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"Are you sure this is what you want to do? I just can't believe it."
Amanda Hathaway met her boss's sympathetic, if somewhat startled, gaze. It wasn't what she wanted, it was her only option. "Yes. It is, Joyce. I've given it a lot of thought and I want—I need—to move strictly to adult cases." Adults, not children. Not the kids she'd loved working with—felt called to work with.
"But you've always loved working with children," Joyce Canton said as if reading her mind. "And you have such a gift. Don't you want to think this through?"
Amanda took a deep breath, her chest constricted with the strain she was feeling. "I have, Joyce. This is not easy for me. But I don't have the heart for it anymore."
"I can't believe that."
"Being around…" The words trailed off because she couldn't voice the words that being around children right now made her feel ill. What good would she do as a physical therapist when she couldn't look at her patients without crying or feeling hollow? "It's tearing me up inside" was all she could manage. She had to change her life. And she had to do it now.
"He was a jerk, Amanda."
Joyce's words emerged in a growl of disgust, one completely the opposite of her normally professional demeanor. Amanda blinked hard as her eyes began to burn. She looked away, willing herself to keep her composure. God had a plan. He did; she just didn't understand it. And that didn't make what she was feeling any less heartbreaking.
"You can't let what he said and did have this kind of power over you," Joyce continued. "If I were a man I'd go over there and I'd punch him."
Any other time Amanda might have smiled at her boss's show of affection, but today she just couldn't summon one. Her fiancé—no, her ex-fiancé's decision ate at her. "He only expressed his true feelings," she managed, willing herself to truly understand him. Anger wasn't going to help her in this situation. Anger very seldom did help, but in this instance it would simply exaggerate her already shot emotions. "He can't be faulted for being honest."
"Honest. Honest! The man knew the facts and asked you to marry him. Then out of the blue he drops this bomb on you. How could he ask you to marry him and then break it off because you can't—"
Joyce didn't finish the sentence as her voice broke.
Her eyes welled with tears. She snatched a tissue from the box on the desk and dabbed her eyes. Amanda had experienced the same anger and disbelief when Jonathan had made his revelation three endless weeks ago. But then, reality sank in and she knew that deep down she'd been expecting the breakup all along. And how could she blame him? How could anyone blame a man for realizing he couldn't marry a woman who was unable to give him children? She couldn't, and that was where the anger had dispelled. She was twenty-four years old with no hope of ever carrying a child. Her chest constricted again.
She still wasn't sure why she'd started dating Jonathan in the first place. She'd told herself she wouldn't date. Not dating held less risk for her. But then, Jonathan had asked her out for lunch—and when she'd said no, he'd kept coming back. She'd finally agreed. She revealed the cold hard facts of her situation to him on their second date. She hadn't expected to hear fromhim after that, but he'd assured her that her infertility didn't matter to him. After a whirlwind few weeks, he'd told her he loved her and said adopting children would be totally fine with him. Deep down in her heart, Amanda had known there would be few men in the world who would take on marrying a woman who'd not only lost the ability to carry children, but who had also lost a leg. Two strikes against you, the tiny voice in her head chanted. That voice was not good and she knew it, but it wouldn't hush.
"He lied to you, Amanda. What kind of man would do that?"
Focusing on the reality of the situation, Amanda shook her head. "He probably was being honest with himself." Amanda knew it was true. "He made the right choice for himself… and for that I'm grateful—otherwise it would have been wrong for me in the end, too. And besides, you and I both know I rushed into this."
"I really can't believe you are defending him. Although I do agree that it was a rushed relationship. I think you were settling if you ask me. He came along and asked and you jumped at the chance."
Amanda felt a twinge of agreement with that statement. Was that what she'd done? "I learned a long time ago that there are some things you have no control over. That God is in control of our lives and he has a plan." She just hadn't expected it to hurt so much—after all, she'd already faced this reality once in her life at the age of fourteen when the doctors had explained to her that they'd had to give her a complete hysterectomy while they repaired all the internal damage she'd sustained in the accident that had almost killed her. She was blessed to be alive and she'd thought she'd come to peace about her life and her circumstance. But she'd been wrong. After Jonathan ended their relationship, her emotions had spiraled into a tailspin. She'd been struggling for the last month to cope—not sleeping and turning down each job Amanda had offered her.
It didn't make sense. She had a full life. Her career as a physical therapist specializing in children's needs had been borne from that accident. Because she knew she couldn't have children of her own and because she'd had to be fitted with a prosthetic leg at such a young age, she'd been drawn to help kids.
She was good with children, especially those in need of prosthetics. She understood how they felt, and could relate to the many emotions they experienced because of the loss of a limb.
And it made her feel good because she had also been an inspiration to them when they realized life hadn't ended. She'd helped them see that their dreams could still become reality wearing an artificial limb.
That wasn't true for her anymore. Coming face-to-face with Jonathan's choice, she'd also realized that she'd been living a lie.
She couldn't have children of her own. She could never know what it felt like to feel that tiny, precious life growing inside of her. Suddenly it was unbearable.
With shaking fingers Amanda slid the folder of what was supposed to be her new assignment across the desk. "I want—" she paused, digging deep "—I need to move to adult cases only."
Amanda couldn't withstand the sympathy in Joyce's gaze any longer. Pushing out of the chair, she moved to stand beside the large window overlooking the busy streets of San Antonio. The thunderstorm that had been hanging over the city all morning had finally given in and was raging full force. She could relate as a violent streak of lightning flashed across the sky. An explosion of thunder immediately followed. She took a shaky breath and reminded herself that she'd overcome so much in her life. She'd thought she'd had it all under control. What a lie that had been. "Jenny told me she had to back out of that long-term job in the hill country. The one with the man in the plane crash."
Joyce didn't look pleased. "She did, but you don't want that. It's—" Joyce stopped speaking and sank into her seat behind her desk as Amanda turned from the window. "It's a tiny town almost a hundred miles from any town of any real size. You don't want to go there—"
But she did. "That's exactly what I want." She felt ill but knew this was what she had to do.
"No, it isn't. This is a three-month on-site assignment. You don't—"
"I do." She moved to stand across the desk from her boss. How could she make Joyce understand that she was trapped in a dark hole and the idea of this job seemed like a crack of light showing her the way of escape? A lifeline had been revealed. "I have to do this job. It's exactly what I need."
"But," Joyce started. They held gazes for a long moment and Amanda was almost certain that Joyce could see into Amanda's damaged heart.
"Give me the chance," she urged her. "You know I can do the job."
Another long moment passed. "They want someone with more experience."
"I have enough experience."
"You know…" Joyce murmured thoughtfully as she tapped her fingers on her chair arm. "You actually might be perfect for this job. The other brothers said they thought their brother was depressed. You could help with that. You know about that journey."
Yes, she did. It was what she was fighting off from happening to her again. This job gave Amanda a ray of hope. Her heart kicked up and the constriction eased when Joyce reached for a file on the top of the stack on her desk. A file labeled Wyatt Turner.
"I was going to have to turn this job down because Jenny couldn't do it. You know how I hate to pass up jobs. But are you sure this is what you want? I'm comfortable with the idea of you doing the job. I just want to know your state of mind is okay."
The very idea of spending three months in a tiny town away from everything was what Amanda needed. Her eyes hurt with unshed tears of relief. "I'm sure." She hadn't been able to pray since Jonathan broke off their engagement, but she found herself praying now that she would get to do this job.
"Wyatt Turner is a man of means," Joyce said at last. "He can afford to hire a full-time PT to help him all day if he chooses, and so he's doing it. You will be coming up with not only his daily therapy, but also helping out with other things he might need—acting as his personal assistant or cooking if he wants you to. It's an odd job, but the pay is excellent and I promised his two brothers that I'd find the perfect person or I would turn the job down."
"No need for that. It sounds wonderful—"
Joyce held up a hand. "Not so fast. The brothers said Wyatt is impatient with his injuries and will probably not be the easiest person to work with. Being a high achiever and fairly powerful man in his own right, he'll probably be demanding. Are you absolutely certain you can handle this job?"
"I can handle it."
"Why don't you take his file and read over it carefully before you commit to this?"
Amanda didn't need to look over the file. She knew she was capable of getting this man back on his feet. He might be demanding and he might take her for granted. But she could help him and he would help her by getting her away from San Antonio.
"I can do this job." She met Joyce's gaze with determined eyes.
Joyce studied her hard, clearly weighing the decision on all sides. "Then it's yours," she said at last. "I'll let Wyatt's brothers know you'll be there on Monday."
Amanda's heart clamored with the first real excitement she'd felt since Jonathan's words had slammed a hole in it. "Thank you," she managed.
"Honey, I'm praying while you're there you'll realize that none of what Jonathan said is true."
Amanda knew it wasn't that easy to fix the emptiness that filled her. It was far more than Jonathan's words that were affecting her. It was as if they'd released long-dormant emotions she hadn't been able to experience as a young girl when she'd been told there were no children of her own in her future. Her being so young, the loss of a leg had been more devastating than the nebulous idea of being barren. But it was different when a man told a grown woman he couldn't marry her because he wanted children she couldn't give him. It had opened a wound she hadn't realized was there.
She pushed that thought aside and focused on the positive moment now. "I just need to get away and get my head on straight," she said, but she was afraid even that wouldn't fix the emptiness and the loss that now gripped her heart fresh and new. "Please don't worry. I can do this job."
"Then it's yours. I hear Mule Hollow, Texas, is a lovely little town even if it is off the beaten path. You do realize what town this is?"
With memories and intentions tangling in her mind, she hadn't even given the name of the town any consideration. Now she shook her head.
"It's the one that advertised for women to come marry their lonesome cowboys a couple of years ago," Joyce said. "There are cowboys, new wives and babies there now, from what I can find out. But you should know that Mr. Turner's ranch is located several miles away, so you may not be that involved in anything going on in town."
"I can handle it." Amanda needed air and room to breathe and think. "I'll be fine." She didn't want to think about anything right now, not the heartache that was eating at her over her life or the losses she'd suffered. Or Jonathan. She just needed to get away and focus on work. And maybe somewhere during that time this utter sense of emptiness and worthlessness would loosen its hold around her heart.
Maybe in that small town, on that big ranch and in that open space she could find her footing again.
Wyatt Turner shot his brothers, Cole and Seth, a scowl. "It's my body that's broken, not my mind." The wheelchair he'd been sentenced to for the next few weeks felt like cement blocks chained around his waist. Three weeks ago he'd awakened in the hospital lucky to be alive—especially with both legs still attached. Ever since that moment, he'd been fighting to find some kind of balance with the anger he was feeling.
Four days ago he'd been flown in by helicopter to the ranch he and his brothers owned, and he'd been mothered and worried over by his brothers, their wives and the ladies of Mule Hollow—who'd decided that food was the answer to his problems—to the point that he was about sick. He loved them all, but enough was enough. He just wanted to be left alone.
Needed to be alone.
Because of this, his brothers were getting the brunt of his bad temper.
A month ago he'd had the world by its tail. He'd had everything in control. He'd managed to match his younger brothers up with good wives and he'd been able to rest easy that he'd done his parents proud in his family responsibilities. His brothers were happy and that had made him happy.