Maggie's Montana (Montana Bound Book 3), page 1
Table of Contents
Montana Bound Series Book 3
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
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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“Guaranteed to touch your heart…Maggie’s Montana is a must read for women’s fiction lovers. Linda Bradley’s writing sings in this beautifully crafted, warm and funny story about the bonds of love and friendship.” -Kim Boykin, author of The Wisdom of Hair and Palmetto Moon
“Linda Bradley’s distinct voice draws you in as her misfit cast of characters wrap around your heart and take you home.” -Roni Hall, author of Montana Wild
“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
Marjorie Jean MacMillan Bradley
July 2, 1929-September 25, 2016
The proofreader that made my life’s story shine.
Thank you to Debby Gilbert for continuing to work with me on the Maggie’s Montana. Publishing my Montana Bound Series has been a dream come true.
Thank you to Montana friends, cowboys, and wranglers who answered questions, taught me to fly fish, and kept us afloat on the Gallatin River. Thank you to my riding guides Kim, Kim, Amber, and Justin at the 320 Ranch in Gateway who navigated trails and befriended this curious writer. Strolling through fields of sage, riding to the ridge, and meandering through the river is magical when you’re on horseback.
A special thank you to my son Trevor who explored the Montana countryside with me. It was truly a blessing experiencing “God’s Country” with you. Who knew we were naturals when it came to fly-fishing? I will never forget the foal that befriended you. Seeing her on your heels like a long-lost friend brought an affirmation that horses are spiritual and possess a mysterious understanding for human nature. This joyous memory will never be forgotten.
Thank you Kim Pachy for traipsing through the Montana countryside and visiting the B Bar Ranch in Tom Minor Basin to see the Ancient White Park Cattle. Thank you Trina and Hannibal for taking time out of your day to chat with me about the land that inspires my writing.
Thank you to my parents for taking me on family vacations as a youngster. It was on one of these treks that a sliver of Montana beauty became wedged in my brain. I remember telling myself not to forget the blue sky and now I know why. This book holds a special place in my heart as it was the last book my mom read in the winter of her life. She loved reading and I believe this was her favorite of the three in this series. I can never thank her enough for everything that she has given me and even though she dances amongst the angels in heaven, she will be the voice in my head and the love in my heart.
Thank you to all the readers who have come along for the ride. Pun intended.
My heart skipped a beat. The Montana sky washed over me as I opened the passenger’s side door of the Suburban. Judy’d driven most of the way here while I stared out the window daydreaming about Chloe and John. Ignoring Walter and Harry’s tiffs over who ate the last fruit snack or which movie to watch came easily with the distractions clouding my mind, but we’d finally arrived and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The 617 Ranch was Chloe and John’s new home. Their Michigan house would soon be empty, along with my heart. The Gallatin Valley was the place John had grown up, the place where his father, Winston cultivated cattle and horses, the place John belonged. Sighing, I took in the scene, scents of sage and wildflowers tickled my nose. Chloe’s embroidered blue cowboy boots kicked up dirt in her path as she bolted like a wild stallion from the corral to greet me.
“Maggie!” Chloe’s voice pierced the air, a freckled horse stuck her nose over the railing of the fence, her dark eyes following the commotion.
I caught Chloe in my arms and held her close. The rim of her Stetson caught on my belly and fell to the ground. My heart tore open as she tugged at my heartstrings like a package on Christmas morning. It was like we’d been apart for the longest time, and I was coming home.
“I can’t believe you made it,” Chloe said. “I thought for sure you’d change your mind.”
“We wouldn’t let her.” Walter shoved his hands in his pockets, inspecting the land. “Gosh the mountains are huge here and I sure do like those fancy snaps on your shirt.”
“We’ll get you a fancy shirt while you’re here.” Chloe wrapped her arms around her buddy and
“You’re welcome. I might be little, but I have my ways.” Walter chuckled, then shook Chloe’s hand like they were making a deal.
Judy shut her door then pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head, her black curls pinned back, swaying in the breeze. She tucked her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. Judy’s presence eased my nerves as John strolled through the barn door to greet us. The sleeves of his white T-shirt were rolled up, his burly physique more prominent than ever. No one would ever guess a lack of hair beneath his cowboy hat.
Chloe reached down, snatched her hat from the ground, then smacked it across her knee like a pro. “Dang-nab-it.”
I took my Ray Bans off, hung them from the collar of my shirt, and smirked at the twang in her voice.
“Dad and Grandpa are teaching me some cowboy lingo,” she said. “Dad, did I get that right?” she asked, glancing in John’s direction.
“Sure did, little lady,” he answered, with a grin. He ruffled Walter’s curly dark hair. “Glad y’all could make it.” He shook Harry’s hand.
“Hey, I want to shake, too.” Walter stuck his hand out. John shook his hand then squeezed his shoulder like a grown man would greet an old pal. “Thanks, I like that better than the pat on the head. That’s for little kids.”
“Sorry, cowboy.” John’s twang complemented his smirk.
The apples of Walter’s cheeks bulged. He still had all his baby teeth and I could see each one as he grinned with approval. “I can’t wait to see this place.” His brown eyes sparkled as he surveyed the property. “Look, Maggie. Cows.” He took a deep breath and puffed out his chest. “Mooooo.”
Chloe laughed. “You’re so funny.” She kicked the toe of her boot into the dirt. A pebble grazed my foot. “Sorry, Maggie.”
Chloe wrapped her arms around my waist and held tight. Her warm breaths pooled between my cotton shirt and my belly. I peered over to John. His eyes were the color of fresh Irish fields. “I can’t believe we made it.” Relieved to be out of the car, I stretched out my back.
“Three days and two boys later is a feat,” John said.
“You’re not kidding.” Judy draped her arm around Walter and drew him close. “I haven’t gone anywhere without their father since they were born. This is our first adventure without him.”
Judy glanced over at me with apologetic eyes. Rubbing her arm, I remembered those grueling car rides with my own little boy. “I think you’re too hard on them. Walter and Harry have done a stellar job considering how far we’ve traveled in the last few days.” I wrapped my arm around Harry’s shoulder. His messy hair tickled my cheek.
“Walter is kind of a baby,” Harry said.
“Hey.” Walter scowled and stuck out his tongue.
“Hay is for horses and I have some stalls that need to be mucked out if you two boys would like to spend your energy that way.” John gestured toward the barn. Five horses the color of butterscotch milled around nibbling blades of grass in the adjoining pasture.
I squeezed Harry’s shoulder.
“Oh, boy.” Chloe tugged at the rim of her hat. “You two do not want to clean out stalls. Trust me.”
My gaze met John’s. He had an ease about him that I hadn’t seen in Grosse Pointe, but then again Michigan wasn’t his happy place. The ‘For Sale’ sign adorned his front lawn and I loathed all who toured the McIntyre home thinking it could be someone else’s dream. “Any bites on the house?” My gut twisted.
“Not that I know of,” John said.
“I still don’t want to move.” Chloe tugged at her dad’s hand. “Can’t we go back and forth?”
“Afraid not, darlin’. We’re a one-home family.” He didn’t respond to Chloe’s plea when she stuck out her bottom lip. Nor mine, but then again, how could he, since mine was buried deep inside. Reminding myself that everyone’s path in life wasn’t the same, I thought about my own trek. I’d met plenty of people along the way who’d moved on, but every time I looked into John’s eyes, something told me he was part of the journey. My heart held steady as my mind wavered. Getting my bearings proved difficult with the hurt that scraped at the bottom of my heart. We both knew hurt. With my ex-husband it was the sting of reality right between the eyes when he told me he was gay after twenty-something years of marriage. For John, Brook had cheated and left him with Chloe. Even though our situations differed, loss was a factor when it came to trusting others.
“Hey, Harry, come check this out,” Chloe said, waving him toward the barn. “Maggie, come look.”
Walter wrapped his fingers around my hand and we meandered toward her. I nodded to Judy to join us. The Montana scenery was breathtaking. Michigan had its beautiful spots, but Montana’s beauty captivated me. John beamed as he held Chloe’s hand. Sun streamed in the opposite end of the barn, and just outside the door was another corral of horses. Their hides shone in the sun, each one beautiful in its own way. Chloe knelt beside a wooden box the size of a milk crate. We all peeked in as she reached down to stroke the back of a black crow.
“This is Frankie,” she whispered.
“What’s wrong with his wing?” Walter knelt beside Chloe to get a better look.
“He’s got a broken wing. I noticed him about a week ago when I was at the pond. I was sitting on the dock dangling my feet over the edge trying to touch the water, and he circled my head. Then I saw him the next day and the next. On the fourth day he was waiting for me on the dock with a bent wing. Dad and me are trying to get him to heal.”
“I hope he gets better,” Harry said, stroking Frankie’s back with a gentle touch.
Harry was gentle with everything and his heart could hold the whole world. His sensitivity was noble and I wished more children with his panache would cross my path. “I hope he gets better, too.”
Chloe stared up at me with serious eyes, greener than the finest emeralds.
Judy sat beside me on the porch.
“I can’t believe how beautiful Montana is. So worth the drive.” Judy rolled up the sleeves of her T-shirt. “Don’t need a farmer’s tan.”
Smirking at my goofy friend, I sat in awe of the land’s grandeur. This was God’s country. Lazy mares grazed near the the pond. A river flowed along the property line in the distance. The babbling creek near the house swept my thoughts away. Leaning back in my chair, I took a deep breath. “Thanks for coming with me,” I said. “I love your boys.”
“Thanks for letting me tag along. This is an incredible opportunity for the kids. Besides, I want to see how things pan out with you and John.”
Judy’s smirk was incorrigible as I stared at her from under my lashes. “You’re supposed to be my friend.”
“I am.” She put up her hands like she was surrendering. “I’m just saying. You two go together like peanut butter and jelly. Everyone can see it except you two.”
Exhaling, I raised my eyebrow at her. John’s dad walked toward us. Chloe was right. Winston Ludlow McIntyre had the perfect name for this kind of living. His moustache twitched as our gazes met, his love for his ranch flickered in his eyes. He clapped his leather gloves together as he approached. He was all cowboy, tall, broad, and stealth. “Hi there.” I gave a little wave, my eyes peering past him at the kids who were tossing pebbles into the creek. Walter’s curly black mop-top held my attention.
“Glad you made it.” Winston gave a nod. “Nice to see you again,” he said to Judy.
“Likewise,” she responded. “Thank you for letting us stay with you. You have an incredible place here.”
The corner of his mouth lifted. “Wasn’t always like this. Wish John’s mother was here to see the place now.”
Winston’s expression reminded me of a story John had told about his mom one night while we nursed beers in the moonlight before he and Chloe left for the ranch. Her love for the land and the animals ran just as deep as his father’s. A chill ran down my spine. “I’m sure
“Did John show you ladies around?” Winston asked.
“Yes,” Judy answered. “We met Chloe’s lame bird, Frankie and I believe we were introduced to a pony named Huckleberry.”
Winston chuckled as he stepped onto the porch. The fringe of his chaps swayed with his stride. “She’s pretty attached to that bird. She’s going to wake up some morning and it’s gonna be gone.”
“You think it’ll fly away?” I asked.
“Either that or it’ll be dinner for some critter that finds its way into the barn.”
I grimaced. “Didn’t think about that.”
Walter skipped over to the porch.
“Howdy partner,” Winston said, giving him a tap on the shoulder.
Walter waved as he looked up into Winston’s eyes, then he fluffed the fringe on Winston’s chaps. “You sure are big. Thanks for letting me come to your ranch. It’s cool.” He shaded his eyes from the sun and smiled a thin, irresistible grin before climbing into his momma’s lap.
“We don’t get many visitors. Just glad you could make it.”
Walter gave Winston a thumbs-up. Judy wrapped her arms around her son and held him close. Bradley’d been a momma’s boy growing up, too. It seemed like yesterday that I’d held him like Judy held Walter. Walter closed his eyes and whispered, “Do you think I’m a baby?”
“No.” Judy stroked his hair.
“Will you tell Harry I’m not a baby? Please?” Walter rested his hand on Judy’s arm, their dark summer skin tan and smooth.