Forever in Love (Paperback)
Forever in Love (Paperback)
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Amy Sullivan’s life might have been lonely but it was safe—until she found a baby on her doorstep. With her alcoholic mother gone, and a five-month-old sister to look after, Amy has no choice but to give her sister what she never had—a family—and that means moving back to Montana and the only man she’s ever loved.
Nathan Gray is as pleased to see Amy as a bear with a splinter in its paw. Nine years earlier she left him faster than a howling nor’wester and now, burnt and broken after a barn fire, he has even more reason to keep his distance. Only this time fate and a meddling family have other ideas and their lives are about to come crashing down. Right on top of each other.
Chapter One Look Inside
Chapter One Look Inside
“What the heck?” Nathan dropped his pen and stared through the window of his father’s office. The half-light of dusk painted the Montana ranch in a soft pink glow. It would have been picture-perfect if it weren’t for the blue pickup truck roaring down the gravel driveway. Its horn cut through the still evening air, tapping out a tuneless masterpiece that set his trouble radar humming.
Grabbing his jacket, he headed toward the front door, wondering what mischief his sister had gotten up to this time.
Sally stopped her truck, leaping out of the cab before he’d made it off the porch.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, not trusting the grin plastered across her face.
Nathan had seen that smile too many times over the last twenty-seven years not to know something was going on.
“Guess who’s in the truck?”
He glanced at the tinted windows. Sally had a soft spot for strays, and she’d brought home more tourists and animals than anyone else he knew. The last time she’d said those words, his parents had ended up playing host to a family from Los Angeles. They’d been looking for an authentic cowboy vacation. It hadn’t occurred to Sally that her parents might not want to show off their sprawling cattle ranch to city-slickers, or they’d come smack bang in the middle of calving.
But his sister didn’t often think beyond the first impulsive idea that streaked through her brain.
He walked across the yard. “You know Mom and Dad won’t be back for another week, so you’d better make other arrangements.”
“You’re such a grump.” Sally spun toward the truck as the passenger door opened. “Ignore him. He’s having a mid-life crisis.”
A snort of laughter filled the air. A ladylike snort that reminded him of someone he knew. A blond head appeared, pitching his heart into the soles of his boots.
“Amy? What are you doing here?” A long time ago, she’d brushed him out of her life faster than a mosquito buzzing around her head. Cold, heartless, and so fast he hadn’t seen it coming. His parents and sister were the only people alive who could convince her to come back and visit—and that hadn’t been often.
Sally poked him in the ribs. “That’s a great welcome for someone you haven’t seen in ages.”
“You didn’t tell him?” A blush as red as the setting sun washed across Amy’s face.
“I thought Mom would have, but he’s here now. You tell him.”
Amy’s gaze skimmed across the ranch and settled on Nathan’s face. He yanked the collar of his jacket higher, the warm sheepskin protecting him from the bitter wind and questions he didn’t want to answer.
“I’m moving back to Bozeman,” Amy said. “Your mom and dad offered me a place to stay until I find somewhere to live.”
Memories of her last visit tumbled through his head, leaving him confused, worried and angrier than he had a right to be. “I thought you enjoyed living in Chicago. What changed your mind?”
Sally moved to the back of the truck. “Save the questions for later, Nathan. I want to unload everything while there’s still some daylight left.” She flipped the tailgate open and stared at the bags. “Besides, we’ve got more in here than two hot women and a mountain of suitcases.”
His sister had outdone herself this time. He waited for the sound of a dog barking or a cat screeching. “You didn’t stop at the animal shelter, did you?”
“I’m trying to keep away. Dad said if I brought him another dog that’s afraid of cows he’d make me come home and look after it.” Sally pushed a suitcase into his chest. “Make yourself useful and take this inside.”
Amy opened the back passenger door. “I’ll help in a minute. I need to get Catherine out first.”
“Who?” Nathan stared at Amy. He looked at Sally. Who was Catherine?
Amy pointed to the backseat.
He moved around the truck. A little girl was nearly asleep in her car seat. “You have a baby?” She had Amy’s blond hair and pixie nose and, if he wasn’t mistaken, her heavy lids were closing on the same chocolate brown eyes.
Sally cleared her throat. “Are you going to stand there gawking or help us unload everything?”
He glared at his sister. He felt like he’d been sucker-punched. A baby. When had Amy ever let a man get close enough to create the ball of pink cotton candy in the car seat? She’d nearly scratched his eyes out the last time he’d seen her. Then she’d run hundreds of miles away, back to Chicago. And, looking at the baby, straight into the arms of another man.
Amy leaned inside the truck, unbuckling the safety harness. He pulled his gaze away and walked toward the house, holding her suitcase in a death grip. No wonder she hadn’t sounded happy about coming back. Amy had always dreamed big and nothing in Bozeman could ever make those dreams come true. And none of those dreams had ever included a baby.
He pushed the front door open, dreading the next few days. Why did she have to arrive now? He didn’t need another set of females upsetting the routine he’d gotten himself into. Eat, sleep, moan some, then groan some more. There wasn’t anything or anyone alive that could better the self-pity he’d hidden behind over the last few months.
But if his parents wanted Amy to stay on the ranch, that was up to them. He’d treat her the same as any other guest. He’d be polite. Respectful. Courteous. All the things that had been drummed into him over the years.
He stacked the bags in the hallway and straightened his shoulders. He wouldn’t make a big deal out of her arrival. Not this time.
Amy walked toward him with Catherine tucked in her arms. “I wouldn’t have come unless I needed to.”
“I already guessed that.”
A flash of emotion streaked across her face. He couldn’t tell if it was anger or regret.
“Catherine’s my half sister.”
His mouth dropped open. “When did that happen?”
“About ten months ago, give or take a few weeks.”
He waited for her to tell him why she was looking after her sister and where her mother had gone. Amy’s scowl told him she wouldn’t be talking anytime soon.
“Where would you like us to sleep?”
Nathan didn’t know. He’d finished work on the ranch an hour ago, just as his brothers were leaving for a night on the town. Matthew had yelled something over his shoulder about Sally. But before he could ask him what he’d said, his brother had dived into Sean’s truck and taken off at break-neck speed down the driveway.
His sister stomped up the porch steps.
“Where’s Amy sleeping?” he asked.
“Mom got Liam’s old room ready before she left. Don’t look so shocked, Nathan. We’re quite capable of organizing our lives while you’re busy on the ranch.”
“I haven’t been that busy,” he growled. He couldn’t believe his family had kept this little gem of information from him. He’d been staying at his parents’ home for the last month and no one had bothered to mention Amy’s arrival. Or the fact she had a baby sister.
Amy moved Catherine onto her other hip, flicking her gaze in the general direction of his chest. “I’ll put Catherine in bed, then come and give you a hand.” She walked toward the staircase, leaving him staring into space.
He had a feeling he’d be doing a lot more of that before she left the ranch.
* * *
While Amy was putting Catherine in bed, he returned to the truck.
Sally stood beside him. “Are you okay?”
“And nothing.” His sister’s gaze tore through his shirt, studying every movement of his body like the never-ending team of doctors who had poked and prodded him until he’d been ready to scream. “I won’t collapse after moving a couple of bags.”
“It’s not your body I’m worried about.”
“I can look after myself.” He ignored the sympathy on her face. Ignored everything except the bite of the cold nor’wester cutting across the yard.
Sally touched his arm. “I was supposed to tell you about Amy, but I didn’t want you to leave. If it’s too much, I’ll move back into town and she can stay with me.”
“And then Mom and Dad will be on the phone, telling me I’m not looking after you.”
“I’m not a baby,” she huffed. “You don’t need to know what I’m doing every second of the day.”
“Tell that to Dad.” Nathan took a deep breath. “Amy and her sister can stay here for as long as they like. It won’t make any difference to me.”
Sally looked about as convinced as he felt. He walked inside with another bag, cursing a sister who thought she knew what was best for him.
His footsteps slowed as he reached the top of the stairs. Amy was singing a soft lullaby into the quiet house. The melody wove a gentle spell over his tired body, made him almost forget how long it had been since he’d seen her. He smelled honeysuckle and orange blossom. The same scent that had driven him crazy the last time she’d stayed on the ranch.
He stood in the doorway of the bedroom they were using. Catherine lay on the floor, giggling as her little legs spun in the air like windmills. Amy sat beside her, unguarded laughter shining on her face. He’d forgotten what she looked like when joy snuck up on her, filling all the sad places with pure happiness.
When he knocked on the door, two pairs of brown eyes swiveled toward him. “I’ve got your carry-on.”
Amy stood, reaching for her bag. “Thanks. I’ll get the others later.” Her fingers hooked the long strap over her hand. Unzipping a side pocket, she pulled out a clean diaper and a tube of cream. “Can you keep an eye on Catherine while I get a warm washcloth?”
He looked down at the baby. An angelic grin lit her face and an answering smile pulled at his lips. “Sure. No problem.” If he could drive a herd of cattle into the mountains, he could look after one little girl for thirty seconds.
Catherine giggled, batting her dark lashes straight at him. He blinked back. The male population didn’t stand a chance if those fluttering lashes were already part of her DNA.
“I won’t be long.” Amy disappeared down the hallway.
He stayed where he was. If he bent down to play with Catherine, it would take him ten times longer to get back on his feet. Ten times longer and a whole lot more pain he didn’t need.
Catherine looked at him with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. Twisting her hips, she flipped onto her belly, giggling at being so clever. In two seconds flat, she pulled herself onto her knees and took off across the room toward him.
His gaze shot around the doorway, desperate for something to throw in her way before she scooted between his legs. Her lips puckered into a determined grin. Sensing victory, her gaze zeroed in on the open space between his red socks.
He pulled his legs together. She stopped, the blond fuzz on the top of her head nudging his legs. He stood still, praying Amy got back before Catherine dodged his legs and headed straight for the doorframe. He didn’t want her knocking her head against the wood. She might hurt herself. And cry. And he’d look like a fool, outmaneuvered by a baby with high-powered pistons trying to make the great escape.
He looked over his shoulder. Maybe Amy hadn’t been able to find a washcloth? Catherine made a noise and something grabbed his toes. His gaze shot back to the floor. She’d scooted onto her bottom and her fingers were plucking his socks. He wiggled his toes and a giggle filled the room. She lunged for his feet, grabbing the top of his sock with her fingers. A handful of red cotton nearly made it into her mouth.
“She has a thing for feet.”
Nathan breathed a sigh of relief. “So I noticed.” Slowly, he wiggled his sock free of Catherine’s determined fingers. But she had other ideas. Her little face, as sweet as apple pie two seconds ago, twisted into a scowl before she let rip with a wail that would have stopped his dogs in their tracks.
Amy ignored the outburst. She handed him the washcloth and towel, picked up her sister, and took her across to the bed. “Could you open the towel?”
Towels he could do. As many as she needed.
Before Catherine had time to suck another lungful of air into her body, Amy had her bulging diaper off her bottom. A quick flick of the washcloth, a pat to dry her skin, a smear of cream, and she was done. While Catherine stared bemusedly up at him, Amy opened a clean diaper and fastened it around her waist. He wasn’t often impressed, but that had to be one of the slickest moves he’d ever seen.
Amy hunted through her carry-on, pulling out an empty bottle. “I’ll take Catherine to the kitchen and make some formula for her. Thanks for your help.”
He hadn’t done much, but still…the tired smile on her face had to be better than the scowl she’d aimed at him earlier. A man would have to be mad not to accept the olive branch dangling in front of his nose. “I don’t know a lot about little children,” he muttered. “But, if you need help with anything, just ask.”
Nathan followed them out of the room. He stopped on the landing, a sinking feeling anchoring him to the floor. He’d come a long way in the last few months, but Amy’s arrival made him feel as raw and vulnerable as he’d been after the barn fire.
He knew as surely as the next breath he took that he didn’t want her here, sharing a part of his life she’d deliberately left behind. He didn’t need her pity or the questions that would be left unanswered. And, more than anything, he didn’t want her to see the changes in his life or the man he’d become.
Taking a deep breath, he tried to make sense of how he was feeling. Since when did he care what anyone thought of him?
Out of habit, he lifted his hand to the side of his face, rubbing his fingers across the raised web of scars marking him for life.
It looked as though he cared more than he thought he did.
Fans of Netflix’s Virgin River series will love this small-town, feel-good romance!
Amy Sullivan's life might have been lonely, but it was safe. Until she found a baby on her doorstep. With her alcoholic mother gone, and a five-month-old sister to look after, she has no choice but to give her sister what she never had - a family - and that means moving back to Montana and the only man she's ever loved.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “Every book in the Montana Brides Series is filled with laughter, joy, and tears. The romance and loving relationships are the best!”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "It's real, it's tender, and it's the kind of love story we all dream of. Absolutely perfect."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "I laughed, I cried, I didn’t want it to end. Simply beautiful!"