Remington Jenkins is back and Martin's Crossing will never be the same. At least not for Samantha Martin. Her teenage crush is all grown-up, and she's realizing the full-time rancher, part-time preacher, still holds her heart. Back then, Rem planned to marry heruntil her overprotective brothers sent her away. If he can brave her formidable family, Rem's finally got a shot with the pretty nurse. But first, Sam has a secret that she must share before they can turn their summer romance into a winter wedding
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The pediatric rehab wing of the Braswell, Texas, Doctor's Hospital sounded like an out-of-control playground when Samantha Martin walked through the double doors. A little boy in a wheelchair zoomed her way, his face split in a wide grin.
"You're here," he announced.
"Of course I'm here, Parker. I work here." She took the handles of the wheelchair and pushed him back down the hall. "Why are you racing around like a maniac?"
"The cowboys are coming today."
"Cowboys?" Three days off and she no longer knew what was going on. She did know that after being outside in the June sunshine, the air-conditioning felt good and the kids all seemed to have spring fever. "Are we having a rodeo on the unit? Or football?"
She glanced at one of the other nurses. The woman shrugged as she headed into a room with a toddler on her hip. The Braswell hospital, just a short distance from Samantha's home in Martin's Crossing, was small but efficient. And the staff cared. It was a great place to begin her career as an RN.
At the moment she didn't have a lot of time to reflect on her job, not with Parker, a dark-haired rascal, talking ninety miles an hour. She must have missed half of what the little boy said because he was glancing back at her as if she didn't have a clue.
"I'm sorry, Parker. So cowboys are coming today. "
"One of them is my cousin. And they're bringing a real, live horse!"
That got her attention. "They can't bring a horse into the hospital."
An aid stuck her head out of the door to the room next to Parker's. "Miniature horse. It's approved."
Seriously? "Okay, they're bringing a horse. That should be interesting."
"You think it'll go to the bathroom, don't you?" Parker asked.
"Well, it is a horse. They aren't typically housetrained." She lifted him from his chair and placed him in bed. "Stay."
"I got myself out earlier."
She gave him a serious look. "Not without supervision, buddy."
The nine-year-old nodded. "Okay, not without supervision. But Danny was in here."
"Danny is ten. He doesn't count."
She gave him one last warning look and headed back to the nurse's station. "We have to move Parker closer to the nurse's station. He escaped his bed again."
"You can't stop determination." Dr. Jackson grinned as he entered something in the computer. He was older and liked to remind them he'd seen it all.
"No, but I can stop him from falling and getting hurt."
"Good luck," the doctor said as he pulled on glasses and meandered back down the hall. He said after thirty years of practicing, he no longer got too excited about anything.
But nurses did. That was their job. And right about now, all the nurses seemed a little too excited. It must have something to do with cowboys. If they'd grown up with her brothers, they wouldn't be excited about a bunch of domineering, take-charge men in chaps.
"So what are the cowboys doing here today?" she asked as she picked up a chart.
"Rope tricks, the pony of course and just looking pretty stinking good," Laura Struthers said, her voice ending on a whisper as she looked past Sam toward the door. "Wow. Those are some cowboys. Not the stinky, been-on-the-range-too-long kind, but the dressed-up, rugged, could-be-in-a-commercial kind."
"No thanks." Sam studied the chart. "I need to get Patricia down to X-Ray."
"Doc said not until after the cowboys."
"She needs "
"Fine," Sam caved. "I guess we won't do anything until the cowboys leave. But I'm going to check on Parker and make sure he's still in his bed."
She headed down the hall, back to Parker's room. When she stepped in, she froze. Not because of the miniature horse the boy was petting, but because of the cowboy standing at his side. There was something about the man standing next to the little boy's bed. It was in his build, in the way he stood, controlled yet relaxed. It was his dark hair, the hand that rested on the boy's arm and the way her traitor heart reacted, even without seeing his face.
"Your granny says they're letting you out of here real soon." The cowboy spoke in a low voice that vibrated through Sam.
"Yeah. And we're moving to Martin's Crossing." That was news to Sam, but she couldn't dwell on it. She had to escape. She backed away from the door.
"Nurse Sam!" Parker yelled.
She stopped in the doorway and peeked back into the room. The cowboy at Parker's side had turned. It was him. Remington Jenkins in the flesh. And none too happy to see her. The feeling was mutual.
But Parker had his blue eyes pinned on her and she had to respond. "Yes, Parker?"
"This is my cousin. He's a cowboy. I told you he was."
"Yes, you did tell me. And your cousin brought a pony to the hospital," she accused.
"He's housebroke," that same low, husky voice replied. She moved her gaze from the little black horse that came just above his knees to his face. His very familiar face.
At seventeen he'd been the cutest thing she'd ever seen. At twenty-seven he proved that age could be a good thing. Drat the man for his steel-gray eyes in a suntanned face, dark hair and five-o'clock shadow that covered the smooth planes of his face.
She swallowed. "Hi, Remington."
"Sam, it's been a long time."
Yes, it had. He'd never rescued her the way she'd dreamed he would do when her brothers had sent her away. She'd pictured him arriving in his old truck, radio blaring. He'd open the door, she'd jump in and in her sixteen-year-old mind they'd drive off into the sunset, broke and homeless but happy. He hadn't even written.
"I didn't know you worked here. Parker has talked about his favorite nurse at rehab, but I had no idea she would be my favorite nurse, too." He gave her that easy, familiar smile of his, as if the past didn't exist. Maybe for him it didn't. Maybe walking away had been easy for Remington Jenkins.
He wasn't the first person who had no problem walking away from her.
She breathed through the pain and managed what she hoped was a carefree look. For Parker's sake, not his. "Yes, well, I have to get back to work. It was good seeing you."
It took everything in her to ignore the questions in Remington's eyes. It took more to ignore the questions in her heart. Why now? When she'd come home and rebuilt her life, why was he here now?
She hurried down the hall to the sanctuary of a linen closet. Inside that quiet space she closed the door and leaned her back against it. Alone and safe with her emotions, she closed her eyes and cried. She cried for little boys who would never walk again. She cried for everything she'd lost. Everything that ached inside her came out in hot, angry tears.
John Wayne followed Remington room to room. The tiny horse nuzzled children, sniffing their hands, closing his eyes and resting his head on their laps when they stroked his face and neck. John was a prize horse when it came to cheering up children. Remington had used him as a part of ministry for the past two years.
The little horse would also serve as their victim when it came time to show the kids some trick roping. John Wayne knew a few tricks. He'd even learned to "play like a calf" when roped. He would drop to the ground and let the guys tie his hooves. He also prayed when asked. He would extend his front legs and drop his head to the ground. Kids loved a praying horse. So did most adults.
Focusing on the horse and the kids helped Remington to ignore the obvious distraction of Sammy Martin. After all this time she still had the ability to undo his common sense. Her blond hair was a little shorter than it had been, but her blue eyes were just as blue and that pretty mouth He smiled. How could a guy not remember strawberry lip gloss?
Her dad had died about the time he'd gone to work at the Martin ranch. It hadn't been a good time for the Martins. It hadn't been the best chunk of his own life, either.
He led John Wayne out of the room of a little girl who didn't speak. She reached one tiny hand to touch John. At least she'd reacted. Dr. Jackson told him that was probably a small miracle in itself. He liked the doctor who had made this unit a possibility. The hospital, typical for small communities, had few patients. This children's unit met a need and kept the hospital solvent. Most important, it gave hope.
The rest of his cowboy crew waited in the activity area for him to make his rounds. The kids were being moved to that area as he led John down the hallway. He looked up, meeting the brief accusing gaze of Samantha Martin. Those blue eyes could sure shoot sparks at a man. He wondered if she ever thought that he might have a little bit of a reason to be upset, too.
No, she probably didn't. She was a Martin. Her brothers, all three of them, had egos the size of the Rockies. Her older sister had been decent. A couple of years back Elizabeth and her husband had been killed in a small plane crash, leaving behind twin daughters. He knew from local gossip that Jake Martin was raising those little girls.
Jake, Duke, Brody, the three of them had caught him in the barn with Sam. He let go of the memory and met her gaze again. She looked away but not before he saw that her eyes were rimmed with red and her nose had turned pink. A sure sign she'd been crying.
Over him? Or was that just his ego talking? Working at the hospital as she did, he could see dozens of reasons she might cry from time to time.
He knew there were going to be problems with moving back to Martin's Crossing. Sam was one of them. Fortunately he didn't have time to focus on her or what she felt about him. He had his granddad to worry about. Gus wasn't doing too great. And now he had to think about Parker, too.
Sam moved past him, helping a little girl who made slow progress on crutches. She spoke softly, giving the child advice and encouragement. He couldn't help but notice her. The softness of her voice. The pink of her nails as she steadied the little girl. The scent of her, soft and floral.
Man, she smelled good.
A guy couldn't not notice when a woman smelled that good. Or when her blond hair shimmered beneath the lights. A man couldn't help notice blue eyes flecked with violet. Noticing was what had gotten him in trouble ten years ago.
He shook it off as John Wayne nipped at his jeans. "Hey, mule, stop that."
The little girl with Sam laughed. "He's not a mule. He's a pony."
He squatted in front of John and the little girl stopped, forcing Sam to stop. "He's actually a miniature horse."
"Why?" the child asked. Her big brown eyes moved from his face to the horse at his side. John lipped the hand she extended. He saved his teeth for Remington.
"That's a good question," he responded. "Ponies are breeds that stay under a certain size. Miniature horses are horses that just stay tiny."
She wrinkled her nose and shook her head. He looked up at Sam. She was giving him the same look.
"Not a good answer?" he asked. They both shook their heads and he laughed. "Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me, either. I just know that John Wayne here is a real good horse. And if we go in with the others, he'll show you some pretty amazing tricks."
He straightened, still holding the lead to John Wayne. The horse pulled him on in to the activity room, following behind temptation in nurse's scrubs. Pink scrubs with teddy bears.
For the next hour he entertained the children. He showed a little boy named Danny, an amputee, how to lasso John Wayne. They had a contest to see who could draw the best horse picture. Afterward, John did a few tricks. He played calf, prayed and climbed up on a pedestal, where he shook hands with various kids.
At the end of the program, Remington prayed. When he asked the children if they had any prayer requests, hands went up all over the room. He took out a pen and paper to write them all down. Nothing hurt a kid more than forgetting their request. It might be a prayer for a goldfish that died, but it still mattered. He wrote them all down and ignored the way Samantha Martin tried to avoid looking at him the entire time.
He had hoped that they could live in the same area and not bump into each other. It was a foolish hope. Since they were obviously going to see each other from time to time, he guessed they were going to have to talk.
But first he'd talk to God. He had a whole list of prayer requests from the kids, running the gamut from wanting a pony to being able to walk again. Kids always broke his heart. He never left one of these events without shedding a few tears.
It was something his granddad had taught him. Real men could cry.
After he'd prayed, he and the other guys went around the room, shaking hands and signing autographs. He'd brought some champions with him today. A Bull Riding World Champion, an All-Around Cowboy World Champion, a Steer Wrestling Champion and an award-winning stock contractor. They all had stories to share, roping tricks to display and pictures to hand out.
One of Remington's personal favorites was Bryan Cooper, from Dawson, Oklahoma. He'd met the younger man at a church event in Austin. Bryan had lived in South America and told a compelling story of forgiveness. For the children in these units, he talked about his faith as a young man.
As the cowboys circulated, Remington let his gaze slide to the far wall. Samantha Martin stood to one side, watching him but pretending not to. He caught and held her gaze, because he enjoyed watching that flush of pink in her cheeks. She looked away first.
He squatted in front of a little girl in a wheelchair.
"Can I pet him?" she asked, pointing to John Wayne. Her voice was raspy and she closed her eyes as if talking hurt.
"You sure can." He pulled John a little closer. The girl reached out, tentative, stroking the soft muzzle of the horse.
"I used to have a pony," she said, not looking at him but her big brown eyes gobbling up his horse.
She nodded. "Yeah, before. Before the fire."
Yeah, he was going to cry today. He could feel it coming on as the little girl told him about a fire and how her daddy got her out but then went back in for the rest of the family. And he didn't come back out again.
What did a man say to that? He wanted to tell this child he would fix it all. But he couldn't. He couldn't fix her. He couldn't give her back her family. So he hugged her and told her he would pray.
She leaned in close. "Pray someone wants to be my family."
His throat tightened painfully at that request. "You've got it, kiddo."
"My name is Lizzy," she whispered.
Samantha rescued him. She appeared at his side and as he stayed on his knees in front of Lizzy, she touched his shoulder.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A heartfelt story about faith, hope, love, and forgiveness. There's so much sorrow, anger, disappointment and loneliness in Sam. She has felt her whole life, that people leave, or sent her away, they are not there to stay, to love, to be trusted. And for good reasons. Remington only really loved one girl, but her family, brothers, made sure they didn't have a future together. Now, ten years later, if they can forgive each other, their families, and leave the past behind, will they really have a second chance at the forever kind of love? So much heart, love, and trust is needed, to open up your mind, trust again after your heart has been shattered, and to forgive. Sam is struggling to find her place with her family, to see if she could finally fit in. Remington is willing to do anything to have Sam in his life again, more as a friend. And if the heart break between Remington and Sam doesn't bring you to tears, their efforts to help the little kids at the hospital surely will. The story isn't just about pain, hurt, love, and forgiveness, meddling brothers, and teenage crushes turning into love. It is also about hope for a better tomorrow, and about faith that God will guide you through anything, and trust that it will happen. ~ Four Spoons