The Gallaghers of Montana
Dr. Jack Gallagher, one of Marietta, Montana's most eligible bachelors, hasn't been serious about a woman since his wife died five years ago. He's been content to date occasionally, practice medicine and raise his teenage daughter.
Then happily divorced former fashion model, Maya Parrish, moves back to Marietta, with her own teenaged daughter in tow forcing Jack to rethink his casual dates only rule. Maya, Jack's high school girlfriend and almost fiancée, may have broken his heart the night of their high school graduation, but the moment Jack and Maya meet again, all the sizzle and sparks, and then some, come rushing back.
Maya is ready to give love a second try. Jack isn't sure he can take that chance again. He knows how quickly happiness can be ripped away, leaving heartbreak in its place. Can a mad, passionate affair last or will it burn itself out as quickly as it began?
SING ME BACK HOME
He heard it through the grapevine.
In Marietta, Montana, the grapevine was Sally Driscoll, the barista at the Java Cafe. Along with Carol Bingley, manager of the pharmacy, she knew everything there was to know about the town and its citizens. Or thought she did, anyway.
Most mornings, Jack Gallagher stopped at the Java Cafe on the way to work. Ordinarily, he didn't pay much attention to Sally. But today the gossip hit him in the chest like a kick from a horse.
"Dr. Gallagher, have you heard the news?"
"What news?" he asked, resigned, knowing Sally would hold his coffee hostage until he answered.
"Maya Parrish is in town. You know, the famous model."
As always, her name gave him a jolt. Pleasure. And pain. "Her sister lives here. I imagine she's in town to visit her." He'd seen Maya a few times over the years, but only from a distance. They had managed to successfully avoid any closer interaction.
"No, not for a visit. Maya and her daughter are here to stay," Sally said with relish. "They've moved into her great-great-great grandmother's house on Bramble Lane. The one her aunt, old Dina Parrish, lived in until she died a few months ago."
Maya's ancient aunt had left her the house on Bramble Lane? Maya and her daughter had moved into a house the street over from his and he hadn't even known it?
Speechless, Jack stared at Sally. Maya, his high school love, the woman who'd broken his heart all those years ago, was home to stay.
"Isn't that cool? Who would've thought Maya Parrish would move back to Marietta?"
Not him, that was for sure. Sally probably didn't know of his and Maya's history. Probably.
It wasn't a secret, though, so she might know. Since she was waiting expectantly for a response, he said, "No, I hadn't heard that. I'm running late, Sally. I've got to get to the hospital. Could I have my coffee now?"
Jack tried his best to put Maya out of his mind after that, but that proved impossible. After he rounded on his hospital patients, he went to his office. Many of the town's doctors had offices in the medical building across from the hospital, since it was so conveniently located. Jack had moved his own office into it shortly after the building was completed.
Recently, an anonymous donor had given a massive amount of money so that Marietta Hospital could become a larger medical center, drawing patients from many of the surrounding rural communities. Construction had already begun on a pediatrics wing. Building would start soon on a Level III ER complete with helipad, with plans to upgrade to a Level II in the future. A new orthopedics wing was in the works as well. All would have state of the art equipment and staff. Jack had been working on Wyatt and Sean, his two brothers who were also doctors, to move back to Marietta once the new construction was complete.
Marietta was going to need more people to staff the expanded medical facility. Sean, who was an ER doctor, and Wyatt, who was an Orthopedic surgeon, would fit right in.
If he could convince them to come back.
Jack had been back in Marietta since he finished his Family Practice residency and had never regretted coming home. He was beginning to regret it today, however. His first patient, Eileen Delaney, should have clued him in.
He walked into the exam room and spoke as he washed his hands at the sink. "Hi, Mrs. Delaney. How have you been?"
"Not good, Doctor." She patted her heart as she often did, though as far as Jack knew, she'd never had any evidence of coronary artery disease or any heart problem, for that matter. "I'm not feeling at all well. I don't think these allergy shots are working. What's the point of getting jabbed all the time if it doesn't do any good?"
Jack sighed inwardly. They went through the same exact conversation whenever Mrs. Delaney came in for her weekly allergy shot. The shot she insisted only Jack could give her. She didn't trust Jack's nurse, Vera Lancaster.
The problem wasn't one of trust, he knew. The two women had been at odds ever since Mrs. Delaney accused Vera of fixing the results of the bake-off at the Marietta Fair, causing Mrs. Delaney to lose to her arch rival. Vera denied doing any such thing and maintained that Mrs. Delaney's cooking was not as good as she thought it was. The feud had been ongoing for several years now. Naturally, Vera couldn't stand Mrs. Delaney either.
"I can stop giving the shots to you any time," Jack said, knowing what her answer would be. "Just say the word."
"No, no. I'm here. Might as well take it." She chattered on, talking about Marietta High School Homecoming, coming up in a few weeks. "Who do you think will be elected to the Homecoming court?"
"I have no idea. Gina hasn't mentioned the Homecoming court," Jack said, referring to his daughter. And as far as he knew, she didn't care. Now, the football team and players were another matter altogether. Though school had only started a couple of days previously, Gina had a crush on one of the football players. She didn't realize her old man knew about it. He'd have to be an idiot not to, since Gina was constantly on the phone or texting to Mattie Guthrie or one of her other friends, and Kevin Taylor was one of their main topics.
He was still dwelling on his baby girl being old enough to be interested in boys when Mrs. Delaney brought up another subject.
"Have you heard about Maya Parrish?"
"Yes," he said, hoping to head her off. "I understand she's moved back to town."
"That's right." Nodding decisively, she added, "I hear she's divorced."
Jack made a noncommittal sound though he was well aware of Maya's marital status.
Mrs. Delaney leaned forward and said knowingly, "Maya never took his name, you know. There's something odd about that."
Not really, he thought. "A lot of professional women keep their maiden name."
Mrs. Delaney sniffed. "I don't hold with that foolishness."
Jack squelched the urge to defend Maya. What did it matter what Mrs. Delaney thought?
"Didn't you and Maya date in high school?" She raised an eyebrow and damn near winked at him.
"Yes," he said in his most imposing, abrupt voice. It had no effect on Mrs. Delaney. That was the problem with someone who'd known you all your life.
"Maya's little girl is the same age as Gina," she went on. "The girl's name is Carmen. Carmen Collins." She sniffed again.
He'd known Maya had a daughter, but had forgotten she was around Gina's age. Great. Daughters the same age meant they'd see each other at school functions. Maybe Carmen wouldn't have the same interests as Gina. His and Maya's paths didn't necessarily have to cross.
Oh, get over it, he told himself. All that was years ago and you've both been married since. Running into Maya again shouldn't be a big deal. He'd probably find out he wasn't even attracted to her anymore.
Still, by the end of the day, Jack had developed a nervous tic every time someone brought up Maya. Which was every single patient. He wished he had "Yes, I know Maya Parrish is home to stay" tattooed on his forehead. Even that wouldn't stop the talk, though.
He had a feeling nothing would.
Returning to Marietta had been the right thing to do, Maya thought as she shopped in the local grocery store for a few things she needed to make her famous variation of the dessert, Death by Chocolate. Moving had been the right thing for Carmen as well as herself. Months ago, when Carmen's father, Graham Collins, had told them he was getting remarried and moving to Europe, Carmen had been terribly upset. While she liked her father's new wife, she wasn't ready for him to move so far away. The promise of trips to Europe to stay with Graham and Adele didn't seem to help much, either.
But for Maya it was a sign. There was nothing keeping her in Texas now. Her company, Maya's Models, was slowly becoming Internet only, so she could base herself anywhere. Over the early summer, Carmen had been on the verge of getting in with the wrong crowd at her school, which gave Maya that much more reason to move.
As for Maya herself, she'd never thought she'd be back to stay. But over the years she'd found that she missed Montana and the mountains. And oddly enough, she missed small-town life. Her sister Amy lived in Marietta now, too. Another person who'd lived elsewhere and returned.
Maya had especially missed Montana during the Texas summers. The coolness of Montana summer mornings beat the hell out of Dallas traffic jams in the sweltering heat of the summer all to hell and back.
Marietta had grown, of course, but it was still a small town, with that lovely small town flavor. Of course, there was also the “everyone knows everything about you and your business” angle of living in a small town, but that seemed a small price to pay for such a great place to raise her child. Marietta was a beautiful place, situated to the north of Paradise Valley, in between the Absaroka Mountains and the Gallatin Range. Copper Mountain rose to the west of town, lending dignity and majesty to the view with its purple and white peaks, and the green of the Evergreens and spots of yellow where the Aspens had only just started to turn.
There was only one possible fly in the ointment. One tiny little thing she was worried about. Living in the same town as Jack Gallagher again. Dr. Jack Gallagher now. Along with the mountains and her family, she’d left Jack behind when she left Marietta to pursue her modeling career, in Dallas, Texas.
Jack Gallagher. Her almost fiancé, whom she’d almost jilted at the altar, the night of their high school graduation.
Maya had plenty of time before she needed to worry about seeing Jack again. Right now, she was driving to the high school with her daughter in tow. Some bright soul had decided the Spirit Club should have a party shortly after school started, so that all the students and parents could get to know each other. The same bright soul had also decided to make it a potluck supper. Maya had volunteered to make her famous Death by Chocolate dessert. It was always a crowd pleaser. Not to mention, it was one of few desserts Maya knew how to make.
She asked Carmen to help her carry everything in, since she not only had the glass compote full of the dessert, but also various bags of paper plates, napkins, and plastic cutlery. So much for that promise. Maya hadn’t even turned off the car before Carmen dashed off to see some friends. “Carmen, wait,” Maya called, watching her daughter’s retreating back. Typical, she thought. Determined to make only one trip, Maya balanced the heavy dish in one hand and the bags in the other and headed for the gym doors.
Holding the compote carefully, she reached with her other hand for the double wide doors just as they swung open. She jumped back to avoid being smacked by them, losing her precarious grip on everything, including the dessert.
“Da—darn it!” she yelled, just in time to see her beautiful masterpiece slide right out of her hands and land upside down on the door mat in front of the entryway. She stared at it with her mouth open, then looked up, prepared to rip someone’s head off.
“Don’t you look where you’re go—” Maya broke off staring into those gorgeous green eyes she’d never forgotten. “Jack?”
“Maya,” he said, looking as taken aback as she was. “I’m sorry. I should have been more careful.”
She bit back the obvious response, wondering why in the world the glass serving dish hadn’t broken, and why she’d thought it a good idea to bring anything glass to a high school party. The dish looked intact, though, but the dessert’s lovely layers were a thing of the past. The stupid thing had taken all afternoon to make, an afternoon she’d spent cooking when she should have been working.
Jack and she knelt down at the same time, bumping foreheads. They both drew back as if burned. “Let me help,” he said. “Maybe we can salvage it.”
“Oh, sure,” she said, dripping sarcasm. “We’ll just turn it over and hope no one notices the nasty dirty crap from the floor on the top.” Why did it have to be Jack? And why now? She’d known she’d run into him after moving back to Marietta, but she’d hoped to have more time before seeing the man whose heart she’d broken all those years ago.
He didn’t look heartbroken now. Sexy, good-looking, smoking hot, maybe, but sure as hell, not heartbroken.