Still stinging from the publicity surrounding her father's death, social phobic Rori Harmon prefers the solitude of her animal sanctuary, accepting that marriage isn’t in her future. Racecar Driver Graham Decker refuses to be wrangled into a relationship by another money-hungry female. On a philanthropy mission, he arrives just in time to assist Rori with a llama birthing, but his appearance thrusts her into the media spotlight again. Has Graham found a woman who doesn't care how deep his wallet extends? Has Rori finally met a man who will stick around when times get tough? Is healing for a hurting heart finally within Rori's reach?
“You gotta move if you want to eat, Jumbo.”
Rori Harmon nudged the curious four-hundred-pound llama out of the way with her shoulder and tossed the bale of hay into the pasture at Forever Family Animal Sanctuary.
Jumbo munched on the hay, staring at her with huge, chestnut colored eyes and lashes that most females would envy. At least his long ears pointed up, and he wasn’t sounding his shrill alarm. Always a good sign with this cantankerous male.
“Sorry. That’s it for chow, big guy.” She patted his rump and then made her way to the water bucket, sliding her gloves off and tucking them into the back pocket of her jeans. She lifted the hose and turned the spigot, waiting until fresh, cold water flowed over her hand before directing it into the trough. She twisted it off and straightened.
Five male llamas huddled together, their satisfied chomping noises breaking the early morning stillness, a cool breeze ruffling their fiber.
“Time to visit the little ladies. See you later, guys.” She cranked the four-wheeler, drove into the female territory, and unloaded another bale.
As fifteen creatures lumbered her way, she scanned the crowd, searching for one particular animal. Where was Snickers?
A groan sounded from near the fence line. Ah, there she was, the shyest of her herd and the sanctuary’s newest ward.
Snickers sniffed the ground, paced a few yards, dipped her long neck in a jerky motion, and moaned again. She plunked on the grass and rolled, but that didn’t last long. With awkward movements, she got back on her feet and rubbed her head against the combination wood and wire fence.
Poor thing. The expectant mama couldn’t get comfortable.
A bud of anticipation bloomed in Rori’s tummy. This delivery would be her first experience with a cria birth. “What’s the matter, girl?” Rori spoke softly as she stepped closer to the beautiful silky animal.
Since Snickers had arrived just a few days ago, already several months pregnant, Rori had scoured the Internet for articles on llama births. With her degree in veterinary technology, she could probably handle a normal delivery on her own, but what if Snickers experienced complications?
A chilly North Carolina breeze picked up, swirling dust and bits of straw through the air. Branches of the majestic maple trees bordering the property and haphazardly dotted throughout the lawn swayed in tune with the gentle wind, autumn’s multi-colored leaves drifting to join the dance.
Rori tugged her sweater tight, humming quietly as she inched closer. Should she try to entice Snickers to the shelter, out of the wind?
“Come on, sweet mama, you can do this.”
The six-foot-tall animal lumbered back and forth, cutting the same path across the pasture. A couple minutes passed with more moans from Snickers, growing louder and more urgent, but no sign of the baby.
If Rori were suffering labor pains, she would want a qualified professional on hand to deliver the baby. Well, that wasn’t happening anytime in the near future, so why would she allow her brain to wander down that lonely road?
She wouldn’t put Snickers and the cria at risk by not having a veterinarian around for the delivery. Rori slid her cellphone out of her pocket and connected with the vet’s office.
“Dr. Randolph’s office.”
“Hi, Judy. It’s Rori Harmon. Is Corbin in this morning?” Please say yes.
“Hey, Rori. Nah, Corbin hasn’t been in yet this morning. He left word that he had an emergency over at the Whitman farm. I’m not sure when to expect him. Do you need him at your place?”
Rori grimaced. She didn’t need him. She needed a vet.
She’d learned at the delicate age of ten not to depend on a man. When her father—A heavy sigh erupted from her chest. She couldn’t blame Judy for her poor choice of words.
Jumbo lumbered over to the fence and rubbed his nose against Rori’s shoulder, almost knocking the phone out of her hand. She fumbled to keep her grip while he raised his neck and bared his bottom teeth, flashing a giant llama grin. Aww. He was trying to cheer her up, the big lug.
She smiled, grateful for the sweetie, even if he was a bit of a troublemaker.
But he needed a home, a family, and that’s why he was here. So he wouldn’t be destroyed.
She was tucked way out in the country, far enough away from the big city of Charlotte and secluded from the public’s prying eyes and insatiable appetites for gossip, for the same reason. So she wouldn’t be destroyed.
Animals didn’t let one down like people did. But it sure would be nice if a man, besides her brother or stepfather, would show up when she needed him. Didn’t look like that would happen today.
Snickers moaned again.
Rori glanced at the back end of the pregnant female.
Still no sign of the baby yet.
“It looks like Snickers plans to have her cria today, but the little one’s not cooperating. I could use a vet, Judy. Whether that’s Corbin or his on-call doc, I don’t care. Please, just get somebody out here to the sanctuary.”
Rori disconnected and headed into the barn. It wouldn’t hurt to gather some supplies, just in case.
Question 1: When Graham arrived, Rori naturally assumed he was the vet on call. Have you ever experienced mistaken identity? Explain.
Question 2: Rori named her place Forever Family Animal Sanctuary. What do you think is significant about this?
Answer 2: Rori loved animals and felt that they didn't let her down like people did. Do you feel the same way? Explain.
Question 3: Graham's thrilled when Rori doesn't recognize him. He longs for someone to get to know him without dollar signs in their eyes and decides not to let Rori know his identity. Do you agree with that choice? What would you have done?
Question 4: Rori's father, a successful golfer, committed suicide twenty years ago but the reporters and media hounds refuse to leave Rori's family alone. She's become a recluse, a social phobic, because of this. Do you know someone who has experienced a family member's suicide? What feelings and emotions have they struggled to overcome? How were you able to help?
Question 5: "Iâ€™m all yours for right now." Rori's dad used to say those exact words, and when Graham says this, he dashes her dreams, brings her back to reality. Has someone uttered a phrase that brings back bad memories?
Question 6: Loving Graham was the catalyst Rori needed to begin healing from her social phobia. Have you known someone who suffered an addiction or who had trouble breaking free from a habit or fear? How did they overcome?
Question 7: When Graham's identity is revealed and Rori doesn't react the way he expected, he couldnâ€™t squelch the seed of promise, the burst of anticipation, which budded and bloomed in his gut. Have you experienced a similar situation where an uncomfortable situation turned out better than you expected? Explain.
Question 8: After Graham returns to the sanctuary, Rori stomps to the barn, intent on finding out why he'd blatantly disregarded her order not to come back. But that fizzles after hearing about his friend's death. Why?
Answer 8: Because it sounded like he could use a friend, a sympathetic ear, someone to listen to the ache in his heart. That's what she'd wished for when her father died.
Question 9: Rori continually refused Graham's monetary donation to the sanctuary, saying she didn't want his money. His Christmas gift was two emaciated llamas and his wallet, representing his love and commitment to her and Forever Family, their life calling. What has been your most special gift?
Question 10: Have you considered volunteering at a worthy animal rescue organization? If not, is there another way you can help?