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Here is a short sample from the book:
Jed Friessen slid back the covers and slipped out of bed, his bare feet hitting the cold wood floor and rousing him further from his restlessness. He’d tossed and turned most of the night, as he had the previous night, and the night before that. The clock now ticked two in the morning, and it was pitch black outside as he stood naked, resting his arm against the bedroom window, squinting at the shadowed outline of the barn and horse paddock. Every stall in the barn was full, six horses tucked in for the night. His eyes burned as he stared into darkness, and though he could see nothing amiss, he sensed an impending darkness that just didn’t sit right. He raked his hand through his sleep-tousled brown wavy hair. It was on the longish side, and even his wife, Diana, had been nagging him to get a haircut, another thing to do—something else on his plate.
A horse nickered from the barn. Another answered softly in a way that said everything was fine. Maybe they knew he was watching, wondering; Jed could still feel that something wasn’t right, and he didn’t know exactly what it was. Maybe it was the worry plaguing his mind that wouldn’t ease. It could also be the fact he’d been working day and night for months, readying this place for Echo Springs Equine Center, the official grand opening. It would be something different from just the trail rides and pack trips. This was for Diana and her need to help others. He’d struggled past every single hurdle tossed in his path, from overpriced lumber, to his grant being yanked, to cancelled horseback riding pack trips that dried up his income stream through the summer and fall.
It was a simple dream. Diana’s dream. His wife, whom he loved more than his next breath. A horse facility specializing in bringing a special needs child together with a horse, because Diana believed, as did Jed, that allowing a child with special needs to learn skills through a connection with a horse provided a different advantage from your average therapy. It didn’t replace the children’s much-needed therapy, but it complimented and went hand in hand with it, centering the children, bringing balance into their life. And Jed would do anything to make sure his wife’s dream came true.
Diana, his redheaded beauty and the mother of his ten-month-old baby boy, Danny, lay sleeping in the small double bed. She was the most stunning woman he’d ever met, a woman who had no idea how beautiful she was. And no idea how broke they were. The thing was, Jed was determined to provide for his family, on his terms, in his way, and only with his money, which wasn’t much. After breaking his leg training that young squirrelly stallion, Jed had lost the spring and some of the early summer revenue from trail rides and pack trips. That money had always been enough to set him for the winter so he wasn’t living hand to mouth, and it would have helped with some of the start-up costs.
Diana had a law degree and had tried to set up a law practice in North Lakewood, but the people still didn’t give her the same trust they’d given some old white-haired fart. The only thing she’d managed to pick up, work wise, was a handful of wills and minor contracts, which amounted to squat. Besides, Jed made it clear to her that he wanted Danny raised at home by his mother, not stuffed into some daycare. They were a family, and he had no intention of seeing his wife in passing as she rushed off, working on some case that would drag her from him and Danny. It was selfish on his part, and he knew it, but he also knew Diana craved a family and deep roots more than her career.
Jed had bought this ranch outside North Lakewood a few years back at auction, and for a damn good price. But then he’d had to rebuild and fix just about everything in the house, the barn, and the three cabins he used for summer guests who booked horseback riding trips each year. He wasn’t wealthy, but his family was. Jed was the only son to not take a plum dime from his father. Ever since he left home, he’d had no desire to take a handout, even though his father said it was his birthright. His two brothers, Brad and Neil, and his cousin, Andy, accepted the wealth handed to them in property and money. Jed didn’t begrudge them for their easy lives, but he just didn’t believe he could look himself squarely in a mirror and call himself a man if he was taking money from his family. A man stood on his own two feet, made his own way in this world, and that was how Jed chose to live his life.
Even as he struggled now, he couldn’t bring himself to call his father for help, because to him that would be an admission that he had failed. So Jed had spent every spare minute turning over every rock to find the money to expand the barn, buy the extra tack, saddles, and horses, all at a bargain, thankfully. Except it had left him with nothing in his bank account and hours and hours of restless worry every night, and that was after the grant they’d been promised from the state had mysteriously disappeared. When he called the funding unit after getting the politically correct letter, they’d said funding had been cut for all areas for special needs. It was the economy, they said; but Jed learned that with governments, the first cuts always happened to the special needs, because they were the one sector of the population who didn’t have the voice, the money and the time to fight back. They were and always would be an easy target. This knowledge also added to his irritation, like a sliver stuck under his nail so far that he couldn’t get it out.
Jed hadn’t told Diana about losing the grant. He knew she would have been crushed and would have insisted on picking up legal work, anything to help him out. Except the problem was Jed didn’t believe a woman should ever support a man. That was his job, and as of late he wasn’t doing so great. All they needed was cash, so as long as the students who’d signed up for the first classes next week all showed and paid in full for their six-week class, he’d have enough to pay the mortgage, buy feed for the horses and food for them. But they still needed to advertise, and there was the phone bill, medical insurance….
“Jed, what are you doing up?” Diana called out as she leaned on her elbow. The duvet slipped and exposed a hint of her creamy white breast as she sat up. She brushed back her long mussed hair with hands that brought him so much pleasure and blinked her tired, bright blue eyes. “Come back to bed.”
Jed slid back under the covers and pulled her against him, running his hand down her slightly rounded belly.
Diana linked her finger with his. “Hmm, don’t think I don’t know you’ve had trouble sleeping.” She rolled over and touched his cheek. “I don’t need any light to see you’re worried about something. What is it?”
“Go back to sleep. Just thought I heard something, is all.” He brushed back her hair and kissed the tip of her nose.
“You’re working too hard, but I think it’s more than that. I don’t need you to protect me. I need you to share what you’re thinking, what you’re worried about.”
Jed rolled onto his back, rested his arm over his forehead, and sighed. Diana sometimes just wouldn’t let things go. “It’s fine, Diana. It’s my job to look after you and protect you. What kind of husband would I be if I couldn’t do that?” He realized too late he sounded sharp, abrupt, because next he knew, Diana sat up and slid her legs over the side of the bed.
“Diana… where are you going?” He reached over and grabbed her arm, feeling her tense up.
“Jed, I’m tired of you hiding things. And don’t think I haven’t noticed the stress this new horse center is putting on you. Is there something more I can do to help? What else has to be done? Maybe we should hire help.”
Hire help! He couldn’t believe she wanted to hire help. He ground his jaw, as that was the last thing they were going to do. “We don’t need help. I’m almost done, just got to finish the roof, and then, when we start that first class next week, everything will be fine.” And it would be, because the few who were interested and had signed up would be paying next week.
Diana slid around and rested her head on Jed’s chest, and then her chin as she gazed up at him. “You’re sure that’s all?”
Jed rested his hand on the back of her head. “Next week everything will be fine. Let’s get some sleep so we’re not both tired tomorrow.”
“I could help you get back to sleep.” Diana slid her hand up his chest and drew circles with her fingernail around his nipple. She pressed a kiss into his navel, and then, trailing down, she pressed kisses lower until he pushed his head back into the pillow and felt himself sinking into a mind-blowing bliss that only Diana could give him.
She traced her fingers up his thigh and followed lower, tracing kisses to his knee and over to the other side. Jed sucked in a breath, drowning in his desire, and slid his own hands down her back, pulling her up and rolling her over onto her back.
Danny whimpered from his bedroom in their small two-bedroom home. Jed groaned. “Your timing sucks, Danny,” he muttered.
Diana patted his arm to move him off her and started to get up.
“No, I’ll get him” he said. “He may just need changing.” Jed slid out of bed, the icy floor cooling his desire.
“Bring him back with you if he won’t go back to sleep. We’ll snuggle him between us. He loves that,” Diana called out.
“Let’s hope he goes back to sleep.” Jed picked up Danny, who was now sitting in his crib, rubbing his tired eyes. “You’re soaking wet.” He kissed his head, his cheeks, and breathed in the fresh baby smell of his baby boy and changed him into a dry diaper and sleeper. Jed wrapped him in his blanket and sat in the rocker in the corner of the room, gently rocking him until he fell back asleep. And when Jed climbed back in bed, Diana too had fallen back to sleep. But not Jed, as he lay beside his wife, her warmth pressed against him, and he continued to worry he’d let his family down.
Jed lifted the thirty-two-foot extension ladder and carried it to the north wall of the barn. He leaned it against the unpainted wall and slid it open, locking the rungs, adjusting so it was level, touching the edge of the roof. He had two sheets of plywood left, and as he stared at the gaping hole of the open roof, he frowned. Would it be enough? It would be close, possibly uneven at the overhang. He glanced at the pile of shingles and at the roof again, and he knew he didn’t have enough shingles, but then, half was better than none. A tarp would do for the other half for now.
Jed grabbed one sheet and slid it up the ladder ahead of him, lining it up over the beam. He hammered it in.
“Jed, do you want a sandwich?” Diana yelled from the ground. Danny was cooing in her arms.
“Sure, just give me half an hour. I got one piece of plywood left to get up here. Then I can start shingling.” Jed swung his leg onto the ladder and stepped on the rung. The ladder slipped sideways, and Jed reached to grab hold of the roof edge, but his fingers seemed to brush over the plywood, and then he was falling backwards in the air. He heard a scream and felt everything go into slow motion. He felt nothing as he heard a whoosh, gazed up at a blue sky and puffy white clouds, and everything went black.
Diana watched in horror as Jed’s ladder slid sideways. She jumped backward, clutching Danny to her side, and everything inside her froze—her breath, her sharp wit, and her legs felt cemented to the spot as Jed fell backwards and landed with a sickening thud on his back in the dirt. It took a second to realize Danny was screaming, and then she ran, dropping to the ground beside Jed.
“Jed!” she screamed. But he didn’t answer, and then his eyes slid closed. Diana touched his head, then his chest. It rose up and down, but he lay there, unmoving and unresponsive.
Diana raced into the house, grabbed the phone, and dialed.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” a woman asked on the other end.
“My husband fell off the roof of the barn! He’s not moving, I think he’s unconscious!” Diana yelled into the phone. Danny was crying as he clutched her shirt. Diana struggled to hear the emergency operator, and every fiber, every muscle and bone inside her, trembled. She raced to the door with the cheap cordless phone, but it started to cut out, so she stepped back into the house and answered the woman’s questions. “Yes, he’s breathing. Just send an ambulance, and hurry. I need to get back to him. I can’t stay on the phone.” Diana rattled off the address and dumped the phone on the sofa as she ran back out to Jed. He hadn’t moved, and blood now trickled from the side of his mouth.
Diana wiped the blood with her hand as she clutched Danny to her, resting him on her hip. Jed’s face was pale. He appeared asleep, but in a very different way that had a bone-chilling fear shredding her hard-won security, and launching Diana back into her childhood, when her shaky, unstable world was ripped away. Jed, the first man who taught her what love really was, her ruggedly strong alpha husband who was the first and only person who loved her deeply, protected her and fought her battles for her, lay motionless. It was a mere flash in that moment, terrifying her, a very real possibility of a life without Jed, and that was a living nightmare. She loved him so deeply. He was her husband, the father of her child and the first man she’d ever truly trusted. Diana touched his pale forehead, praying he’d respond, wince, yell, anything. “Jed, can you hear me, honey? Please answer me and tell me you’re okay?” Her voice trembled.
He didn’t moan or even blink. His breathing started to sound rough, like he was struggling with each breath. Something gurgled, and then blood dripped from the side of his mouth, again, in a long thin stream. A siren sounded in the distance. “Hurry up!” Diana screamed, as if that would get them there faster. “Hang on, Jed. Help is coming. Don’t you dare die on me, or I will never forgive you!” she screamed at him again.
Dust and gravel spewed as the ambulance sped up the driveway. It was getting louder. Diana didn’t want to leave Jed, but she had to get the paramedics, because they’d never see them where they were on this side of the barn. She ran, clutching Danny, who was still crying, to her side. She waved frantically as the ambulance pulled in and stopped in front of the house. Two paramedics jumped out.
“My husband’s on the other side of the barn.”
The paramedics followed Diana.
“He’s unconscious. He won’t answer me.”
“Is he breathing?” a tall, dark-haired paramedic asked.
Jed hadn’t moved as Diana raced around the corner. “Yes, but blood’s coming out of his mouth now and he’s having trouble breathing.” Diana hovered over the two young paramedics, one dark-haired, one light-haired, as they knelt down on either side of Jed. “What’s your husband’s name?”
“Jed,” Diana blurted out as she watched one paramedic shine a light in Jed’s eyes. The other hooked him to an IV.
“Jed, can you hear me? If you do, I want you to squeeze my hand.” The dark-haired paramedic held Jed’s hand, then shook his head.
“What happened, ma’am?”
“My husband fell from the roof. He’s putting a new roof on the barn.” Diana pointed up. The paramedics both glanced up and then back at Jed.
“Did you move him, or is this how he landed?”
“He fell backwards. He landed on his back. I never moved him. Is he going to be okay?” Diana asked frantically, as Danny’s tiny little fingers dug into her bra, as he continued to cry fretfully. She patted his back, kissed his head as her heart pounded long and loud, and each breath was a struggle, as if she’d just run a mile. She knew she needed to get Danny out of there, but she couldn’t leave Jed. So she tried to hold Danny’s head and turn him away so he couldn’t see his daddy. “It’s okay, baby.” Diana bounced Danny on her hip to try to quiet him, kissing his face, his cheek as her gut knotted so tight she thought she’d go crazy.
“We need to move him. He may have punctured a lung. We’re going to need to get a chest tube in him.”
Diana touched her face. Her hand shook violently as she watched and listened to the paramedics. One of them raced back to the ambulance and returned with the stretcher and equipment, medical supplies. The other was on his radio, talking. They cut open Jed’s shirt. Diana turned away to shield Danny from seeing them cut into Jed. When she turned around, they’d already put on a neck collar and had threaded a tube down her husband’s throat. He was hooked up to a bag that the other paramedic squeezed for oxygen. There was blood on his side, more tubing and tape. What the hell were they doing to her husband? Then they eased him onto a backboard, strapped him down.
“Okay, let’s get going,” one of them shouted, and they wheeled the gurney to the ambulance and loaded Jed in.
Diana followed. “Which hospital are you taking him to?” she asked the light-haired paramedic before he closed the door.
“Cascade in Arlington, ma’am. They can assess from there whether to fly him out to a trauma center.”
Danny was shaking in her arms, his eyes big and wide. Diana kissed his head, his face, and did her best to calm him, let alone herself. She raced inside the house, grabbed her purse and Danny’s diaper bag, stuffing an extra sleeper, diapers and a jar of baby food inside, and raced out the front door to her SUV, keys jangling. She looked up at the cloud of dust, listening to the sirens wailing as she buckled Danny into his seat and he started to cry again. Diana stopped, placing her hand on his stomach. “Please, Danny, don’t cry. Let Mommy drive, and we’re going to follow Daddy.” Diana shut her eyes as Danny grabbed for her. She needed help.
She dug through her purse for the cell phone she rarely used, hoping it was still charged. She powered it on—the green bar showed that the battery was half charged. She shut Danny’s door. He was still fussing as she hurried to the driver’s side, dialing her phone. “Please answer,” she whispered as she slid under her wheel, closed her door and started her SUV. She cranked the wheel sharply and sped down the long dirt and gravel driveway, and the call went right to voicemail, “It’s Diana. Jed fell off the barn roof. He’s hurt bad. The ambulance is taking him to Arlington. I’m heading there now. Please call me,” she shouted into the phone. Danny was wailing from the back.
Diana tossed the disconnected phone on the passenger seat, and as she turned onto the highway, she pressed the gas, praying her husband would be okay.