Coming home should be filled with joy, but Kathleen Somers felt nothing. Numb, she was beyond caring where she lived so long as she could be by herself. She stared unseeing out the window of her older brother’s Ford F-150 as Howard turned into the family ranch outside of Cimarron City, Oklahoma. Green pastures were scattered with cattle grazing peacefully, their world not rocked like hers. To my very foundation, whispered through her thoughts.
In New York she’d been following her dream to become a principal ballerina in a major ballet company. She’d been close—a step away until she was hit by a car crossing the street on her way to the dress rehearsal for her big chance. As she remembered, her heartbeat slowed to a painful throb.
The motion of the Ford came to a halt. “We’re home, Kit,” her brother’s deep gravelly voice pierced through the emotions deluging her. “Beth hoped you would join us for an early dinner before going to the cabin.”
Kathleen slowly opened her eyes, not used to hearing her old nickname. In New York she was Kathleen, and it seemed to fit a ballerina who was on the rise in the dance world. She turned her head toward Howard. “I’d rather settle in first.”
“That’s fine. We can hold dinner. Give you the time you need.”
“I don’t think—”
“I know you’re hurting, but Beth has gone to a lot of trouble to make one of your favorite foods, and the kids are excited to see you again.” His eyes softened on her face. “Please.”
“I don’t want any special treatment. I’m tired…” Her voice trailed off into the silence when she took in her brother’s worried expression. “I’m going to be all right.” If I say it enough, maybe it will happen.
“Don’t forget I’ve known you ever since you were born twenty-six years ago. I know all your moods and probably what you’re thinking right now.”
Why had she decided to come home to the Soaring S Ranch? She should have known Howard would do this. Demand she become part of the family when all she wanted to do was hide and mourn the loss of the lower part of her leg—not to mention her career and her dreams. “Fine. I’ll come for a little while, but I really am tired and want to go to bed early. I’ll come up to the house after I freshen up.”
“Promise?” Determination mixed with the concern in Howard’s gray eyes.
She knew that look. He would get his way somehow. Anger seeped into the numbness. “I said I would.”
He grinned, purposefully ignoring the frown on her face. “Good.”
After restarting the truck, he backed away from the house and continued on the road toward the black barn. Kathleen’s gaze latched on to a new shiny red pickup parked by the paddock on the right side.
“Did Bud finally get a new pickup?” Howard’s foreman had needed a new truck for years, but somehow this vehicle didn’t seem his style.
“Nah, he’s still set in his ways and refuses to get a new truck. That’s the vet’s. He’s here checking on Cinnamon.”
She looked toward Howard. “What’s wrong with my horse?”
“Is it serious?”
“I’ll know after he checks her out.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I wanted to get the diagnosis first. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think she’s in extreme pain.” Howard steered around the curve in the road.
That was when she saw the cabin. It stood a hundred feet away on the opposite side of the road from the barn, nestled among a yardful of flowers in bloom that her grandmother had loved to tend to. Childhood memories flooded her of spending time at the two-bedroom log cabin with her grandparents. She remembered helping Granny plant her garden out back every year, then picking the vegetables at the right time, often eating a few before taking them inside for her grandmother. The house had been empty since Granny died three years ago, not long after her grandpa had passed away and her mother had remarried and moved to Arizona.
She pushed away that sad memory of losing her grandmother and concentrated on the riot of different colored roses along the front of the cabin. Red, yellow and pink ones swayed in the breeze as though waving a welcome. “You all must be having a warm spring. The roses are blooming early. I didn’t usually see them this full-blown until the end of May.”
“Yes, which probably means a hot summer.” Howard pulled up to the cabin and switched the engine off.
“It wouldn’t be Oklahoma without a hot summer.” Kathleen pushed open the truck door and started to exit.
“Hold it. I’ll help you down.”
She swiveled around. “No. I can do this. I’m not an invalid.” She hated that word and was determined to take care of herself.
Her brother’s face tensed. “I didn’t say that. It’s a big step, you’re petite and you said yourself that you’re still getting used to your artificial leg.”
She didn’t respond to him, but instead scooted to the edge and put her good leg on the running board, then eased out of the cab to the ground, clutching the door for support. As she made her way toward the porch steps, Howard hovered nearby, one of her suitcases in his hand. Being tall and lanky, he had to slow his normally fast pace.
She glanced at the two rocking chairs with a white wicker table between them to the right. To the left was the porch swing. Many evenings she used to sit with Granny and talk about her day. She’d tell her any problems she had, and her grandmother would give her advice or her opinion. Over the years Kathleen had grown to realize Granny was a very wise woman. She had also been full of faith—a faith Kathleen was no longer certain she shared. Where was the Lord now when she needed Him the most?
Nothing is impossible for the Lord. Granny’s words taunted her when contrasted with the impossibility of Kathleen being able to dance again.
Howard opened the front door, a wooden one carved by her grandfather not long before he passed away. Kathleen moved inside, her fingers tracing the grooves in the piece of oak that formed a picture of horses grazing in a pasture. A work of art to match the carving of the rearing stallion in front of the main house.
A few feet inside, she paused and scanned the familiar surroundings. A warm chocolate-brown leather couch and two lounge chairs were grouped around a wood-and-glass coffee table on the right side of the cabin. To the left was a full kitchen separated from the dining area by a counter with four stools. On its beige ceramic countertop sat a bouquet of fresh flowers.
“I see Beth has been here.” Kathleen took a deep breath of the fresh air laced with the scents of apples and cinnamon as if her grandmother had just removed one of her special pies from the oven and was letting it cool on the stove top.
“She wanted to make sure everything was clean for your return.”
“I don’t want you all to go to any trouble for me. I can take care of myself.”
“I know that. We would have done the same thing for anyone staying here after it has been closed up for three years.”
“Who tends to the gardens out front?”
“Bud. Granny was like a second mother to him. He knows how much the gardens meant to her.” Howard placed the suitcase on the floor. “I’ll bring in the rest of your luggage. Are you having things from your apartment shipped here?”
“No.” She kept her back to him as she walked toward the hallway that led to the two bedrooms and bath. “I sublet my apartment furnished, and then sold or gave away everything else except what is in my three suitcases.”
She stopped and glanced back at her brother. “Don’t say it. I don’t need any reminders of my life in New York.”
“But you kept your apartment.”
“As an investment for the time being.”
“Are you sure that’s the only reason?”
“Yes.” She frowned. “What else could it be?”
“Not moving on. You’re keeping that tie to New York.”
She lifted her chin. “Because I might go back one day? I might…” What? Return to her career? Emotions crammed her throat, and she couldn’t continue.
Sorrow in his eyes, Howard took a step toward her.
She held up her hand to stop him, shaking her head. If he hugged her at this moment, she would fall apart.
He respected her request, but still said, “I’m here for you,” before he pivoted and left the cabin.
She’d hurt his feeling by not letting him comfort her, but she couldn’t deal with it at the moment. This was all so hard on her. Leaving the life she’d had in New York. Getting on the plane this morning. Landing here. Coming to the ranch, the place where her dream had begun.
With a deep sigh, Kathleen continued her trek to the bedroom she used to use when she slept over at Granny’s. That was the one she would continue to use now, although the other room was a lot bigger. Pausing in the doorway, she took in the double-size brass bed with one end table and lamp beside it. The only other pieces of furniture were a six-drawer dresser and a Queen Anne chair of rose brocade that blended with the flowered coverlet on the bed.
Home. She suddenly felt more at home here than she had in the six years she’d lived in New York City. The feeling took her by surprise.
“Where do you want me to put these?” Howard asked behind her in the hallway.
“Why not the larger bedroom?”
“That will always be Papa Keith and Granny’s room to me. This is mine.” She ignored the ache in her leg and crossed to the bed to hoist the piece of luggage she carried. “When do you need me at the main house?”
“Will an hour be long enough?”
She nodded and opened her first suitcase. Whenever she traveled, she always liked to put her clothes and belongings away before doing whatever else she had to do. It gave her a settled feeling and right now she needed that.
“See you then. Carrie and Jacob are excited about you being here. Coming home at Christmas just isn’t enough for them, especially Carrie. You know that she wants to be you one day.”
Not anymore if she knew what happened to her. Carrie’s budding love of dance, much like hers at an early age, had been a bond between them even from a distance. The loss of the connection from their shared dreams was just one more thing the accident had taken away from her.
She opened her mouth to say something to her brother, but he was already gone. Her shoulders sagging, she sank onto the bed to rest a moment.
She loved her niece and nephew, but she wasn’t sure about seeing them and answering all the questions they most likely would pepper her with. They were curious and would want to know everything about what happened four months ago. They knew she’d had an accident but from what Howard had said, it was clear that they didn’t know she’d lost her leg. She would give them just enough information without a lot of detail or she would never be able to end the evening at a reasonable hour. She was thankful they would be going to school for at least a few more weeks. That would give her the time to decide if she wanted to stay or…
Or nothing. She was adrift, going wherever the current took her. No plans. No goals. So different from what she was used to, and what she needed in her life—a direction. She’d always had one—her dream to dance. The settlement from the insurance company of the man who had hit her allowed her to be financially solvent, and she was thankful for that, but the accident left a void she wasn’t sure she could ever fill.
She blew a breath of air out through pursed lips, then set about emptying her suitcases. For the time being, she stored her luggage in the closet in the other bedroom. When she glanced at the clock on the oven, she was surprised she still had thirty minutes. She was tired and could lie down for fifteen minutes, but she was afraid she would go to sleep. Maybe she’d check on Cinnamon before heading for the main house. She hoped the vet was gone and no one was in the barn. Dr. Harris had been their vet for as long as she could remember, and she felt good that her quarter horse was in his capable hands. But that didn’t mean she wanted to make conversation—with the doctor or with anyone else.
As Nate Sterling walked through the barn, he couldn’t stop thinking of the glimpse he’d gotten of Kit entering the cabin thirty minutes ago. Beth had told him she was coming to stay for a while, but it had still been jarring to see her. Kit’s sister-in-law had mentioned Kit had been injured and was recuperating here. He couldn’t see her staying long. Her life was in New York. He’d discovered that the painful way when Kit chose to pursue her career over marrying him. His love hadn’t been enough.
Reaching the doorway of the barn, he looked over to the cabin’s porch. He hadn’t seen her in years and yet physically she hadn’t changed. Her reddish brown hair was still long and pulled back in a ponytail, her favorite way to wear it unless she was dancing, then it was in a bun. He loved it when she let it down loose, a mass of curls about her face and shoulders. The memory of running his fingers through the thick strands made him clench his hand. He shoved the memory away.
But another image flooded him. Kit the last time he saw her, with excitement on her face from the news she’d received about being accepted into a New York ballet company. Her large, expressive blue eyes, fringed in long dark lashes, lit with a look he’d wished had been for him. That was when he knew even if he’d transferred to New York for college, it wouldn’t work.
“How’s Cinnamon?” a gruff voice asked behind Nate.
He tore his gaze away from the cabin and swung around to face Bud, the ranch’s foreman. “She should recover fine. I see Kit arrived.”
“Yeah, Howard and Beth have been working for days on the cabin to get it ready.” Bud’s sharp regard studied Nate.
Bud had come upon Nate not long after he and Kit had parted all those years ago at Christmas. Nate had ridden back to this barn while Kit had stayed up on the rise that overlooked the ranch. The older man had taken one look at Nate’s face and immediately asked if everything was all right.