Released November 26, 2015
Hearts, horses, and healing…
Ben Crawford is forced to face the ghosts of his past after his mother’s accident and Anna Jenkins’s announcement she’s starting her own stables. Only then does he find the strength to hold on to all he’s left unclaimed.
Ben Crawford has always believed the professional respect and acceptance he desired couldn’t be found at Sunnydale Farms. There were just too many ghosts residing in his broken home. Only when Anna Jenkins, the one constant at his mother’s therapeutic riding facility, announces she is leaving to start her own stables is Ben forced to grasp hold of all he’s left unclaimed.
Hearts, horses, and healing...
I lost myself in this book. At the end, I sighed, one of those dreamy, where are real men like this, sighs. -- N Khun
This book continues a run of phenomenal books from Ms. Phillips. She has become an automatic purchase for me and does not disappoint. - Kathy Saterlee
She paused and adjusted that trademark headband. “It’s just that from the first time we looked at that horse, she spooked me. There’s something about it that I just don’t like.”
Hearing that admission set off an alarm in Ben’s gut. On his list of fearless women—right under Betty Crawford—was Anna’s name. Her ability to handle chaos was only one of the many attributes he admired about her. When one of their young students melted down or a horse behaved badly, she took charge and diffused the situation with sympathy or sternness, whichever the situation called for. She had an uncanny ability to catch any monkey wrench thrown into the events of the day, circumventing any potential crisis. “Nothing frightens you.”
She laughed. “I wish.”
“Seriously. Name one thing you’re afraid of.”
“Running out of chocolate.”
She maintained such a serious look on her face while making the joke. Yet another endearing quality he’d come to adore in her. Her laugh erupted again, which penetrated his emotional walls, crumbling the business atmosphere he struggled to maintain.
He reached out and tugged on the sleeve of her T-shirt. “Come on. We need to figure out which students should ride what horses. I think I should use Honey with John. Do you want to use Ginger with Cory?”
A piercing bray rose up from the end of the aisle.“Whoa! Whoa!” His mother’s shrill cry cut the air.
Two loud bangs against the stall wall.
“You okay, Betty?” Fear rode Anna’s question, intensifying the tremble whisking up Ben’s spine.
No screams. No sound at all.
Anna sprinted down the aisle. The clipboard slipped from Ben’s hand, rattling against the concrete. He followed behind her, calling out his mother’s name and hoping for an answer.
Anna reached the stall first. “Dear God.”
The horror in her eyes hedged him. Ben knew he didn’t want to see what she did, but he couldn’t let fear corral him and looked around the corner.
To Ben Crawford the miles of fence surrounding the seventy-five acres of Sunnydale Farms did not just contain his mother’s horses. Those rails also held him back from some abstract calling he hadn’t yet heard.
This therapeutic riding stable was Betty Crawford’s dream, born out of her desire to help a friend’s daughter. The undeniable benefits of equine therapy on that autistic child sparked a fire in his mother. She did her research, trained with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, and began switching the focus of her stables from a 4H barn to a facility that helped the physically and emotionally challenged.
Sunnydale Farms was born, at least in concept.
Ben found satisfaction as well. Helping people heal challenged him, and working alongside his mother allowed him to combine his love of horses and youngsters. But something was missing.
Walking the long corridor between the two rows of stalls, the heel of Ben’s boot clacked against the concrete only a little louder than the sound of horses munching on their grain. The familiar sounds mingling with the smell of lilacs blooming reminded him he was home again.
Instead of taking comfort, he felt constrained, as if he was stuck in a pair of riding boots that were a size too small.
He pulled the clipboard from the nail on the bulletin board and looked at the schedule of riding students. They were double-booked all day, a sure sign of summer vacation. He only had one break: thirty minutes around one o’clock.
The upside: he got to share the arena with Anna Jenkins.
She’d been hired as a teen—the summer before he left for college—to fill the void created by his absence. A high school junior at the time, Anna happily plowed through even the messiest of chores without complaint. Her work ethic was fueled by the desire to be surrounded by horses.
He never understood her particular enthusiasm for forking through wood shavings, but he welcomed a break from mucking stalls and never questioned it.
Later, she proved her dedication to both the Crawfords and the children by obtaining her training certification from the NARHA.
Over recent years, he’d come home at intervals, only to leave after a few months for more schooling or job opportunities. Somehow, something always drew him back.
Last winter, it’d been a wedding. Anna served as a bridesmaid at her brother’s nuptials. It was the first and only time he’d seen her in a dress or her long, brown hair styled in a way other than neatly pulled off her face by a gray knit headband. In an instant, she went from schoolgirl barn help to a full-grown woman.
Now, every time she showed kindness to a child or paid focused attention to the animals, the act would bathe her in an angelic glow. He also noticed the jeans and ragged T-shirts accented her slight waist and full hips better than the bridesmaid’s gown that first grabbed his libido.
The sound of Anna humming as she entered the barn turned him in her direction. She paused in front of the stall that housed the new mare before continuing down the aisle and stopping in front of him. She wiped her hands on the small towel she’d connected to a belt loop of her jeans with a metal clip. “Do you think it’s a good idea for your mom to start training that mare already?”
“You know what Mom is like. She was up half the night outlining a schedule.”
“It might be wiser to let the horse settle in a bit, get used to the surroundings.”
“Mom won’t get on her today. Just groom her, maybe do a little ground work.”
“But inside the stall?” Anna shifted her weight and turned her gaze back toward the end of the aisle. The look in her eyes confused Ben.
The new horse was a five-year-old and completely green, but his mother could handle anything life threw at her, always had for as long as he could remember.
He tapped the clipboard in his hands. “Are you with me? We need to go over today’s schedule.”
She nodded, but he could tell she only half listened to him. “What time did your mom get back with the horse last night?”
“After eleven.”“How did she come off the trailer?”
He unsuccessfully tried to contain the laugh. “Fine! My mother has been around horses since she was younger than your niece. She can handle a spirited mare.”
Rotating her shoulders as if she could shake off the bad feelings, she turned back toward him. “I know. I…”