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Welcome to Farraday Country, a twist on the favorite 7 Brides for 7 Brothers theme set in cattle-ranching west Texas, with all the friends, family and fun that fans have come to expect from USA TODAY Bestselling author Chris Keniston.
On the way to his family's ranch, Dr. Brooks Farraday encounters what he thinks is a hit and run. Instead he finds a beautiful stranger in the road petting a stray dog. He wants to be the friend she needs, but falling for her could come at too high price.
For Toni Castellano, attending a friend's wedding in West Texas seems the perfect escape from her life in Boston. The last thing she needs is another man in her life. She fell for Prince Charming once with disastrous results. But could Brooks Farraday really be her knight in shining armor?
More Audio available in Farraday Country:
Release date: October 24, 2016
Publisher: Indie House Publishing
Print pages: 170
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Listen to a sample
Brooks Farraday stripped off his surgical gloves and flung them across the room. He’d done everything he could to stabilize the eighty-year-old woman, but Sam had waited too long to bring Liza in. With the closest major medical facility capable of doing emergency heart surgery more than an hour away, there wasn't a damn thing more Brooks could do. Frustration clawed at him as he crossed the room, picked the gloves off the floor, and slammed them into the bin. Damn, he hated days like this.
The last thing he wanted was to face Sam. Only last week the whole town had turned out for their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Brooks' storefront set up here was small: a waiting room, a converted kitchen for a lab, an oversized closet that passed for his office, and two exam rooms. The corridors of the Taj Mahal wouldn't have been long enough of a walk to forestall the inevitable. Huddled before him, Sam and the handful of his and Liza's eight children and their spouses who still lived in or near town stared up at Brooks. No matter how hard he tried through the years to avoid expression of any emotion, the loss had to have shown. Two of the daughters burst into tears.
"I'm so sorry," he said.
Gray-haired and of wiry build, Sam ducked his chin, "You done all you could. I know that. Me and Liza thank you for that much." The old man turned and walked out the door before Brooks could offer to let him say his last goodbyes.
"We knew this day was coming, Brooks. Mom's heart has been threatening her for almost a decade." Sam and Liza's oldest son gave Brooks a pat on the arm, shifted his gaze across the small room, and then turned away. "I'd better catch up with Dad."
In a whirlwind of motion, the remaining siblings offered some words before chasing after their father.
Nora Brown, his RN, came up behind him. "I've called Andy at the funeral home. He's on his way over."
Brooks bowed his head. He was supposed to save lives.
"Also, Meg called, wanted to remind you about her friend. She suggested tonight would be a good night to join them for supper."
Letting his eyes fall shut, he blew out a tired breath. He was not up to socializing.
"She also said to tell you Friday night would be good too if you prefer."
His future sister-in-law seemed able to read his mind from across town even before he knew what he was thinking. Heaven help his brother Adam. Anticipating the arrival of her college friend for the wedding, Meg had been bouncing around for days like a little girl with a new jump rope. But then, yesterday she'd called him worried about her friend's odd behavior and asked Brooks to stop by for dinner to see if he noticed it too. He nodded at Nora waiting patiently for a response. "Thanks. I'll giver her a—"
The front door burst open and Paul Brady came rushing through. "It's time, doc. Betty Sue, she's in the car. Says she ain't moving. Sent me to come get you."
Brooks turned on his heel, shouting over his shoulder, "How long has she been having contractions?"
"Don't know. But the pains are coming five minutes apart."
Trotting toward the car tilting awkwardly with one wheel on the curb, Brooks almost smiled at the crazed parking job. First-time parents.
The expectant father beat him to the vehicle, yanking the passenger door open.
"Hey, Doc," Betty Sue said through clenched teeth.
"How's it going? Think we can get you inside?"
Betty Sue panted through a contraction, nodding her head, and then let out a long deep breath. "What I really want is to push, but if you'll give me a hand." She stuck out her arm and leaned forward. "With Ricky Ricardo here helping, I wasn't sure we'd make it."
This time, Brooks did chuckle at the I Love Lucy reference. He had no trouble envisioning Paul Brady scattering about like Ricky Ricardo had when his TV son was born. "At least he didn't leave you behind," Brooks said through a lazy smile as he eased his arm around Betty Sue and hefted her onto her feet. Only then did he catch the glare she shot her husband's way. "He didn't?"
"He did. Halfway to the road before he turned around to get me." Betty Sue made it as far as the threshold before doubling over with another contraction.
"Breathe," Brooks encouraged. By his estimation, her contractions were only two or three minutes apart. If they didn't hurry up and get her settled in, he might very well be delivering this baby on the sidewalk. "How long have you been in labor?"
The very pregnant woman blew out another deep breath. "Woke up around five this morning with some of those Braxton Hicks contractions, but by around seven I realized they were real labor pains. Not too close. Prepared myself for a long day." She moved forward into the waiting room. "But about an hour ago they started coming really fast."
"Well, it looks like, for a first baby, Paul Junior is in a hurry."
Andy from the funeral home came through the open door and stopped short. He had the good sense to wait until Brooks and his patient were past the first exam room before looking to Nora for answers.
"Room one," was all Nora said.
In the second exam room, Brooks and Paul settled Betty Sue onto the bed. Slightly larger than exam room one with a nice bed and some homey decorations nearby, this space doubled as a birthing room. Behind them, Nora came in and set up the oxygen. Just in case.
"Let me take a look." As Brooks had expected, Betty Sue was fully dilated and effaced. Baby Paul was ready to make his entrance. "I know you want to push, but I need a few more seconds here."
Panting through another contraction, Betty Sue nodded and stretched her hand out for her husband. In what proved to be a routine, though speedy, delivery, in only fifteen minutes, Paul Brady Junior slid into the world.
"You ready to hold your son?" Brooks asked Betty Sue.
With a smile brighter than a kid’s on Christmas morning, the new mother stretched out her arms. Paul kissed his wife's forehead and then did the same to the top of the tiny boy's head.
"We'll have to weigh him and do a couple of standard tests, but that can wait a few minutes for you three to get acquainted." Brooks stepped back, his gaze on the newborn infant. Brooks' heart was lighter. The circle of life. "Welcome to the world, young man. Welcome to the world."
* * *
"I'll see your five and raise you five." Antoinette Castelano Bennett tossed a couple of chips into the growing pile. When she'd envisioned coming to west Texas to visit her college roommate before her wedding, playing poker with the geriatric crowd wasn't exactly the pastime she'd pictured.
"I'm out." Dorothy Wilson, a sweet and friendly older lady, set her cards face down on the table.
"Me too." Sally May, an attractive woman with salt and pepper hair in a simple French twist and a German shepherd curled up at her feet, set her cards down with a sigh.
"Guess that leaves me." Eileen Callahan, the matriarch of the family Toni's friend was marrying into, had a grin as wide as the west Texas horizon. Adding more chips to the pot with one hand, she laid her five cards out, face up, with the other. "Three aces."
The last member of the group, Ruth Ann, let out a frustrated groan. A short, very thin woman with long, gray hair clipped in a sloppy pony tail, wearing jeans and a blue long sleeve shirt, she reminded Toni of everything she would have pictured a rancher's wife to be. Except instead of talking about cattle or chickens, every other sentence had something to do with her recent bunion surgery. "That leaves me out. Got two pair, king high."
This left only Toni holding cards. Remembering what her grandmother used to say, “Lucky in cards, unlucky in love,” she wasn't feeling very triumphant. "Sorry ladies. Full house: three queens over a pair of tens."
"I'm going to take a walk to the ladies room." Sally May pushed to her feet. "Maybe it will change my luck."
Next to deal, Eileen gathered the cards from the table. "So tell us more about this traveling husband of yours?"
Separating the winning till into appropriate colored stacks, Toni considered what to say. The call that had sent her husband packing his bag and rushing to Logan Airport for a flight to one of those -stan countries had been an unexpected gift. William never did off-shore sites anymore, but when the engineer assigned to this project suffered a massive heart attack on his way to the airport, the partners scrambled for a replacement project manager, and William was the only person with enough flexibility and skill to go.
Remembering the harrowing twenty-minute rush had her gripping her chips more tightly.
"Damn it, Antoinette. There's too much starch in my shirts. Again."
"I'm sorry." She hated ironing shirts. "Maybe this one will be—"
William snatched the shirt out of her hand and slammed it into his suitcase. "I don't want to wear that shirt on the plane."
Toni bounced back from his reach. She wasn't making that mistake again.
"If that dumb knot-head at the dry cleaners can get the starch right there's no reason you can't. You don't have to be a Rhodes Scholar to iron a shirt."
"Toni?" Eileen's hands had stilled mid-shuffle, her brows pinched with concern.
"Sorry, my mind wandered. Yes. William doesn't travel much anymore. He's very protective of me. Doesn't like to be away from me at all, but he didn't have any choice this time."
"Well, it was very fortuitous that his extended trip coincided with my wedding, even if I had to use my best debate skills to get you to come visit now instead of only for the wedding weekend." Meg O'Brien—soon to be Farraday—stood at Toni's side, a coffeepot in hand. "Sounds like he turned out to be a very loving husband."
"Yes. Loving." Under the table, Toni clenched her hands together, forced the plastic I’m-so-happily-married smile she always used in public, and pushed aside her husband's last words on his way out the door.
"I don't know how reliable the satellites are in that God-forsaken temporary engineering camp. For God's sake don't forget to charge your phone. Better yet, stay close to home. In that armpit of a country, who knows what I might need ..."
She knew what close to home meant. Not that it would be hard to do. Where did she have to go?
"My mother will be back from her cruise in a few weeks. When she returns, I'll arrange for you to stay with her while I'm gone." His gaze darted about the pristine condo. "I'll be back much sooner than three months if I have anything to say about it. That mud-hole corner of the world is no place for a man like me."
She nodded. Not sure what he expected her to do next. Would this be the time he'd want her to hand him the rest of his things to make packing go faster, or would this be when nothing she did would be right? The outburst over the shirt had her thinking she'd be better off waiting for instructions. Maybe.
"Meg is right." Eileen dealt the cards. "It's always nice to have friends visit. And she tells me you're quite the cook too? She needs some fattening up. Working here every morning and fixing up that old house the rest of the time, she's wearing herself to a skeleton. Which reminds me," sorting her hand, Eileen looked over her shoulder at Meg, "I've almost got the drapes done for the old parlor. These are the last of the curtains."
"Sounds like time for a decorating party." Sally May picked up her cards.
Eileen nodded. "It's been fun bringing that old house back to life."
From what Meg had told Toni, the Farraday clan spent more time putting around the old Victorian than they had at their own homes, and Meg seemed to love every minute of suddenly being part of a large tight-knit family. Toni couldn't imagine. Whenever her husband's family descended on Boston, helpful wasn't the first word that came to mind.
"Sounds good." A customer across the café waved Meg down, and she took off in their direction.
When Toni married William and settled in the bustling heart of Boston's Back Bay she thought she'd won the lottery. Watching Meg smile and flutter from table to table, glowing from the inside out, Toni wondered if she'd ever been that happy. Barely glancing at her cards, Toni tossed the hand onto the table. "I think I'm going to sit this one out. Could use a little fresh air."
"Oh, good." Ruth Ann sprang up laughing. "I'll sit in the hot seat while she's gone."
Meg came hurrying back to the table. "You ready to go? I've got about another half hour till Shannon comes in."
"I was just going to stretch my legs, but maybe a nice walk home would be better."
Meg studied her a little longer than she'd have liked. "Good idea. Back door is unlocked. I'll get home as soon as I can."
"Can you find your way?"
Toni almost laughed. The town wasn't that big, and what there was of it, had been built in a basic grid. It might take her all of fifteen minutes to walk down Main Street and then turn up onto Meg's block. "I'll be fine."
"Will we see you for Saturday's card game?" Dorothy Wilson looked up. "Nora comes on Saturdays."
"I don't know. Depends on how much work there is to be done at Meg’s," Toni said.
"Work, my foot!" Meg winked at her friend. "Saturday we're heading to Abilene. I've got some more shopping to do."
"I'm in." Toni smiled at her friend and realized for the first time in a very long time she was doing an awful lot of heartfelt smiling.
Though she'd seen the Main Street shops driving through town before, she took her time now, glancing at the people coming and going, spending an extra minute or two looking at the window displays. The inside of the Cut and Curl looked like it hadn't changed much since the day it was built. In a line along the back wall were several of the old-fashioned massive hair dryers. Even now, two women sat side by side flipping through magazines.
When Toni pictured West Texas she had a vision of Clint Eastwood chasing cows down a dirt road flanked by wooden sidewalks. She hadn't pictured Mayberry.
About to turn the corner to Meg's street, a muffled woof caught her attention. Still too far from the residential part of the block for there to be a nearby yard with a dog, she paused and looked around. Nothing. A few more steps and she heard it again, only this time the sound had more of a whine to it. Where was it coming from?
Taking her time to scan the area, Toni inched slowly forward, listening carefully. There it was again, a little louder, and coming from across the street. Almost willing the animal to show itself, she stepped off the curb. Movement in the shrubs alongside a boarded up house told her she was heading in the right direction when a black muzzle appeared, followed by a furry body and at last a drooping tail…Walking in her direction…With a limp.
For a short second she'd thought it might have been Sally May's German shepherd but then realized this dog was more gray than tan and a bit shorter than the eighty-pound shepherd. "Oh, sweetie." Nearly to the other side of the street, she squatted down for the dog to close the gap between them. "What happened?"
Without any sign of fear or hesitation, the dog walked right up to her and nuzzled his head into her outstretched hand.
"Well, you're a friendly fella, aren't you?"
The tail gave a brief swish as Toni scratched behind the dog's ear then ran her other hand down the length of him. Or her. No collar. No tangles of fur. Thin but not skeletal. The dog had either been on its own a while and knew how to care for itself or had a miserly master. When she let her hand glide gently over the leg the dog seemed to favor, the friendly pup let out a small whine.
"Okay, looks like we're going to have to find you a vet. I just happen to know where there's a very good one."
The dog, eating up all the attention, shifted and rubbed against her. She understood exactly how the poor dog felt. Loneliness sucked.
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