Staking His Claim(4)

By: Lynda Chance

And now Elaina was trapped, with just one semester of nursing school under her belt, she knew she didn't want to go back. She'd been struggling with it for several months now. She didn't want to be around sick people any longer. If push came to shove and she had to nurse another loved one, she knew she could find the inner strength somewhere, but as a career choice, it wasn't going to work. She didn't want to be around death and sickness; she desperately needed a break.

The semester had started only two weeks after her mother had died. Before she had time to think or plan, with the urging of Aunt Janie, she had found herself enrolled and going to school. Going to school for something that she didn't aspire to be. There were many wonderful nurses; she knew that and was thankful to them all for the care her mother had received in the hospital. But it was a calling that unfortunately, she didn't have.

She was just so tired. Tired of it all.

She needed some time off, some time to herself, where she didn't have to constantly be going to school and studying. She didn't mind getting a job, and in fact was looking forward to earning her own money, but she needed something that would give her the evenings free, so she could just be herself and chill.

Was that too selfish a thing to want? Guilt ate at her knowing it would be going against her mom's hopes and dreams for her. But what about her hopes and dreams? What about having friends, being young, dating? She hadn't even had a date since high school.

She'd met a few people at college, young men who had been interested, but for the first few months her grief was still too fresh to even consider it. And lately, the crushing workload left no time for a social life.

She sighed and closed her eyes.

She just wanted some peace for awhile.


On Monday, mid-morning, Elaina stood next to her uncle's farm truck at the feed store and watched it being loaded. This small town was the nearest one to the ranch, and at ten miles away, it boasted less than a thousand people in population. She'd been here several times in the last six months since her mother had died and Janie had married Brian. She really liked the small town.

For the first thirteen years of her life, Elaina had been raised an army brat. Just as soon as she made friends and got used to a school, her father upped and moved them. It hadn't been easy. She longed for a real home and solid roots.

Everyone in this small town was friendly, and as she wanted to be helpful, when the subject came up, she had quickly offered to make the drive for supplies.

She stood and chatted with the boy loading the truck, enjoying the laid-back moment having nothing more pressing than getting back to the ranch with the supplies.

He was about her age, maybe a year or two younger, maybe older. This was the third time in the last six months she had spoken to him since making her temporary home with her aunt and uncle. It was also the third time he had asked her out. She was actually contemplating saying yes this time. He was good-looking and he wasn't too pushy.

Although he didn't make her heart beat faster, he was sweet and cute and seemed to be someone she could enjoy spending some time with.

She continued to smile softly at him as he tried to cajole her into going out with him. "You know me now. You can't keep using that excuse forever."

She was vaguely aware of a big, black pickup truck pulling into the parking lot as she answered with a smile in her voice. "It's not an excuse. I only found out your name today, Trevor." She stressed his name, trying out a soft, flirty tone that she hadn't wanted or attempted to use in almost four years.

She watched the muscles ripple under his dusty red t-shirt as he dropped another fifty pound bag of deer corn in the back of the truck. He turned back to her, lifted the next bag, and stared down at her. "I'll take you to Uvalde tonight. We can catch a movie and--"

A dark, hard voice from behind them cut him off and intruded on the personal conversation. "Can't do that, Trev. I need you this week. I've got forty protein feeders that need to be filled."

She didn't turn to face the man behind her, but she recognized that voice easily. Raul Vega stood behind Elaina, his hard words interrupting her peace. Tension jolted through her from the impact of his body so close to hers. She shifted restlessly but continued to face Trevor as a frustrated expression crossed the younger man's features.

"Damn, Raul--"

"You were supposed to get to it last week." His voice was dark, too smooth, too controlled.

"Yeah, I know. Mac needed me late every night," Trevor answered.

"You still want the extra work? I can find somebody else, easy, if you don't," Raul softly threatened.

The younger man let out a puff of air. "Yeah, I want the work." Trevor glanced down at Elaina and his face softened as his eyes ran over her. "Another time, pretty girl."

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