Authors: Emily March
ABE GAVE IN
to both their desires. He tugged off his shirt and it wasn’t until he heard her shocked gasp that he realized just what he’d done. The scars had been a part of him for so long now that he forgot he even had them. He unconsciously straightened, bracing himself against the barrage of questions sure to come. Questions he had no intention of answering. That part of his life was a closed book.
The pretty veterinarian surprised him. But for that one betraying inhalation, her professionalism never slipped. Maybe her gaze was a bit softer, her touch as gentle as the snowfall, but she never once recoiled or eyed him with pity. Gradually Gabe relaxed. For a few stolen moments he allowed himself to pleasure in the sensation of human touch upon his skin.
“I’ll quarantine the boxer,” she said. “You should drive into Gunnison and see Dr. Hander at the medical clinic. He’ll put you on prophylactic antibiotics. When was your last tetanus shot?”
Next she ran through a series of basic questions about his medical history, and then asked him to lie on his back. “Your legs will hang off the table, I’m afraid, but this way will keep your pants dry.”
His jeans had been wet since he wrestled with the dog, but he kept that detail to himself and studied her through half-closed eyes as she prepared to bathe his wounds with saline. Her beauty was the wholesome, girl-next-door type. He figured the lack of a ring on her finger was due to work-related safety factors rather than marital status. Bet she was married with a couple of kids.
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Ballantine Books Mass Market Original
Copyright © 2011 by Geralyn Dawson Williams
by Geralyn Dawson Williams copyright © 2011 by Geralyn Dawson Williams
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
by Geralyn Dawson Williams. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the content of the forthcoming edition
Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi
Cover illustration: Robert Steele
In loving memory of my dad,
John Edward Dawson.
He was the greatest storyteller I’ve ever known.
that blessed word, which opens to the human heart
the most perfect glimpse of Heaven, and helps to
carry it thither, as on an angel’s wings.
Eagle’s Way Estate
Outside of Eternity Springs, Colorado
Holding a 9 mm Glock in one hand and a tumbler of single-malt scotch in the other, John Gabriel Callahan stared out the mountain home’s wall of windows and knew it was time to take a hike. An hour ago he’d watched a gray cloud bank roll in and swallow the rocky peaks above. The rain had turned to snow twenty minutes later. Now a thin layer of white dusted the branches of the trees that surrounded him in every direction. Evergreens and aspen—yellow, gold, and orange with autumn. It was a breathtaking view. A lonely beauty.
It was perfect place to … hike.
He set down his glass without sampling the whiskey, then shifted the automatic from his left hand to his right. He held it balanced on his palm, testing the weight, absorbing its warmth. How long had it been since he’d held a gun? Long enough for it to feel foreign. Not nearly long enough to forget.
Heaven knows he needed to forget.
A bitter smile hovered on his lips. He stuck the Glock into his jeans at the small of his back, and ignoring the jackets hanging on the coat rack, exited the house.
He paused long enough to lock the door behind him
and secure the key in the lock box like a good guest should. Then he paused on the wide wooden deck, surveyed the area, and debated which way to go. Up into the mountains behind him? Along the shallow creek that bisected the high, narrow valley? Across the creek to the tree-covered slopes rising before him? It didn’t much matter. Wilderness stretched in every direction. The memories traveled with him everywhere.
He chose to climb the mountain behind him, where the path appeared a little rockier, the forest a bit more dense. The more rigorous the path, the better.
He hiked a long time, his thoughts bouncing between events of his life. His lives. That’s how he thought of it. He’d had his life in Texas, then the dark months overseas and his struggle for survival, and finally the new life when he’d started over. The third time, he’d gotten it right.
The third time’s the charm
A bitter wind whipped around him, and he grew as numb on the outside as he’d been on the inside for the better part of a year now. Weariness weighted his legs and his soul.
The snowfall intensified, visibility decreased. As the ground disappeared beneath a blanket of white, he idly wondered if this snow would last until spring. It was early in the season for snow, so he doubted it. Although, at this high altitude, with this low temperature, who knew? Bet it wasn’t more than fifteen degrees. A man could freeze to death.
But that way was too easy.
He turned into the wind, and in the echo of wind and memory he thought he heard a sound. Listening hard, he heard it again and his gut clenched. It sounded like … laughter. The sweet, familiar notes of laughter. A woman’s. A child’s. Happy.
Haunted, Gabe closed his eyes and shuddered.
No laughter, just ghosts
Over. It’s over. I’m done
. He broke into a jog, chasing the imaginary sound or running from it, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. He moved deeper into the forest, uphill and down, paying scant attention to his path until trees gave way to rolling meadow. It was a beautiful, peaceful place.
Their suburban home in Virginia had been a beautiful, peaceful place. A sanctuary.
The imagined echoes of laughter swelled and strengthened into a whirlwind of memory, sweet and pure, and Gabe listened and yearned until the sound transformed and all he heard were screams. He was so very tired of the screams.
In a Rocky Mountain meadow, Gabe Callahan tripped and fell flat on his face. He lay in the biting cold and snow, breathing as if he’d run a marathon, sweat—or maybe tears—running down his face. He wanted to die. Dear God, he wanted to die. Here. Today. Now. Right now.
Today would have been Matthew’s sixth birthday.
Enough. He climbed to a kneeling position and reached for the Glock. This time the weapon felt natural in his grip. He flicked off the safety and chambered a round. Shutting his eyes, he took one last deep breath. A sense of peace surrounded him like the snowfall, and he was ready.
The force hit him without warning, a hard body blow to the back that knocked him forward and sent the Glock sailing from his grip. Weight settled atop him. Gabe’s thoughts flew like bullets. Not a man. Fur. An animal. Sharp claws dug into his back. Mountain lion? Would fangs sink into his neck?
Instinct kicked in, and in a strange twist of fate, Gabe prepared to fight for his life. He rolled and the animal
rolled with him and let out a sound. Gabe froze. This wasn’t a mountain cat.
Arf, arf, arf
. It pounced again, its forelegs landing on Gabe’s chest, and a long wet tongue rolling out to lick his face.
Gabe’s breath fogged on the air as he let out a heavy sigh, pushed the dog off his chest, and sat up. It was a goofy, too-friendly, starved-to-skin-and-bones boxer with floppy ears and a crooked tail. Gabe turned his head as the tongue came back and bathed his face in slobber once again.
Then, for the first time in months, John Gabriel Callahan smiled.
“You’re an angel, Dr. Nic,” said the fifth-grader, her arms full of a shaggy-haired, mixed-breed puppy and her eyes swimming with tears. “I love you. I’m so glad you moved home to Eternity Springs. I knew you’d be able to fix Mamey, and that we wouldn’t have to put him down like Daddy said.”
Nicole Sullivan stood at the doorway of her veterinary clinic and waved at the girl’s mother, Lisa Myers, who waited in the ten-year-old sedan on the street, her eight-month-old son strapped into a car seat in the back. “I’m glad I could help, Beth. And I’ll enjoy your mom’s canned peaches all winter long.”
The smile remained on her face until the car drove off and she sighed and murmured, “Too bad I can’t pay the electric bill in peaches.”
Or baked goods. Or venison. She had managed to barter a case of elderberry wine for a radiator hose replacement on her truck.
“Mom says you have to stop giving away your services,” said Lori Reese, Nic’s volunteer assistant and seventeen-year-old goddaughter.
“Like your mother doesn’t let Marilyn Terrell pay for a portion of her groceries with free video rentals,” Nic fired back. “Rentals she seldom uses.”
Lori shrugged. “My mom is queen of ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ ”
“That’s true.” It was also true that Nic had a severe cash-flow problem. In the five years since her divorce, she’d worked hard to pay down the debt her sleazy, tax-evading ex had dumped in her lap, but she still had a long way to go. Those bills on top of her school loans and a practice whose invoices were paid in foodstuffs as often as currency made meeting monthly expenses a challenge.
“Let’s swab the decks around here, Lori, and call it a day,” Nic said, checking her watch. “I have an appointment at the bank, and with any luck, I’ll be through in time to catch a bite of supper at the Bristlecone Café before it closes.” She still had two free specials coming in payment for suturing the cut on Billy Hawkins’ chin after his skateboard accident.