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Authors: Barbara Freethy

Tags: #Contemporary

Almost Home

BOOK: Almost Home
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going to have a
I know I'm a coward to
write, but I'm afraid of what I'll
in your eyes when you hear the news. I know
this isn't what you want, and I don't see how we can ever be together. But I
believe in my heart that you
know the truth—you're going
to be a father. Now, if only I have the courage to send this

atherine Whitfield sat in the front seat of her rental
car, tears filling her eyes as she traced the handwritten words with a shaky

She'd read the letter a hundred times since she'd
discovered it a week ago, hidden away in an old cedar chest in her stepfather's
attic. She'd memorized every word, every curve of every line, wondering if it
could possibly have been written to her father by her mother.

There was no signature, but the writing looked
familiar—or did she simply want it to be true? She'd spent years wishing for
the tiniest bit of information about her father, but her mother had always said
they'd discuss it later. Unfortunately, later had never come. Her mother had
died two days before Katherine's twelfth birthday, and she'd been left alone
with a stepfather of only nine months and no other blood relatives anywhere in
the world.

Was it possible her real father had never known about
her? Obviously the letter hadn't been sent. And she'd found the letter with
other things in the chest as well, matchbooks, cocktail napkins, and a
full-sized hand-stitched quilt with dates and words of memory. But whose words?
Whose memories? Whose life belonged to the chest?

It was a question that had sent her halfway across the
country from the urban streets of
to the rolling hills of
Now she had parked her car in the lot of a Dairy Queen, where she'd stopped for
a Diet Coke and a few moments to rethink her plan.

Suddenly, a child burst through the doors of the
restaurant, holding a large milk shake in her hand. The little girl's small
face was covered with an ear-to-ear smile and a matching smear of chocolate.

A tall man stepped out of a car. "Over here,
sweetheart," he called.

"Daddy, Daddy. Look what I got," the child

The man held out his arms with a wide, beaming grin,
and the child ran into his embrace. He kissed the top of the little girl's
head, and the small affectionate gesture tore at Katherine's heart. There were
no words of reprimand for the messy face, only loving acceptance.

A deep ache of longing swept through Katherine. She'd
wanted a relationship like that. She'd never had it with her stepfather.
Mitchell Whitfield had always treated her more like a responsibility than a
daughter. If there was a chance, even a small one, that her real father could
be alive, that he could want to know her as much as she wanted to know
him—Katherine had to take it.

Setting the envelope aside, she started the car and
pulled out of the parking lot. She barely paused at the entrance to the road.
Since she'd left the main highway, traffic had been almost nonexistent.

As she headed down the two-lane road, past the rolling
green hills, endless white fences, thoroughbred horse farms, and elegant
dogwood trees still clinging to a few spring blossoms, she knew she was a long
way from home and the only life she knew. But the cocktail napkins, the match
covers, all had one thing in common: the name

Katherine had never acted so impulsively in her life,
but with her stepparents out of town, she'd had no one to answer her questions.
So she'd arranged to take care of the loose ends in her life and traveled to
. She flipped on
the radio for a distraction. She was just in time to hear a female singer ask, "Where
have all the cowboys gone?"

A good question, she thought with a wistful sigh. She
didn't know if it had to do with wanting a father or wanting a boyfriend or a
husband or just wanting someone who really cared about her, but there was a
hole inside of her that she couldn't seem to fill. She'd tried to keep busy
with work and friends and chocolate—lots and lots of chocolate. Nothing had

Jeez, she was a head case, wanting, wanting, wanting,
when most everyone would look at her life and say it was good.
And it was
It was also a little lonely.

Katherine switched off the radio with a decisive
click, knowing it was foolish to yearn for some impossible romance of the
century. At twenty-seven, she'd been around enough to know there weren't any
more cowboys, no more men who roamed the open plains, who were strong and
invincible and protective of their women. Those guys didn't exist anymore.

The men she knew were soft in the middle from too many
business lunches and too much time spent firing the remote control. They didn't
wear holsters, they wore pagers. And a cowboy hat would have messed up the
style of their hair.

Smiling to herself, Katherine knew she was
generalizing, but for the life of her, she couldn't think of one man she'd gone
out with in the last year who had made her heart race.

Where was the deep, passionate love, the desperate need
to be with someone, the feeling of intense and utter connection? She wanted to
believe she would feel it all someday, but maybe such a love didn't exist.
Maybe her father didn't exist. Maybe she should just turn around and go home
and settle for the life she had, the family she had.

As her gaze drifted down the highway, a shiver ran
down her spine, and she knew she couldn't turn around and go home. The long,
empty road beckoned to her in a way she'd never imagined. She'd spent her
entire life in big cities, surrounded by skyscrapers and traffic and people.
But here, outside of
, there was a quiet that
was oddly appealing. She couldn't shake the feeling that she was meant to come
here. Call it destiny, call it crazy, but she had to at least see what was at
the end of this road.

Katherine reached for the map sticking out of her
purse, then cursed when her purse tumbled to the floor, spilling out the map,
her wallet, cell phone, and a dozen coins. She reached for the map, trying to
keep one eye on the highway, which had suddenly decided to curve. She had
barely straightened when she saw the silver horse trailer parked on the side of
the road. She was going too fast. She hit the brakes in panic, but she was too
close, far too close…

Twisting the wheel to the right as hard and as fast as
it would go, she prayed for a miss. The car spun, kicking up gravel and dust.
She hung on, urging the car to go to the side, to miss the trailer. She was
almost there. She could see the shoulder of the road in front of her, and the
deep drainage ditch. Damn! It was her last thought before the car slid
headfirst into the gully off the side of the road.

Her head bounced off the steering wheel and she saw a
kaleidoscope of colors in front of her eyes. Her ears rang with the sound of
bells and horses and swearing.

Katherine shook her head, trying to figure out where
she was and who was yelling at her. There was a man—a tall, dark-haired man
with burning black eyes—standing next to her window. He was pulling on the door
handle and yelling all sorts of absurdities that seemed to have less to do with
her and more to do with a horse.

She roused herself enough to unlock the door. She
pushed on it as the man pulled on it, sending her stumbling into his arms.

He caught her with a sureness, a strength, that made
her want to sink into his embrace and rest for a moment. She needed to catch
her breath. She needed to feel safe.

"You could have killed my horse," he ground
out angrily, his rough-edged voice right next to her ear. "Driving like a
maniac. What the hell were you thinking about?"

Katherine could barely keep up with his surge of angry
words. "Let me go."

His grip eased slightly, but he didn't let go.

They stared at each other, their breaths coming in
matching frightened gasps. Dressed in faded blue jeans and a white shirt with
the sleeves rolled up to the forearms, the man towered over Katherine. His eyes
were fierce, and his thick dark hair looked like he'd run his fingers through
it all day long. His face was too rugged to be handsome, but it was compelling,
strong, stubborn, determined…

Good heavens—she had the distinct feeling she'd found
herself a cowboy.

"Rogue's okay," a man called from the road.

Katherine turned in confusion, unaware there was
someone else on the earth, much less on the road. The man in front of her
seemed to take up so much space.

"I'll be there in a second. Keep talking to him,"
the man called back, his eyes still resting on Katherine's face, his hands
still holding her arms. "Are you all right?"

BOOK: Almost Home
2.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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