Montana Darling (Big Sky Mavericks Book 3)

By: Debra Salonen

A Big Sky Mavericks Novella






Dear Reader,



I love connected stories. I love to read them and I love to write them. When I wrote my first Tule Publishing book, COWGIRL COME HOME (now, MONTANA COWGIRL, for branding purposes), I had no idea I’d wind up with a series called: BIG SKY MAVERICKS. But, once I met the Zabrinski family, I was hooked.

To the surprise of many readers, my first spin-off, MONTANA COWBOY, told Austen’s story. Yes, that Austen. I was relieved to find he just needed the right heroine to whip him into shape. And I couldn’t tell his story without introducing his twin sister, Mia.

Poor Mia. That’s what everyone says. A breast cancer survivor and single mom, Mia’s fed up with having things taken from her. Look out, hot, gorgeous, interesting stranger camping on her land. You’re about to meet your match…your perfect match.

I couldn’t have written Mia’s story with the generous help of my dear friend, Linda Barrett, who documented her experiences as a two-time breast cancer survivor in her wonderful book, Hopefully Ever After (available in print and ebooks).

Also I consider myself so lucky to have worked with the fabulous Lilian Darcy as my editor on this book. Lilian’s understanding of story and the fundamental workings of the creative brain brought so many insights to this story and my characters. I learned so much. I can’t thank you enough, Lilian.

I hope you enjoy Mia’s story and develop a curiosity about her older sister, Meg, whose book follows soon. Please keep your eyes open for the newly titled, MONTANA MAVERICK.

Happy reading, my friends,

Deb





Prologue







The boy lifted his face to the sun and inhaled deeply.

Heaven, he thought, is Montana in the summer.

He put his new camera to one eye, squeezing the other so he could focus on the scene in his viewfinder. His father stood thirty feet away, casting back and forth like one of those old mechanical toys they saw at the museum in Bozeman. No waders for Dad, who insisted he needed contact with the river to “feel the fish.”

He snapped a shot, then looked for his brother in the distance.

No luck.

Only the flickering tip of his brother’s rod was visible a hundred yards away. Mr. Independent, Dad called him. Two years older meant he didn’t have to wear the hideous, bright orange Coast-Guard-approved safety vest that smelled like fish and chafed the boy’s bare arms when cast. But no amount of complaining helped. Dad said even good swimmers could panic and drown in the fast moving Marietta River and he wasn’t taking any chances because Mom would kill him if he returned to Pennsylvania one kid short.

A sound reached his ears. Not the usual bird cries or the muffled roar of Harleys on the road that led to Yellowstone. Laughter punctuated with high-pitched squeals. He squinted against the bright light as a girl in a red swimsuit rounded the bend in the river, her legs draped over a big black inner tube. She kicked hard, water splashing.

She had something clenched in one fist as she paddled fiercely with her free hand, obviously trying to stay ahead of the others that followed. He could hear their shouts but the only thing he could make out was one word: Nitro.

Her dark, wet hair was pulled back in a ponytail that trailed in the water when her head dipped backward. Water drops on her tanned skin sparkled like tiny jewels. Even from a distance he could tell her eyes were blue. Electric blue. The color of the vodka bottle Dad brought for his evening cocktail.

The boy’s hand shook as he hurried to take her picture. This was something special. A moment in time that might never come again.

The expression on her face was part laughter and part win-at-all-cost. Clamped in her mouth like a knife was a smoking punk—the kind he and his brother used to light fireworks on the Fourth of July. Taking a break from paddling, she pinched off something, held it to the punk then tossed it high in the air, nearly upsetting her tube.

A loud crack filled the air, followed by three or four more explosions.

Firecrackers.

She had another ready to light when she spotted him.

Her eyes went wide. Her top teeth bit down on her bottom lip, a look of being caught doing something wrong on her face.

“Sorry,” she called, as the other kids caught up to her.

She pointed to the boy, their camp.

The bigger kids—there were six total—formed a circle around her—probably to make sure she didn’t throw any more firecrackers and disturb the fishermen. One thing the boy knew about western Montana, people took their sports seriously.

The older kids in the group exchanged words with Dad, but the boy didn’t pay them any mind. He couldn’t stop looking at the girl in the red suit. She kept looking over her shoulder at him, too.

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