~~Despite rodeo star fame and a veterinarian license, Seth Holmes is a social outcast because his father bilked investors out of millions. Among his father’s papers, he discovers a photograph of his grandparents’ farm in New Jersey. Seth never knew he had relatives. He sets out to find the farm, hoping to leave behind the angry investors seeking revenge.
Gabriella Cavallo runs a farm with alpacas, a greenhouse, and a carriage house, which is rented for events. Her godparents took her in when her parents died, but now her godmother is in the nursing home. She’s skeptical when Seth arrives at the door claiming to be her godmother’s grandson, but he bears a strong resemblance to photos of his father. Then someone targets the alpacas by trying to poison the animals. Seth pitches in and soon wins Gabriella’s trust.
But Seth begins to suspect the bilked investors have found him—and this time they’re targeting Gabriella as well.
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~~Seth Holmes stepped out of the Green Pastures Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, leaned on his cane, and stared at the rays of light streaming down from the clouds overhead. He lifted the collar of his jacket to ward off the chill and took a deep breath of fresh New Jersey air. The raw dampness in the atmosphere usually heralded a snowstorm in Colorado. Did it snow in New Jersey the day after Thanksgiving? He glanced toward the west, but there were no mountains. Grief and a bit of homesickness stabbed at his heart. He wasn’t going back. Not now, maybe never.
So far, none of the angry investors who lost money in his father’s scheme pursued him. After more than two months in rehab, he hoped his trail was cold or they’d abandoned their hunt.
Flint drove up with the truck and trailer. Seth limped awkwardly to the back and pulled an apple out of his pocket.
“Hey, Navigator, I missed you,” he called to his horse.
Navigator leaned out as far as possible, snorted, and shook his head.
Flint laughed as he joined him. “He missed you, too. I gave him your old shirt and he snuggled up with it whenever nobody was looking.”
“I’d never abandon you, old boy.” Seth held out the apple. The horse eyed him suspiciously for a moment before snatching it away.
“Don’t feel too sorry for him. Sultry Sara kept him company most of the time.”
“Women cannot be trusted,” Seth grumbled.
“My wife’s a real gem,” Flint boasted.
“You got lucky.” Seth hardened his heart long ago. It was the only way to survive.
Flint drew a map out of his jacket. “Greenburg’s ’bout ten miles southeast of here. Sure you don’t want to stay a few days at my place?”
“Thanks, but you’ve done enough for me already.”
“I owe you. You saved my life when that crazy bull came at me.”
Seth shook his head. “I never guessed they grow ’em so mean out here in the east.”
Flint laughed. “You got a lot to learn about New Jersey, Dr. Holmes.”
“My first lesson came from that bull,” Seth admitted.
“Remember, there’s a guest room at our place in case you need it,” Flint offered.
“I’m planning on putting down new roots.”
“Buy the farm near me.”
Seth laughed. “I’m short on cash at the moment.”
“You can count on me for references.”
“Thanks. You’ll hear from me. Maybe sooner than you think.” Seth shot him a wry grin, shook hands, and climbed into the cab of the pickup. The simple movement proved painful and difficult, but he managed. He tipped his hat to Flint and drove off.
Following the map, he searched along each of the streets in the small town of Greenburg. On Winder Lane, he spotted a yellow house with green shutters sitting on a slight rise with an old white, Dutch-style barn nearby. A creek flowed to the right of the property behind the barn.
Seth pulled over to the side of the road. A green and gold sign declared the land to be Holmes Farm & Carriage House. Taking the old black and white photo out of his pocket, he studied it, comparing it to the scene before him. In the snapshot, his father, dressed in chaps, smiled broadly as he sat astride a pony while cows grazed in the distance and chickens scratched the ground.
The sad ache in Seth’s heart widened. For years, he assumed his father was simply an affable, though gullible, dreamer, always searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The truth was much worse.
Swallowing against the tightness in his throat, Seth glanced up and saw alpacas in a pen on one side of the barn. Where were the horses, cows, and chickens?
He drove forward and pulled onto the long, asphalt drive, wondering what age his grandparents would be now. At least eighty, he figured. Far too old to manage the farm by themselves, but since the place appeared neat, they must have hired help. Even the hedges lining the drive were well manicured.
He pulled up near the barn and slid out of the truck. It proved easier than climbing in. He checked on Navigator in the back of the trailer. The horse seemed more interested in whether or not he had any additional treats for him.
Seth held out a carrot. The animal’s expression was one of pure joy. He patted his old friend and prayed he’d be sitting in the saddle again soon.
He walked to the porch, noting the festive Thanksgiving display of pumpkins and hay bales. Beside the doorbell was a note. No answer? Check the greenhouse!
He pushed the button for the bell and waited. He rubbed the back of his neck as the nerves bunched up into a tight knot. When nothing happened, he tried again. After all, it might take a while for an eighty-year-old to get to the door.
The door opened and Seth blinked in shock. A young woman with long, curly, coal-black hair and hazel eyes smiled at him.
“You must be the vet.” She reached over to an oak coatrack and slipped into her jacket.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m a veterinarian, but—”