Maggie's Fork in the Road (Montana Bound Series Book 2), page 1
Table of Contents
MAGGIE’S FORK IN THE ROAD
MAGGIE’S FORK IN THE ROAD
Montana Bound Series Book 2
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
MAGGIE’S FORK IN THE ROAD
Cover Design by Syneca Featherstone
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Praise for Maggie’s Way:
“Linda Bradley’s fresh voice will keep readers riveted from beginning to end. Bradley delivers a heart-warming story full of disarming honesty and beautiful drama … This one stands out!” —Jane Porter, New York Times and USA Today Best Seller, Author of Flirting With Forty and It’s You
“Maggie’s Way is a heart-warming tale of love and loss, fear and friendship. With charming characters and a moving plot, Linda Bradley’s lovely debut gently reminds us that it’s never too late for second chances.” —Lori Nelson Spielman, International Best Seller, Author of The Love List and Sweet Forgiveness
The Romance Reviews, Readers’ Choice Awards Finalist — Summer 2016
Greater Detroit’s BookSellers Best Award Finalist — 2016
All forks in the road lead home.
They say, home is where the heart is.
And when I’m with you, I am home.
Special thanks to Debby Gilbert for working with me on Maggie’s Fork in the Road. Thanks to Pam for continuing to be my beta reader. Thanks to my readers and family for your continuous support. Your encouragement and love for the Montana Bound Series means the world. I’m excited to share the the next chapter of Maggie’s life with you.
John’s news knocked the wind out of me leaving me breathless, speechless … paralyzed.
Breathe, I told myself.
The dim room grew foggy as my eyes searched John’s face. “Really,” I said. “Why now? And why here?” What was it about delivering bad news in a restaurant? First, Beckett, now John. For the love of God, I wondered if breaking a woman’s heart in public got them into a secret men’s club.
Letting my guard down proved one thing. Hurt was inevitable. John and Chloe’s absence would leave a hole in my heart, a gorge of sharp edges. We were more than neighbors. We’d become friends that navigated life’s ups-and-downs together. And now they were moving. I’d have new neighbors and I didn’t want new neighbors. I wanted John and Chloe. I needed John and Chloe. We bonded last summer when I dealt with breast cancer. Their craziness made mine seem normal. John and Chloe weren’t any ordinary neighbors; they were family, eccentric misfits, like myself that conformed to the beat of life while traversing the bumps in the road.
Massaging my temples, I caught my breath. The throb pierced my skull. Since John and Chloe’s arrival, there’d never been a dull moment. Mom came around more often. And Chloe’s mother, Brook. Jesus, she flitted in and left like a summer storm leaving sky-high humidity and heat that scorched everything in its path.
Broken-hearted, Chloe had wept over false promises, her bags packed, her hopes magnanimous. And God, Beckett. My ex-husband found his footing with a new lifestyle that didn’t include me, or any other woman. I’d heard through the grapevine that he was dating and wondered if his better half was as handsome as he was.
I searched John’s face for an answer.
“I didn’t know how to tell you. I’m sorry, Maggie. I don’t belong here,” he said, lowering his voice. “I can practice medicine in Montana and my dad could really use the help.”
Montana was one hell of a long ways away. I swallowed the sting of disappointment. John’s eyes searched mine. His news left a bitter taste at the back of my throat. “You can’t leave. I love you,” I whispered.
The pressure behind my eyes burned something fierce. How was it possible that I felt so much for someone I wasn’t romantically involved with? I certainly thought about it enough and the few recent kisses we shared established a deeper connection spurring buried promises that I’d made to myself. Moving forward in the wake of waiting for perfect timing proved difficult.
The corners of John’s mouth drooped. His jaw clenched.
“I can’t believe I said that.” I stared into my half-empty glass of Merlot, my cheeks smoldered from the realization that he didn’t return my sentiments. My chin quivered as he touched my hand from across the table.
“I want to put the house up for sale when Chloe’s school year ends.”
My forced smile hurt. It was the kind that everyone knows is fake and by John’s expression, my attempt to lighten the moment had failed. He squeezed my hand. I sipped my wine trying to avoid eye contact with the waitress. Her return with the dessert tray came at the most inopportune moment. After listening politely, John asked for the check. I wrapped my shawl around my shoulders trying to hold myself together. “I’ll meet you outside,” I said, fumbling with my purse.
“I won’t be long,” he said. “Maggie—”
The leg of my chair got stuck on the carpet. I shook it loose in disgust, studying the face of a man that I thought just might be a permanent fixture in my life. His eyes sadly apologetic.
“Damn, you’re beautiful.” With a heavy sigh
The cool spring breeze sent shivers down my spine as I exited the restaurant. I caught my breath. How could I have told John I loved him? Why now? I wrapped my arms around myself. If I could survive cancer, I’d survive this. Hearts mended. Beckett taught me that lesson the hard way, but this was John and Chloe. Our attachment was the seam that mended that wound, made it invisible.
John opened the car door for me. I climbed in. His stare rustled my nerves. Pretending to rummage for something in my purse, I rooted around inside my bag and finally decided I was searching for my sanity. It wasn’t there. I even checked the hole in the satin lining. Nothing. How could I be so upset over something I didn’t ever really have? John reached over and buckled me in before shutting the door.
“I know you’re not okay.” He turned the key in the ignition. “This wasn’t an easy decision,” he added.
I studied his profile. “I know it wasn’t easy. I know you’re unhappy here in Michigan.” My heart skipped a beat. Saying the right thing tasted bitter. I wanted him. I wanted him before, but couldn’t admit it. I wanted him now, but he was leaving. “Thanks for dinner,” I said, trying my best to be grateful.
“I know this wasn’t the evening out you were expecting.” He checked the mirrors and backed out of the parking spot.
The jazz on the radio couldn’t fill the silence between us. The ten-minute car ride by the lake seemed like an eternity. The sliver of moon like a dagger in my heart as its white glow washed over the glassy lake. I loved the lake. The lazy cove in Grosse Pointe was the place where my only son, Bradley, grew up. It was a place of solace, a place for meeting new friends like Judy and her two boys, Harry and Walter. It was the place I first saw that horseshoe tattoo on John’s left shoulder as he strolled down the beach holding Chloe’s hand. It was the place where Bones peed on Brook’s leg, the place where Brook and I bantered over Chloe, and took photos in an effort to prosper from our differences. It was the place where I held the snarky seven-year-old when Brook broke her heart and went back to Hollywood, California, after promising her daughter a life together.
John coasted into his driveway. “I’ll walk you home.”
A thin grin passed over my lips, lips that he’d kissed just before telling me that he was moving to Montana. My empty stone house waited for me, along with a wrinkly-faced Bulldog. I’d still have Bones, thanks to Mom. Maybe that’s how it was meant to be.
John parked the car then gazed into my eyes. He longed for something, something I secretly hoped would keep him here, close to me. He got out and walked around to open my door. As I swung my legs out of the car, my skirt cascaded over my freckled shins. He linked his arm with mine and led me home. “All seems quiet. Chloe must have been good for the sitter.”
“We’ll see. Only time will tell,” he said. “She’s older and wiser now.”
“She’s eight, and being in third grade doesn’t make you necessarily wiser, it makes you taller with bigger teeth.”
We sauntered up the stairs to the porch. Digging in my purse for the key to the front door of my house, I stood like a pillar of salt waiting for John to say something, to tell me he’d changed his mind on the way home. “I’m not sure what to say,” I whispered. John caressed my cheek. I shut my eyes, memorizing his touch. I nuzzled into the palm of his warm hand. Please don’t leave, I secretly wished. I had no right to ask. He stepped closer, his breath in my ear.
“You’re not making this easy. You never do, Maggie Abernathy. Look at me,” he murmured.
Afraid to open my eyes, I swallowed away emotion. John was always doing stuff like that, telling me I was beautiful, telling me I had a hold on him, but not a strong enough hold to keep him here. I gazed into his Irish eyes. I heard my heart shatter as it broke all over again, leaving me with a pit in my stomach. John led me inside, his hand on the small of my back. His eyes gleamed with intent. He tugged at the fringe on my shawl making it drop to the ground as he kicked the door shut. John picked me up then carried me upstairs. As much as I knew I should have stopped him, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to.
Moonlight flooded my bedroom. John took off his shirt then unbuttoned my blouse exposing my lace bra. He ran his fingers along the edge of the cup, tickling my skin, leaving me with goose bumps, wanting more. His mouth covered mine. Laying me upon the bed, I closed my eyes, and let him in.
Moonlight washed over his skin. It caressed every muscle and curve of his brawny body. I snuggled in behind him, tracing his horseshoe tattoo with my finger. “Did this hurt when you got it?” My lips grazed his skin as I whispered into the darkness. “Maybe if I got one, I’d have better luck.” I closed my eyes then crawled beneath the covers. John’s square jaw and simmering eyes held my stare. He crawled back to where I’d settled in and peered down at me. Lowering his head, his lips met mine. I squeezed my eyes shut damming the deluge. My heart pounded against my rib cage, telling me it was time, time to let go. John was leaving and this would be our perfect goodbye. “Chloe’s probably wondering where you are,” I said, caressing his whiskery cheek. “So, you’ve decided to grow a beard?”
“No, just a little scruff. I hear women like that.”
He leaned over me and kissed my lips as he brushed strands of stray hair away from my face. His Adam’s apple twitched when he swallowed. I waited for the words, the words I wanted to hear, but they didn’t come. “You’re so damn beautiful,” he said, caressing my cheek. “We should have done this a long time ago, Maggie Abernathy.”
Nervous knots filled my belly as I listened to his deep coaxing voice. My eyelids fluttered. Fierce emotion mounted beneath my calm surface. Reaching up, I wrapped my arms around his neck. “Yeah,” I whispered. “We probably should have.”
My cup clunked against the saucer and tea slopped over the side. “Shit,” I mumbled, staring at the mysterious cane with my father’s name etched in the black paint hanging on the hall tree in the corner of the room. Tiny brown drops splattered across my desk catching the corner of my latest cow photograph. I wiped it off with my sleeve. Bones ran through the foyer and sat in front of the door.
The bell rang. I knew it would. Bones always knew when Chloe was coming. I stood up, took my glasses off, and hung them from the collar of my shirt. Bones’ tail wagged, his rump swayed side-to-side, his pink tongue waggling just waiting for his buddy from next door. I opened the door. The pink ribbon she’d made for me before the Detroit Race for the Cure hung in remembrance of those Judy and I jogged for, including ourselves. We were breast cancer survivors, but the notion it could rear its ugly head again lingered. “Hi, Chloe,” I said with a smile. She wore blue jeans with holes in the knees, her pink Chuck Taylor tennis shoes, a jean jacket, and the purple knit hat my mom made her last summer. Her T-shirt had a purple peace sign on it. Her backpack dangled from her fingertips.
“Hi, Maggie, I need help,” she said, fingering the word survivor she’d written on the satin bow in silver glitter. “Can I come in? I have to do this stupid book report and I don’t know what to do.”
“Where’s your dad?” I asked, thinking she really didn’t need help since her reading had improved since last summer. I’d taught Chloe to read better and she taught me how to train Bones. The deal sweetened both our pots.
“He’s on the phone with my grandpa. They’re talking about the ranch.”
“Ah, so this is an escape,” I said, not wanting to hear about the ranch in Montana. It’d become a big part of John’s life since Christmas and he’d gone there several times since January to see his dad. I should have known. “How’s your Grandpa?”
“Good, I guess,” she answered, bending down to scratch Bones’ belly. “Hi there, boy.”
Bones jumped up on Chloe to lick her face. She fell backward and bonked her head on the door. Rubbing the spot, she groaned. “I’m okay, I’m okay.” She blinked away the sting.
Chloe’s hair had grown shoulder length, and wispy b
“Smells good in here. Whatcha making?” Chloe inquired, following in Bones’ footstep. She dropped her backpack in the hallway.
I noticed a purple string sticking out. “Won’t Voodoo get hot in there?” I asked, picking up the worn bag. “Do you even have a book in here?” The backpack was light as a feather.
“Oh, I must have forgotten it.” Chloe peeked in the oven. “Yum, cake,” she said, peering back over her shoulder. “I can do the book report later.”
Chloe scooted out a chair at the kitchen counter.
“Dad’s talking about moving.”
My gut twisted. “I was wondering if you knew.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to go. I want to stay. We’ve moved enough. I’ll miss Harry and Walter.”
Her eyes connected with mine. Sad pools of green stared at me. I knew she’d miss more than that.
“And you,” she added.
I mussed her hair as I walked past. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” In some strange way, Chloe helped fill Bradley’s void. He was grown and on his own in Boston. The buzzer on the oven dinged. I rummaged through the cupboard for toothpicks to check the center of the cake. A blast of hot air covered my face when I opened the oven door. “I think it’s done.”