By: Maggie McGinnis
Releasing June 30, 2015
In this sexy Whisper Creek romance for readers of Kristan Higgins, Susan Mallery, and Molly O’Keefe, a red-hot cowboy uses some Montana magic to give a reclusive beauty her happily ever after.
Yoga instructor Jessalyn Alcott radiates peace, calm, and serenity—on the outside. Inside, she still feels like the broken, desperate girl from the trailer park. She’s got dark secrets she can’t share, which is why she never lets her relationships go beyond the third date. But when she travels to the Whisper Creek dude ranch for a friend’s wedding, Jess is enchanted by a cowboy whose deep blue eyes, dimpled smile, and rock-hard body make it tough to remember why she keeps running scared.
Cole Driscoll has struggled to find his place on a family ranch where he’s always played second fiddle. His future might be uncertain, but he’s sure of one thing: He wants Jess by his side. Easier said than done. When it comes to getting close, she’s full of excuses, and he longs to fix the hurt he sees in her eyes. Now that she’s at Whisper Creek, there’s nothing he wants more than to break down the walls around her heart and heal her pain with the power of love.
“Oh, lordy. I forgot my shoes!” Jess handed her carry-on bag to her landlady and scrambled back through the door of her yoga studio. Forgetting a jacket was one thing, but showing up for bridesmaid duty at Montana’s Whisper Creek Ranch in flip-flops would send her friend Hayley into serious bridezilla mode.
She flew back down the stairs, but as she reached for the door, the studio phone rang. She debated letting it go to voice mail, but since Hayley had called six times already this morning to add items to her packing list, she figured she’d better answer. She put the phone to her ear, but before she could say hello, a voice rasped over the line, and Jess’s eyes widened in fright.
“Knock-knock,” growled a cigarette-fried throat that could belong to only one person. Jess’s hand shook as her knees buckled. Then there was a cackle. “What’s the matter? You forget how to play this game? You’re supposed to say who’s there?”
Jess spun around, eyes taking in the gleaming hardwood floors of her yoga studio, the mats piled neatly in one corner, the sunny little shop area in the other corner, the brand-new door with its brand-new locks. The busy Boston street outside her door was a far cry from the dumpy Charleston suburb she’d left in the rearview mirror thirteen long years ago, but South Carolina suddenly felt very, very close.
They couldn’t possibly know where she was. They just—couldn’t.
But they apparently had her number. She hadn’t heard this voice for thirteen years, except in her nightmares, but here it was on the other end of the phone.
She took a deep breath in through her nose, exhaling carefully as she gripped the receiver with white knuckles. At least it wasn’t Billy. God help her—it wasn’t Billy.
“I’m sorry. I think you have the wrong number.” She cringed as her voice shook.
The cackling laughter at the other end of the line dissolved into a coughing spasm and a series of expletives. Then, “Bullshit, princess. I have exactly the right number. Yours.”
Jess slammed the phone back into its cradle, but missed and had to do it again. She tried to take a series of calming breaths, but instead ended up walking in circles, her heart thumping so fast that she started to feel faint.
The phone rang again, and she almost tripped. After four rings, the call went to the ancient answering machine on the desk. The same voice was still cackling as she left her message. “Not gonna answer now? Your auntie calls for the first time in thirteen years, and now you’re gonna play possum?”
There was a long pause, another cough. “All right, then. I’ve waited this long. Guess a few more days won’t hurt.” She coughed again, and Jess winced. Two packs a day hadn’t killed her yet, but it couldn’t be too much longer before they did. “We got a lot to talk about, princess. Maybe you’ve gone and forgot about Billy, but he ain’t forgot about you. Mack, neither. I think you know what I mean. You call me. Same number.” Cough. Cackle. “We ain’t gone nowhere since you left.”
The answering machine clicked as Luanne hung up. If history held, she’d light up another Salem Light, creak back in her crusty recliner, and use her remaining teeth to chaw on a beef jerky she’d dipped in her Old Milwaukee beer. Breakfast.
Jess wrung her hands as she started pacing again. How had they found her number?
How had they found her name, for God’s sake?
Someone rapped on the door, and she grabbed her throat as her heart rate spiked again. They couldn’t be here. Not possible.
“Yo, Jess. Cabbie’s getting impatient.”
Oh, thank God. Just Gianna. She’d left the poor landlady standing on the sidewalk surrounded by suitcases. Jess tried to calm her heart rate before she went back outside, but it was useless. Finally, she headed through the door, pulling it closed behind her and locking the three deadbolts.
Gianna raised her eyebrows as Jess double-checked the last lock. “You expecting zombies while you’re gone?”
Jess swallowed hard. Worse. “No.”
Gianna’s eyes made a quick dart from the door to her. “You look like you’re expecting zombies. You all right?”
“Yes. Fine. Just fine.” Jess opened the cab door and tossed in her carry-on bag. “I’m late, that’s all.”
“You got everything?”
Jess pointed to her shoes, shaking her head. “I do now.”
Gianna took her by the shoulders and kissed both cheeks. “You have fun out there, missy. You haven’t had a vacation in way too long. You just stay in Montana as long as you want to. I got everything covered here.” She motioned Jess into the cab. “Go. Have fun. Enjoy the wedding. Maybe find a cowboy so I can live vicariously through you, okay?”
Jess’s stomach jumped at the thought of one particular cowboy at Whisper Creek. She hadn’t seen Cole since Christmastime, but she’d checked in on him via the ranch’s website once or twice a month, or maybe—ahem—daily.
“I’ll do my best, Gianna. I will definitely do my best.” She blew her a kiss and closed the door, but Gianna put a hand up to stop her.
“Almost forgot. Mail came while you were inside. I was going to just hold it till you got back, but this one looks important.” She handed a manila envelope through the window, then waved and thumped the roof, kicking the cabbie into gear.
As the taxi reached the end of the street and careened onto the next one, Jess held on to the door handle, cursing herself for not finding a friend to drive her to Logan Airport. Even on a Sunday morning, she’d rather navigate Boston traffic on a unicycle than put her life into the hands of one of the city’s cabbies.
When they entered the tunnel that dumped them out near the airport, Jess tried not to think about how much an ocean weighed, or whether the people who’d designed this underwater Slinky had gotten Ds in Structural Engineering. She needed distraction as the cab inched forward, and even the phone call of twenty minutes ago wasn’t enough of one.
She was debating whether it was legal to jump out of the taxi and just wait for it at the far end of the tunnel when her gaze landed on the envelope Gianna had slid through the window. She pulled it out of the carry-on pocket where she’d stuffed it, then flipped it over to look at it.
When she saw the return address, she felt icy prickles slide up her scalp.
Then her voice made a strangled, pitiful sound she hardly recognized, and she dropped the envelope on the floor.
|Author Maggie McGinnis|
Maggie McGinnis, USA Today Bestselling Author of Accidental Cowgirl and Driving Without a License, which was a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award is a former high school English teacher, an accomplished musician, and a certified black belt, who lives in New England with her family.
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