffled rhythm.

With his spine straight and shoulders squared, he looked invincible. Undefeatable. Like everything honest and good and all-American. Just as he'd been for her, a calm strength when the world was smashing apart around her.

Get a grip, Kendra. That night was a long time ago.
It isn't worth thinking about. Jerrod was gone and a part of the past. Look forward, not back.

Cameron crunched through the gravel as he returned. “Those are some fine-looking animals you got.”

“Thanks.” She appreciated Cameron's help, but now she knew about the tire. She would fix it and be on her way—once he was on his. “I don't want to hold you up. I know you have speeders to catch and tickets to write.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?”

Yes. “Here comes a car right now. You might need to check your radar. Could be income for the town.”

He peered in the direction of the luxury sedan creeping down the main street. “Mrs. Greenley? Nah, she's driving under the limit, like she always does. I've clocked her for the better part of the six years I've worked in this town and never caught her speeding once. The town is safe from rampaging, careless drivers for a few more seconds, it looks like.”

“You can never be too sure. You go back to your speed trap and I'll take care of the tire.”

“Afraid I can't let you do that, Kendra.” Cameron planted his hands on his hips, emphasizing the power in his arms and the gun on his hip. “This is my jurisdiction, ma'am, and I believe there's an ordinance that states I must aid stranded motorists in my town or suffer serious consequences.”

Her left eyebrow shot up. “You're kidding.”

“Would I do that?” Absolutely. There wasn't any
such ordinance, but he wasn't about to tell her that? “If I don't make sure your vehicle's safe to drive in this town, I'd be breaking my own laws.”

“What laws?”

“The ones that say I'd have to write myself a ticket.”

“Go ahead. I don't mind.”


I
would.” He had her, he knew it by the twinkle in her pretty eyes. “Might even have to throw myself in jail and that's not how I want to spend my day.”

“So, why would I care? I'm perfectly capable of changing the tire.”

“Yeah, but I have a flawless record. Not a single infraction to date. You wouldn't want my reputation besmirched, would you?”

“Sure I would.”

Humor tugged at the corners of her soft, lush mouth. Cam felt some pride about that. Kendra McKaslin might look cool and unapproachable, but she seemed like a real nice lady.

He'd been trying to approach her for the last few months, but he had a lot of questions about horses. He didn't know where to start. He didn't want to look like a dummy. After all, a man had his pride.

But Kendra didn't strike him as someone who'd made anyone feel dumb. She seemed as sweet as spring, with her long blond hair shimmering down her back like liquid gold in the sunlight. She'd grown up in one of the wealthier families in their humble valley, but was she snooty?

No. Down to earth, filled with common sense, Kendra was country-girl goodness soul-deep. He could
feel
it. He'd watched her kindness to her horses every time she'd ridden one of them into town on an errand to the store or to visit her family's coffee shop.

She appeared to be real good with the animals. Everyone said she was the best in the area when it came to horsemanship. But he hadn't gotten up his courage to talk to her.

Now was his chance. “I know you're an independent kind of woman. You're more than capable of changing that tire on your own.”

“So why are you still standing here?” The hint of her smile grew into a real one.

“I've got an election coming up. What would folks think if they see you stranded here in obvious need of help—”

“Stranded? I don't think so!”

“Still, they'll watch me drive off and leave you behind and draw their own conclusions. All folks will see is that their elected official abandoned a woman stuck along the side of the road, slacking off on his duties.”

“Like anyone would think you were a slacker.”

“I can't risk it. Folks might vote for my opponent come September. I'd lose my job. Won't be able to pay my bills. You don't want to be responsible for that, do you?”

“Sure.” There were more sparkles in her pretty blue eyes.

She had a quiet kind of beauty, one that wasn't only skin-deep.

His chest gave a strange hitch in the vicinity of his heart as he opened the truck's door for her. That was odd, considering how he hadn't felt much beside grief since Deb's death. “Your sister's sign is still on in the window. Why don't you go in, say hello and get something cool to drink? Give me twenty minutes and I'll have this taken care of.”

“That's not right. It's my trailer.”

“Yeah, well, it's a slow day. I don't see a lot of wild speeders or crime sprees on Thursday afternoons. It's okay to let me do this, Kendra.”

He could see the argument coming. He'd learned to read people during his fifteen years wearing a badge. He saw a woman used to doing things herself. “If it bothers your conscience, then you can bring a batch of cookies or something by the station. My deputy has a sweet tooth you wouldn't believe.”

She swept down from the seat with an easy grace that she didn't seem aware of.

He was. It sure threw him for a loop.

Today she looked summery and girl-next-door fresh in a white tank top, a pair of jean shorts and slip-on tennis shoes. Her blond hair, streaked by time in the sun, was tied back in a long ponytail. She slipped her sunglasses from the top of her head onto her nose and circled around the rig to look at the damage.

“I think my spare went flat.” She said it wearily,
more to herself than to him. Probably expecting some kind of reprimand.

Why would he do that? Didn't a woman who worked hard to make her own living deserve a break? He sure thought so. “Zach's at his garage. I'll take the tire over for him to patch.”

“He's my brother-in-law, and I can do it.”

“Toll House, no walnuts. I have a soft spot for butterscotch chips.

He left her standing there, watching him with a slack jaw as he yanked the jack from his cruiser's trunk. “I'm helping you, no matter what. Just accept it.”

“I should help you.”

“Why? It would make me look bad. I've got my public image to think about. Voters care about that kind of thing.”

He didn't care about his image, he worked hard to do the right thing and he was proud of his record. He had time, and in helping her maybe he'd find a way to approach her. Ask her professional opinion. “I'm not taking no for an answer. Your only option is to let me do my job.”

BOOK: Almost Heaven
10.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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