New and Upcoming Releases

Sullivan's Crossing Book # 2
April 18, 2017
MIRA Hardcover

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Any Day Now

The highly anticipated sequel to #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr’s What We Find transports readers back to Sullivan’s Crossing. The rustic campground at the crossroads of the Colorado and Continental Divide trails welcomes everyone—whether you’re looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or a whole new lease on life. It’s a wonderful place where good people face their challenges with humor, strength and love.

For Sierra Jones, Sullivan’s Crossing is meant to be a brief stopover. She’s put her troubled past behind her but the path forward isn’t yet clear. A visit with her big brother Cal and his new bride, Maggie, seems to be the best option to help her get back on her feet.

Not wanting to burden or depend on anyone, Sierra is surprised to find the Crossing offers so much more than a place to rest her head. Cal and Maggie welcome her into their busy lives and she quickly finds herself bonding with Sully, the quirky campground owner who is the father figure she’s always wanted. But when her past catches up with her, it’s a special man and an adorable puppy who give her the strength to face the truth and fight for a brighter future. In Sullivan’s Crossing Sierra learns to cherish the family you are given and the family you choose.

Sullivan's Crossing Book # 1
February 28, 2017
MIRA Paperback

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What We Find

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Virgin River and Thunder Point series explores the healing powers of rural Colorado in a story of one woman’s journey to finding the happiness she’s long been missing.

Under extreme pressure, neurosurgeon Maggie Sullivan knows she needs to slow down before she burns out completely, and the best place she can do that is Sullivan’s Crossing.

Named for Maggie’s great-grandfather, the land and charming general store at the crossroads of the Colorado and the Continental Divide trails now belong to Maggie’s eccentric father, Sully. She relishes the opportunity to indulge in his simple way of life.

But Maggie’s world is rocked and she must take responsibility for the Crossing. When a quiet and serious-looking hiker, Cal Jones, offers to lend a hand, Maggie is suspicious of his motives—until she finds out the true reason for his deliberate isolation.

Though Cal and Maggie each struggle with loss and loneliness, the time they spend together gives Maggie hope for something brighter just on the horizon…if only they can learn to find peace and healing—and perhaps love—with each other.

Originally published April 2016 in hardcover and eBook.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Maggie sought refuge in the stairwell between the sixth and seventh floors at the far west end of the hospital, the steps least traveled by interns and residents racing from floor to floor, from emergency to emergency. She sat on the landing between two flights, feet on the stairs, arms crossed on her knees, her face buried in her arms. She didn’t understand how her heart could feel as if it was breaking every day. She thought of herself as much stronger.

“Well, now, some things never change,” a familiar voice said. She looked up at her closest friend, Jaycee Kent. They had gone to med school together, though residency had separated them. Jaycee was an OB and Maggie, a neurosurgeon. And … they had hidden in stairwells to cry all those years ago when med-school life was kicking their asses. Most of their fellow students and instructors were men. They refused to let the men see them cry.

Maggie gave a wet, burbly huff of laughter. “How’d you find me?” Maggie asked.

“How do you know you’re not in my spot?”

“Because you’re happily married and have a beautiful daughter?”

“And my hours suck, I’m sleep-deprived, have as many bad days as good and …” Jaycee sat down beside Maggie. “And at least my hormones are cooperating at the moment. Maggie, you’re just taking call for someone, right? Just to stay ahead of the bills?”

“Since the practice shut down,” Maggie said. “And since the lawsuit was filed.”

“You need a break. You’re recovering from a miscarriage and your hormones are wonky. You need to get away, especially away from the emergency room. Take some time off. Lick your wounds. Heal.”

“He dumped me,” Maggie said.

Jaycee was clearly shocked. “What?”

“He broke up with me. He said he couldn’t take it anymore. My emotional behavior, my many troubles. He suggested professional help.”

Jaycee was quiet. “I’m speechless,” she finally said. “What a huge ass.”

“Well, I was crying all the time,” she said, sniffing some more. “If I wasn’t with him, I cried when I talked to him on the phone. I thought I was okay with the idea of no children. I’m almost thirty-seven, I work long hours, I was with a good man who was just off a bad marriage and already had a child …”

“I’ll give you everything but the good man,” Jaycee said. “He’s a doctor, for God’s sake. Doesn’t he know that all you’ve been through can take a toll? Remove all the stress and you still had the miscarriage! People tend to treat a miscarriage like a heavy period but it’s a death. You lost your baby. You have to take time to grieve.”

“Gospel,” Maggie said, rummaging for a tissue and giving her nose a hearty blow. “I really felt it on that level. When I found out I was pregnant, it took me about fifteen minutes to start seeing the baby, loving her. Or him.”

“Not to beat a dead horse, but you have some hormone issues playing havoc on your emotions. Listen, shoot out some emails tonight. Tell the ones on the need-to-know list you’re taking a week or two off.”

“No one knows about the pregnancy but you and Andrew.” “You don’t have to explain—everyone knows about your practice, your ex-partners, the lawsuit. Frankly, your colleagues are amazed you’re still standing. Get out of town or something. Get some rest.”

“You might be right,” Maggie said. “These cement stairwells are killing me.”

Jaycee put an arm around her. “Just like old times, huh?”

The last seven or eight miles to Sullivan’s Crossing was nothing but mud, and Maggie’s cream-colored Toyota SUV was coated up to the windows. This was not exactly a surprise. It had rained all week in Denver, now that she thought about it. March was typically the most unpredictable and sloppiest month of the year, especially in the mountains. If it wasn’t rain it could be snow. But Maggie had had such a lousy year the weather barely crossed her mind.

Last year had produced so many medical, legal and personal complications that her practice had shut down a few months ago. She’d been picking up work from other practices, covering for doctors on call here and there and working ER Level 1 Trauma while she tried to figure out how to untangle the mess her life had become. This, on her best friend and doctor’s advice, was a much needed break. After sending a few emails and making a few phone calls she was driving to her dad’s house.

She knew she was probably suffering from depression. Exhaustion and general misery. It would stand to reason. Her schedule could be horrific, and the tension had been terrible lately. It was about a year ago that two doctors in her practice had been accused of fraud and malpractice and suspended from seeing patients pending an investigation that would very likely lead to a trial. Even though she had no knowledge of the incidents, there was a scandal, and it stank on her. There’d been wild media attention, and she was left alone trying to hold a wilting practice together. Then the parents of a boy who died from injuries sustained in a terrible car accident while on her watch filed a wrongful death suit. Against her.

It seemed impossible fate could find one more thing to stack on her already teetering pile of troubles. Hah. Never challenge fate. Hah. She found out she was pregnant.

It was an accident, of course. She’d been seeing Andrew for a couple of years. She lived in Denver and he in Aurora, since they both had demanding careers, and they saw each other when they could—a night here, a night there. When they could manage a long weekend, it was heaven. She wanted more, but Andrew was an ER doctor and also the divorced father of an eight-year-old daughter. But they had constant phone contact. Multiple texts and emails every day. She counted on him; he was her main support.

Maggie wasn’t sure she’d ever marry and have a family, but she was happy with her surprise. It was the one good thing in a bad year. Andrew, however, was not happy. He was still in divorce recovery, though it had been three years. He and his ex still fought about support and custody and visits. Maggie didn’t understand why. Andrew didn’t seem to know what to do with his daughter when he had her. He immediately suggested terminating the pregnancy. He said they could revisit the issue in a couple of years if it turned out to be that important to her and if their relationship was thriving.

She couldn’t imagine terminating. Just because Andrew was hesitant? She was thirty-six! How much time did she have to revisit the issue?

Although she hadn’t told Andrew, she decided she was going to keep the baby, no matter what that meant for their relationship.

Then she had a miscarriage.

Grief-stricken and brokenhearted, she sank lower. Exactly two people knew about the pregnancy and miscarriage—Andrew and Jaycee. Maggie cried gut-wrenching tears every night. Sometimes she couldn’t even wait to get home from work and started crying the second she pulled the car door closed. And there were those stairwell visits. She cried on the phone to Andrew; cried in his arms as he tried to comfort her, all the while knowing he was relieved.

And then he’d said, “You know what, Maggie? I just can’t do it anymore. We need a time-out. I can’t prop you up, can’t bolster you. You have to get some help, get your emotional life back on track or something. You’re sucking the life out of me, and I’m not equipped to help you.”

“Are you kidding me?” she had demanded. “You’re dropping me when I’m down? When I’m only three weeks beyond a miscarriage?”

And in typical Andrew fashion he had said, “That’s all I got, baby.”

It was really and truly the first moment she had realized it was all about him. And that was pretty much the last straw.

She packed a bunch of suitcases. Once she got packing, she couldn’t seem to stop. She drove southwest from Denver to her father’s house, south of Leadville and Fairplay, and she hadn’t called ahead. She did call her mother, Phoebe, just to say she was going to Sully’s and she wasn’t sure how long she’d stay. At the moment she had no plan except to escape from that life of persistent strain, anxiety and heartache.

It was early afternoon when she drove up to the country store that had been her great-grandfather’s, then her grandfather’s, now her father’s. Her father, Harry Sullivan, known by one and all as Sully, was a fit and hardy seventy and showed no sign of slowing down and no interest in retiring. She just sat in her car for a while, trying to figure out what she was going to say to him. How could she phrase it so it didn’t sound like she’d just lost a baby and had her heart broken?

Beau, her father’s four-year-old yellow Lab, came trotting around the store, saw her car, started running in circles barking, then put his front paws up on her door, looking at her imploringly.

Frank Masterson, a local who’d been a fixture at the store for as long as Maggie could remember, was sitting on the porch, nursing a cup of coffee with a newspaper on his lap. One glance told her the campground was barely occupied—only a couple of pop-up trailers and tents on campsites down the road toward the lake.

She saw a man sitting outside his tent in a canvas camp chair, reading. She had expected the sparse population—it was the middle of the week, middle of the day and the beginning of March, the least busy month of the year.

Frank glanced at her twice but didn’t even wave. Beau trotted off, disappointed, when Maggie didn’t get out of the car.

She still hadn’t come up with a good entry line. Five minutes passed before her father walked out of the store, across the porch and down the steps, Beau following. She lowered the window. “Hi, Maggie,” he said, leaning on the car’s roof. “Wasn’t expecting you.”

“It was spur-of-the-moment.”

He glanced into her backseat at all the luggage. “How long you planning to stay?”

She shrugged. “Didn’t you say I was always welcome? Anytime?”

He smiled at her. “Sometimes I run off at the mouth.”

“I need a break from work. From all that crap. From everything.”

“Understandable. What can I get you?”

“Is it too much trouble to get two beers and a bed?” she asked, maybe a little sarcastically.

“Coors okay by you?”

“Sure.”

“Go on and park by the house. There’s beer in the fridge, and I haven’t sold your bed yet.”

“That’s gracious of you,” she said.

“You want some help to unload your entire wardrobe?” he asked.

“Nope. I don’t need much for now. I’ll take care of it.”

“Then I’ll get back to work and we’ll meet up later.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she said.

Maggie dragged only one bag into the house, the one with her toothbrush, pajamas and clean jeans. When she was a little girl and both her parents and her grandfather lived on this property, she had been happy most of the time. The general store, the locals and campers, the mountains, lake and valley, wildlife and sunshine kept her constantly cheerful. But the part of her that had a miserable mother, a father who tended to drink a little too much and bickering parents had been forlorn. Then, when she was six, her mother had had enough of hardship, rural living, driving Maggie a long distance to a school that Phoebe found inadequate. Throw in an unsatisfactory husband and that was all she could take. Phoebe took Maggie away to Chicago.

Maggie didn’t see Sully for several years, and her mother married Walter Lancaster, a prominent neurosurgeon with lots of money. Maggie had hated it all. Chicago, Walter, the big house, the private school, the blistering cold and concrete landscape. She hated the sound of traffic and emergency vehicles. One thing she could recall in retrospect, it brought her mother to life. Phoebe was almost entirely happy, the only smudge on her brightness being her ornery daughter. They had switched roles.

By the time Maggie was eleven she was visiting her dad regularly—first a few weekends, then whole months and some holidays. She lived for it, and Phoebe constantly held it over her. Behave yourself and get good grades, and you’ll get to spend the summer at that god-awful camp, eating worms, getting filthy and risking your life among bears.

“Why didn’t you fight for me?” she had continually asked her father.

“Aw, honey, Phoebe was right, I wasn’t worth a damn as a father, and I just wanted what was best for you. It wasn’t always easy, neither,” he’d explained.

Sometime in junior high Maggie had made her peace with Walter, but she chose to go to college in Denver, near Sully.

Phoebe’s desire was that she go to a fancy Ivy League college. Med school and residency were a different story—it was tough getting accepted at all, and you went to the best career school and residency program that would have you. She ended up in Los Angeles. Then she did a fellowship with Walter, even though she hated going back to Chicago. But Walter was simply one of the best. After that she joined a practice in Denver, close to her dad and the environment she loved.

A year later, with Walter finally retired from his practice and enjoying more golf, Phoebe and Walter moved to Golden, Colorado, closer to Maggie. Walter was also seventy, like Sully. Phoebe was a vibrant, social fifty-nine. Maggie thought she was possibly closer to Walter than to Phoebe, especially as they were both neurosurgeons. She was grateful. After all, he’d sent her to good private schools even when she did every terrible thing she could to show him how unappreciated his efforts were. She had been a completely ungrateful brat about it. But Walter turned out to be a kind, classy guy. He had helped a great many people who proved to be eternally grateful, and Maggie had been impressed by his achievements. Plus, he mentored her in medicine.

Loving medicine surprised her as much as anyone. Sully had said, “I think it’s a great idea. If I was as smart as you and some old coot like Walter was willing to pick up the tab, I’d do it in a New York minute.”

Maggie found she loved science, but med school was the hardest thing she’d ever taken on, and most days she wasn’t sure she could make it through another week. She could’ve just quit, done a course correction or flunked out, but no—she got perfect grades along with anxiety attacks. But the second they put a scalpel in her hand, she’d found her calling.

She sat on Sully’s couch, drank two beers, then lay down and pulled the throw over her. Beau pushed in through his doggy door and lay down beside the couch. The window was open, letting in the crisp, clean March air, and she dropped off to sleep immediately to the rhythmic sound of Sully raking out a trench behind the house. She started fantasizing about summer at the lake but before she woke she was dreaming of trying to operate in a crowded emergency room where everyone was yelling, bloody rags littered the floor, people hated each other, threw instruments at one another and patients were dying one after another. She woke up panting, her heart hammering. The sun had set, and a kitchen light had been turned on, which meant Sully had been to the house to check on her.

There was a sandwich covered in plastic wrap on a plate. A note sat beside it. It was written by Enid, Frank’s wife. Enid worked mornings in the store, baking and preparing packaged meals from salads to sandwiches for campers and tourists.

Welcome Home, the note said.

Maggie ate the sandwich, drank a third beer and went to bed in the room that was hers at her father’s house.

She woke to the sound of Sully moving around and saw that it was not quite 5:00 a.m. so she decided to go back to sleep until she didn’t have anxiety dreams anymore. She got up at noon, grazed through the refrigerator’s bleak contents and went back to sleep. At about two in the afternoon the door to her room opened noisily, and Sully said, “All right. Enough is enough.”

Sully’s store had been built in 1906 by Maggie’s great-grandfather Nathaniel Greely Sullivan. Nathaniel had a son and a daughter, married off the daughter and gave the son, Horace, the store. Horace had one son, Harry, who really had better things to do than run a country store. He wanted to see the world and have adventures, so he joined the Army and went to Vietnam, among other places, but by the age of thirty-three, he finally married and brought his pretty young wife, Phoebe, home to Sullivan’s Crossing. They immediately had one child, Maggie, and settled in for the long haul.

All of the store owners had been called Sully, but Maggie was always called Maggie. The store had once been the only place to get bread, milk, thread or nails within twenty miles, but things had changed mightily by the time Maggie’s father had taken it on. It had become a recreational facility—four one-room cabins, dry camp-sites, a few RV hookups, a dock on the lake, a boat launch, public bathrooms with showers, coin-operated laundry facilities, pic tables and grills. Sully had installed a few extra electrical outlets on the porch so people in tents could charge their electronics, and now Sully himself had satellite TV and Wi-Fi.

Sullivan’s Crossing sat in a valley south of Leadville at the base of some stunning mountains and just off the Continental Divide Trail. The camping was cheap and well managed, the grounds were clean, the store large and well stocked. They had a post office; Sully was the postmaster. And now it was the closest place to get supplies, beer and ice for locals and tourists alike.

The people who ventured there ranged from hikers to bikers to cross-country skiers, boating enthusiasts, rock climbers, fishermen, nature lovers and weekend campers. Plenty of hikers went out on the trails for a day, a few days, a week or even longer. Hikers who were taking on the CDT or the Colorado Trail often planned on Sully’s as a stopping point to resupply, rest and get cleaned up. Those hearties were called the thru-hikers, as the Continental Divide Trail was 3,100 miles long, while the Colorado Trail was almost 500, but the two trails converged for about 200 miles just west of Sully’s. Thus Sully’s was often referred to as the crossing.

People who knew the place referred to it as Sully’s. Some of their campers were one-timers, never seen again, many were regulars within an easy drive looking for a weekend or holiday escape. They were all interesting to Maggie—men, women, young, old, athletes, wannabe athletes, scout troops, nature clubs, weirdos, the occasional creep—but the ones who intrigued her the most were the long-distance hikers, the thru-hikers. She couldn’t imagine the kind of commitment needed to take on the CDT, not to mention the courage and strength. She loved to hear their stories about everything from wildlife on the trail to how many toenails they’d lost on their journey.

There were tables and chairs on the store’s wide front porch, and people tended to hang out there whether the store was open or closed. When the weather was warm and fair, there were spontaneous gatherings and campfires at the edge of the lake. Long-distance hikers often mailed themselves packages that held dry socks, extra food supplies, a little cash, maybe even a book, first-aid items, a new lighter for their campfires, a fresh shirt or two. Maggie loved to watch them retrieve and open boxes they’d packed themselves—it was like Christmas.

Sully had a great big map of the CDT, Colorado Trail and other trails on the bulletin board in the front of the store; it was surrounded by pictures either left or sent back to him. He’d put out a journal book where hikers could leave news or messages. The journals, when filled, were kept by Sully, and had become very well-known. People could spend hours reading through them.

Sully’s was an escape, a refuge, a gathering place or recreational outpost. Maggie and Andrew liked to come for the occasional weekend to ski—the cross-country trails were safe and well-marked. Occupancy was lower during the winter months, so they’d take a cabin, and Sully would never comment on the fact that they were sharing not just a room but a bed.

Before the pregnancy and miscarriage, their routine had been rejuvenating—they’d knock themselves out for a week or even a few weeks in their separate cities, then get together for a week-end or few days, eat wonderful food, screw their brains out, get a little exercise in the outdoors, have long and deep conversations, meet up with friends, then go back to their separate worlds. Andrew was shy of marriage, having failed at one and being left a single father. Maggie, too, had had a brief, unsuccessful marriage, but she wasn’t afraid of trying again and had always thought Andrew would eventually get over it. She accepted the fact that she might not have children, coupled with a man who, right up front, declared he didn’t want more.

“But then there was one on the way, and does he step up?” she muttered to herself as she walked into the store through the back door. “He complains that I’m too sad for him to deal with. The bastard.”

“Who’s the bastard, darling?” Enid asked from the kitchen. She stuck her head out just as Maggie was climbing onto a stool at the counter, and smiled. “It’s so good to see you. It’s been a while.”

“I know, I’m sorry about that. It’s been harrowing in Denver. I’m sure Dad told you about all that mess with my practice.”

“He did. Those awful doctors, tricking people into thinking they needed surgery on their backs and everything! Is one of them the bastard?”

“Without a doubt,” she answered, though they hadn’t been on her mind at all.

Maggie said hopefully, though there was absolutely no indication it would.

At least it was civil. The DA had found no cause to indict her. But really, how much is one girl supposed to take? The event leading to the lawsuit was one of the most horrific nights she’d ever been through in the ER—five teenage boys in a catastrophic car wreck, all critical. She’d spent a lot of time in the stairwell after that one.

“I’m not worried,” she lied. Then she had to concentrate to keep from shuddering.

“And that lawsuit against you,” Enid reminded her, tsking.

“That’ll probably go away,”

“Good for you. I have soup. I made some for your dad and Frank. Mushroom. With cheese toast. There’s plenty if you’re interested.”

“Yes, please,” she said.

“I’ll get it.” Enid went around the corner to dish it up.

The store didn’t have a big kitchen, just a little turning around room. It was in the southwest corner of the store; there was a bar and four stools right beside the cash register. On the northwest corner there was a small bar where they served adult beverages, and, again, a bar and four stools. No one had ever wanted to attempt a restaurant, but it was a good idea to provide food and drink—campers and hikers tended to run out of supplies.

Sully sold beer, wine, soft drinks and bottled water in the cooler section of the store, but he didn’t sell bottled liquor. For that matter, he wasn’t a grocery store but a general store. Along with foodstuffs there were T-shirts, socks and a few other recreational supplies—rope, clamps, batteries, hats, sunscreen, first-aid supplies. For the mother lode you had to go to Timberlake, Leadville or maybe Colorado Springs.

In addition to tables and chairs on the porch, there were a few comfortable chairs just inside the front door where the potbellied stove sat. Maggie remembered when she was a little girl, men sat on beer barrels around the stove. There was a giant ice machine on the back porch. The ice was free.

Enid stuck her head out of the little kitchen. She bleached her hair blond but had always, for as long as Maggie could remember, had black roots. She was plump and nurturing, while her husband, Frank, was one of those grizzled, skinny old ranchers.

“Is that nice Dr. Mathews coming down on the weekend?” Enid asked.

“I broke up with him. Don’t ever call him nice again,” Maggie said. “He’s a turd.”

“Oh, honey! You broke up?”

“He said I was depressing,” she said with a pout. “He can kiss my ass

“Well, I should say so! I never liked him very much, did I mention that?”

“No, you didn’t. You said you loved him and thought we’d make handsome children together.” She winced as she said it.

“Obviously I wasn’t thinking,” Enid said, withdrawing back into the kitchen. In a moment she brought out a bowl of soup and a thick slice of cheese toast. Her soup was cream of mushroom and it was made with real cream.

Maggie dipped her spoon into the soup, blew on it, tasted. It was heaven. “Why aren’t you my mother?” she asked.

“I just didn’t have the chance, that’s all. But we’ll pretend.”

Maggie and Enid had that little exchange all the time, exactly like that. Maggie had always wanted one of those soft, nurturing, homespun types for a mother instead of Phoebe, who was thin, chic, active in society, snobby and prissy. Phoebe was cool while Enid was warm and cuddly. Phoebe could read the hell out of a menu, while Enid could cure anything with her chicken soup, her grandmother’s recipe. Phoebe rarely cooked, and when she did it didn’t go well. But lest Maggie completely throw her mother under the bus, she reminded herself that Phoebe had a quick wit, and though she was sarcastic and ironic, she could make Maggie laugh. She was devoted to Maggie and craved her loyalty, especially that Maggie liked her more than she liked Sully. She gave Maggie everything she had to give.

It wasn’t Phoebe’s fault they were not the things Maggie wanted. For example, Phoebe sent Maggie to an extremely good college-prep boarding school that had worked out on many levels, except that Maggie would have traded it all to live with her father. Foolishly, perhaps, but still … And while Phoebe would not visit Sully’s campground under pain of death, she had thrown Maggie a fifty-thousand-dollar wedding that Maggie hadn’t wanted. And Walter had given her and Sergei a trip to Europe for their honeymoon.

Maggie had appreciated the trip to Europe quite a lot. But she should never have married Sergei. She’d been very busy and distracted, and he was handsome, sexy—especially that accent! They’d looked so good together. She took him at face value and failed to look deeper into the man. He was superficial and not trustworthy. Fortunately, or would that be unfortunately, it had been blessedly short. Nine months.

“This is so good,” Maggie said. “Your soup always puts me right.”

“How long are you staying, honey?”

“I’m not sure. Till I get a better idea. Couple of weeks, maybe?”

Enid shook her head. “You shouldn’t come in March. You should know better than to come in March.”

“He’s going to work me like a pack of mules, isn’t he?”

“No question about it. Only person who isn’t afraid to come around in March is Frank. Sully won’t put Frank to work.”

Frank Masterson was one of Sully’s cronies. He was about the same age, while Enid was just fifty-five. Frank said he had had the foresight to marry a younger woman, thereby assuring himself a good caretaker for his old age. Frank owned a nearby cattle ranch that these days was just about taken over by his two sons, which freed up Frank to hang out around Sully’s. Sometimes Sully would ask, “Why don’t you just come to work with Enid in the morning and save the gas, since all you do is drink my coffee for free and butt into everyone’s business?”

When the weather was cold he’d sit inside, near the stove. When the weather was decent he favored the porch. He wandered around, chatted it up with campers or folks who stopped by, occasionally lifted a heavy box for Enid, read the paper a lot. He was a fixture.

Enid had a sweet, heart-shaped face to go with her plump body. It attested to her love of baking. Besides making and wrapping sandwiches to keep in the cooler along with a few other lunchable items, she baked every morning—sweet rolls, buns, cookies, brownies, that sort of thing. Frank ate a lot of that and apparently never gained an ounce.

Maggie could hear Sully scraping out the gutters around the store. Seventy and up on a ladder, still working like a farmhand, cleaning the winter detritus away. That was the problem with March—a lot to clean up for the spring and summer.

She escaped out to the porch to visit with Frank before Sully saw her sitting around and put her to work.

“What are you doing here?” Frank asked.

“I’m on vacation,” she said.

“Hmm. Damn fool time of year to take a vacation. Ain’t nothing to do now. Dr. Mathews comin’?”

“No. We’re not seeing each other anymore.”

“Hmm. That why you’re here during mud season? Lickin’ your wounds?”

“Not at all. I’m happy about it.”

“Yup. You look happy, allright.”

I might be better off cleaning gutters, she though. So she turned the conversation to politics, because she knew Frank had some very strong opinions and she could listen rather than answer questions.

She spotted that guy again, the camper, sitting in his canvas camp chair outside his pop-up tent/trailer under a pull-out awning. His legs were stretched out, and he was reading again. She noticed he had long legs.

She was just about to ask Frank how long that guy had been camping there when she noticed someone heading up the trail toward the camp. He had a big backpack and walking stick and something strange on his head. Maggie squinted. A bombardier’s leather helmet with ear laps?

“Frank, look at that,” she said, leaning forward to stare.

The man was old, but old wasn’t exactly rare. There were a lot of senior citizens out on the trails, hiking, biking, skiing. In fact, if they were fit at retirement, they had the time and means. As the man got closer, age was only part of the issue.

“I best find Sully,” Frank said, getting up and going into the store.

As the man drew near it was apparent he wore rolled-up dress slacks, black socks and black shoes that looked like they’d be shiny church or office wear once the mud was cleaned off. And on his head a weird WWII aviator’s hat. He wore a ski jacket that looked to be drenched and he was flushed and limping.

Sully appeared on the porch, Beau wagging at his side, Frank following. “What the hell?”

“Yeah, that’s just wrong,” Maggie said.

“Ya think?” Sully asked. He went down the steps to approach the man, Maggie close on his heels, Frank bringing up the rear and Enid on the porch waiting to see what was up.

“Well, there, buddy,” Sully said, his hands in his pockets. “Where you headed?”

“Is this Camp Lejeune?”

Everyone exchanged glances. “Uh, that would be in North Carolina, son,” Sully said, though the man was clearly older than Sully. “You’re a little off track. Come up on the porch and have a cup of coffee, take off that pack and wet jacket. And that silly hat, for God’s sake. We need to make a phone call for you. What are you doing out here, soaking wet in your Sunday shoes?”

“Maybe I should wait a while, see if they come,” the man said, though he let himself be escorted to the porch.

“Who?” Maggie asked.

“My parents and older brother,” he said. “I’m to meet them here.”

“Bet they have ’em some real funny hats, too,” Frank muttered.

“Seems like you got a little confused,” Sully said. “What’s your name, young man?”

“That’s a problem, isn’t it? I’ll have to think on that for a while.”

Maggie noticed the camper had wandered over, curious. Up close he was distracting. He was tall and handsome, though there was a small bump on the bridge of his nose. But his hips were narrow, his shoulders wide and his jeans were torn and frayed exactly right. They met glances. She tore her eyes away.

“Do you know how you got all wet? Did you walk through last night’s rain? Sleep in the rain?” Sully asked.

“I fell in a creek,” he said. He smiled though he also shivered.

“On account a those shoes,” Frank pointed out. “He slipped cause he ain’t got no tread.”

“Well, there you go,” Maggie said. “Professor Frank has it all figured out. Let’s get that wet jacket off and get a blanket. Sully, you better call Stan the Man.”

“Will do.”

“Anyone need a hand here?” Maggie heard the camper ask.

“Can you grab the phone, Cal?” Sully asked.

Sully put the man in what had been Maggie’s chair and started peeling off his jacket and outer clothes. He leaned the backpack against the porch rail, and within just seconds Enid was there with a blanket, cup of coffee and one of her bran muffins. Cal brought the cordless phone to the porch. The gentleman immediately began to devour that muffin as Maggie looked him over.

“Least he’ll be reg’lar,” Frank said, reclaiming his chair.

Maggie crouched in front of the man and while speaking very softly, she asked if she could remove the hat. Before quite getting permission she pulled it gently off his head to reveal wispy white hair surrounding a bald dome. She gently ran her fingers around his scalp in search of a bump or contusion. Then she pulled him to his feet and ran her hands around his torso and waist.

“You must’ve rolled around in the dirt, sir,” she said. “I bet you’re ready for a shower.”

He didn’t respond.

“Sir? Anything hurt?” she asked him.

He just shook his head.

“Can you smile for me? Big, wide, smile?” she asked, checking for the kind of paralysis caused by a stroke.

“Where’d you escape from, young man?” Sully asked him. “Where’s your home?”

“Wakefield, Illinois,” he said. “You know it?”

“Can’t say I do,” Sully said. “But I bet it’s beautiful. More beautiful than Lejeune, for sure.”

“Can I have cream?” he asked, holding out his cup.

Enid took it. “Of course you can, sweetheart,” she said. “I’ll bring it right back.”

In a moment the gentleman sat with his coffee with cream, shivering under a blanket while Sully called Stan Bronoski. There were a number of people Sully could have reached out to—a local ranger, state police aka highway patrol, even fire and rescue. But Stan was the son of a local rancher and was the police chief in Timberlake, just twenty miles south and near the interchange. It was a small department with a clever deputy who worked the internet like a pro, Officer Paul Castor.

Beau gave the old man a good sniffing, then moved down the stairs to Cal, who automatically began petting him.

Sully handed the phone to Maggie. “Stan wants to talk to you.”

“He sounds like someone who wandered off,” Stan said to Maggie. “But I don’t have any missing persons from nearby. I’ll get Castor looking into it. I’m on my way. Does he have any ID on him?”

“We haven’t really checked yet,” Maggie said into the phone. “Why don’t I do that while you drive. Here’s Sully.”

Maggie handed the phone back to her dad and said, “Pass the time with Stan while I chat with this gentleman.”

Maggie asked the man to stand again and deftly slid a thin wallet out of his back pocket. She urged him to sit and opened it up.

“Well, now,” she said. “Mr. Gunderson? Roy Gunderson?”

“Hmm?” he said, his eyes lighting up a bit.

Sully repeated the name into the phone to Stan.

“And so, Roy, did you hurt anything when you fell?” Maggie asked.

He shook his head and sipped his coffee. “I fell?” he finally asked.

Maggie looked at Sully, lifting a questioning brow.

“A Mr. Gunderson from Park City, Utah,” Sully said. “Wandered off from his home a few days ago. On foot.”

“He must’ve gotten a ride or something,” Cal said.

“His driver’s license, which was supposed to be renewed ten years ago, says his address is in Illinois.”

“Stan says he’ll probably have more information by the time he gets here, but this must be him. Dementia, he says.”

“You can say that again,” Maggie observed. “I can’t imagine what the last few days have been like for him. He must have been terrified.”

“He look terrified to you?” Frank asked. “He might as well be on a cruise ship.”

“Tell Stan we’ll take care of him till he gets here.”

Maggie went about the business of caring for Mr. Gunderson, getting water and a little soup into him while the camper, Cal, chatted with Sully and Frank, apparently well-known to them. When this situation was resolved she meant to find out more about him, like how long he’d been here.

She took off Roy’s shoes and socks and looked at his feet— no injuries or frostbite but some serious swelling and bruised toenails. She wondered where he had been and how he’d gotten the backpack. He certainly hadn’t brought it from home or packed it himself. That would be too complicated for a man in his condition. It was a miracle he could carry it!

Two hours later, the sun lowering in the sky, an ambulance had arrived for Roy Gunderson. He didn’t appear to be seriously injured or ill but he was definitely unstable, and Stan wasn’t inclined to transport him alone. He could bolt, try to get out of a moving car or interfere with the driver, although Stan had a divider cage in his police car.

What Maggie and Sully had learned, no thanks to  Roy himself, was that he’d been cared for at home by his wife, wandered off without his GPS bracelet, walked around a while before coming upon a rather old Chevy sedan with the keys in the ignition, so he must have helped himself. The car was reported stolen from near his house but had no tracking device installed. And since Mr. Gunderson hadn’t driven in years, no one put him with the borrowed motor vehicle for a couple of days.

The car was found abandoned near Salt Lake City with Roy’s jacket in it. From there the old man had probably hitched a ride. His condition was too good to have walked for days. Roy was likely left near a rest stop or campgrounds where he helped himself to a backpack. Where he’d been, what he’d done, how he’d survived was unknown.

The EMTs were just about to load Mr. Gunderson into the back of the ambulance when Sully sat down on the porch steps with a loud huff.

“Dad?” Maggie asked.
Sully was grabbing the front of his chest. Over his heart. He was pale as snow, sweaty, his eyes glassy, his breathing shallow and ragged.

“Dad!” Maggie shouted.

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Virgin River January 31, 2017
MIRA Paperback

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Home to You

Now together in one volume, the first books that started two fan-favorite series!

Virgin RiverA Virgin River Novel #1” by Robyn Carr

When recently widowed Melinda Monroe answers an ad for a midwife/nurse practitioner in the remote mountain town of Virgin River, her high hopes for a fresh start are dashed within an hour of arriving. The cabin is a dump, the roads are treacherous and the local doctor wants nothing to do with her. Mel decides to leave town the following morning, but a tiny baby, abandoned on a front porch, changes her plans…and former marine Jack Sheridan cements them into place.

Originally published April 2007 and reissued May 2010 and December 2012)

When Lightning StrikesWhiskey Creek #1” by Brenda Novak

Gail DeMarco’s PR firm handles a roster of clients, including sexy and unpredictable Simon O’Neal. But recently divorced Simon is so busy self-destructing he won’t listen to anything she says. She drops him from her list—and he retaliates by taking the rest of her clients with him. Desperate to save her company, Gail reluctantly humbles herself by making a deal with Simon. But her reluctance isn’t because he’s hard to like—it’s because he’s too hard not to love.

Originally published September 2012.

Virgin River Book # 19
December 27, 2016
MIRA Paperback

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Sunrise Point

Return to Virgin River with the books that started it all…

Nora Crane will do what it takes to keep her family afloat. Things are better than they’ve been for a while; still she’s barely scraping by. But she’s got two little girls to look after so she’s willing to work hard and help out with harvesttime at the Cavanaugh orchard.

Her new boss is Tom Cavanaugh. After his time in the Marines, he’s come home to take over the family farm. Tom thinks he knows what he wants—he’s ready to settle down with a sweet, traditional woman. Nora doesn’t seem to be the marrying kind, but he can’t keep his eyes off her, despite his best efforts. And Nora has no intention of getting involved with anyone. She’s got enough relationship baggage to last her a lifetime.

But in Virgin River, love finds its own way, and it starts to become clear that Nora and Tom won’t be able to stay just friends.

Originally published May 2012 in mass market paperback and eBook.

Excerpt

Chapter One

There was a small note on the bulletin board at the Virgin River Presbyterian Church. Apple harvest to begin at Cavanaugh Orchard. Apply in person.

Virgin River newcomer, Nora Crane, studied the board regularly and when she saw the notice asked Reverend Kincaid what he knew about the job. “Very little,” he answered. “It’s a fairly long harvesting season and the Cavanaugh’s like to add a few full-time workers to their staff. Not many, though. I hear they pay pretty well, it’s very demanding work and it’s all over in a few months.”

The words that stuck were pays pretty well. She was holding her two-year-old daughter’s hand and carried nine-month-old Fay in her backpack.

“Can you give me directions to the orchard?” she asked.

He wrinkled his brow. “Nora, it’s a few miles away. You don’t have a car.”

“I’ll have to go there, find out what the pay and hours are. If it’s a good job with good pay, I bet I can afford Day Care at the new school. That would be so good for Berry,” she said of her two year old. “She’s almost never with other children and needs socialization. She’s so shy. And I’m not afraid of walking. I’m not afraid to hitch a ride around here, either — people are generous. And a few miles — that’s really nothing. I’ll get some exercise.”

Noah Kincaid’s frown just deepened. “Walking home could be tough after a long day of physical labor. Picking apples is hard work.”

“So is being broke,” she said with a smile. “I bet Adie would love a little babysitting money to add to her budget. She barely squeaks by. And she’s so wonderful with the girls.” Adie Clemens was Nora’s neighbor and friend. Although Adie was elderly, she managed the girls very well because two-year-old Berry was so well behaved and Fay didn’t get around much yet. Fay had just started crawling. Adie loved taking care of them, even though she couldn’t take them on full time.

“What about your job at the clinic?” Noah asked.

“I think Mel gave me that job more out of kindness than necessity, but of course I’ll talk to her. Noah, there isn’t that much work available. I have to try anything that comes along. Are you going to tell me how to get there?”

“I’m going to drive you,” he said. “We’re going to log the miles and get an accurate distance reading. I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

“How long has that notice been up?” Nora asked.

“Tom Cavanaugh put it up this morning.”

“Oh good! That means not too many people have seen it!”

“Nora, think of the little girls,” he said. “You don’t want to be too tired to take care of them.”

“Oh, thanks, Noah. It’s nice of you to be concerned. I’m going to go ask Adie if she can watch them for a little while so I can go to the orchard to apply. She always says yes, she loves them so much. I’ll be back in ten minutes. If you’re sure you don’t mind giving me a lift… I don’t want to take advantage.”

He just shook his head and chuckled. “Bound and determined, aren’t you? You remind me of someone…”

“Oh?”

“Someone just as unstoppable as you. I fell in love with her on the spot, I think.”

“Ellie?” she asked. “Mrs. Kincaid?”

“Yes, Mrs. Kincaid,” he said with a laugh. “You have no idea how much you two have in common. But we’ll save that for another time — hurry up and check in with Adie and I’ll take you to the Cavanaugh’s.”

“Thanks!” she said with a wide smile, dashing out of the church and down the street as quickly as she could.

It would never occur to Nora that she had anything in common with the pastor’s wife. Ellie Kincaid was so beautiful, so confident and clearly the kindest person she’d ever known. And by the way Noah looked at his wife, he adored her. It was kind of fun to see the preacher was a regular man; he gazed at his wife with hunger in his eyes, as if he couldn’t wait to get her alone. They weren’t just a handsome couple, but also obviously a man and woman very deeply in love.

Nora went straight to Adie Clemens’s door.

“Just bring me some diapers and formula,” Adie said. “And good luck.”

“If I get the job and have to work full time, do you think you can help me out a little bit?”

“I’ll do whatever I can,” Adie said. “Maybe between me, Martha Hutchkins and other neighbors, we can get you covered.”

“I hate to ask everyone around here to take care of me…” But hate it or not, she didn’t have many choices. She’d landed here with the girls and hardly any belongings right before last Christmas — just one old couch, a mattress that sat on the floor and the clothes on their backs. It was Adie who alerted Reverend Kincaid that Nora and her family were in need, and the first gesture of help came in the form of a Christmas food basket. Through the generosity of her neighbors and the town, a few necessary items had been added to their household — an old refrigerator, a rug for the floor, sheets and towels, clothes for the children. The church had regular rummage sales and Mrs. Kincaid skimmed the used clothing to help dress Nora as well. Her neighbor three doors down, Leslie, invited Nora to use her washer and dryer while she was at work and Martha offered her laundry as well. She’d never be able to repay all these kindnesses, but at least she could work to make her own way.

Picking apples? Well, as she’d told Noah, she’d do just about anything.

Noah drove a beat up old pickup truck that Nora thought might be older than she was, and it definitely didn’t have much in the way of shocks. As they bounced along the road out to highway 36, Nora had the thought that walking probably wouldn’t be as hard on her spine. But as they trundled along, she became increasingly intimidated by the distance, further than she expected. She wasn’t sure how long it might take to walk it. She’d have to get the mile count from Noah once they arrived. If the odometer actually worked in this old heap of tin.

They turned off 36 and drove down a road, through a gate that stood open and down a tree lined lane. Nora became distracted by the sheer beauty. There was something so pure and homespun about row after row of perfectly spaced apple trees, the fruit in various stages of ripening hung from the boughs, some still small apple green while others wore a slight blush of red. And at the end of what seemed a long driveway through the orchard stood a big house — a white fairy tale house with red shutters and a red front door and a wonderful wrap-around porch with chairs separated by small tables. She couldn’t even imagine the luxury of relaxing on such a porch at the end of a long day. At wide spaces in the road there were large bins, probably for collecting apples. They passed by a fork lift tucked into a row of trees and a bit further down the road, a tractor.

As the house grew closer Nora noticed that there were two large buildings behind it — either barns or very large storage sheds or… Ah, the housing for machinery and farm equipment, she realized, looking into some large open doors. One of the buildings bore the sign Cavanaugh Apples.

For a girl who grew up in a small house on a busy street in Berkeley, she looked at this house, land and operation in both fascination and envy. A person would be very lucky to grow up in such a place.

There was a collection of pickup trucks and four men standing outside a door at the end of one of the buildings.

“Nora?”

She turned toward Reverend Kincaid’s voice.

“You probably should get going. While you go talk to Tom Cavanaugh, I’m going to pay a visit to Maxie, the lady of the house. She’s almost always in the kitchen or on the porch.”

“Where should I go?” she asked, suddenly far less sure of herself.

He pointed toward the short line of men. “Looks like that’s the place.”

“Right,” she said. She got out of the truck, jumped down, but before she closed the door she peered back inside. “Reverend Kincaid, if I need a recommendation, will you give me one?”

She saw him frown again; she knew he was worried about how in the world she’d manage a job like this. Then his frown melted into a smile and he said, “Of course, Nora.”

Noah pulled away from her to park on the drive near the house and she went to stand with the men. “Are you applying for the picking job?” she asked.

All four turned toward her. Only one nodded. Feeling a sense of competition, she assessed them. One was an old guy, and old was relative — he was balding, what was left of his hair was wispy and thin, but he stood straight and tall and appeared to have wide, strong shoulders. One was a teenager, around sixteen years old, good looking and buff. One was a short Mexican man in his twenties, healthy and hearty, and the fourth looked as if he could be his father. “Am I in the right place to apply?”

The older man frowned, the teenager grinned, the older Mexican man looked her up and down and gave her the impression he was merely judging her ability by her size, which was small. And the man who could be his son said, “This is the place. You ever pick before?”

She shook her head.

“Want some advice? Maybe you should tell him you have.”

“Why? Is it hard to learn?”

The men chuckled together. “Hard to do,” the teenager said. “I’ll show you the ropes if you get hired.” Then he looked her over from her head to her feet, but his appraisal was a little more personal. “You sure you’re up to it?”

She sucked in a breath. She’d do anything to take care of her girls. Mel Sheridan and Reverend Kincaid had helped her get some county subsistence — food stamps and Medicaid — but that wasn’t enough to live on. She’d been getting by on that plus part time jobs at the clinic and the new school’s summer program, but it was very part time, given her small children.

She wanted to earn her own money. There just hadn’t been much opportunity.

“I’m stronger than I look,” she informed him. “I am. I can’t lie about my experience, though. I have this…” This deal I made with God, she thought dismally. Nora was trying so hard to rectify past mistakes, she wasn’t about to make more along the way. “When I make a commitment, I’m good for it. I’ll take any advice I can get, though. Did you guys see the notice in the church?”

“We pick every year,” the teenager said. “I’ve been picking since junior high, Jerome has been picking for a hundred years,” he said, indicating the older man. “Eduardo and Juan live down the valley and the apples here pay better than the vegetables. Juan’s wife has her own little business — they’re doing pretty good these days, right Juan?”

The older Mexican gentleman nodded solemnly. Proudly.

“Tom usually works around the grove; it’s usually Mrs. Cavanaugh and her foreman, Junior, who handle the hiring.” The boy put out his hand. “I’m Buddy Holson, by the way.”

She took the hand with a smile. “Nora,” she said. “Nice to meet you.”

The latch to the door finally unlocked, the door opened a crack Jerome went in first. He came out just a moment later and then Eduardo and Juan entered together. They were out in a second.

“We’ve all worked here before,” Buddy explained. “Everything is on file for the regulars. Good luck.”

“Thanks,” she said. “Hope to see you around.”

“You bet, me too,” he said, giving his hat a little touch. And Nora realized, he probably thought she was much younger than she was. It would never occur to him she was actually a single mother. “You must live around here.”

“Virgin River,” she said.

“I’m in Clear River. I better go in — see you around.” And he disappeared inside, but was back out in just seconds, slipping a piece of paper into his pocket. With a handsome parting smile and another touch to his hat, he headed for the last pickup parked there.

Nora took a deep breath and pulled open the door. The man behind the desk looked up at her and she was momentarily frozen. For no particular reason, she’d been expecting a much older man — the husband of the Mrs. Cavanaugh who usually managed the hiring. But this was a young man. And so handsome that he almost took her breath away. He had wide shoulders, a tanned face, brown hair, expressive brows and the kind of dark brown eyes that would glitter in the sun. His features might be ordinary, but put together so perfectly, he was a hunk. A hunk with that dangerous wholesome look about him — the look that had trapped her in the past. Her face probably flushed before going completely pale. She had bad luck with such men and had no reason to assume her luck had changed.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I’m here about the job. The apple picking job.”

“You have experience with apple harvesting?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I’m a very fast learner and I’m strong. I have tons of energy. And I need a job like this.”

“Really? What about this job seems right for you?”

“Reverend Kincaid says it pays pretty well and is kind of short. I’m a single mother and I can probably get help with the kids for a while, then I have two part time jobs in Virgin River to fall back on when the harvest is over. Sounds perfect for someone like me.”

“Well, it might be longer than you think. The end of August to almost December, most years. So I guess it wouldn’t be right for—”

“I might be able to do it — there’s a new Day Care and pre-school in town, if I can afford it.”

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Twenty-three.”

He shook his head. “Already a divorced mother at twenty-three?” he asked.

The surprise showed on her face for less than a moment. She stood as straight as possible. “There are some questions you’re not allowed to ask me,” she informed him. “It’s the law. If they don’t pertain to the job…”

“It’s irrelevant. I’m afraid I’ve already hired my max — all people with experience. I’m sorry.”

That took the starch out of her. Her chin dropped and she briefly looked at the ground. Then she lifted her eyes to his. “Is there any chance something might become available? Because there aren’t many job openings around here.”

“Listen… Your name?” he asked, standing from behind his messy desk proving that he was taller than she even guessed.

“I’m Nora Crane.”

“Listen, Nora, it can be back breaking labor and I mean no offense when I say, you don’t appear to be strong enough for a job like this. We generally hire very muscled men and women. We haven’t ever hired kids or slight women — it’s just too frustrating for them.”

“Buddy’s been working here since junior high…”

“He’s a great big kid. Sometimes you have to carry fifty pounds of apples down a tripod ladder. Our harvesting season is grueling.”

“I can do that,” she said. “I’ve carried my nine month old in a backpack and my two year old in my arms.” She flexed a muscle in her upper arm. “Motherhood isn’t for sissies. Neither is being broke. I can do the work. I want to do the work.”

He stared at her in shock for a moment. “Nine months and two years?”

“Berry will be three before long. They’re beautiful, brilliant and they have a terrible addiction to eating.”

“I’m sorry, Nora. I have all the people I need. Do you want to leave a number in case something comes open?”

“The church,” she said with disappointment. “You can leave a message with anyone at the Virgin River Presbyterian Church. I’ll check in with them every day. Twice a day.”

He gave her a very small smile. “I don’t expect anything to come up, but I know the number if something does.” He wrote down her name and referenced the church phone number beside it. “Thanks for coming out here.”

“Sure. I had to try. And if you hear of anything at all, anywhere at all…”

“Of course,” he said, but she knew he didn’t mean it. He wasn’t going to help her get a job.

She left that little office and went to wait by Noah’s truck, leaning against it. She hoped he had a nice visit with Mrs. Cavanaugh since she had inconvenienced him for no reason. No matter what Tom Cavanaugh had said, she knew he had rejected her as not strong or dependable enough for apple picking.

Life hadn’t always been like this for Nora. Well, it had been mostly difficult, but not like now. She hadn’t grown up poor, for one thing. She’d never been what one could call financially comfortable, but she’d always had enough to eat, a roof over her head, decent if inexpensive clothes to wear. She’d gone to college briefly and during that time had had a part time job, no different from most co-eds. She’d had an unhappy family life, the only child of a bitter single mother. Then she’d found herself to be very susceptible to the flirtations of a hot and sexy minor league baseball player with no earthly clue he’d turn into a hard core drug addict who would dump her and their two children in a tiny mountain town with no money, hardly any means to survive, robbing them of everything but the clothes on their backs so he’d have something to sell for his own, um, recreational use.

Even though times were about as tough as they could get as income went, she’d been lucky to find herself in Virgin River where she had a few good friends and the support of people like Noah Kincaid, Mel Sheridan and her neighbors. It might take a while and a little more luck, but eventually she’d manage to pull it together and give her girls a decent place to grow up.

She heard the slamming of a door — it had the distinct sound of a wooden screen door. There was laughter. When she looked up she saw Noah with an attractive woman with thick white hair cut in a modern, short, blown-out style. She was slightly roundish with a generous bosom and just slightly plump hips; her cheeks were rosy from either makeup or sun and her eyebrows shaped and drawn on with a dark brown pencil. She wore lipstick and laughed, showing a very young, attractive smile. Nora couldn’t guess her age. Fifty-eight? Sixty-four? She looked like she should be hosting a country kitchen cooking show. And then she let go a big laugh, leaning into Noah’s arm as she did so.

Nora straightened, since they were walking toward her. She smiled somewhat timidly, feeling so unsure of herself after being rejected from the job.

“Nora, this is Maxie Cavanaugh. This is her orchard and cider operation.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nora,” Maxie said, putting out her hand. Nora noticed that she had a bit of arthritis that bent her fingers at the knuckles, but her nails were still manicured in bright red. “So you’re going to pick apples for us?”

“Well, no ma’am,” she said. “Your son said he had enough pickers already and couldn’t use me.”

“Son?” Maxie asked. “Girl, that’s my grandson, Tom, and I raised him. Now what is it Reverend Kincaid told me? You have a couple of little daughters and only part time work at the moment?”

“Yes, ma’am, but I think I’ll go steady in the fall when they need almost full time help at the new school. I’ll get a discount on day care, too. Thing is, it’s a brand new school and still needs all kinds of certification so we won’t get help from the county for a while and I got all excited about a job that could pay pretty well for a couple of… But if there are already enough pickers…”

“I bet there’s room for one more,” she said, smiling. “Wait right here a minute.” And she strode off across the yard to the big barn and its small office.

 

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Character Sketches

Tom Cavanaugh—Having served in the Marines, Tom has returned home to Virgin River to take over the family apple orchard. Almost 30 years old, Tom is ready to settle down and perhaps start a family of his own.

Nora Crane—Twenty-three-year-old mother of two young girls. Brought to Virgin River and abandoned there by her abusive ex-boyfriend, Nora desperately needs work to support her family.

Maxie Cavanaugh—Tom’s grandmother. Maxie raised Tom and has managed the orchard during his college years and his time in the Marines.

Darla—widow of Bob Pritchard, who was killed in action in Afghanistan while serving under Tom. From Denver, Darla is now taking classes at University of California/Davis and wants to spend time visiting Tom in Virgin River.

Junior—a big, muscled man of about 50 years, Junior is the orchard’s long-time foreman.

Adie Clemens—Nora’s elderly neighbor, who has befriended Nora. Adie helps take care of Nora’s girls.

Jed—Nora’s estranged father, with whom she only recently reunited after not having seen him since she was 6 years old.

Susan—Jed’s girlfriend

Berry and Fay—Nora’s daughters, ages two years old and nine months old, respectively.

Thunder Point Book # 7-9
November 14, 2016
MIRA eBook

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Thunder Point Series Books 7-9

Welcome back to the small Oregon town of Thunder Point! Enjoy books 7-9 in New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr’s fan-favorite series, now available for the first time in one collection.

One Wish (originally published March 2015 in mass market paperback)

Former champion figure skater Grace Dillon moved to Thunder Point to escape the ruthless world of fame and competition. But her quiet, self-sufficient life could use some excitement. High school teacher Troy Headly appoints himself Grace’s fun coach, and they decide to enjoy a little no-strings-attached fling. Then Grace&#8217s past catches up with her, and she knows that complications are not what Troy signed up for. But Troy is determined to help her fight for the life she always wished for—and maybe they can find real love along the way.

Read an Excerpt

A New Hope (originally published July 2015 in mass market paperback)

Ginger Dysart is swept up in the pleasure of assisting with a wedding at the beautiful Lacoumette farm. But the occasion is ruined when the bride’s brother, Matt, makes a drunken spectacle of himself. Then Matt shows up at the flower shop, determined to make amends for his embarrassing pass at Ginger, and they find a connection deeper than either of them expected. Everyone worries Ginger will end up with a broken heart yet again. But with a little courage, there may still be hope for a happy ending.

Read an Excerpt

Wildest Dreams (originally published September 2015 in mass market paperback)

Professional triathlete Blake Smiley wants to put down the roots he’s never had and focus on his training without distractions. But his new neighbors change everything. A single mother, Lin Su Simmons has her hands full coping with her nursing job, debt and her teenage son’s health issues. Lin Su resents any interference in her life. But Blake is certain he can break through her barriers and be the man she and her son need. Together, they can recognize that family is who you choose it to be.

Read an Excerpt

Don’t miss the other Thunder Point Series Boxed Sets:

Thunder Point Series Books 1-3

Thunder Point Series Books 4-6

Virgin River Book # 20
October 25, 2016
MIRA Paperback

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My Kind of Christmas

While the Riordan brothers have a reputation for being rough-and-tumble, Patrick has always been the gentle, sweet-natured one. But his easygoing manner is tested by his high-octane career as a navy pilot, and for the Riordan men, when the going gets tough…the tough find the love of a good woman.

Angie LeCroix wants to spend Christmas in Virgin River relaxing, away from her well-intentioned but hovering mother. Yet instead of freedom, she gets her uncle, Jack Sheridan. If he had his way, she’d never go out at all. And certainly not with Patrick Riordan. But Angie has her own idea of the kind of Christmas she wants—and the kind of man.

Patrick and Angie thought they wanted to be left alone this Christmas—until they met each other. Now they want to be left alone together. But the Sheridan and Riordan families have different plans for Patrick and Angie—and for Christmas, Virgin River style!

WELCOME BACK TO THE RIVER.

Originally published October 23, 2012.

Excerpt

Chapter One
Angela LaCroix pulled up to Jack’s Bar on the day after Thanksgiving and parked right next to her aunt Brie’s car. She gave a double toot of her horn before she jumped out and dashed up the steps and into the bar. There they were, waiting for her — Jack, Mel and Brie. Her smile was so big she thought her face might crack.

“You made it,” Jack said. He rushed around the bar and picked her up in his embrace. Then he put her on her feet and said, “I thought you might be bound, gagged and held prisoner in Sacramento.”

“It didn’t get physical,” she said with a laugh. “However, I think my mother isn’t speaking to any of you.”

“That’s a relief,” Jack said. “Then she won’t be calling five times a day.”

“Come here, kitten,” Brie said, edging Jack out of the way to hug Angie. Then Mel jumped off her stool and joined the hug. “It’s so good to have you here,” Brie said. “Your mom will come around.”

“Fat chance,” Jack said. “I don’t know anyone who can hold a grudge longer than Donna.”

“I hope I didn’t cause a rift in the whole family,” Angie said.

Jack walked back around behind the bar. “Sheridans,” he grumbled. “We hang together pretty well in tough times, but we’ve been known to have a lot of differences of opinion. Bottom line is, you’re welcome here any time. You always have a place at my house.”

“And mine,” Brie said.

Angie chewed her lower lip for a moment. “Okay, here’s the thing. I appreciate it, I do, and I plan to spend a lot of time with you, but I was wondering, hoping, that you wouldn’t mind letting me use that little cabin in the woods.” She took a breath. “I need some space. Honest to God.”

Silence hung in the air. “Is that a fact,” Jack finally said.

Angie took a stool and her two aunts automatically framed her on their own stools. “That is a fact. Space…. and it was a long drive. I wouldn’t mind a beer. And maybe take-out.”

Jack served up a beer, very slowly. “There’s no TV out there,” he said.

“Good. But there’s internet connection, right?”

“It’s slow, Ange,” Mel pointed out. “Not as slow as dial-up was, but it’s finicky. The internet connection in our guesthouse is much—”

“I think it’s an outstanding idea,” Brie said, smiling at Angie. “Try it out. If it gets a little too quiet, I have a guest room and Mel has the guesthouse.”

“Thanks, Brie.”

“Hey, when you’re running away from home, you should at least have your choice of accommodations.”

“I’m not really running away from… Okay, that’s what I’m doing. Thanks. Seriously, thanks.”

Mel laughed. “It’s not exactly an original idea. Brie and I both landed here because we were running away from stuff. I’m going to go get Preacher and Paige. They’ve been so anxious to see you. And I’ll call your folks to tell them you made it here safely.”

“You had no trouble driving?” Jack asked.

“I like driving, but my dad insisted we swap cars. I have his SUV and he has my little Honda,” she said. “But I wasn’t nervous. Maybe because I don’t remember the accident.”

There was one thing Angie did remember — almost dying. Seeing her grandmother on the other side. Seeing herself lying in an emergency room covered with blood. The only person she told was her neurosurgeon, Dr. Temple, because she wanted to know if she was crazy. He had said, “I hear that sometimes, about deceased loved ones helping with the crossover.”

“Is it real?” she had asked him.

“I don’t know,” he had answered.

She hadn’t told anyone else in the family.

Angie had been the passenger in a car one of her classmates had been driving on a cold, drizzly, slick March evening. A car on the opposing interstate lane had lost control, crossed the median and hit two oncoming cars. It could’ve been a flat tire or avoiding another car, but there was no villain; no alcohol or drugs to blame; it was an accident. That driver had been killed, everyone else injured, Angie the worst. Her classmate, Shelly, had multiple broken bones but was fully recovered now except for an ankle she said got strangely cold — she blamed the plates, screws and pins.

Angie had a couple of serious fractures for which surgery had been required, she lost a spleen, there was a collapsed lung and she had a titanium rod in a femur, but the big issue was the head injury — there had been an impressive laceration on the back of her head and while there was no open fracture, her brain began to swell and the neurosurgeon implanted a shunt to drain the edema. She had some memory loss which had slowly come back, except, thankfully, not the details of the accident. She had been in a coma for three days and then had to fight her way back to the world through a post anesthetic and pain med haze. They had wondered for weeks if this bright, driven young medical student would have any mental handicaps.

She did not.

She was forever changed, however.

This was where she and her mother had their impasse. Her parents were educators, professors, and the parents of three very smart daughters. To say they monitored their education and pushed them along trajectories they thought were in line with their desires and skills would be an understatement. And Angie had been happy to meet their expectations — she was proud of her academic accomplishments. She often felt it was the singular thing she could be proud of — she wasn’t athletic, musical or pretty. The only place she had real confidence was in her intellectual achievement.

She was fully recovered from her accident and could have gone back to school in September, but she chose not to. Her father, sitting cautiously on the fence, thought a brief break was within reason but her mother disagreed and wanted her back on that horse.

Angie wasn’t sure any more. Of anything. For one thing, she was done having her parents, mostly her mother, decide things like this for her. Angie grew a backbone and said, “I might not want to continue medical school! I might want to make macramé flower pot holders for the rest of my life! Or grow herbs! Or hitchhike across Europe! But whatever it is, it’s going to be up to me!” Donna accused her of undergoing a personality change because of her head injury and Angie suggested she’d finally found her personality and it was remarkably like Donna’s.

No one else in the family thought she was different excepting the fact she had grown wonderfully stubborn. And having Jack, Mel and Brie on her side didn’t thrill Donna.

Angie didn’t go back to medical school, though the dean did tell her she would still have a place with them if she didn’t wait too long. She didn’t discuss it with her parents or her Virgin River cheering section. She’d had a close-up of how unpredictable and tenuous life could be. One minute you’re buzzing along the freeway, singing with the radio, the next you’re looking down on yourself, watching as medical staff frantically worked to save your life and you see your dead grandmother across a chasm of light.

Once she realized she had barely survived, every day dawned brighter, the air drawn into her lungs more precious, the beat of her heart weighing heavy in colossal importance. She was filled with a sense of gratitude and became contemplative, viewing the smallest detail of living with huge significance. Things she took for granted before had grown in magnitude. There was no detail she was willing to miss; she stopped to have long conversations with grocery store bag boys, corner flower peddlers, librarians, booksellers and school crossing guards.

She also looked back at her short life and had some regrets — specifically dedicating so much time to study that she had few friends. Many study partners, but only a few friends. She’d said no to far too many parties and dances for the sake of grades. For God’s sake she was twenty-three and had had two boyfriends! Both pretty inadequate. Was life all about books? Didn’t well rounded adults know how to play? While her few girlfriends were dating, traveling, exploring, getting engaged, what was Angie doing? Making Mama proud.

Yet the family stories about her mother and aunts….apparently they hadn’t sacrificed a social life, though they were all over-achievers. One story had Uncle Jack being chastised when Grandma found packages of condoms floating in the washer water, but they weren’t his —they were Donna’s.

Angie would give just about anything to have that much of a life. Right now she was feeling very fortunate on one hand and on the other, robbed. She was going to fix that if she could.

“And did everyone have a great Thanksgiving?” she asked Jack and Brie.

“I might never eat again,” Brie said. “How about you?”

“We were all at Grandpa’s and it was good, except for a little melodrama about me leaving for a month. Between the aunts, uncles and cousins there seems to be quite a diversity of opinion on how I should live my life.”

“I imagine. And what did Sam say?” Brie asked of her father.

“Grandpa thought it was an excellent idea to come up here for a little while and reminded us all that you did that, Brie.”

“And you know what? He was very supportive and encouraging at the time, even though he was at least as worried about me as your parents are about you. He had guessed I was in love. Your grandpa is a pretty modern, savvy guy.”

“Yes,” she said quietly. She was close to Sam Sheridan and had often wished, over the past nine months, that she could tell him she had seen Grandma. And she looked wonderful. But first of all, she wasn’t sure she hadn’t been dreaming or hallucinating and second, Grandma had been gone such a long time. She didn’t want to stir up grief in her grandpa.

Preacher had a look of stun and awe on his face as he came from the kitchen, stripping off his apron and tossing it over the bar before grabbing Angie up in his big arms and spinning her right off her stool. “Aw, girl, girl, girl,” he said, hugging her tight. Then he held her away and looked her over. “You are beautiful!” And then he had to let go of her to wipe his eyes.

“Preach,” she said, laughing.

Paige slipped around her husband, giving Angie a warm hug. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she said softly.

“Your big scary husband is crying.”

“I know,” she said. “He’s such a dichotomy. The last person you want to meet in a dark alley, but he’s so tender hearted. He cries at Disney movies and Hallmark commercials.”

“Yesterday I cried over football,” he said. “It was pathetic all day. I’m just so damn glad to see you, Ange. Your uncle Jack was a mess while you were in the hospital, he was so worried.”

“And as you can see, all is well,” she said.

“Mel says you want a take-out. I’ll make you anything you want — you just tell me what.”

“I’ll have whatever’s on the menu and a bottle of wine. Do you have any Sauvignon Blanc?”

“Are you sure you’re allowed alcohol?” Jack asked.

“Yes,” she said with a laugh. “Hence the beer. I promise not to get wasted. But gee, some of Preacher’s dinner, a glass of wine, a fire, a book, peace and quiet… Oh Jack, there are logs out there, right?”

“You’re all set,” he said. “Do you know how to light the fire?”

She rolled her eyes. “Preacher, do you suppose I could do a little graze through your kitchen? Grab some staples — a few eggs, some milk, bread, that sort of thing? In case I wake up starving?”

“Absolutely,” he said.

Although it was soft and low, Angie heard someone clear his throat. There, at the end of the bar in the corner was a lone man in an army green, down-padded jacket, dark hair, an empty beer glass and some money in his hand.

Jack turned to him, took his money and said, “Thanks, bud. See you around.”

“Have a nice reunion,” the man said. And he moved to leave.

He was so tall, that was what she noticed first. As tall as her uncle Jack. And his dark hair had some red in it. Dark auburn. She’d never seen that combination before, unless it was on a woman and came out of a bottle. Usually red shades came with blond or light brown hair. The stubble on his cheeks was redder.

As he walked toward the door, they met eyes and Angie felt her cheeks grow warm — caught staring. He had the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. Had to be contacts. He gave her a half smile; only one side of his mouth lifted.

Then he turned and exited.

“Wow,” she said. “Whew. Who’s the hottie?”

Brie laughed and said, “I think our girl is indeed fully recovered.”

Jack let go a little growl. “He’s not the one for you,” he said.

Angie looked around at all the smiling faces — Brie, Paige, Preacher…. “Gee, did I ask if he was right for me? It’s not even my birthday.”

Preacher chortled loudly, another thing the big cook seldom did. “Patrick Riordan,” he told her. “Here sitting out a little leave. He’s Navy. I think he got hurt or something.”

“Nah, he didn’t get hurt,” Jack clarified. “Luke said there was an accident during his last deployment and he decided to take a little leave or something. Riordans, good people, but that one’s got troubles right now. You might want to give him a wide berth. I don’t know all the details, but it sounds like combat issues…”

“Yeah, we wouldn’t want to get mixed up with anyone with combat issues,” Preacher joked. And Jack glared at him. Preacher put a big hand on her shoulder and said, “He’s been kind of quiet and grumpy. If you got to know him a little? I bet he wouldn’t cheer you up that much.”

That made Angie laugh. “Well how about that — we both had accidents. What’s for dinner, Preach?”

“Big surprise, turkey soup. It’ll keep you very healthy. I boiled two carcasses all day. Home made noodles — the best. Even though it’s not raining, I baked bread.”

Her mouth began to water. “I’m in.”

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Character Sketches

Patrick Riordan—The youngest of the Riordan brothers and a Navy fighter pilot, who is in Virgin River for a respite after losing his best friend when a mission over Afghanistan went terribly wrong.

Angie LaCroix—A young medical student recovering from a catastrophic car accident, who visits her uncle, Jack Sheridan. Her agenda is much like Patrick’s—she needs some time and space to regain her confidence and reassert her goals.

Donna LaCroix—Angie’s mom, Jack’s oldest sister. A journalism professor, she can be overprotective and domineering, one of the reasons Angie flees to Virgin River for a break.

Jake—Patrick’s deceased best friend.

Marie—Jake’s widow. Patrick spends as much time as possible talking to her on the phone or visiting her, feeling very responsible for her as a support.

Megan Thickson—A nine-year-old with a devastating facial scar that’s leaving her disfigured.

Frank and Lorraine Thickson—Megan’s parents.

Dr. Hernandez—A reconstructive surgeon.

September 27, 2016
Mira Books Trade Paperback

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The Life She Wants

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr creates an emotional and uplifting ensemble of characters in this rags-to-riches-to-rags novel about women, friendship and the complex path to happiness 

In the aftermath of her financier husband’s suicide, Emma Shay Compton’s dream life is shattered. Richard Compton stole his clients’ life savings to fund a lavish life in New York City and, although she was never involved in the business, Emma bears the burden of her husband’s crimes. She is left with nothing.

Only one friend stands by her, a friend she’s known since high school, who encourages her to come home to Sonoma County. But starting over isn’t easy, and Sonoma is full of unhappy memories, too. And people she’d rather not face, especially Riley Kerrigan.

Riley and Emma were like sisters—until Riley betrayed Emma, ending their friendship. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, Emma can’t escape her husband’s reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she’d ever ask for help—her former best friend. It’s an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they’ve made over the years. Only if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—can each of them find the life she wants.

Excerpt

Prologue

There was a time when the truth became brutally evident, and it was such a minor moment it might have escaped her.

Emma Shay Compton had always known that her marriage to Richard looked like a fairytale to many and though she had loved Richard, she had always felt something lacking. She couldn’t put her finger on it, it was so vague. Richard was good to her, generous, though he was a busy, busy man, and soon after their wedding he became remote. Distant. Mega-rich brokers don’t sit around the house coddling their young wives, they work sixteen hour days. They’re never far from their phone. They seem to command multitudes. And if a person, even a wife, wanted to get on his calendar, she had to plan ahead. So when she’d get that feeling that something was wrong with her marriage, she’d sometimes blame herself. She should be more understanding.

When his lawyers began to meet with him to discuss problems with the SEC, she barely noticed. When she asked him about something she’d read in the paper about his company being investigated for securities fraud, he calmly said, “Slow news day.” He next said, “Pay attention to the financial pages—it happens every day. Several multi-billion dollar banking and investment corporations are also currently being investigated.  The SEC has to justify its existence somehow. I resent the time suck, but it won’t last long.”

She didn’t give it another thought, though she did pay attention as he suggested.  Of course he was right—there were many investigations, steep fines, reorganizations, buy-outs, companies shutting down. The banking and investment world was under very close scrutiny.

Then he said they had to appear in court, he and the legal team. He’d like her to go if she could get it on her schedule, and she laughed. “I’m not the one with a full schedule, Richard.”

And he smiled his perfect, confident, calm smile.  He touched her cheek.  “You won’t have to do or say anything.”

It was that morning. He had noticed the suit she laid over the chair and said, “Perfect.” Then he went into his bathroom. Sitting at her dressing table, she was smoothing lotion on her legs. She heard the water running in his sink. And then she heard, “Ach! Son of a bitch!”

He’d cut himself shaving and swore, and she met her own eyes in the mirror.  That was the instant she knew—she’d been living a lie, and everything said about him was true.

He was a cold, calculating liar and thief. And her life was about to change forever.

 Chapter One

It’s the little things that will break you. Emma Catherine Shay had been thinking about that a lot lately. She stood strong while everything was taken from her, while she hid out at a little motel near the Jersey shore, while her husband was buried, while the media spun a sordid tale of deceit and thievery that implied she’d been aware if not complicit in what her late husband had done. Stood. Strong. But when the heel broke on her best sling back pumps leaving her stumbling down the courthouse steps, she collapsed in tears, a photo printed everywhere, even People magazine. When they asked her to please stop coming to her yoga studio, she thought she would die of shame and cried herself to sleep. No one had ever explained to her that the last straw usually weighed almost nothing.

Everything in her Manhattan apartment and vacation home had been auctioned.  She packed up some practical items to take with her and donated some of her more personal clothing to women’s shelters. Of course the art, crystal, china, silver and jewelry had disappeared quickly, even items she could prove had nothing to do with Richard’s business, even wedding gifts from friends. They took her designer clothing.  Her Vera Wang wedding gown was gone. She kept a couple sets of good sheets, towels, one partial set of kitchen ware, six glasses, a few placemats, napkins and so on. She had a box of photos, most from before Richard. She stuffed it all in her new Prius. The Jag was gone, of course.

There had been a settlement since they couldn’t establish that she had anything to do with Richard’s Ponzi scheme; couldn’t prove it since she hadn’t. She hadn’t testified against him, not out of loyalty or because it was her legal prerogative, but rather because she had nothing to say, nothing upon which to leverage some kind of deal. She hadn’t been in court everyday out of support for Richard but because it was the best way for her to learn about the crimes he was accused of. She had come into the marriage with nine thousand dollars in savings; she left as a widow, keeping nine thousand in a checking account. It would be her emergency fund. She started a trip cross country, leaving New York behind and heading for Sonoma County, where she grew up.

She’d given all this a great deal of thought. She’d been thinking about it for months before Richard’s death. She could’ve kept the entire settlement and retired to the islands. Or maybe Europe. She’d been fond of Switzerland. She could change her name, color her hair blond, lie about her past … But eventually people would figure her out and then what? Run again?

Instead, she surrendered the settlement, gave up everything she could have kept, and headed home to face it. She didn’t want Richard’s ill-gotten gains. Even though she hadn’t swindled anyone, she couldn’t in conscience touch any of it.

There were a few people she knew back in the Santa Rosa area, a couple she’d stayed in touch with. The area was familiar to her. There wasn’t much family anymore—a stepmother, Rosemary, had moved to Palm Springs with her third husband; her stepsister, Anna, and half-sister, Lauren, still lived in the house they grew up in as of five years ago.  They’d all washed their hands of Emma when Richard was indicted.  In fact the last time she talked to her stepmother was right before Richard’s death, when all the walls were tumbling down and Emma was literally in hiding from the angry victims of Richard’s fraud, victims who believed Emma had gotten away with some of their money. Rosemary had said, “Well, your greed has certainly cost you this time.”

“Rosemary, I didn’t do anything,” she reminded her.

And then Rosemary said what everyone thought. “So you say.”

Well, Rosemary had always thought the worst of her.  She hoped the people she knew in Sonoma County wouldn’t. She’d lived there her whole life, gone to Catholic school and public high school there. And she thought it was extremely unlikely any of Richard’s clients, aka victims, of his New York-based investment company hailed from the little towns in Sonoma County.

Her closest friend, possibly her only friend at this point, Lyle Dressler, found her a little furnished bungalow in Sebastopol. Lyle and his partner lived in the town so she had some moral support there.

Emma was thirty-four and had married Richard Compton, twenty years her senior, nine years ago. He was a sharp, handsome, successful forty-five when they married. She’d been twenty-five and completely under his spell. Forty-five might have been twenty years older than she, but it was hardly considered old. He was fit, healthy, brilliant, rich and still young. In fact, he was considered one of the most desired bachelors in New York City.

Rosemary and her sisters had certainly liked him then. They were eager to travel to New York to attend any social event Richard would grudgingly include them in. But they hadn’t offered one ounce of support to Emma during the take-down.

The few years of marriage before the investigation and indictment hadn’t been heaven on earth, but it was all right. Her complaints seemed to be standard among people she knew—he was busy, preoccupied, they didn’t spend enough time together even when they were traveling. The first friends she’d made through work in New York had gradually drifted away once she settled into her multi-million dollar marriage. She’d never quite fit in with that elite crowd, so she’d been a little lonely. It seemed like she was always around people, however, doing her part with committee work, exercising, decorating, entertaining, feeling that she must be indispensable to Richard, he was all she really had. It was a dark and terrible day when she realized he was a complete stranger.

Before her fifth anniversary, the investigation had begun. Before the seventh, indictments had been handed down and assets frozen. She spent her eighth anniversary in court. Richard’s defense attorneys had managed many a delay, but eventually there was a trial—a circus of a trial—and she appeared to be the trusting, good wife, head held high. Richard’s mother and sister had not come to the trial and refused interviews. She’d always assumed they didn’t think she was good enough for Richard, but after the trial she changed her opinion. They must have known all about him.  He had to be dark and empty inside.

He never talked to her about it, at least not until the ugly, bitter end.  Not one conversation. When she asked about the investigation, he just said they were out to get him, that business was tough but he was tougher, that they’d never prove anything. At the end there had been a few brief, nasty but revealing discourses. How could you?  How could I not? How could you justify the greed? My greed? How about their greed? Do they have to justify it? They wanted me to do anything to make them money! They wanted me to spin straw into gold even if I had to lie, cheat and steal! Each one of them just wanted their pay day before it all broke! 

The Feds proved everything with ease. Employees cut deals and testified against him. Truckloads of documentation proved securities fraud, theft, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering … the list was long. When the end was near, when he’d attempted a getaway and been unceremoniously returned by U.S. marshals, when his off-shore accounts had been located and identified, when he faced a long jail sentence with no nest egg left hidden away, Richard shot himself.

Of course no one believed she had no idea. Apparently people thought he came home from the office and bared his soul over a drink. He had not.

The Richard she knew was obviously a con man, a chameleon. He could be so charming, so devoted. But he always had a plan and always wanted something more.  Why wouldn’t I marry you? You were an outstanding investment. Perfect for the role!  It’s a well-known factpeople trust married men more than single men.  He was a narcissist, a manipulator, a liar and cheat. He was so damn good at it, a person could feel almost honored to be manipulated and lied to by him. He had the looks of Richard Gere, the brilliance of Steve Jobs, the ethics of Bernie Madoff. Thank God he wasn’t as successful as Bernie. Richard had only managed to steal about a hundred million.

What did she know? She knew he was private; he didn’t talk about work, which she thought was normal behavior for a powerful man. He was an amazing communicator in business and socially, but once he stopped courting her, he stopped telling her stories about his family, his youth, college, about his early years on Wall Street. She knew he didn’t have many old friends, just a lot of business contacts. She never met college pals or colleagues from his early professional days. He did routinely ask her about her day, however. He’d ask her about her schedule, her projects, what she did, who she talked to, what was happening in her world. When he was home, that is—he was often working late or traveling. The thing that set Richard apart from other, mediocre con men—he knew how to listen. People, herself included, thought they’d learned something about him when he hadn’t said a word about himself. But he listened to them. Raptly. They were thrilled by this attention.

One nine-year marriage, a few years of which had been weirdly adequate, five years of which had been a nightmare. Now she wondered how long would the nightmare last.

*****

Emma went to Lyle’s flower shop, Hello, Gorgeous, named for Barbra Streisand, of course. Lyle had been wonderful to her through this whole ordeal. He hadn’t been able to be in New York with her very often. Not only was it a great, costly distance, but there was the small complication that his partner, Ethan, had never been particularly fond of Emma. He had made a couple of trips, however, and called almost daily during the rough patches. She understood about Ethan. But Lyle and Emma had been friends long before Ethan came into his life. For reasons unknown, Ethan had never warmed to her. Emma suspected good old-fashioned jealousy, as if Emma might bring out Lyle’s straight side or something. So, Emma and Ethan had always had a rather cool regard for each other. But since Richard’s debacle Ethan’s regard had gone from cool to cautiously frigid.

But, and this was an important but, if Ethan went on about his dislike and disapproval of Emma too much, he was going to lose Lyle, and he might be bitchy but he wasn’t stupid.

And, of course, who should be dusting up behind the counter but Ethan. “Well, Emma, I see you made it,” he said as though it took effort to be kind.

“Yes, thank you,” she answered carefully.

“Long journey?” Ethan surprised her by asking.

“In every way,” she said.

“Well, there you are,” Lyle said as he came from the back. “Would you like a cup of coffee or something before we head over to Penny’s house?”

She shook her head. “I parked down the block in the only available space.  I’d like to get going—I have a lot to do.”

“Sure,” he said. He turned to Ethan. “I’m going to give Em a hand, visit with Penny a little. I’ll probably grab something to eat with them. I won’t be late.”

Ethan lifted his chin and sniffed, but his reply was perfectly appropriate. “I think I’ll drop in on Nora and Ed. Sounds like a good night to get a little uncle time.”

“Excellent.  Give them my love.”

Then, hand on her elbow, Lyle escorted her out of the shop. “I’m parked right here. I’ll drive you down to your car,” he said.

“Oh please, no,” she said, laughing. “My butt hurts so bad, I hate to even get back in the car. I’m going to walk, it’s only a block. And I have a cooler with some drinks for us. Listen, I don’t want to …” She tilted her head toward the store. “I don’t want to cause any friction. If you’ll just get me to the house and introduce me to your friend, I can manage from there.”

“No worries, Emma. I explained to Ethan days ago that I was going to lend a hand when you got here.” He chuckled. “He was very adult about it. It’s time for him to pay his sister a visit anyway. They live a mile away, and Ethan doesn’t visit as often as he should. I think I visit more than he does—we have a gorgeous niece. He can go over there and complain about me and my stubborn ways. Besides, I want to make sure you’re all right.”

She smiled at him with gratitude. “I might never be all right again,” she said. “All I want right now is a little quiet and anonymity.”

“Have you heard from Rosemary?” he asked.

“I did her the courtesy of telling her I’d be moving to a small bungalow in Sebastopol and told her I could be reached through you. I don’t even trust her enough to give her my new cell number—I bet she’d sell it to the press. I take it you haven’t heard from her?”

He shook his head, and this came as no surprise. Rosemary had been in touch when she thought Richard was rich and powerful; after his fall from grace, she behaved as if she didn’t know him. “We haven’t made amends.  She wasn’t exactly supportive.”

“Your sisters should be helping you now,” he said.

They had never done anything to help her. “We’ve never been that kind of family,” she said. Indeed, they weren’t family at all.

“I can relate,” Lyle said.

Emma knew, Lyle had always had a hard time with his father, but at least his mother adored him. She gave his upper arm a squeeze. “Well, you’ve saved my life here. I’d be lost without this little place you found.”

“It found me. Penny is elderly, but don’t use that word around her. She’s what we’d call spry. Almost eighty and still walking three miles a day, gardening and playing the occasional game of tennis. But, the problem with living forever, the money thins out eventually.”

“And she knows everything?” Emma asked.

He nodded. “As you wished. She said, we’ve all hooked up with the wrong person here and there, poor girl. This little bungalow is a sort of guest house, a casita, though her house, the main house, isn’t that much bigger. Prepare yourself; it’s all quite small. She doesn’t need a keeper; no care involved. But a little bit of rent will probably help you both.” He shook his head. “I don’t know that you’ve ever lived in anything this simple, Em. It’s old, musty, small and tacky.”

“You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to it.”

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Virgin River Book # 18
August 30, 2016
MIRA Paperback

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Redwood Bend

CAN CHANGING
A TIRE CHANGE YOUR LIFE?
Katie Malone and her twin boys’ trip along the beautiful mountain roads to Virgin River is stopped short by a tire as flat as her failed romance. To make matters worse, the rain has set in, the boys are hungry and Katie doesn’t have the first clue about putting on a spare. As she stands at the side of the road pondering her next move, she hears a distinct rumble. The sight of the sexy, leather-clad bikers who pull up beside her puts her imagination into overdrive.

Dylan Childress and his buddies are on the motorcycle trip of a lifetime. But the site of a woman in distress stops them in their tracks. And while the guys are checking out her car, she and Dylan are checking out one another.

In one brief moment, the world tilts on its axis and any previous plans Katie and Dylan might have had for their futures are left at the side of the road.

WELCOME BACK TO THE RIVER.
Originally published 02/28/2012

Excerpt

Chapter One

When Katie had escaped to Vermont in March, she had left behind her minivan with the license plate that could identify her. It was to be sold and Conner had arranged for a late model Lincoln Navigator SUV to be waiting for her — a mammoth vehicle that she could barely park. As any carpooling mother might, she had grieved her minivan — it was light and easy to handle and felt like an extension of her body. But she came to quickly love the big, gas guzzling SUV. She felt like queen of the road — so safe and invulnerable; she could see over everything and everyone. She loved to drive that car and looked forward to some time on the road for reflection, to consider her options. The act of seeing the miles vanish in the rear view mirror was a good way to leave the past behind and welcome a new beginning.

It didn’t take Katie long to get out of town. She had UPS pick up her boxes on Monday, phoned the school and arranged to have the boys’ kindergarten records scanned and emailed to her, invited the landlord over to check the condition of the house and asked her neighbor to come over and help herself to the perishables that would otherwise be thrown out. She arranged to have the Lincoln picked up in Orlando and moved to Sacramento while she and the boys did a little Disney. She packed not only clothes, but the cooler and picnic basket. Her tool belt, which was pink and had been given to her by her late husband, Charlie, went with her everywhere. Armed with portable DVD players and movies, iPads and rechargers, she loaded her monster SUV and headed south.

They got off to a great start, but after a few hours the boys started to wiggle and squabble and complain. She stopped for the bathroom for one when the other one didn’t have to go and fifteen minutes down the road, had to stop again for the second one. They picnicked at rest stops every few hours and she ran them around to tire them out, though the only one who seemed tired was Katie. She repaired a malfunctioning DVD player, set up some snacks and loaded them back up to hit the road again.

She couldn’t help but wonder how parents did this sort of thing ten, twenty, thirty years ago before portable movies and iPad games. How did they manage without fifth wheel sized cars with pull down consoles that served as tables to hold games and refreshments? Without cars that, like cruise ships, had individual heating and air conditioning thermostats? How did the pioneer mothers manage? Did they even have duct tape back then?

Most women, at times like this, would be reduced to self-pity because they were left with these high maintenance, energetic boys, but Katie just wasn’t that kind of woman. She hated self-pity. She did, however, wish Charlie could see them, experience them.

Katie met and married Charlie when she was twenty-six. They had a romantic, devoted, passion charged relationship, but it had been too short. He was a Green Beret — Army Special Forces. When she was pregnant with the boys, he deployed to Afghanistan where he was killed before they were born.

How she wished he knew them now. When they weren’t in trouble they were so funny. She imagined they were like their father had been as a child; they certainly resembled him physically. They were large for their ages, rambunctious, competitive, bright, a little short tempered and possessive. They both had a strong sentimental streak. They still needed mother-cuddling regularly and they loved all animals, even the tiniest ones. They tried to cover up their tears during Disney movies like Bambi. If one of them got scared, the other propped him up and reassured and vice versa. When they were forced together, like in the backseat of the car, they wanted space. When they were forced apart, they wanted to be together. She wondered if they’d ever take individual showers.

And for all her griping at Charlie for never closing the bathroom door, she now longed for a little solitary bathroom time. The boys had been in her bubble, no matter what she was doing, since they could crawl. She could barely have a bath without company in the last five years.

So her life wasn’t always easy. Was theirs? They didn’t seem to realize they didn’t have the average family life — they had a mom and no dad, but they had Uncle Conner. She showed them the pictures of their dad and told them, all the time, how excited he had been to see them. But then he’d gone to the angels…. He was a hero who’d gone to the angels…

So Disney World was a good idea. They’d all earned it.

******************************
Katie intended for the boys to have fun at Disney, a reward for being the brave little troupers they didn’t even realize they were. She also hoped a couple days with Mickey and friends would tire them out, but the Mouse didn’t wear the boys down quite enough. Three days and nights at Disney World seemed to energize them. They squirmed the whole way to Sacramento on the plane and because they’d been confined, they ran like around the hotel room like a couple of nutballs.

They set off for Virgin River right after breakfast, but as for the scenic drive to Virgin River, it was dark, gloomy and rainy. She was completely disappointed — she wanted to take in the beauty Conner had described — the mountains, redwoods, sheer cliffs and lush valleys. Well, ever the optimist, she hoped the gray skies would help the boys nod off.

But not right away, apparently.

“Andy has Avatar! It’s my turn to have Avatar!”

“Christ almighty, why didn’t I buy two of those,” she mumbled.

“Someone wants soap in her mouth,” Mitch The Enforcer muttered from the backseat.

It was hard to imagine what she’d be up against if Charlie were still with them. He had no patience and the filthiest language. Marines blushed when he opened his mouth. For that matter, Katie wanted to shout into the backseat I took you to goddamn Disney World! Share the goddamn movie! “If I have to stop this car to deal with your bickering, it will be a very long time before we get to Uncle Conner’s house! And then it will be straight to time out!”

They made a noble effort, but it involved a great deal of grunting, shoving and squirming.

As soon as she got off Highway 5 and headed for the narrow, winding road that skirted Clear Lake the driving became more challenging. Sometimes it was harrowing. She passed what appeared to be a small dock house or shed that had broken apart in the lake, right off the road, but as she slowed she saw that it was an RV that had slipped off the road and crashed into the water. She slowed but couldn’t stop; there was no place to pull over and behind her were the sirens of first responders.

Once they got to Humboldt County, she turned off the freeway right at the coastal town of Fortuna and headed east on Highway 36, up into the mountains. This was a good, two-lane highway and as she rose into the mountains, the views took her breath away. Huge trees on the mountainsides reached into the clouds, lush farms, ranches and vineyards spread through the valleys below. She couldn’t indulge the views — there were no guardrails, nor were there wide shoulders. And before she’d gone very far up the mountain she found herself buried in the forest on a winding road that broke left, then right, then up, then down. The trees were so large, blocking what little light there was, and her headlights in the rain were a minor help.

Then it happened. She felt a bump, then heard a pop. The big car swerved, then listed to the left and went kathump, kathump, kathump. She pulled over as far as possible, but was on a very short straightaway between two curves, so still stuck out into the road a bit. Here’s where having the super-sized SUV wasn’t so convenient.

“Stay in the car, in your seats,” she told the boys. And she cautiously exited the car, watching for traffic coming around the curves in either direction. The rain was coming down in a steady sheet, although it was filtered by the boughs of huge pines and sequoias. Those pine needles didn’t do much to keep her dry, however. She shivered in the cold rain and wondered, This is June? It had been so warm in Sacramento, she hadn’t taken jackets or sweatshirts out of their suitcases. She hadn’t accounted for the temperature drop in the mountains.

She crouched, sitting on the heel of her right Uggs, and glared at the traitorous tire in disgust. Flat as a pancake, rubber torn away. What a mess. It wasn’t going anywhere, that was for sure.

Katie knew how to change a tire, but just the same, she got back in the car and took out her phone. On a vehicle this size, it could be a challenge. Maybe they were close enough to Virgin River for Conner to help.

No bars. No service. No help.

Well, that certainly diminished her options. She looked into the backseat. “Mommy’s going to change the tire and I need you to stay in the car and sit very, very still. No moving around, all right?”

“Why?”

“Because I have to jack up the car where the flat tire is and if you wiggle around it could fall and maybe hurt me. Can you sit still? Very still?”

They nodded gravely. She couldn’t have them out of the car, running wild in the forest or along this narrow highway. She shut off the SUV and went to the rear, lifting the hatch. She had to pull out a couple of suitcases and move the picnic basket to open the wheel well cover and floorboard. She pulled out the lug wrench and jack.

The first thing to do was actually the hardest for a woman her size — loosening the lug nuts before jacking up the car. She put her whole body into it, but she couldn’t budge a single one. Not even the slightest bit. This was when it didn’t pay off to be five-foot-four and a lightweight. She used a foot and two hands. Nothing. She stood up, pulled a rubber tie out of the pocket of her jeans and wound her long hair into a ponytail. She wiped her hands down her jeans and gave it another try, grunting with the effort. Still nothing. She was going to have to wait for someone to…

She heard a rumble that grew closer. And because today wasn’t turning out to be one of her luckier days, it couldn’t be some old rancher. Nope. It had to be a motorcycle gang. “Crap,” she said. “Well, beggers can’t be choosers.” And she waved them down. Four of them pulled up right behind the SUV while the one in front got off his bike and removed his helmet as he approached her while the others stayed balanced on their rumbling bikes.

Whew, wasn’t he a big, scary looking dude. Huge and leather clad with lots of hair, both facial and a long pony tail. He also jingled a little while he walked — there were chains around his boot heels, hanging from his belt and adorning his jacket. With his helmet cradled in the crook of his arm, he looked down at her. “Whatcha got?”

“Flat,” she said, and shivered. “I can handle it if you’ll just help me with the lugs. I’m in good shape, but I’m no match for the air compressor torque that tightened ‘em down.”

He cocked his head and lifted one brow, probably surprised that a woman would know about the torque. He went over to the tire and squatted. “Dang,” he said. “Doesn’t get much flatter than that. I hope you have a spare.”

“In the undercarriage. Really, I can…”

He stood up and cut her off. “Let’s just get ‘er done. That way the lugs on the spare will be as tight as these.”

“Thanks, but I hate to hold you up. If you’ll just—”

He completely ignored her, walking back to his bike and stowing his helmet. He pulled a few flat road warning triangles out of his side pocket and handed a couple to riders. “Stu, take these warning markers up the road to that curve. Lang, go back down to that last curve and put these out. Dylan, you can help change the tire. Let’s do it.”

And then he was walking back to where she stood, still holding the lug wrench. Now, Conner was a big man and this guy was yet bigger. As she stood dripping in the rain, she felt about half his size. As two bikers rode away with their road markers, the fourth, Dylan, propped up his bike, removed his helmet and came toward them. And her eyes almost popped out. Warning! Major hottie! His black hair was a little on the long side, his face about a couple of days unshaven, his body long and lean with a tear in each knee of his jeans and what might just be a gym sock shoved in his snug jeans. He walked with a slight swagger, pulling off his gloves and stuffing them in the back pockets of his jeans, though they were so tight there shouldn’t be much room for anything. She lifted her eyes back to his face. He should probably be on a billboard.

“Let’s make this easy,” Number One was saying to Dylan. “How about you lighten the load a little bit.” And then he applied the lug wrench and with a simple, light jerk, spun the first lug nut, then a second, then a third. Piece of cake. For him.

Dylan approached her and she noticed his camel-colored pointy toed cowboy boots, tan leather jacket, great big cowboy sized belt buckle and amazing blue eyes. He completely ignored her and began to pull things out of the back of the SUV — first a large, heavy suitcase, a smaller one, then the cooler. Meanwhile, the SUV was lifting, apparently already on the jack.

Dylan paused, cooler in his hands, looking down at her. He looked up, she looked down. Swell. Her white T-shirt was soaked, plastered to her skin, her pretty little lace bra was now transparent, her nipples were tan bullets pointed right at him. He frowned. He put down the cooler, stripped off his leather jacket and draped it around her shoulders, pulling it closed.

Nice, she thought. Wet T-shirt display on the deserted road for a biker gang. Great. There she stood in a thin, transparent-when-wet shirt, her jeans as tight as his and her Uggs up to her knees over her jeans. “Thank you,” she mumbled. And she backed away so he could empty the back and get the tire from the under carriage.

“Must’ve hit a pothole or something,” the first biker was saying. “That tire is done for.”

She hugged the warm leather jacket around her and his scent rose, his very pleasant musk combined with rain and forest. It was toasty warm inside the jacket, dripping on the outside. Okay, maybe they weren’t Hell’s Angels. Just a bunch of nutballs out for a ride in the rain?

When Dylan took the spare around the SUV to his buddy, Katie got into the suitcase on top and pulled out a dark cowl-neck sweatshirt. She put the leather jacket in the back of the car and pulled the sweatshirt over her wet T-shirt. She looked down. Better.

Not long after her clothing adjustment, Dylan came around the back of the car carrying a destroyed, useless tire, his long sleeved shirt soaked and glued against a totally cut, sculptured, muscled chest. His shoulders and biceps bulged with the strain of carrying the heavy tire and he was having that little nipple problem himself. But God, what a body. He probably shouldn’t be out riding in the rain — he should be modeling or working with the Chippendales.

Stop, she told herself. Great to look at, but I’m sworn off. I’m concentrating on my future and my family. But wow.

After he stowed the tire, she picked up the jacket and held it toward him. “Here you go,” she said. “Thanks.”

“My pleasure. Hard to believe it’s June.”

“I was just thinking that.”

And then he did the most unexpected thing. He put the jacket down in the back of the SUV and stripped off his soaked shirt; he put the jacket on over skin. Her mouth stood open slightly, her eyes riveted to his body until he snapped the jacket closed. Then she slowly looked up and he smiled and winked. He walked back to his bike, shoved the wet shirt in a side pocket and returned to the back of the SUV just as it was lowering onto a new tire.

Dylan began to reload the SUV and for a second she was just mesmerized, but then she shook herself and began to help, every once in a while meeting his eyes. Oh God, he had Conner’s eyes — crystal blue and twinkling beneath thick, dark lashes. She also had blue eyes but they were merely ordinary blue eyes while Conner’s (and Dylan’s!) were more periwinkle and almost startling in their depth. Paul Newman eyes, her mother used to say. And this guy had them, too! Her parents must have had a love child they left on the church steps or something.

No. Wait. She knew him — the eyes, the name. Not personally. It had been a long, long time ago, but she’d seen him before. Not in person, but on TV. On magazine covers. But then, surely it wasn’t… Yes, the Hollywood bad boy from years ago. What had become of him since way back then?

“You can get back in if you want to,” Dylan said. “Turn the heat up. I hope you don’t have far to go.”

“I’m almost there,” she said.

Dylan put the cooler in, then the heaviest suitcase. Then he took a handkerchief out of his back pocket, wiped down his rain-slicked face and then began to wipe off his dirty hands. “You have a couple of stowaways,” he said, glancing into the car.

She peeked into the SUV. A couple of identical sets of brown eyes peered over the backseat. “My boys,” she said.

“You don’t look old enough to have boys.”

“I’m at least fifty,” she said. “Ever been on a road trip with five-year-old twins?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

Of course he hadn’t, because he was some gorgeous god-like hunk of hoodlum who was free as a bird and out either terrorizing or rescuing maidens in the forest. Wow.

“You’re all set, miss,” the big biker said as he came around the SUV, pulling on his leather gloves. Jeez, he had chains on those, too.

“Thanks for your help. The lugs get me every time.”

“I’d never leave a lady in distress by the side of the road, my mother would kill me. And that’s nothing to what my wife would say!”

“You have a wife?” she asked. And before she could stop herself, she added, “And a mother?”

Dylan burst out with a short laugh. He clapped a hand on the big guy’s back and said, “There’s a lot more to Walt than meets the eye, Miss… I didn’t get a name…”

She put out an icy hand. “Katie Malone.”

“I’m Dylan,” he said, taking the hand. How in the world he had managed warm hands after changing a tire in the freezing rain, she would long wonder. “And of course, this is Walt, roadside good Samaritan.” Then he addressed Walt. “I’ll ride back and get Lang. We’ll scoop up Stu on the way up the road.”

“You should be just fine, Katie,” Walt said. “Jump in, tell the little guys to buckle up, crank up the heater and watch the road.”

“Right. Yes. Listen, can I pay you for your trouble? I’m sure it would’ve cost me at least a hundred bucks to have that tire changed.”

“Don’t be absurd,” he said, startling her with his choice of words. It just didn’t seem like the vocabulary that would fit a big, scary biker dude. “You’d do the same for me if you could. Just be sure to replace that tire right away so you always have a spare.”

“You always go out for a ride in the rain?” she asked.

“We were on the road already. But there are better days for it, that’s for sure. If it had been coming down much harder, we’d have had to hole up under a tree or something. Don’t want to slide off a mountain. Take care.” Then he turned and tromped back to his hog with the high handlebars.

 

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Character Sketches

Katie Malone—Thirty-two-year-old widowed mother of twin boys. Now that the threat to their safety is over, Katie is reuniting with her brother, Conner, planning to spend the summer in Virgin River.

Dylan Childress—A former child actor, 35-year-old Dylan, now a pilot and rancher of sorts, is the owner of a charter air service in Payne, Montana. Dylan and his buddies are on their annual motorcycle road trip, this year through California, when they run into Katie, who is sidelined by a flat tire.

Andy & Mitch—Katie’s five-year-old identical twins. After a family trip to Disney World, Katie is taking her bright, rambunctious boys to Virgin River to spend time with their Uncle Conner.

Adele Childress—Dylan’s grandmother. Adele, a famous actress in her own right, she removed troubled teenager Dylan from the Hollywood scene, taking him to the ranch in Montana where she raised him.

Lang—Best friends since college, Lang and Dylan are business partners. Lang and his wife, Sue Ann, have five children.

Blaine—Dylan’s 40-year-old stepsister.

Bryce—Age 30, Bryce is Dylan’s half brother.

Cherise Fontaine—Dylan’s mother. Cherise is an actress and, like Blaine and Bryce, has used Dylan’s notoriety for personal gain.

Jay Romney—A well-known Hollywood producer, who is looking forward to having Dylan star in another movie.