Series: Texas Knights Series #3
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Release Date: November 1, 2021
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Acacia has cared for her quadriplegic, cognitively impaired twin brother for two long years. Hope arrives in the form of Noah, the rocking-hot new cowboy physical therapist. Dumped by her former fiancé when her brother came back injured from Afghanistan, it takes several months for her to realize that Noah is the real deal. That is, until her second date with him.
With Noah’s goodnight kiss comes a terrible shock. Heartbroken, Acacia shuts the handsome cowboy out of her life.
But life is about to throw her a curve ball. Can she face the crisis and still care for Bobby alone? Or will she have to swallow her pride and call on Noah, the closest thing she has to a friend in San Antonio?
Acacia Richards finished cleaning Bobby up and fastened his clothing. It had been all she could do to drag herself out of bed this morning, and now she had only minutes until her twin brother’s new physical therapist arrived. She lowered him from the bed and settled him into his wheelchair. Morning sunlight shone bright through the open curtains on Bobby’s dark-blond hair.
She closed her eyes. God, I can’t do this anymore. Please, I just can’t. Hot tears pooled behind her eyelids. But tears were useless. She’d learned that a long time ago. A moment later, the doorbell rang. Slowly her eyes opened, and she blinked them dry.
The corner of her mouth tilted up, and she wheeled him into the living room, stopping the chair in front of the TV where his cartoons played.
Still wearing the leggings and T-shirt she’d slept in, she hadn’t even brushed her hair before wadding it up and clipping it behind her head. She didn’t need a mirror to know that the usual circles under her eyes would be dark from lack of sleep. Cursed as she was with a porcelain doll’s skin, the slightest blemish showed clearly.
When she opened the door, instant heat crawled toward her cheeks. Instead of a woman like Marilyn, their previous PT, she faced a tall, rocking-hot guy in a scrub top and Wranglers pressed so stiff they’d stand on their own. A crisp, fresh cologne wafted past her nose.
His light-brown eyes twinkled, surely at her dumbstruck expression.
“C-come in. Sorry, I got up late. I mean, we’re ready now. But just barely,” she stammered, like an idiot. Had Marilyn said her replacement was a man? How had she missed that? His shirt stretched over his chest and upper arms, and his jeans hugged his narrow hips. Acacia couldn’t help but stare. His body was raw, sculpted muscle. He was by far the finest male specimen she’d laid eyes on in a while. She took a deep breath and backed away from the door.
He grinned as he entered the room and offered his hand. “Hi, I’m Noah Rowden. If you need more time, please, go ahead.”
Her girly brain screamed at her to run for the sanctuary of the bedroom to repair her appearance. Instead, she shook his hand, a tight smile on her face, and walked into the living room. Turning Bobby’s wheelchair around, she patted his shoulders. “This is Noah. He’ll help you like Marilyn did. Noah, meet my brother, Bobby.”
The therapist bent down and shook her brother’s hand, saying, “May I give you something?”
Bobby grinned crookedly. “Uh-huh.”
Noah wrapped his arms around her brother’s broad shoulders and squeezed him in a gentle hug. “That was from Marilyn. She told me what a hard worker you are and said she misses you.”
Still smiling, Bobby said, “Marilyn. I love Marilyn,” in his slightly slurred voice.
Noah knelt on the floor. “She loves you too.” Unzipping his therapy bag, he pulled out a file folder.
Acacia knew what it would say. Her brother had amnesia, the cognitive functioning of a four-year-old, and was quadriplegic. Thank you, Afghanistan.
After making a quick note, Noah returned the folder to his bag and searched inside again, finally bringing out a large red toy car with a raised yellow button on top. “I brought you something to play with.”
Her brother laughed, and his arms made small spastic movements while his blue eyes focused on the car.
Noah pushed the button, and a loud siren sound wailed through the room while the headlights flashed on and off.
Her brother threw his head back and shrieked his laughter. “I wa-a-ant it. Can I ha-a-ave it?” High emotion made his speech less clear.
“Of course. I’ll teach you how to push the button. You have to work hard. I’ll leave it here so you can practice.” He placed the car in Bobby’s lap and helped him move his forearm to the yellow button. The siren filled the room, and Bobby laughed. No matter how many times he succeeded, he never failed to howl with joy.
After a time, the therapy moved to lower body exercises. With the help of the Hoyer lift, Acacia and Noah lowered her brother to a soft blanket on the carpet. Noah worked Bobby’s legs one at a time, increasing his flexibility and using every muscle.
Most of the movements were familiar to Acacia, as she did therapy with her brother every morning on the days he didn’t have a PT visit.
Noah’s shoulder muscles bunched and released, stretching the fabric of his scrub top as he moved Bobby’s legs. His long, supple back arched, and she imagined him naked, hovering above her bare breasts. She snapped her head up. God! Where in the hell had that come from?
Hopping off the couch, she strode into the kitchen for another cup of coffee. So it was true. After two years, she was desperate, lusting after the first male trapped in her presence. Leaning on the cabinet, she buried her face in her hands. The emptiness she lived with, day in and day out, overwhelmed her. After several moments, she gathered her courage. She was stronger than this. Strong enough to face this man. To face another day—alone.
Acacia reentered the living room as the session wrapped up, and she helped Noah put her brother in the lift, then back into his wheelchair.
Bobby was once a big man at six feet two inches and two hundred pounds. Now he weighed less with muscle loss but was still quite a handful.
A nurse’s aide from the Veterans Affairs Department assisted Acacia with Bobby’s bath three days a week. One day each week, she had a VA caregiver who stayed a short time with him while she ran errands and bought groceries. The rest of the time she was alone with him. This brought back the crushing weight she’d awakened with, and a deep sigh escaped her.
Noah raised a brow. “You okay?”
She spun away from him. How could she feel this way? Her brother was so vulnerable—so helpless. What kind of sister was she to dream of escape? Of a new life? A life without this responsibility? Hot blood rose up her neck. What would this man think of her if he knew she yearned to get away from this house—away from the weight that nearly knocked her to her knees on her bad days? She mumbled, “Uh, yeah. I’m fine.”
Still facing away, she said, “The car is a great idea. I can see where, over time, it may help Bobby gain more control over his arms. He certainly loves it. You’re the first one to see him as I do—as a little boy who wants to have fun. That’s really who he is now.”
“I gathered that from the notes in his file. I like to motivate my patients with fun things because so much of what I do is boring or hard work.”
She turned back, her face now under control. “Thank you. I’m sure you’ll be good for my brother.”
Later that morning, after feeding Bobby the breakfast he’d missed, Acacia retreated to the back porch, her safe place, where she had her container garden. The exquisite taste of a sun-ripened tomato, the crisp pop as she crunched into a fresh jalapeno pepper, or cooking with her home-grown herbs were her greatest pleasures.
Some of the morning’s tension eased. What had come over her when Noah was here? That sex fantasy was some kind of crazy. The last two grueling years had worn her strong resolve to care for her twin down to a ragged thing. She hardly recognized herself anymore. Physically she was thinner, honed to a strange, harder replica of herself. Emotionally, she was strung out, tuned to a raw edge.
But the worst part, what had become increasingly hard to bear, was the isolation. The four walls of her home had been closing in on her the past few months. The people she was close to were back in Howelton, in North Texas. While caring for her brother, she had no avenue to meet new people, to go out and blow off steam. Bone-deep, she felt the lack of friends, of family surrounding her. Though her best friend, Sarah, came as often as possible, her visits just weren’t enough. Way down at the bottom of Acacia’s soul there was a big, black nothing where Johnny used to be. Loving him back then, before Bobby, had filled her to the brim.
She missed it terribly. Romance. Having a man’s strong arms around her. Adoring everything about Johnny and planning her dream wedding with her friends. This was her darkest secret. How ugly was this need of hers when her poor brother had lost his body, his soul, serving his country? Everything that was Bobby had been blown up on a battlefield in Afghanistan. And little Acacia wanted romance? She couldn’t stomach herself sometimes.
After setting her now-empty iced-tea glass down on the table, she grabbed her gardening basket and shears. The spicy smells of her pepper and tomato plants called to her. Pruning and harvesting her vegetable garden was one of her most treasured joys. She chewed her lower lip. Noah had said he’d see her brother on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That gave her two days to get herself under control.
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