Read an Excerpt
The citizens of High Plains were getting back to normal. Or so they tried to say when they met for cleanup days and to plan community events. Days like today, when they planned to do more work on the town hall. The new Old Town Hall. It had been a building rich in history and a central part of the community. The tornado had leveled it.
Getting back to normal. The aftermath of the storm had left them anything but "normal." Lexi knew it, so did everyone else.
With the media long gone, along with volunteers who hadunderstandablygone back to their own lives, the people in High Plains and the surrounding area were still trying to put the pieces of their lives back together.
High Plains, Kansas, was nothing more than a two-minute clip on the weather station's reel about deadly storms. But that clip didn't mention Jesse Logan's premature triplets, or the wife he'd lost. It didn't talk about Kasey, the child Gregory Garrison had found at the Waters cottages. The weather station didn't say anything about the people who had come to help, bringing food, supplies and prayers.
Those had been big stories for the first few weeks, and then they had faded out. Life had gone on. Other news, more current, had taken the place of those stories.
The weather station still showed the path of the storm, outtakes from local news and aerial shots from helicopters. Lexi hated to admit she'd watched it over and over again, still amazed by what had happened to her town while she'd been in her basement, safe in the arms of her ex-husband.
"Isn't that sweet," had become the catch phrase associated with the six hours she and Colt had been trapped down there.
People had asked if she andColt had worked things out. There had been comments about God putting the two of them in that basement together. The only real outcome was that the two of them had made a decision to be friends. If they were going to live in the same town, friendship after two years of silence seemed like an improvement.
Lexi leaned against one of the few trees left standing in the yard of the Old Town Hall. The rest had been toppled in the tornado, along with half the town of High Plains. It was said that there wasn't a building in town that wasn't damaged in some way.
The lives of some of the citizens were not much better than the buildings. Including her own life.
They were all rebuilding.
Lexi closed her eyes, pushing aside those thoughts, instead enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun on her face and the distant sound of children playing. She hadn't slept a lot last night. She rarely slept soundly, not in the metal building that housed her clinic. It was her house for now. She'd turned an unused corner into an apartment of sorts.
When she opened her eyes, her attention fell on those children that she'd heard. One of them was little Kasey. No one knew the identity of that poor little girl. They didn't know her name, where she came from or even her birthday.
The town called her Kasey, because the initials K.C. had been found inside her clothes.
Lexi wiped away the tears that still fell too easily. Every time she said she wouldn't cry anymore, something happened and the tears seemed to have a mind of their own.
A blue Jeep Cherokee cruised down Main Street and stopped in front of the construction site. Lexi watched Colt get out of the vehicle, his uniform starched and perfect as if he controlled even the wrinkles and made them bend to his will. He slipped on leather gloves and walked toward her. And her heart reacted. She didn't want it to, but it did.
Six hours in her basement with him and she'd realized somethingshe hadn't moved on. She realized that signing her name on a line didn't undo her love for him. But realizing that the feelings still existed didn't undo her fear that he might walk out on her again.
Her life had crumbled around her on that day in July. She could focus only on rebuilding one thing at a time. For now, she needed to rebuild her house and help rebuild her town.
Or move back to Manhattan, Kansas. That was her parents' recommendation for starting over. And sometimes she thought it sounded like a good idea.
"What are you doing here?" Colt asked as he approached. Out of nowhere, Chico appeared. The dog must have been running loose again.
She slipped her hand over the dog's head and down his neck. His side had healed with nothing but a scar to show for his injury. He still whimpered from time to time, but he was fine.
"Well?" He prodded, moving her from the past to the present.
"I'm assigned to town hall duty today. I'm stacking stones from the old foundation so they can be used in the new steps and the sidewalk."
"Imagine that, so am I."
"If they're trying to push us together, it's your fault for getting stuck in the basement with me."
"I'm willing to let them talk." He winked, proving his point. "Well, we'd better get busy if we're going to have this building finished for Christmas."
She nodded, because she didn't know what to say. They had been assigned to the same job. She glanced in the direction of Reverend Michael Garrison, who had obviously planned this little encounter between herself and Colt. The minister had the good sense to turn a little red and walk away. People who had figured out the path to true love were always trying to help others find their way.
A smile sneaked up on her, because she couldn't stay mad at Michael. Instead she pulled her gloves back on and walked away from Colt. He followed, as she had known he would.
"Time to get busy." She grabbed a stone and stacked it on the pile for single stones, unbroken. Others were too far gone to use. Those pieces were being piled up to be hauled away, along with broken glass and wood that had been dozed into a pile that was awaiting a dump truck to haul it off.
"What about the wood flooring that is still intact?" Colt picked up a strip of stained wood that had once been the floor inside the town hall.
"We're keeping those, too. They're going to find a use for them inside the new building. I think the wood is being stored at Garrison's, in the lumberyard."
Colt set the board aside, his gaze sweeping the area. "We're moving forward. They're starting the framing of the building next week."
"Yes, I know." She didn't look at him.
"How is your house?" He tossed a few pieces of crumbled limestone into the pile of debris that was growing larger and larger every day.
"They dozed it down yesterday. I found a contractor. He hauled in a trailer and he's working in the area. He's taken on several projects, so who knows how long this will take." She ignored the look he shot her. He thought she didn't know what she was doing.
"Did you check him out?"
"Yes, Colt, I checked him out. He had references."
"I'm sorry, but you know how it is when something like this happens. Scam artists come out of the woodwork." He nodded and pushed at some rocks with his booted foot. "Watch for snakes."
"I know." She glanced up, wishing that September had brought cooler weather. She took off her gloves and swiped her hair from her face.
"Are you mad?" he asked, with a characteristic male it-can't-be-me attitude.
"No, not at all. But trust me that I can take care of this, of having the house rebuilt." She turned, smiling and wishing immediately that she hadn't looked at him. He was the son of a rancher and he looked as good in a uniform with a sidearm attached to his waist as he did in jeans and T-shirts, loading bags of grain into the back of a truck.
The uniform was unusual. It must have been a court day because on regular days he wore dark jeans and a dark T-shirt with Police in white letters across the back. She really liked that uniform.
"You are mad."
His words were an unfair reminder that she shouldn't be thinking of him in his uniform. She shouldn't be thinking of him at all, except to be angry with him.
"I'm not mad." She was confused and hurt. She'd spent six hours in a basement, wondering if they would get out and if they had let go of something they should have fought harder to keep. He didn't want to hear that.
True to form, Colt grabbed the wheelbarrow and headed for the pile of rocks she had started earlier in the day. That was his way of saying they weren't going to talk about it discussion closed.
He dumped the load of stones, and then turned. "Lexi, I can't do this."
"Can't do this?" She glanced around, at the stones, at the mess, knowing that wasn't what he meant.
"We can't go back. We have to move forward."
She nodded, wondering if that meant he had felt something in that basement, too. Had those hours made him question their divorce? But he wouldn't talk. She knew that, because this was as far as their conversations ever went. They wouldn't talk about the divorce or their feelings for one another. They had never talked about Gavin's death and what that had meant to their marriage or the family they had planned to have.
She couldn't blame it all on him. Her own fears, the thought of losing Colt the way Gavin's wife had lost him, had added to the problem.
She followed his gaze to the open green area between Main Street and the High Plains River. There were still piles of debris to be cleaned up. The path of the storm had been long and wide.
Lexi's most recent phone bill had been found thirty miles away. Someone had called to let her know that it was being sent back. Others had found their family photos, tax documents and receipts scattered in fields and nearby towns.
All over town, people were starting over. They were rebuilding. Or they were moving on.
Lexi was sharing her home with animals that had been found wandering the area. Many hadn't been claimed.
"We need to get to work." Colt picked up a stone. "Don't forget your gloves."
She started to remind him that she wasn't his to take care of. Instead she pulled on the gloves she had shoved into her pockets. What she wanted to do was remind him of their discussion in the basement. Even with a head injury, she hadn't forgotten that they were going to stop fighting. They were going to be friends.
Colt moved closer, his gaze drifting past her and then back to her face. "Lex, there's too much going on around here. We have a child without parents. Jesse Logan's wife is dead and his babies had to fight to survive. We have a town that needs our help rebuilding."
"I know. But, Colt, we can work together without it being weird. We really can be friends."
He nodded and looked away again. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine." She touched the scar at her hairline. "The headaches are gone."
"Good, I'm glad. I'm glad your mom came to help you after you got out of the hospital."
"She stayed a few days."
"At least she came."
Yes, Lexi's mom had visited. And she'd spent three days telling Lexi what a huge mistake every detail of her life had been. Marrying Colt, a mistake. Becoming a veterinarian, bigger mistake. Staying in High Plains after her divorce, the biggest mistake.
Lexi smiled again. "Snake."
Colt jumped and turned. No snake. He shot her a look and then he smiled. "Cute, real cute."
"I still think it's funny that you can square off with bad guys, brave a tornado, and yet you're afraid of a little ole snake."
"Right." She reached for a block. It crumbled in her hands and she tossed it into the pile of debris.
"Did you know that the town hall was destroyed by a tornado in 1860?" Colt pushed the wheelbarrow a few feet.
"I did know that. High Plains had to rebuild after that storm, and we'll rebuild again. We're tough people. We're pioneers. It's in our blood." She wiped her brow. "And we have a lot of faith."
"Yes, faith." His voice turned sarcastic. "And God rewarded us with this." A wide sweep of his arm took in the destruction that had once been a town.
"God didn't do this, Colt. You know that." She didn't want to have the faith argument with him, not now. Hers was still too new, still growing.
"I know He didn't. I just question why He allowed so many people to suffer, to be hurt."
"No one has an answer to why bad things happen. But look at the people who were protected. He put Tommy in front of Gregory Garrison's office at the right moment, in time to be saved. What if he had been somewhere else? What if I had gone to my basement? What if Chico hadn't been running loose, and you hadn't brought him to me? Where would you have been?"
"We still can't find Tommy's dog." Colt said it like a last-ditch attempt at proving her faith wrong.
"I'm praying Tommy's dog is out there. We've found other animals that we thought were lost for good."
"That's the difference between me and you, Lexi. You have faith that He really is up there, taking time for us. I look at this town and wonder where He was that day in July when we needed Him. I wonder where He was when Gavin got shot on that highway outside of town."
"He was there with Gavin, and now Gavin is with Him." She flinched against the anger in Colt's eyes, but she didn't back down. "And on that day in July, He was sheltering a little girl this town named Kasey, and watching over a boy named Tommy."
"So He saved some and not others. Look at this ravaged building, right next to the church, but the church is still standing."
"I think you lost that argument. The church is still standing. Solid. I think that sometimes bad things happen and we find faith to get through, to find purpose and to move on."
"Is that what you've done, found faith?"
"Yes, I've found faith, Colt. I've found what I spent my childhood searching for." And what she thought she'd find in a marriage to him. It had taken divorce for faith to become real in her life. "And whether you want to admit it or not, you still have faith. You've just buried it beneath anger and resentment."
"I can't have this conversation right now."
"I know, and I'm sorry. I didn't mean to preach."
He laughed and leaned, his forehead resting against hers. "Yes, you did."