Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Can love survive revenge?
After nearly four years away at medical school, recently qualified doctor, Chet Walker, is only hours away from returning to Lucky Shores and his fiancée, Josie.
When a quick coffee break at a rest stop diner turns into a desperate race to save a young girl's life, Walker stumbles into something much more sinister and much deadlier. Walker's Good Samaritan act sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to tear his world apart and forces him to choose between his medical oath and his love.
Josephine Donoghue has a secret. Between fleeting, long-distance video calls with Chet and the town medical centre needing him to start work the minute he arrives home, she hasn’t found the right time to tell him.
But when Chet is called away to another medical emergency by Sheriff Boyd, Josie’s time might be running out.
Will a dangerous man hell-bent on revenge separate the unlikely lovers permanently?
Wyoming Pit Stop
The curvy waitress in the tight uniform held up the carafe and leaned over the stainless steel counter, making sure Chet Walker didn’t miss her guaranteed-to-increase-the-tips assets.
“Top off that coffee for you, honey?”
Her smile appeared genuine, and the setting sun through the plate glass windows brought a sparkle to her dark blue eyes.
Despite the location—a diner attached to a gas station—and the lateness of the hour, she looked fresher than she had any right to be. A homespun, woman-next-door type with a clear complexion to match the freshness of all outdoors and easy on the makeup. If the woman’s welcoming smile said anything, Wyoming had to be a great place to set down some roots.
After spending the better part of two days driving through a dust-dry Midwest, tasting nothing but rest stop food and road grit, Walker appreciated both the change of scenery and the aroma. Through the recently -polished windows, the foothills of the Rockies promised his journey’s end.
He couldn’t wait.
“Thank you, ma’am. Can’t remember the last time I refused a decent cup of java.”
He pushed his near-empty cup forward.
She poured and ran a red-polished nail over the name embroidered on the pocket of her apron. “People hereabouts call me Shirley.”
Shirley had a good smile, too. It improved his mood, and no doubt the mood of all her patrons. Walker returned it with as much interest as a road-weary traveler could muster.
“Well, Shirley. You do make a fine cup.”
Although not quite the best he’d ever tasted, her coffee was pretty good. If he kept a personal Billboard Coffee Hot 100, it might have made his top ten. It would definitely make the top twenty.
The top dog, number one status in the coffee charts, belonged to a different diner altogether. If things panned out as expected, it would be the place he’d take his next breakfast. A diner owned by the most beautiful woman on the planet—bar none—and looking out on perhaps the third prettiest view in the world. Not that Walker was biased in its favor, of course. Oh no. Not a bit of it. His decision happened to be scientific in its scope and permanent in its nature.
Without doubt, the proximity of the Lucky Shores Diner had everything to do with Walker’s current state of being—his growing excitement and optimism. Dang it, his happiness.
Inwardly, Walker smiled, but made sure to keep it from his face. Smiling too much in a public place might draw too much attention.
He’d make Lucky Shores by morning even if he had to drive through the night to do it. Hence the additional cup of coffee.
Before leaving Shirley’s Place—the name hanging in lights over the rest stop eatery—he’d get her to fill his two-pint thermos, and the emergency reserve would see him through the final leg of his journey. After that, he’d pick his way along narrow back roads and make it safely home.
It sounded so good in his head.
Although he’d only lived there for a few months—winter months at that—Lucky Shores was his home. Home, both spiritually and emotionally. It was where his heart lay. His Josie.
While nursing his drink, Walker continued to stare through the window at the gently rising foothills of the Colorado Rockies. They started a few miles out back of the gas station and cast an imposing shadow over the diner.
The thought of seeing his Josie again, this time without a ticking clock to mark the end of her brief holiday visits, made his spirits soar. The three-year wait would soon be over. The years had flown by in a whirl of antiseptic white walls, purple scrubs, and medical textbooks. But it had also dragged past in agonizing, super slow motion—especially the times when he crawled, exhausted, into his lonely bed. No one to hug. No one to hold. No one to share his life with. At least not in person.
Video calls could never make up for them being apart so long.
Walker cast his mind back to that early spring morning. The morning he broke the news and damn near broke his own heart in the process. He’d made his decision weeks earlier, but had chickened out of telling her, growing more anxious with each passing day. He found his opportunity when they made their first pilgrimage to the burned out cabin on the shores of Little Lake.
The log fire crackled and spat in the grate, but it gave out more light than heat. Walker sat on a folding chair inside the ruins of the burned out cottage , huddled close to the flames. He waited for the sun to climb over Tooth Mountain and give life to a new day.
Josie’s justified desire to scatter Mickey’s ashes over the quiet waters of Little Lake was as good an excuse as any and an early spring thaw the third weekend in March gave them the opening. Walker had an added reason to make the trip. He needed Josie alone.
Josie’s recovery from the bullet wound had been nothing short of miraculous. She’d been on her feet in a week and had returned to the diner within two weeks of leaving the hospital. Although Aunt Jean said she wouldn’t be able to work at the saloon until Christmas, Josie made it back behind the bar by Thanksgiving.
Ornery girl wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Walker’s run as the saloon’s resident singer went pretty well. He wrote a bunch of new songs and debuted each one to a supportive if hugely biased audience.
His relationship with Josie flowered into something really special, forged in the fires of adversity. They worked hard, played harder, and adopted Millie—Doc Matthews’s dog—by default. No one else in town wanted to offer a new home to the high-maintenance pooch.
Deep down, though, Walker knew it couldn’t last. He couldn’t live out the rest of his life as a busboy-cum-singer, tied to the apron strings of the beautiful woman who happened to be one of the richest people in the county. It didn’t sit right with him.
Not a bit of it.
The trip from Lucky Shores to Riley’s Cove—normally around six hours using the direct and waterborne route—had taken them ten. To Josie’s huge annoyance, Walker had insisted they take fifteen-minute rest stops every hour to avoid risking her recovery, and they reached Riley’s Cove in a late evening drizzle. They scattered Mickey’s ashes over the icy black water, pitched the tent, and turned in after a hurried supper of cocoa and fruit cake—a tribute to their first breakfast at Vantage Point.
Despite the warmth and relative comfort of the tent, Walker spent a restless night listening to Josie’s gentle breathing and remembering the first time they’d visited the cove. The memory of her bleeding to death in his arms put paid to all hope of sleep.
At 4:50 a.m., Walker gave up on rest. He rebuilt the fire, sat in a camp chair, and fought the cold, with a rifle lying across his lap—just in case. Millie replaced Walker in the tent, and lay beside Josie, snoring and chasing butterflies in her dreams.
Despite his increasing nerves, Walker smiled.
The stars blinked out one by one, a gray light bled into the eastern sky, and the birdsong built into a rousing dawn chorus. The moment the sun said a bright and cheery hello to the day, the tent flap moved, and Josie popped her head through the opening.
“Morning, sleepy head,” he said and pointed to the pot suspended over the fire. “Coffee?”
She crawled from the tent and stood, back arched, and threw her arms overhead in a glorious yawning stretch. Her thermal undershirt lifted to expose the Z-shaped scar, still red, but fading by the week. She shivered and ducked back into the tent for her fleece.
Walker handed her a large mug of coffee—black, no sugar. Still standing, she blew over the top before taking a sip. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“Things on my mind. We need to talk.” He patted the seat of the spare camping chair.
She threw a hand to her breast. “Oh my God, that sounds ominous. You’re not pregnant are you?”
He laughed. “Idiot. Come sit down. You need to hear this.”
“Can it wait ’til I’ve watered the shrubbery? I’m bursting.”
Five minutes later, she returned and took her seat. “What’s up, Chet? You’re scaring me.”
She took a hankie from the pocket of her jeans, soaked it in water from a canteen, and wiped her hands and face.
“You know I can’t stay in Lucky Shores forever, don’t you? It’s not working for me. I hate being a kept man. Everything I own can fit in a backpack and guitar case. You deserve so much more than that.”
The speech he had planned in his head for so long didn’t come out right. He reached out to hold her, but she slapped his hands away, jumped up, and marched to the water’s edge. Millie growled, leaped from the tent, and raced to Josie’s side, yapping like the demented mutt she really was at heart.
“Go then,” Josie shouted, arms crossed, back to him.
“Damn it, Josie. Please don’t be like that. You know I can’t live as your kept man, your pet. It wouldn’t work. We’d end up resenting each other. I need to bring something more to our relationship than a few unrecorded songs. I need to earn a proper living, and ….”
She turned slowly, eyes brimming. “And?”
The word came out so quietly, he could barely make it out.
“… and … that’s why I’m leaving town next month.”
Tears spilled, rolling down her cheeks. “You’re going back on the road, to search for that elusive song?” Her words spilled out in a plea. “If so, can I come too?”
He closed the gap between them. He’d screwed things up completely. She had it all wrong.
“No, that’s not possible.”
“Why not? I can sell the diner. Buyers are queuing up now the holiday resort’s definitely going ahead. We can live off the money and use it to rebuild the cabin and put in a recording studio. Ship in a generator for power. You’re a wonderful singer, Chet. Everyone loves you. And your songs … they’re brilliant.”
Walker sighed. “No. Don’t you see, it would be the same thing. You’d be keeping me fed and watered. I need to ….”
He stopped talking for a moment. His whole carefully choreographed plan had gone hideously wrong. Josie’s tears were tearing him up inside.
“No, Josie, I’m sorry. I’m not explaining myself very well. Listen. I’m never gonna make it as a singer. I’m not good enough. I know that now. Okay, I can hold a note and write a half-decent song, but there are tens of thousands of singer-songwriters in America who’ll never make it big and I’m one of them. We both have to face that.”
“I thought we were good together.” She stepped back. The water splashed at her ankles. “I thought you loved me.”
He grabbed her upper arms. She resisted his pull.
“Silly girl, I do love you. I love you more than anyone … anything I’ve ever loved in my life. I want to spend the rest of my days with you. And that’s why I have to go back east. It’s because of what I did in the mine.”
“Yes, the operation. When my hands stopped shaking it was sort of a revelation. They … the AMA, I mean, said I can carry over my credits, but still need to sit all the exams again. One year. That’s all it’ll take. One year, and three more years of residency. After that, I’ll take my board certification.”
Josie looked up at him, frowning in confusion. “You’ve lost me, Chet. What the heck are you talking about?”
“You know my mom’s a surgeon, right? Well, she’s pulled some strings at Johns Hopkins, and I’m going to retake my final year.” He broke out a huge smile. “I’m going to become a doctor, Josie. And I plan to hang my shingle in Lucky Shores, if the town will have me. I’m also going to marry you. Again, if you’ll have me.”
Josie’s brows knitted together.
“I … I …”
Walker grinned. “Wow, now that’s a first.”
“Josie Donoghue, stuck for words.”
She shook her head as though she was having trouble taking in all he’d said. Then she stopped and looked up at him, anger blazing in her dark brown eyes. She punched him hard in the chest.
“Ow,” he said although it didn’t hurt much.
“Chet Walker, don’t you ever do that to me again.”
“Frighten me like that.”
“I’m so sorry. Been planning what I was going to say for weeks, but screwed it all up. Forgive me?”
“Yes, to both questions.”
“Yes, I forgive you. Just this once, mind. And yes, I will marry you.” She tilted her head up for a kiss. As usual, he complied and took plenty of time doing it.
After a long, long hug, they returned to the cabin, arm in arm.
“Now that’s all settled,” he said, smiling wide, “how about you making good on your promise to cook me breakfast for letting you come up here?”
She faced him square on, hands planted firmly on hips.
“You let me come up here? Listen up, Chester Walker. Nobody lets me do anything. I do what I want and when I want. Get me?”
“Yes, Josie,” he said, trying to look suitably downcast. “But you were under doctor’s orders.”
“You aren’t a doctor yet.”
“True enough, but I will be soon.”
“So, what about some grub?”
“If I make breakfast, what do I get in return?”
He pointed to the guitar case. “I’ll provide the background music.”
She grinned. “It’s a deal, so long as you help with the dishes. I’m not doing all the housework in this marriage.”
“Marriage,” he said. “Yep, I like the sound of that.”
While she prepared breakfast, trying to fend Millie away from the food, Walker freed Suzy, his handmade, six-string, semi-acoustic guitar from her case and flexed life into cold fingers. He picked the opening to his latest tune, On Lucky Shores, and sang it to Josie for the first time.
Judging by her reaction, the song met with her approval.