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Authors: Cathleen Armstrong

Tags: #FIC042040, #FIC027020, #Self-realization—Fiction

Last Chance Hero

BOOK: Last Chance Hero
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© 2015 by Cathleen Armstrong

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www
.
revellbooks
.com

Ebook edition created 2015

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-4853-4

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Praise for
Welcome to Last Chance

“A wonderful debut novel. . . . Readers will enjoy the simplicity of
Welcome to Last Chance
and the complexity of Lainie's character.”

—
New York
Journal of Books

“Cathleen Armstrong's debut novel is a warm-hearted look at ordinary people living out genuine faith.”

—
Crosswalk.com

“With equal parts hope, charm, and tender faith, Cathleen Armstrong spins a tale as warm and welcoming as a roadside cafe on a dusty highway. Exit from the fast lane and visit Last Chance. It's a place you won't soon forget.”

—Lisa Wingate
, bestselling and award-winning author of
Firefly Island
and
Blue Moon
Bay

Praise for
One More Last Chance

“Armstrong continues her A Place to Call Home series with this sweet romance that features vivid descriptions of the Southwestern landscape, colorful supporting characters, and engaging relationships subtly shaped by Christian faith.”

—
Booklist

“A gentle love story with a cozy feel. . . . It boasts well-crafted characters who feel like old friends, and its theme of hope leaves readers with the knowledge that for everyone, there really can be one more last chance. This tale is recommended for all fans of sweet and light romances.”

—
Library Journal

Praise for
At Home in
Last Chance

“Armstrong breathes fresh life into the familiar faces and places of Last Chance as she introduces new characters with their own compelling problems and continues, with satisfying results, ongoing plotlines. Once again, Armstrong demonstrates her gift for capturing tiny details and creating moments of descriptive magic that will captivate new and returning readers.”

—
Booklist

“Devotees of Armstrong's series will be thrilled to return to this small town. First-time readers will be delightfully entertained as the author carefully weaves plot threads with details of each character's backstory so that one can jump easily in with this installment. Fans of Melody Carlson will be quick to snatch up this entry that is full of adventure, romance, and fun.”

—
Library Journal

For my mother,
Elizabeth

1

G
ood morning, and welcome to Last Chance.” Rita Sandoval, owner and manager of the Last Chance Motel as well as the town's mayor and chief booster, tucked her pencil back behind her ear and smiled up at Dr. Jessica MacLeod. “I know you're going to love it here.”

“I hope so. I'm counting on it.” Jess found the big urn of coffee in the corner of the motel lobby and filled a Styrofoam cup to the brim. Cradling it between her hands, she gazed out the front window. The sky had just begun to lighten an hour ago when she began her run, but now the sun was fully up, spilling its light over the desert, shading the distant mountains in blue and purple and the nearby desert floor in sage green and gold. Over it all arched a sky of such brilliant turquoise that it almost hurt to look at it, so different from the gray and foggy mornings she knew in San Francisco. She took a sip of her coffee.
Oh, I do hope so, because
there's no turning back now.

“Well, I wish I had time today to take you around and introduce you to everyone.” Rita picked up a clipboard from her desk and stood up. “Ordinarily, that's just what I'd do, but I'm afraid I've got to get right over to the Dip 'n' Dine and start getting set up for our fiesta tonight.”

“That's okay. I'll meet everybody eventually. It's not like I'm just passing through.”

“You should come with me.” Rita slung her purse over her shoulder. “It's only a couple blocks from here, and you're going to want some breakfast anyway. Have you eaten at the Dip 'n' Dine yet? Well, I'm here to tell you that you are about to eat some of the best food you'll ever put in your mouth. Carlos, the cook, has been famous in these parts for years, and he and Chris Reed, the new owner, are doing some great things. Chris was a big chef up in Albuquerque before he bought the place, you know, and it took him a little while to find his footing here, but now there's just no holding 'em back. This fiesta tonight is just one of a series of food and live music events we've been having all summer. This one's called Red Chile and Bluegrass.”

Still talking, Rita put the “Back Soon” placard in the window, ushered Jess outside, locked the front door, and headed across the parking lot at a brisk pace. Jess's choices were either calling after Rita that she was staying behind or going along. Going along with Rita seemed the easier course of action, and as Jess hurried to catch up, she wondered if most people didn't find going along with Rita the easier route.

“Oh, there's Manny Baca opening up Otero Gas and Oil. You'll want to meet him. He's got three little kids, twin girls and a boy. He bought Otero's from his father-in-law last spring, so by rights, it should be called Baca's now, but once something takes hold in Last Chance, it's hard to change it.” She waved her hand over her head as she led Jess across the road. “Manny, I want you to meet our new doctor. This is Dr. Jessica MacLeod. She's opening an office right here in Last Chance. What do you think about that?”

“I think it sounds great.” Manny grinned and offered his hand. “We've been wearing a groove in the Last Chance highway getting
our kids back and forth to the pediatrician in San Ramon for one thing and another. I'm not sure what Patsy would think about changing doctors, though. He's been taking care of us for years.”

“I'm not here to raid anyone's practice.” Jess liked the wide smile and firm handshake of the proprietor of Otero Gas and Oil, although he did seem way too young to be a business owner and father of three. “I've joined the family practice at San Ramon Medical Center, and I'll have a satellite office here in Last Chance.”

“Well, we've got places to go and things to do.” Rita's stated purpose in crossing the road had been to introduce Manny, and clearly, since that objective had been met, it was time to move along. “We'll see you all this evening at Red Chile and Bluegrass, right?”

“Wouldn't miss it. Nice meeting you, Doc.” He lifted his hand in a wave and turned back toward his office as Rita led Jess back across the road.

“Now, up ahead across the road is Last Chance's newest business establishment, Desert Sage. It's a beauty salon, and I'm here to tell you that Kaitlyn Reed, who owns it, can do anything. Don't think for a minute that just because ninety percent of the people who come out of there have wash-and-set perms, she doesn't know what's what. She just knows how to give her customers what they want, that's all. She's from Scottsdale and only moved here because her brother's here. I told you about him; he's the one who bought the Dip 'n' Dine. Oh, good. It looks like the place is full.”

They had reached the parking lot of the Dip 'n' Dine, and Jess found herself wondering how someone could walk so fast and talk so much and not be out of breath. Rita had to be at least sixty.

“Hey, everybody, I want you to meet our new doctor. This is Dr. Jessica MacLeod.” Rita's voice carried well, even through the buzz of conversation and clatter of dishes. Silence fell as everyone stopped eating and looked toward the door Rita had just blown
through with Jess in tow. “I know. You all think she doesn't look old enough to be a doctor, but she is, and a good one too from everything I hear. She'll have an office right here on Main Street, and for starters she'll be here three days a week and in San Ramon for two. Right, Doctor?”

“That's right.” Jess tried to smile but was suddenly extremely aware that this was not how she had planned to meet the people of Last Chance and her future patients. All she had wanted when she stopped in the office of the Last Chance Motel after her run was a cup of coffee. She was wearing shorts, running shoes, and a Beat Stanford T-shirt. Her strawberry blonde hair was pulled off her face in a stubby ponytail, and she could almost feel every last freckle beaming from her scrubbed face. What had she been thinking to follow Rita down the street looking like that?

Everyone smiled, some called “Welcome,” and all went back to their breakfasts. Jess felt a tap on her arm.

“I need to talk to Chris about the fiesta tonight, so I'm going to set you right here at the counter, if that's all right. You'll want to meet Andy anyway. He's our new high school football coach. Andy, this is our new doctor, Jessica MacLeod.”

“Morning.” Andy put down his fork and extended his hand. “Welcome to Last Chance. I hope you'll be happy here.”

“Thanks. I'm pretty sure I will be.”

A woman wearing a name tag that read “Juanita” appeared on the other side of the counter and beamed a wide smile as she poured coffee Jess had not yet asked for into the cup sitting in front her. “Mornin', I'm Juanita Sheppard. Welcome to Last Chance. It's about time we got our own doctor. Of course, Russ and I have had the same doctor in San Ramon since our kids were little, so you probably won't be seeing much of us. At least not professionally.”

“Well then, I hope we'll be seeing each other on a nonprofessional
level.” Jess returned the smile, but she did notice that Juanita was the second person she had met in the last twenty minutes who expressed delight that Last Chance was finally getting its own doctor and told her she could look for patients elsewhere in the same breath.

“Oh, I don't doubt that for a minute. The Dip 'n' Dine is the heart and soul of this town, and I'm here just about every day. Just come on in and I'll be happy to introduce you to folks.” She slid a menu across the counter toward Jess. “Although I'm sure you've already heard of Andy, here. This is Andrew Ryan. Quarterback for the Denver Broncos?”

“Um, I'm afraid I don't follow football very closely.” Jess looked back at Andy and shrugged. “Sorry. I know I should know who you are.”

“Not necessarily. I spent a whole lot more time on the bench than on the field.” Andy's grin was rueful. “And as of the end of last season, it looks like I'm out of football for good. At least out of professional football.”

“Well, their loss is our gain, that's all I can say.” Juanita pulled out her order pad and cocked her head as she looked at Jess. “You say you don't follow football? Huh. What'll you have for breakfast?”

Jessica hadn't had time to even open the menu, but she had been in diners before and knew from experience that there wouldn't be a whole lot on the menu that she wanted to eat. “I guess I'll just have a single poached egg and some dry wheat toast.”

“Alrighty. Red or green?”

“Red or green?”

“You want red or green chile with that egg?” Juanita didn't look up from her order pad.

“Neither. Just the egg and toast, please.”

This time Juanita did look up. “Neither? Huh.” She tore off the
order and put it on the rack in the window to the kitchen. Tucking the pad back in her apron pocket, she headed back to the dining room with the coffeepot, but not before giving Jessica one last curious look.

“Well, that was a little awkward. I feel like I made a giant misstep somewhere, but I'm not sure where.”

Andy swiveled his stool around and leaned his elbow on the counter. “Well, I'll tell you. Football's pretty big around here, my short lusterless career notwithstanding. Same with chile. It's not whether you want chile that's the question. It's what color. Juanita probably never met anyone who doesn't care about either.”

“Oh.” Jess shrugged again and took a sip of her coffee. “Well, now she has.”

Andy raised one eyebrow. “You are a brave woman.” He gestured at Jess's T-shirt with his chin. “You must have been at least a little interested in football at some point. That's some rivalry you're sporting.”

Jess looked down at her faded blue Beat Stanford shirt. “Oh, this? I think it was one of my roommate's when I was an undergrad. I don't know how I wound up with it. I know I didn't buy it. In fact, I didn't make it to a single game the entire time I went to Cal.”

“You're kidding.” Andy leaned back for a better look. “Not one game in four years?”

“No.” Jess was starting to feel a little warm. “Is there something wrong with that? I'm beginning to feel like I have a horn growing out of my forehead or something.”

“Oh, no. You might run into someone around here with a horn growing out of their forehead, but someone who doesn't like football? Now, that's weird.”

Jess looked closely at Andy. He did not appear to be kidding. A little flare of anger shot up between her shoulder blades and made her neck prickle. For one thing, she didn't believe him. Sure, you
could expect the high school football coach, and a former pro no less, to think football was the be-all and end-all of life. Juanita probably wasn't his only fan either. But surely grown-ups in Last Chance—Manny Baca, for example, with his three kids and his service station, and Rita Sandoval, who was mayor as well as the owner of the motel—had other things to think about than a bunch of high school kids and their football game.

“Well, I suppose I should get used to being a curiosity then.” She cradled her coffee cup in her hands, wondering how rude it would be if she got up and moved a stool or two down the counter.

“Here you go.” Juanita set her toast and egg in front of her. “And I went ahead and brought you a little green chile anyway. You don't have to eat it, of course, but honey, if you're going to live in Last Chance, you really need to learn to eat chile. It's who we are and what we do around here.”

“So I hear.” Jess's smile felt stiff. She lifted the egg to the toast with her spoon while Juanita watched, and when she realized what Juanita must be waiting for, added just a touch of the chile. No need to alienate every single person she met today.

The chile was hotter than she expected, but the creamy yolk quickly soothed the heat. It was the chile's flavor, though, that really took her by surprise. Rich and sharp, it bore no resemblance whatsoever to the pallid, tasteless green stuff she had spooned from cans.

“This is really good!” She looked up at Juanita with a real smile.

“Thought you'd like it.” Juanita gave a brisk nod as she picked up a couple more plates off the shelf to take to a booth by the window. “You just need to learn to try new things, that's all.”

Jess turned to her breakfast as Juanita disappeared. Actually, she had been under the impression that leaving Marin County in California and heading out to a tiny town in southwestern New Mexico to begin her practice was pretty darned adventurous, although
some of her friends and relatives used other terms ranging from ill-advised to downright crazy. But hey, what was pulling up stakes and moving a thousand miles from home compared to eating green chile with your eggs?

“I'm sorry. Didn't mean to make you mad.” Andy's voice interrupted her thoughts. “I've known lots of people who didn't like football.”

“Really.” Jess barely glanced at him. All she wanted was to finish her breakfast and get back to her room.

BOOK: Last Chance Hero
11.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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