Renewing Love – Linda Ford

It wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be. Eve Kinsley stared across the distance at a man who looked very much like the one who had walked out of her life over two years ago. She turned to her brother-in-law beside her on the wagon seat. “You didn’t tell me the name of your new neighbors.” And yet she’d eagerly agreed to leave town and go to the ranch to care for two older women. Mostly because it got her away from the persistent wooing of a cowboy she found annoying. The man she thought she recognized was several yards away, his face shaded by a hat. She must be mistaken in thinking it was him. “I’m sorry. How neglectful of me. Cole Carter, his mother, and maiden aunt.” Cole! The very same man. How had she gotten herself into this? More importantly, how was she going to get out of it? They drove toward the house. “There he is now.

Cole,” Reese called, spotting the man by the barn. Cole turned. Two years older. He’d now be twenty-five. Two years bigger if that was possible. The man had filled out some. Shoulders like a bear and slim hips. He’d always cut a good figure. Dark brown hair beneath a black cowboy hat. Dark brown eyes that went to Reese.

Two years more attractive. Not that Eve cared a fig about that. A wide mouth that smiled at Reese as he waved a welcome and then drew into a tight line as he recognized Eve. Cole’s strong angular jaw reminded her just how stubborn and unforgiving he was. He stepped forward. “Eve Kinsley. What a surprise.” He made it sound like a very unpleasant discovery. “You two know each other?” Reese looked from one to the other. “How is that possible?” “I used to live in Verdun, Ohio.

” Cole’s words were so hard that Eve flinched. “Miss Kinsley and I were acquainted.” Acquainted? Was that how he saw it? Had he forgotten he’d asked her to marry him and then rode out of her life without a word of explanation? He’d not given her a chance to explain her views or even collect her thoughts. He adjusted his hat and shifted away from Eve as if looking at her hurt his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said to Reese. “I’ve decided I no longer need help. Would you mind taking Miss Kinsley back to town?” Reese stared at Cole and then at Eve. “Would someone mind telling me what’s going on?” Another familiar figure appeared in the doorway. Aunt Alice, as Eve had gotten used to addressing her. Her right arm was in a sling.

Reese had said one of the ladies had injured her arm. Her gray hair was wound around her head, several hair pins poking out as if hurriedly and carelessly inserted. Eve couldn’t help but smile, remembering how Cole’s maiden aunt hurried about, dithered, actually. But she was kind and affectionate. “Why, it’s Eve. What a lovely surprise. Cole, bring her things in. Eve, come right in. We’re pleased as punch to see you.” Cole didn’t move.

Eve looked from him to his aunt and back again, wondering who was going to make the first move. Reese sighed. “I sure would like to know what’s going on here.” From behind Aunt Alice came a demanding voice. “Eve? Is that you? I can’t believe it. Come in. Come in.” There was no mistaking Cole’s mother’s voice. She sounded every bit as in charge as she always had been despite her limitations from a fever years ago. Still Eve didn’t move.

“Cole, what’s taking so long?” Cole sighed heavily. “Please come in.” It was Reese who jumped down and came around to assist Eve. It was Reese who Eve clung to for strength as she headed for the house with Cole at the door, his arms crossed and his expression harsh. She held her head high as she slipped past him and straight into Aunt Alice’s arms. Or rather, her one arm. Eve was careful not to press against the sling. “Oh my, it is good to see a familiar face, isn’t it, Nancy?” Aunt Alice’s brown eyes filled with such warmth that Eve couldn’t help but smile. “Come here, child.” Mrs.

Carter held out her arms although she remained seated in her wheelchair. Eve went to her and bent to receive her hug. Cole’s mother’s gray hair had been carefully braided, and the braid coiled around her head. Her eyes were darker than her sister’s. More like Cole’s. “How wonderful that someone we know is going to help us.” Eve did not look at Cole to see his reaction. “Cole,” his mother said. “Put the kettle on, and we’ll all have tea.” She wheeled to the table and indicated the others should join her.

Eve sat next to her and looked around the place. The kitchen and eating area were open to the sitting area, allowing lots of room for Mrs. Carter to maneuver her wheelchair. Two armchairs stood beside a wood heater. A basket of knitting sat beside one of the chairs. As Eve recalled, both ladies like to do handwork. A large bookshelf, filled with books and other objects, filled part of one wall. She’d spent many pleasant hours reading with Cole. Did he remember that? She shook the thought away. A sofa with sloping arms and covered in burgundy material was against the third wall.

Three doors stood slightly ajar across the room. She brought her gaze full circle back to the kitchen where Cole stood before the stove staring at the kettle as if demanding it to boil. Past him, a window over the worktable allowed her to glimpse the distant mountains. Next to the table where she sat, a window overlooked the veranda on that side of the house. Trees crowded close. Eve knew it would be a pleasant place to work during the summer months. “It’s a very nice house.” She directed her words to Mrs. Carter. “Nice and open, which makes it easy for you to get around.

” “It’s perfect for us. I consider it a gift from God. You’re another gift from Him.” “Ma,” Cole protested. “I don’t see how this is going to work.” Aunt Alice hustled to the cupboard and filled a plate with cookies. “So glad you’re here. This is the last of the cookies, and I simply can’t manage to make more with this silly arm of mine.” She gave no indication she’d heard Cole’s words. “How did you injure it?” Eve asked.

She fluttered her good hand. “I keep thinking I’m a young thing who can do whatever I want to.” “She fell off a ladder trying to hang curtains.” Cole pointed to the window behind the sofa. “I finished the job for her after her arm was set.” The kettle steamed, and he poured hot water over the tea leaves. When Aunt Alice reached for the cups, he took them from her and set them on the table. As they waited for the tea to steep, Reese spoke again. “I feel like I’ve stepped midway into a story and I can’t catch up. Would someone please explain what’s going on?” Mrs.

Carter got in the first word. “Cole courted Eve back in Ohio.” Aunt Alice got in the next sentence. Eve remembered the way they shared the telling of a story. “There were a lovely pair.” “And then he left.” “And we never saw Eve again.” Eve sucked in a quiet breath. “How did you end up here?” she asked, keeping her attention on the two women though she really meant the question for Cole. Of all the places in the west, how had he come to be a few miles from where the Kinsleys now lived, having moved there a few months ago? COLE COULDN’T BRİNG himself to look at Eve.

At the same time, he couldn’t keep his gaze off her. She was nineteen now. Still young and likely still clinging to her mama and papa. A black-haired, blue-eyed, stubborn Irish woman—she’d told him of her Irish heritage. Ma said he’d left as if he hadn’t given Eve one drop of consideration. What they didn’t know was he had asked her to go west with him, but she’d refused. “I can’t imagine leaving my home to live in some gold camp,” she’d said. So, he’d gone without her because he didn’t intend to work the rest of his life for a rich man even though Pa had done so and been proud of what he did. But Cole wasn’t. He served the landowner in return for a pittance and a house to live in.

He wanted something that belonged to him. He realized no one had answered Eve’s question about how he’d ended up here. “It was always my hope to have a bit of land of my own. That’s why I went looking for gold. To earn enough to buy myself something. Turns out Bob Stanley didn’t find ranching to his liking. He said it took too long to turn a decent profit.” Bob didn’t realize that his hard work was yielding him something far more enduring than money—land and a home no one could take from him. “So, we struck a bargain. I traded my gold claim for his ranch.

He took his wife with him. She seemed as eager to leave the toil of ranching as did he.” Would Eve recognize his subtle reminder of how she’d refused to go with him? “We got here a week ago,” Ma said. “I knew the minute I saw this house that God had provided us with a generous gift. It’s perfectly designed for someone in a wheelchair. And to find you are living nearby is just wonderful. Isn’t it, Alice?” Aunt Alice nodded and smiled. She patted Eve’s hands. “A rare and special gift.” She patted Cole’s hands.

“Now you two can mend whatever went wrong and see how perfect you are for each other.” Cole tucked his fists under the table so no one could see how hard he squeezed them. He did not want to pick up where they’d left off. If he ever married, it would be to someone who was willing to leave family, friends, and home to be with him. Marriage didn’t appeal at the moment, but he wanted to share his land with the next generation, so sooner or later he would have to choose a wife. But it would be done using the good sense God gave him. He would not let his heart rule his head. He’d prefer to discuss in private the matter of Eve staying, but he knew Ma wouldn’t give him the opportunity. Best to grab the situation by the horns and deal with it. “Ma, Aunt Alice, I don’t see how this will work out.

Eve and I are over. It will be awkward for us to be on each other’s heels.” Especially as the gleam in Aunt Alice’s eyes and the way she looked from him to Eve warned of how she saw things. Ma gave him long, hard study. Finally, she spoke. “Cole, in that case, I don’t see the problem. You two can ignore each other and be polite. After all, don’t you want to be there—” she waved toward the wall, indicating the hills beyond “—sorting out your cows?” He wished now he hadn’t informed her how anxious he was to get on with that task. His mother continued. “So, you won’t be around much.

Alice and I are more than happy to have Eve here.” She turned to Eve. “You’re all right with this arrangement, aren’t you?” Eve’s blue eyes clouded, and she shook her head. “It might be uncomfortable if Cole doesn’t want me here.” Ma waved Eve’s protest away. “Ma, there must be someone else.” Cole couldn’t keep the pleading note from his voice. Ma’s gaze penetrated, but he did not relent. She sighed. “There might be someone back in Ohio, but how long will it take for them to get here? Two weeks? Three? Are you prepared to stay at home to play nursemaid to two old ladies?” “You aren’t old,” he said, stalling.

“One of us is in a wheelchair. The other has a broken arm. Do you expect us to take care of each other, make the meals, and get this house organized?” She gave him a look rife with disbelief. His insides soured. He did not want to delay his own work for two weeks or more. Nor could he ride out to the hills and leave the two ladies to manage on their own. “I’ll make a deal with you. You write to whoever you like back in Ohio and ask for them to come. Eve can stay until then.” “Most generous of you.

” Ma could pack a whole world of sarcasm into a few innocent words. Ma turned to Eve. “Is that all right with you?” Eve looked from Ma’s pleading expression to Aunt Alice’s eager one then brought her attention to Cole. He did his best to keep his face blank, hoping he revealed none of his reluctance over this proposed arrangement. Her eyes said things she likely would never give voice to. Accusing him…of what, he couldn’t say. Challenging him. That he understood. She wondered if he would indeed be polite and amiable if she agreed to stay. Of course he would.

He’d long ago put to rest any feelings he had for her. He caught a flicker of something else. It made him stiffen so he wouldn’t flinch before the flash of pain he thought he detected. Nor was he about to try and guess what that was all about. Reese spoke before Eve answered Ma’s question. “Eve, if you’re uncomfortable I will take you back with me.” “Nonsense,” Ma said. “We need her. Please stay, Eve.” Eve nodded, her gaze filling with determination.

“I’ll stay.” Ma and Aunt Alice grinned at each other. Cole wasn’t about to let either of them forget it was temporary. “Ma, why don’t you write that letter and Reese can take it back with him?” Reese nodded agreement. “I’ll gladly take a letter, but I won’t be returning to Glory until Sunday.” “Soon enough.” Ma was blatantly pleased that the letter’s departure would be delayed. “And while I write it, you can bring in Eve’s things.” Cole pushed to his feet. Reese got up and held out a hand to Eve.

The three of them went out to the wagon. Reese leaned close to Eve as he reached for her bag. “Are you sure you’re all right to stay?” Although he kept his voice low, Cole heard his every word. “Why wouldn’t she be all right?” Reese straightened and looked him up and down. “You’re not exactly warm and welcoming. There’s obviously some bad feelings between you two. I cannot leave my sister-in-law here unless I’m certain of her well-being.” Cole couldn’t believe he was being so unfairly judged. He’d been rejected by this woman, yet he was being made to feel in the wrong. Eve patted Reese’s arm.

“Thank you for your concern, but I am going to be just fine. Whatever was between Cole and me is in the past. I’m sure we’ve both moved on. Isn’t that so, Cole?” Her eyes dared him to argue otherwise. Not that he could. He knew better than to expect from her what he wanted in a woman. Thankfully, she was only here until someone else could be found to care for Ma and Aunt Alice. “I can safely say she will have no concern on my behalf.” He would stay as far away from the house and Eve as possible. He’d ride out to the hills this afternoon, but he had to take care of a few chores before he left.

He hoisted both her bags and led the way back inside. Ma sat at the table, penning a letter. Cole had only to endure this until help came from Ohio. He released a hot breath. Why was he letting Eve’s presence bother him one way or the other? He had pushed her from his mind and most definitely from his heart some time ago.

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