A Cowboy’s Reunion by Carolyne Aarsen

He’s still reeling from the breakup. She’s ashamed of what she did. Can a chance reunion mend the fence, or are some hearts forever broken?

Kane can't face running his foster family’s ranch alone. By now he'd hoped to live on the property with his wife and children, but his ex-fiancée’s betrayal threw a wrench into his dreams. Despite his anger, after he discovers his former flame down and out, he knows providing shelter is the right thing to do.

Faith Howard always dreamed of entertaining audiences with her guitar and even sacrificed a future with a good man to follow her heart. Life on the road didn’t turn out like she hoped and now she's broke and out of luck. When her ex selflessly offers help, she can't help but be riddled with guilt.

As the estranged couple recovers from the past, a friend of the family drops off two toddlers and heads for the hills. Will Kane and Faith’s new role as surrogate parents help them heal old wounds and find a second chance, or will the weight of too much baggage push them apart?

A Cowboy’s Reunion is the first book in a sweet western romance series called Family Ties. If you like second chance stories, buried passions, and big country settings, then you’ll love Carolyne Aarsen’s heartfelt novel.

“The characters are so great you will be cheering them on.” ~5 star Amazon Reviewer

AMAZON

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

“Better slow down, Son,” Zach said, one hand on the dashboard as if to brace himself against his son’s crazy driving. “You don't need to be going full tilt down these slushy roads.”

“I should probably drive faster,” Kane replied, leaning sideways to look past the cattle liner he’d been trying to pass for the last mile. “You know I need to get that electric fence up and running before Joe and I can move those bulls into the pasture.”

Kane fought down the panic of too many jobs piling up. Fences to be fixed. Cows to calve. Barns to muck out and decades of machinery, parts, and tools, even old furniture to sort for the potential auction.

He and the hired hand only had a couple of months to do it all before Kane had to go back to his job in the oil field.

And then they would sell the ranch.

Those last words resounded in his head, off-key and dissonant.

“You're lucky most of the snow is melted,” Zach said as he leaned back in the seat, grimacing. “Roads would be trickier to drive this fast otherwise.”

“Got it, Dad,” Kane acknowledged, giving him a tight smile while fighting down a beat of annoyance.

It seemed everything bothered him lately, and he didn't like that feeling. Sunday's sermon had been on seeing grace in the small moments; but the past few years it seemed grace had been elusive. Bitter memories, broken dreams, and lost chances haunted him, and he’d spent the past two years burying the pain beneath long hours at work.

The truck’s wipers slapped back and forth, fending off the spray spitting up from the lumbering cattle liner’s tires. Kane slowed in deference to his father’s wishes, pulling back from it. They rounded a tight corner then, and just ahead of the semi he saw a woman standing on the side of the road, her arms crossed, a suitcase and something else lying on the shoulder beside her. Kane slowed down as the truck ahead of him swerved to avoid her. But, in the process, it hit a huge puddle, sending a spray of muddy water over the poor woman.

She threw her arms up to shield herself, but she still got drenched.

“Whoa. Stop,” Kane’s father said, but not before they went through the same puddle.

Kane eased onto the shoulder.

“You splashed her,” his father said, his tone accusing.

“Yeah. Thanks, Dad. I know. I saw her too late.” Kane already felt horrible. He didn't need his father adding to his guilt.

Kane piled out of the truck and approached the sopping girl, who was pushing her wet hair from her face. A cool spring breeze kicked up, whistling across the open field, and he saw her stiffen at the chill.

“I’m so sorry,” Kane called out, hurrying toward her. “Are you okay?”

His steps faltered when she picked up the guitar case at her side, brushing water from it.

Memories assaulted his mind at the sight of her pale skin, dark hair, and slight figure. Though drenched and dirty, Faith Howard’s stunning profile was unmistakable and sent his heart racing with old attraction and emotions. It had been two lonely years since she’d walked away, choosing his brother over him. She had broken their engagement and with it, Kane’s heart.

What was she doing here now, on this stretch of road, he wondered, angry at his unwelcome reaction to her.

When she looked up at him her eyes widened, and one hand fluttered to her throat as if she was having as much trouble breathing as he was.

“Hello, Faith,” was all he could manage.

Even through the mud streaking her face, he saw her cheeks flush and her eyes flash. As his father joined them, the blush crept down her neck as well. “Hello, Mr. Tye,” she said, ignoring Kane, her voice quiet as she wiped off her face.

“My goodness, girl!” His father's voice mirrored Kane’s shock. “What are you doing here? Coming to visit your grandfather?”

Faith gave one quick shake of her head and said, “Work. I’m headed to Calgary.”

The highway leading to the city was at an intersection two miles ahead. Calgary lay north, but Kane and his father were headed south. Would she really pass this close to Rockyview and not even bother to visit her grandfather?

She shivered again, still clinging to the guitar case, still avoiding Kane’s gaze.

“You’re not stopping by Rockyview?” Zach pressed.

She shook her head again.

“Why don’t you come back to the ranch with us?” Zach said. “You can’t travel all wet and cold.”

“No. I need to get to Calgary,” she said, her tone emphatic.

Kane’s father looked at him, expecting him to join in on insisting his ex-fiancée come back to the ranch with them. But Kane couldn’t do it. He hadn’t expected to ever see Faith again, and he hated the memories she stirred in him. It had taken him so long to get over her.

“We can give you a lift to the highway,” Kane said, resisting the urge to ask about Elliot. He had more pride and self-respect than that.

“No. I'm okay,” Faith said, raising her chin. “I can walk. It’s not that far, and I’d get your truck wet.”

Even after two years, Kane felt the sting of this new rejection like a slap in the face. So she’d rather hike down the road two miles dripping wet than get in a truck with him and his father?

“Okay. Suit yourself.” Kane shrugged, eyeing her soaked canvas coat, dripping blue jeans, and mud-covered running shoes. “But you should probably get out of those wet clothes.”

She gave him an arch smile and asked, “What? You don't like my highway traveler look?”

“That's not what I meant” Kane sputtered, thrown completely off balance by her smile and banter.

“I know what you meant,” she said, letting him off the hook. She shivered again. “I appreciate the advice, but I'm not sure where I’d change.” She glanced up and down the highway. There wasn’t a gas station or old barn in sight.

“You could change in the truck,” his father suggested. “It's not ideal, but it's better than staying in those wet things.”

Kane sensed she wasn’t crazy about the idea but also knew she didn’t have much choice. She was shivering, and it was getting colder outside the longer they stood there. If she stayed in her wet things much longer, she’d risk hypothermia.

“Okay,” she said, her teeth chattering. “Thank you.”

“We'll turn our backs and leave you to it.” Kane’s father stepped away from the truck and pulled Kane with him.  

Kane gave her one last look as he turned away. Did he imagine the regret he saw flash across her face? It was probably just wishful thinking.

Though his father had never spoken out against Faith when she’d left that horrible night with Elliot, Kane knew Zach struggled with his feelings toward this girl who had hurt his son so badly.

He turned away and walked down the road to give her some privacy as from behind he heard the truck door open and shut. He tamped his impatience at how quickly his attraction to her flew back.

He clenched his fists, angry at the coincidence of seeing again the woman who had broken his heart. And even worse, discovering she still held a part of it.

“Are you doing okay?” his dad asked.

“Not talking about that,” Kane said.

The truck door squealed open again, and then Kane heard a low moan. He whirled around to see Faith trying to climb from the cab while doubled over and clutching her stomach, her eyes clenched shut in pain.

“Hey, you okay?” his dad asked, rushing to her side.

She waved him off as her feet hit the ground. “Just ate something that’s not agreeing with me. I’ll be fine.” But when she straightened up, Kane could tell she wasn’t.

He hated that he knew that. Hated that her pain still bothered him as if it were his own.

“You sure you’re all right?” He was unable to keep the concern out of his voice.

“Yes, I’m sure.” Her dismissive tone erased any sympathy he’d been nursing.

“Good.” He poked his thumb over his shoulder. “We’ll give you some space then.”

She nodded, then turned away from him and opened her guitar case, more concerned for it than herself. He found himself wondering if she still had the same guitar she’d bought with money saved up from summer work. The one she’d practiced on until her fingers bled. The very guitar that had started her on a journey away from him and the future he had so carefully planned for the two of them.

She had left him so easily, but he couldn’t even bring himself to drive away from her. She looked forlorn, lost, and bedraggled. It was taking every ounce of willpower he had not to rush to her side and sweep her into his arms.

In frustration, Kane turned his back on her once again, walking away to give her some privacy.

His dad limped along beside him, and Kane slowed his steps. Six months ago, his father had broken his leg while trying to break in one of the new ranch horses. Kane felt guilty he hadn’t been around when it happened. But Zach had assured him he’d be fine, and Kane should go back to work in the oil fields. So, Kane had.

Now his father had decided to sell the ranch. He said he was tired and weary and worn out. So, Kane had taken time off to come help get the ranch ready to sell and all that entailed. It was taking so much longer than he’d anticipated. And it wasn’t just the work. It was the guilt. Kane knew he should have stayed to help run the ranch, but after Faith had left, he just couldn’t. Every corner, every tree and blade of grass reminded him of her.

“Kane, are you okay?” his father asked softly, breaking him from his pensive thoughts.

“Yeah. No. I don’t know,” Kane said.

“Why would she be headed to Calgary and not home?” Zach asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“Guess she doesn’t see Rockyview as home,” Kane said, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice.

“Well, her grandfather misses her. What am I supposed to tell him? That I saw her on the side of the road and just left her there?”

“It’s not our business, Dad. Faith and Mick have to figure things out for themselves.”

Kane wasn’t the only person who’d been hurt when Faith left. Her grandfather had done so much for herpaid for her education, given her an opportunity to become part of his law firm. And she’d thrown it all away. Faith had been the only family Mick had after her mother had died. He’d taken her leaving hard.

“And what about you?” Zach asked. “When are you going to figure this out for yourself?”

“This is not a conversation I want to have on the side of the road,” Kane snapped. It wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have ever. Especially not after the shock of seeing Faith.

“Well, you have to forgive them sometime. It’s been over two years

“I know how long it’s been.” He didn't need his father lecturing him about forgiveness and letting go of the past again. The thing with Faith had torn the family apart, but that wasn’t Kane’s fault or his responsibility. “Elliot knows where we live,” he pointed out, preferring to talk about his estranged brother than the woman who broke his heart.

“Maybe he's waiting for you to reach out to him,” Zach murmured, thankfully latching onto the switch. “Elliot has his own demons to wrestle.”

“We all have demons, Dad,” Kane argued. “I was a foster kid too.” But Elliot had it rougher. There was no denying it. Kane had been rescued from a neglectful mother at the age of ten and handed over to the Tye family who adopted him a year later.

Elliot, on the other hand, had been shunted back and forth between the Tye family and his seriously messed-up biological father for far too many years.

Because of that, Zach always gave him a pass.

And Elliot knew exactly how to take advantage of that.

“Think she’s done?” Zach asked.

Kane shot a glance over his shoulder but Faith was still in the truck.

“She’s not looking that great,” his dad continued, clearly not done talking about Kane’s ex-fiancée. “She looks skinnier.”

“She’ll be fine,” Kane said. “Besides, you heard her. She doesn’t want our help.”  

* * *

God must be playing some cosmic joke on her, Faith thought as she struggled to get into the truck. Of all the people in the area, Kane Tye was the one to offer her help?

The thought made her ill, and she had to swallow down another wave of nausea.

The last she’d heard of Kane was that he’d moved away from Rockyview and went to work in the oil fields. It had been hard for her to believe at the time. Kane had loved, lived, and breathed that ranch.

She dismissed the thoughts. Not her problem. She had to get it together. Get in the truck and change out of her wet clothes.

But it wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Her stomach had been bothering her since last night’s poor choice of dinner. She’d known the half-eaten gas station sandwich she’d saved from the day before was a little off. But she’d been hungry and almost out of money. Now, riding out the spasms, hoping they would go away was the price she had to pay.

That and knowing Kane was the one to stop and help her out.

It shouldn’t matter. He was just a blip on her way to Calgary and the job interviews her friend Stacy had scored for her there. And Faith badly needed a regular income. Every penny the band made touring had gone back into equipment, travel, or the next gig or tour they’d booked. And somehow her life had become an endless progression from bad to very bad to worse. And her bank account showed it.

What would Kane think if he knew how far she had fallen from the straight-laced, obedient girl she had once been? The girl who always did what she should.

Faith climbed into the blessed warmth of the cab and dragged her suitcase behind her, ignoring the pain it caused. Much as it bothered her, she had to leave her guitar outside. The guitar she’d saved so hard for. The guitar that she had, at one time, thought was her passport to a life that wasn’t prescribed by her grandfather and his demands.

She looked out the window. Kane and his father were walking down the road with their backs turned like the gentlemen they were. Kane had one hand shoved in the pocket of his faded denim jacket, his black cowboy hat adding to his already impressive height. He towered over his father.

The sight of them together created a claw of regret in Faith’s heart. She had loved being a part of the Tye household. Kane's mother, before she died, had always given Faith a hug and a gentle kiss of greeting. And that was a big deal to a girl whose own mother had abandoned her as a young child. Mrs. Tye had been the mother figure Faith had always wanted. When she’d died, Faith mourned her almost as deeply as her own children had.

And what would she think of you now? Faith struggled out of her wet clothes and into dry ones. What would she say? Would she be as cool and aloof as Kane was?

Faith had imagined his anger. She had expected him to yell or glare at her with hatred in his eyes. At least that would have meant that somehow, on some level, she still mattered. His casual attitude hurt more than she wanted to admit.

She rolled her wet pants and shirt up and shoved them in a plastic bag, which went back into her suitcase. She almost thought the stomach pain had passed, until she climbed out of the truck and it hit her full force again, bending her in half.

She couldn’t afford to be sick. At all. On Wednesday, she needed to be in the city to get ready for her interviews on Thursday. Athough, it was beginning to worry her that Stacy hadn't been answering her calls or replying to her texts.

Three years ago, she would have been praying hard in a situation like this.

But not anymore.

She had turned her back on God, and she doubted He would have anything to do with someone like her, especially after the life she’d led the past couple of years.

She closed her eyes as the nausea and pain blended with stark grief.

Don't think about it. Don't remember. Keith is out of your life now.  

Pulling in a wavering breath, she walked over to her guitar case to make sure it was okay.

When she stood up from bending over the guitar, a new wave of pain hit her, and the road and sky suddenly swapped places as a narrowing tunnel of darkness closed around her vision.

She heard Kane call out and the sound of his hurrying footsteps, then, in spite of not knowing which way was north or south, up or down, she managed to lurch toward the ditch, and that was the end of her self-control.