Linda Lael Miller returns to an unforgettable Montana town for a very special occasion.... SPRINGWATER WEDDING Once a frontier stagecoach stop, tiny Springwater has grown and changed and entered the twenty-first century. Cattle rustlers may still be stirring up trouble, but now they're high-tech operators in a modern world. Where stagecoaches once rolled along muddy roads, the Internet is now the newest highway in town. But heartbreak is still heartbreak and love still love, and Springwater still boasts a rich legacy of joy, sorrow, and second chances -- as two childhood sweethearts discover when they rekindle a long-ago passion in the place they will always call home. Maggie McCaffrey left her fast-paced corporate job to take a chance on a more rewarding -- but riskier -- business venture: turning the dilapidated Springwater Station into a bed-and-breakfast. But Maggie didn't count on running straight into J.T. Wainwright, the hometown boy who stole her heart many years before. A tough former New York City cop, J.T. survived a grave gunshot wound and returned to Springwater to find a better way of life. Now, as deputy town marshal, he's facing off with modern-day cattle thieves who are plaguing local ranchers. Stronger than ever, J.T. seems ready for anything -- except, of course, Maggie. As Maggie's B&B begins to take root, a delightful new cast of Springwater locals passes through its doors. Maggie's parents, Kathleen and Reece, are finding that their forty-year marriage requires a little renegotiating now and then. Cindy, a teenage newlywed with a baby on the way, is learning about love and sacrifice for the first time. And town marshal Purvis Digg is turningSpringwater upside down by dating a woman he met on the Internet. As always, Linda Lael Miller enchants readers with her portrayal of the complex tangle of life and love in a small town. With her trademark sensuality and her ?air for wit, she once again brings Springwater to life -- this time, at the dawn of a new era.
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Linda Lael Miller is the bestselling author of more than fifty novels; there are more than twelve million copies of her books in print. Most recently, she has won critical acclaim for her novel Courting Susannah, her latest New York Times bestseller One Wish, and her marvelous tales of life and love in the ?ctional towns of Springwater, Montana (Springwater, A Springwater Christmas, and the bestselling miniseries Springwater Seasons) and Primrose Creek, Nevada (Bridget, Christy, Skye, and Megan). Ms. Miller resides in the Scottsdale, Arizona, area.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Maggie stuffed the woody stems of a cloud of white lilacs into a gallon jar, and some of the water spilled over onto the counter in the kitchenette of her parents' guest house. "J.T. Wainwright," she said, with typical McCaffrey conviction and a wealth of personal experience to back up her theory, "is a whole new twelve-step program, looking for a place to happen. I'm trying to start a business here. Make a life for myself. I don't need that kind of trouble."
Daphne Hargreaves Evanston, her best friend since Miss Filbert's kindergarten class at the old schoolhouse, now an historical monument, like the Brimstone Saloon across the street from it, watched with a wry and twinkly smile as Maggie took a sponge from the sink to wipe up the overflow. Married for the past two years, Daphne was glowingly happy and wanted to see all her friends find the same rather irksome bliss. "Oh, come on, Mags," she chided cheerfully. "J.T. was a little wild as a kid, but he became a cop, so he must have straightened out."
Maggie was stubbornly silent, and Daphne, who could be just as stubborn, fixed her with a mock glare.
"He was a cop," Maggie allowed in due time, and somewhat grudgingly. She straightened a little. "But since when is joining a big-city police force the equivalent of a religious conversion?"
Daphne shook her head and made a tsk-tsk sound. "Methinks thou protests too much, my friend," she said, folding slender arms. "J.T. was shot in the line of duty. He must have been committed to his job, to put himself in the path of a bullet."
Maggie hated to think of J.T. -- or anyone else, she quickly pointed out to herself -- struck down by gunfire, and she shuddered. Images of that lethal confrontation, far away in a New York City warehouse, had disturbed her sleep many a time over the six months since it had happened, although she'd been out of contact with J.T. for much longer.
"It must have been terrible," Daphne reflected somberly, giving voice to her friend's thoughts, as she often did. Sometimes Maggie believed she and Daphne had some kind of psychic connection; they'd been known to go shopping in separate cities, on different days, and come home with duplicate pairs of shoes. "All the pain and the blood, and then his partner being killed, too. Just like his father was. A person can only stand so much violence -- it's no wonder he turned in his badge."
Maggie set the flowers in the middle of her grandmother's round oak table, the thump muffled by a lace doily. She was starting to feel sorry for J.T., and that would not do. When her heart softened, she'd discovered, so did her head.
"That's the official story, anyway," she said, with a little sniff. "That he turned in his badge, I mean. There are those who say J.T. only quit to avoid being fired, and you know it as well as I do."
Daphne sighed, plainly exasperated. "You don't really believe that," she said.
"J.T. has a temper," Maggie pointed out, losing ground fast and damned if she'd admit it. "Don't you remember the time he beat his uncle nearly to death with his bare fists? He nearly went to prison for that."
Daphne narrowed her eyes. "Yes," she challenged, "I remember. It was right after Clive Jenson threw his wife -- J.T.'s aunt -- down the cellar stairs!"
"Violence," Maggie said, fluffing the flowers, "does not justify more violence. You said as much yourself, just a few moments ago."
A brief silence fell. Then, "You're still interested," Daphne accused, delight dancing in her silver-gray eyes. Her face took on a dreamy expression, and she sighed again. "It was so romantic, the way he showed up at your wedding and everything
"You need therapy," Maggie said, still fussing with the lilacs. "It wasn't 'romantic,' it was downright awful." She closed her eyes, and the memory of that day a decade before loomed in her mind in three distinct dimensions and glorious Technicolor. She saw herself, clad in a simple white dress, standing beside Connor, her husband-to-be, on the gazebo steps. She smelled the lush, sweet scent of the pink roses in her bridal bouquet. She even heard the minister's voice again, as clearly as if he'd been standing right there in the guest house with her and Daphne:
"If anyone here can show just cause why these two should not be joined together in holy matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace."
Right on cue, J.T. squealed into the driveway behind the wheel of his rusted-out pickup truck, startling everyone, bride, groom, and guests alike. He jumped out of that old wreck, leaving the motor roaring, the door gaping, and the radio blaring a somebody-done-me-wrong song, and vaulted over the picket fence to storm right up the petal-strewn strip of cloth serving as an aisle. His ebony hair glinted in the late-spring sunshine, and he was wearing jeans, scuffed boots, and an old black T-shirt.
Given the fact that he'd been the one to end their stormy relationship more than a year earlier, when they were both in Springwater for Christmas vacation, J.T. was the last person Maggie had expected to see, especially on her wedding day.
Resplendent in lace and satin, Maggie watched, speechless, as J.T. strode up the aisle. Connor stood clench-fisted at her side.
Stunned by J.T.'s rejection the previous Christmas -- she'd given him a blue sweater and he'd handed back a broken heart -- Maggie had begun dating Connor almost as soon as she got back to college. They had a lot in common -- similar tastes in music and art, the same political and religious beliefs -- and Connor was handsome and smart, with a brilliant career ahead of him. J.T., on the other hand, was hotheaded and often self-absorbed, with all the earmarks of a lifelong misfit. he'd been in trouble with the law more than once, and there was a vast, dark terrain inside him, a place closed to everyone else on earth -- Maggie included. Passion, she suspected, was all she and J.T. had ever really had together. Great, frenzied sex, followed by loud fights or sullen silences.
Previously stunned into horrified immobility, the wedding guests rose of one accord from their rented folding chairs to murmur and stare, and Maggie's brothers, Simon and Wes, edged toward the intruder from either side. Simon, serving his medical residency at the same Chicago hospital where Connor would intern, was dark-haired and powerfully built, while Wes, a junior at Montana State, majoring in elementary education, had fair hair and blue eyes. Reece McCaffrey, the patriarch of the clan, rose to his feet as well, though the expression in his eyes as he gazed at J.T. was one of compassion, not anger.
"You can't do this, Maggie," J.T. rasped, as Simon and Wes closed in, handsome and grim in their tuxedos, each grasping one of his arms. He shook them off fiercely, his gaze a dark, furious fire that seared Maggie's heart and made her nerves leap beneath the surface of her skin. "Damn it, you know it's wrong!"
She was unable to speak, for her breath had swirled up into the back of her throat, into an inner storm raging there, and her eyes were glazed with tears.
"J.T.," Wes said quietly, reasonably. Wes, always the cool head, the peacemaker. "Come on, buddy. You don't want to do this."
"Is he drunk?" Connor rasped. He was a few years older than Maggie, with hazel eyes and light brown hair that was already receding a little, and no discernible sense of humor. Of course, she hadn't realized that until much later.
J.T. was stone sober; Maggie could tell by the look in his eyes. he'd changed his mind about her, about them, and she felt a surge of furious sorrow. It was a little late, wasn't it? She'd wept over this man, walked through the fires of rage and a hurt so dizzying she'd feared it would overwhelm her. Where had he been when she needed him, wanted him?
Well, damn it, she'd come to her senses, where J.T. was concerned at least. Gotten over the pain, for the most part, and built a whole new framework for her dreams. Her course was set, her future was mapped out, one, two, three. She was returning to Chicago as Mrs. Connor Bartholomew. She planned to finish her degree at Northwestern, land an interesting job after graduation, and settle into a new life. Once Connor had finished his surgical residency they could buy a little house in the suburbs somewhere and start their family.
Oh, the best laid plans.
Staring at J.T., she shook her head, very slowly, still unable to get a word out.
J.T. shoved a hand through his dark, sleekly rumpled hair. "I made a mistake, Maggie," he said, his voice at once quiet and charged with emotion. "A bad one. Don't compound it by running away from what we were, what we had."
"Get out," Connor growled, red in the neck and along his jawline, and he started down the gazebo steps as if to lunge at J.T. To the manor born, and trained to keep his hands clean at all costs, Connor wouldn't stand a chance against Springwater's bad boy. Maggie caught hold of his arm.
She kept her gaze fixed on J.T. "It's over," she managed to say. Then she turned her back on him, once and for all, and set her face toward the future she truly believed she wanted.
How wrong she'd been.
Daphne wrenched her back to the here and now with a snap of her fingers. "Mags?"
Maggie made a face, but a grin was tugging at the corners of her mouth. She'd missed Daphne, she'd missed Springwater, and though she wasn't ready to admit as much, even to her closest friend -- heck, she could barely admit it to herself -- she'd missed J.T. Wainwright. Which just went to prove that even the most solid people had their weaknesses.
"Sooner or later, you are going to have to face him, you know," Daphne observed, opening the refrigerator and peering inside. She brought out a pitcher of ice tea, jingling with fresh ice cubes, and plundered the cupboards for crystal tumblers.
"Springwater is a small town, after all. You won't be able to avoid J.T. forever."
Maggie drew back a chair at the table and sank into it. "Why did he have to come back here?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. A detective with the New York Police Department, J.T. recently had returned to Montana to run the sprawling ranch that had been in his family for well over a century. Beef prices were low, the home place was practically in ruins, and ranchers all over Springwater County were plagued, with greater and greater frequency, by rustlers and various sorts of malicious mischief, but J.T. evidently was undaunted. That, too, was like him. He didn't make plans or draw up lists or consult experts. He just plunged in, worked hard, and improvised, taking things as they came. To Maggie, goal-oriented to a fault, that was the equivalent of riding a runaway roller coaster.
Daphne came through with a reply, as she filled a glass for herself and then, at Maggie's nod, another. "I guess J.T. came back for the same reason you did," she said. "Springwater is home. His roots are here."
"Home," Maggie echoed, a little wistfully. To her the term covered far more territory than just the big, wonderful old house on the other side of the long gravel driveway where she and her brothers had grown up; it meant Reece and Kathleen McCaffrey, her mom and dad. And after nearly forty years together, after three children and five grandchildren, with another on the way, they were sleeping in separate bedrooms and, when they spoke at all, discussing the division of property.
Maggie was baffled by the rift that had opened between them and, even though she knew it was not only impossible but downright dysfunctional too, she wanted desperately to fix the problem somehow, turn back time, make everything all right again.
Daphne sat down, then reached out to squeeze Maggie's hand. Her fingers were cool and moist from the chilled glasses. "Home," she repeated, with gentle emphasis. "You've still got one, you know, so stop looking so forlorn. Everything's going to be all right. You'll see."
Maggie attempted a smile, took up her ice tea, and clinked her glass against Daphne's. "Thanks," she said, and sipped.
"J.T. looks good," Daphne observed, only moments later, never one to waste time and verbiage bridging one subject with another. "Really good. Hot damn, what a body."
Maggie rolled her eyes. "Is that any way for a devoted wife to talk?" she teased. "What would Ben say?" Ben Evanston, Daphne's handsome husband, was a mining engineer. He and Daphne had met when his company had contracted to reopen the old Jupiter and Zeus Silver Mine, which was part of her inheritance, and married soon after. They'd immediately started trying to have a child, so far to no avail.
Daphne ran one perfectly manicured fingertip around the rim of her glass, her gaze lowered. In that quiet, unconsciously elegant pose, with her dark hair upswept, she resembled the portrait of her ancestress Rachel English Hargreaves even more closely than usual. Maggie glimpsed her own gaminelike reflection in the polished glass of the china cabinet against the opposite wall and noted the contrast. She was thirty years old, with short brown hair and large blue eyes, and outside of Springwater, people still asked for ID when she ordered wine with her dinner. She sighed.
When Daphne looked up, she was smiling mischievously. "I can still appreciate a fine specimen of man when I see one," she said.
Maggie laughed. "You're horrible," she replied. It was good to be home again, drinking ice tea with her best friend. She'd moved back to Springwater less than a month before, after selling her condo in Chicago and giving up a lucrative hotel-management job there, having at last made the decision to simplify her life, get off the fast track, and pursue an old and persistent dream of turning the old Springwater stagecoach station into a bed-and-breakfast. The move was long overdue -- she'd essentially been treading water emotionally since the breakup of her marriage two years before -- but she was still getting acclimated to all the changes. Absorbed in her own plans and projects, she'd been caught off guard when J.T. suddenly returned to Springwater.
Daphne glanced down at the doorknob-sized diamond on her left-hand ring finger and frowned as it caught the afternoon light. If someone onboard the Titanic had been wearing that ring, they could have summoned help at the first sign of trouble. Daphne's expression changed, and she sighed.
"What is it?" Maggie asked, immediately worried.
Daphne smiled bravely. "I thought I'd be pregnant by now, that's all," she confided.
Maggie knew, had always known, how much Daphne wanted a houseful of children. Even when they were little girls, Daphne would play only with baby dolls -- no Barbies for her. "Give it time, Daph," she counseled gently. "You haven't been married all that long."
Daphne perked up, nodded, but a shadow of sadness still darkened her eyes. "Right," she said.
"Everything's all right between you and Ben, isn't it?" Maggie asked. With a failed marriage behind her, and a couple of going nowhere romances on top of that, she wasn't exactly an authority ...
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