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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Excerpt: The Rancher's Return by Carolyn Aarsen

The Rancher's Return (Love Inspired) by Carolyn Aarsen is the first book in a series of five entitled Home to Hartley Creek.

Five cousins come home to faith and love.

After a two year absence Carter Beck has come back to Hartley Creek to spend some time with his grandmother after her heart attack. Now he just has to find a way to tell her that he wants to sell the ranch that was in the Beck family for generations. The ranch holds only bitter memories for him. The ranch that was responsible for his five year old son's death. But will the woman his foreman has hired to help him, make him change his mind?

He wished he didn't have to come back.

Carter Beck swung his leg over his motorbike and yanked off his helmet. He dragged a hand over his face, callused hands rasping over the stubble of his cheeks as he looked over the yard.

His eyes followed the contours of the land, the hills flowing up to the rugged mountains of southern British Columbia a sense of homesickness flickering deep in his soul. This ranch had been his home since he was a child.

He hadn't been back to his ranch since the funeral and if hadn't been for his beloved grandmother's recent heart attack, he would still be away.

Then, unable to stop himself, his eyes drifted over to the corral. Then the memories he'd kept at bay since he left crashed into his mind. Right behind that came the wrenching pain and haunting guilt he'd spent the last twenty-three months outrunning.

The whinnying of a horse broke into his dark thoughts and snagged his attention.

A young boy astride a horse, broke through the copse of trees edging the ranch's outbuildings. He held the reins of his horse in both hands, elbows in, wrists cocked.

Just like Carter taught him.

A wave of dizziness washed over Carter as the horse came closer.


Even as he took a step toward the horse and rider, reality followed like ice water through his veins. The young boy wore a white cowboy hat instead of a trucker's cap.

And Carter's son was dead.

Then a woman astride a horse followed the boy out of the trees. The woman sat relaxed in the saddle, one hand resting on her thigh, her broad-brimmed hat hiding her face, reins held loosely in her other hand. She looked like she belonged atop a horse, as if she was one with the animal, so easy were her motions as her horse followed the other.

When the woman saw him she pulled up, then dismounted in one fluid motion.

"Can I help you sir?" she asked, pushing her hat back on her head, her brown eyes frowning at him as she motioned her son to stop.

Carter felt a tinge of annoyance at her question spoken with such a cool air. Sir? Like he wasn't the owner of the ranch she rode across instead of some stranger? And who was she?

"Is that your motorbike, sir?" The young boy pulled off his hat, his green eyes intent on Carter's bike. "It's really cool."

His eager voice, his bright eyes resurrected the memories that lay heavy on his soul. And when the woman lifted the little boy from the saddle, and gently stroked his hair back from his face with a loving motion, the weight grew.

"Yeah. It's mine."

"It's so awesome," the boy said, his breathless young voice battering away at his defenses.

Carter's heart stuttered. He even sounded like Harry. Coming back to the place his son died had been hard enough. Meeting a child the same age Harry was when he died made this even more difficult.

He forced his attention back to the woman. A light breeze picked up a strand of her long, brown hair and as she tucked it behind her ear he caught sight of her bare left hand. No rings.

She saw him looking at her hand, and she lifted her chin in the faintest movement of defiance. Then she put her hand on her son's shoulder, drawing him to her side, as if ready to defend him against anything Carter might have to say. She looked like a protective mare standing guard over her precious colt.

Carter held her gaze and for a moment, as their eyes locked, an indefinable emotion arced between them.

"My name is Carter Beck," he said quietly.

The woman's eyes widened and he saw recognition in her expression. Then he caught a trace of sorrow in the softening of her features, in the gentle parting of her lips.

"I imagine you've come to see Nana . . . Mrs. Beck."

He frowned at her lapse. This unknown woman called his grandmother, Nana?

"And you are?" he asked.

"Sorry again," she said, transferring the reins and holding out her hand. "I'm Emma Minton. This is my son Adam. I help Wade on the ranch here. I work with the horses as well as help him with the cows and anything else that needs doing. But I'm sure you know that too," she said with a light laugh that held a note of self-conscious humor.

"Nice to meet you, Emma," he said, as he reluctantly took her hand. "Wade did tell me awhile back he was hiring a new ranch hand. I didn't expect . . . "

"A woman?" Emma lifted her shoulders in a light shrug. "I worked on a ranch all my life. I know my way around horses and cows and fences and haying equipment."

"I'm sure you do otherwise Wade wouldn't have hired you."

Emma angled her head to one side, as if wondering if he was being sarcastic. Then she gave him a quick nod, accepting his answer.

Carter glanced around the yard. "Where is Wade?"

"He and Miranda went to town. She had a doctor's appointment."

"Right. Of course." The last time he talked to Wade, his ranch foreman told him his wife was expecting.

Emma's horse stamped impatiently and she reached up and stroked his neck. "I should put the horses away. Good to meet you and I'm sure we'll be seeing you around." Then without a second glance, she turned the horses around, her son trotting alongside her.

Find Carolyne Aarsen on 
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