Authors: Carolyne Aarsen
Tags: #Romance, #Love Inspired, #Harlequin, #Carolyne Aarsen
Cara chanced a look ahead, watching Nicholas from behind.
Nicholas glanced sideways at the fields they rode beside, a smile curving his lips.
This is where he belongs, Cara thought, looking at him now silhouetted against the mountains. This is his natural setting.
Pain twisted Cara’s heart.
And where do you belong?
Before she met Nicholas the question had resonated through her life. Then, for those few, magical months with Nicholas, she’d thought she had found her place.
She was expending too much energy wondering how to react to Nicholas and thinking of how to behave around him.
They were outside on this beautiful day and were headed out into the hills.
Just enjoy it. Don’t put extra burdens on it.
Nicholas sat easily on his horse, his one hand on his thigh, the other loosely holding the reins. He had rolled his shirtsleeves over his forearms, and as he rode, she could see his broad shoulders moving ever so slightly in response to the movement of the horse.
He’s an extremely good-looking man, she thought with a touch of wistfulness.
And he doesn’t belong to you anymore.
Books by Carolyne Aarsen
A Bride at Last
The Cowboy’s Bride
A Family-Style Christmas
A Mother at Heart
A Family at Last
A Hero for Kelsey
Love Is Patient
A Heart’s Refuge
Brought Together by Baby
A Silence in the Heart
Any Man of Mine
Finally a Family
A Family for Luke
The Matchmaking Pact
Close to Home
and her husband, Richard, live on a small ranch in northern Alberta, where they have raised four children and numerous foster children and are still raising cattle. Carolyne crafts her stories in her office with a large west-facing window through which she can watch the changing seasons while struggling to make her words obey.
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
I’d like to dedicate this book to Linda Ford, my friend and critique partner. You rejoice with me and weep with me and help me struggle with stories. Especially this one. You are an inspiration and an encouragement. I couldn’t do what I do without your help.
anic spiraled through Cara Morrison as she stared at the cowboy standing with his back to her looking at a chart on the wall of the vet clinic.
Nicholas Chapman. The man she was once engaged to. The man she thought she didn’t care for anymore.
He wasn’t supposed to be back in Alberta, Canada. He was supposed to be working overseas.
And she wasn’t supposed to be reacting to her exfiancé this way.
The familiar posture, the slant of his head with its broad cowboy hat, the breadth of his shoulders, his one hand slung up in the front pocket of his faded blue jeans all pulled at old memories Cara thought she had pushed aside.
Bill, the other vet, was out on call and her uncle had chosen this exact time to grab a cup of coffee, leaving the clinic in her capable hands, he had said. If she’d known who the next client would be, she wouldn’t have let him leave!
Nicholas turned and Cara’s heart slowed for a few heavy beats, then started up again. She sucked in a quick breath as her mouth went dry.
Gray eyes, the color of a summer storm, met hers in a piercing gaze. Eyes she had once looked into with love and caring. Eyes that once beheld her with warmth instead of the coolness she now observed.
“Hello, Cara. I heard rumors you were back in town.” Nicholas pushed his hat back on his head, his well-modulated voice showing no hint of discomfort.
The last time she saw him, three years ago, he wasn’t as in control. His anger had spilled over into harsh words that cut and hurt. And instead of confronting him, challenging him, she had turned tail and run.
And she and Nicholas hadn’t spoken since then.
Her friend Trista had assured her Nicholas was working overseas on yet another dangerous job.
Yet here he stood making her heart pound and her face flush.
“I’m visiting my aunt and uncle for a week,” she said, forcing a smile to her face, thankful the trembling in her chest didn’t translate to her voice. “After that I’m heading to Europe for a holiday.”
“What made you decide Europe?”
Okay, chitchat. She could do chitchat.
“My mother spent some time in Malta.”
“Ah, yes. In her many travels around the world.”
Cara frowned at the faint tone of derision in his voice. Though Cara had wished and prayed that her mother would stay with her instead of heading off on yet an other mission project, she also had wished she shared her mother’s zeal.
“She did some relief work there,” Cara said. “I’d like to visit the orphanage where she worked.” She folded her arms over her chest. “And how are things with you and your father?”
“We’re busy on the ranch,” he replied. He drew his hands out of the pockets of his denim jeans and placed them on the counter.
The hands of a working man. Cara fleetingly noticed the faint scars on the backs of his hands, a black mark on one fingernail.
His eyes bored into hers and for the smallest moment she felt like taking a step back at the antagonism she saw there. But she clung to the counter, holding her ground.
“And how are you enjoying Vancouver?” he asked.
Nicholas raised one eyebrow. “Where to this time?”
“I’ve got a line on a job in Montreal working for an animal drug company in a lab.”
He gave a short laugh. “Didn’t figure you for a big-city person working in a lab.”
“The job is challenging.” She gave a light shrug, as if brushing away his observations.
At one time this man held her heart in the callused hands resting on the counter between them. At one time all her unspoken dreams and wishes for a family and a place were pinned on this man.
She couldn’t act as if he were simply another customer she had to deal with. “What can I do for you?” she asked, going directly to the point.
He gave her a smile that held no warmth and in spite of her own hurt it still cut.
“I need to vaccinate my calves before I put them out to pasture.”
“How many doses?” she asked, sliding the large glass refrierator door open and pulling out the boxes he asked for.
“Anything else?” she asked, favoring him with a quick glance, hoping she looked far more professional than she felt.
“Yeah. I’m sending a shipment of heifers to the United States. I need to know what I have to do before I send them out.”
“From your purebred herd?”
Nicholas nodded, reaching up to scratch his forehead with one finger. He often did that when he contemplated something, Cara thought. She was far too conscious of his height, of the familiar lines of his face. The way his hair always wanted to fall over his forehead. How his dark eyebrows accented the unusual color of his eyes. How his cheekbones swept down to his firm chin.
He looks tired.
The thought slipped past her defenses, awakening old feelings she thought she had dealt with.
She crossed her arms as if defending herself against his heartrending appeal.
“I’m sending out my first shipment of heifers along with a bull,” he continued. “If this guy likes what he sees, I could have a pretty good steady market.”
“You’re ranching full-time now?” Cara fought the strong urge to step back, to give herself more space away from the easy charm that was causing her tension.
Nicholas frowned, shaking his head. “After I ship out the heifers I’m heading overseas again.”
“Overseas?” She’d been told that, but she didn’t know the details. Guess working offshore rigs wasn’t dangerous enough, or didn’t pay enough. “Where will you be?”
“A two-month stint in Kuwait. Dad’s still able to take care of the ranch so I figure I better work while I can.”
“And how’s your leg?” she asked, referring to the accident he suffered working on the rigs just before their big fight. The fight that had shown Cara that Nicholas’s ranch would always come before anything or anyone else in his life. Including her.
Nicholas eyes narrowed. “The leg is fine.”
“Glad to hear it.”
Before they could get into another dead-end discussion, Cara pulled a pad of paper toward her. “As for the heifers you’ll be shipping, you’ll need to call the clinic to book some tests.” Was that her voice? So clipped, so tense? She thought after three years she would be more relaxed, more in control.
She reached for a pen but instead spilled the can’s contents all over the counter with a hollow clatter.
Of course, she thought, grabbing for the assortment of pens. Nicholas Chapman shows up and hands that could stitch up a tear in a kitten’s eyelid without any sign of a tremor suddenly become clumsy and awkward.
“Here, let me help you,” he said as he picked up the can and set it upright.
For the briefest of moments, their hands brushed each other. Cara jerked hers back.
Nicholas dropped the handful of pens into the aluminum can, then stood back.
Cara didn’t look at him as she scribbled some instructions and put them in her uncle’s appointment book. “I made a note for my uncle to call you, in case you or your dad forget.” She didn’t want to sound so aloof, but how else could she get through this moment?
He took the paper she handed him and, after glancing down briefly at it, folded it up and slipped it into his pocket. “I could have phoned for the information, but I was in town anyway.”
He’d heard she was around, but was seeing her as much of a shock to him as to her?
He grabbed the bag, murmured his thanks then left. As the door swung shut behind him, relief sluiced through her.
Their first meeting had finally happened.
Maybe now she could finally get past her old feelings for him and get on with her life.
It had been three years since they’d broken up over the very thing they had talked about. His blind devotion to his ranch and his commitment to working dangerous jobs that paid high wages, which all went back into the ranch.