The Forest Ranger's Rescue

By: Leigh Bale

Chapter One

Jillian Russell stared at the meter on the gas pump in stunned disbelief. Holding the nozzle, she listened as the liquid gold rushed into her car’s fuel tank. Having just arrived in town, her empty gas tank sucked it in. She figured she should fill up before going home. After Mom’s frantic phone call late last night, there was no telling when she might get another chance.

Home. A white-frame house with blue trim in Bartlett, Idaho. The small logging town where Jill had been raised. So small, it didn’t even warrant a single traffic light. Population eight hundred and thirty-nine.

Almost everyone here earned their livelihood off of the lush ponderosa pine that blanketed the broad-shouldered mountains surrounding the town. Jill’s family included.

“Hi, Jill!”

Lifting her gaze, she looked past the blue pickup truck parked behind her car. Harvey Garson stood outside his grocery store across the deserted street, watering a clay pot filled with purple pansies. The bright flowers did little to hide the peeling paint of his shabby two-story building. Several empty offices lined Main Street, their vacant windows filled with dust and cobwebs. The poor economy hadn’t been easy on this community. The bank and county courthouse down the road were new, complete with tan stucco and wide garden boxes planted with yellow tulips. The only modern buildings in town.

Jill waved and forced herself to sound cheerful. “Hello, there.”

“You in town long?” Harvey yelled as water cascaded from the spout of his watering can.

She hoped not. But that depended on Mom and Alan, her younger brother by two years. “Just a few days, I think.”

“Hopefully we’ll see you at church on Sunday.” With another wave, Harvey set the watering can beside the flowerpot and slipped back inside his dingy store.

Jill released a sigh of relief, glad the conversation had ended. She hoped she wasn’t in town long enough to attend church. She was not staying in this one-dog town any longer than necessary. The dreaded third degree she received from old friends every time she came home was extra incentive not to stick around. You couldn’t expect much less in a place this size. Everyone knew everyone else and considered them family. They meant well, but she had no desire to share her life with them. Or explain about her adulterous husband and recent divorce. The pain still felt too raw.

Just then, Larry Newton, a boy she’d graduated from high school with, drove by and honked his horn. At the age of twenty-eight, he wasn’t a boy anymore. Not with a wife and two kids.

Forcing a smile to her lips, Jill lifted her hand. She couldn’t help feeling that true love and a family of her own had passed her by. After five years of marriage, she’d discovered her ex-husband had cheated on her. Not once, but many times. And then the harshest blow yet.

He’d said he never really loved her at all.

What a fool she’d been. So trusting. So naive. But no more. She was an educated professional woman with a special education career she loved. She didn’t need a man. She didn’t need anyone. Or at least, she kept telling herself that.

The cumbersome nozzle clicked off and Jill lifted it back into the holding bracket. With a few quick twists of her wrist, she put the cap back on her gas tank. She was determined not to let the cruelty of the past destroy her future. Determined to enjoy her summer break. Maybe being home was the distraction she needed. She wanted consistency in her life. Boring could be good sometimes. And nothing much ever changed in Bartlett.

Nothing except her.

Stepping past the melee of pumps and a tall garbage can, she headed toward the small convenience store to pay her bill.

“Evie! Wait!”

A man’s frantic yell drew Jill’s attention toward the store. Ignoring the man’s plea, a blond-haired girl who looked about six dashed from the store and into the driveway.

Out of her peripheral vision, Jill caught the streak of another car racing toward the child. Without thinking, she lunged into the driveway, scooped the girl into her arms and darted out of harm’s way just in time. The driver slammed on his brakes, his car squealing in protest. Jill stood sandwiched between two gas pumps, clutching little Evie to her chest. The driver, a teenage boy with sandy brown hair and freckles, glared his disapproval, then sped on past.

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