Authors: Lynn Kellan
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Anything You Ask
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Lynn Kellan
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Champagne Rose Edition, 2013
Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-841-7
Published in the United States of America
Praise for Lynn Kellan
ANYTHING YOU ASK
, Lynn Kellan turns her attention to detail to draw readers into this emotional story. The story unfolds beautifully and ends the way a romance should.”
~Jacki Kelly, author of
The Sweet Road Home
“Lynn Kellan is a prolific writer with great imagery. Her ability to take the reader on a journey of excitement, discovery and romance is spellbinding. Lynn’s characters are alive and vibrant. The heroes in her books are flawed but still strong. I can’t wait for her to take me on another journey.”
~Renee Wynn, author of
The Heart Knows
Seasoned Just Right
Every writer needs a reader.
This book is dedicated to my first reader, Brenda.
I’m deeply grateful to Pat Leedom, Jacqueline Harris, Renee Wynn, S. A. Van, and Theza Friedman
for their feedback on the first draft of this novel.
A special thank you goes to Leanne Morgena,
who transformed me into a better writer
during the editing process.
Danielle Cooper would not pass out. She couldn’t afford the luxury. Gripping the tiller’s cold metal handle to stay upright, she waited for the fallow vegetable garden to stop spinning. As she stared at the crusty brown soil, a chilly gust cooled the prickly heat beading across her forehead.
Looking up from her old sneakers, she glanced at the tree-covered summit looming in the distance. The nearby Allegheny Mountains funneled a refreshing breeze across the fields this morning, carrying the green scent of spring into Freeburg, Pennsylvania. Perhaps the invigorating wind would refresh her farm’s dormant soil and renew her hopes.
Summoning her dwindling optimism, she yanked the engine’s pull for the ninth time. The rusty contraption shuddered, burped, and coughed an acrid black puff of smoke before going silent. Trying to run the tiller was no use. Nothing worked on this ramshackle farm. She shoved the machine and yelled, “You worthless piece of sheet metal.”
“It won’t start if you talk to it like that,” drawled a deep voice.
She gasped and turned, nearly tripping over the half-rotten timber edging the garden. How long had that man been watching? His scuffed work boots were the color of dirty sand and his faded jeans bore the scars that came with hard labor. Even though his plaid flannel shirt resembled what most farmers wore around here, she didn’t recognize him. Her alarm dissipated when she noticed the familiar bridge of his straight nose, the short blond hair, and the plastic device hanging over the shell of his left ear.
The hearing aid was a definite clue. She frowned into a pair of blue eyes that reminded her of an August sky. “Hale?”
Her brother-in-law’s mouth tightened. “I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner, Danielle. I came as fast as I could.”
The soothing resonance of his voice shot an arc of happiness into her despair. She ran across the bumpy garden and threw her arms around his broad shoulders in jubilant welcome.
The collision forced a grunt out of his throat, and the pair tilted for a precarious moment until he braced his legs to absorb her weight. “
He murmured her nickname in gruff affection. Locking her in a boisterous hug, he lifted her until her feet dangled a few inches above the hard soil.
The solid warmth of his body provided a welcome respite from the April chill. She pressed a smile against the sharp prickle of whiskers on his cheek, detecting the scent of fresh air and sweet hay on his skin. For a poignant moment, she felt like he never left.
“I haven’t seen you for six years,” she observed when her sneakers touched the ground again.
“More like six years, seven months, and eighteen days.”
Surprised he’d kept count, she stumbled out of his arms and noticed a large brown dog sitting nearby.
“This is Cocoa.” Hale gave the lab’s wide head a pat. “I got her when I moved to Oklahoma. She’s my second set of ears.”
Danielle wondered if something was wrong with the handful of stale cereal she ate hours ago, because she must be hallucinating. Her husband’s brother was
What had prompted him to make the thirteen hundred mile drive back home? He hadn’t even come to Mark’s funeral a few months ago. She was so astonished by his unexpected appearance, she couldn’t help staring. “What are you doing here?”
One of his shoulders rose in a shrug. “When you texted me on Saturday, you said you needed help.”
“But you said we’d talk on Monday, so I expected a phone call today. I had no idea you were going to drive all the way from the ranch.”
He made a dismissive gesture as though coming here wasn’t a big deal, but Danielle knew he must’ve gotten into his truck soon after he received her message. The drive from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania took two solid days, but he acted like driving so far to help a friend was perfectly normal.
How did he know she needed him so badly? Danielle’s throat tightened.
Hale’s gaze searched hers. “How are you?”
“I’m managing,” she hedged, reluctant to reveal how bad things were. Even though four months had passed since her husband Mark died, her life unraveled long before his accident.
Wrapping her arms around her waist, she hoped Hale wouldn’t blame her for the barren fields or the gaping hole in the barn’s hay mow.
Hale nodded toward the gray roof visible beyond a distant field. “While I’m here, I’ll stay in the old farmhouse.”
“You can’t. I rented it to Helen Davidson. She teaches math at the high school.” Embarrassment prickled across her chest when she caught his frown. “I needed the money. Besides, she’s nice to have around. When I need a babysitter, she watches my sons.”
“Drew and Luke.”
He recalled their names without hesitation despite never meeting them. Ashamed her husband never invited Hale to visit, she felt a hot blush stain the hollows of her cheeks. She took a quiet breath, inhaling the faint scent of greening grass in the air. “They’re five now.”
Danielle watched his attention shift to the red barn nearby. The structure used to be the focal point of the property, but the peeling paint and pockmarked tin roof were dead giveaways nobody cared for this place any more. She hoped Hale wouldn’t leave in disgust when he realized how far the farm had deteriorated.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again,” she confessed.
“Dad was clear he didn’t want me here. Mark too, for that matter.” He crushed a dandelion under the toe of his boot and met her gaze. “I couldn’t come back until you asked me.”
Danielle searched his expression, trying to discern why he was being so forthright. In the past, he never spoke about the rift in his family. Unable to help herself, Danielle thought of the event that prompted Hale’s father to throw him off the farm. “I never understood why you were blamed for the fire.”
“Everyone knew I smoked.” His voice was dry as tinder. “Not a stretch to assume I started the blaze with a toss of a cigarette butt.”
“In all the time I spent with you that summer, I never saw you do anything reckless.” Her hand trembled as she pointed to a distant field. Desiccated corn stalks poked out of the ground like quills on a porcupine. “We spent countless hours baling hay, working the crops, and driving loads of grain to the mill. You always took good care of your family’s farm.”
“Someone had to take the blame for the fire. It destroyed the barn, two expensive tractors, and five thousand bales of hay. Nearly bankrupted my father.” His gaze traveled up her dirty jeans, maroon Susquehanna University sweatshirt, and lingered on the blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. “You were the only one who didn’t believe I set the blaze. I owe you for that. This is my chance to pay you back.”
“You don’t owe me anything. When I started working here, you treated me like an equal. I never forgot your patience when I kept grinding the gears on the tractor.” She smiled, seeking to erase the pinch of pain in his eyes. “I doubt your father would have hired a graduate student like me if he wasn’t desperate for help. I was lucky he stuck you with me.”
Both twenty-four when they met, Danielle took a job at the farm to earn money during the summer while she put the finishing touches on her Ph.D. dissertation in American Literature from Penn State. Hale hadn’t attended college, opting to work on his family’s farm ever since high school. At first glance, they had little in common except their age, but by the end of the summer they became close friends.
Watching him take the blame for the fire was painful. Danielle suspected there was more to the story, but he never talked about what happened and neither did Mark. Normal behavior for a Cooper. The family possessed a knack for hiding things.
She wondered how many secrets Hale had gathered over the years. Coming back must’ve been difficult. Judging by the hard expression on his handsome face when he gazed at the nearby fields, he hadn’t forgotten this land should’ve been his.
“The farm is yours now, Danielle. Are you staying?”
“I’d give anything to get out of here.” Her nails dug into her palms as she glanced across the yard at the white clapboard house where she’d lived for the past six years. Every corner of her tidy home contained a pile of unsaid words she’d swept out of earshot from her sons. Now those pent-up feelings haunted her like a recurring nightmare. “Problem is, I can’t sell this place. I won’t make enough money to pay off our debt.”
A frown creased Hale’s forehead. “What debt?”
“Mark took out a few loans to keep us afloat. A good harvest might pay off most of what we owe, but I don’t know the first thing about planting crops. Mark took care of all that. Besides, I’m teaching two literature classes at Susquehanna University. Between giving lectures and grading papers, I hardly have enough time to look after the boys.” She swallowed, but grief threatened to clog her throat. “There’s no way I can take care of the farm without Mark. Now that he’s gone, I don’t know what to do.”
“This place is a handful, that’s for sure. Mind if I look around and see what needs to be done?”
“That would be a huge help. Thank you.” A surge of optimism buoyed her spirits. Hale could fix anything, even this battered old farm. Wishing she could offer something in return, Danielle squinted at her house. The white siding gleamed in the sun. “My place just has two bedrooms, but you’re welcome to sleep on the couch while you’re here. Today, the boys will come home from school at three. We’ll eat supper at six.”
“Fine.” Hale clamped a hand on the tiller’s handle. “I’ll take care of this. Do you want the entire garden turned over?”
She nodded and stepped backward.
He gave the engine’s pull a vigorous yank and adjusted the choke until the grimy machine hummed.
A fleeting surge of relief shot through Danielle. He’d plow the garden faster than she could. Once the ground was tilled, she could rake the soil and plant vegetable seeds. If some April showers arrived, she’d grow fresh spinach in a few short weeks.