Teaser Tuesday: His Dakota Heart

Dakota Hearts Book 7
His Dakota Heart

How do you say goodbye to a love when it had no ending? Gray McKinnon has spent two years struggling with moving on when the woman he loved suffered an accident that left her in a coma and no hope of recovery. Everyone urged Gray to move on. He's had plenty of offers to help him mend his broken heart on and off the rodeo circuit. But moving on is easier said than done when your heart belongs to someone else. At least, he thinks so until he sees Nina Hendrix again.

Nina couldn't help falling in love with her big sister's cowboy any more than she could bring her sister, Jen, back from her coma. She's kept her distance from Gray out of respect for her sister. But when her family decides to move Jen to another medical facility a few states away, she can't help but reach out to Gray, even though she has no illusions that he could love her the way she loves him. She won't let herself be just another woman passing through his life, helping him forget. But one night in his arms makes her realize there is no future for them if every time he looks at her he sees the one woman he can never have.

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Eight seconds.

That’s all Gray McKinnon needed.  He wasn’t so broken down at thirty-two that he couldn’t hold his seat on the back of a bucking bull for eight seconds, despite the whispers that he was as ancient as the dirt beneath him.  He’d cut his eyeteeth at rodeos, like most of the McKinnons.

Gray positioned himself on the back of the dusty bull named Frozen Tundra. He wasn’t as rank as some of the other bulls being drawn today.  Even if he kept his seat, the bull’s score may not be high enough to give him placement today.  But it didn’t matter. He wasn’t here to prove anything to anyone.

Except himself.

When he was sure his rigging strapped to the bull was secure, he nodded that he was ready and the chute opened.  He expected power beneath him and Frozen Tundra didn’t disappoint.  The bull tucked its head and showed him just how unhappy he was to have Gray on his back.  The next Gray knew his hand broke free of the leather strap and he was airborne a few seconds.  Then his body connected hard with the dirt.  He didn’t even have time to be disappointed, or to react to the pain that shot through his body.  He saw the rodeo clown headed toward him to distract Frozen Tundra and Gray knew he had to get out of the path of the charging bull.  Still feeling the adrenaline rush, Gray scrambled to his feet as quick as he could and ran to the sideline.  Only when he was climbing the rail did he feel pain shoot up his wrist.

Fifteen minutes later Gray sat in the tented medic area with an ice pack on his wrist, staring at an empty gurney as the sound of rodeo erupted in the nearby arena.

“You’ll have to keep that ice on you for another ten minutes or so.  Probably should have an X-ray, too,” the medic said.  “You work at the rig?”

Gray nodded.  He’d been working in the family oil business since he could hold his own out in the field.  His father had insisted all of his children at least learn about the business before going off on their own.  Each McKinnon took their turn as they came of age.  Luke was the first.  He’d worked at MW Oil before heading off to college.  They’d all teased him that he’d purposely gone to law school to avoid having to come home and continue working under their father and uncle’s tutelage.  But he hadn’t been home since.  His brother Ian had been next, but then had left for a career in military soon after.  His sister Grace had been exempt from working on the rig, but still worked in the offices.  Julian was the youngest and the most stir crazy of all the McKinnons.  That left Gray.

“I’m working out in the field but I’m not doing anything with my hand that will prevent me from working.”

The medic, a man in his mid-fifties that looked as if he’d spent too much time in the sun, shook his head.  “Rules are rules.  You have an injury.  You need to get some film of it before you can be cleared to go back on the job.  I can’t force you to do it, of course.  But you put the company at risk without it.  If anyone at the oil company finds out you were injured, you’re going to catch hell Monday morning.”

Gray chuckled wryly.  “It won’t even take that long.”

The medic looked at him, his wiry gray and black brows pulling together into a frown.

“I’m having Sunday dinner with the boss.”

Dawning showed in the man’s expression.  “Then you best get yourself an X-ray before you sit down at the dinner table.  I’ll be back in a few minutes to take that ice pack and then wrap your wrist.”

Alone in the medic tent again, Gray listened to the roar of the crowd as another rider finished their ride.  He’d planned on doing his ride and then watching the other riders to get his head back into the sport.  As he flexed his fingers and felt the ache in his wrist, he decided maybe coming back to the rodeo was a bad idea in more ways than just a sore wrist.

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Teaser Tuesday: Dakota Wedding

Dakota Hearts Book 6
Dakota Wedding

Ian McKinnon was just getting steady on his feet, looking forward to the opening of the Wounded Veterans Center and a big McKinnon wedding celebration, when tragedy struck again. The soldier who'd saved his life while in the military has died. He's charged with his most important mission: find his friend Carlos's family in Mexico or become guardian and raise Carlos's children. The only mandatory stipulation of his friend's will was that Ian live under the same roof with Abby Townsend, a firefighter from Carlos's firehouse. Abby knew the kids well and she could help ease them all through the transition of becoming a family. Okay, so Ian may not be daddy material, but he'd grown up with a whole lot of McKinnons running around. He could handle the kids just fine. The beautiful Abby Townsend was another story.

Abby took one look at Ian and shook her head with utter disbelief. What were her dear friends thinking by naming a man whose nickname was "The Hazard" as guardian of their three small children? She only needed to spend one year in Ian's house in South Dakota. She had to either find Carlos's family, or convince Ian that she was the better person to raise the children. Abby knows how hard it is to lose someone you loved. She'll be there to protect the children in any way she can. But can she protect her heart from falling in love with a man known for taking too many risks...and risk heartbreak again?

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There was a time when the prospect of standing on two feet was beyond Ian McKinnon’s imagination. That had been a darker time in his life. A time he didn’t ever want to go back to again.

As he made his way up the driveway leading to the home he’d spent the last year refurbishing, feeling the early autumn sun on his face, he could finally see light. He felt at peace.

His cousin’s SUV sat next to his Jeep in the driveway. As he rounded the corner, he found Hawk sitting on the porch overlooking the river in the back yard.

Hawk smiled and stood up when they made eye contact. But the look on Hawk’s face immediately told Ian he wasn’t here for a social call.

“Can we go inside and talk?”

Ian sighed and tried to force a smile. “Something tells me I’m not going to like this conversation. So if it’s all the same to you why we just have it right here on the front porch?”

“I was hoping to spare you.”

Ian laughed without any humor. “That bad, huh? Just give it to me straight.”

Hawk shook his head and chuckled low. “You always did things your own way.”
Ian climbed the few stairs and pivoted so he could sit opposite Hawk on the porch. He braced himself for whatever news he was about to get.

“You got a call from Vermont this morning. Your mom took the call. No one has your new number.”

“I didn’t get the new number until last week. I haven’t had a chance to call Carlos and Brenda yet. Both of them are excited to come out and see the house and the Wounded Veterans Center now that it’s nearly complete. But both of them have my cell phone number. They could have used that.”

He was rambling and his stomach hurt just looking at Hawk as his cousin struggled with what he was about to say.

“Carlos and Brenda’s lawyer only had your parents’ telephone number."


Hawk nodded, taking a deep breath. “Carlos and Brenda are dead.”

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Teaser Tuesday: His Dakota Bride

Dakota Hearts Book 5
His Dakota Bride

Her heart had always belonged to Wade McKinnon...

When single mother, Skylar Barnett, came to South Dakota, she thought her life was just beginning. Newly pregnant, she waited for the love of her life, Wade McKinnon, to join her so they could start their life near his family. But her joy quickly shattered after learning Wade was presumed killed during a tsunami that hit the small Asian island they'd both worked on in the Peace Corp. She'd spent the last four years making peace with her decision to marry a man she didn't love so her baby would have a father. But marrying the wrong man when her heart belonged to Wade was the biggest mistake of her life.

Secrets and circumstance kept them apart...

No one in Wade McKinnon's life knew that his work with the Peace Corp. was just a cover for his real job in a secret military agency. Not even Skylar, the woman he'd fallen hard for the moment he'd laid eyes on her. But when his mission in Asia suddenly became too dangerous and all agents in the field were ordered to disappear, using the tragic events of the tsunami on the island where they'd met seemed like the only way to keep Skylar and their unborn baby safe until the situation cooled down. As much as it killed him, Wade stepped aside when he learned Skylar had moved on with another man. But now that she's free, he's determined to do everything he can to win back her love and claim the life they'd dreamed of sharing.

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The McKinnon clan didn’t need a reason to get together and celebrate, but this Labor Day weekend they were going to get one.  Homecomings were always a good cause for a party.  But this was one homecoming no one was expecting.

He parked his car in the driveway under a shady tree along the driveway, making note of the fact that there was a pick-up truck parked next to the garage in the spot where he used to park his old sixty-seven mustang.  He recognized the truck, although the last time he’d seen Logan McKinnon driving it, the truck had been in better condition.

He paused at the corner of the house and heard laughter filtering through the air.  The boisterous laughing he always heard when his brothers were all together.  The giggles and shouts of young children he’d yet to meet.  It called to him as strong as the smell of food being cooked over an open flame that tickled his senses.  But a hunger of another kind was stronger.  The voices he heard had been missing from his life for too long.  But he listened closely until the female voice that had haunted him grew louder.

“I need to finish up in the kitchen.  Hawk can you give me a minute and then come carry a few things out to the table?

No, Kate you put your feet up.  You’re always serving everyone at the diner.  Let me do this.”

The screen door on the back deck opened and then shut.  With his heart pounding, he walked to the front door so he could have the precious few moments alone with her before the rest of the family converged on him.  He needed those few moments.

His old key still fit the lock on the front door.  Turning the knob slowly, he pushed the door open quietly and stepped into the foyer.  He glanced into the living room, taking in every detail and exchanging what was different with what he’d committed to memory long ago.  The familiar smell of the house magnified the realization that he had finally made it.  He was home.

He didn’t want to scare her.  He could only imagine her reaction when she saw him.  So he slipped through the living room and into the kitchen through the dining room so he wouldn’t startle her.  And when he finally saw her, he thought his legs would crumble beneath him.

Skylar Barnett.  If there truly was just one great love in the universe for every person, Skylar was surely his.

She buzzed around the kitchen, almost dancing on the balls of her feet as she moved.  He used to say she looked like a ballerina, dancing as she walked in the sand.  She’d told him it was only because he made her happy.

“I heard the front door.  Did I lock the screen door on you by accident again, Hawk?” Skylar asked, licking her fingers of the dressing she’d just stirred in the bowl. “This potato salad has to get into the ice bowl on the table or it will spoil in his heat.”

She turned in the opposite direction towards the refrigerator, opened it, and then pulled out a bottle. “Oh, and I forgot the Italian dressing for the salad.  Would you mind bringing that with you, too?”

She still hadn’t lifted her gaze to him.  And he didn’t rush to get her attention.  He enjoyed just watching her move.  He’d always loved the way she moved as she rushed from one side of the kitchen to the next.

Picking up the bowl of potato salad from the counter, she turned to him, her smile as bright as the blazing sun outside, and said, “Those barbeque ribs your dad has on the grill smell so good, it’s making me-”

Their eyes met for the first time in over five years and she gasped.  He should have done something to prevent the bowl of food in her hand from slipping through her grip and crashing to the floor.  The bowl shattered and the potato salad splattered on the tile floor and the cabinet Skylar was standing near.  She barely noticed the remnants of the mess at her feet.

“I’m not Hawk,” he said, never taking his eyes off hers.

Her mouth dropped open, as tears welled up in her eyes.  “Wade?”

He barely heard the words escape her lips, but he felt them just as strong as he had the last time they’d been together.  The memory of what it tasted like to kiss her, and that small intake of breath she made before her lips touched his.

“Is it really you?”

Her voice was a whisper and surged him forward. He took a slow step toward her as she took in seeing him for the first time in years. Her hand came up to touch his face but stopped short before making contact.

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Read Chapter One of SWEET MONTANA RESCUE by Lisa Mondello

Dear Readers:
Sweet Montana Rescue was a special book for me to write. Well, they all are, but I loved writing about Harper and Nash and their adventure on the mountain. Check out Chapter One!
Sometimes the person you are rescuing...becomes your rescuer.
Dangerous Montana snowstorms are no surprise. So when police dispatcher, Harper Madison, heads to the mountains to bring supplies to a survivalist/scientist who is renting her invalid grandmother's remote cabin high in the mountains for the summer, she doesn't take chances. But when an elk runs in front of her car and it tumbles down an embankment, nearly killing her, and leaving her stranded on the mountain until she can be rescued.
The only thing Nash Webber wants is to be left alone. Working in the Montana mountains will give him much needed perspective. But as soon as he arrives, his quiet retreat is quickly compromised when a sudden blizzard leaves a stranded woman perched precariously on the cliff of the mountain road leading to his cabin.
The cabin is certainly big enough for two. But can they be forced in close proximity for days on end without losing their minds and their hearts?

Chapter One
The man was late.
Harper Madison glanced over at the ugly wagon wheel clock on the wall across the room of the dispatch office and frowned when she saw the time. She'd purposely skipped her lunch because Nash Webber was supposed to meet her at the police station at noon.
Needless to say, that hadn't happened. One o'clock came and went along with two o'clock, and three o'clock. It was now three-thirty and her shift was ending at four, just in time for what was shaping up to be an epic spring blizzard in Sweet Montana.
Nash Webber. The name conjured up images of a Hollywood movie star in an action flick. The small town of Sweet and the surrounding Montana territory certainly got their share of Hollywood types. But the guy was some sort of scientist and survivalist, her grandmother had told her when she’d packed up the linens and the key to the cabin and left the house this morning.
No matter. He was coming to town for the summer and renting her family’s mountain cabin to do research. He picked a lousy day to show up though because the dispatch phone had been ringing off the hook all day.
Harper shifted papers around her desk to organize herself before the next call came in. She didn’t get far. The phone rang while she was still sorting through paperwork that needed to be filed.
With her headset on, she answered the phone with the press of a button to the switchboard using her canned response. “Sweet Police Department dispatch. You’re on a recorded line. What is your emergency?”
“It's me, Harper,” the woman on the other end of the line said. So many people in town knew Harper worked as a dispatcher at the police station that it was easy for them to expect she’d recognize their voice immediately. Harper knew it was Tara Mitchell, who owned a novelty shop and bakery in town. She catered to the tourists who were abundant in Sweet during the rodeo season.
She smiled after recognizing Tara’s voice. “Please state your name and emergency for the record,” Harper said.
“Tara Mitchell. I don’t exactly know if it’s an emergency or not. But the argument out front is getting pretty loud,” Tara said. Her voice was muffled for a moment. When she came back on the line, she added, “Apparently a car with Alabama license plates took a liking to Jeff Stanley's front fence, which is now toast. Jeff’s not too happy about it.”
“The Stanley place is the one that's next to your store?”
“A few doors down.” Tara recited her address for the record and Harper recorded it into the computer.
Harper knew where it was and didn’t need the details from Tara. But she’d been trained to have the caller give her the information and then record it exactly as spoken.
“It doesn't look like anyone's hurt except for maybe a bruised ego.”
Harper smiled. “We seem to get a lot of those in the spring, especially during a late storm. I’ll send an officer. Do they need a tow truck?”
“Jamison was already across the street at the diner with his tow truck and saw the accident. If the car needs towing, he's already here.”
“Okay, I’ll have Officer Samuel head out there.”
Harper hung up the call and logged the rest of the details in the computer system. Then she pressed the button to radio all the officers in the area, giving the details of the accident. As she’d suspected, Caleb was the closest officer and immediately radioed in that he was on his way.
Harper hung up the call and leaned back in her chair. Then she nearly jumped out of it in fear.
“Are you Ms. Madison?” The man with a deep voice standing close to her desk asked.
Harper glanced at the door to the dispatch room that was always locked. “How did you get in here?”
“Someone said that you'd been waiting for me.” The man turned around and pointed to the police chief’s door. “He let me in. Sorry, I’m late.”
Harper glanced over at the chief’s closed office door.
“Oh, he did, did he? You nearly give you a heart attack.”
The man glanced around as if questioning whether she was actually talking to him.
“I was supposed to meet Harper Madison here to get the key to a cabin I’m renting,” he said. “Right?”
“Yes. I thought you were coming in around noon.” She reached down and opened her bottom drawer where she kept her purse. After rifling through it for a few seconds, she found the key to the cabin that she kept in an envelope with instructions from her grandmother on the various things renters needed to know while staying at the cabin.
Her grandmother had owned the cabin for as long as Harper could remember. There were memories, good and bad. Harper and her sister no longer visited the cabin, and neither did her grandmother now that her grandfather passed away, but her grandmother couldn’t let go.
“I hope I didn't cause you any trouble,” he said apologetically as she handed him the envelope with the keys.
“No trouble. I was here all day.” She hadn't eaten a decent lunch, unless you considered a banana while she sat at her desk waiting for him to be decent. But she wasn't going to let him know that. There was no reason to make him feel bad. She forced a smile that was oddly easy.
She looked up at him. Scientist, huh? Nash Webber didn't fit the image of the nerdy scientist she'd had in her mind all day either. He wasn’t Hollywood. Wasn’t scientist. He was just strikingly buff in all the right places that made her take notice.
She knew better than to ogle over the man, especially here at work. But the man was incredibly handsome in a rugged sort of way. She'd seen many men come and go through the police station doors for various reasons. Most of them she paid little attention to. It was almost embarrassing how taken she was with the nerdy scientist who wasn’t nerdy at all.
“So you're going to rent the cabin for the whole summer?” Harper asked, already knowing the answer. Her grandmother told her. He wasn't just a scientist, he was a survivalist of some sort, too, her grandmother had said, and the cabin would serve as a base camp for the work he was doing deep into the mountain range. It explained why the man looked like a Greek god in form. If he planned on doing a lot of hiking and climbing, he’d need to be fit.
“The plan right now is to stay the summer. Maybe a little beyond that if the project changes.”
Harper continued to stare at him until she had to shake her head.
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
“Fine. Whatever arrangements you made with my grandmother is fine. I don't use the cabin myself. Not anymore. But we do occasionally get renters. Later in the season, you might find hikers wandering up there. When that happens, the police department or rangers will use the road leading up to the cabin to search if someone goes missing. It happens about once or twice a season.”
“Good to know. I'll be working. But if there is a problem, let me know.”
“Sure.” And then she felt like an idiot. Small talk wasn't exactly something that made her tongue-tied. She had no problem talking to people. But this man…
“There's no cell-service up there. I’m sure my grandmother told you that, right? You’ll have to come down the mountain a ways to place any calls.”
“That won't be a problem. I have a radio in my truck.”
She made a face that made him smile. Oh, yeah, what a smile!
“That can be a little spotty up on the mountain as well. The positioning of the cabin makes it difficult. But again, coming down the mountain a bit will give you a signal. As long as you have one in the truck, there shouldn't be a problem in case you have an emergency. I've already told the chief you’ll be up there, so they’ll check on you occasionally,” she said.
“You told them? Why? I’ll be fine up there,” he asked with a frown.
“Because…” She shrugged with his question. “That's what I do.”
A slow smile played on his lips. “Right. Good to know.”
He turned to walk away and then stopped and turned back. “It was good to meet you, Harper Madison.”
“Same here.”
She watched him walk out the door. The whole way. She couldn’t remember the last time she did something stupid like that. She was not going to make a habit of it now even if the man was insanely handsome.
* * *
Harper was stuck on a dispatch call with someone when her shift ended. Someone had witnessed another accident off one of the winding roads in town. Lookout Ridge was never a good spot for tourists who didn't know how dangerous slippery roads could be. Just like the accident earlier, this accident involved someone from out of state who lived down South.
It was second nature for most everyone who lived in snow country to drive on snow and icy roads, not that Sweet didn't have its share of accidents from the locals. But it seemed to be an epidemic today with people from out of town since a massive spring snowstorm, something that normally happened at the higher elevations in the spring, was forecasted today and was proving to pick up strength as the hours went by.
Two officers filed in to the police station wearing their winter gear. Both pulled off their hats and shook them leaving a spray of snow on the rug which had turned to a sopping wet mess as the afternoon wore on. Harper smiled but only because it unearthed a memory of how her mother hated it when she, her sister, and their father would do this at home when she was younger.
“You better get on the road soon,” Zeb Lincoln, one of the officers who’d just come in, said to Harper. “The roads are already getting slick. This storm is worse than we expected.”
“I have to wait for Scarlett to come in before I leave.” Harper glanced at the ugly wagon wheel clock on the wall again. “She's already fifteen minutes late.”
The chief came out of his office and headed over to Harper's desk. “Scarlett just called in. Her car won't start for some reason.” Chief Lucas sounded a little disgusted, most likely because it put them in a pickle with coverage for dispatch on what would surely be a busy night. “I’d ask you to stay but I know you want to get home to your grandmother.”
“The twins are sick with the flu,” Zeb said.
The chief shrugged. “She told me. That still leaves the dispatch desk empty until Don comes in. He wasn’t on the schedule, but there’s nothing keeping him home.”
Harper didn’t know Scarlett that well since their shifts crossed each other. But she knew that Scarlett was a single mother with two small children to take care of. Harper was single and didn’t need to worry about such things as babysitters or sickness. She had to worry about her grandmother who got around using a walker and was getting on in years. But that wasn’t the same as being responsible for two small children.
“I can stay if you need me to,” Harper offered.
The chief shook his head. “I fear if you stay any longer, you'll be stuck here through the night,” he said. “Don’s coming in and he’ll bunk in my office on the sofa if the storm continues into tomorrow. We’ll be fine.”
“The storm is going to be that bad?”
“That’s what the weather service says. Supposed to be the worst spring storm Sweet has had in over twenty years. Why don’t you clean up your desk so you can get out of here? I'll cover until Don comes in.”
“Thank you.”
Harper quickly gathered her things and said goodbye to everyone. She was holding her scarf in her hand as she walked out the door and quickly took it and wrapped it around her head and her neck. Snowflakes were coming down fast and hard now and there was already a few inches of snow in the parking lot, even though she knew Jamison’s crew had already plowed earlier. She rummaged through her purse for her keys while she walked to the car and then unlocked and opened it so she could retrieve her snow brush. As soon as she opened the trunk and saw the bag of linens, she groaned. “I can't believe I forgot to give him the linens!”
Check out the rest of the SWEET MONTANA series which includes Sweet Montana Sky, Sweet Home Montana, Sweet Montana Rescue, Sweet Montana Outlaw, Sweet Montana Secrets and soon to be released Sweet Montana Bride.
And make sure you check out DAKOTA SEAL, book 13 of the Dakota Hearts series, release date April 18.  
Ethan and Maddie fell in love despite tragedy that had torn them apart years ago. Maddie doesn't want another tragedy. Although she loves the strong Navy SEAL who is now a police officer, she fears that he could be taken away from her at a moments notice. Will danger rear it's ugly head up again for the McKinnons? Or will Ethan and Maddie have the happily ever after they crave?
All my best,

Read Chapter One of SWEET HOME MONTANA by Lisa Mondello

Read Chapter One of SWEET HOME MONTANA, book 2 of the SWEET MONTANA series by Lisa Mondello
Dumped by a cheating husband, Katie Dobbs' life had gone off the rails and she is now back to square one, living in her parents' home in Sweet, Montana and working a job she hates. She refuses to stay in a dark and empty house as a constant reminder of her mistakes. So she did the only thing that made sense. She breaks into an old dilapidated chapel to figure out her next move, and is nearly arrested by Caleb Samuel, her brother's high school friend who is now a handsome police officer in town.

Caleb had heard Katie was having a hard time. Sweet was a small town and everyone knew everyone else's business. Except for one thing. No one knew where his sister Julie disappeared to 10 years ago and no one had heard from her since. Katie had been good friends with Julie before they'd both left Sweet. Now Katie is back. Buying a broken down chapel to renovate as a house is nuts when you don't know the difference between each end of a hammer. And Katie didn't. But she did know Julie, and maybe she'd be able to give him some insight into where Julie had gone. Caleb offers to help Katie renovate. But one problem after another threatens the project, and leaves Katie thinking she'll never realize her dreams. Until she realizes she's falling in love with her brother's friend. Even as everything seems to be falling apart around them, can love help heal their hearts?

Chapter ONE

Not many people could say they took a giant leap of faith and ended up landing in the same spot they started. Or sitting in her car, as was the case for Katie Dobbs. It took a special kind of talent to marry the wrong guy, and end up back at square one.
Katie apparently excelled at it.
It all seemed so familiar. She was sitting in her car on a cold winter night, headlights illuminating the long driveway leading to her parents’ house. Decisions were made that night. The leap. And now she was sitting in the same spot in the driveway on a snowy night nearly ten years later. Only this time, instead of rushing into the house to pack her things and tell her parents she was leaving, no one was home.
Katie stared at the dark front door that was so familiar and once held comfort. She knew the exact spot to push on it when it was stuck in the summer when the heat made the wood swell just enough to make it stick. She knew she had to warm the key between her fingers in the winter to make sure the key fit in the lock during the cold weather.
She grabbed the button on her seat belt to unfasten it, but then stopped. She’d forgotten to turn on the front porch light again so she couldn’t come home to a dark house. She’d never remembered to do that when she was in high school. She didn’t have to. Her parents remembered for her. And when her brother, Kasper, had been staying at the house while he was home over Christmas, he’d done it. But Kas wasn’t coming for a visit for a few weeks.
So it had been up to her. And she’d forgotten. Now the dark house mirrored what she felt like about her life…pathetic.
She undid her seatbelt with the keys still in the ignition and heard the beep to remind her to stay buckled. Placing her hand on the steering wheel, she contemplated going inside, making dinner, and then going to bed at the hour she’d done when she was ten years old.
Yep, pathetic.
She blew out a quick breath. Wasn’t there some kind of app she could get for her phone that would take care of things like turning on lights in the house, magically cooking dinner so she wouldn’t have to do it? Okay, so maybe not the dinner. But surely, Rachel, her coworker at the bank, knew of some app that would take care of lights. Katie would have to ask her about it tomorrow when she went back to work.
Rachel was ten years younger than Katie was. She was in touch with all the new tech stuff everyone was using these days. Katie was older, but not sure she was wiser.
She pushed the car door open and felt the rush of cold air envelope the space around her. Winter in Montana dragged on through late spring some years. This year it seemed a bit longer. Although it was only March, they could easily get a bad dump of snow as late as May. The thought of it was depressing.
“I don’t want to cook,” she mumbled to herself as she started to step outside the car. Then she stopped herself and thought about where she wanted to be. It was odd. But no stranger than half the things she’d done in her life.
She got back into the seat fully and slammed the car door closed. She knew where she was going.
* * *
There was a time when Katie was younger and she had dreamed of having a life outside of Sweet, Montana. It wasn’t unusual. Most kids who came into the bank to cash their after school paychecks had similar dreams. Not much had changed over the years. The boys she’d known in high school seemed too simple when she’d been younger. Like all teenage girls, Katie had wanted a life that was exciting, full of adventure, and full of travel. It was supposed to be waiting for her just outside of Montana.
She’d found none of it. Instead, she’d fallen into the same trap so many of the girls in her graduating class had. She’d met someone from the next town who’d swept her away with big dreams of his own. Dreams they’d achieve together. Mr. Right was her ticket to excitement.
But somehow, Katie still ended up back in Sweet with not much more than she had when she’d left. And the Prince Charming she’d married turned out to be a frog who’d drained her bank account on his way out the door when he’d left her.
She drove down the long and winding road that led out of town, slowing down when she reached a big field so she could see the building she was looking for. It was dark, but she knew it sat just on the edge of the big pasture where at one time horses grazed before the property had been abandoned. She carefully pulled into the unplowed parking lot, but only enough so her car wouldn’t be stuck in the snow.
What was she doing here?
Katie got out of the car and walked carefully through the parking lot of the old church. It was tiny by church standards these days. She wasn’t sure if more than a few dozen people could fit inside. But she’d driven by this abandoned and dilapidated church so many times since she’d returned to Sweet that her mind wandered to what it could be.
The thin heel of her boot got stuck momentarily in a crevice beneath the snow in the decrepit asphalt that was neglected with age and crumbling in to many places to be repaired. It was just as well. Someone would eventually come into town, if they hadn’t already, and scoop up all this property for a song. They’d rip up all the crumbling pieces and reuse it for something else, leaving nothing but the rich soil beneath to be made into a beautiful pasture that would be lush and green during the summer.
It had been years since Katie had traipsed through the old chapel. The idea of some outsider snatching it up and tearing this old chapel down to build condominiums made her sick. But it would happen. That’s what progress did to small towns. Things changed.
Ten years ago the chapel roof was still intact. From the small light of the moon, Katie could see the roof had decayed and was probably leaking into the chapel, damaging the beautiful hardwood floors and the rich wood of the pews.
As she reached the side door, her foot kicked a can and made a caustic noise that echoed loudly through the night. The nearest neighbor was too far away. She shivered from cold, but also from the sudden fear that someone else might be here. She knew kids would come down to the chapel and party inside. She had done it a few times herself when she’d been a teenager. There was no reason to think that the Saturday night ritual many of her classmates partook in would end. She could only imagine the garbage and the damage done to the inside that had happened over the years since she’d been here last.
As a teenage girl, she hadn’t given it another thought. The woman she was now felt sad for not seeing the potential the chapel had in being restored and beautified to something quaint and homey.
She sighed as she reached the side door. The actual door was long gone, ripped off most likely by kids who’d tried to get inside after the chapel had been abandoned. Unlike when she was in high school, the empty doorway had been boarded up, most likely by one of the local cops trying to keep teenagers out. But it didn’t work. Someone had been here, breached the barrier, and gotten in. All she had to do was tug a bit and the board moved enough so she could slip inside.
Moonlight filtered in from the hole in the ceiling and one of the stained glass windows that wasn’t boarded up, giving her just enough light to see the inside. She pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and pressed the app for the flashlight. It wasn’t much, but it still gave her enough light to see where she was stepping.
Why was she here? She knew why. It had all began here. Bruce had talked her into leaving with him when he’d left for school. It had started here and had continued until they’d sat in the driveway of her parents’ home and he’d won her over.
“Ack,” she said into the cold air. “When did you become such a pushover, Katie?”
She laughed humorlessly as she sat in one of the pews in the back of the chapel and thought about how her life had gone off the rails. She rubbed her fingers together as she laid them on her lap and tried to ward off the bitter Montana cold. Somehow being in the dark was easier, but the bitter cold went straight to her bones.
A gust of wind swept into the building, making another chill race through her body. She didn’t bother to look up in the dark. It was probably just the flimsy plywood door she’d pulled away from the wall catching the gust of wind.
But then a beam of light swept through the chapel, illuminating features she couldn’t see in the dark until the beam of light landed on her. She quickly turned and saw the stark light source but did not see the person holding the flashlight as they moved through the open door and into the chapel.
“Katie Dobbs. What on earth are you doing in here?”
Katie shielded her eyes with her fingers as sudden nerves raced through her, replacing the cold she’d just felt. ”Do I know you?”
The man’s low chuckle sounded familiar, but she still couldn’t place it.
“I hope so. I’ve known you and your brother practically my entire life.”
The man dropped the flashlight just enough so that it wasn’t shining in her eyes directly. She squinted and took in the man’s silhouette and…the police uniform.
“Caleb? Caleb, is that you?”
“I half expected to find some kids drinking beer in here. You were the last person I expected to find sitting there.” 
Caleb came into the chapel fully and made his way over to the pew where Katie was sitting. He looked around for a second, sweeping the flashlight into little corners to make sure that they were alone. Katie hadn’t even thought that someone else might be here. A homeless person maybe. But in Sweet, no one ever stayed homeless for long. With this frigid weather, someone would’ve to take a vagrant in for the night or take them to one of the bigger city shelters with the opportunity to help them get on their feet.
Seemingly satisfied, Caleb sat down next to her on the pew. As he did, Katie felt the pew rock, indicating the fasteners that braced the pew to the floor had come loose. It was no wonder. How long had this place sat in decay?
Although the flashlight provided much more light than she’d had from the moon, Katie wasn’t sure if she was relieved that she was no longer alone, or annoyed that Caleb had broken the relative quiet she had enjoyed for the first time in months.
No, that wasn’t exactly true. Katie had plenty of quiet at her family’s home. But now that her parents were snowbirds, and her brother was living in New York, she loathed going home. She knew that all the life inside of it was gone.
No, it wasn’t being alone that Katie wanted to escape from. It was fleeting thoughts that nagged at her, telling her she’d messed up by marrying a cheating man who was now giving a life Katie had dreamed of to another woman.
She chuckled softly, and looked down at her hands in shame wishing Caleb would turn off the flashlight so she could hide.
“What’s so funny?” Caleb asked.
She shrugged and quickly glanced at Caleb’s expression. He wasn’t laughing at her or judging her. She wasn’t quite sure exactly how to read Caleb. He was right that she’d known him practically their entire lives. He’d been Kasper’s friend growing up. One of the guys who’d played hockey down at the lake or gone to rodeos to see if they had the stuff of bull riders and bronc riders.
But even with their history, or maybe because of it, Katie suddenly found herself embarrassed to admit the reason she’d come to the chapel. And even more embarrassed she’d been caught wallowing.
“As long as I can remember, this place has been falling apart,” she said. “Do you ever remember a time when people used to actually come here to go to church?”
“My parents were married in this chapel,” Caleb said with a smile.
He nodded and looked around. “I have some pictures back at the house. My sister and I used to come here on Sundays when we were very little. But I don’t remember much about it other than from looking at pictures. Strange, huh?”
She shook her head, glad that he’d veered off the subject of why she was here.
“The one thing I remember was sitting and seeing the spectrum of light come through the stained glass window and shining on us as we sat in the pew. Nothing else. Just that.”
“I’d love to see that. I’ll bet it’s beautiful.”
“It was. But the chapel was too small. Sweet was growing too fast. So when the new church was built, everyone went there. After that, this one was forgotten.”
Sadness filled her. Is that what really happens? Things mean something and then they’re forgotten. And what of people? Were they so easily replaced as well?
“It wasn’t exactly forgotten,” Katie said. “Kids have been coming here on Saturday nights for a very long time. Probably still do by the look of all those beer cans over by the door. Or what there is of a door.”
Caleb chuckled and then pulled off his hat, placing it next to him in the pew. When he turned to her, she caught his amused grin with the little bit of direct light illuminating his face from the flashlight.
“True enough. I spent a few…maybe even more than a few Saturday nights here back in high school.”
Katie laughed at the amused look on his face as he remembered the past. It felt good to laugh at something other than her own missteps in life. Yeah, she had laughed at them, too. She laughed at how easy it had been to marry the wrong man, and to think her life would be different.
Caleb grinned at her. “Don’t give me that look, Katie Dobbs. I know I saw you here too on a few occasions.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything!”
His expression changed to one of concern. “What you really doing here, Katie?”
She sighed as embarrassment flooded her again. “Feeling sorry for myself. How pathetic is that?”
“We all have our moments.”
“Mine are becoming a bad habit.”
She threw her head back and looked up at the ceiling. She couldn’t see the great cathedral ceiling or the beams that supported the building, or the teardrop light fixtures that she’d seen light up in a picture one Christmas when they’d had midnight services. It was too dark to make out anything in detail or to see what was even still there, or what had been broken or taken away by vandals.
What Katie knew for sure was there was a hole in the roof, but only because she’d stepped into a pile of snow and nearly slipped when she’d walked into the chapel. It was a pity to think of the damage bad weather had caused inside. The damage to wood beams and wide planks that were probably well over a hundred years old was heartbreaking.
“Hey, can you shine the light on the ceiling?” she finally asked.
With the lighted flashlight still in his hand, Caleb asked, “What on earth for?”
“If you’re not going to arrest me, then humor me.”
He chuckled low. “Don’t tempt me, Katie. The jury is still out on that one.”
Caleb lifted the flashlight and sent beams of light soaring up towards the cathedral ceiling, until he settled the flashlight on the big hole in the roof, a scar that was a sign of loneliness and neglect by those who had once cherished the small chapel.
“That’s not good,” he said.
“You think?” she asked, chuckling. “I wonder how much it would cost to fix that.”
“Why would you want to? This whole building probably has all kinds of rot and decay. Some from the weather and some from a band of kids like we were only interested in coming out here to party.”
“I used to think this would be a great house for someone to live in.”
Caleb chuckled as if she were crazy. And maybe she was. In the shape the chapel was in, it would take a lot of money and hard work to bring it back to something that was inhabitable. Just seeing the few things dangling and broken as they sat there made Katie second-guess her decision to come here alone.
“Stop laughing at me,” she said, suddenly self-conscious.
“I’m not.”
She jabbed him with her elbow.
“Okay, I guess I am. But look at this place,” he said sweeping the flashlight beam around the room slowly. “Can you actually imagine living here? I mean really living here?”
“Yeah. Of course, not in the shape it’s in. I’m not stupid. And I’m not a carpenter, which is my biggest problem.”
“Oh, you think that’s the biggest problem here?”
She chuckled at his sarcasm. “I do have a vision though. I hate to see something so beautiful like this chapel continue to deteriorate beyond repair. Someday someone will buy this place. They’ll purchase it for the land so they can put up some other monstrosity of a house. Or worse. The buyer will probably litter the field with condos that will end up being a scar on the landscape.”
“Ouch. I have a condo.”
“You do? Really? I thought you rented that house near the police station. Isn’t that the street you grew up on?”
“Yeah. It’s close to town and convenient to the police station. It makes it easy to get to the station when I’m called in during a storm. But I do own a condo not too far from here up in on one of the mountain skiing areas. It was an investment.”
“You disapprove.”
“You sound just like my brother. You think in terms of investment not vision.”
“Right now I’m envisioning us getting out of here. Aren’t you cold, Katie?”
“Yes. But don’t change the subject.”
“We have a subject other than you trespassing?”
“I’m focused on the chapel,” she insisted.
“I thought we were talking about Kas and him not being a visionary,” Caleb said.
She glared at him, but wasn’t sure if he could actually see it. “Okay, fine. Don’t get me wrong. I think my brother has done an amazing job of building a very successful company. But I thank God that he has someone in his life now and is going to bring him down from whatever investment cloud he’s been living in for the past ten years.”
“That’s right. I heard he got engaged.”
“No, not yet. Close though.”
“Is that like horseshoes or…”
Katie chuckled and jabbed him with her elbow. “Knock it off. You’re making fun of me again.”
Slight pangs of jealousy hit her square in the chest. She hated the feeling, especially when it came to her brother. Katie was happy for him. She truly was. And she liked Tabby a lot. In some ways her brother and Tabby were so different. And in some ways she couldn’t imagine a better match.
And it sometimes irritated her to think about what Kas had found in Tabby. Her own marriage had fallen to pieces because Katie and Bruce hadn’t had that type of a match. Looking back on it now, she wasn’t sure what she was even thinking when she’d agreed to marry him. It had been mistake. But no one could have convinced her of that back then.
Katie felt Caleb nudge her.
“Where did you go?” he asked.
“You drifted off somewhere.”
“I did?”
“We were talking about your brother and Tabby.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Tabby is nice. She’s going to find New York City a little challenging after living most of her life in Montana.”
“That’s for sure,” Caleb said with a shrug. “The only mountains out there are buildings.”
“What, you bought a condo that you don’t even live in?”
Caleb placed his finger against his chin, and then said, “You mean, why I bought it or why I don’t live there?”
“You mean you have a different answer for each?”
“You said you bought it for an investment. Does that mean you rent it out?”
“Sometimes. It’s rented on a weekly basis when people from out of town come to vacation.”
“So someone pays you rent for the place you own and you rent out a house from someone else.”
“I told you. The house is close to the station.”
“But why don’t you just live in the place in the mountains.”
“It’s too pretty.”
She chuckled and it seemed to echo off the walls and the ceiling inside the chapel. “Too pretty? What does that even mean?”
“Not the area. Although it’s beautiful country up in the mountain. It’s not me.”
She nodded as if she understood, although she wasn’t quite sure she did. The perfect match was a hard thing to be sure of.
Caleb leaned back against the back of the pew, making it rock again. “I’m a guy. You walk into a pretty space and it feels like you can’t put your feet up on the coffee table or drop your jacket over a chair. I remember my sister getting upset when I’d come home from school and do that. She was convinced my mother would get home from work and have an aneurism, which she quite possibly could have done given the fact she liked things super tidy.”
“You’re not a tidy guy?”
His smile was slow coming and then it grew until he chuckled. “I’m a guy. I try. That’s pretty much all I can say.”
“At least you’re honest.” Katie thought back to those earlier days before she’d left Sweet. “I remember your sister well.”
He drew in a deep breath before speaking. “I hoped you would. I hope somebody does. Someone besides me.”
“How long is it been since you heard from her?”
Caleb looked down. “Too long.” He cleared his throat and pulled himself up to a stand. “You really shouldn’t be in here, Katie Dobbs. It’s dangerous. We’ve been discouraging kids from coming here for a long time because we’re not sure the structure is stable.”
At the formal use of her full name, she replied, “I suppose so, Officer Samuel.”
Caleb chuckled when she mimicked him. “Don’t start with me, Katie. I know your secrets.”
“Yeah? What are you going to do about it?”
“Nothing. I have more secrets than you, and you pretty much know all of them, too.”
“You shouldn’t have hung out with my brother and bragged.”
Feeling a little better, she stood up. She liked talking with Caleb. That lonely feeling that had enveloped her earlier had disappeared and been replaced with curiosity.
Sweet was a small town. There were wide borders but most people knew what was going on. At least they knew when someone was hurting. Katie had been so self-absorbed in her own misfortune that she’d forgotten that Caleb had a good dose of his own. Still, he managed to serve in the military and then become a police officer in Sweet. He rose above his heartache.
Guilt ate at Katie until she felt the cold seep into her bones again. “It’s cold.”
“It’s Montana. What do you expect? Let’s get out of here. You’ll be warm soon enough in your car.”
She followed behind him slowly and carefully. “I still think this chapel could be wonderful. Something beautiful out of something broken.”
Caleb stopped walking and turned to look at her. He stayed silent for a lingering moment. With the beam of light shining down, she could barely see his smile. But it was there. This time, he wasn’t making fun of her.
“I think you better see it in the daylight before you make that assumption,” he said.
“Maybe I will.”
He sputtered, “Did you just tell a police officer that you planned on breaking and entering? Again?”
She shrugged. “If you do it with me, it’ll just be me checking out the place with a police escort.”
His jaw shifted to the side as if he were weighing what she’d said. “Is that so? Now I know why you never got in as much trouble as I did when we were kids,” he said. “You’re smooth.”
Her smile was wide as she followed him outside. “You have no idea.”
# # #
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