Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch (The Ryan Family #1) - Carolyn Brown Page 0,1

been inseparable from then on, but that old saying about “out of sight out of mind” was sure enough true when it came to him and Addy. About six weeks after he left for basic training, her letters and calls had stopped, and he hadn’t seen her since the night before he left home—the only time they’d crossed over the friendship line.

He opened the door of his black pickup truck, slid out of the seat, and rolled his neck to stretch the kinks out before he made his way up on the porch, which wrapped around three sides of the long, low ranch house. His father would have already come out and gotten his paper off the porch, or maybe from out in the yard if the person throwing it didn’t have good aim, so the door would be open.

A blue heeler dog turning gray around the muzzle got up from where he’d been resting under the porch swing and came to greet him. Tail wagging, the animal sat down right at Jesse’s feet.

Jesse knelt on one knee and scratched the old dog’s ears. “Good mornin’, Tex. You still keeping the cows herded?” He was procrastinating, but he just wasn’t ready to face Addy after all these years, or to meet her daughter, either, for that matter.

“Pearl, darlin’, are we expectin’ company?” Sonny’s voice rang out from the living room. “I hear someone talkin’ out on the porch.”

“That’s my cue.” Jesse straightened up. “See you later, Tex.”

He yelled as he opened the front door, “Is breakfast ready?”

“Jesse, is that really you?” His father tossed the newspaper to the side and grabbed a cane. Leaning on it, he opened up his other arm for a hug. “Hurry up, son, before your mother gets in here. I won’t get a bit of attention when she finds out one of her boys has come home.”

“Oh. My. Goodness!” Pearl joined them for a three-way hug. “We weren’t expecting you until the first of next week.”

Jesse swallowed the huge lump in his throat. When he’d been home eighteen months ago, his dad only had to use the cane sporadically, but the way he leaned on it now meant that things were definitely on a downhill slide. “I wanted to surprise you,” he said.

“Well, you surely did that.” His mother took a step back but kept a grip on Jesse’s arms. “Let me look at you. You’ve got a few gray hairs in your temples, and your eyes look tired. You need some good old home cooking and hard ranch work to put the sparkle back in your life, my son.”

“I’m thirty-eight years old, Mama,” Jesse chuckled. “I’ve earned those few gray hairs. It’s been a long week of getting things done so I could retire from the Air Force, but a few days on the ranch and I’ll be right as rain. I hope that’s breakfast I smell cookin’?”

“I know exactly how old you are, son,” Pearl said, smiling, “and that is sausage gravy and biscuits that you smell. I hope you haven’t eaten already.”

He bent and kissed his mother on the forehead. “When it comes to your cookin’, Mama, I’d never settle for second best.”

Her eyes looked weary, too, he thought. Somehow every time he came home, she seemed smaller. When he was a little boy, she had looked to be ten feet tall and damn near bulletproof, but these days she barely came up to his shoulders. She had always had chin-length hair, but it had more salt in it these days than pepper. Seeing Sonny on the decline had to be tough on her, but Jesse was home now, and he could and would take a load off her shoulders.

“And I’m glad you’re home. This old man right here”—she glanced over at Sonny—“needs your help running this place. Addy and Mia do what they can, and Henry is still a fine foreman, but he’s past seventy.” She talked as she pulled him into the kitchen.

“Don’t you be callin’ me old, darlin’,” Sonny called after her and started that way.

“The MS is getting worse,” his mother whispered. “It won’t be long until you will have to make all the decisions.”

Jesse draped an arm around his mother’s shoulders. “I’m here. What can I do to help with breakfast?”

“Good morning.” A voice from Jesse’s past floated through the air. “I’ve got the waterin’ troughs cleaned out and…”

Addy stopped in the middle of the floor. Her face lost all the color and she stammered, “Jesse, what…when…we