Falling Hard

By: Pamela Clare
A Colorado High Country Novel


Many thanks to Michelle White, Jackie Turner, Shell Ryan, Pat Egan Fordyce, and Benjamin Alexander for their support while I wrote this book and for helping me to proofread.

Thanks to Benjamin Collins for answering some physics questions. You’ve answered my questions on so many subjects. You’re kind of a big deal that way.

Special thanks to Jessica Scott—author, PhD, US Army captain, and general badass—for answering questions related to the U.S. Army and for helping me in so many ways since the nightmare that was 2014. I am deeply grateful.

Many thanks to the members of the Scarlet Springs Readers Group on Facebook, whose enthusiasm for this series inspires me.

Chapter 1

January 5

Ellie Meeks hurried across the grocery store parking lot, walking as fast as she could with a toddler in each arm and a fever of one hundred two. She kept her head bowed, an icy wind driving snowflakes into her face and making her shiver. The last thing she’d needed was to get sick and miss work again.

Damned streptococcus microbes.

She didn’t have to be an RN to know that’s what it was. Daisy had come down with strep three days ago, and now she and Daniel both had fevers and sore throats. She’d had to leave her shift at the hospital early and hadn’t even made it to her car before her mother had called to say Daniel was running a fever, too.

The store’s automatic doors opened for her, a blast of warm air hitting her in the face. She carried the kids to a double-seated shopping cart, set them in their seats one at a time, and buckled their safety belts.

She swallowed—ow!—and tried to put on a cheerful smile. “Who wants macaroni and cheese for supper?”

Neither Daniel nor Daisy showed any sign they’d heard her, tears on Daniel’s flushed cheeks, Daisy sucking her thumb. That was all right. Ellie didn’t have the energy for anything else, so Kraft Dinner it was.

She moved through the aisles, trying to remember everything on the list she’d left at home. Eggs. Milk. Orange juice. Butter. Oatmeal. Bananas. Hot dogs. Two boxes of macaroni and cheese. Laundry detergent. Fabric softener. TP. A few cans of chicken noodle soup and peach slices just to be safe. More children’s Tylenol. A new menstrual cup because she’d lost the other down the toilet in an act of sheer brilliance.

Every woman needs strep and her period at the same time.

She turned toward the pharmacy window to pick up the prescriptions for amoxicillin that her father had called in for them—and almost ran into Mrs. Beech, her old high school English teacher. “Oh! I’m sorry, Mrs. Beech. Excuse me.”

She would have walked on, but Mrs. Beech came to a full stop in front of her cart, her gaze fixed on the twins. “Are these your little ones?”

No, they’re just some random kids I grabbed in the parking lot.

Ellie bit back that grumpy response. That was her fever talking. “Yes. They’ve been sick with strep throat, so you might not want to get too close.”

“How old are they?”

“They’ll be three in April.”

“Aw.” Mrs. Beech beamed at Daniel. “You look just like your daddy. He was a student of mine a long time ago. God rest his soul.”

A shard of pain lanced through Ellie’s chest. Not that Mrs. Beech had said anything Ellie hadn’t said herself. Daniel had his father’s dark hair, his blue eyes, his nose, even his smile. Still, it hurt to hear Mrs. Beech talk about Dan in the past tense.

“You must thank God every day that these two little ones came into your life. It’s a way of reminding you of Dan, keeping a piece of him with you.”

Ellie didn’t need anything to remind her of Dan. He’d been her husband, for God’s sake, the love of her life. She had to grit her teeth. “Yes.”

Daniel rested his head on his sister’s shoulder, whimpered.

Ellie couldn’t blame him. If his throat hurt as much as hers did …

She touched her hand to Daniel’s forehead. “He’s burning up with fever. I need to get them home.”

“I hope he feels better soon.”

“Thanks.” Ellie pushed the cart down the aisle, fuming.

God, she hated it when people said that—as if giving birth to twins six months after her husband’s death somehow made losing him easier to bear. Yes, she was grateful for her children and loved them with her heart and soul. But two new lives couldn’t erase the pain of another that was lost. Why was that so hard for people to understand?

She reached the pharmacy window and found herself blinking back tears.

“Hey, Ellie.” Herb Bosworth, who’d been the town’s pharmacist for the past forty years, met her at the window, carrying two small white paper bags. “You look awful. I’m sorry you and Daniel caught this, too. It’s going around.”

“Thanks.” She took the prescriptions and set them in the cart.

“Feel better soon.”

“Thanks. I’m sure we will.”

Daniel started crying in the checkout lane, and nothing Ellie could say or do comforted him. Daisy, who adored her brother and was an empathetic little girl, started to cry, too. Ellie was tempted to join them. She debated opening the acetaminophen and giving Daniel a dose right here in the store but decided against it. Daniel didn’t like taking medicine, and fighting with him in public would only upset him more.

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