Orchard Valley Brides: Norah/Lone Star Lovin'by Debbie Macomber
Norah Bloomfield is feeling a bit unneeded these days. Her father is recovering from his heart attack, and her sisters, Valerie and Stephanie, are busy planning their weddings. But then a cantankerous Texan named Rowdy Cassidy crashes his small plane in Orchard Valley. The same Rowdy Cassidy who'd been Valerie's boss…and who'd demanded she marry him./i>… See more details below
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Norah Bloomfield is feeling a bit unneeded these days. Her father is recovering from his heart attack, and her sisters, Valerie and Stephanie, are busy planning their weddings. But then a cantankerous Texan named Rowdy Cassidy crashes his small plane in Orchard Valley. The same Rowdy Cassidy who'd been Valerie's boss…and who'd demanded she marry him. Now he's Norah's patient, and in all her nursing experience she's never encountered a more difficult man. Or a more irresistible one! Except…is he still in love with her sister?
When Norah's friend Sherry Waterman leaves Orchard Valley, Oregon, for Pepper, Texas, she's definitely not in the mood for Lone Star Lovin'. But if anyone can change her mind, it's Cody Bailman—a hardworking, good-looking rancher. Not only that, Cody has a twelve-year-old daughter who thinks Sherry's "just perfect for Dad"!
Read an Excerpt
This cowboy was too young to die!
Norah Bloomfield stared down at the unconscious face of the man in Orchard Valley Hospital's emergency room. He was suffering from shock, internal injuries and a compound fracture of the right fibula. Yet he was probably the luckiest man she'd ever known. He'd survived.
The team of doctors worked vigorously over him, doing everything possible to keep him alive. Although she was busy performing her own role in this drama, Norah was curious. It wasn't every day a man literally fell out of the sky into their backyard. Whoever he was, he'd been involved in a plane accident. From what she heard when they'd rushed him in, he'd made a gallant effort to land the single-engine Cessna in a wheatfield, but the plane's wingtip had caught the ground, catapulting it into a series of cartwheels. That he'd managed to crawl out of the wreckage was a miracle all its own.
She tightened the blood-pressure cuff around his arm and called out the latest reading. Dr. Adamson, the surgeon in attendance, briskly instructed her to administer a shot.
Their patient was young, in his early thirties. And handsome in a rugged sort of way. Dark hair, chiseled jaw, stubborn as a mule from the looks of him. His clothes, at least what was left of them, told her he was probably a cowboy. She suspected he rode in the rodeo circuit—successfully, too, if he was flying his own plane.
She glanced down at his left hand. He wasn't wearing a wedding ring and that eased her mind somewhat. Norah hated the thought of a young wife pacing the floor, anxiously waiting his arrival home. Of course, that didn't mean he wasn't married. A lot of men didn't wear wedding rings, particularly if they worked with their hands. Too dangerous.
His leg was badly broken, and once he was stabilized, he'd be sent into surgery. She didn't have a lot of experience with compound fractures, but her guess was that he'd need to be in traction for the next few weeks. A break as complex as this would take months, possibly years, to heal properly.
Norah wasn't scheduled to work tonight, but had been called in unexpectedly. She should've been home, had planned to be home, preparing for her oldest sister Valerie's wedding. Half of Orchard Valley would be in attendance—it was widely considered the event of the year. And five weeks after that, her second sister, Steffie, would be marrying Charles Tomaselli, in a much less formal ceremony.
There was definitely something in the air this summer, Norah mused, with both her sisters planning to get married.
Love was what floated in the air, but it had apparently evaded Norah. There wasn't a single man in Orchard Valley who stirred her heart. Not one.
She was thrilled for her sisters, but at the same time she couldn't help feeling a bit envious. If any of the three could be described as "the marrying type," it was Norah. She was by far the most domestic and traditional. Ever since she was a teenager, Norah had assumed she'd be the first of the three sisters to marry, although she was the youngest. Valerie had hardly dated even in college, and Steffie was so impulsive and unpredictable that she'd never stood still long enough to get serious about anyone. Or so it had seemed….
Now both her sisters were marrying. And this had all happened within two short months. Only weeks ago Norah would have been shocked had anyone told her Valerie would become a wife. Her oldest sister was the dedicated career woman, working her way up the corporate ladder with CHIPS, a Texas-based computer software corporation. At any rate, that was what Valerie had been doing—until she flew home when their father suffered a heart attack. Before Norah was aware of it, Valerie had fallen head over heels in love with Dr. Colby Winston.
Try as she might, she couldn't picture her sister as a wife. Valerie, who was so much like their father, was a dynamic businesswoman. She'd accepted the sales job with CHIPS and in less than four years had moved into upper management. She was energetic, spirited and strong-willed. If her sister was going to fall in love, Norah didn't understand how it could be with Dr. Winston. He was just as dedicated to his work, just as headstrong. To Norah's way of thinking, they had little in common—except their love for each other. In fact, watching them together had taught Norah a few things about love and commitment. They were both determined to make their marriage work, both willing to make compromises, to change and to mediate their differences.
If Valerie was going to get married at all, Norah had always assumed she'd choose someone like Rowdy Cassidy, the owner of CHIPS. For months, Valerie's phone calls and e-mails had been full of details about the maverick software developer. He'd taken Wall Street by storm with his innovative ideas, and his company had very soon become one of a very few to dominate the field. Valerie greatly admired him. But she'd given up her position with CHIPS without so much as a second's regret. There were other jobs, she'd said, but only one Colby Winston. And if she had to choose, as Cassidy had forced her to do, then that choice was clear. But then Norah had never seen anyone more in love—unless it was Steffie.
Her second sister had arrived after a long, difficult trip, to be with their father and almost the same thing had happened. Suddenly, she and Charles Tomaselli, the Orchard Valley Clarion's editor and now its publisher, had clashed. They'd been constantly at odds, but gradually that had changed. Not until much later did Norah learn that Charles was the reason Steffie had decided to study in Italy—both to escape him and because, thanks to him, she'd become fascinated with Italian art and culture. Steffie had been wildly in love with Charles, and Norah wasn't sure what had gone wrong, but whatever it was had sent Steffie fleeing. She guessed there'd been some sort of disagreement between them—not that it mattered. What was important was that Steffie and Charles had patched things up and admitted their true feelings for each other.
In typical Steffie fashion, her sister was planning a thoroughly untraditional wedding. The exchange of vows was to take place in the apple orchard, between the rows of trees with their weight of reddening apples. The reception would be held on the groomed front lawn; there would be musicians playing chamber music in the background. The wedding cake was to be a huge chocolate concoction.
So, within a few weeks of each other, her two sisters would be married. Unlike Valerie, Norah hadn't recently met a new and wonderful man. And unlike Steffie, she didn't have a secret love, someone she'd felt passionate about for years. Unless she counted Clive Owen. Norah figured she'd seen every movie he starred in ten times over. But it wasn't likely that a dashing actor was going to show up in Orchard Valley and fall passionately in love with her. A pity, really.
An hour later, Norah was washing up, preparing to head home. The cowboy, although listed in critical condition, had stabilized. He might not feel like it now, but he was lucky to be alive. The surgery on the right fibula would follow, but she wasn't sure exactly when.
Eager to leave the hospital, Norah was on her way out the door when she heard someone mention the cowboy's name.
She stopped abruptly, nearly tripping in her astonishment. "Who did you say he is?" she demanded, turning back to her friends.
"According to the identification he carried, his name is Rowdy Cassidy."
"Rowdy!" Susan Parsons, another nurse, laughed. "It's a perfect name for him, isn't it? He looks rowdy. Personally, I don't want to be around when he wakes up. I'm betting he's going to have all the charm of an angry hornet."
Rowdy Cassidy. Norah took a deep breath. The man was Valerie's employer. Former employer, she amended. He must've been flying in for the wedding when the accident occurred.
Norah wasn't sure what she could do with the information. Valerie, who was cool as a watermelon on ice when it came to business dealings, was a nervous wreck over this wedding.
Love had taken Valerie Bloomfield by surprise and she hadn't recovered yet. Mentioning Rowdy's accident to her sister now didn't seem right; Valerie had enough on her mind without the additional worry. Yet it didn't seem fair to keep the truth from her, either.
Who should she tell, then, Norah wondered as she walked to the staff parking lot. Surely someone should know….
It was late, past midnight, when she entered the house. Although there were several lights on, she didn't see anyone around. The wedding was at noon, less than twelve hours away.
Secretly Norah had hoped her father might still be up, but she didn't really expect it. He went to bed early these days and slept late, his body regaining its strength after the physical ordeal of a heart attack and the subsequent life-saving surgery.
"Hi," Steffie said cheerfully. She hurried downstairs, cinching her robe at the waist as she walked. Her long dark hair was damp and fell arrow-straight to the middle of her back. "I wondered what time you'd be home."
Norah stared up at her, frowning in concentration. She'd discuss this with Steffie, she decided, see what her sister had to say.
"What happened?" Steffie asked, her voice urgent.
"There was a single-engine-plane crash." Norah hesitated. "Fortunately only one man was aboard."
"Did he survive?"
Norah nodded and worried her lower lip. "Is Valerie asleep?"
Steffie sighed. "Who knows? I'd never have believed Valerie would be this nervous before her wedding. Good grief, she's arranged multimillion-dollar business deals."
"Come in the kitchen with me," Norah said, looking quickly up the staircase. She didn't want Valerie hearing this.
"What is it?" Steffie asked as she followed her into the other room. Valerie's room was directly above, but there was little chance she'd overhear the conversation.
"The man who was involved in the plane accident…"
"Yes?" Steffie prodded in a whisper.
"Is Rowdy Cassidy."
"What?" Steffie pulled out a stool at the counter and sank down on it. "You're sure?"
"Positive. Apparently he was flying in for the wedding."
"More likely he intended to stop it," Steffie said sharply.
"Stop it? What do you mean?"
Steffie's expression was intense. "Well, you know that when Valerie talked to him about opening a branch on the West Coast, he was in favor of the idea, but he wanted someone else to head it up. He refused to give her the job and said she'd have to stay in Texas if she wanted to stay with CHIPS. In other words, unless she chooses Rowdy Cassidy and her career over Colby and marriage. In fact, he seems to think he can persuade her to do just that."
"What a rotten way to act!"
Steffie agreed. "Valerie was furious. She'd hoped to continue working for CHIPS after she's married. But Rowdy was so unreasonable, she didn't have any alternative except to resign. When she announced she was marrying Colby, Rowdy didn't seem to believe her—still doesn't. Apparently he thinks it was some ploy to get him to declare his love."
"I take it Mr. Cassidy doesn't know Valerie very well." Her sister was nothing if not direct, Norah mused with a small smile. Valerie would never stoop to orchestrating such a scene, or exploiting a man's feelings for her.
When Valerie first flew home after their father's heart attack, Norah had suspected her sister might've been attracted to her employer. In retrospect, she realized Valerie greatly admired and liked Rowdy, but wasn't in love with him. Her reactions to Colby made that abundantly clear.
"But why do you think he wanted to stop the wedding?" Norah asked. If Rowdy did love her sister, he'd certainly waited until the last minute to do something about it.
"He phoned two days ago…. I took the call," Steffie said, a guilty expression crossing her face. "I didn't tell Valerie, but then—how could I?"
"Tell her what exactly?"
"That Rowdy asked her not to do anything…hasty until he'd had a chance to talk to her."
"Hasty?" Norah repeated. "Like what?"
"Like go through with the wedding."
"He had to be joking."
"I don't think so," Steffie said grimly. "He was dead serious. He claimed he had something important to say to her and that she should put everything on hold until he got here."
"And you didn't tell Valerie?"
"No," Steffie returned, her gaze avoiding Norah's. "I guess I should have, but when I told Dad—"
"He didn't seem the least bit surprised, either." Steffie folded her arms around her middle and slowly shook her head. "He just smiled and then he said the oddest thing."
"When hasn't he?" Norah muttered.
Steffie agreed with a smile.
"What was it this time?"
Steffie didn't answer right away. She stared down at the counter for a moment. Finally she glanced up, giving a baffled shrug. "That Rowdy was arriving right on schedule."
Norah found the statement equally puzzling. "Do you think Rowdy might have called earlier and spoken to Dad?"
Once again Steffie shrugged. "Who knows?"
"But Dad seemed to feel you shouldn't say anything to Valerie about Rowdy's call?" Norah pressed.
Steffie nodded. "Yeah. He says she's got enough to worry about. I couldn't agree more. As far as I'm concerned, Cassidy had his chance. He accepted her resignation, which worked out fine since it gave Valerie more time to get everything organized for the wedding. From what she said recently, I think she might start doing some consulting. You know, help companies upgrade their computer systems."
"That's a great idea," Norah murmured.
"It isn't the wedding arrangements that have unsettled Val." Steffie spoke with the authority of one who knew. "It's being in love."
"Love," Norah repeated wistfully.
"Valerie's never been in love before, that's what threw her. Not the wedding plans or all the organizing or even the job situation."
"What surprises me the most," Norah said, recalling the past few weeks, "is how she immediately becomes composed whenever Colby's around."
"He's her emotional anchor," Steffie said knowingly. "Like Charles is mine. And—"
"Should I say anything to Val about Rowdy Cassidy?" Norah broke in.
"Sure," Steffie told her, "but my advice is to wait until after the ceremony."
Norah concurred, frowning a little.
"How badly was he injured?" Steffie asked.
"He's in critical condition and is scheduled for surgery on his leg. I think he'll be in traction for some time. He suffered some internal injuries, too, but they don't appear to be as serious as we first assumed."
"So he'll be pretty well out of it until after the wedding, anyway?"
"Oh, yes. He's not expected to fully regain consciousness until sometime tomorrow afternoon—if then."
"Then I suggest we let sleeping dogs lie," Steffie said. "It's not like a visit from Valerie would do him any good—at least, not now."
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