Veterinarian rancher Pike Martin has no choice but to advise putting down Daisy Denmore’s fatally ill dog, but she swears it's revenge for her mistreatment of Pike's brother years ago. Although stung by her insult at his professionalism, Pike finds himself drawn to the troubled woman who flounders in faith and aches for love and acceptance.
Costly mistakes have sent Daisy down an unrighteous path. Abandoned by her ex-husband, humiliated and broke, she has no choice but to return to her parents’ home in Mountain Cove, Colorado. As soon as she saves enough money, though, she'll be gone. Until Pike Martin's soft voice, caring manner, and downright empathy for her wounds tempt her to stay.
With God on his side, can Pike help Daisy along the path to forgiveness, trust, and whole-hearted love?
Mountain Cove, Colorado
The big black dog burst through the exam room door with such joy that Pike Martin’s stomach churned. Elway should have several more years of life left instead of…
“Hey, boy.” With both affection and dread, he knelt to ruffle the ten-year-old Labrador’s head. Karen Densmore’s feet rustled nervously nearby. Bad news always devastated a pet’s owner, but she wasn’t somebody he wanted to talk to in the best of times.
After all, her daughter had humiliated Pike’s brother and broken his heart. No matter that Kenn had since found the love of his life. Mountain Cove was a small town, and gossip lived on for years. Pike stood, nearly knocked off his feet by Mrs. Densmore’s resemblance to her beautiful black-haired, black-hearted daughter. Always something there to remind you. He frowned, hoping she took it as concern for Elway.
“Hi, Doc. How’s it going, waiting on dogs and cats instead of horses and cattle?” Mrs. Densmore’s voice shook, and right away, Pike shoved away thoughts of Kenn and Daisy. This lady was about to lose her sweet dog, and her heart was likely breaking.
“Oh, I still make plenty of house calls,” he told her lightly. “Make that ranch calls.” They both half-smiled at his attempt at humor. The only large animal vet for twenty miles, he had a lively practice going in addition to tending the livestock at Hearts Crossing, the family ranch eight miles from town. “Just helping out Doc Fahmy for two weeks while he and his wife are on vacation.”
“Lucky gal, that Miranda. A Mediterranean cruise.” Then Mrs. Densmore stopped the small talk with a deep breath and loaded question. “So, what’s the verdict?”
Pike closed his eyes tight for a second. Sure, he was a professional, but he swallowed hard. The news was bad. Really bad. “The ultrasound results aren’t good,” he said softly, laying his hand on the dog’s head. Elway looked up at him adoringly, and Pike’s heart crunched. Professional or not, times like this were never easy.
“I guess I’m not surprised.” She dug in her purse for a tissue and dabbed her nose. “Doc Fahmy was concerned enough about the X-rays to order more tests. So?” Her voice slowed to a dull whisper.
“It’s a malignant tumor between the kidneys called hemangiosarcoma.”
She flinched when he said tumor. “But you can cut it out, right?”
Pike shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s inoperable. It has metastasized. We can give you the name of a canine oncologist in Denver if you’re so inclined.”
“Denver? Chemo?” The choking sounds she emitted almost shredded his composure. She sank into the lone chair next to the aluminum examination table. “No. Chemo almost killed Uncle Luther.” She grabbed Elway and held him close, his long pink tongue lolling in ecstasy. “I couldn’t put my sweetheart through that.”
Pike’s heart panged, and he reached to give her hand a squeeze. Despite everything, she and his ma had managed to avoid animosity. He could do the same. “Would you like to pray together? Jesus loves animals, too.”
As if she hadn’t heard, Karen Densmore stood and smiled over a sparkle of tears. “Joel gave Elway to me when Daisy left for college. So I wouldn’t feel alone. But she loved him just as much. That first year she came home from school almost every weekend to see the pup. I don’t know how I’m going to tell her…”
Her body tensed and her cheeks reddened; he reckoned she regretted mentioning her daughter’s name. Daisy.
His fingers curled into tight balls. “Well, I’ll talk to her if you want,” he said slowly. Even though he meant it, the possibility terrified him. Just last week, Daisy had passed out in his arms, and he hadn’t liked the spark he’d felt at her vulnerability—at the dark lashes fringing her cheeks; at the rose petal scent that seemed to linger still in his senses. Pike clenched his teeth. No, he didn’t like it—then, or now.
“I’ll do it.” Suddenly, she lowered her head to stare at her toes. “She and I…aren’t getting along that good anyway. Doc?” She looked back up at him. “I’m so sorry. About that scene she made at Hearts Crossing last week, during the hoedown. I can only blame her drinking on that wretched husband of hers. Ex-husband, I mean. If she’d only stayed with your brother, a true Christian man.”
“It’s OK, Mrs. Densmore. Calm down.” He flushed at the awkward topic. “Kenn’s engaged to someone else now and super happy with Christy. None of us knows what kind of misery Tony O’Neal laid on your daughter.”
“But now this? She’ll come unglued.” She waved her hands over Elway’s head then bleakly looked Pike straight in the eyes. “Again, I apologize, Doc. We were in Parachute that night.” She sighed deeply. “Joel’s mother is doing poorly, but she won’t welcome Daisy into her home. All because Daisy eloped with Tony. Mother reckons my daughter’s getting just what she deserves. So we went without her…”
Her words tore at him. Family always came first with the Martins—now, for generations past and generations yet to come. Grim-Gram had equally adored Pike and every one of his seven siblings before she was called Home to the Heavenly Father. Rejection by a grandmother, desertion by a husband, slinking back to a town where nobody wanted her, had to canker Daisy’s soul. Taking comfort from the bottle rather than God’s grace was a terrible wrong, but something more than pity roiled in his gut.
He recalled her curled in his arms after she’d collapsed in a barn full of neighbors and former classmates and colleagues. How small she’d seemed in the guest bunkhouse bed when his sister tucked her in to sleep it off. Who could possibly know what demons lurked inside her? A protective urge rose in him, and he smacked it down right away.
Because Daisy Densmore was off limits. She’d caused Kenn years of pain and turmoil, and his brother’s misery wasn’t something Pike could forget.
“But his eyes are so bright,” Mrs. Densmore inserted hopefully into Pike’s gloomy thoughts. “And he’s gotten his appetite back.”
“Well, Doc Fahmy gave him Famotidine, a medication to calm his stomach. Please remember, when you get him home, he’s a very sick boy. Be careful. Hemangiosarcoma can rupture and cause hemorrhage.”
After a quick but furious knock, the door flew open so hard it smacked against a cabinet. Glass rattled. “What’s going on, Mom?” Daisy Densmore hurtled inside, the veterinary tech Luanne clutching at her arm.
“Dr. Martin,” Luanne said, apology written all over her face. “I couldn’t hold her back.”
“What’s going on?” Daisy repeated, shrill. “Pops just told me you were here! That something’s wrong with Elway.”
Pike nodded into her dark imploring gaze as she knelt on the floor to grapple Elway close. Her childish gesture and panicked eyes stoked emotions he’d just buried.
While he waited for her to get to her feet, Pike grabbed hold of every professional mannerism he could. Somewhat stiffly, Mrs. Densmore reached out to comfort her daughter, but Daisy shoved away the embrace.
Pike took a deep breath. Well, he had offered to tell Daisy himself. “Daisy, between his kidneys, Elway’s got an inoperable malignant tumor. It’s called hemangiosarcoma.”
Wild-eyed, she grabbed Pike’s hand, and the touch scorched him. “What?”
He repeated the unhappy news.
“Inoperable? Why can’t you operate?”
The question stunned him. Did she really think he had some other choice? “It’s positioned too dangerously between the kidneys. And worse.” He sighed. “Worse, it’s metastasized. Spread. Trust me on this.”
She bristled. “You think he’s going to die?”
Pike knew the odds and told Daisy what he hadn’t been able to tell her mother.
“I’m sorry. Yes.”
Her squeal of pain sliced into his brain like an earache. And he understood. The last innocent, uncomplicated part of her life would be gone too soon. He didn’t think he wanted it, but when she flung herself toward him, he gathered her in his arms, close enough to feel her pounding heart and smell her garden of long black hair.
At first, Daisy's ill treatment of Pike's brother Kenn years ago colors Pike's feelings. How easy would it be for you to forgive sa person who has hurt someone you love?
Q2. Pastor Hale's Bible study scripture, 2 Corinthians 12, verse 9, fits so many of life's situations. Reread the passage. When in your life has this Scripture made the most sense?
Q3. Pike's mom, sister Kelley and other family members seem quite amenable to welcoming Daisy (back) into the fold. What motivates them?.
Q4. What advice, based in Scripture, would you give Daisy's ex Tony O'Neil should he choose to remain in Mountain Cove?
Q5. Brainstorm a scene when Kenn Martin returns from California and finds out Pike wants to court Daisy, the ex-girlfriend who treated him so badly. Have some Scriptural back-up to support either Kenn's delight or comfort his dismay.