Fresh Start Ranch
After seeing Dr. Tessa Grant calm his storm-spooked horse, Ethan McClure is impressed. But does the new vet have what it takes to prove her mettle with Ethan’s local horse-rescue group? Ethan can’t deny Tessa’s healing touch with animals…or her powerful effect on this rancher. But Tessa is busy trying to get her footing after leaving Kentucky to start over in this mountain town. When she learns a family secret that turns her world upside down, Tessa’s ready to push everyone away. Unless Ethan can help her embrace forgiveness–and forge a path to her heart along the way.
Healing Horses and Hearts
Even though he’d only been gone for a few days, Ethan sighed as he pulled into the drive leading to his family’s ranch. But his relief turned to curiosity as he took in the old, beat-up brown pickup. He’d never seen that wreck before. Who did it belong to?
His mind still on the unknown truck, Ethan saw his dad hurrying from the barn. Ken McClure froze at the sight of his son. “You’re home.”
The note of alarm in his father’s voice put Ethan on edge. “What’s wrong?” He climbed out of the truck, his luggage forgotten.
“Don’t worry, son. Ranger goin’ to be fine. Tessa got everything under control.”
Ethan’s stomach dropped. “Tessa?” He looked again at the beat-up truck, wondering what its owner had to do with his favorite horse. “Who’s Tessa? And what’s wrong with Ranger?”
Ranger whinnied, drawing Ethan’s attention. Everything else forgotten, Ethan raced toward the barn, his tension zooming into high gear. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness of the barn’s interior.
“It’s going to be okay, big guy,” a woman crooned.
That didn’t sound good, only upping his anxiety. Down the rows of stalls, Ethan saw Ranger. A small person was in the stall with him.
His father ran in behind him.
“Who’s that?” Ethan demanded.
“That’s Doc’s new partner, Dr. Tessa Grant.”
Off balance, Ethan glanced at his father. “When did that happen?”
Ken swallowed. “She got here last week when you were in Boise.”
Ethan knew that Doc Adams had finally made the decision to bring another vet into his practice, but Ethan hadn’t realized it happened that quickly. He was gone less than a week.
Ethan and Ken strode together toward Ranger’s stall. His horse raised his head and nodded in greeting.
Ethan grabbed the bridle and rubbed Ranger’s nose. “Hey, big guy?” Ethan looked at the small woman standing by his horse. Golden brown curls framed her pixie face and her huge green eyes found a path straight into his heart.
Ethan jerked in surprise, through he wasn’t sure if it was from his intense reaction to their eyes meeting or his surprise at the idea of this tiny woman as the new vet. Short and slim, if she didn’t have a stethoscope around her neck, Ethan would’ve thought the woman standing beside his horse was teenager, not a grown woman and certainly not someone who worked with large animals. “What’s wrong with Ranger?” The tone of the question came out gruffer and harsher than he expected. His father pointedly frowned at his son.
The woman’s brow shot up, and she stood up straight. “He’s fine.” Her tone made him think of the times his mother had scolded him for addressing her in a disrespectful tone when he tried to get out of chores. “He just got spooked by the storm last night. He has a few scrapes from flying debris, and I think he ran into the barbed-wire fence. He’ll be fine.”
Ethan looked at the wounds and nicks on Ranger’s side.
“The storm last night just came up without any warning,” his father explained. “A tornado touched down at the Barlow’s ranch. They lost one storage shed. Several of our horses were out in the north pasture. First thing this morning I was able to get Ranger, Sadie and Ringo rounded up and brought them in. Doc and Tessa have been out all day checking with the other ranchers, seeing to the different needs of the animals.”
The woman shook her head. “That storm was something else. We had bad weather in Kentucky, but yesterday was–I felt like I was in a metal barrel with someone banging on it with a hammer.” She held out her hand. “You must be the Ethan I’ve heard so much about. I’m Dr. Tessa Grant, Dr. Adams’ new associate.”
He felt like he was in that same storm, disorientated and waiting for the next blow. “I am.” His hand enveloped hers, but that small hand had a surprisingly number of callous on it. “I did see some evidence of the storm as I drove in. Ringo and Sadie okay?”
“They’ve got a few cuts from flying debris, but they look fine.” She patted Ranger’s withers. “This guy took the worst of it.”
Ethan bristled a little. He didn’t know this person from Adam and no one touched his hose. “Maybe we should wait for Doc Adams.”
“No need—I’ve got this under control.”
“He’s kinda high strung.”
“I know.” She went back to work, cleaning the last of the horse’s wounds, but he thought he heard her mumbled, “He’s not the only one.”
His father shifted. Ethan wasn’t going to apologize for being concerned about his horse. He also was having trouble wrapping his brain around the fact she was a vet—a big animal vet, no less. How could she do the job? She wasn’t big enough or strong enough as far as he was concerned. He turned to his father and opened his mouth, but his father’s warning expression stopped him. But much to his embarrassment, he could only stare in amazement as Ranger stood docilely by while the lady vet finished working on him.
Ranger head-butted Ethan’s hand, wanting attention. Ethan rubbed the big guy’s nose. “Usually, Ranger’s not so cooperative with exams,” Ethan heard himself say. “He likes to give Dr. Adams a run for his money.”
“You should’ve seen Tessa handle Ranger when she first got here,” Ken eagerly explained. “She worked on Ringo then Sadie before seeing to Ranger. He got jealous, and finally Ranger couldn’t take the suspense anymore and turned to her.”
“Really?” Amazed by his father’s comment, Ethan knew his horse liked to be a pistol, dishing out a bad attitude. Doc and his dad had been on the wrong end of Ranger’s mischief. But he didn’t like being ignored either. Small or not, the vet must have some horse sense if she’d figured that out right from the start. Or had she gotten lucky?
“I wouldn’t have believed it myself unless I saw it with my own eyes,” Ken added.
The woman studied him. Ethan knew doubt showed on his face. The telltale tightening of her right hand told him he wasn’t the first to question her skill.
“When I was growing up,” Tessa explained, addressing Ken, “the stable manager I worked with was a genius with horses—that horse-whisperer kind of thing. He was truly amazing. He taught me how to get acquainted with horses. I haven’t found a single horse who’s given me grief.” She glanced over her shoulder. “A lot of owners, but not the horses.”
Ethan didn’t doubt that other owners had trouble with her. He wondered if she had the strength to help with a distressed pregnancy, a breech foal or an angry cow that was on a rampage. Could she wrestle a branch out of a cow’s throat like Dr. Adams did a couple of years ago?
“You need anything else, Dr. Grant?” Ken asked.
“I don’t think so. I’ll leave some salve for the horses and drop by next week to see how things are progressing.”
Ken nodded. “You coming, son?”
“I’ll just stay here and help Dr. Grant with Ranger.”
Ken laughed and walked out of the barn.
Ethan watched carefully as Dr. Grant finished with Ranger. She had a way with his mount as if she had some connection to him. She gave Ranger plenty of affection, murmuring sweet words and pats. His horse ate it up as if no one had ever praised him. Those sweet words charmed more than his horse–but Ethan felt himself respond to that affectionate tone, too.
He mentally jerked himself out of the malaise. It had been so long since– “So what made you come out here to New Mexico?”
“I graduate from Purdue, same as Dr. Adams. I got the call from him about six weeks ago. He asked if I wanted to practice in a rural area and pass up the glamour of an urban practice. He said he needed a young associate.”
Her story made sense. Ethan and his dad had noticed that Dr. Adam wasn’t moving quite as fast as he used to. A couple of months ago, one of their cows had kicked out and Doc hadn’t moved quick enough to avoid that hoof. Doc had to spend a few hours at the house, an ice pack wrapped around his leg.
“I laughed and told him I’d love to practice out here, but did he realize my size. He said that he knew, but asked if I was willing to give it a try. I jumped at the chance,” she added, turning to put away her things. “I wasn’t interested in working in a practice that only dealt with dogs, cats and assorted pets.” She pulled her stethoscope off her neck and put it in what looked like a tackle box.
He waited for the rest of her answer. “Why not?”
“My love is horses. I grew up in Kentucky and we had a full stable.” Her wistful smile told him she was recalling good memories. “I loved working with them. Hasn’t anyone told you that horses have a special place in little girls’ hearts? I knew early on that I wanted to be a vet and work with horses. I had a lot of my professors and other people try to talk me out of it, but sometimes you just know what God wants you to do.”
He eyed her size. When his gaze met hers, he saw the determination glowing in her eyes. Before he could say anything or stick his foot into his mouth again, his cell phone rang, saving him from having to eat shoe leather, again.