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Authors: Debbie Macomber

Montana

BOOK: Montana
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Praise for the novels of
New York Times
bestselling author
DEBBIE MACOMBER

“Macomber offers a very human look at three women who uproot their lives to follow their true destiny.”

—
Booklist
on
Changing Habits

“Macomber is known for her honest portrayals of ordinary women in small-town America, and this tale cements her position as an icon of the genre.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
16 Lighthouse Road

“Debbie Macomber is one of the most reliable, versatile romance authors around. Whether she's writing light-hearted romps or more serious relationship books, her novels are always engaging stories that accurately capture the foibles of real-life men and women with warmth and humor.”

—
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Macomber's women serve as bedrock for one another in this sometimes tearful, always uplifting tale that will make readers wish they could join this charming breakfast club.”

—
Booklist
on
Thursdays at Eight

“Debbie Macomber is one of the few true originals in women's fiction…. Her books are touching and marvelous and not to be missed!”

—Anne Stuart

“As always, Macomber draws rich, engaging characters.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Thursdays at Eight

“Debbie Macomber shows why she is one of the most powerful, highly regarded authors on the stage today.”

—Midwest Book Review

“Debbie Macomber's gift for understanding the souls of women—their relationships, their values, their lives—is at its peak.”

—
BookPage
on
Between Friends

“Macomber has a gift for evoking the emotions that are at the heart of the genre's popularity.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Romance readers everywhere will cherish the books of Debbie Macomber.”

—Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“A multifaceted tale of romance and deceit, the final installment of Macomber's Dakota trilogy oozes with country charm and a strong sense of community.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Always Dakota

“Macomber…is no stranger to the
New York Times
bestseller list. She knows how to please her audience.”

—Oregon Statesman Journal

“Macomber closes book two with a cliffhanger, leaving readers anxiously awaiting the final installment to this first-rate series.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Dakota Home

“Sometimes the best things come in small packages. Such is the case here….”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Return to Promise

“Ms. Macomber provides the top in entertaining relationship dramas.”

—Reader to Reader

“Debbie Macomber whips up a delightful concoction of zany Christmas magic as delicious as chocolate steeped with peppermint….”

—
BookPage
on
The Christmas Basket

“Macomber's storytelling sometimes yields a tear, at other times a smile.”

—Newport News, VA Daily Press

“Well-developed emotions and appealing characters.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
Montana

“Overflowing with small-town atmosphere, a warm sense of family, and engaging secondary characters, this story will resonate with many American fans.”

—
Library Journal
on
Return to Promise

“Debbie Macomber shines in this touching tale of four women who are able to share their strengths to overcome many trials and tribulations.”

—
Romantic Times
on
Thursdays at Eight

This Matter of Marriage
is “so much fun it may keep you up till 2 a.m.”

—Atlanta Journal


Can This Be Christmas?
will enchant and entertain readers for generations to come…a beautifully told story.”

—Harleysville, PA Bucks-Mont Courier

Also by DEBBIE MACOMBER

CHANGING HABITS

BETWEEN FRIENDS

THURSDAYS AT EIGHT

PROMISE, TEXAS

MOON OVER WATER

THIS MATTER OF MARRIAGE

The Cedar Cove series

16 LIGHTHOUSE ROAD

204 ROSEWOOD LANE

311 PELICAN COURT

The Dakota trilogy

DAKOTA BORN

DAKOTA HOME

ALWAYS DAKOTA

The holiday books

THE CHRISTMAS BASKET

A GIFT TO LAST

BUFFALO VALLEY

RETURN TO PROMISE

SHIRLEY, GOODNESS AND MERCY

CAN THIS BE CHRISTMAS?

Watch for DEBBIE MACOMBER's latest novel

THE SHOP ON BLOSSOM STREET

DEBBIE MACOMBER
M
ONTANA

Dedicated to my
Thursday Morning Breakfast Club:

Janelle Brothers, Lillian Schauer, Diana Letson,
Betty Wojcik and Stephanie Cordall.
Each one is a power woman with a direct
connection to the source of all power.

And dedicated to Barb Dooley, with thanks for
blessing my life with her wisdom and friendship.

AUTHOR'S NOTE

My publishing path has taken many twists and turns over the years. It all started back in the late 1970s with a rented typewriter set up at the kitchen table. Between car pools, Cub Scouts, ballet lessons, teaching Sunday school and analyzing new math, I wrote. Day after day, month after month and year after year. As soon as the kids walked out the door for school, Supermom was magically transformed into the struggling young writer. I make a great case study on how to become an overnight success in twenty years or less!

In those early years all I had to sustain me was my dreams. And dream I did. I'd close my eyes and picture my name on the cover of a book. I could even see the artwork. For someone who had yet to publish a word of fiction, this was heady stuff. But here I am, twenty years and dozens of books later, with the publication of
Montana
—a story I've wanted to write for a very long time.

I have a lot of people to thank for this incredible opportunity, but no one more than my editor, Paula Eykelhof. She's supported this project from inception with energy and enthusiasm. Her insights and editorial skills have helped shape this story from beginning to end. As always, I'm incredibly indebted to Irene Goodman, quite possibly the world's greatest agent. And to my best friend, Linda Lael Miller, who is always there for me. I have to thank Renate Roth, my secretary, for keeping my life organized and sane. Thanks, also, to Geri and Scott Bier, who generously let me call on their ranching expertise. And of course a big kiss to my husband for encouraging me to live my dream. He could complain a great deal more than he does! But mostly, thank you, my loyal readers, for your continued interest and support. Your letters have touched my heart. You can reach me at P.O. Box 1458, Port Orchard, WA 98366.

One

“I
don't know how much longer your grandfather's going to live.”

The words hit Molly Cogan with the force of an unexpected blow. Sinking onto a stool beside the kitchen phone, she blocked out the blare of the television and her sons' ongoing argument over whose turn it was to set the table for dinner.

Tom and Clay were at each other's throats, but Molly could only deal with one crisis at a time. “Who is this again, please?”

“Sam Dakota. Listen, I realize this isn't the best time, but I felt I should tell you.” He paused, then added, “Walt wouldn't appreciate me calling you, but like I said, you have a right to know his health isn't good.”

The unmistakable sound of shattering glass filtered through the television noise as the boys' skirmish escalated.

Placing her hand over the mouthpiece, Molly shouted. “Boys, please! Not now.” Something in her voice must have communicated the importance of the call, because both turned and stared at her. A moment later, Tom reached for the broom.

Molly's hand trembled as she lifted the receiver back to her ear. “How do you know my grandfather, Mr. Dakota?”

“I'm his foreman. Been here about six months.”

The fact that Gramps had willingly surrendered control of his ranch to a hired hand—a stranger—told her a great deal. For the past few years, he'd sold off portions of the once-huge spread, until all that remained was a couple of thousand acres, small by Montana standards. He'd managed the Broken Arrow Ranch himself as long as she could remember. Hired hands came and went, depending on the size of the herd, but as far as she knew, he'd always maintained tight control of the day-to-day operations. Over the years his letters had been infrequent, but in the last one—which she'd received after Christmas, four and a half months ago—Molly had sensed something wasn't right with Gramps. She'd put aside the feeling, however, consumed by her own problems.

“Tell me again what happened,” she said abruptly, struggling to regain her composure. The man's first words had been such a shock, much of what he'd said afterward had escaped her.

“Like I told you, spring's our busy time, and yesterday your grandfather told me he'd be out to help check on the new calves. When he didn't show, I returned to the house and found him unconscious on the kitchen floor. Heart attack, I figured.”

Molly pressed her fingers to her lips to hold in a gasp of dismay. Gramps…in pain. Unable to breathe. Losing consciousness. It frightened her to think of it.

With her mother and half brother living in Australia, Gramps was her only family here. Her only connection with her long-dead father.

“I got him to the clinic in town and Doc Shaver confirmed what I thought. It
is
his heart. Walt has a pacemaker, but the walls of his heart are old and brittle, and it isn't working as well as Doc had hoped.”

“Gramps has a pacemaker?” Molly cried. “When did this happen?” She raised her hand to the cameo hanging from a gold chain around her neck and clenched it hard. It was the most precious piece of jewelry she owned. Gramps had given it to her the day they buried her grandmother nine years before.

“More than six months ago. First I'd heard of it, too.”

“Why didn't he
tell
me?” Molly asked, although she realized Sam Dakota couldn't possibly know. She wished—not for the first time—that San Francisco was closer to Montana. Right now, Sweetgrass seemed a million miles away.

“I can't answer that. I thought you should know Walt's probably not going to live much longer. If you want to see him, I suggest you plan a visit out here soon.”

“What exactly is wrong with his heart?” It might have sounded as if she was avoiding the real issue, but she needed to understand Gramps's condition before she could even
begin
to think about anything else. Like her finances. And how she could possibly afford a trip to Montana now.

“Do you know anything about pacemakers?”

“A little.” Just enough to understand that they emit an electronic beep, which assists the heart in beating at a steady pace.

“Well, as I said earlier, the walls of your grandfather's heart are brittle and it's difficult to get the pacemaker to function properly. Doc Shaver worked on him a couple of hours, but he couldn't make any guarantees. Said there's nothing more he can do. It's only a matter of time before his heart gives out completely.”

Molly clamped her teeth over her lower lip while she tried to take in what this man was telling her. “I…I appreciate the call. Thank you.” With each word, she felt herself more overwhelmed by emotion.
Not Gramps, please dear God, not Gramps. Not yet.

“Sorry to call with such bad news.”

“How…how is he now?” She glanced toward the living room and discovered Tom and Clay standing in the doorway, studying her intently. A smile would have reassured them, but even that was beyond her.

“Better. Will you be coming, then?” the foreman asked.

“I'm not sure.” Molly didn't see how she could manage it. With the child-support payments cut off and the financial adjustments they'd already been forced to make in the past year, she couldn't imagine squeezing one more expense into her already stretched budget. Even a short trip would require at least a week away from her job—a contract position without paid holidays. Plus, she'd have the cost of airfare or, more likely, gas and lodging for the drive. She'd have to take the boys; Gramps would want to see them, and they deserved to see him.

“When will you know whether you're coming?”

It might have been her imagination, but she detected a note of censure. This man knew nothing about her—knew nothing about her circumstances or her life. How dared he stand as judge and jury over her decisions?

“If I knew that, I'd have said something sooner!” Leaning the back of her head against the kitchen wall, Molly tried to think clearly, desperate to find a way, a solution—anything that would lighten the burden of her fears. Never one to weep openly, particularly with strangers, she fought the growing constriction in her throat.

“Then I won't keep you any longer,” Sam said gruffly.

Molly wanted to shout that he should wait, that she had other questions, but he'd already answered the important ones. What she wanted even more was to hear this stranger tell her Gramps was on the mend.

But he wasn't going to say that.

“Thank you for phoning,” she said, feeling guilty about the sharp retort she'd made a moment ago. No one enjoyed delivering bad news, and it was kind of Sam Dakota to make sure she learned of her grandfather's condition. “I'll let you know if we're coming for a visit,” she felt obliged to add.

“Fine. Your grandfather should be home in a day or two. I'd consider it a favor if you didn't mention I called.”

“I won't. And thank you.” Standing up, she replaced the telephone receiver and looked at her sons. Both had their father's deep-set dark brown eyes—and both had been born with the ability to look straight through her. At fourteen Tom was growing by leaps and bounds, a gangly youth with feet too big for his body. He hadn't grown into his height, and had become painfully self-conscious. This was an awkward stage filled with frustrations and raging hormones. They'd once been close, but that had all changed in the past few months. Tom barely talked to her now, no longer sharing confidences the way he used to. Often he was sullen and angry for no apparent reason. His attitude worried Molly; she sensed he was keeping something from her. She tried not to think about it, but every now and then the fear that he was experimenting with drugs or running with the wrong crowd would enter her mind and refuse to go away.

Clay, at eleven, was a younger version of his brother. Neither boy had inherited her auburn hair or clear blue eyes. Both resembled their father's side of the family—dark-haired and dark-eyed. Not that Daniel's family had revealed much interest in her sons. But then, neither had Daniel.

“That was about Dad, wasn't it?” Tom asked, his eyes locked on hers. His shoulders stiffened as though he was bracing himself for her response. The situation with Daniel hadn't been easy on any of them. They'd seen his name in the newspapers and on television night after night for weeks, that whole time the trial was taking place.

“The call wasn't about your father,” Molly answered carefully. The kids had been through enough because of Daniel. He'd never been a good father, any more than he'd been a good husband; he had, in fact, left her for another woman. But she'd say one thing for him: until a year ago he'd faithfully paid child support. The payments had stopped when Daniel's troubles had begun. His legal problems had eventually led to financial problems for her and the boys.

“What did Dad do this time?” Tom demanded, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. It was a look Molly recognized, a look that said Tom, with his newly developed teenage cynicism, wasn't about to believe
any
adult. Especially his mother…

“I told you this has nothing to do with your father!” It bothered Molly that her son would assume she'd lie to him. There was nothing she abhorred more than lying. Daniel had taught her and their children more than enough on
that
subject. “I wouldn't lie to you.”

“Then what's wrong?” Clay moved into the kitchen and Molly held out her arms to her youngest son. Clay didn't object to an occasional hug, but Tom had let it be known he was much too old for that sort of thing—and much too cool to display affection toward his mother. She respected his wishes, and at the same time longed for the times when they could share a simple hug.

“It's Gramps,” she said. Her throat started to close and she couldn't say more.

Clay wrapped his arms tightly around her waist and pressed his head to her shoulder. Molly sighed deeply.

“Is Gramps sick?” Tom asked, shoving his hands in his pockets. He paced restlessly, back and forth across the kitchen floor. It'd become a habit of his lately, a particularly irritating one. Oh, yes, Molly thought, sighing again. The last twelve months had been hard on all of them. Tom seemed to be having the toughest time coping with everything—the public humiliation of his father's trial for fraud, the lack of any extra money and then the move from a spacious three-bedroom house to a cramped two-bedroom apartment. But this place was the best she could do, and his dissatisfaction underscored her own feelings of inadequacy.

“Gramps's heart is giving him trouble,” Molly finally answered. She spoke in a low toneless voice.

“Are we going to go see him?”

Molly brushed the hair from Clay's brow and gazed down on his sweet boyish face. “I don't know yet.”

“But, Mom, don't you
want
to?” Tom cried.

That hurt. Of course she did. Desperately. If she had the choice, she'd be on the first plane out. “Oh, Tom, how can you ask me that? I'd give anything to be with Gramps.”

“Then let's go. We can leave tonight.” Tom headed toward the bedroom he shared with his younger brother, as if the only thing they needed to do was toss a few clothes in a suitcase and walk out the door.

“We can't,” she said, shaking her head, disheartened once again by the reality of their situation.

“Why not?” Tom's voice was scornful.

“I don't have enough—”

“Money,” her oldest son finished for her. He slammed his fist against the kitchen counter and Molly winced, knowing that the action must have been painful. “I
hate
money! Every time we want to do something or need something, we can't, and all because of money.”

Molly pulled out a kitchen chair and sagged into it, her energy gone, her spirits deflated by anger and self-pity.

“It's not Mom's fault,” Clay muttered, placing his skinny arm around her shoulders, comforting her.

“I don't know what to do,” Molly said, thinking out loud.

“If you wanted to go by yourself,” Tom offered with a show of reluctance, “I could baby-sit Clay.”

“I don't need a baby-sitter,” Clay insisted. “I can take care of myself.” He glared at his older brother, challenging Tom to proclaim otherwise.

“I can't leave now, with or without you boys,” Molly told them sadly. She had less than twenty dollars in her checking account. It was the all-too-familiar scenario—too much month at the end of her money.

“I remember Gramps,” Tom said suddenly. “At least I think I do.”

The last time Molly had visited the ranch was shortly after her divorce almost ten years ago. Her grandmother, who'd already been ill at the time with a fast-spreading cancer, had died shortly afterward. Gramps had asked Molly to come live with him, and for a while she'd seriously considered the invitation. She told herself now that if she'd had any sense, she would have taken him up on his offer. She might actually have done it if she'd managed to find work. Fluent in both French and German, Molly was employed on a contract basis by an import agency. Unfortunately there wasn't much call for her skills in the cattle country of western Montana.

BOOK: Montana
10.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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