Anne Wakefield travels halfway around the world for love. But when she arrives in Canada from England at the end of World War Two, she discovers the handsome Canadian pilot she’d fallen in love with has married someone else. Heartbroken, she prepares to return to London, though she has nothing left there to return to. Her former fiancé’s mother makes a suggestion: marriage to her other son.
Badly wounded and scarred during the war, Erik Gustafson thinks he’s a poor substitute for his brother. Although he loves Anne almost from the first time he sees her, he cannot believe she would ever be able to love him as he is – especially as he might be after another operation on his bad leg. Anne sees the beauty of his heart. The cold prairie winter may test her courage, but can she prove to Erik that her love for him is real?
Anne rose and began gathering dishes and putting away food.
“You don’t have to do that,” Erik said.
She put the bread back in the cupboard, refusing to meet his gaze. “I can do my share.”
“Why don’t you go upstairs and get some rest, make an early night of it?”
She whirled around to glare at him, her eyes blazing. “No! I’m not a child! I don’t have to be mollycoddled and babysat. I spent six years in a war zone, hiding in bomb shelters, never having enough to eat. I worked in a hospital treating blitz victims with wounds so horrendous grown men would gag to look at them. I faced those horrors every day. Sometimes things were so bad I thought I couldn’t go on. But I did. Because I had to. And I’ll face things here, too. So don’t tell me to give up, because I won’t!”
Erik pushed himself out of his chair to face her, awed by her spirit and courage. She lifted her chin as if defying him to contradict her, her hands clenched at her sides. Her dark hair curled in wild abandon as it dried, framing her pale oval face like a halo. Her beauty and ferocity were magnificent.
“I think you’re the strongest woman I know.”
Her eyes widened in surprise, her hands unclenching. He caught the quiver of her chin as she fought to hold back tears.
“I made such a mess of things,” she whispered. “I’m sorry for all the fuss I caused everyone.”
Erik took a step toward her. “It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have let you go alone in the dark.”
“You didn’t know I would stupidly walk out onto thin ice.” She shook her head. “I wanted to help. I wanted to be useful. I can’t stand feeling so bloody useless.”
“You’re not useless. You’re an amazing woman. Anders is a fool for letting you go.”
She stared at him, her eyes filling with tears. “Thank you.”
He opened his arms and she stepped into them, wrapping her arms around his waist, clinging to him. He held her tightly, inhaling the sweet, clean scent of her, never wanting to let her go.
“Don’t cry. Everything’s all right now.”
“I know I’m being stupid. Tears don’t solve anything,” she said against his chest. “But I was so cold, and so scared. I thought I was going to die.”
He tightened his hold and kissed her hair. “Don’t think about it anymore. You’re safe now.”
He heard her sigh, felt her relax against him. “Yes. I’m safe.”
She lifted her head to look into his face, her dark eyes shiny with tears, her lips slightly parted, and Erik stared at her mouth, wanting desperately to kiss her, to capture her sweetness. He slowly lowered his mouth to hers. To his surprise, she didn’t run off or turn away in revulsion. He was so close her breath mingled with his, her breathing shallow and erratic. His heart slammed against his chest, his body thrumming with need. For the first time in over three years, he felt alive.
The outside door opened and slammed shut. Anne jumped back and took several steps away. She turned her head to hide her expression from him. A moment later Astrid and Ingrid entered the kitchen, each carrying two buckets of milk.
Anne poured hot water from the reservoir in the stove into the dishpan, avoiding any eye contact with him.
“Is everything all right?” Astrid asked, eyeing him closely.
“Everything’s fine,” Erik replied flatly. “Anne wants to do some washing up.”
“I can wash the separator once you’re done,” Anne said, referring to the machine used to separate the milk from the cream. It had many stainless steel parts that were tedious and difficult to clean but had to be kept spotless.
“Don’t worry about it, Anne,” Ingrid said as she poured a bucket of milk into the stainless steel bowl on the top of the separator. “You’ve had a difficult day. I can do it later.”
“No. I said I’ll do it.”
The determination in her voice had both women staring at her. Erik watched as Anne took a deep breath and briefly closed her eyes.
“Please, I need to do something. I need to keep busy. I don’t want to think anymore about…about what happened.”
Ingrid nodded, then began turning the handle on the separator. Astrid gave Anne’s shoulders a brief squeeze.
“I’ll empty the bathtub,” she said.
“I’ll help you, Ma.”
Erik followed his mother into the washroom, glad for the diversion. He affixed a hose to the bathtub drain and began emptying the water into a five-gallon pail. Astrid used a small dipper to scoop out water from the bathtub into another bucket.
“She’s a very beautiful woman, isn’t she?” she said quietly. “She’s a good person, too.”
“What’s your point, Ma?” He detached the hose.
“Just an observation. I like her, and I hate to see her go.”
“There’s no reason for her to stay. Anders is already married to someone else.” Erik hated the anger and jealousy he heard in his voice.
“Do you want her to stay?”
His heart thumped against his ribs. “It doesn’t matter what I want. She’s going back to England.”
“Perhaps if you gave her a reason to stay—“
“Ma, don’t.” She’d bolted from his arms as soon as the others walked through the door. The shock of her close call had lowered her defenses. That was the only reason she’d allowed him to hold her, and nearly kiss her.
He thought of Daphne, the beautiful English girl he’d fallen in love with. He’d seriously considered asking her to marry him. After he was wounded, Daphne had rushed to the hospital to see him. He’d never forget the revulsion on her face the first time she saw his scars. Why subject himself to that kind of rejection again?
Anne wanted his brother, not him.
And that would never change.
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About the Author
When Jana Richards read her first romance novel, she immediately knew two things: she had to commit the stories running through her head to paper, and they had to end with a happily ever after. She also knew she’d found what she was meant to do. Since then she’s never met a romance genre she didn’t like. She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and historical romance set in World War Two, in lengths ranging from short story to full length novel. Just for fun, she throws in generous helpings of humor, and the occasional dash of the paranormal. Her paranormal romantic suspense Seeing Things was a 2008 EPPIE finalist.
In her life away from writing, Jana is an accountant/admin assistant, a mother to two grown daughters, and a wife to her husband Warren. She enjoys golf, yoga, movies, concerts, travel and reading, not necessarily in that order. She and her husband live in Winnipeg, Canada with their Pug/Terrier cross Lou and several unnamed goldfish. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.jananarichards.com, and you can sign up for her newsletter here