After saying his goodbyes, he jumped up from his seat and asked Sophie to wrap his sandwich as a to-go meal. As he left the Moose Café, Liam began to fervently pray.
Dear Lord. Please help me bridge the gap between Ruby and me. I don’t want to walk in fear anymore. The past shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. You have given us this wondrous gift. I want to celebrate Ruby’s return without looking over my shoulder.
* * *
“I’m so excited! I can’t wait to see Auntie Honor’s animals.”
Aidan’s enthusiastic voice from the back seat served as a joyful reminder of what this outing was all about. Although she was curious about Honor’s job and the animals, her true joy would be in
seeing it all through her son’s eyes. He was rapidly becoming the center of her world.
“This is a real treat for us,” Ruby said, observing him in the rearview mirror. “Don’t forget to thank Honor for inviting us.”
“I won’t,” Aidan chirped, sounding like a contented baby bird.
She wished that her current mood was more in line with Aidan’s cheerful outlook on life. Ruby didn’t know how to explain the feelings coursing through her. Ever since the blowup with Liam yesterday, her mind felt like mush. She kept replaying it over and over again in her mind, wondering where she’d gone wrong. She had acted on instinct and stood up for herself. Liam had been tense and moody. Ruby still felt furious about his comment regarding Aidan. Her whole body tightened just thinking about it.
Why did she feel so out of sorts? People argued. But by all accounts, she and Liam had been sheer perfection together. She bit her lip, wondering if the conflict between them stemmed from her. After all, she wasn’t the same Ruby. Not really.
Her chest tightened painfully at the thought of Liam. Although she was still angry at him, a part of her wished he was here with them. The word heartsick came to mind. It didn’t make sense since she wasn’t in love with Liam, but she couldn’t ignore that her feelings for him were growing by leaps and bounds. Perhaps that was the reason for her feeling ill at ease. She was beginning to care for him, and the harsh words they had exchanged yesterday put them at odds.
She knew she should just live in the moment. Her therapist in Colorado had taught her how to focus on living in the here and now rather than dwelling on the past. That’s what she needed to do right now instead of rehashing the terrible scene with her husband. She prayed that God would help them fix things.
Ruby let out a sigh of appreciation as the stunning Alaskan vista began to unfold around her. They were heading into a more remote area of Love where signs of habitation were scarce. Gigantic, snow-covered trees dominated the scenery. Mountains were so close she felt as if she could reach out and touch them. There were no houses or shops or cute little cafés that served up coffee drinks. Honor’s wildlife center was in the boondocks.
As they pulled into the entrance, Ruby noticed the stallions in the paddock. They were beautiful, graceful animals, roaming wild and free in the snow. She slowed the car so Aidan could get a good look. He oohed and aahed from the back seat, making her chuckle with his over-the-top appreciation of the horses.
Ruby followed the signs along the way, turning left to continue on toward the main house.
Before they had even exited the car, Honor came running out of the ranch-style house. Dressed casually in blue jeans, a brightly colored T-shirt and a bomber-style jacket, she looked relaxed and enthused.
“Welcome!” she said, extending her arms wide. Aidan ran straight toward her and catapulted himself into her arms. “Hey, buddy. I’m so glad you guys came by today.”
Honor, with her fresh-faced beauty, chestnut-colored hair and warm blue-gray eyes looked radiant.
“Thank you for inviting us, Auntie Honor,” Aidan said, looking over at Ruby for confirmation he’d done a good job of following her instructions.
Ruby smiled at him, sending him an encouraging nod. “Aidan almost couldn’t sleep last night. He was so excited. And to be honest, so am I.”
“I hope you didn’t have any trouble finding this place,” Honor said, reaching out and touching her arm.
“Not at all,” Ruby said. “I had my GPS and a set of directions I printed out. It gave me an opportunity to really enjoy the scenery.”
“Well, you two made my day by coming to visit. I love it out here, but it does get a bit lonely.”
“But you have the animals,” Aidan chimed in. “Don’t they keep you company?”
“You’re right about that, Aidan. The only problem is that they don’t talk to me when I ask them things,” she said with a chuckle.
“What animals do you have here?” Aidan asked, looking around him as if he expected one to pop up right before his eyes.
Honor bent so she was eye-level with her nephew. She reached out and pulled his hat down over his ears. “So far we have eagles, wolves, moose, foxes and a lot more. Why don’t I show you around and you can see for yourself?”
“Sounds like a plan.” Ruby zipped up her coat. The December temperature had dipped even lower than it had been over the last few days. She glanced over at Aidan. His coat wasn’t fastened all the way up. She reached over and adjusted it so that his neck wasn’t exposed. Alaskan weather was no joke. Hypothermia could set in at any time of the year, mostly when the temps were between thirty and fifty degrees Fahrenheit.
Hmm. How do I know that? She smiled at the realization that more and more information was coming back to her.
All of a sudden they heard the low rumbling of an engine and the sound of tires crunching on the snow-packed road. Honor raised her hand to shade her eyes from the sun.