A foster kid and army soldier, Tyler Lunch doesn’t trust easily. In fact, the shy mutt who never leaves his side is his sole confidant. Tyler knows what it’s like to be a child in need, so he goes to work at an equine therapy ranch. He’s instantly surprised by the way lovely volunteer Beth McClure seems to understand scared children–and stubborn cowboys. Beth’s tenderness even wins his dog’s trust. But when Tyler faces his greatest fear, it’ll take Beth’s love–and one brave boy–to open the most guarded of hearts.
Second Chance Life
“Oh, Charming, what’s wrong with me?” Beth McClure ran her hands down the gelding’s broad back. His warm coat and steady heartbeat calmed her.
Twenty minutes ago her brother and his wife, her best friend and ex-college roommate, announced there would be a new McClure come spring. Friends and family gathered at the ranch cheered the news.
Beth was glad for them, really.
It was selfish of her, but the news stabbed her in the heart, making her realize how alone she was. Oh sure, she had family, friends, but there was not a prospect of a boyfriend insight. In some ways she’d worked hard to have it that way, her heart still ached.
Charming raised his head and stepped back, knocking Beth into the back wall of the stall. She stumbled, her skirt tangling in her legs and she twisted her ankle. Wearing heels out in the stable wasn’t smart, but she wasn’t worry about that when she escaped.
“Charming, what’s wrong with you?” She pushed the horse away, as she searched for her shoe. Charming danced again, bumping her a second time. She fell against the side of the stall, losing her other shoe.
“Stop.” She glanced over her shoulder to see what made the horse so nervous. She spotted the black dog sitting outside the open stall door.
“Oh, sorry, guy.” Beth patted Charming on his back hip to quiet him. The black dog sat quietly, watching her. Beth recognized him. He belonged to the newest employee of Second Chance Ranch, Tyler Lynch. He was an Iraqi War Veteran like her brother, Zach. Tyler’s dog, Dogger, was known as a cautious critter, who didn’t offer his friendship lightly, much like his owner. In the month Tyler had been at the equine therapy ranch, she’d never known his dog to allow anyone to pet him, and she only had a nodding acquaintance with the dog’s owner.
Tyler would politely nod his head or engage you in conversation, but he’d subtlety let a person know there was a wall between him and the world. Beth knew that ‘look’. Zach had worn the exact same expression when he came home from his tour of service.
Intrigued, Beth moved to the front of the stall. “Hey, guy, how are you?”
The dog cocked his head. He had the look of a mutt, with short, dark hair, mid-sized, sleek, and with white stockings on his back feet. He had a half-moon scar on the back of his head.
“Are you declaring a truce?” she asked, inching forward.
Charming stretched his neck down toward the dog. Beth reached under the horse’s neck and patted the other side of Charming neck. “What do you think, big guy? You think he wants to make friends?” she whispered the question out the side of her mouth.
The horse raised his head and nodded.
Beth’s hand fell to her side. “You want me to pet you?” she asked, directing her question at the dog.
Dogger looked from Charming to Beth as if considering the question.
Beth laughed. She stepped out of the stall and held out her hand. The dog moved toward her and sniffed. He sat, waiting for her to oblige him.
Beth squatted and stroked the dog’s head. He accepted her affection. She’d tried a couple of time before to make friends with the dog, but he’d refused her overtures.
“You’re a mighty cagey boy. Did you decide to watch and wait to make sure I was worthy of your trust?”
The dog closed his eyes, enjoying the petting.
“Well, I be–”
Beth jerked at the sound of Tyler’s voice, losing her balance. She sprawled onto the concert floor, her skirt drifting gracefully around her knees.
“Sorry.” The corner of Tyler’s mouth twitched, making that hands-off look he normally wore melt away. Her stomach dipped.
It was nothing but embarrassment, she told herself as she looked up from the floor in his handsome face. “You startled me.”
He offered his hand.
There was no dignified way to get to her feet. She accepted his hand and he pulled her to her feet. Beth dusted off hay from the backside of her skirt. The laugh trying to escape her chest erupted. “You must think I’m a klutz.”
“No,” he said, his eyes twinkling.
At the change in his countenance, Beth’s mouth nearly fell open. Gone was the tired, weary look he usually sported to be replaced with the look of a young, gorgeous man. Tyler Lynch had a head full of wavy brown locks, deep brown eyes that missed nothing, and a scar on the right side of his mouth. She’d also noticed he had some scars on his left hand and forearm.
“What are you doing out here instead of inside at the party?” he asked.
The party she escaped.