The new novel from the bestselling author of Lone Rider.
For some, love is the only medicine . . .
After a harrowing tour of duty in Afghanistan, Army nurse Lily Thompson escapes to Wind River Ranch to find herself once more. Working as a caregiver to foreman Jake Murdoch’s elderly mother, Lily almost feels at peace—except for the unsettling presence of Jake, a tight-lipped, intimidating man everyone calls Bear. But one look in the powerful ex-Marine’s eyes and Lily glimpses a vulnerability that shakes her soul: a hurt she understands all too well—and longs to heal . . .
Jake is ready to rail at the fates when Lily moves into his home. Everything about this captivating woman calls to him, demanding that he abandon his solitary stance and start to live again. But Jake is a man who knows that no one can save him from the past that stalks his heart and mind. Not even sweet, achingly beautiful Lily. Still, that doesn’t stop his longing to pull her into his arms—and keep her there forever. Will time, and patience, bring them the courage to make their connection real? . . .
About the Author
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lindsay McKenna is the pseudonym of award-winning author Eileen Nauman. With more than 185 titles to her credit and approximately 23 million books sold in 33 countries worldwide, Lindsay is one of the most distinguished authors in the women's fiction genre. She is the recipient of many awards, including six RT Book Reviews awards (including best military romance author) and an RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award. In 1999, foreseeing the emergence of ebooks, she became the first bestselling women's fiction author to exclusively release a new title digitally. In recognition of her status as one of the originators of the military adventure/romance genre, Lindsay is affectionately known as “The Top Gun of Women's Military Fiction.” Lindsay comes by her military knowledge and interest honestly—by continuing a family tradition of serving in the U.S. Navy. Her father, who served on a destroyer in the Pacific theater during World War II, instilled a strong sense of patriotism and duty in his daughter. Visit Lindsay at www.lindsaymckenna.com.
Read an Excerpt
How was Jake Murdoch, her foreman, going to react to the news?
Maud Whitcomb, owner of the Wind River Ranch, pushed her fingers through her dark hair that was threaded with silver. Sitting in her large office, she waited with anticipation. Jake was an ex-recon Marine with severe PTSD he dealt with day in and day out. As the foreman for their hundred-thousand- acre ranch for the last three years, he'd proved himself invaluable despite his war wounds. She was pretty sure he wouldn't be happy.
Jake's symptoms made him a loner, boarded up like Fort Knox, and he liked living alone in the huge cedar log cabin a mile from the main ranch area. Dragging in steadying breath, Maud heard heavy footsteps echoing outside her open office door. It was early June and, for once, there was bright sunshine and a blue sky in western Wyoming.
She saw Jake's shadow first and then him. He was six-foot, two-inches tall, a solid two hundred pounds of hard muscle. His shoulders were almost as broad as the doorway he stood within. At thirty years old, any woman worth her salt would turn her head to appreciate his raw good looks and powerful physique. His temperament, however, was open to question. He was known as "Bear" around the ranch. Bear as in grizzly bear. He was terse, not PC, completely honest and didn't brook idiots for more than two seconds.
Swiftly glancing up at him as he entered, Maud watched him take off his dark brown Stetson and saw his expression was set; any emotion he felt was hiding behind what he called his game face.
"Jake. Come on in," she said, waving a hand toward a wooden chair in front of her desk. "How's your mom doing?"
Grunting, Jake hung up his Stetson on a nearby hat tree and turned, boots thunking across the highly polished oak floor.
Maud girded herself. He wasn't happy. At all. "Coffee?" It was nine a.m., and usually by this time he was out on the range, managing their wranglers. He probably wanted to be out with his hardworking crew rather than in here with her. But they had to talk.
"Yeah, coffee's good," he said, making a beeline for the service on the other side of the room. He poured two cups, black, and turned. Setting one in front of her, he sat down and took a quick sip of the steaming brew. "You know my mother broke her thigh bone a couple of days ago. I just finished talking to her surgeon before coming here, and they said she pulled through the operation with flying colors. She's resting in her room right now."
"That's great to hear," Maud said, relief in her tone as she sipped the coffee. "I know they call it breaking a hip, but in reality, people break their femur or thigh bone."
Shaking his head, Jake muttered, "Yeah. Bad anatomy, if you ask me."
"So? What's her prognosis?"
She saw him grimace and set the coffee down in front of him. "The surgeon says she's going to need eight to ten weeks of care. She lives alone in Casper. And she's fighting having a caregiver in her home twenty-four hours a day."
Managing a sour smile, Maud said, "Like mother, like son. Right?" She saw worry in Jake's forest-green eyes. He had been close to both his parents; his father had died at the age of fifty-five of a sudden and unexpected heart attack. For the last ten years, his mother had been on her own. Now, at sixty-five, she had a broken bone and needed help. Jake's expression turned dark, and she saw him wrestling with the whole situation.
"I'm afraid you're right, Maud."
"So? What do you want to do about it?" She leaned back in her squeaky leather chair, holding his narrowing gaze. "How can we gather the wagons and help you out?" Maud made a point of being there for the people who worked for them. Jake had not asked for anything. He never did. Her experience with her wrangler vets, however, had taught her early on that those with PTSD, man or woman, never asked for help, never asked for support, and she knew it came from the shame that they had been broken by combat. "Well?" she prodded, arching a brow.
Jake squirmed. "Mom asked if I could come home and help her for those two months." Mouth quirking, he mumbled, "I told her I couldn't, that we had fifty grass leases with fifty different ranchers coming here, bringing in their herds by truck, in the next two weeks. I told her the Wyoming grass was thick, rich and nutritious, that the cattle would fatten up far more quickly on these lands than being put into a livestock pen. That I couldn't leave because our work triples from June through September."
"How did Jenna take the news?" Maud heard the pain in Jake's low, deep tone. He was a man who hated showing any emotions, but they were plainly written all over him now. Some of it Maud attributed to their strong relationship. Jake could let his guard down around her, one of the few people in his life he did trust.
"She was disappointed but understood." His black brows fell and he looked away. "She needs help. I don't know what to do. That's why I'm here." He gave her a hopeful look. "You're the go-to gal for ideas, Maud. I'm hopin' you can come up with a fix."
"I think I have one, Jake, but I don't know how you will react to it. Here's my plan. I talked to Steve last night and he's in agreement with me. I hope you will be, too." She straightened, resting her elbows on the desk, her hands clasped, her full attention on her foreman. "We both feel Jenna could be brought by ambulance to the ranch. The foreman's house is two stories, has three bedrooms, three baths, and is large enough for you to take care of your mom as well as an in-house caregiver." She saw his brows raise momentarily. "I know you'd rather live alone, but honestly, your cabin is the second largest on the ranch, next to where we live. It has plenty of room for you, your mom and a hired caregiver."
She took a breath, watching his face go from hard and unreadable to something akin to discomfort, coupled with relief. Jake had a set of good parents, that she knew. And he'd been very close to both of them. As well, Jake had protective instincts toward women. His mother was no exception to that rule. Maud knew he wanted desperately to support and care for her, but he hadn't thought outside the box on how to do it. That was her job.
"Now," she said firmly, "before you say no, I talked to Dr. Taylor Douglas, our PA, physician's assistant, in town. She said I needed to find someone with a medical background, preferably a registered nurse, who could take care of Jenna: help her walk, be there to assist her with the mandatory exercises, as well as cook and clean for you. Taylor put the word out in Wind River for such a person. I haven't gotten any bites on this yet, but I'll keep at it. Your mom and the caregiver could have the two bedrooms on the first floor. You have the master bedroom upstairs. If I find a caretaker for Jenna, would this work for you? It would be for a minimum of two months."
Jake rolled his shoulders, scowling in thought. "Maybe. But I can't afford to hire a caregiver for Jenna."
"No worries," Maud answered briskly. "Your mother is on Medicare and our umbrella insurance on the ranch will cover a full-time caregiver until she doesn't need one anymore. I'll pay for the caregiver because you're so important to the daily work that goes on around here, Jake. I'd do it for any of our wranglers. We meant it when we said they were family, and that's what you do for your family." Opening her hands, she added, "We're grateful to have made money and we aren't taking it with us. Your mom will have the best of care and we'll cover any additional expenses. How does that sound?"
"You've always been more than fair with us vets," he said, his voice low with emotion. "And I appreciate it, Maud."
"So? Is that a yes? Can we move ahead with this idea? Are you okay with it?"
Rubbing his stubbled jaw, Jake studied the fifty-five-year-old woman. "I don't like takin' handouts, Maud."
"This isn't a handout. Our insurance covers it. You've earned this, Jake."
He made a low, growling sound and stared hard at her. "I've never been in a position like this before. I like living alone, but I want to help my mom, too. I guess my uneasiness with havin' two women underfoot for two months or so isn't gonna kill me."
Giving him a half grin, Maud said, "No, it won't. And you can always hide up on the second floor if you're feeling overwhelmed with estrogen in your household." She heard him chuckle and saw his shoulders drop, indicating he was relaxed at last. Jake wasn't the kind of person she could trap and put in a corner. He had to come to this decision entirely on his own. And he was an honorable man, if nothing else. Jake would never knowingly hurt someone. At least, as a civilian. What he did as a recon Marine was different, and although he never talked about it, she knew enough to realize he'd been in harm's way all the time. It wouldn't surprise her that he'd killed the enemy either. She knew the burden of killing another human being through some of her other wranglers. It stayed with them the rest of their lives.
"I'll probably make the second floor my home."
"If I can find a caregiver, she'll do the cooking for the three of you. That won't be so bad, will it?"
"No, that sounds kinda good, to tell you the truth. And she'll housekeep, instead of me doing it. I like that part of it, too."
"I thought you might." She allowed the humor to come through in her voice and Jake gave her a slight grin. "It's only two months."
"But they're the busiest months of our year, Maud. I won't be around that much."
"And that's why a caregiver is essential. You won't have time to drive Jenna to her rehab exercises in Wind River, or to see an ortho doctor if necessary."
"Well," he said, straightening, "if you can find a caregiver, then we're set?"
"Yes." Maud looked at the bright red landline phone on her desk. "I'm calling Kassie and her husband, Travis. They're plugged in with everyone in town. Maybe one of them can give me some leads."
Rising, he said, "If there's such a person around Wind River, Kassie will know. She's gossip central at her cafÃ©," and he grinned a little.
"I'll let you know," Maud promised. "Once we hire someone, we can get Jenna out of the Casper hospital and over here to heal up."
Walking to the hat rack, he gripped the edge of his Stetson. "That sounds like a good plan, Maud." Settling it on his head, he turned, giving her a grateful smile. "I don't think outside the box like you do."
"Oh," she laughed, standing and walking around the desk and heading toward where he stood, "yes, you do! Every day around here, I see you thinking of ways to do something that needs to be fixed." She slid her hand on his shoulder, patting him in a motherly fashion. "All humans are good at something. Your skill set happens to be in ranching, Jake. Mine is about seeing patterns and putting dots together," and she chuckled with him. Jake rarely smiled. When he did? She saw the kindness and sensitivity he held protectively away from the world. Allowing her hand to fall to her side, she walked him to the door. "I'll be in touch by cell phone once I get something."
He nodded. "Thanks, Maud. I honestly don't know how I landed at your ranch, but I have to be the luckiest bastard in the world to have you as my boss."
"Get outta here, Murdoch. You got a shitload of eighteen-wheelers on your plate with these leases trucking in the beef right now."
He gave her a sour grin, opened the door and thunked down the wooden stairs.
Maud watched him climb into the white, dusty-looking Ford pickup with the name of their ranch in big red letters on each door. Turning, she felt lighter. Jake had never been in this kind of situation before, and she hadn't been sure how he was going to react to it. His care and love for his mother was heartwarming. He was such a gruff person, hardly letting anyone near him or his vulnerability. Maud sensed Jake's life was going to take a turn for the better. She didn't know how, as she walked to her desk, sat down and dialed up Kassie's CafÃ©, but she knew it was going to happen.
* * *
Lily Thompson was working in the no-kill animal shelter run by Maud and Steve Whitcomb, when Suzy, her boss, who manned the front desk, stuck her head around the door.
"Lily! Maud Whitcomb is on the line for you!"
"What?" She knew Maud was the owner of this large shelter, but in the two weeks since she was hired, she hadn't met the woman personally. She closed the cage on a black Lab with a gray muzzle, after giving him a bowl of fresh water. "Hold on. ..." and she hurried across the spotlessly clean concrete floor, wrapping the hose she'd used and hanging it on the wall. Rubbing her hands down her jeans, she asked breathlessly, "What does she want?"
Suzy, who was in her early twenties, shrugged dramatically. "I don't know."
Squeezing out the door, they walked down the hall toward the reception area. "Does she always call her employees?" Lily wondered.
"No ... not usually," Suzy responded, giving her a concerned look.
"Oh, dear," she muttered. "I wonder if I've done something wrong."
"I doubt that! All the animals love you. Some of them love you to death!"
Wincing inwardly at the word, Lily nodded and picked up the phone. "Hello? This is Lily Thompson." Her heart was pounding in her chest and she curled her fingers into her damp palm. Was she going to get fired? God, she hoped not.
"Lily, this is Maud. I just got done speaking to Kassie, and she mentioned you were an RN. Is that true?"
"Yes, ma'am, it is." She gulped, unsure of where this was going.
"Suzy told me you have a part-time job there, fifteen hours a week?"
"Yes, ma'am, I do. I love it." Inwardly, she was praying the owner wasn't going to tell her to leave. It would devastate her in ways most people wouldn't understand. This was the first real job she'd been able to find since receiving an honorable medical discharge from the Army due to her extreme PTSD symptoms.
"Are you looking for full-time work?"
"Well ... uh ... that would depend. I really love animals." Because they give me peace. They accept me for who I am now. Not who I used to be, but she didn't divulge that.
"Can you drive out to our ranch? I'd love to talk to you face-to-face about a job possibility. I assume you're looking for full-time work?"
Was she ever! Licking her lower lip, Lily said, "Yes, ma'am, I am. But I can't work in a hospital or anything like that." Lily had to be honest about her skills and how much she'd been harmed by her time in Afghanistan.
"This is a job in a home, as a caregiver for a sixty-five-year-old woman who has broken her femur. You would cook three meals a day and do some light housework besides helping the woman with exercise and walking to strengthen herself once more. It should last around two months, full-time. Are you still interested?"
"Maybe," she answered tentatively. "Could you tell me more?"
"Come out to the Wind River Ranch. We'll talk. Can you make it at one p.m.?"
"Yes, ma'am. I'm done today at noon. I know where your ranch is located and can drive out there. I'll be on time, I promise."
"Great. Just come to the office. That's where I'll be."
Lily hung up, her heart pounding even harder. A job. A real job. A caregiver. Well, she could do that.
Suzy glowed as Lily told her about the call. "You said you wanted another job, that this one wouldn't pay your monthly bills."
Lily smoothed out her jeans, some damp spots of water on them from watering all the cats and dogs in the shelter that morning. "I did."
"Kassie's a good go-to person to find a job. You must have told her you were looking for another one."
"Yes, I'd love to find something full-time. I don't want to leave the shelter," she said, looking around the small but homey office. "I love the animals."
"It's only a two-month job, Lily."
"It's better than nothing. And it sounds like something I can manage. I always enjoy helping animals and people."
Suzy sat down. "Hey, good luck on it. Maud's a really nice person. You'll instantly feel at ease with her. She has a heart of gold, so don't sweat the interview. Okay?"
Easier said than done. Nodding, Lily picked up her jacket and pulled it on. It might be June 2, but it was only forty-five degrees outside despite the blue sky and sunshine. "I'll see you tomorrow morning at six a.m.," she promised Suzy, lifting her hand in farewell as she pushed the outer door open.
Outdoors, she halted and looked around. It was something she did without thinking about it. There were a lot of things she thought about since being in the Army, since that village was attacked ... Resolutely, Lily compressed her lips and walked doggedly toward her dark blue pickup. Her parents had bought it for her when she returned home, wanting, in some way, to help her adjust to civilian life. It was used but in good condition, and as she climbed in, her heart warmed at their helping her after the Army released her.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Home To Wind River"
Copyright © 2019 Nauman Living Trust.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.