Friday, November 04, 2011

The Loner's Thanksgiving Wish

The Loner's Thanksgiving Wish

by Roxanne Rustand

The Rocky Mountain Heirs series

Harlequim Love Inspired Romance

Mei Clayton veered off the trail near the summit of Belle's Peak, found the edge of the cliff where she'd often picnicked as a teenager, and surveyed the panorama of rugged ranching country below.

To the west, shadowed by the massive, snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains, lay the distant, rustic cowboy town of Clayton, Colorado. Her hometown, named after a great grandfather she'd never met. The last place she wanted to be today, tomorrow or ever.

Especially for an entire, interminable year, though that's exactly what she had to do, thanks to a stipulation in her Grandpa George's will.

She would stay a year--but not one day more.

Mei and each of her five cousins all had to comply, or none would receive a single penny. And though Mei would have preferred to continue teaching in San Francisco, she just couldn't let the others lose out on the inheritance some of them badly needed.

Delaying her inevitable, awkward arrival, she'd parked along the highway to hike one of the easier trails in this part of the Rockies, just to savor one of the good memories she'd kept close to her heart during her years away.

Yet even up here, she hadn't found a sense of solitude and peace. The snow-dusted trail offered an easy climb and breath-taking vistas, and she'd already run into several other local hikers taking advantage of the unseasonably warm sunshine for the first weekend of November.

She'd hoped to do a little climbing and had brought her gear in a backpack. But the snow was deeper at this higher elevation, and she needed to turn back. Get in her car. And face her return to the town she'd so desperately wanted to leave as a teen.

Though it was her impending conversation with her widowed mother that truly had her stomach tying itself it a tight knot. How would Mom react when she heard the news about her son? Lucas had been in a few scrapes when he was a teenager, but nothing like this one.

At the sound of voices and the merry jingle of bear bells, she stopped at one side of the trail to let a pair of hikers pass.

One of them continued on, but the girl pulled to a stop. "Mei?"

At the soft, familiar voice, Mei looked up in surprise at the pretty teenager standing in front of her in a puffy pink down jacket and jeans. "Jasmine?"

The girl tucked a long strand of silky brown hair behind her ear, her eyes sparkling. "What are you doing back in Colorado so soon? We didn't expect you until Christmas."

Warmed by the girl's obvious happiness, Mei felt some of her tension ease. "I...had a change of plans."

"Well, I think it's great you're here. Arabella has been looking forward to you living in town again, and now you'll be here in time for the wedding!"

"Whose?" Mei recalled her mother's last e-mail--a rare event in any case--that had mentioned the latest romance involving one of Mei's cousins, and smiled. "Arabella and Dr. Turner? Already?"

A flash of confusion crossed the girl's face. "Mine. You didn't hear about it?

"Yours?" Mei asked faintly. Jasmine had lived with Arabella for a couple years, and had graduated from high school this past spring. Maybe she was of legal age, but...

"We're getting married on Christmas Eve." Jasmine's smile widened as her hiking partner turned back to join her. "You remember Cade, right?"

"Cade Clayton?" A flood of memories rushed through Mei as she stared up at the handsome young man in a denim jacket and jeans looping an arm protectively around Jasmine's shoulders.

Oh, she remembered Cade, all right. Years ago, Cade's mother had married Mei's infamous cousin Charley.

Memories flooded back from the day when Mei was getting her hair trimmed at the Hair Today beauty salon, and Cade's mother happened to be sitting in the next chair.

Lorelai had freely admitted that she'd sought fame and fortune by marrying into the Clayton clan, but had picked the wrong branch of the family tree and definitely the wrong man.

She'd claimed that the only good thing that came out of that marriage was little Cade...but that she "was sure glad that at least her son Jack was no blood-kin to the Claytons."

Mei had been all ears, because at the time, she'd been in the throes of a long and futile high school crush on Jack--one of the more embarrassing points in her life.

Even after ten years, she felt a blush warm her cheeks. He'd been way out of her league. She'd known it from the start, but the humiliating whispers amongst her classmates about her foolish crush had been even more painful.

The last thing she'd wanted was to move back here, and she definitely didn't want to run into Cade's brother, ever again.

She could only hope that he'd moved far, far away.

* * *

The Loner's Thanksgiving Wish, by Roxanne Rustand

All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Sapphira said...

I really enjoyed that

RoxanneRustand said...

Hi Donita,
Thanks so much for adding me to your blog! I appreciate it so much.

And hi to Sapphira also--so glad you liked it! I really enjoyed writing that book.

Roxanne Rustand