The minute she steps foot in his dark, miserable house, Sophie Alexander knows Josh McClaren is not her usual patient. But the single mom and physical therapist is desperate to make a life for her and her young son. And she’s definitely no quitter! It’s obvious to Sophie that handsome, cantankerous Josh hides his pain behind a wall of grief. Little by little, Sophie and her son, Eli, do more than help Josh find his faith again. They make Josh wonder if there’s a family in his future after all….
Editorial Reviews Excerpt.
Sophie stepped out of her ancient Taurus sedan but lingered at the open door, staring at the massive dog on the porch of the sprawling cabin. The dog stared back at her with laserlike intensity, head lowered and tail stiff.
It was not a welcoming pose.
But set back in the deep shadows of the pine trees crowding so close, the cabin itself— with all the windows dark— seemed even more menacing than a wolfhound mix with very sharp teeth.
Don’t worry about the dog, Grace Dearborn had said with a breezy smile during Sophie’s orientation at the county home health department offices. He’s quite the bluffer. It’s the owner who is more likely to bite.
From the spooky appearance of the dwelling, Sophie could imagine the home health care administrator’s words about this client being true in the most literal sense. Ominous clouds had rolled in earlier this afternoon, bringing heavy rains and lightning, and from the looks of the sky, the current respite would be brief.
So what kind of person would be sitting in there, in all that gloomy darkness?
She looked at the folder in her hand again.
Dr. Josh McLaren. Widower. Lives alone. No local support system. Declined home health aides. Postsurgical healing of comminuted fracture, right leg with a knee replacement. Surgical repair of fractured .1.-4 and L-5 lumbar vertebrae, multiple comminuted fractures, right hand.
There were no details on the accident itself. Had he been hit by a truck? She shuddered, imagining the pain he’d been through. The surgeries and therapy had to have been as bad as the injuries themselves.
The only other documentation in the folder were the doctor’s physical therapy orders dated last year, originating from Lucas General Hospital in Minneapolis, and some scant, frustrated progress notes written by her various physical therapist predecessors.
The last one had ignored professional convention by inserting his personal feelings into his notes.
The man is surly and impossible.
Ten minutes spent arguing about the need for therapy. Five minutes of deep massage of his right leg and strengthening exercises before he ordered me out of his house.
And the final note
I give up. Doctor or not, McLaren is a highly unpleasant client and I will not be coming back here.
Sophie scanned the documents again, searching or a birth date or mention of the man’s age, which was basic information present in the other nine case ;harts she’d been assigned. Thus far, nothing.
Maybe this guy was an old duffer, like her grand-ather. Crotchety and isolated and clinging to what-ver measure of independence he could manage.
This morning, Grace had studied Sophie’s home risit schedule before handing it over, and she’d made it clear once again that Sophie had to succeed with very physical therapy client, to the limits of their potential, and that she’d be closely evaluating Sophie’s progress.
The job was temporary— just three months while ;overing for the regular therapist who’d gone to Chicago for some intensive advanced training. Excel-ence was expected on a daily basis, Grace had emphasized. But if Sophie did exceptionally well, Grace would try to push the county board to approve hiring her on a permanent basis.
The thought had lifted Sophie’s heart with joy, though now some of her giddy excitement faded. She set her jaw. If her ability to stay in Aspen Creek hinged on those stipulations, then no one— not even this difficult old man— was going to stand in her way. Far too much depended on it.
Buddy, I’m going to overwhelm you with kindness, and your mean ole dog, too, she muttered under her breath as she pawed through a grocery sack on the front seat of her car. See how you like that.
Withdrawing a small can, she peeled off the outer plastic lid, pulled the tab to open the can and held it high. Salmon, she crooned. Come and get it.
It took a minute for the scent to drift over to the cabin. The dog’s head jerked up. He sniffed the breeze, then he cautiously started across the stretch of grass between the cabin and driveway.
She stayed in the lee of her open car door, ready to leap back inside at the least sign of aggression. But by the time the dog reached her front bumper his tongue was lolling and his tail wagging.
She grabbed a plastic spoon on her dashboard— a remnant of her last trip to a Dairy Queen— and scooped up a chunk of the pungent, pink fish. She
dropped it on the grass and the dog wolfed it down, his tail wagging even faster. Friends?
She held out a cautious hand and he licked it, his eyes riveted on the can in her other hand. Just one bite. When I come out, I’ll give you one more.
His entire body wagged as he followed her to the cabin door.
No lights shone through the windows. She knocked. Then knocked again as loud as she could and listened for any signs of movement.
What if.what if the old guy had passed on?
Her heart in her throat, she framed her face with her hands and pressed her nose to a pane of glass, trying to peer into the gloom. Knocked again. And then she quietly tried the doorknob.
It turned easily in her hand. She pulled the door open, just an inch. Hello? Anyone here? She raised her voice. I’m from the home health agency.