Authors: Vivian Arend
Tags: #second chance romance, #canadian romance, #hot sexy romance, #small town romance, #Cowboys
She gave him the evil death-glare usually reserved for the more ornery beasts she’d meet while visiting the ranch. “I just meant you should hurry up.”
Fair enough. Steve set out for the truck at a jog, wondering when someone would jump from hiding and laughingly exclaim this was all a setup.
It didn’t take long for him to grab the small fire extinguisher he’d dropped in his urgent rush to get her to safety. By the time he was done using it, the billowing black smoke had faded, rolling into the sky with a final burst of strength. Metal hissed in protest as white foam covered the charred remains of her engine.
Melody joined him, cautiously moving closer. “Is it safe?”
“It’s dead. Both the fire and your truck, I’m afraid.”
She stepped beside him, sighing as she stared into the busted carcass. “Poor Myrtle. I should never have pushed her that hard.”
Steve glanced sideways to see her wrinkle her nose in that familiar way. The one that always made him wonder what crazy thing she was about to do next. Lady wiggled in her grasp, trying to get to the ground.
Melody jerked to attention, and he realized she hadn’t been staring at her truck, she’d been checking him out. He was dressed for haying, with old work boots and well-worn jeans, so there wasn’t much to impress her. Not the way he’d always hoped to impress her when they finally met again.
Her lips twisted. “My poor abused truck. She’s given up the ghost on me a few other times, but she’s always managed to pull through in the end.” She patted the sidewall fondly, careful to stay away from the overheated section and the extinguisher foam as she moved toward the driver seat. “I have a new truck on order, but I thought this one would get me here in one piece.”
Steve gave the engine one final inspection to make sure it was safe before joining her at the door. He’d been working to save the dog, but even distracted it’d been impossible to miss that the vehicle was filled to the brim with boxes and bags, furniture and more boxes in the back. “You’re traveling on the heavy side.”
He brushed against her as he avoided a pothole, and she breathed in suddenly, the sound sending a shot through him.
It was difficult to keep from blurting out everything he wanted to say. He walked toward the passenger door, glancing back to note the way her jeans clung to her hips, a plain T-shirt tucked in at the waist curving up over her amazing pair of—
Steve jumped to avoid kicking Lady, stumbling over his feet and swinging his arms to regain his balance. The dog sniffed his boots, and he stood still to allow himself to be inspected. “There’s nothing we can do to fix Myrtle right now. Can I call you a tow?” he offered.
She nodded. “Please. I can’t leave it at the side of the road.”
Steve reached for his cell phone, cueing up the local garage number as he glanced at Melody, casually checking her out without
like he was checking her out.
She straightened the bottom of her shirt, smoothing the material over her stomach before she leaned in the open driver’s door.
Steve’s gaze dropped to her butt.
It might’ve been nearly a year since he saw her last, but they’d been together for a long time before that. There wasn’t an inch of her he hadn’t gotten up close and personal with.
It was shocking to be near her without that intimate relationship between them.
“Anywhere in particular you’re headed?”
As if he didn’t already know.
“Veterinary clinic. I’m moving into the on-site living quarters.” She faced him, a small notebook in her hand. “Tow truck can take me there, right?”
He nodded, holding up a hand as the connection went through to the Thompson and Sons garage. “Hey, Mitch? Steve Coleman. Can you come out and do a tow? Corner of Moonshine and Jackson’s, then head west about half a kilometre.”
He listened to Mitch’s response, but his attention remained on Melody. She’d moved to one side and was attaching a body harness and lead to her dog. The fluffy beast wasn’t the type of animal he’d ever thought she’d get. The realization made him uncomfortable.
Did he really know her that little after all?
He hung up, focusing on what he
know. They’d had something special once, and he hoped they could again. And the best way to at least aim in that direction was to talk to the woman. “Someone will be out within half an hour. You want to wait in the tractor with me? It’s got air-conditioning.”
She shook her head, reaching behind the driver seat for a small bowl she filled from a water bottle, waiting as the dog lapped eagerly. “I’ll take Lady for a walk.”
“I’ll go with you,” he offered. He caught a quick glimpse of her face, her expression full of questions, but she didn’t outright turn him away. They were only a few paces from the smoky heap before he spoke. “Back in town for long?”
Her shoulders stiffened, and her chin lifted. “I’m back for good. I’m full time at the vet clinic working for Mathis.”
He’d already known she was coming home. He’d heard months ago, both through the grapevine and through a little circumspect digging he’d done.
Not the time to let Melody know that, though. They had other bridges to cross first. “Well, now, that’s a surprise. I thought when you left for school last fall you said you were never coming back.”
Melody turned far enough toward him he couldn’t miss her exquisite expression. Distaste and
are you kidding me?
all at the same time. “I said I was leaving
. I don’t remember saying anything about Rocky.”
Damn, he’d pushed too hard. Steve held up his hands and backed off. “Hey, I have no beef with that. Fact is, I agree with everything you told me the last time we talked.”
Her look of distrust tightened as her gaze narrowed. “The last time we talked I called you a lazy son of a bitch, along with other things.”
Steve laughed. “You have a very good vocabulary, Melody.
Along with other things
encompassed quite a lot.”
“And you agree with all of it?” She had her hands on her hips, the leash tangled in her fist while on the other end, her dog tugged in vain to reach the ditch where wonderful smells must have been taunting it.
He’d never get another chance to confess this straight out. “I don’t know if this is the time or the place to talk about it, but yeah, I agree. I was a son of a bitch, and I’m sorry.”
If he’d turned pink and sprouted wings, she couldn’t have looked more astonished. Melody blinked a couple of times before shaking herself and shifting uneasily on her feet. “I don’t know what to say.”
Steve hurried to reassure her. “I don’t expect anything right now. But I wanted to say it, and since you refused to answer my emails this is my first chance. With you back in town, we’ll probably see each other around.”
The shock of having her stumble into his day unannounced faded rapidly as the hopes he’d shoved aside over the past year galloped to the forefront. He was a lot smarter now than he’d been, so he knew better than to reveal his intentions too soon.
But there was nothing wrong with planting a few seeds, or at least that’s what his father always told him. He had been too stupid before to understand.
Melody glanced back at the tractor stopped in the middle of the field. “You don’t have to wait. I’ll be fine.”
Steve shook his head, pointing down the highway. “Let’s walk the dog. I’m not leaving you stranded.”
She turned reluctantly, moving closer to the road edge, much to Lady’s delight. The dog shivered with excitement before plunging headfirst into the tall grass at the side of the road.
“Did I hear you right? The Thompson family still runs the garage?” Melody asked.
“Some things never change.” She slowed her stroll to almost nothing to let the dog sniff.
And some people only change when they have to.
Steve didn’t say that part out loud, though. He held it in as myriad images and memories flooded through him. They walked in silence for a few minutes, Steve scrambling to come up with the next thing he needed to say to pave the way.
For two years they’d been together, him and Melody. Years he’d pissed away being that thoughtless son of a bitch she’d called him. By the time he’d woken up and
enough to know that she was something special, she was gone.
It wasn’t a busted-down truck at the side of the road he’d seen today, it was a second chance, and damn if he’d let it slip through his fingers.
“How’s your family?” she asked.
“Good. Mom and Dad are well, Trevor’s a pain in the ass, and Lee is twice as bad.” He grinned. “And Anna—you won’t believe who she’s seeing these days.”
They talked about not much for a while. Small-town gossip. Ordinary conversation. It was exactly what they needed, and yet nothing at all what he wanted.
The tow truck approached from the distance, dust rising behind the solid metal frame.
“Thanks for staying with me,” she said, offering him a hesitant smile.
He waited until the truck had pulled into place and Mitch joined them. Steve made sure she felt comfortable, but he shouldn’t have worried. She was coming home as well—and whether she admitted it or not, Rocky was home.
The entire time Mitch worked to hook up Melody’s truck, Steve helped, ignoring the questioning glances from the other man. He should have gotten back to his chores, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave.
When he tugged open the passenger door for Melody, she finally realized he’d stuck around. “Thanks, Steve. I’ll see you later.”
He offered her a wave, and then stood until the tow truck rattled off down the gravel road, disappearing behind a veil of dust as they headed into town.
Melody was back.
Steve didn’t have to think too hard about what he was going to do next. He’d screwed up a year ago. Scratch that, he’d screwed up
before she’d officially called them off. Now he could make things right, and Melody would find out exactly how important she was.
He hoped she’d enjoyed her time away, because this time, he wasn’t letting her go.
Melody gazed around the familiar lab space, happily inhaling the pungent scent of antiseptic and cleanser. The tow truck had stopped by the small residence she’d be moving into, and Mitch Thompson had helped unload her gear before dragging the smoldering mess of her truck away.
She reeked of smoke, and everything she owned needed a washing, but considering how much worse it could have been, she wouldn’t complain.
“It’s good to be back,” she said with a sigh as she settled into a chair, smiling across the room at her mentor.
“You do know how to make an entrance.” Mathis Wisniewski grinned, easing his back muscles with a slow stretch. His dark hair had more lines of silver than before she’d left, age catching up with him in visible ways. His smile was still as broad, though, the lines by his eyes formed from frequent grins as well as years of work in the outdoors in all kinds of weather.
She wondered if down the road she’d have that as well—enough wear and tear to transform the baby-faced features she’d been cursed with.
In the meantime, she counted herself fortunate to get to work with the man. “You’re lucky you were out on a call when I got here,” she teased. “I could have used your help wrangling boxes.”
“That’s why I made sure I was wrangling chickens.” He winked. “It’s good to have you back. Did you have fun during your year away?”
“Fun?” Melody wrinkled her nose, thinking back to the hours she’d put in updating the large-animal license of her veterinary training. “Is that what we call it? Slogging through fields full of cattle shit and narrowly escaping being crushed against the sides of stalls by our patients?”
“Hell, yeah,” the older man said, the twinkle in his eyes growing brighter the longer she spoke. “You know there’s nothing else like it.”
Her expression probably mirrored his, both of them fools for thriving on the utter joy they found in the midst of backbreaking labour. “You’re right. Although I do wish the animals would try not to get sick in the middle of the night
Mathis plopped onto the edge of his desk and settled in to catch her up on everything he’d changed over the past year.
The clinic was as up-to-date and modern as any that she’d worked during her practicum. She still couldn’t believe her good fortune in having been taken on by Mathis. He’d built the practice from nothing, slowly gaining a solid reputation with the local ranchers so that he and Rocky Mountain Animal Care were the first place many turned for help.
Two other full-time employees and a handful of part-time rounded out the clinic staff. Tom Van Horne, a single man in his late thirties, had started on with the clinic a few years before Melody. Callie Hager worked the front desk and dispensed medication, and as a whole, they and the part-timers got along fine. Like a well-oiled machine, their different degrees of training allowed them to care for small-town pets and the bigger rural needs.
Melody enjoyed the challenge of both sides, although before she’d gone away, she and Mathis had been working together to handle most of the larger ranching jobs.
She listened intently as he caught her up on some of the major changes in local ranchers’ situations. Who’d retired, who’d expanded their operations. It was fascinating to have him share information without glancing once at any kind of notes.
these people, and he cared for them like they were a part of his soul.
He rose and led her through the office into the small-animal area to show off the new equipment he’d purchased, and a sense of deep satisfaction struck.
This was why she’d come back. The familiar setting was the closest thing to a home she’d ever had. Memories from the years before she’d taken off for training rushed in, triggered by the meeting with Steve Coleman.
Out of all the people to run into on her first day back—although, if she was honest, she’d kind of been asking for it. Driving past Coleman land like she was looking for trouble. She shook her head for a moment as if to knock the cobwebs loose.