“But you are… You’re going to run a Christmas tree farm?”
“At least temporarily. Everything’s ready to go now, which means
finishing out the year, or the next few years, is guaranteed money in the bank
to begin other ventures. There’s contracts already made with outfits around the
country, truckers on hand to drive the things to their destinations. And he
owns that small lot down on the main street of town. So, I’m all set not only
to sell this year’s crop around the country, but also sell it here.”
“But you don’t… You don’t actually want to…be a Christmas tree farmer?”
“My ultimate goal is cattle,” he said.
She’d had no idea. None at all. Not that he wanted his own ranch, not
that he’d been unhappy at the school. Was he unhappy at the school? Was he
“What does this mean for your position at the school?”
“I will be leaving. Which I will be talking to Gabe about later tonight.”
“With West Caldwell coming into town, there’s no need for me to hang
around. He’s going to be working on the ranch.”
“Your half brother that you’ve never met. That’s putting a lot of stock
in a man you don’t even know.”
“Gabe figures we owe him. And, since Gabe is awash in guilt over the
whole half sibling thing, I figure that works in my favor.”
As much as Ellie loved Hank Dalton, the patriarch of the Dalton clan, it
was becoming more and more clear that he was problematic. A couple of years ago
it had been discovered that he had a daughter that none of them had known
about. McKenna Tate. She’d come into town after discovering the identity of her
family, and after some adjusting, the Dalton family had welcomed her into the
full. But on the heels of that revelation had come another one.
There were three more children. All adults now.
Hank had never known about them. But Tammy had.
It had changed the relationship, that reveal.
But Hank was awash enough in the guilt from the actions in his past, that
the two of them were trying to work through it to an extent. And Ellie really
hoped that they did. For some selfish reasons, if she was honest. Because she
loved them, and they were the closest thing to a family for her, and she didn’t
want to lose them.
“But… Don’t you want to wait and see if it’s going to work out?”
“No,” Caleb said. “I don’t want to work at the school forever. This is
what I want.”
That made her…angry and she couldn’t figure out exactly why. He deserved
to have dreams; of course he did. But she’d just…assumed he was happy with the
way things were. She’d somehow meshed his dreams together with hers.
Had decided that what she was doing with his family ranch, with the
school, was what he wanted, too.
But if she didn’t feel great about him fighting fires anymore, maybe he
didn’t, either. And she’d never asked. She’d only thought about it in terms of
her own comfort. That wasn’t right at all.
Still, the idea of him having his own endeavors, his own life farther
away from her and not right all around her while they worked…
She needed him. She really had. She still did.
She didn’t like this…this change. But she should be happy for him, and it
made her feel… She felt bad. And she didn’t like feeling bad about something
that was good for her friend.
“I’d… Well, congratulations,” she said. Even though she didn’t feel like
congratulating him at all. She felt like having a tantrum.
She really didn’t know why.
“Thank you,” he said, his mouth quirking up into a half smile that made
it very clear he was well aware she wasn’t having the best reaction to his
“I’ll miss seeing you.” The words more plaintive than she intended.
“I’m not moving away,” he said.
“Yeah, but I see you all the time,” she protested.
“You will still see me all the time.”
“But you won’t be dropping Amelia off when I want you to.”
Her stomach twisted, but that wasn’t what was upsetting her. She knew it
And then it hit her, as strongly as that melancholy had when she’d
realized it was nearly the Christmas season.
This phase of life was over.
The one where he was here to carry her. Where she had a crutch to get her
through what life looked like without Clint. Being a single mother.
It was changing.
It had begun to change months ago, when the idea for the school had come
about. She had gone back to work.
But she’d been a fledgling, and he’d been there to help her.
Maybe she needed to make some changes, too.
Maybe, instead of dreading Christmas, she needed to get started on her