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Seeking a fresh start, widow Rachel Walker headed west. She never expected a freak Nevada storm—or the rugged Sam Thorne to rescue her. With a broken arm and a young son to care for, Rachel is depending on the kindness of the handsome stranger. The gruff small-town vet isn't thrilled Rachel and Danny have invaded his well-ordered life. But with Rachel's strong spirit and gentle faith, the walls around Sam's barren heart soon come tumbling down. Can they both put their painful ...
Seeking a fresh start, widow Rachel Walker headed west. She never expected a freak Nevada storm—or the rugged Sam Thorne to rescue her. With a broken arm and a young son to care for, Rachel is depending on the kindness of the handsome stranger. The gruff small-town vet isn't thrilled Rachel and Danny have invaded his well-ordered life. But with Rachel's strong spirit and gentle faith, the walls around Sam's barren heart soon come tumbling down. Can they both put their painful pasts behind them and join together as a forever family?
Rachel Walker blinked her eyes, which were gritty with fatigue. Exhaustion burned through her body, but she fought it off. She had to stay awake. Had to focus on the dark road. The window defroster had stopped working fifteen miles outside of Finley, Nevada.
She peered at the clock on the dashboard. Two thirty-five in the morning. Just a few more miles and she could sleep.
A shiver trembled over her body and she tightened her frozen fingers around the steering wheel of her blue 1984 compact car. Her breath made little puffs each time she exhaled. Without heat, the windshield kept fogging over. She rubbed her gloved hand in a circular spot on the glass pane so she could see out.
Heavy snow blanketed the car, falling from the night sky in thick, wet dollops. With no more than forty feet of visibility in front of her, she slowed to a crawl. She should have stopped at the last town instead of going on in this blizzard, but she didn't have a lot of money for a motel, and she needed to make her cash last as long as possible.
Dread swept her when she thought of the impending holiday season. Without any family around, baking a turkey, pies and rolls for Thanksgiving dinner wouldn't be much fun. And then Christmas.
Though she still mourned her husband, she had to think of Danny and try to build happy memories for him. After losing his father ten months earlier, he sure needed something joyful in his life. She glanced in the rearview mirror at her seven-year-old son sleeping in the backseat. She smiled as she gazed at his sweet face. So trusting, so serene.
A thatch of blond hair peeked out from beneath Danny's red knit cap. Blond like his father, with dazzling blueeyes, an impish nose and a mischievous smile that melted her heart.
The top of Danny's seat belt slanted across his small body. With these horrible road conditions, she'd insisted he wear it before she bundled a heavy quilt around him. He obeyed be-grudgingly, hunched against the teddy bear stuffed between his head and the cold door. She wished she dared let him remove the seat belt and lie down. He'd be more comfortable, but it wouldn't be safe.
He shivered. With the heater inoperable, they both wore thick winter coats. Soon, they'd be at their new home and could get warm. Soon, they'd be safe.
An occasional glimpse of the tops of the guardrails kept Rachel from driving off the road into the snowy embankment. She'd never felt more alone than right now.
Please, God. Please keep us safe tonight.
The last time she came to see Grammy, Alex had been driving. They'd passed through Nevada just over a year ago, heading for the sunny beaches of California to enjoy a short vacation. She'd invited Grammy to come along, but the elderly lady refused. Within two months, Alex had died of a brain aneurysm, taking her heart with him—
Enough of that! The memory of her beloved husband brought tears to her eyes and she brushed them away. She could barely see out the window already. The year since Alex's death had been followed by a long struggle to make ends meet. When she received the call last month that Grammy had died quietly in her sleep, Rachel decided to move west. Grammy had left her old farmhouse to Rachel, and she intended to live there with Danny and start a new life.
The rhythmic thwacking of the windshield wipers brought her comfort. The wheels of the small travel trailer she pulled behind her car thumped through the heavy snow. The trailer contained her worldly possessions: bedding, clothes, picture albums, Danny's toys, and the oak rocking chair Alex presented to her the day they brought Danny home from the hospital. Her grandmother's house contained all the furniture they would need. She had enough money to get them settled and then she'd find a job. They'd make do or do without.
Four more miles. In this storm, she might get lost or stuck in the snow if she tried going out to Grammy's house along the dark country roads. Maybe she'd get a cheap motel room after all, just for tonight. She'd drive out to Grammy's place in the morning, once the snowplows had time to do their work. The house hadn't been occupied since Grammy died. It had a solid roof, but Rachel figured the place would need a thorough cleaning.
As she entered the outskirts of town, several small billboards appeared on her right, listing various services, clubs and churches in the community. Through the falling snow, Rachel couldn't make out any names. Again, she rubbed at the windshield to clear a spot to see, longing for friends. Wanting to belong. Maybe she could get involved in her new community.
Driving down Main Street, she scanned the dim lights of the bank, diner and drugstore. Everything closed. Good thing they'd stopped earlier for a hamburger and fries in Eureka. The haze of streetlights gleamed eerily in the falling snow, not another soul in sight.
Just ahead, she made out the large yellow sign of a Best Homestyle motel; the only one in town. Clean and inexpensive. Relief flooded her fatigued body. Sleep seemed a treasured dream about to become a reality.
The windshield wipers stopped dead in midswing. Rachel gasped and flipped the lever back and forth, desperate to clear the heavy snowflakes from her view.
"Please don't stop now. Just one more mile," she whispered, trying to get the wipers to work.
A prayer for help rose to her lips just as the red stoplight appeared out of nowhere. As she crossed the intersection, she slammed on the brakes. The car surged forward, sliding on black ice. The trailer jackknifed. Terror shot up her spine and she spun the steering wheel, trying to regain control of the car. The trailer groaned, then slammed against the car, wrenching Rachel's head to one side. An enormous shape appeared out of nowhere. Oncoming headlights blinded her as a large, white truck loomed into her path.
The cry tore from her constricted throat. The car and trailer squealed, careening into the other lane. As the other vehicle struck her car, her ears filled with the horrible sound of crunching metal and shattering glass. Danny's frightened scream filled the air. Pain shot through her left side. The impact caused her head to flip forward like a rag doll and smack the steering wheel. It happened so fast, yet everything moved in slow motion. One thought pounded her brain.
Danny! Wearing his seat belt. In the backseat. Away from the collision.
Her heart thudded as the car came to a jerking stop. She sat with her nose pressed against the car door, her seat belt biting into her shoulder. When she tried to move, a shot of pain flashed through her head and arm. Her body felt bruised.
A thin whimper came from the backseat. She clawed at the door handle. She had to check Danny. Had to make certain he was okay.
The door opened, and snowflakes fell from the sky like wet confetti on New Year's Eve. She lifted her head, staring into a wind tunnel of white, trying to clear her vision. Trying to focus on the man's face materializing in front of her.
"Hey, lady, you okay?"
Her tongue felt like a chunk of wood and she couldn't speak. She reached her hand toward the man, mumbling her concern for her son. Begging this stranger to help her. Knives of pain sliced through her left arm. She inhaled sharply, fighting off the dizzying stars that seemed to spot her vision. Her eyelids slid closed and everything went black.
"She's awake, Doctor."
Rachel blinked her eyes, feeling disoriented as she stared into a bright light pointed at her pupils. She clenched her eyes shut, her mind spinning. She tried to sort out what had happened.
"Danny!" she croaked, trying to sit up.
Firm hands pressed her down. "Easy, now. Just lie still for a moment."
A man's voice reached her consciousness, soft and soothing.
"Alex?" she whispered, forcing herself to open her eyes. She choked back a hoarse cry as pain pierced her brain.
No, this man wasn't her husband. Too handsome, his hair and eyes too dark. His brow furrowed as his gaze focused on her face.
"My son where is he?" she asked.
"He's fine. Good thing you wore your seat belts. It saved your lives."
"I want to see him," she insisted. She had to know Danny was safe. Had to see him for herself.
"I'll get him." A woman's voice, then retreating footsteps echoed down a hallway, but soon returned. A rustling of movement sounded beside her.
She opened her eyes and found Danny's sweet face nearby. The boy leaned across the bed—no, a cot pushed against the wall of what appeared to be a storage room. The smell of antiseptic filled the air. Candles sat on the nearby table, their flames flickering in the shadows. The storm must have thrown the power out. Shelves lined the opposite wall filled with sample-sized bags of dog and cat food and boxes of medical supplies.
Where was she? The town of Finley didn't have a hospital, or even a clinic. Maybe she'd been taken to Elko, over one hundred miles away. But they couldn't get her through the snowstorm, could they?
Danny's brows scrunched together with concern. "Mommy?"
"Oh, honey. Are you okay?" She tried to reach for him, but pain shot through her left arm. She lay still, wishing she could hold him in her arms.
"I'm fine, but you don't look too good. Your head's bleedin' again."
"It is?" She brushed her fingers across her forehead, feeling a large bump and a butterfly bandage someone had put there. No wonder her head throbbed.
"Are you gonna die?" His mouth puckered as if he might cry.
"No, of course not, baby. I'll be fine. You're sure you're all right?"
"Yeah, look what Gladys gave me."
Who was Gladys?
Danny stuck a red lollipop in front of Rachel's eyes. Focusing made her stomach churn. In her hazy vision, she could make out the doctor and a woman standing behind Danny, both wearing blue smocks. A stethoscope dangled from the man's neck beside a name badge that read: Dr. Sam. He leaned close to Danny and smiled, showing a dimple in his left cheek. "All right, son, why don't you go with Gladys, now? She'll get you something to eat and put you to bed. We'll take good care of your mommy."
"Okay." Danny slid away.
Rachel reached for him, feeling a sinking of dread. Her fingers grasped air. "Where where are you taking my son?"
The doctor spoke close by. "Gladys lives just down the street. Danny can bunk in with her son, Charlie."
"Yeah, the two boys are the same age. Don't worry. He'll be fine. I'll take you there just as soon as you feel well enough to walk."
Rachel relaxed for a moment, then reconsidered. "Am I going to be okay?"
In the vague light, she could make out the doctor's frown and intelligent brown eyes. A thatch of hair the color of a crow's wing fell over his high forehead. He brushed his hand across the raspy stubble on his chin and his brows gathered together in perplexity. "Of course. You just need rest."
Good. Danny needed her now more than ever.
She felt the doctor's hand against her shoulder, warm and comforting. How she missed her husband. How she missed his firm, take-charge manner. Thinking about Alex caused tears to bead in the corners of her eyes.
The doctor patted her hand and placed it beneath the thick quilt covering her. She allowed her body to relax.
"Take it easy. You're safe now," the doctor said.
Buoyed by his words, she tried to think good thoughts. Somewhere in her imagination, a dog barked, followed by the bleating of a sheep.
A sheep? She must be dreaming.
"Oh," she groaned. If only this muzzy feeling would vacate her brain, she'd be able to think clearly.
She listened to the woman's muted tones as she spoke to the doctor, aware of their presence in the room but unable to make out their words. She tried to focus, but her insides felt jittery. "Can you give me something for the pain?"
"Sure. What would you like?"
How odd. Shouldn't the doctor know what to give her in a situation like this? "My arm and head hurts."
She opened her eyes and peered at the man standing beside the door. She recognized his stance. Legs braced. One hand cocked on his hip. Gaze piercing her to the bone. The kind of man who knew how to handle himself and never backed away from a fight. In the depths of his eyes, she saw a shadow of frustration. She couldn't blame him. It was the middle of the night after all. No doubt he resented her for disturbing his sleep.
He leaned one hip against the counter and spoke to the cabinets as he picked up a bottle of pills and popped the lid. He shook several white tablets onto the palm of his hand. "Your arm has a bad sprain and you'll have a nasty bruise, but nothing's broken. I think you might have a concussion, so we'll keep an eye on you for a few more hours. I don't have any powerful medications for humans. Will some aspirin suffice?"
She looked away. A patchwork quilt draped her body. Definitely not normal hospital issue. She expected white sheets and a sterile blanket. "Aspirin is fine."
He brought her a paper cup with water and watched as she took it and swallowed the pills down. She handed the empty cup back to him and he balled it up and tossed it at the garbage can, where it made a perfect two-point shot.
"What kind of doctor are you?"
"I'm a veterinarian."
She laughed, her mind whirling as she flung back the quilt to free her legs. Still dressed in her jeans and heavy blue sweater, she wriggled her bare toes. Someone had removed her socks and shoes. The doctor or Gladys? It made her feel odd to think of a strange man handling her bare feet. "You're kidding."
"Afraid not." He gave her a look that told her he was serious. He pointed at her shoes sitting beside the bed, and she swung her legs over the side of the cot. Her feet rested against the cold linoleum floor, helping her feel grounded. From the outer room, she caught the distinct sound of a cat meowing.
She stared at the collar of his denim shirt, listening to the deep timbre of his voice. "Doctor Greene's out of town until Wednesday. If we weren't in the middle of a blizzard, Lloyd would have driven you to Elko for X-rays. Instead, he brought you here to me."
"He's the local law-enforcement here in Finley. Carl called him after you hit his truck."
Posted January 20, 2013
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Posted March 4, 2011
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