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Sullivan's Crossing Book #4
December 17, 2019
MIRA Mass Market Paperback, Hardcover, eBook & audio

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The Best of Us

In Sullivan’s Crossing, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr has created a place where good people, powerful emotions, great humor and a healthy dose of common sense are the key ingredients to a happy life. Sullivan’s Crossing brings out the best in people. It’s a place you’ll want to visit again and again.

Dr. Leigh Culver loves practicing medicine in Timberlake, Colorado. It is a much-needed change of pace from her stressful life in Chicago. The only drawback is she misses her aunt Helen, the woman who raised her. But it’s time that Leigh has her independence, and she hopes the beauty of the Colorado wilderness will entice her aunt to visit often.

Helen Culver is an independent woman who lovingly raised her sister’s orphaned child. Now, with Leigh grown, it’s time for her to live life for herself. The retired teacher has become a successful mystery writer who loves to travel and intends to never experience winter again.

When Helen visits Leigh, she is surprised to find her niece still needs her, especially when it comes to sorting out her love life. But the biggest surprise comes when Leigh takes Helen out to Sullivan’s Crossing and Helen finds herself falling for the place and one special person. Helen and Leigh will each have to decide if they can open themselves up to love neither expected to find and seize the opportunity to live their best lives.

Excerpt

ON THE FIRST REALLY WARM, DRY DAY IN EARLY MARCH,

Dr. Leigh Culver left her clinic at lunchtime and drove out to Sullivan’s Crossing. As she walked into the store at the camp‑ ground, the owner, Sully, peeked around the corner from the kitchen. “Hi,” Leigh said. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“Just about to,” Sully replied.

“Let me take you to lunch,” she said. “What’s your pleasure?”

“My usual—turkey on whole wheat. In fact, I just made it.”

“Aw, I’d like to treat you.”

“Appreciate the sentiment, Doc, but it’s my store. I can’t let you buy me a sandwich that’s already bought and paid for. In fact, I’ll make another one real quick if that sounds good to you.” He started pulling out his supplies. “What are you doing out here, in the middle of the day?”

“I wanted to sit outside for a little while,” she said. “It’s gorgeous. There are no sidewalk cafés in town and I don’t have any patio furniture yet. Can we sit on the porch?”

“I hosed it down this morning,” he said. “It’s probably dried off by now. Got a little spring fever, do you?”

“It seemed like a long winter, didn’t it? And I haven’t seen this place in spring. People around here talk about spring a lot.”

Sully handed her a plate and picked up his own. “Grab yourself a drink, girl. Yeah, this place livens up in spring. The wildflowers come out and the wildlife shows off their young’uns. Winter was probably long for you because everyone had the flu.”

“Including me,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the spring babies. I got here last summer in plenty of time for the fall foliage and rutting season. There was a lot of noise.” She took a bite of her sandwich. “Yum, this is outstanding, thank you.” “Hmph. Outstanding would be a hamburger,” he groused.

“I’m almost up to burger day. I get one a month.”

She laughed. “Is that what your doctor recommends?” “Let me put it this way—it’s not on the diet the nutritionist

gave me but the doctor said one a month probably wouldn’t kill me. He said probably. I think it’s a lot of bullshit. I mean, I get that it ain’t heart‑healthy to slather butter on my steak every day, but if this diet’s so goddamn healthy, why ain’t I lost a pound in two years?”

“Maybe you’re the right weight. You’ve lost a couple of pounds since the heart attack,” she said. She had, after all, seen his chart. When Leigh was considering moving to the small‑town clinic, she visited Timberlake to check out the surroundings. It was small, pleasant, clean and quiet. The clinic was a good urgent care facility and she had credentials in both family medicine and emergency medicine—she was made to order. It was owned and operated by a hospital chain out of Denver so they could afford her. And she was ready for a slower life in a scenic place.

When she first arrived, someone—she couldn’t remember who—suggested she go out to Sully’s to look around. People from town liked to go out there to swim; firefighters and paramedics, as well as Rangers and search‑and‑rescue teams, liked to hike and rock climb around there, then grab a cold beer at the general store. Sully, she learned, always had people around. Long‑distance hikers came off the Continental Divide Trail right at the Crossing. It was a good place to camp, collect mail, restock supplies from socks to water purification kits. That’s when she first got to know Sully.

She had looked around in June and moved to Timberlake the next month. She might have missed the spring explosion of wildflowers but she was in awe of the changing leaves in fall and heard the elk bugle, grunt and squeak in the woods. It took her about five minutes to fall in love.

“What have you done?” her aunt Helen had said when she visited the town and saw the clinic.

She and her aunt lived in a suburb of Chicago and Leigh’s move was a very big step. She was looking for a change. She’d been working very long hours in a busy urban emergency room and saw patients in a small family practice, as well. She needed a slower pace. Aunt Helen wasn’t a small‑town kind of woman, though she was getting sick of Midwestern winters. They were the only family either of them had. Leaving Helen had been so hard. Leigh had grown up, gone to college and medical school and had done her residency in Chicago. Although Helen traveled quite a bit, leaving Leigh on her own for weeks or more at a time, Leigh was married to the hospital and had still lived in the house she grew up in. But Leigh was thirty‑four years old and still living with her aunt, the aunt who had been like a mother to her. She thought it was, in a way, disgraceful. She was a bit embarrassed by what must appear as her dependence. She’d decided it was time to be an adult and move on.

She shook herself out of her memories. “Such a gorgeous day,” she said to Sully. “Nobody camping yet?”

“It’ll start up pretty soon,” he said. “Spring break brings the first bunch, but until the weather is predictably warm and dry, it ain’t so busy. This is when I do my spring‑cleaning around the grounds, getting ready for summer. What do you hear from Chicago?”

“They’re having a snowstorm. My aunt says she hopes it’s the last one.”

Sully grunted. “If we’d have a snowstorm, I wouldn’t have to clean out the gutters or paint the picnic tables.”

“You ever get a snowstorm this late in the year? Because I thought that was a Midwestern trick.”

“It’s happened a time or two. Not lately. How is your aunt?

Why hasn’t anyone met her yet?”

“She made a couple of very quick trips last fall. I wasn’t very good about introducing her around. Besides patients, I didn’t really know a lot of people yet. She’s planning to come here this spring, once she finishes her book, and this time she’ll stay awhile.” Leigh laughed and took another bite of her sandwich. “That won’t cause her to leave the laptop at home. She’s always working on something.”

“She always been a writer?” he asked.

“No. When I was growing up, she was a teacher. Then she was a teacher and a writer. Then she was a retired teacher and full‑time writer. But after I finished med school, she grew wings. She’s been traveling. She’s always loved to travel but the last few years it’s been more frequent. Sometimes she takes me with her. She’s had some wonderful trips and cruises. Seems like she’s been almost everywhere by now.”

“Egypt?” Sully asked.

“Yep. China, Morocco, Italy, many other places. And the last few winters she’s gone someplace warm for at least a cou‑ ple of months. She always works, though. A lot.”

“Hmph. What kind of books?”

Leigh grinned. “Mysteries. Want me to get you one? You have any aspirations to write the tales of Sullivan’s Crossing?”

“Girl, I have trouble writing my own name.”

“I’ll get you one of her books. It’s okay if it’s not your thing.”

“She been married?”

“No, never married. But that could be a matter of family complications. My mother wasn’t married when I was born and the only person she had to help her was her big sister, Helen. Then my mother died—I was only four. That left poor Aunt Helen with a child to raise alone. A working woman with a child. Where was she going to find a guy with all that going on?”

Sully was quiet for a moment. “That’s a good woman, loses her sister and takes on her niece. A good woman. You must miss her a lot.”

“Sure. But…” She stopped there. They had been together for thirty‑four years but they ran in different circles. “We never spent all our time together. There were plenty of separations with my education and her travel. We shared a house but we’re independent. Aunt Helen has friends all over the world. And writers are always going to some conference or other, where she has a million friends.”

But, of course, she missed Helen madly. She asked herself daily if this wasn’t the stupidest thing she’d ever done. Was she trying to prove she could take care of herself ?

“Well, I suppose the waiting room is filling up with people.”

“Is it busy every day?” he asked, picking up their plates.

“Manageable,” she said. “Some days you’d think I’m giving away pizza. Thanks for lunch, Sully. It was a nice break.”

“You come on out here any time you like. You’re good company. You make turkey on whole wheat a lot more interesting.”

“I want you to do something for me,” she said. “You tell me when you’re ready for that hamburger. I want to take you to lunch.”

“That’s a promise! You don’t need to mention it to Maggie.”

“We have laws that prevent talking about patients,” she informed him, “even if she is your daughter and a doctor.”

“That applies to lunch?” he said. “That’s good news! Then I’ll have a beer with my hamburger, in that case.”

“Hey, boss,” Eleanor said when Leigh walked in. “We have a few appointments this afternoon and then the usual walk‑ ins. Did you have a nice lunch?”

“Excellent,” she said. “Spring is coming fast! There are buds on trees and green shoots poking out of the ground.”

“Rain in the forecast,” said Gretchen.

Leigh had two assistants, both RNs. Eleanor was about fifty years old, maternal and sweet‑natured, while Gretchen was about thirty, impatient and sometimes cranky. They were both perfectly efficient. Both of them were excellent nurses. They’d known each other for a long time but Leigh got the impression they weren’t friends outside of work. Frankly, Leigh wondered if anyone was Gretchen’s friend.

“I’m ready when you are,” she said to the nurses, going back to her office.

There weren’t a lot of patients waiting, but with the number of appointments, the afternoon would be steady. Some people in town used the urgent care clinic as their primary doctor, which was fine if they didn’t need a specialist. Leigh referred those appropriately. Leigh thought about the one time she’d treated Sully. He had an upper respiratory infection with a lingering cough. She ordered an X‑ray, gave him some meds and told him to call his regular doctor.

“Don’t need any more doctors,” he said. “I’ll let you know if this doesn’t work.”

Apparently it worked.

It was a good little clinic. There was another doctor who filled in two to three times a week for a few hours or a shift; he was semiretired. Bill Dodd. They kept pretty odd hours, staying open two nights a week and Saturdays. Outside clinic hours, patients had to drive to a nearby town to another urgent care. The clinic was there primarily for the locals. Emergencies were deployed to area hospitals, sometimes via ambulance.

Leigh hung her jacket on the hook behind her desk and replaced it with a white lab coat. She had worn business at‑ tire under her lab coat until she’d been puked on, bled on and pooped on a few times. She was a quick learner. Now she wore scrubs and tennis shoes like her nurses.

Not only was their attire pretty casual, the office was friendly and open. A few of the firefighters from across the street were known to drop in just to visit. If they could get past Gretchen, who was a tad rigid. Leigh thought it was nice to have this open, welcoming atmosphere when possible, when the place wasn’t overflowing with kids with hacking coughs.

“It wasn’t like this when Doc Hawkins ran the place,” her friend Connie Boyle said. “You always got the impression he was secretly glad for the company, but he couldn’t smile. His face would crack.” Leigh thought that described half the old men in town, but she was learning that underneath that rugged demeanor there were some sweethearts. Like Sully. He could come off as impatient or crabby, but really, she wanted to squeeze him in a big hug every time she saw him.

She saw a one‑year‑old who appeared to have croup; he was barking like a seal. Then there was a bad cold, a referral to the gastroenterologist for possible gallbladder issues and she splinted and wrapped a possible broken ankle before sending the patient off to the orthopedic surgeon.

Just as they were getting ready to close the clinic, there was some excitement. Rob Shandon, the owner of the pub down the street, brought in his seventeen‑year‑old son, Finn. Finn was as tall as Rob, and Rob was a bit over six feet. Finn’s hand was wrapped in a bloody towel and his face was white as a sheet; Rob seemed to be supporting him with a hand under his arm. “Bad cut,” Eleanor announced, steering them past Leigh and into the treatment room.

The towel was soaking up lots of blood and it looked like the patient might go down.

“On the table and lie down, please. Nice, deep breaths. You’re going to be okay. Close your eyes a moment. Dad, can you tell me what happened?” she asked while snapping on a pair of gloves.

“Not totally sure,” Rob said. “Something about a broken glass…”

Finn was recovering. “It broke in the dishwasher, I guess. I was emptying it and ran my hand right across a sharp edge. My palm. And the blood poured out. You should see the kitchen floor.”

“Well, you wrapped it in a towel and have probably almost stopped the bleeding by now. I want you to stay f lat, eyes closed, deep breaths. If you’re not crazy about blood, looking is not a good idea. Me? Doesn’t bother me a bit. And I’m going to have to unwrap this and examine the wound. Eleanor, can you set up a suture tray, please? Some lidocaine and extra gauze. Thanks.” She positioned herself between the injury and Finn’s line of vision. She pulled back the towel slowly and a fresh swell of blood came out of a long, mean‑looking gash across the palm of his hand. “Good news—you’re getting out of dishes for a while. Bad news—you’re getting stitches. Plenty of them.”

“Aww…”

“I’ll numb it, no worries.”

“I have practice,” he mumbled. “Baseball…”

“I don’t think that’s going to work out for you,” she said. “This is a bad cut. Let’s do this, okay?”

“I’m staying, if that’s all right,” Rob said.

“Sure,” she said. “Just stay out of my work space.” Leigh picked up the prepared syringe and injected Finn’s palm around the gash. “Only the first prick of the needle hurts,” she explained. She dabbed the cut with gauze. “It’s not as deep as it looks. I don’t think you’ve cut anything that’s going to impact movement. If I had even a question about that, I’d send you to a hand surgeon. It’s superficial. Still serious, but…”

Eleanor provided drapes, covering Finn, lying the hand on an absorbent pad that was on top of a f lat, hard, polyurethane tray that was placed on his belly.

“Are you comfortable with the hand on this tray?”

“Okay,” he said.

Leigh tapped his palm with a hemostat. “Feel that?”

“Nope,” he said.

“Good. Then can I trust you not to move if we let your hand rest right here?”

“I won’t move. Is it still gushing?”

“Just some minor bleeding and I’m going to stop that quickly,” she said. Eleanor turned the Mayo stand so it hovered over Finn’s body and was within Leigh’s easy reach. Leigh cleaned the gash, applied antiseptic, picked up the needle with a hemostat and began to stitch. She dabbed away blood, tossing used gauze four‑by‑fours back on the Mayo stand, making a nice pile.

“You really did a number on this hand,” she said. “You must have hit that broken glass hard.”

“I was hurrying,” Finn said. “I wanted to get everything done so I could get to practice.”

“Yeah, that backfired,” she said. “Safety first, Finn.”

She dropped the bloody towel on the floor, stacked up more bloody gauze squares, applied a few more stitches. Then there was a sound behind her—a low, deep groan and a swoosh. Rob, his face roughly the color of toothpaste, leaned against the wall and slid slowly to the floor. “Rob,” she said. “I want you to stay right where you are, sitting on the floor, until I finish here. It won’t be long.”

“Ugh,” he said.

“You going to be sick?” she asked.

He was shaking his head but, fast as lightning, Eleanor passed a basin to him. “Stay down,” the nurse instructed. “Don’t try to stand up yet. That never works out.”

“I’ll be done in a couple of minutes,” Leigh said. Then she chuckled softly. “The bigger they are…”

“Did my dad faint?” Finn asked.

“Of course not,” Leigh said. “He’s just taking a load off.” She snipped the thread and dabbed at the wound. “Dang, kid. Fourteen stitches. It’s going to swell and hurt. I’m going to give you an antibiotic to fight off any infection and some pain pills. Eleanor is going to bandage your hand. Don’t get it wet. Do not take the bandage off. If you think the bandage has to come off, come in and see me. If I’m not here and you think that bandage has to come off for some reason, do not touch it. Call my cell. No matter what time it is. Now tell me, what is the most important thing to remember about the bandage?”

“Don’t take it off?” he asked.

“You’re a genius,” she said. “You come back in three days and we’ll look at it together, then wrap it up again. I want you to keep it elevated, so Eleanor will give you a sling.”

“Aw, man…”

“Don’t argue with me about this. If you dangle your hand down at your side or try to use it, you’re going to have more bleeding, swelling and pain. Are we on the same page here?”

“Yeah. Jeez.”

“He’s all yours, Eleanor. Tell him about Press’n Seal.”

She pulled off her gloves, sat on her little stool and rolled over to where Rob was propped against the wall. His knees were raised and he rested his forearms on them. “I’m fine now,” he said. But he didn’t move. She noticed a glistening sheen of sweat on his upper lip.

“Don’t try to stand yet,” she said. “Close your eyes. Touch your chin to your chest. Yeah, that’s it.” She gently massaged his shoulders and neck for a moment. Then she put her hands on his head and gently rubbed his scalp. She massaged his temples briefly, then moved back to his scalp. She heard him moan softly but this time it wasn’t because he was about to faint. It was because it felt good. And she knew if it felt good and he relaxed, his blood would circulate better and he’d recover quickly. This little trick of massaging would take Rob’s mind off his light‑headedness and perhaps any nausea. “So, you’re not so good with blood?” she asked very quietly.

“I’ve seen plenty of blood,” he said. “Just not plenty of my son’s blood.” He took a deep breath. “I thought he cut his hand off.”

“Not even close,” she said. “It was a gusher, though. Some parts of the body really bleed. Like the head. You can get a cut on your head that’s about an eighth of an inch, doesn’t even need a stitch, and the blood f low will still ruin a perfectly good shirt. It’s amazing.” She kept massaging his head with her fingertips while Eleanor bandaged Finn’s hand. Eleanor was asking him about baseball and what college he’d be going to, and they even talked about his friends, most of whom Eleanor knew.

“Did I hit my head?” Rob asked.

“I don’t think there was anything to hit it on. Why? You feel a sore spot or dizziness or something?”

“I think I hear bells or birds chirping,” he said. He lifted his chin and looked up at her. He smiled very handsomely. “You keep doing that and I’m going to want to take you home with me.”

She pulled her hands away. “You couldn’t afford me. I’m wicked expensive.”

He laughed. “I bet you are. Come down to the bar. I’ll buy you a drink.”

“That’s neighborly. You feeling better? Want to get up?” “Yeah,” he said. Then he pulled himself to his feet and towered over her. “He’s never going to let me live that down.” “Sure I will, Dad,” Finn said from the table. “Some people just can’t take the tough stuff.”

“I seriously thought we were holding his hand together with that towel. Aw, look. We got blood on you,” he said, touching Leigh’s sleeve.

“I know how to get it out,” she said. “Hydrogen peroxide.

Straight. A little rubbing. Magic.”

“Listen, I think we should just get married,” he said. “You’re perfect for me. You make a good living, you know how to get out bloodstains and that head massage thing— that’s a little addicting.”

“Not interested, but really—I just can’t thank you enough for the offer. It sounds enchanting.”

“Yeah, that’s me. Mr. Enchantment. I will buy you a drink, though. Or however many drinks you want. You have a bad day—see me.”

Eleanor demonstrated how Finn should wrap his bandaged hand with Press’n Seal when he took his shower. That would keep the bandage from getting wet. Rob looked on in fascination.

Leigh wrote out a couple of prescriptions. She handed them to Rob. “As soon as you get the pain meds filled, give him one. Stay ahead of the pain. The anesthetic will wear off in a couple of hours. It’s going to throb, sting and eventually itch. No matter what, do not take that bandage off!”

“Yeah, I heard all that. Do you tell everyone that and do they still take it off?” Rob asked.

“You just wouldn’t believe it,” she said.

After Rob and Finn left, Leigh helped Eleanor clean up the treatment room.

“I love Rob,” Eleanor said. “I think you should just marry him. He’s probably ready to remarry now.”

Leigh knew he was a single father, but little else. “Is he divorced?”

“Widowed,” Eleanor said. “The poor guy. He lost his wife when the boys were little. That’s when he came to Timberlake to open the pub. He said he needed a business with flexible hours so he could raise his sons. He’s a wonderful father. He must be the best catch in town.”

Leigh’s mouth hung open for a moment. She hadn’t shared any details of her personal life with Eleanor. She had lost her mother very young. Years later when she was still quite young, she was abandoned by her fiancé just a week before their wedding and it had felt so much like a death. She rarely dated. And she was not shopping around for a guy. He could find someone else to get his stains out.

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Virgin River Book #1
October 22, 2019
MIRA Paperback, eBook, audio

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Virgin River

Welcome back to Virgin River with the book that started it all…

Wanted: Midwife/nurse practitioner in Virgin River, population six hundred. Make a difference against a backdrop of towering California redwoods and crystal clear rivers. Rent-free cabin included.

When the recently widowed Melinda Monroe sees this ad, she quickly decides that the remote mountain town of Virgin River might be the perfect place to escape her heartache, and to reenergize the nursing career she loves. But her high hopes 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. Realizing she’s made a huge mistake, 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.

The Barnes & Noble exclusive edition of VIRGIN RIVER includes behind the scenes commentary on the Netflix series.

Originally published April 2007 and reissued December 2012 in mass market paperback and eBook.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Mel squinted into the rain and darkness, creeping along the narrow, twisting, muddy, tree-enshrouded road and for the hundredth time thought, am I out of my mind? And then she heard and felt a thump as the right rear wheel of her BMW slipped off the road onto the shoulder and sank into the mud. The car rocked to a stop. She accelerated and heard the wheel spin but she was going nowhere fast.

I am so screwed, was her next thought.

She turned on the dome light and looked at her cell phone. She’d lost the signal an hour ago when she got off the freeway and headed up into the mountains. In fact, she’d been having a pretty lively discussion with her sister Joey when the steep hills and unbelievably tall trees blocked the signal and cut them off.

“I cannot believe you’re really doing this,” Joey was saying. “I thought you’d come to your senses. This isn’t you, Mel! You’re not a small-town girl!”

“Yeah? Well it looks like I’m gonna be—I took the job and sold everything, so I wouldn’t be tempted to go back.”

“You couldn’t just take a leave of absence? Maybe go to a small, private hospital? Try to think this through?”

“I need everything to be different,” Mel said. “No more hospital war zone. I’m just guessing, but I imagine I won’t be called on to deliver a lot of crack babies out here in the woods. The woman said this place, this Virgin River, is calm and quiet and safe.”

“And stuck back in the forest, a million miles from a Starbuck’s, where you’ll get paid in eggs and pig’s feet and—”

“And none of my patients will be brought in handcuffed, guarded by a corrections officer.” Then Mel took a breath and, unexpectedly, laughed and said, “Pig’s feet? Oh-oh, Joey—I’m going up into the trees again, I might lose you…”

“You wait. You’ll be sorry. You’ll regret this. This is crazy and impetuous and—“

That’s when the signal, blessedly, was lost. And Joey was right—with every additional mile, Mel was doubting herself; her decision to escape into the country.

At every curve the roads had become narrower and the rain a little harder. It was only 6:00 p.m., but it was already dark as pitch; the trees were so dense and tall that even that last bit of afternoon sun had been blocked. Of course there were no lights of any kind along this winding stretch. According to the directions, she should be getting close to the house where she was to meet her new employer, but she didn’t dare get out of her swamped car and walk. She could get lost in these woods and never be seen again.

Instead, she fished the pictures from her briefcase in an attempt to remind herself of a few of the reasons why she had taken this job. She had pictures of a quaint little hamlet of clapboard houses with front porches and dormer windows, an old-fashioned school house, steepled church, hollyhocks, rhododendrons and blossoming apple trees in full glory, not to mention the green pastures upon which livestock grazed. There was the Pie and Coffee shop, the Corner Store, a tiny one room, freestanding library, and the adorable little cabin in the woods that would be hers, rent free, for the year of her contract.

The town backed up to the amazing sequoia redwoods and national forests that spanned hundreds of miles of wilderness over the Trinity and Shasta mountain ranges; the Virgin River, after which the town was named, was deep, wide, long, and home to huge salmon, sturgeon, steel fish and trout. She’d looked on the Internet at pictures of that part of the world and was easily convinced no more beautiful land existed. Of course, she could see nothing now except rain, mud and darkness.

Ready to get out of Los Angeles, she had put her resume with the Nurse’s Registry and one of the recruiters brought Virgin River to her attention. The town doctor, she said, was getting old and needed help. A woman from the town, Hope McCrea, was donating the cabin and the first year’s salary. The county was picking up the tab for liability insurance for at least a year, to get a practitioner and midwife in this remote, rural part of the world. “I faxed Mrs. McCrea your resume and letters of recommendation,” the recruiter had said, “and she wants you. Maybe you should go up there and look the place over.”

Mel took Mrs. McCrea’s phone number and called her that evening. Virgin River was far smaller than what she’d had in mind, but after no more than an hour long conversation with Mrs. McCrea, Mel began effecting her move out of LA the very next morning. That was barely two weeks ago.

What they didn’t know at the registry, nor in Virgin River for that matter, was that Mel had become desperate to get away. Far away. She’d been dreaming of a fresh start, peace and quiet, for months. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a restful night’s sleep. The dangers of the big city, where crime seemed to be overrunning the neighborhoods, had begun to consume her. Just going to the bank and the store filled her with anxiety; danger seemed to be lurking everywhere. Her work in the three-thousand-bed county hospital and trauma center brought to her attention the victims of too many crimes, not to mention the perpetrators of crimes hurt in pursuit or arrest — strapped to hospital beds on wards and in Emergency, guarded by cops. What was left of her spirit was hurting and wounded. And that was nothing to the loneliness of her empty bed.

Her friends begged her to stave off this impulse to run for some unknown small town, but she’d been in grief group, individual counseling and had seen more of the inside of a church in the last nine months than she had in the last ten years, and none of that was helping. The only thing that gave her any peace of mind was fantasizing about running away to some tiny place in the country where people didn’t have to lock their doors, and the only thing you had to fear were the deer getting in the vegetable garden. It seemed like sheer heaven.

But now, sitting in her swamped car looking at the pictures by the dome light, she realized how ridiculous she’d been. Mrs. McCrea told her to pack only durable clothes—jeans and boots—for country medicine. So what had she packed? Her boots were Stuart Weitzman’s, Cole Haan’s and Frye’s—and she hadn’t minded paying over a tidy four-fifty for each pair. The jeans she had packed for traipsing out to the ranches and farms were Rock & Republic’s, Joe’s, Lucky’s, 7 For All Mankind—they rang up between one-fifty and two-fifty a copy. She’d been paying three hundred bucks a pop to have her hair trimmed and highlighted. After scrimping for years through college and post grad nursing, once she was a nurse practitioner with a very good salary, she discovered she loved nice things. She might have spent most of her workday in scrubs, but when she was out of them, she liked looking good.

She was sure the fish and deer would be very impressed.

In the past half hour she’d only seen one old truck on the road. Mrs. McCrea hadn’t prepared her for how perilous and steep these roads were, filled with hairpin turns and sharp drop-offs, so narrow in some places that it was a challenge for two cars to pass each other. She was almost relieved when the dark consumed her, for she could at least see approaching headlights around each tight turn. Her car sunk into the shoulder on the side of the road that was up against the hill and not the ledge where there were no guard rails. Here she sat, lost in the woods and doomed. With a sigh, she turned around and pulled her heavy coat from the top of one of the boxes on the backseat. She hoped Mrs. McCrea would be traversing this road either en route to or from the house where they were to meet. Otherwise, she would probably be spending the night in the car. She still had a couple of apples, some crackers and two cheese rounds in wax. But the damn Diet Coke was gone—she’d have the shakes and a headache by morning from caffeine withdrawal.

No Starbuck’s. She should have done a better job of stocking up.

She turned off the engine, but left the lights on in case a car came along the narrow road. If she wasn’t rescued, the battery would be dead by morning. She settled back and closed her eyes. A very familiar face drifted into her mind: Mark. Sometimes the longing to see him one more time, to talk to him for just a little while was overwhelming. Forget grief—she just missed him—missed having a partner to depend on, to wait up for, to wake up beside. An argument over his long hours even became desirable. He told her once, “This—you and me—this is forever.”

Forever lasted four years. She was only thirty-two and from now she would be alone. He was dead. And she was dead inside.

A sharp tapping on the car window got her attention and she had no idea if she’d actually been asleep or just musing. It was the butt of a flashlight that had made the noise and holding it was an old man. The scowl on his face was so jarring that she thought the end she feared might be upon her.

“Missy,” he was saying. “Missy, you’re stuck in the mud.”

She lowered her window and the mist wet her face. “I…I know. I hit a soft shoulder.”

“That piece of crap won’t do you much good around here,” he said.

Piece of crap indeed! It was a new BMW convertible, one of her many attempts to ease the ache of loneliness. “Well, no one told me that! But thank you very much for the insight.”

His thin white hair was plastered to his head and his bushy white eyebrows shot upwards in spikes; the rain glistened on his jacket and dripped off his big nose. “Sit tight, I’ll hook the chain around your bumper and pull you out. You going to the McCrea house?”

Well, that’s what she’d been after—a place where everyone knows everyone else. She wanted to warn him not to scratch the bumper but all she could do was stammer, “Y-yes.”

“It ain’t far. You can follow me after I pull you out.”

“Thanks,” she said.

So, she would have a bed after all. And if Mrs. McCrea had a heart, there would be something to eat and drink. She began to envision the glowing fire in the cottage with the sound of spattering rain on the roof as she hunkered down into a deep, soft sofa with an old quilt wrapped around her. Safe. Secure. At last.

Her car groaned and strained and finally lurched out of the ditch and onto the road. The old man pulled her several feet until she was on solid ground, then he stopped to remove the chain. He tossed it into the back of the truck and motioned for her to follow him. No argument there—if she got stuck again, he’d be right there to pull her out. Along she went, right behind him, using lots of window cleaner with her wipers to keep the mud he splattered from completely obscuring her vision.

In less than five minutes the blinker on the truck was flashing and she followed him as he made a right turn at a mailbox. The drive was short and bumpy, the road full of pot holes, but it quickly opened up into a clearing. The truck made a wide circle in the clearing so he could leave again, which left Mel to pull right up to… A hovel!

This was no adorable little cottage. It was an A-frame with a porch all right, but it looked as though the porch was only attached on the one side while the other end had broken away and listed downward. The shingles were black with rain and age and there was a board nailed over one of the windows. It was not lit within or without; there was no friendly curl of smoke coming from the chimney.

The pictures were lying on the seat beside her. She blasted on her horn and jumped immediately out of the car, clutching the pictures and pulling the hood of her wool jacket over her head. She ran to the truck. He rolled down his window and looked at her as if she had a screw loose. “Are you sure this is the McCrea cottage?”

“Yup.”

She showed him the picture of the cute little A-frame cottage with Adirondack chairs on the porch and hanging pots filled with colorful flowers decorating the front of the house. It was bathed in sunlight in the picture.

“Hm,” he said. “Been awhile since she looked like that.”

“I wasn’t told that. She said I could have the house rent free for a year, plus salary. I’m supposed to help out the doctor in this town. But this—?”

“Didn’t know the doc needed help. He didn’t hire you, did he?” he asked.

“No. I was told he was getting too old to keep up with the demands of the town and they needed another doctor, but I’d do for a year or so.”

“Do what?”

She raised her voice to be heard above the rain. “I’m a nurse practitioner. And certified nurse midwife.”

That seemed to amuse him. “That a fact?”

“You know the doctor?” she asked.

“Everybody knows everybody. Seems like you shoulda come up here and look the place over and meet the doc before making up your mind.”

“Yeah, seems like,” she said in some self-recrimination. “Let me get my purse—give you some money for pulling me out of the—“ But he was already waving her off.

“Don’t want your money. People up here don’t have money to be throwing around for neighborly help. So,” he said with humor, lifting one of those wild white eyebrows, “looks like she got one over on you. That place’s been empty for years now.” He chuckled. “Rent free! Hah!”

Headlights bounced into the clearing as an old Suburban came up the drive. Once it arrived the old man said, “There she is. Good luck.” And then he laughed. Actually he cackled as he drove out of the clearing.

Mel stuffed the picture under her jacket and stood in the rain near her car as the Suburban parked. She could’ve gone to the porch to get out of the elements, but it didn’t look quite safe.

The Suburban’s frame was jacked up and the tires were huge—no way that thing was getting stuck in the mud. It was pretty well splashed up, but it was still obvious it was an older model. The driver trained the lights on the cottage and left them on as the door opened. Out of the SUV climbed this itty bitty elderly woman with thick, springy white hair and black framed glasses too big for her face. She was wearing rubber boots and was swallowed up by a rain slicker, but she couldn’t have been five feet tall. She pitched a cigarette into the mud and, wearing a huge toothy smile, she approached Mel. “Welcome!” she said gleefully in the same deep, throaty voice Mel recognized from their phone conversation.

“Welcome?” Mel mimicked. “Welcome?” She pulled the picture from the inside of her jacket and flashed it at the woman. “This is not that!”

Completely unruffled, Mrs. McCrea said, “Yeah, the place could use a little sprucing up. I meant to get over here yesterday, but the day got away from me.”

“Sprucing up? Mrs. McCrea, it’s falling down! You said it was adorable! Precious is what you said!”

“My word,” Mrs McCrea said. “They should have told me at the Registry that you were so melodramatic.”

“And they didn’t tell me you were delusional!”

“Now, now, that kind of talk isn’t going to get us anywhere. Do you want to stand in the rain or go inside and see what we have?”

“I’d frankly like to turn around and drive right out of this place, but I don’t think I’d get very far without four-wheel-drive. Another little thing you might’ve mentioned.”

Without comment, the little white-haired sprite stomped up the three steps and onto the porch. She didn’t use a key to unlock the door but had to apply a firm shoulder to get it to open. “Swollen from the rain,” she said in her gravelly voice, then disappeared inside.

Mel followed, but didn’t stomp on the porch as Mrs. McCrea had. Rather, she tested it gingerly. It had a dangerous slant, but appeared to be solid in front of the door. A light went on inside just as Mel reached the door. Immediately following the dim light came a cloud of choking dust as Mrs. McCrea shook out the tablecloth. It sent Mel back out onto the porch, coughing. Once she recovered, she took a deep breath of the cold, moist air and ventured back inside.

Mrs. McCrea seemed to be busy trying to put things right, despite the filth in the place. She was pushing chairs up to the table, blowing dust off lampshades, propping books on the shelf with bookends. Mel had a look around, but only to satisfy her curiosity as to how horrid it was, because there was no way she was staying. There was a faded floral couch, a matching chair and ottoman, an old chest that served as a coffee table and a brick and board bookcase, the boards unfinished. Only a few steps away, divided from the living room by a counter, was the small kitchen. It hadn’t seen a cleaning since the last person made dinner—presumably years ago. The refrigerator and oven doors stood open, as did most of the cupboard doors. The sink was full of pots and dishes; there were stacks of dusty dishes and plenty of cups and glasses in the cupboards, all too dirty to use.

“I’m sorry, this is just unacceptable,” Mel said loudly.

“It’s a little dirt is all.”

“There’s a bird’s nest in the oven!” Mel exclaimed, completely beside herself.

Mrs. McCrea clomped into the kitchen in her muddy rubber boots, reached into the open oven door and plucked out the bird’s nest. She went to the front door and pitched it out into the yard. She shoved her glasses up on her nose as she regarded Mel. “No more bird’s nest,” she said in a voice that suggested Mel was trying her patience.

“Look, I’m not sure I’d make it. That old man in the pick-up had to pull me out of the mud just down the road. I can’t stay here, Mrs. McCrea—it’s out of the question. Plus, I’m starving and I don’t have any food with me.” She laughed hollowly. “You said there would be adequate housing ready for me, and I took you to mean clean and stocked with enough food to get me through a couple of days till I could shop for myself. But this—“

”You have a contract,” Mrs. McCrea pointed out.

“So do you,” Mel said. “I don’t think you could get anyone to find this adequate or ready.”

Hope looked up. ”It’s not leaking, that’s a good sign.”

“Not quite good enough, I’m afraid.”

“That damned Cheryl Chreighton was supposed to be down here to give it a good cleaning, but she had excuses three days in a row. Been drinking again is my guess. I got some bedding in the truck and I’ll take you to get dinner. It’ll look better in the morning.”

“Isn’t there some place else I can stay tonight? A bed and breakfast? A motel on the highway?”

“Bed and breakfast?” she asked with a laugh. “This look like a tourist spot to you? The highway’s an hour off and this is no ordinary rain. I have a big house with no room in it—filled to the top with junk. They’re gonna light a match to it when I die. It would take all night to clear off the couch.”

“There must be something…”

“Nearest thing is Jo Ellen’s place—she’s got a nice spare room over the garage she lets out sometimes. But you wouldn’t want to stay there. That husband of hers can be a handful. He’s been slapped down by more than one woman in Virgin River—and it’d be a bad thing, you in your nightie, Jo Ellen sound asleep and him getting ideas. He’s a groper, that one.”

Oh God, she thought. Every second this place sounded worse and worse.

“Tell you what let’s do, girl. I’ll light the hot water heater, turn on the refrigerator and heater, then we’ll go get a hot meal.”

“At the Pie and Coffee shop?”

“That place closed down three years back,” she said.

“But you sent me a picture of it—like it was where I’d be getting lunch or dinner for the next year!”

“Details. Lord, you do get yourself worked up.”

“Worked up!?”

“Go jump in the truck and I’ll be right along,” she commanded. Then ignoring Mel completely, she went to the refrigerator and stooped to plug it in. The light went on immediately and Mrs. McCrea reached inside to adjust the temperature and close the door. The refrigerator’s motor made an unhealthy grinding sound as it fired up.

Mel went to the Suburban as she’d been told, but it was so high off the ground she found herself grabbing the inside of the open door and nearly crawling inside. She felt a lot safer here than in the house where her hostess would be lighting a gas water heater. She had a passing thought that if it blew up and destroyed the cabin, they could cut their loses here and now.

Once in the passenger seat, she looked over her shoulder to see the back of the Suburban was full of pillows, blankets and boxes. Supplies for the falling-down house, she assumed. Well, if she couldn’t get out of here tonight, she could sleep in her car if she had to. She wouldn’t freeze to death with all those blankets. But then, at first light…

A few minutes passed and then Mrs. McCrea came out of the cottage and pulled the door closed. No locking up. Mel was impressed by the agility with which the old woman got herself into the Suburban. She put a foot on the step, grabbed the handle above the door with one hand, the arm rest with the other and bounced herself right into the seat. She had a rather large pillow to sit on and her seat was pushed way up so she could reach the pedals. Without a word, she put the vehicle in gear and expertly backed down the narrow drive out onto the road.

“When we talked a couple weeks ago, you said you were pretty tough,” Mrs. McCrea reminded her.

“I am. I’ve been in charge of a women’s wing at a three thousand bed county hospital for the past two years. We got all the most challenging cases and hopeless patients, and did a damn fine job if I do say so myself. Before that, I spent years in the Emergency Room in downtown LA, a very tough place by anyone’s standards. By tough, I thought you meant medically. I didn’t know you meant I should be an experienced frontier woman.”

“Lord, you do go on. You’ll feel better after food.”

“I hope so,” she said. But, inside she was saying, I can’t stay here. This was crazy, I’m admitting it and getting the hell out of here. The only thing she really dreaded was owning up to Joey.

They didn’t talk during the drive. In Mel’s mind there wasn’t much to say. Plus, she was fascinated by the ease, speed and finesse with which Ms. McCrea handled the big Suburban, bouncing down the tree lined road and around the tight curves in the pouring rain.

She had thought this might be a respite from pain and loneliness and fear. A relief from the stress of patients who were either perpetrators or victims of crimes, or devastatingly poor and without resources or hope. When she saw the pictures of the cute little town, it was easy to imagine a homey place where people needed her. She saw herself blooming under the grateful thanks of rosy-cheeked country patients. Meaningful work was the one thing that had always cut through any troubling personal issues. Not to mention the lift of escaping the smog and traffic and getting back to nature in the pristine beauty of the forest. She just never thought she’d be getting this far back to nature.

The prospect of delivering babies for mostly uninsured women in rural Virgin River had closed the deal. Working as a nurse practitioner was satisfying, but midwifery was her true calling.

Joey was her only family now; she wanted Mel to come to Colorado Springs and stay with her, her husband Bill and their three children. But Mel hadn’t wanted to trade one city for another, even though Colorado Springs was considerably smaller. Now, in the absence of any better ideas, she would be forced to look for work there.

As they passed through what seemed to be a town, she grimaced again. “Is this the town? Because this wasn’t in the pictures you sent me, either.”

“Virgin River,” she said. “Such as it is. Looks a lot better in daylight, that’s for sure. Damn, this is a big rain. March—always brings us this nasty weather. That’s the doc’s house there, where he sees patients when they come to him. He makes a lot of house calls, too. The library,” she pointed. “Open Tuesdays.”

They passed a pleasant looking steepled church, which appeared to be boarded up, but at least she recognized it. There was the store, much older and more worn, the proprietor just locking the front door for the night. A dozen houses lined the street—small and old. “Where’s the school house?” Mel asked.

“What school house?” Mrs. McCrea countered.

“The one in the picture you sent the recruiter.”

“Hm. Can’t imagine where I got that. We don’t have a school. Yet.”

“God,” Mel groaned.

The street was wide, but dark and vacant—there were no street lights. The old woman must have gone through one of her ancient photo albums to come up with the pictures. Or maybe she snapped a few of another town.

Across the street from the doctor’s house Mrs. McCrea pulled up to the front of what looked like a large cabin with a wide porch and big yard, but the neon sign in the window that said OPEN clued her that it was a tavern or café. “Come on,” Mrs. McCrea said. “Let’s warm up your belly and your mood.”

“Thank you,” Mel said, trying to be polite. She was starving and didn’t want an attitude to cost her dinner, though she wasn’t optimistic that anything but her stomach would warm. She looked at her watch. Seven o’clock.

Mrs. McCrea shook out her slicker on the porch before going in, but Mel wasn’t wearing a raincoat. Nor did she have an umbrella. Her jacket was now drenched and she smelled like wet sheep.

Once inside, she was rather pleasantly surprised. It was dark and woody with a fire ablaze in a big stone hearth. The polished wood floors were shiny clean and something smelled good, edible. Over a long bar, above rows of shelved liquor bottles, was a huge mounted fish; on another wall, a bear skin so big it covered half the wall. Over the door, a stag’s head. Whew. A hunting lodge? There were about a dozen tables sans tablecloths and only one customer at the bar; the old man who had pulled her out of the mud sat slumped over a drink.

Behind the bar stood a tall man in a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled up, polishing a glass with a towel. He looked to be in his late thirties and wore his brown hair cropped close. He lifted expressive brows and his chin in greeting as they entered. Then his lips curved in a smile.

“Sit here,” Hope McCrea said, indicating a table near the fire. “I’ll get you something.”

Mel took off her coat and hung it over the chair back near the fire to dry. She warmed herself, vigorously rubbing her icy hands together in front of the flames. This was more what she had expected—a cozy, clean cabin, a blazing fire, a meal ready on the stove. She could do without the dead animals, but this is what you get in hunting country.

“Here,” the old woman said, pressing a small glass of amber liquid into her hand. “This’ll warm you up. Jack’s got some stew on the stove and bread in the warmer. We’ll fix you up.”

“What is it?” she asked.

“Brandy. You gonna be able to get that down?”

“Damn right,” she said, taking a grateful sip and feeling it burn its way down to her empty belly. She let her eyes drift closed for a moment, appreciating the unexpected fine quality. She looked back at the bar, but the bartender had disappeared. “That guy,” she finally said, indicating the only customer. “He pulled me out of the ditch.”

“Doc Mullins,” she explained. “You might as well meet him right now, if you’re okay to leave the fire.”

“Why bother,” Mel said. “I told you—I’m not staying.”

“Fine,” the old woman said tiredly. “Then you can say hello and goodbye all at once. Come on.” She turned and walked toward the old doctor and with a weary sigh, Mel followed. “Doc, this is Melinda Monroe, in case you didn’t catch the name before. Miss Monroe, meet Doc Mullins.”

He looked up from his drink with rheumy eyes and regarded her, but his arthritic hands never left his glass. He gave a nod.

“Thanks again,” Mel said. “For pulling me out.”

The old doctor gave another single nod, looking back to his drink.

So much for the friendly small town atmosphere, she thought. Mrs. McCrea was walking back to the fireplace. She plunked herself down at the table.

“Excuse me,” Mel said to the doctor. He turned his gaze toward her, but his bushy white brows were drawn together in a definite scowl, peering over the top of his glasses. His white hair was so thin over his freckled scalp that it almost appeared he had more hair on his brows than his head. “Pleasure to meet you. So, you wanted help up here?” He just seemed to glare at her. “You didn’t want help? Which is it?”

“I don’t much need any help,” he told her gruffly. “But that old woman’s been trying to get a doc to replace me for years. She’s driven.”

“And why is that?” Mel bravely asked.

“Couldn’t imagine.” He looked back into his glass. “Maybe she just doesn’t like me. Since I don’t like her that much, makes no difference.”

The bartender and presumably proprietor was carrying a steaming bowl out of the back, but he paused at the end of the bar and watched as Mel conversed with the old doctor.

“Well, no worries, mate. I’m not staying. It was grossly misrepresented. I’ll be leaving in the morning, as soon as the rain lets up.”

“Wasted your time, did you?” he asked, not looking at her.

“Apparently. It’s bad enough the place isn’t what I was told it would be, but how about the complication that you have no use for a practitioner or midwife?”

“There you go,” he said.

Mel sighed. She hoped she could find a decent job in Colorado.

A young man, a teenager, brought a rack of glasses from the kitchen into the bar. He sported much the same look as the bartender with his short cropped, thick brown hair, flannel shirt and jeans. Handsome kid, she thought, taking in his strong jaw, straight nose, heavy brows. As he was about to put the rack under the bar, he stopped short, staring at Mel in surprise. His eyes grew wide; his mouth dropped open for a second. She tilted her head slightly and treated him to a smile. He closed his mouth slowly, but stood frozen, holding the glasses.

Mel turned away from the boy, the doctor. She headed for Mrs. McCrea’s table. The bartender put down a bowl along with a napkin and utensils, then stood there awaiting her. He held the chair for her. Close up, she saw how big a guy he was—over six feet and broad shouldered. “Miserable weather for your first night in Virgin River,” he said pleasantly.

“Miss Melinda Monroe, this is Jack Sheridan. Jack, Miss Monroe.”

Mel felt the urge to correct them—tell them it was Mrs. But she didn’t because she didn’t want to explain that there was no longer a Mr. Monroe, a Dr. Monroe in fact. So she said, “Pleased to meet you. Thank you,” she added, accepting the stew.

“This is a beautiful place, when the weather cooperates,” he said.

“I’m sure it is,” she muttered, not looking at him.

“You should give it a day or two,” he suggested.

She dipped her spoon into the stew and gave it a taste. He hovered near the table for a moment. Then she looked up at him and said in some surprise, “This is delicious.”

“Squirrel,” he said.

She choked.

“Just kidding,” he said, grinning at her. “Beef. Corn fed.”

“Forgive me if my sense of humor is a bit off,” she replied irritably. “It’s been a long and rather arduous day.”

“Has it now,” he said. “Good thing I got the cork out of the Remy, then.” He went back behind the bar and she looked over her shoulder at him. He seemed to confer briefly and quietly with the young man, who continued to stare at her. His son, Mel decided.

“I don’t know that you have to be quite so pissy,” Mrs. McCrea said. “I didn’t sense any of this attitude when we talked on the phone.” She dug into her purse and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She shook one out and lit it—this explained the gravelly voice.

“Do you have to smoke?” Mel asked her.

“Unfortunately, I do,” Mrs. McCrea said, taking a long drag.

Mel just shook her head in frustration. She held her tongue. It was settled, she was leaving in the morning and would have to sleep in the car, so why exacerbate things by continuing to complain. Hope McCrea had certainly gotten the message by now. She ate the delicious stew, sipped the brandy, and felt a bit more secure once her belly was full and her head a tad light. There, she thought. That is better. I can make it through the night in this dump. God knows, I’ve been through worse.

It had been nine months since her husband, Mark, had stopped off at a convenience store after working a long night shift in the Emergency Room. He had wanted milk for his cereal. But what he got was three bullets, point blank to the chest, killing him instantly. There had been a robbery in progress, right in a store he and Mel dropped into at least three times a week. It had ended the life she loved.

If she had to spend the night in her car, in the rain, it would be nothing by comparison.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Jack delivered a second Remy-Martin to Miss Monroe, but she had declined a second serving of stew. He stayed behind the bar while she ate, drank and seemed to glower at Hope as she smoked. It caused him to chuckle to himself. The girl had a little spirit. What she also had was looks. Petite, blond, flashing blue eyes, a small heart-shaped mouth, and a backside in a pair of jeans that was just awesome. When the women left, he said to Doc Mullins, “Thanks a lot. You could have cut the girl some slack. We haven’t had anything pretty to look at around here since Bradley’s old golden retriever died last fall.”

“Humph,” the doctor said.

Ricky came behind the bar and stood next to Jack. “Yeah,” he heartily agreed. “Holy God, Doc. What’s the matter with you? Can’t you think of the rest of us sometimes?”

“Down boy,” Jack laughed, draping an arm over his shoulders. “She’s outta your league.”

“Yeah? She’s outta yours, too,” Rick said, grinning.

“You can shove off anytime. There isn’t going to be anyone out tonight,” Jack told Rick. “Take a little of that stew home to your grandma.”

“Yeah, thanks,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”

When Rick had gone, Jack hovered over Doc and said, “If you had a little help, you could do more fishing.”

“Don’t need help, thanks,” he said.

“Oh, there’s that again,” Jack said with a smile. Any suggestion Hope had made at getting Doc help was stubbornly rebuffed. Doc might be the most obstinate and pigheaded man in town. He was also old, arthritic and seemed to be slowing down more each year.

“Hit me again,” the doctor said.

“I thought we had a deal,” Jack said.

“Half, then. This goddamn rain is killing me. My bones are cold.” He looked up at Jack. “I did pull that little strumpet out of the ditch in the freezing rain.”

“She’s probably not a strumpet,” Jack said. “I could never be that lucky.” Jack tipped the bottle of bourbon over the old man’s glass, gave him a shot. But then he put the bottle on the shelf. It was his habit to look out for Doc and left unchecked, he might have a bit too much. He didn’t feel like going out in the rain to be sure Doc got across the street all right. Doc didn’t keep a supply at home, doing his drinking only at Jack’s, which kept it under control.

Couldn’t blame the old boy—he was overworked and lonely. Not to mention prickly.

“You could’ve offered the girl a warm place to sleep,” Jack said. “It’s pretty clear Hope didn’t get that old cabin straight for her.”

“Don’t feel up to company,” he said. Then Doc lifted his gaze to Jack’s face. “Seems you’re more interested than me, anyway.”

“Didn’t really look like she’d trust anyone around here, at the moment,” Jack said. “Cute little thing, though. Huh?”

“Can’t say I noticed,” he said. He took a sip and then said, “Didn’t look like she had the muscle for the job, anyway.”

Jack laughed. “Thought you didn’t notice?” But he had noticed. She was maybe five-three. Hundred and ten pounds. Soft, curling blond hair that when damp, curled even more. Eyes that could go from kind of sad to feisty in an instant. He enjoyed that little spark when she had snapped at him that she didn’t feel particularly humorous. And when she took on Doc, there was a light that suggested she could handle all kind of things just fine. But the best part was that mouth—that little pink, heart shaped mouth. Or maybe it was the fanny.

“Yeah,” Jack said. “You could’ve cut a guy a break and been a little friendlier. Improve the scenery around here.”

 

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Character Sketches

Melinda (Mel) Monroe—Nine months after losing her ER doctor husband in a violent, big-city crime, this burned-out RN, certified nurse midwife and nurse practitioner, age 32, comes to Virgin River, answering an ad to assist the local country doctor.

Jack Sheridan—40-year-old retired, decorated Marine who fought in four combat zones and now owns Jack’s Bar, the center of social life in Virgin River. There he meets Mel Monroe.

Doc Mullins—Virgin River’s grumpy 70-year-old town doctor, who has a difficult time accepting Mel Monroe’s help when she answers his want ad for a physician’s assistant.

Hope McCrea—The 76-year-old widow who donated the cabin and the first year’s salary when Mel answered her ad for an assistant for Doc Mullins. Virgin River town benefactor.

Liz (Lizzie) Anderson—Too wild, in her parents’ estimation, this 14-year-old is sent from Eureka to live with her Aunt Connie in Virgin River, where she meets Rick Sudder.

Rick Sudder—Surrogate son to Jack Sheridan, 16-year-old Rick Sudder falls hard for Lizzie. They become involved, and their romance is an ongoing story through the first six books.

Thunder Point Book #5
October 14, 2019
MIRA Paperback, eBook

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The Promise

Come back to Thunder Point with an emotional, uplifting story in book 5 of the beloved series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr.

Scott Grant has a bustling family practice in the small Oregon community of Thunder Point. The town and its people have embraced the widowed doctor and father of two, his children are thriving, and Scott knows it’s time to move on from his loss. But as the town’s only doctor, the dating pool is limited. That is, until a stunning physician’s assistant applies for a job at his clinic.

Peyton Lacoumette considers herself entirely out of the dating scene. She’s already been burned by a man with kids, and she’s come to Thunder Point determined not to repeat past mistakes. When Scott offers her a job, at a much lower salary than she’s used to, Peyton is surprisingly eager to accept…at least for now. She’s willing to stay for a three-month trial period while she explores other options.

Scott and Peyton know the arrangement is temporary—it isn’t enough time to build a real relationship, never mind anything with lasting commitment. But love can blossom faster than you think when the timing is right, and this short visit just might hold the promise of forever.

Originally published July 2014 in mass market paperback and eBook.

Excerpt

Chapter One
Peyton Lacoumette drove slowly down the main street of Thunder Point, past all the small businesses including the clinic. She drove all the way to the far end of the point where she was stopped by the ornate gates to what could only be a mansion. She could barely make out the structure behind overgrown hedges and untrimmed trees. She got out of the car to peer through the bars, but couldn’t see much. If she had been with a couple of her brothers they might want to scale the wall for a closer look, but that wouldn’t do in a sundress and sandals.

She turned the car around and went back through the town. It looked pretty well lived in but it was clean and it was obvious by the small groups of people who had stopped to chat here and there that people were neighborly. A lot of them paused to stare at her car. It was a shiny new black Lexus and had been ridiculously expensive.

People stopping to talk happened a little less often in cities like Portland and San Francisco and hardly ever in New York City, though she’d liked living in those cities. In Bayonne, France it was more common, almost required that you never be in too big a hurry. This place appealed to her on the surface, probably because it wasn’t unlike the closest town to her family’s farm. Or Bayonne, for that matter. A woman was putting buckets of long stemmed, colorful flowers in front of her shop; a man was sweeping the sidewalk in front of his door; two dogs were leashed to a lamppost at the diner’s door — a spotted Great Dane and a Yorkie, sharing a pan of water. The main street appeared well scrubbed and friendly.

She parked in front of the clinic and went inside. It was noon, there were no patients waiting and the young woman behind the counter stood up to greet her with a smile. “Hi. How can I help you today?”

“I was just passing through, wondering where the best access to the beach was…”

“Probably the marina. Or, Cooper has a beach bar on the far side of the beach, up on the hillside. There’s a road to his place from Highway 101 and he has stairs down to the beach and tables on his deck. Cooper’s place is the best spot in town to watch the sunset. When the sun sinks behind those big rocks in the bay, it’s really beautiful. I think he gets the best part of his business from people who stop by there for something to drink or eat when they’re out walking on the beach or waiting for the sunset.”

“I saw the beach access from the road but I didn’t stop. There’s some building going on out there…”

“That’s Cooper’s, too. He’s building a house and next door we’re building one, too. Me and my fiancé.”

“Oh, congratulations,” Peyton said. “On the engagement, not the building.”

She laughed. “You can congratulate me on that, too. I didn’t think I’d ever live in an oceanfront house like that.”

Peyton looked around the small office. “People must be feeling pretty healthy around here today.”

“This is an unusually quiet day.”

“Are you the doctor or nurse?”

She shook her head. “Just the office manager. Dr. Grant stepped out since there weren’t any patients. Do you need to see the doctor?”

“No,” she laughed. “It just seemed like the most logical place to ask about the town.”

“I’m Devon MacAllister,” she said, extending a hand across the counter.

“Peyton Lacoumette, nice to meet you,” she said. “I grew up on a farm up north, not too far from Portland in the Mount Hood area. I didn’t even know this town existed.”

“We’re a little off the beaten track and everyone seems to like it that way. There are only two ways into town — across the beach from Cooper’s place or a winding road north of here from 101. That’s probably how you found us — there’s an exit sign. Folks around here keep threatening to take down the sign,” she added with a laugh. “They won’t, but some tend to like the hidden quality…”

“What do most people do around here?” Peyton asked.

“Lots of fishermen, obviously. Then there are small business owners and people who work in those businesses, like me. My fiancé is the athletic director at the high school. A lot of the local population works out of town — Bandon, Coquille, North Bend.”

“I drove out to the point and saw a big house or building out there. Huge.”

“It’s a vacant house. The stuff of legends around here — the old Morrison place. It’s before my time here but I guess the family was rich once, went bust, declared bankruptcy and the son killed someone and went to prison. He was just a teenager. The only murder this town has ever seen, I’m told.”

“Why doesn’t someone do something with that place?” Peyton asked.

“I guess because it’s so big — no one can afford to live in it.”

“What’s big?”

Devon shrugged. “Country Club big. Lots of big rooms, a lot of bedrooms and bathrooms, a restaurant size kitchen, thousands of square feet on hundreds of acres right on the point. The only other inhabitant out there is the lighthouse because that point and its twin across the bay — very rocky.”

“Hm. Sounds like a clever person could turn it into a library or boarding school or nursing home or… It would be fun to see the inside,” she said.

“It would. I never thought about it, but a lot of people in town have been in that house.”

“Have you lived here your whole life?” Peyton asked.

“Oh God no,” Devon laughed. “Only a year! I’m originally from Seattle — a city girl, really. But there’s something about this town…. I like the people but more than that, it’s the feeling of the town in general. It feels safe, like it hugs you. Maybe because you have to come here on purpose, it’s not something you’d see from the highway and it’s not a thoroughfare. I’ve never lived in a little town before. And then I met my fiancé and found this job and,” she said, and smiled prettily.

“But who runs the office? Is there just the one doctor?”

“Just me and Dr. Grant at the moment, but he’s been looking for an associate or nurse practitioner. He doesn’t want a big practice but more than one person capable of writing scripts or putting in stitches… that would help a lot. It’s becoming a busy clinic. He’s hoping to expand — we have that many patients. This town could use a twenty-four hour Urgent Care, but that takes much more room and staff. He says that’s something for down the road.”

“And you like it?”

“I love it. I love Dr. Grant.”

Peyton lifted a brow and smiled. “Does the athletic director mind that you love your boss?”

Devon laughed. “Spencer loves Dr. Grant, too! This town and my job — it’s perfect for us. Spencer has an eleven year old son, Austin. And I have a 4 year old daughter, Mercy.”

“You like your soon to be stepson?”

“He’s a dream come true,” Devon said. “Mercy worships him and he’s very good to her.”

“Very lucky for you,” Peyton said. “I hear those things can be dicey — blending families like that.”

“We’re very lucky, that’s true.”

“What if you don’t find an associate?” Peyton asked.

“We’ll manage,” Devon said. “We make it work somehow. It’s just that…. Well, Dr. Grant spends a lot of time helping out at other hospitals, sitting on call almost every weekend, and that’s inconvenient for him. He’s a very devoted family man and needs more time with his family.”

“Devoted family man?” Peyton said.

“Absolutely. Plus he volunteers with Spencer to be the game doctor for the football team. This town doesn’t have a lot of money and football is very important to Thunder Point. School programs and sports are the main entertainment here and most of the student athletes are working hard for scholarships. At Spencer’s last school — a big Texas high school — had a certified trainer and sports medicine physical therapist. We don’t have resources like that here in this little town so it’s important to recruit volunteers like Dr. Grant. I wish you could meet him.”

“Devon, would you excuse me for a second? I just have to get something…”

“Sure,” she said. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“No thanks,” she said, smiling over her shoulder as she went to her car. She came back with a cloth briefcase. She opened it on the counter in front of Devon and pulled out a thin newspaper. “I was renting a cottage in Coos Bay for a short vacation. I happened to see this ad but didn’t know anything about the town. So, I thought I’d check it out and maybe drop off a resume.”

Devon glanced at the resume and her mouth stood open just as her eyes became very round with surprise. “Physician’s Assistant? From Portland?”

“I worked for a cardiologist. I was there for three years. Very busy practice. I was hoping for something a little quieter for a while.”

Devon didn’t speak right away. Then she said, “You’re not just passing through…”

“Well, I could have been. I haven’t started looking for my next job yet; I haven’t sent out resumes yet.”

“Why did you leave your former practice?”

“I was replaced, but I promise you my recommendation will be excellent,” she said. “Maybe you could give my resume to Dr. Grant and if he’s interested, my cell phone number and email address are right there,” she said, pointing.

“I’ll do just that,” Devon said. “Miss Sneaky Britches.”

Peyton laughed. “Don’t be offended, Devon. I wasn’t going to leave a resume if something about the town or the clinic or the doctor didn’t feel right.”

“You haven’t met the doctor.”

“But you love him,” Peyton said. “Even your fiancé loves him.”

“Who loves me?” a man asked.

Peyton looked up and there, standing in the space that would lead into the back of the clinic, was a very attractive man in his thirties. He was dressed in faded jeans and a yellow dress shirt, open at the collar, sleeves rolled up. Although he was clearly over thirty-five he had a boyish quality to his good looks. But not to his physique — he was broad shouldered and had strong arms and big hands. Even from where she stood she could see a depth to his blue eyes.

Devon looked over her shoulder. “Meet Dr. Scott Grant, who obviously just snuck in the back door.”

He came forward. “Pleasure,” he said. “Miss Sneaky Britches, was it?”

“Peyton Lacoumette,” she said, taking the hand. “I saw your ad. After getting to know Devon a little bit I decided to drop off a resume. I’m a physician’s assistant.”

“Is that so?” he said, taking the page, glancing at it. “I’ve been interviewing.”

“Well give me a call if you think I suit,” she said. “I’m staying in Coos Bay for a little while — just taking a breather before summer is over.”

Without looking up from her resume, he asked, “Do you have time for a conversation now?”

“I… I guess so,” she said. Then she laughed a little uncomfortably. “I didn’t expect… I didn’t dress for… Sure, I have time.”

And he said, “Good. Come on back.” And he turned that she might follow him.

~~~~~~~
Scott found himself staring down at the resume for a long time, looking for something imperfect. He knew if he looked across the desk he’d see only perfection and it unsettled him more than he had been prepared for. She was only a woman, after all. Not even the type he usually found himself giving a second look. She was very pretty, yes, but his eyes were usually drawn to blonds, like his late wife. This woman had dark hair and dark eyes and a slightly olive complexion. Her hair was long and straight and looked like a sheet of silk. Italian? Mexican? Sicilian? Her eyes were large and her eyebrows curved in a perfect arch. She was trim — she took care of herself. Very nice collar bones. He almost laughed at himself. Collar bones, Scott? Really? He was afraid to look up. He might lean over the desk to look at her feet and ankles, not that he gave a shit about ankles, but he hoped they were at least thick and weird looking. But he knew they would not be. “Lacoumette? Interesting name….”

“Basque. Originally from the south of France. Most of the Basque blood in our family is Spanish but the name originated in the northern Basque country and has survived for generations. My parents are second generation. They have a farm near Portland.” She was quiet a moment then cleared her throat. “Do you have any questions about my resume, Dr. Grant?” she asked.

“You seem to have a lot of experience,” he said. “This is one of the most impressive resume’s I’ve seen.”

“Twelve years,” she said. “Two practices and two hospitals plus a year at a small clinic in Bayonne, France.”

“France?”

“An old clinic right in the middle of Basque territory. I wanted to see where our people came from. I’m probably related to half of them.” And she smiled then, showing off a row of beautiful white teeth. She was stunning.

“What do you prefer? The private practice or the hospital?”

“For the hands on work, the hospital wins. For compensation, I’ll take the private practice every time.”

With her experience, she could very likely make more money than he did, in the right place. “Did you look around? This isn’t a rich practice.”

“That isn’t why I dropped by,” she said. “Are you frowning?”

Was he glaring at her? He shook himself. “I didn’t mean to do that, to be defensive,” he said. “It’s just that…” He took a breath. “Let’s be frank. I started this clinic on a shoestring. I run it on a tight budget. Where salary is concerned, I doubt I could meet your demands.”

She tilted her head and lifted her eyebrows. “I don’t recall making any. Yet.”

He realized he didn’t want her to walk out of here, yet he was sure he didn’t have what it would take to make her stay. He folded his hands on top of the exquisite, sexy resume and smiled at her. “What brings you to Thunder Point?”

“Just your ad,” she said.

Glancing at the resume again he said, “How did you see my ad in Portland? The search company?”

“No,” she said with a laugh. “When I left my last job I decided to take my time looking for employment because I wasn’t completely sure where I wanted to be. Plus, I didn’t take much time off in the past few years. So, I took a vacation — I spent a little time with my parents, then I drove down the coast, first to Canon Beach, then Coos Bay. I just happened to be looking through the employment section… I think it was the North Bend paper. I was just curious. I saw your ad and had never heard of Thunder Point. I thought in another couple of weeks I might contact an agency; I’m more comfortable in a big city. I didn’t expect this — a spontaneous interview in a little town. I was leaning toward San Francisco or Seattle…”

“Ah,” he said. “You like the Pacific Northwest.”

“I do, and I have family around. I was thinking it was time for a hospital,” she continued. “I was not interested in another practice right now — a little cozy, if you know what I mean. And small towns, they… I grew up in a small farming community and haven’t worked in a small town in years.”

“There are certain advantages to a small town, a small clinic,” he said. “I came from a large city to a small town as an experiment, hoping I’d take to it. It’s cozy all right — your friends are your patients and vice versa, but in the city the general practitioner is a good referral agency. In a place like Thunder Point we take care of a lot more — these people aren’t equipped to travel long distances to see specialists. In many cases their medical coverage is spotty. They need a good medical team.”

“And that’s why you’re here, to provide a good medical service? As altruistic as that?”

“And because I thought it would be good for the kids. Also because the grandmothers, both widows, get a little invasive and high maintenance. I need them in smaller doses. So, that was my original motivation but I like it here. Now, tell me why you would consider Thunder Point?”

“It’s quiet,” she said. “It’s possible something like this could work for me for a while…”

“A while?” he asked.

“If you offer me a job here and if I take the offer, I’ll make a commitment. And I’ll keep it.”

“Why did you leave your last job?” he asked her.

“I was replaced,” she said. “The doctor wanted to put someone else in my position.”

“When I call him, is that what he’ll tell me?”

“I’m not sure. He felt we had accomplished as much as we could as a team and it was time for a change. He’ll tell you my performance was excellent.”

Scott thought about this for a second. “And that’s what you’re telling me?”

“No. That’s what he’ll tell you.”

“And is there another story?” Scott asked.

“He’s dating an RN who convinced him she could do my job. I don’t know whether that’s true, only time will tell. Apparently they just can’t get enough of each other. I suspect she didn’t appreciated my continued presence in the office after they’d become an item.”

Scott could easily imagine that. “A little jealousy?” he asked.

“Or paranoia. I had no interest whatsoever in her boyfriend. That’s okay, it was time for a change. Let’s just clear the air on that, shall we? Before there’s a lot of curiosity and conjecture? I’m interested in work. And I’m not interested in men.”

Well, that cleared the air, all right. He coughed lightly. “That’s very honest,” he said. “No beating around the bush there.” And then he thought, excuse the pun. And he smiled. “You’re very up front about personal things.”

“I don’t mean to be rude… I hope that didn’t seem rude… I think it’s best if we’re all honest about issues that could be problematic. I don’t advertise that and it’s not something I feel like talking about but… Really, I don’t need the aggravation.”

He smirked slightly. “That will greatly disappoint the single men of Thunder Point,” he muttered.

“Oh please,” she said. “They’ll get over it.”

I suppose. Although not without a few…”

“Few what?” she asked, frowning.

He didn’t think it would be professional to say fantasies. So he said, “Regrets.” And then he went on to say, “You’ll find the cost of living in this town is low.” He wrote down a number on a piece of paper and slid it toward her. “It would have to be a year at this salary.”

She looked at it and choked. “Is the cost of living free?”

He stood from behind his desk. “While you consider that, I’ll give Dr….” he looked down. “Dr. Ramsdale a call.” He extended a hand. “Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about the position.”

She stood and took his offered hand. “Sure. I think this meeting was unexpected for both of us.”

“It certainly was. By the way, how are you with children?”

She stiffened as if offended. “I’m the oldest of eight and consider myself to be good with kids, though I’m in no way interested in taking on child care. How is that relevant to the position?”

He laughed softly and put his hands in his pockets. “It’s a small town and the people who seem to get hurt or sick the most often are the children and the elderly.”

Her face relaxed. “Oh. Right. Of course. I knew that.”

Scott followed Peyton to the reception area and stood by while Peyton chatted briefly with Devon. They acted like girlfriends, thanking each other for the time, said they’d see each other again. Maybe it was more than that in Peyton’s mind? Maybe she was attracted to Devon? But no… he wasn’t getting that vibe. Just that Peyton was more comfortable with Devon than she had been with him. And then Peyton left and went to the car that sat right in front of the clinic and climbed in.

“Wow, that’s some car,” Devon said.

“Uh-huh. I hope she’s not making payments on it.”

“Why?”

“Because on the salary I offered her, she’d have trouble. That’s a LS 600. Starts at over a hundred grand.”

Devon shot him a startled look. “Do you think she’ll take it?”

“Not a chance in hell,” he said. Then he turned and went back to his office.

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thunder Point Book #4
August 12, 2019
MIRA eBook, Paperback, audio

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The Chance

Come back to a small town on the Oregon coast, in book 4 of the beloved Thunder Point series only from New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr.

With its breathtaking vistas and down-to-earth people, Thunder Point is the perfect place for FBI agent Laine Carrington to recuperate from a gunshot wound and contemplate her future. The locals embraced Laine as one of their own after she risked her life to save a young girl from a dangerous cult. Knowing her wounds go beyond the physical, Laine hopes she’ll fit in for a while and find her true self in a town that feels safe. She may even learn to open her heart to others, something an undercover agent has little time to indulge.

Eric Gentry is also new to Thunder Point. Although he’s a man with a dark past, he’s determined to put down roots and get to know the daughter he only recently discovered. When Laine and Eric meet, their attraction is obvious to everyone. But while the law enforcement agent and the reformed criminal want to make things work, their differences may run too deep…unless they take a chance on each other and find that deep and mysterious bond that belongs to those who choose love over fear.

Originally published March 2014 in mass market paperback and eBook.

Excerpt

Chapter One
When Laine Carrington arrived in Thunder Point, she went first to the hill above the beach and sat in the parking lot beside Cooper’s bar. She didn’t go inside — she would do that later. She just wanted to see if the view from this perch matched the pictures she’d been sent. She let out her breath, not even realizing she’d been holding it. The vista before her was even better.

What am I doing here? she asked herself again. She’d been asking herself for three thousand miles of driving.

The view was stunning. The beach was wide and long. The huge, black haystack rocks were a powerful contrast against the gray-blue water. The mouth of the bay lay between two promontories, the Pacific stretching endlessly beyond, crashing against the rocky promontories but the water in the bay was calm.

She shivered in the cold and pulled her jacket tighter. It was late January and the damp cold caused her right shoulder to ache all the way to her elbow. She’d had surgery on that shoulder three months ago. A bullet was removed and damage repaired. Maybe it was the bullet that brought her to Thunder Point. Laine had been wounded on the job, then pulled from FBI Field Service and put on a desk while recovering. She wasn’t given any active cases but she had a computer — she was limited to what amounted to research and clerical work for other agents. When she realized they were going to keep her on that desk for a long time, light duty, assisting rather than leading investigations, she requested a one year leave of absence to focus on rehab.

Rehab was an excuse. She didn’t need a year. She was close to seventy-five percent total recovery of the shoulder and in another six months she’d be a hundred percent. But even though she was cleared for duty by the shrink, she could use a little time to rethink her career path. And she was allergic to that full time desk.

Plus, she’d had a miserable holiday visit with her father in Boston. She left angry, went back to her Virginia townhouse, got in touch with a Realtor in Thunder Point where she knew a couple of people, and from emailed photos she had chosen a house to rent. A house with a view of the bay. Because Thunder Point, Oregon was just about as far from Boston as she could get.

Her car was in the parking lot of the bar and she leaned against it for a long time, staring at the sea. It was overcast, cold and there was no one on the water. It was glum, actually. But she liked those cloudy or stormy days. Her mother used to call them soup days. Although her mother had been a career woman, she had loved to cook and bake and it was particularly on days like this that she’d come home from her office or the hospital early, arms filled with grocery bags, and spend a few hours in the kitchen. It relaxed her. She loved filling her family with comfort food — thick soups, rich casseroles, sweet, soft breads, stews and pastas in rich tomato or white sauces or savory broths.

Laine sighed. She would never get over losing her mother. It had been five years and she still reached for the phone before she remembered. She’s gone.

It was time to get to town to meet the Realtor. She got in her car and drove out of the parking lot and took the road that crossed the beach and led to the town. There was some construction on the hill — it looked like a few houses were being built on this beachfront hillside. Like Cooper’s bar, these would have the best views in the town.

She drove to the main street and parked in front of the clinic. When she got out she locked it out of habit. She looked up and down the street lined with lampposts still boasting a bit of Christmas garland. Well, it was only January, she thought with a private chuckle.

She walked into the clinic and there, sitting behind the counter at her desk, was Devon. She rose with a wide smile on her face.

“You’re here,” Devon said in a near whisper. She came around the counter and embraced Laine. “There was a part of me afraid you wouldn’t come. That something would come up, that the FBI would have work for you…”

“Can we please not say a lot about that?”

“About what? The commune? The raid? The FBI?”

Laine couldn’t help herself, she brushed the hair back from Devon’s pretty face as if she were a little sister. Laine had taken Devon under her wing in the commune. “About all of it,” she said. “When people find out I work for the FBI they either ask me a ton of weird questions or they get strange, like they’re worried I’m going to do a background check on them or something. At least until I settle in a little bit, let’s downplay all that stuff.”

“What will you say? Because these people want to know everything about everyone. They’re nice about it, but they will ask.”

“I’ll just say I worked on a Federal task force, but most of my work was just at a desk, compiling data, research, that sort of thing. Not at all a lie. And I’m on leave because of shoulder surgery.”

“Okay,” Devon said, laughing softly. “They really don’t need to know your task force was counter terrorism until you stumbled on an illegal pot farm in the middle of a cult and that you had shoulder surgery because you were shot in the line of duty.” Then she grinned.

Laine groaned. “Please, I really don’t want to sound that interesting.”

“Well, the only people who know certain details where there that night and they were briefed pretty thoroughly. Rawley, Cooper and Spencer will be very happy to see you,” Devon said. “And of course Mac knows — he’s the law around here, can’t get anything by him. I told Scott, my boss, but I can keep him quiet. He’s pretty easy to control.”

“Is that so?” Laine asked with a smile.

“Oh yes,” she said. “In Dr. Grant’s case it has more to do with me being happy so I can keep track of all the paperwork in this clinic. He dreads things like insurance filing, especially Medicaid and Medicare. He does it when he has to and frankly, it takes him five times as long as it takes me. He’s not even very good at keeping lab work and patient files up to date.”

“You’re so different from the person I knew on the farm.”

“Actually, I was different in the commune from the person I really am,” Devon said. “This is more me. I was always a good student, a hard worker. But you are the curiosity. How did a sophisticated city girl like you manage to fit into the family like you did?”

Laine smiled secretly, proudly. “Specialized training, research, good role playing.”

“I can see that working for a couple of days, but it was over six months!” Devon reminded her.

She knew. Only too well. “Very good research and role playing,” she said. Not to mention the fact that lives were at stake and rested on her success or failure. Laine had done a lot of undercover work over the years but her time with The Fellowship had been the longest deep cover assignment in her career. She had requested it, thinking it would be a brief fact-finding assignment. She thought she could probably fit in, get to the bottom of what was happening there, but what was going on was quite different than what the FBI suspected. They had been looking for evidence of sovereign citizenry, tax evasion, fraud, human trafficking and possible domestic terrorism. What she found, once she was inside, was a giant pot farm fronted by a fake cult.

Laine could have left then, escaped, turned her information over to the task force and let them figure out how to proceed, how to best serve a warrant and get inside to make arrests without creating a small war. But there were women and children behind the fence that surrounded The Fellowship and the men in charge would fight back — they were armed to the teeth. So she stayed, getting as many of them out safely as she could before law enforcement breached the compound. It had been an extended dangerous and complex operation and in the end, she’d been shot by the cult leader, the boss. Jacob.

“Are you ready to have a little quiet now?” Devon asked.

“You have no idea,” Laine said. But she’d never actually had quiet before. The thought of whole days without plans stretching out in front of her was intimidating.

“I saw it,” Devon said. “The house you rented.”

“You did?”

“Ray Anne, the Realtor I suggested to you, told me which house it was and I peeked in some windows. It’s beautiful. So beautiful.”

“I’ve only seen pictures,” Laine replied. “I understand I was very lucky; that there’s hardly ever rental property around here.”

“At least not real pretty rental property. This is a vacation home that for some reason the family isn’t going to be using for a while so they’re renting it.”

“Do you know them? The people who own it?”

Devon shook her head. “But I haven’t been here that long. I don’t know everyone, that’s for sure.”

Laine looked at her watch. “I better go meet Ray Anne. “Want to come? See the inside from the inside?”

She grinned and nodded. “Let me check with Scott, then I’ll follow you so I can come right back.”

“Maybe I better follow you,” Laine said. “I haven’t even looked in the windows yet.”

~~~~~~~

Eric Gentry sat at the counter in the diner having a late breakfast. Next to him was Cooper from the beach bar, doing the same. Then the sheriff’s deputy walked in. Mac pulled off his hat and took the seat beside Eric. Mac’s wife, Gina, brought him a cup of coffee. Then she leaned over the counter and collected a kiss.

“I certainly didn’t get that kind of first class treatment,” Cooper said with a smile. “And I ordered a whole meal.”

“Yeah, buddy, the day I hear about you getting treatment like that is the day you start walking with a limp.”

Eric chuckled, but he’d never make such a remark. He and Gina had history. And he liked walking straight.

“Mac,” Gina reprimanded with a laugh in her voice.

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Mac asked Cooper. “Get sick of Rawley’s cooking out at the bar?”

“Rawley doesn’t cook,” Cooper said. “Sometimes he warms things, but that’s just sometimes.”

“Sarah says he’s a good cook,” Gina pointed out.

“Oh, he cooks for Sarah,” Cooper said of his wife. “When she wanders into the kitchen he asks her right away what she’d like. Now that she’s packin’ Rawley takes real good care of her.”

“Packin’?” Eric asked.

“Pregnant,” three people answered in unison.

“I see,” he said, sitting back and wiping his mouth on the napkin.

“Business must be good,” Mac said to Eric. “I saw a dually pulling a trailer through town, an old Plymouth on the trailer.”

“A 1970 Superbird,” Eric told him. “It’s in for a rebuilt engine, new bench seat and a refurbished dash. I think we’re going to have to refresh that roof, too. It’s the original vinyl and not going to be easy.”

“Bench seat? Not buckets?”

Eric shook his head. “Not in the Superbird. I guess if you drove one of those you got girls and if you got girls, you wanted them sitting right next to you.”

“Where’d it come from?” Mac asked.

“Southern California.”

“Someone would bring an old car up from Southern California?”

Eric sipped his coffee. “It’s a two-hundred-thousand dollar classic. The owner would bring it across six states for the right work. I’ve done a lot of work for him. He owns twenty cars. I think its most of his estate. He likes to do a lot of the restoration work himself and he does a great job. He doesn’t have the equipment for replacing an engine block and the car is his baby.”

“His baby?” Gina asked.

“He kisses it before he goes to bed every night. He probably treats the car better than he treats his wife.”

“Boys and their toys,” Gina said.

“You’re putting us on the map,” Mac said. “Imagine — that car is worth more than this diner.”

Eric noticed a couple of young women walking across the street from the clinic. One he knew to be Devon, the doctor’s office manager — he’d met her a couple of months ago and had seen her around. The other one he didn’t recognize. She was wearing a ball cap low over her forehead and fitted spandex pants, jacket, running shoes and blond hair strung through the back of her cap, noticeable when she turned to laugh at something Devon said.

When they walked into the diner Gina beamed a happy grin and said, “Hey!”

“What’s this?” Devon asked. “Grumpy old men’s club?”

“I beg your pardon,” Cooper replied. “I’m not old.”

“He’s older than me,” Mac said.

Eric said nothing. His eyes were busy with the new girl and when something like that happened it tended to tie up his tongue.

“Laine, you know Cooper and Mac, but have you met Eric? Eric owns the service station and body shop at the end of the street. Eric, this is my friend, Laine Carrington. She’s new in town.”

And Eric found himself on his feet. “Nice to meet you.”

“And you,” she replied. “Please, sit. We’re just going to grab a cup of coffee.” Then she looked at Gina. “You due for a break?”

“I am,” she said. “I’ll bring the coffee.”

As Devon and Laine headed toward the back of the diner to a booth, Eric followed them with his eyes. Then he guiltily returned his eyes to his coffee cup, grateful to note that Cooper and Mac were discussing how much money was too much to spend on a car. A two hundred thousand dollar Superbird didn’t even enter the conversation.

Eric had a couple of classics, cars he’d restored himself. He salvaged them and had planned to restore and sell them, then he got attached. It happens. There were dealers and then there were collectors. Then there were guys like him who were looking to make a few bucks and turned into collectors.

He talked with his friends for a while longer, forcefully keeping his eyes from wandering to that back booth, until finally Mac stood and left the waitress a tip, making the men laugh. Cooper left a ten on the counter for his seven dollar breakfast plus tip. But Eric walked to the back booth.

“Gina, I’m going to need some change. You’re good, but not that good.”

“I’d argue with that, but it will be quicker to get your change.” She snatched the twenty out of his hand and headed for the register.

“Nice meeting you, Laine. If you ever need any dents popped or rough edges smoothed out, I’m your guy,” he said. When he saw Laine and Devon looking at him with wide eyes, he winced. But the women laughed.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she said.

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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July 30, 2019
MIRA Trade Paperback, eBook, audio

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The House on Olive Street

When a group of writers loses a member, a summer spent sorting through her things offers the perfect escape for the friends who loved and miss her.

Sable has everything and her bestselling novels have made her a star. But she has a past she is desperate to hide.

Elly is an intellectual who has hidden herself within the walls of academia, afraid to admit she is tired of being alone.

Barbara Ann is the talent behind twenty-six romance novels, but she’s lost control of her career and her family.

Beth’s popular mysteries have become the only way she can fight against the secret tyranny of an abusive husband.

Gathering in Gabby’s house on Olive Street, away from their troubles, the four women discover something wonderful: themselves. And together they realize a dream. For, in telling the story of a remarkable woman, their own stories begin to change.

Originally published November 1999 in mass market paperback; June 2010 in eBook; February 2014 in mass market paperback and eBook; and October 2014 in eBook.

Thunder Point Book #3
June 24, 2019
MIRA Paperback, eBook

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The Hero

Come back to Thunder Point! From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Virgin River series, book 3 in her beloved Thunder Point novels, where falling in love can be the bravest act of all.

In a moment of desperation, Devon McAllister takes her daughter and flees a place where they should have been safe and secure. She has no idea what is around the next bend, but she is pretty certain it can’t be worse than what they’ve left behind. Her plan is to escape to somewhere she can be invisible. Instead, an unexpected offer of assistance leads her to Thunder Point, a tiny Oregon town with a willingness to help someone in need.

As the widowed father of a vulnerable young boy, Spencer Lawson knows something about needing friendship. But he’s not looking for anything else. Instead, he’s thrown his energy into his new role as Thunder Point’s high school football coach. Tough and demanding to his team, off the field he’s gentle and kind…just the kind of man who could heal Devon’s wounded heart.

Devon thought she wanted to hide from the world. But in Thunder Point, you find bravery where you least expect it…and sometimes, you find a hero.

Originally published August 2013 in mass market paperback and eBook.

Excerpt

Chapter One
Devon walked down a tree-lined road, not really sure where she was but comfortable that she was far enough away from the family compound that it was no longer imperative that she hide when a vehicle approached. She’d been walking for at least eight hours and saw the first rays of light coming over the mountainous horizon behind her; it reassured her she was traveling west, toward the coast. She carried her three year old, Mercy, and a backpack stuffed with a few items of clothing and forty dollars that had been given to her by a kind stranger.

She was exhausted but would not stop to rest until she reached highway 101. Every so often she would put Mercy down and hold her hand, but that made the walking unbearably slow. When she heard a vehicle, she just kept her head down, staring at the ground.

It was a truck, which drove by her, but then stopped ahead of her. It was cranberry red and old, but in mint condition. A man got out and yelled to her. “Miss? Need a ride?”

She walked toward the vehicle. “Am I close to 101?” she asked.

“I’m going that way, on my way to work,” he said. “I can give you a lift.”

He was an older guy. He wore a red, white and blue ball cap and his cheeks and chin were stubbled. Though it was June, he wore a jacket. The early morning was misty, which told her she was in a valley near the Pacific. “Where are you headed?” she asked.

“Thunder Point,” he said. “It’s a very small town on the coast in Coos County. I work at a beach bar and I open for breakfast. Been there a few years now. It’s mostly fishing towns around there.”

Well, she’d gotten out of Douglas County, but she wasn’t sure where Coos County was. She didn’t know where anything was — she rarely went out of the compound and had never been to a small coastal town but knew that highway 101 stretched as far north and south as she needed to get. Highway 5 was bigger and closer to the camp and if anyone was looking for a couple of runaways hitching rides, they’d probably start there. “How close to 101 is your town?”

“Plenty close. Want me to drop you there?”

She walked toward the truck. “Thanks,” she said. “You’re sure?”

“No trouble,” he said.

She put her backpack in the truck bed but held Mercy on her lap, strapping them in together. She kept her head down, her hands tucked between her knees.

“Name’s Rawley Goode,” he said. She said nothing. “You got a name?”

“Devon,” Devon said. She shouldn’t use her real name. What if someone came poking around, asked if anyone had seen a woman named Devon? But she was almost too tired to lie. Not to mention nervous. At least she hadn’t said Sister Devon.

“Well, you’re not an escaped convict, are you, Devon?” he asked.

She looked at him. “Is there a prison around here?”

He smiled. “Kidding,” he said. “Where you headed?”

For lack of a better answer she said, “Seattle. Eventually.”

He whistled. “You’re a long ways from there. What brings you to this old back road?”

She shrugged. “It’s where I was left off.”

“You hitchin’ rides?”

She nodded. Her ride over the mountain had been planned, but was to be kept secret. “101 will do better for that,” she said.

“Unless the police see you. Then it gets complicated.”

“I’ll watch.”

She wasn’t really headed to Seattle, but that was where she came from. She thought there might be a shelter or charity of some kind in one of the bigger towns on the coast. “Is there a city up 101that’s pretty big? That might have a shelter? Maybe a hostel?” she asked him.

“Couple,” he said. “Listen, I have an idea. You decide exactly where you need to go and I’ll fix you up with transportation, how’s that?”

“Why?” she asked suspiciously. “Why would you do that?”

“I been in your spot, hitchin’ rides, lookin’ for the easiest way to get from here to there, takin’ a little help sometimes. I normally went to the VA when I needed a little assistance. You got room for a little breakfast? ‘Cause that’s my job in the morning — perking the coffee, warming up egg sandwiches, watching the sun come over the mountains. Not far from the highway, neither. I could show you a map while you and the little one eat something.”

“No, thank you. I have a couple of apples for later.”

“I know that look of no money,” he said. “Been wearin’ it and seein’ it for forty years now. No charge for the map. Or the breakfast. Then I’ll give you a ride where you need to go to catch your next ride. It ain’t no gamble. I admit, I ain’t always been the best person in the world, but I ain’t yet done nobody harm. You can hang on to those apples.”

~~~~~~~
Rawley didn’t exactly now her, but he recognized her at once as being from The Fellowship — a small religious compound along the river in Douglas County. She was wearing their ‘uniform’ or ‘habit’ of overalls, sturdy shoes, long sleeved T-shirt with one button at the neck and a long, thick, single braid down her back. He’d donated to them a couple of times and had noticed there were a number of women attired the same while the few men in evidence were individual in their various jeans, plaid or chambray shirts and down vests. When Cooper was renovating the bait shop and turning it into a first rate bar or cafe, Rawley took the used industrial sized washers and dryers and a lot of kitchen wares they couldn’t use to The Fellowship.

They were a private bunch, but he saw they had a roadside stand near their compound where they sold produce, quilts and woven goods. He’d only stopped once and had seen a group of them, the women doing the business and the men present as if to help with the heavy work, but not actually taking part in the selling. And he’d seen a few of them wandering around the Farmer’s Market in Myrtle Creek where they sometimes had a stand, again the women together in a tight knot and the men following along or standing behind them, watching.

That had never seemed odd to him until this morning when he found a young woman and child walking down the deserted road at dawn. Now he wondered what that was about. Beautiful, young, smiling, soft spoken women apparently watched over by big, muscled men.

The girl seemed skittish, so he played his cards close to his vest. As they drove the twenty minutes to the beach at Thunder Point he only said things like Gonna be a right fine day and Fog’ll burn off the water early today and Should get up around seventy degrees, and that’s a heat wave on the ocean.

She said nothing but um-hm. Her little girl rested her head on her mother’s shoulder and a couple of times whispered, to which she only replied, um-hm. Then they came down the hill toward the bar and when she saw the beach sheltered by the rocky coastline, the bay studded with giant rocks and fog at the mouth of the bay just lifting, she said, “Wow.”

“Pretty, ain’t she?”

They arrived, Rawley parked out behind the bar, used his key to open the place up. “Come on inside, sit up at the bar and I’ll put on the coffee and heat up some eggs. Got some fruit, too. And Cooper, the owner, he likes his Tony Tigers — you or the little one like Frosted Flakes?”

“Anything is very generous,” she said. “And appreciated.”

“Like I said, I passed that way plenty. I got a lot to pay back.”

Rawley noticed the coffee was already brewing. He looked out the window and saw a lone man on the still bay on a paddle board. That would be Cooper, getting in a little early morning exercise. And as he watched, a Razor ATV came across the beach with a big black and white Great Dane riding shotgun — Sarah, Cooper’s woman, must have a day off from the Coast Guard. Ah, a second board and paddle leaned up against the dock.

Good, he thought. That would give him enough time to figure out what to do with Devon next. Because obviously something needed to be done. A woman and small child with a single backpack out walking the back roads at dawn with no money and no plan…. Well, it didn’t take a genius.

He wet a cloth with warm water and handed it to Debbie in case she wanted to wipe the grime of the road from her hands and she did so. Then wiped off her daughter’s hands and face, muttering a very soft ‘thank you’ as she put down the cloth.

He started with food. He put out a fruit plate they kept on hand from Carrie’s Deli, a box of Frosted Flakes, two bowls, utensils, a carton of milk, a couple of small glasses. Then he pulled two egg sandwiches out of the cooler and popped them in the microwave.

Devon served her little girl, sharing the fruit plate. When the egg sandwiches arrived she said, “So much food.”

Traveling makes a person hungry,” he said. And then he poured himself a cup of coffee. He wandered out to the deck to think, to see where Cooper and Sarah were, to give Devon and her little girl time to get some food in their stomachs. If he watched them eat, they’d try not to eat too much — a man who’d been hungry and taken charity knew this.

Hamlet, the Great Dane, was tied to the dock while Sarah joined Cooper on the bay. Rawley propped open the doors to the deck so Cooper would know he was on duty and open. A few moments later as he stood there with his cup of coffee, Cooper waved. Rawley lifted a hand back. Then he watched them glide over the calm water, chasing the fog out of the bay.

By the time he went back inside, Devon and her little girl had put away a good deal of food and that made him smile. He went back behind the bar with his coffee. “Fill you up?”

“Oh yes, sir,” she said, giving her mouth a pat. “If you’ll write down your name and address for me, I’ll try to repay the kindness when I’m able.”

“I’d rather you pass it on, Debbie,” he said. “That’s what I try to do when I can.”

“Of course I’ll do that, too.”

“So. Looking for a larger town? One with a shelter?”

“Seems a good place to start,” she said.

“Mind if I ask? What put you in these straights?”

She took a breath and stroked her daughter’s back. “It’s not complicated. I lost my job and couldn’t find another. I got some benefits and food stamps but it wasn’t enough to pay the rent and I didn’t have family to take me in. So?”

“What kind of work you lookin’ for?” Rawley asked.

She laughed a little bit. “I’ve been working since I was fifteen, I can do a lot of things. Office work, waitress work, worked in a nursing home for a while, I even worked on a farm. I cleaned, cooked, worked in child care a lot — once I was a teaching assistant in a preschool. I went to college. None of those things paid enough to keep me and Mercy. I had a boyfriend, but he left. See?” she finished, tilting her head to one side. “Pretty simple. Just rotten timing. Bad luck.”

Rawley leaned on the bar. “You know, there’s this place on the river. Some kind of religious group. They call themselves The Fellowship. I could drive you out there, see if they’d take you in for a while, fix you up with some—”

“No!” she said hotly. “Please, no! If you could just give me a lift to the highway.”

He held up a calloused hand. “Sh,” he said. “Devon, I know where you’re from. I don’t know why and you don’t have to tell me, but it’s pretty clear you needed to be out of there if you’d drag your kid out in the dark of night and walk over a mountain.” He frowned. “She is your kid, ain’t she?”

“Of course!” She looked down. “I got a ride over the mountain. I should just get going…”

The child looked like her mother. Rawley was just checking. “Just sit. I can help you out here. You and the little one would be safe while you figure things out. You don’t have to be out on the highway, takin’ your chances.”

She just looked at him with those big blue eyes, her peachy lips parted. Her daughter continued to move Frosted Flakes around in her bowl, apparently oblivious to the conversation. “Why?” she whispered.

“I told you why. You need details? There was this war you’re too young to even know about and I came home a mess and no one wanted any part of me, of any of us. A lot of us wandered, just trying to forget or get the noise in our heads to stop. We had the VA but folks didn’t even know how to help Vietnam vets. Like I said, I took a lot of charity. I worked some here and there, slept on the street some, helped out at the VA some. Now — I got a house and a job. That’s my story. You keep yours till you feel safe. But girl — we’re gonna have to make some changes ‘cause I knew where you come from the second I seen you walkin’ down the road.”

Her eyes got pretty round at that, but she remained mute.

“The overalls, the braid…. Once Cooper gets in here and decides to go to work, I’ll take you somewhere to get clothes that don’t just holler commune for Christ or whatever that is you come from.”

“The Fellowship,” she reminded him quietly.

“And it wouldn’t hurt to cut off that braid or something. You think that’s a good idea?”

She chewed her lip a little bit, thinking this over. When she did speak she said, “I know about Vietnam.”

“Be glad you don’t remember it.”

“I think maybe I’m not far enough away. From the compound.”

“You think some of them might come lookin’ for you?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, not really. They’re not bad people. But…”

Rawley let that hang a minute. “But?” he prompted.

“They didn’t want me to leave. And I did anyway. And we’re not going back.”

He cleared his throat. “Then we play it safe. If you see any of ‘em snoopin’ around, you better sound the alarm. I’ve been in this town almost every day for over four years and no one from that place ever came here. My house is in Elmore, a thirty minute drive from here and I never seen any of ‘em there, either. I guess there’s a chance some folks from around here have been to that produce stand or what you call the compound so I reckon getting yourself a new look makes sense. There’s just one thing you’re gonna have to do to make it work.”

“What’s that, Mr. Goode?”

She remembered his name. Sharp for someone who’d been up all night and was probably worn to a nub.

“Gonna have to trust a stranger, miss. That’s what.”

Again she dropped her gaze. “Last time I did that…”

“I can figure that much out without the whole story,” he said. “I thought that place was safe. A refuge. Bent on charity and good works. But if it was a good and decent place, you’d have left in daylight with money in your pocket. I’m old and I’m jaded but I ain’t stupid.”

“For a while, it was a refuge and saved me. For a while.”

“Here’s what we do, miss. We get you some Walmart clothes and I’ll take you and little miss here to my house. You’ll have a safe and warm place to lay your head. There’s food in the fridge. You might wanna pretend to be kin — like my second cousin’s daughter. I didn’t have no direct family.”

She actually smiled at that. “Neither did I, Mr. Goode.”

“Might wanna call me Rawley for good measure.”

“Rawley,” she said. “I’m not sure…”

“Devon, you’re stuck trusting strangers right now. It ain’t no safer thumbing rides on the highway, I guaran-damn-tee. This’ll at least give you time to think and be safe while you’re doing it.”

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thunder Point Book #2
May 27, 2019
MIRA Paperback, eBook

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The Newcomer

Welcome back to Thunder Point, a town in Oregon where the people look out for each other, and newcomers are welcome to make a fresh start. Book two in the bestselling series from Robyn Carr.

Single dad and Thunder Point’s deputy sheriff “Mac” McCain has worked hard to keep his town safe and his daughter happy. Now he’s found his own happines with Gina James. The longtime friends have always shared the challenges and rewards of raising their adolescent daughters. With an unexpected romance growing between them, they’re feeling like teenagers themselves—suddenly they can’t get enough of one another.

And just when things are really taking off, their lives are suddenly thrown into chaos. When Mac’s ex-wife shows up in town, drama takes on a whole new meaning. Mac and Gina know they’re meant to be together, but can their newfound love withstand the pressure?

Originally published June 2013 in mass market paperback and eBook.

Excerpt

Chapter One
It was a warm, sunny afternoon in early April, a rarity on the coast for this time of year. Spring meant rain, which resulted in wildflowers—the best in the country. Cooper sat out on the deck of Ben & Cooper’s in his white T-shirt and jeans, his feet propped up on the deck rail. Hamlet, a harlequin Great Dane, sat beside him, watching the sea, his ears perking sometimes when a person, a boat or bird caught his eye. Cooper was enjoying a heavily creamed coffee and watching Sarah Dupre out on the bay, paddle boarding. She wore a wet suit that he’d given her for Christmas—short sleeves, knee length. The water hadn’t warmed up; it was icy cold. The Pacific was always cold, except maybe down San Diego way. But Sarah was an expert; she barely got her feet wet.

The way that wetsuit hugged her body—it was like art. She had incredibly strong legs, a perfect round tush, breasts about the size of his palms. She’d been born in a coastal town and was probably as comfortable on the water as she was on the land or in the sky—diver, swimmer, surfer, helicopter pilot. Ham was in his charge, and he’d been watching Sarah for an hour; she’d gone all the way out to the mouth of the bay and back. She was finally coming in, just ahead of the fishing boats headed home to the marina.

This life was the furthest thing Cooper had ever envisioned for himself. He had come to Thunder Point last October to look into the death of a good friend, Ben. To his surprise he had inherited what was Ben’s falling down bait shop with a bar. For lack of a better idea, he renovated, turning it into a first class beach bar, and had found himself a new home. He also found a woman, another surprise—he hadn’t been looking. After all the women in his life, short or long term, it was as if Sarah was everything he’d been waiting for.

He had officially opened the beach bar—no more bait—in late February. Now, as the proprietor, there was plenty of time to visit with folks from town, let the gentle lapping of the bay soothe him, watch his woman on her board, gently gliding across the calm water between the huge off shore boulders in the bay. He had a farmer’s tan, stronger shoulders from lifting and hauling bar supplies and a lot of new friends when he’d always considered himself a solitary kind of guy.

Sarah leaned her board and paddle against the dock and came up the stairs. When she reached the deck, he tossed a towel at her, and she dried her feet.

Hamlet stood to his horse height and wagged.

“What are you doing?”

“Absolutely nothing. Just watching my mermaid.”

She laughed. “Hamlet behaving?”

Cooper nodded. “He said he’d prefer to live here, with me.”

“Did he now?” she asked with a laugh. “Get your own dog.”

“There isn’t room for another dog around here. Come here,” he said, pulling her onto his lap.

She went to him, sat down, picked up his coffee and helped herself to a sip.

“Want me to make you a hot cup?” he asked. “You cold?”

She shook her head. “It’s nice out there. Breeze gets a little chilly sometimes, but the sun is so wonderful. You start to crave sun around here after winter rains and winds.”

Her cell phone rang. She’d left it on the deck with Cooper when she took her board out. She picked it up and said, “Yes, little brother?” Then she listened and laughed. “I’m at Cooper’s. I just took my board out—the bay is beautiful. I have the Razor and the dog. Then yes, have fun and I’ll see you later.”

She clicked off.

“How many times a day to you talk to Landon?” he asked. It was just Sarah and sixteen-year-old Landon; they were a family of two and kept pretty tight tabs on each other. And with Sarah being a Coast Guard Search and Rescue pilot who worked out of the North Bend station, sometimes it wasn’t easy.

“As many as it takes. Now that he’s dating Deputy Yummy Pants’s daughter, I don’t worry so much. Well, I worry that Mac might shoot him if he gets too frisky with Eve, but I figure that’s a long shot, forgive the pun. I think we check in three or four times a day.”

“At least,” Cooper said. “Did I interpret that last call to mean you’re now free for dinner?”

She grinned at him. “Is the chef preparing something special?”

“It won’t be busy here tonight, at least after seven—weeknight, sunset over. I have some steaks in the freezer, potatoes in the cooler….”

“Do you have anything green?” she asked.

Cooper ran the bar menu on deli items purchased from Carrie’s deli in town—simple things from pizzas to sandwiches as well as some desserts—things that could be served cold or warmed. This was not a restaurant. Cooper bought himself a grill for his own use, but didn’t use it to serve patrons.

Cooper had also inherited a helper, Rawley Goode, a Vietnam Vet who was not overly friendly and while he might be a good cook, he wasn’t pleasant enough. And he was needed for other things—maintenance, cleaning, purchasing and delivery from big box stores like Costco that were out of town. Therefore, personal groceries were often in short supply.

“I bet you have something green,” he suggested.

“I live on green things,” she said.

“I know this.”

“And you eat like a fourteen-year-old boy. You’d live on steak, hamburgers and home fries if it weren’t for me. If I go home to shower and change and bring a salad or a vegetable back with me, will you clean your plate?”

He loved her. He was frequently shaken by the intensity of his passion for her. He’d clean his plate, and then he’d tune her up for good measure. He knew his eyes glowed and knew she interpreted him correctly. When the “Closed” sign was on and the doors were locked, they’d eat steak in front of the fire and then retire to the playpen, his large bed upstairs. “Take my truck and leave the Razor.”

“I have to work in the morning.”

“That’s okay. You can take my truck and your dog home later. Much later. Then I’ll drive your Razor across the beach to trade vehicles tomorrow morning.”

~~~~~~
Sarah was home in bed before eleven. Not only did she have an early start the next day, but she didn’t stay the night with Cooper because of her sixteen-year-old brother, Landon. Although Landon wouldn’t be either shocked or disapproving—he had found Cooper first, and they were pals. In fact, if Sarah wasn’t mistaken, Landon would consider it a personal favor if Sarah and Cooper somehow made a lasting commitment. That might be closer to a reality but for complications, not the least of which was Sarah’s brief, disastrous marriage not terribly far in the past. She was not only understandably gun shy, she also had Landon, just finishing up his junior year in high school and headed for a fantastic senior year—his athletic prowess and academic performance would undoubtedly land him a scholarship. And they needed that scholarship. Sarah did all right, but sending someone to college for four years would prove a challenge.

Sarah was finished in the bathroom and on her way out the door before Landon stirred for school. She left him a note and twenty dollars for gas or lunch or incidentals. She certainly didn’t mind driving to work while feeling so fit and fresh after a day off on the bay, a good dinner with Cooper, a couple of hours of recreation under the sheets—something Cooper had a particular talent for. It added up to making her feel brand new and full of energy.

The station was getting ready for a big inspection in the next couple of weeks, and there was plenty to do, from preparing for check rides to auditing maintenance records. They’d have to show the command they were one of the best air stations in the Coast Guard, and they’d have to get ready while performing business as usual. Given that Sarah, Lieutenant Commander Dupre, was second in command of the flying operation at the station, her role in this prep would not be small. It was no surprise that when she turned on her computer there was a note from her immediate boss, Buzz Bachman, asking her to come to his office ASAP. She was sure, if she knew the man at all, he had a long list of things for her to do.

She made herself a cup of coffee on the way, stirring in some cream and sweetener. “Morning, boss,” she said, entering the small office.

“Morning, Dupre. Check the door.”

She turned to close the door and thought, Oh-oh, someone’s in trouble. The commander’s door was seldom closed, and when it was someone would generally say, “The spanking light has been lit.”

“We have a busy week and an inspection team en route the end of the month.”

“We’ll be ready,” she said, sipping her coffee.

“I want to tell you something I’m not supposed to know,” Buzz said. “How’s your poker face?”

She lifted an eyebrow. “When has my poker face ever let you down?”

“This could be tougher. It affects you directly.”

The eyebrow dropped. “Make it fast,” she said. “Rip that Band-Aid off.”

He took a breath. “I have a mole in HR,” Buzz said. “I’ve been cultivating him for a long time. I want as much warning as possible for my next change of assignment. What I didn’t expect was to have it whispered in my ear that there was nothing in the pipe for me yet, but one of my ‘men’ was being looked at for an assignment. An early assignment because of compelling need. Dupre.”

She was stunned silent. Her mouth hung open slightly. She forcibly closed her mouth. “I get an automatic refusal if they don’t even know I’m a woman. Right?”

“I wish. I shouldn’t say anything. It could all go another direction. Between now and notification, someone could put in for those air stations, and this could all go away. But I wanted you to have as much time to think about this as possible—we have two retiring Commanders and a compelling need with no outstanding applications for those locations and they’re both …” He paused to cough lightly. “They’re both on the east coast. Main and south Florida. As you might surmise, you’re probably going to be awarded a promotion within the year. Commander. I suspect that makes you a better than prime candidate.”

“And I’m not due for either,” she said, sliding forward on her chair a little bit.

“There’s no surprise here, Dupre. You’re good at your job. You’ve had a successful Coast Guard career. You’d make an excellent boss. You’re an excellent leader now.”

She looked at him earnestly, humbly. “I need another year here. Landon …”

“I know your situation, and I sympathize. That’s why I’m breaking protocol and leaking this. So help me, you let on, and we’ll have a real issue ….”

“Crap, there’s gotta be some wiggle room in here ….”

“I just gave it to you. I think you’ll be notified by June and will have a couple of months.”

She shook her head. “This plays hell on my family … Landon is prime scholarship material, but not if I move him. That’s saying nothing of the trauma of moving a kid right before his senior year in high school, moving him away from his football team, his friends, his school, his town. He’s done so well here, you have no idea.”

“I have every idea,” Buzz said. “I know exactly how you feel—I’ve gone through two divorces, proof of how the pressures weigh down the family. At least you’re not married.”

But there’s someone I can’t bear the thought of leaving, she thought. “Damn it, I love my job. But I don’t love this part.”

“And the Coast Guard loves you, Dupre. I thought you deserved time to think of your options. Aren’t you from Florida?”

“Long ago and far away. I grew up in Boca, practically on the water, but I’ve been north for most of my Coast Guard career. And there’s no family left in Florida—it’s just me and Landon. And I only have one more year of him before he goes off to college, starts a new life.”

“You always have that option we’re not talking about, even if you can’t retire yet.”

“Resign my commission? I have no idea what I’d do outside of the Coast Guard,” she muttered, looking into her coffee cup.

“And I know that feeling, too,” he said.

She looked up and connected eyes with him. She gave a half smile—small wonder he’d been married twice, he was a good looking man. Blond, expressive brown eyebrows, strong, smart, and a set of choppers that would put Donny Osmond to shame. All this had earned him the nickname Buzz Lightyear. “Why do you have a mole in HR?” she asked.

“I can retire,” he said. “I want plenty of notice on the next assignment, which should be coming down the pipeline in about six months. I don’t want a new location or a promotion. I’d like to fly forever, I love helicopters and I love the C-130 even more. Captain means more desk time than flying time and I have kids in California and Alaska. I’m moving on, Dupre. In probably a year.”

“But what are you going to do?”

“I’m working on that. But I’ve been down this road, and I have twenty in; my decision is made. You’re the one who has decisions to make. Maybe there’s some family friends around who can keep Landon in this school for one more year?”

She shook her head. “There’s no one.”

“Good friends?”

The only ones who came to mind were Gina or Cooper. Gina was trying to start a new life with Mac, aka Deputy Yummy Pants, and had a small house crowded with her mother and sixteen-year old-daughter. And Cooper? Oh, as great a pal as he was for Landon, he wasn’t in the market for instant guardianship. “The Coast Guard has always been inconvenient,” she heard herself say. “Not a lot of stability. But the job made up for that most of the time.”

“Where does Landon stay when you sit alert overnight?”

“He’s pretty much okay on his own, as long as he has phone numbers. If I have a temporary assignment out of town, like simulator training or something, there’s this guy I’ve been seeing …. Local guy, civilian. He doesn’t mind Landon duty for a few days or a week, but trust me …”

“Guy?” Buzz said. “Guy? Why don’t I know about this guy? He some kind of perv?”

Sarah smiled in spite of herself. “Not in a bad way,” she said.

“How long has this been going on?”

She gave a shrug. “Six months or so.”

“You never bring him around. You protecting us from him or something?”

“I could be protecting him from you ….”

“Hm. Well bring him around sometime. Happy Hour or something. I just wanted you to have a head’s up on the assignments,” he said. “With any luck someone requests a relocation in the next couple of months—just the right person to just the right relocation …”

“Two of them?” she asked cynically.

“There are people who would kill for a chance like you have,” he said.

“I know,” she said. She could go far in the Coast Guard; Commander was a prestigious rank in a demanding service, and she’d earned it. She was only thirty-three. “I could quit, but I can’t retire ….” Quit and do what? There was the little matter of paying rent, buying food, making car and insurance payments … Tuition. She stood up. “Well thanks, boss. I guess.”

“Don’t panic,” he said. “Yet.”

~~~~~~~
Sarah wasn’t one to panic, unless her career was about to turn everyone she loved upside down once again. She could tell Landon, give him time to adjust to the possibility and come up with his own coping options, but she wouldn’t. She wasn’t most afraid he’d balk and sulk, she was afraid he’d say, “Whatever, Sarah. Just let me know.” He was that kind of kid, that kind of brother. He wasn’t a typical sixteen-year-old boy, probably because of how challenging his life had been. She often worried about how much disappointment he was holding inside to spare her.

Landon was only five when their parents were killed in an accident, spent one horrifying year with their mean, spinster aunt and then had spent the last ten years as her responsibility. She’d moved him five times, put him through a divorce from a man he’d grown attached to and now, just when he was happiest … No, she couldn’t do it yet, not until she had time to think it through.

She could tell Cooper. He loved her; he was proud of her. But he’d just put all his energy into setting up his local business, and she couldn’t give him the options of breaking it off with her now or leaving behind all that he’d acquired to follow her. She could tell that his new lifestyle not only suited him, he was very happy. Relaxed.

She hadn’t even made it home after work before Landon called her cell. “You going out to Cooper’s tonight?”

“Not tonight,” she said. “I have things to prepare for our inspection.”

“If Eve comes over for homework tonight, will it bother you?” he asked.

“Nope. I’ll take my paperwork to my bedroom. What are you cooking?” she asked.

He laughed at the joke. “Want me to pick up a pizza? I still have that twenty you left me.”

“I’ll make sloppy joes. Save the pizza money. I sit alert tomorrow night, and you’re on your own. And before you even ask, no, Eve cannot spend the night.”

“Damn,” he said, making her laugh.

She made the same excuse to Cooper, though he didn’t buy it as quickly. “Can’t you do your paperwork tomorrow night while you sit alert?”

“I have enough for both nights. We’re gearing up for a big inspection. I’ll see you in a couple of days. I mean, we’ll talk, but—”

But I have to work on my poker face.

“—But, I have the day off after my twenty-four at the station, and I’ll come out. If the sun’s shining, maybe I’ll take out my board.”

“I love it when you do that,” he said. “The ocean is more beautiful when you do that.”

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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April 30, 2019
MIRA TP, eBook, HC, Audio

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The View from Alameda Island

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers a poignant and powerful story about how one woman’s best intentions lead to the worst of situations and how the power of love helps her to heal and ultimately triumph.

From the outside looking in, Lauren Delaney has a life to envy—a successful career, a solid marriage to a prominent surgeon and two beautiful daughters who are off to good colleges. But on her twenty-fourth wedding anniversary Lauren makes a decision that will change everything.

Lauren won’t pretend things are perfect anymore. She defies the controlling husband who has privately mistreated her throughout their marriage and files for divorce. And as she starts her new life, she meets a kindred spirit—a man who is also struggling with the decision to end his unhappy marriage.

But Lauren’s husband wants his “perfect” life back and his actions are shocking. Facing an uncertain future, Lauren discovers an inner strength she didn’t know she had as she fights for the love and happiness she deserves.


March 21, 2019
Mira Books TP, MMPB, eBook, Audio

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The Life She Wants

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr creates an 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 husband’s crimes, Emma Compton’s world 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 the fraud.

Only one friend stands by her, a friend she’s known since high school, who encourages her to come home. But starting over isn’t easy, and Sonoma County 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. Emma left town, planning to never look back. Now, trying to stand on her own two feet, she can’t escape her husband’s reputation and is forced to turn to the last person she thought she’d ever ask for help—Riley. It’s an uneasy reunion as both women face the mistakes they’ve made over the years. But if they find a way to forgive each other—and themselves—each of them can find the life she wants.

Originally published October 2016 in trade paperback and eBook.

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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Thunder Point Book #1
March 11, 2019
MIRA Paperback, eBook

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The Wanderer

Welcome back to Thunder Point! Return to where it all began, in the first book of the beloved series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr. You’ll fall in love with this small town filled with people and stories you’ll never forget.

Nestled on the Oregon coast is a small town of rocky beaches and rugged charm. Locals love the land’s unspoiled beauty. Developers see it as a potential gold mine. When newcomer Hank Cooper learns he’s been left an old friend’s entire beachfront property, he finds himself with a community’s destiny in his hands.

Cooper has never been a man to settle in one place, and Thunder Point was supposed to be just another quick stop. But Cooper finds himself getting involved with the town. And with Sarah Dupre, a woman as complicated as she is beautiful.

With the whole town watching for his next move, Cooper has to choose between his old life and a place full of new possibilities. A place that just might be home.

Originally published April 2013 and reissued December 2017 in mass market paperback and eBook.

Excerpt

Chapter One
It took Hank Cooper almost eight hours to get from Virgin River to Thunder Point, Oregon because he was towing his fifth wheel, a toy hauler. He pulled to the side of the road frequently to let a long string of motorists pass. He stopped just prior to crossing the California/Oregon border at a redwood tourist trap featuring gardens, souvenirs, wood carvings, a lunch counter and restrooms. Skipping the garden tour, he bought a sandwich and drink and headed out of the monument-size trees to the open road, which very soon revealed the rocky Oregon Coast.

Cooper stopped at the first outlook over the ocean and parked. His phone showed five bars, and he dialed up the Sheriff’s Department. “Hello,” he said to the call taker. “My name is Hank Cooper, and I’m on my way to Thunder Point following a call from someone saying my friend, Ben Bailey, is dead. Apparently he left something for me, but that’s not why I’m headed your way. The message I got was that Ben was killed, and there were no details. I want to talk to the Sheriff. Preferably, see the Sheriff when I talk to him. I need some answers.”

“Hold, please,” she said.

Well, that wasn’t what he expected. He figured he’d leave a number and eat his lunch while he waited.

“Deputy McCain,” said the new voice on the line.

“Hank Cooper here, Deputy,” he said, and in spite of himself, he straightened and squared his shoulders. He’d always been resistant to authority, yet he also responded to it. “I’m a friend of Ben Bailey and on my way into town to find out what happened to him.”

“Mr. Cooper, Ben Bailey’s been deceased for more than a couple of weeks.”

“I gather that. I just found out. Some old guy—Rawley someone —found a phone number and called me. He was killed, Rawley said. Dead and buried. I want to know what happened to him. He was my friend.”

“I can give you the details in about ninety seconds . . . .”

But Cooper wanted to look him in the eye when he heard the tale. “If you’ll give me directions, I’ll come to the Sheriff’s Department.”

“Well, that’s not necessary. I can meet you at the bar,” the deputy said.

“What bar?”

“Ben’s. I guess you weren’t a close friend.”

“We go back fifteen years but this is my first trip up here. We were supposed to meet with a third buddy from the Army in Virgin River for some hunting. Ben always said he had a bait shop.”

“I’d say he sold a lot more Wild Turkey than bait. You know where it is?”

“Only sort of,” Cooper said.

“101 to Gibbons Road, head west. About four miles down Gibbons, look for a homemade sign that says Cheap Drinks. Turn left onto Bailey Pass. It curves down the hill. You’ll run right into Bailey’s. When do you think you’ll get there?”

“I just crossed into Oregon from California,” he said. “I’m pulling a fifth wheel. Couple of hours?”

“More like three. I’ll meet you there if nothing interferes. Is this your cell number?”

“It is,” he said.

“You’ll have good reception on the coast. I’ll give you a call if I’m held up.”

“Thanks, Deputy….what was it?”

“McCain. See you later, Mr. Cooper.”

Cooper signed off, slipped the phone into his jacket pocket and got out of the truck. He put his lunch on the hood and leaned against the truck, looking out at the northern Pacific Ocean. He’d been all over the world, and this was his first trip to the Oregon coast. The beach was rocky, and there were two-story boulders sticking out of the water. A low flying orange and white helicopter flew over the water—a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin, search and rescue.

For a moment he had a longing to be back in a chopper, surprised it was only a moment. Once he got this business about Ben straightened out, he might get to the chore of looking for a flying job. He’d done a number of things air-related after the Army; the most recent was flying to off-shore oil rigs out of the Corpus Christi port. That job had really soured for him after an oil spill. He hated the thought of going back to work for an oil company.

His head turned as he followed the Coast Guard chopper across the water. He’d never considered the USCG. He was more inclined to avoid off-shore storms than to fly right into them to pluck someone out of a wild sea.

He took a couple of swallows of his drink and a big bite of his sandwich, vaguely aware of a number of vehicles pulling into the outlook parking area. People were getting out of their cars and trucks and moving to the edge of the viewing area with binoculars and cameras. Personally, Coop didn’t really think all these mountainous boulders covered with bird shit worthy of a picture, even with the orange chopper flying over them. Hovering over them . . . .

The waves crashed against the big rocks with deadly power, and the wind was really kicking up. He knew only too well how dicey hovering in wind conditions like that could be. And so close to the rocks. If anything went wrong, that helicopter might not be able to recover in time to avoid the boulders or crashing surf. Could get ugly.

Then a man in a harness emerged from the helicopter, dangling on a cable. That’s when Cooper saw what the other motorists had seen before him. He put down his sandwich and dove into the truck, grabbing for the binoculars in the central compartment. He honed in on that boulder, a good forty or fifty feet tall, and what had been two specs he recognized as two human beings. One was on top of the rock, squatting to keep from being blown over in the wind, the other clinging to the face of the rock. And now, thanks to the binoculars, he could see a small boat was floating away from the rock.

Rock climbers? They both wore what appeared to be wet suits under their climbing gear. There was a stray rope anchored to the rock and flapping in the breeze. The man who squatted on top of the boulder had issues with not only the crosswind but the helicopter’s rotor wash. And if the pilot couldn’t keep his aircraft stable, that EMT or rescue swimmer who dangled from the cable could start to swing and slam into the rock.

“Easy, easy, easy,” he muttered to the crew.

The emergency medical tech grabbed onto the wall of the rock beside the stranded climber, stabilized himself with an anchor in the stone, and held there for a minute. Then the climber hoisted himself off the wall of the rock and onto the EMT, piggy back to the front of the harnessed rescuer, both of them pulled immediately up to the copter via the cable. They were quickly pulled within.

“Yeah,” he whispered. Good job! He’d like to know the weight of that pilot’s balls—that was some fancy flying. And that was the hard part. Rescuing the guy up top was going to be less risky for all involved. The chopper backed away from the rock slightly while victim number one was pulled inside and presumably stabilized. Then, slowly edging near the rock once more, hovering there, a rescue basket was deployed. The climber on top waited until the basked was right there before he stood, grabbed it and literally fell inside. As he was being pulled up, motorists around Cooper cheered.

Before the climber was pulled all the way into the chopper, the small craft that had gotten away from them crashed against the mountainous boulder and broke into pieces. It left nothing but debris on the water. These guys must have taken a small boat out to the rock, tried to anchor it on a side that wasn’t battered by big waves so they could climb up, then climb back down to their boat. Once the boat was lost, so were they.

Who called the Coast Guard? Probably one of them, from a cell phone. Likely the one on top who wasn’t hanging on for dear life.

Everyone safely inside the helicopter, it rose, banked, and shot away out to sea.

Cooper found himself thinking, And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our matinee for today. Join us again tomorrow for another show. As the other motorists slowly departed, Coop finished his sandwich, then got back on 101 heading north.

It was a good thing Cooper’s GPS was up to date and followed the deputy’s directions, because Gibbons Road was unmarked. It was a very narrow two lane that went switchback style down a steep hill. It then hit a turn off, but there was only a sign and arrow pointing left, Cheap Drinks. Very classy, he found himself thinking. Ben had never been known as what Cooper’s southern grandmother had called “High Cotton.”

From that sign, however, he could see the lay of the land, and it was beautiful. It was a very wide inlet or bay that stretched like a U settled deeply into a high, rocky coastline. He could see Ben’s place, a single building with a wide deck and stairs leading down to a dock and the beach. Stretching out toward the ocean beyond Ben’s place was a completely uninhabited promontory. On the opposite side of the beach was a marina and a town. There, too, was a promontory that stretched out toward the ocean. However, there were houses all the way out to the point with what Cooper could only imagine to be a drop dead view. The town was built from the marina straight up the hill in what appeared to be steppes. He could see the streets from where he was parked. That would be Thunder Point. Between Ben’s place and the town, only the wide, expansive beach. Looking down, he could see a woman in a red hooded jacket and a big dog walking along the beach. She repeatedly threw a stick; the dog kept returning it. The dog was big, black and white and had legs like an Arabian colt.

He sat there a moment, thinking about anyone taking advantage of those cheap drinks and then getting back up to 101 on this road. It should be named suicide trail.

The sun was shining, and Cooper was reminded of one of Ben’s emails describing his home. Oregon is mostly wet and cold all winter, but there’s one part around Bandon and Coos Bay that’s moderate almost year round, sunny more often than stormy. But when the storms come into Thunder Point over the ocean, it’s like one of the Seven Wonders. The bay is protected by the hills and stays calm, keeping the fishing boats safe, but those thunder clouds can be spectacular . . . .

Then he saw not one but two eagles circling over the point on Ben’s side of the beach. It was a rare and beautiful sight.

He proceeded to the parking lot, not entirely surprised to find the Sheriff’s Department SUV already there and the deputy sitting inside, apparently writing something. He was out of the car and striding toward Cooper just a few seconds later. Cooper sized him up—this was a young man, probably mid-thirties. He was tall, sandy-haired, blue eyed, broad shouldered—about what you’d expect.

Cooper extended a hand. “Sheriff.”

“Sheriff’s Deputy, actually. The County Sheriff’s office is in Coquille. This is a satellite office with a few deputies assigned. Thunder Point is small, coastal, and there’s a constable but no other local law enforcement. The constable handles small disputes, evictions, that sort of thing. The county jail is in Coquille. And, Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry for your loss.”

“What happened to him?”

“He was found at the foot of the stairs to the cellar, where he kept the bait tanks. Ben lived here—he had a couple of rooms over the bar. The doors weren’t locked, but I don’t think Ben ever locked up. There were no obvious signs of foul play, but the case was turned over to the coroner. Nothing was missing, not even the cash. The coroner ruled it an accident.”

“But the guy who called me said he’d been killed,” Cooper said.

“I think Rawley was upset. He was kind of insistent that Ben couldn’t take a fall, but he’d had a couple of drinks. Not nearly the legal limit, but he could’ve tripped. Hell, I’ve been known to trip on no alcohol at all. Rawley found him, and the money was still in its hiding place. Ben kept the money in a cash drawer in the cooler. It was intact. The thing is,” the deputy said, scratching the back of his neck. “Time of death was put at two a.m., Ben was in his boxers, and Rawley insisted there’s no reason he’d get out of bed on the second floor and head for the cellar in the middle of the night. And Rawley might be right—except this could have been the night Ben heard a noise and was headed for the beach. Just in case you’re wondering, there is no surveillance video. In fact, the only place in town that actually has a surveillance camera is the bank. Ben has had one or two characters over the years, but never any real trouble; never been robbed.”

“You don’t think it’s possible someone who knew the place decided to rob it after midnight? When Ben was vulnerable?”

“Most of Ben’s customers were regulars or heard about it from regulars—weekend bikers, sports fishermen, that sort. Ben didn’t do a huge business, but he did all right.”

“On bait and Wild Turkey?”

The deputy actually chuckled. “Bait, deli, small bar, Laundromat, cheap souvenirs and fuel. I’d say of all those things, the bar and deli probably did the lion’s share of the business.”

Coop looked around the deputy’s frame. “Fuel?”

“Down on the dock. For boats. Ben used to let some of his customers or neighbors moor alongside the dock. Sometimes the wait at the marina got a little long and Ben didn’t mind if people helped themselves. Oh, he also has a tow truck that’s parked in town, but he doesn’t advertise it. Since he died and the place has been locked up, the boats have found other docks—probably the marina. There was no next of kin, Mr. Cooper.”

“Who is this Rawley? The guy who called me?”

The deputy scrubbed off his hat and scratched his head. “You say you were good friends?”

“For fifteen years. I knew he was raised by his dad, that they had a bar and bait shop on the coast. We met in the Army. He was a helicopter mechanic and everyone called him Gentle Ben. He was the sweetest man who ever lived, all six foot six of him. I can’t imagine him standing up to a robber—not only would he hand over the money, he’d invite the guy to dinner.”

“Well there you go, you might not have had the more recent facts, but you knew him all right. That’s the thing that makes everyone lean toward accident. That, and the lack of evidence to the contrary. No one would have to hurt Ben for a handout. You don’t know about Rawley?”

Cooper just shook his head.

“A vet with some challenging PTSD issues that Ben came across and gave work. Rawley Goode is around sixty, lives down the coast where he takes care of his elderly father, sort of. He’s not real good around people. He helped out here, cleaned, stocked, ran errands, that sort of thing. He could serve if no one expected conversation; people around here were used to him. I think he might’ve been homeless when Ben met him, but his father has lived around here a long time. Interesting guy, not that I can say I know him. So—Rawley found Ben and there wasn’t anyone to contact.”

“Are you sure Rawley didn’t push him down the stairs?”

“Rawley’s a skinny little guy. The coroner didn’t find any evidence to suggest Ben had been pushed. And Rawley. He was dependent on Ben. Don’t worry—the town gave Ben a decent send off. He was well liked. There are better bars around here to hang out in, but people liked Ben.”

“Yeah, I liked him too,” Cooper said, looking down. “There must’ve been a will or something. Rawley wasn’t the most articulate guy on the phone, but he said Ben left something for me. Could be old pictures from our Army days or something. Who do you suppose I should see about that?”

“I’ll make a few calls, check into that for you.”

“Appreciate it. And maybe you could suggest a place to hook up the fifth wheel?”

“There are several decent spots along the coast for tourists—Coos Bay is a nice area. You planning to hang around?”

Cooper gave a shrug. “Maybe a few days, just long enough to talk to some of the folks who knew Ben, pick up whatever he left for me. I want to pay my respects, just want people to know—he had good friends. We didn’t get together a lot and it sounds like I didn’t get a lot of inside information from Ben, but we were always in touch. And since I came all this way, I want to hear about him—about how people got on with him. You know?”

“I think I understand. The place is locked up—no one would care if you sat here for a while, while you look around at other possibilities. No hook up for your trailer, but you’d be fine for a couple of days.”

“Thanks, maybe I’ll do that. Not a bad view.”

The deputy put out his hand. “I gotta run. You have my number.”

“Thank you, Deputy McCain.”

“Roger McCain, but hardly anyone remembers that. Folks tend to call me Mac.”

“Nice meeting you, Mac. Thanks for helping out with this.”

Sarah walked with Hamlet, her Great Dane, down the street to the diner. She looped his leash around the lamppost and went inside, pulling off her gloves. This was one of the things she loved about this little town, that there was always somewhere to stop and chat for a few minutes. She wasn’t well known around here, had only lived here a few months, but by the way she was treated by her new and casual friends, it was as if she’d been here quite a while. If she wasn’t working, she liked to take Ham down to the beach and stop off at the diner on her way home. Apparently she wasn’t the only one—there was always a large bowl of water for dogs by that lamppost. Twin benches on either side of the diner’s front door frequently seated one or two old guys, passing time.

Gina James was behind the counter; Gina took care of almost everything at the diner except the cooking. There was another waitress at night and a couple of part time girls, but it was a pretty small shop. Gina’s mother, Carrie, was sitting on a stool at the counter, her friend Lou McCain seated beside her. Carrie owned the deli across the street and Lou was a school teacher who helped out with her nephew’s kids when she wasn’t teaching. Two of the said kids were in a booth eating fries and drinking colas, an after school treat.

Sarah said, “Hey,” and all three women said, “Hey,” right back.

“Something to drink? Eat?” Gina asked her.

“Could I have a water, please? And how is everyone?”

“What can I say, it’s Friday,” Lou said. “I won’t be seeing the little bast— er, darlings, till Monday morning.”

Sarah laughed at her. “You’re going to heaven for it.”

“If I died and went to hell, they’d have me teaching junior high,” Carrie said.

“You have a day off?” Gina asked Sarah.

“For Landon’s football game. I’m sitting alert Saturday and Sunday, that’s the price I pay for it.”

“But no one gives you any trouble about it, do they?”

“Nah. They like weekends off as much as anyone. And I’ll gladly fly weekends if I don’t have to miss Landon’s games. It’s not as though I have any other social life.”

Carrie leaned her elbow on the diner. “Wish I was something exciting, like a pilot.”

“Tell me about it,” Lou said.

Before Gina could weigh in the door to the diner opened, the bell tinkling to announce Ray Anne in her version of the Realtor’s business suit — too short, too tight, too much boobage. She scowled. “Sarah, that dog should be on a leash!”

“He is, Ray Anne.” She leaned back on her stool to look out the glass of the door. “He’s all hooked up.”

She wiped at her purple skirt. “He still managed to get me with that awful mouth of his.”

“Well, Ray Anne, you’re just so edible looking,” Lou said.

“Ha ha. Well, you’ll never guess what I just saw! The most gorgeous man—out at Ben’s place. He was built like a brick you know what—worn jeans, torn in all the right places, plain old T-shirt under a leather jacket. One of those flying jackets, you know, Sarah. Driving one of those testosterone trucks, pulling a trailer . . . . Handsome face, maybe a dimple, scratchy little growth on his cheeks and chin. He was talking to Mac. It was like an ad for Calvin Klein.”

“What were you doing out at Ben’s?” Lou asked.

“I wasn’t out there. I was checking on a rental up the hill two blocks. You know—that old Maxwell place.”

“Then how’d you see the tears in his jeans and his stubble?”

Ray Anne dipped a manicured hand into her over-sized purse and pulled out her binoculars. She smiled conspiratorially and gave her head a toss. Her short blond hair didn’t move.

“Clever,” Lou said. “Man watching taken to the next level. How old is this hunk of burning love?”

“Irrelevant,” Ray Anne said. “I wonder what he’s doing here. I heard Ben had no next of kin. You don’t suppose cuddly old Ben was hiding a handsome brother? No, no, that would be cruel.”

“Why?” Sarah asked.

“Because Ray Anne would love a shot at selling that property of Ben’s,” Carrie said.

“That’s not true,” Ray Anne protested. “You know me, I only want to help if I can.”

“And bag a single man or two while you’re at it,” Lou said.

Ray Anne stiffened slightly. “A purely heterosexual notion, Louise,” she said. “One you might not be familiar with.” And as the Sheriff’s Department patrol car passed slowly down the street, Ray Anne said, “Oh, there’s Deputy Yummy Pants—I’m going to go ask him what’s going on. If I can get past the dog!”

And out the door she wiggled.

“Deputy Yummy Pants?” Sarah asked with a laugh in her voice.

“The teenage girls around town call him that,” Lou explained drily. “I don’t recommend it. He hates it. Gets him all pissy. I should tell you what kind of pants Ms Realtor of the Year has. Maybe Busy Pants.”

Carrie’s lips quirked. “She suggested you don’t quite get the whole heterosexual pull. Louise.”

Lou had a sarcastic twist to her lips when she said, “If she turns up dead, can I count on you girls for an alibi?” Then she turned and called to her niece and nephew. “Hey, kids. Let’s make tracks.” To her friends she said, “I’m going to beat Yummy Pants home. Betcha I get more out of him that Busy Pants does.”

Once home, Sarah Dupre hung her red slicker on the peg in the mud room just in time to see her younger brother, Landon, coming toward the back door with his duffle full of football gear. “Hey,” she said. “I didn’t expect to see you.”

“I came home to get a couple of things and grab a sandwich,” he said. He bent to pet the dog. He didn’t have to bend far—Ham was tall. “Gotta get going.”

“Wait a sec,” she said.

“What?” he asked, still petting the dog.

“For Pete’s sake, can you look at me?” she asked. And when he straightened, heavy duffle over one shoulder, she gasped. There was a bruise on his cheekbone.

“Practice,” he said. “It’s nothing.”

“You don’t practice on game day.”

“Yeah, well, I hope I don’t get in trouble for that. A couple of us went out to run some plays, some passes, and I got nailed. It was an accident.”

“You were practicing without a helmet?” she asked.

“Sarah, it’s nothing. It’s a small bruise. I could’ve gotten it running into an open locker. Lighten up so you don’t make me look like a girl. Are you going to the game?”

“Of course I’m going. Why couldn’t you be into Chess or something? Choir? Band? Something that didn’t involve bodies crashing into each other?”

He grinned at her, that handsome grin that had once belonged to their deceased father. “You get enough sleep without me boring you to death,” he said. “Why couldn’t you just be a flight attendant or something?”

She took a breath. He had her there. She flew Search and Rescue with the Coast Guard. There were those occasions that were risky. Edgy. And admittedly, that was part of what she loved best about it. “I trust you’ll be wearing your helmet tonight?”

“Funny. It should be a good game. Raiders are a good match. They’re a good team.”

“Does it hurt?” she asked, touching her own cheek.

“Nah, it’s really nothing, Sarah. See you later.”

She suppressed the urge to beg him to be careful. He was a big kid, already six feet and muscled at sixteen; he was a beautiful specimen. She was his guardian and family. It was just the two of them. She sometimes wanted to just enfold him in her arms and keep him safe, yet when she watched him play, the thrill made her scream. He was a great athlete; she’d heard he was the best quarterback they’d seen in a long time here in Thunder Point.

For the millionth time she hoped bringing him here had been a good decision. He’d been happy in the North Bend high school last year, had barely found his footing, his friends, when she moved them. She just couldn’t bear the same town with her ex, in the home they had shared.

She’d moved them so often . . . .

She put out her arms as if to hug him. Retracted her arms—he didn’t want mush now. Not now that he was a man. Her arms lifted toward him of their own accord and she held back.

“All right,” he said, patiently. “Get it over with.”

She wrapped her arms around him; he gave her a one-armed hug back. Then he grinned at her again. He had absolutely no idea how handsome he was, which made him even more attractive.

“Play your little heart out, bud,” she said. “And do not get hurt.”

“Don’t worry. I’m fast.”

“You going out after the game?” she asked.

“I dunno. Depends on how tired I am.”

Sarah laughed. “When I was your age, I was never too tired to go out. So, if you go out, midnight would be nice. No later than one, for sure. Are we on the same page here?”

He laughed at her. “Same page, boss.”

But as she knew, he seldom went out after a game.

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sullivan's Crossing Book #3
December 18, 2018
MIRA Mass Market Paperback, HC & eBook

Barnes and Noble IconKindle IconAmazon IconBooks A Million IconiBooks IconKobo IconGoogle Play IconNook IconIndie Bound Icon

The Family Gathering

The Family Gathering captures the emotionally charged dynamics that come with being part of a family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads. With his brother and one sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. He’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

But Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested.

When the Jones siblings all gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together in a way they never were as children. In the struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. They come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

Originally published April 2018 in hardcover and eBook.

Excerpt

The Family Gathering captures the emotionally charged dynamics that come with being part of a family. Readers will laugh and shed a few tears as they discover what it means to be loved, supported and accepted by the people who mean the most.

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads. With his brother and one sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. He’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

But Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested.

When the Jones siblings all gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together in a way they never were as children. In the struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. They come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

Originally published April 2018 in hardcover and eBook.

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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