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Liz: The Long Road Home
SERIES: The Montana McKennas, Book 6
GENRE: Cowboy/Western, Family Saga
ENDING: HEA (They’re a couple and live Happily Ever After)
WORD COUNT: 35,000 to 44,999 (large novella)
HERO’S AGE: Over 50
HEROINE’S AGE: Over 50
HEAT LEVEL: Mostly Sweet (Shut The Door, Honey)
GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Just a little (No “F” Bombs, but a little other stuff, no explicit sex)
Liz McKenna’s dreams died along with her husband. Now she’s become the keeper of dreams for others. She’s done everything she can to keep the McKenna ranch running and move on with her life. She learned to knit and play the piano. Distracted herself with hobbies. And yet, she can’t avoid her deep, unspoken depression. Is it the burden of running the dude ranch? The responsibility of keeping her husband’s dream alive? At fifty-five, is she too old to have dreams of her own?
Producer and scriptwriter Chaz Kingston is burned out by the ruthlessly competitive world of Hollywood. He’s tired of the empty celebrity lifestyle of his ex-wife and her daughters who are only famous for being famous. He’s tired of a life chasing the next hot trend, the next hot script. And he’s mourning the senseless death of his brother. Then he’s offered the chance to write a script based on a real-life, feel-good, family novel about a dude ranch in Montana. Maybe blue skies and open spaces are what this silver fox needs. But he never dreamed his R&R would include a beautiful widow.
READ AN EXCERPT
Charles Martin Kingston pulled off the main road into the parking space beside his half-brother’s twenty-five million dollar beach house. Fronted by the Pacific Ocean with views of the mountains beyond the highway, the six-thousand-square-foot luxury home had been his brother’s peace offering to his second wife.
Even six bedrooms, seven baths, a chef’s kitchen, infinity pool, and spa hadn’t worked. The ungrateful bitch had divorced Dalton Kingston anyway, throwing his baby brother into the deepest, darkest depression Chaz had yet seen. Women.
His own track record wasn’t much better. He’d married once and divorced once, vowing never to get tied up with a crazy woman like Adrianne again. From the first, he should have been wary of her because she came with baggage from one failed marriage—twin daughters Alena and Amalee. God, he still couldn’t tell those girls apart, even though they’d turned twenty-one and he’d known them for fifteen years.
The only good to come of his marriage was his daughter Ashleigh. Fifteen—going on forty—she was the light of his life. But she was her mother’s daughter more than his. Hooked on glamor and fashion, she knew every pop trend that, of course, she tweeted, blogged, or whatever kids today did to call attention to themselves. Chaz had kept her out of her mother’s reality TV show so far, but it was getting harder to do.
Alena, Amalee, and Adrianne Wade (she’d taken back her first husband’s name) were big stars in the celebrity world. Famous for being famous. No real talent except for making themselves the objects of curiosity for paparazzi and gossip magazines. Chaz didn’t want that for his daughter.
That’s why he needed to see Ashleigh more often. Make time. Not skip his visitation. But it was all so complicated. His life. His job. This business he was in, trying to make it in the ruthlessly competitive world of Hollywood. He was constantly trying to keep ahead of the sharks that would eat him alive if he didn’t remain current. Find the next trend two years before others knew it existed. Be the first with the best script. The best ideas.
Chaz sat a moment in front of his brother’s dual garage entrances. He expelled a breath, opened the car door, and stepped out onto the pavement. California sunshine struck him with its familiar fierceness. He squinted into the glare, wishing he’d brought his sunglasses. The roar of the ocean almost drowned out the rumble of cars driving past the beachfront house.
Except for Ashleigh, Dalton Kingston was his only family. Ten years his junior, Chaz had always felt close to his brother. But even that closeness had frayed lately.
Chaz worried about him. About the anger and despondency that ate away at his brother’s life. About the fact that he hadn’t answered his cell phone in two days.
Why did it seem as if he’d lost control of everything? If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up as miserable as his brother.
His cell phone rang. Finally. If Dalton had called sooner, he could have saved himself the trip. Chaz pushed the button to answer the call without checking caller ID.
“Mr. Kingston, this is Elayne from the Morrison Agency. We spoke two days ago.”
Chaz’s shoulders slumped with disappointment. “Yes, I remember.” Regardless of who was on the other end of the line, he was always polite. Professional. One never knew when a bit of kindness and consideration would pay off.
“Did you receive the ebook I emailed you?”
Had he? Chaz couldn’t remember. “Yes, I did.”
“Great! I wanted to make sure you’d received it and that it was in the right format. I guess you haven’t had time to read it yet.”
“No. Not yet.”
There was a pause. Chaz shifted his weight to his other foot.
“Mr. Kingston,” the agent began then hesitated again. “The thing is, I have another candidate for the book, but I’d really like to see you turn it into a TV script. You do such wonderful work. My client enjoys your shows on the Sweet Romance Network. She’d really love it if you’d take a chance on her book.”
Yes, wouldn’t they all? Most eager novelists with a bestseller wanted him to write their movie script or produce their books for cable television. There just wasn’t enough time in the day for every one of them.
“Remind me again the name of this novel and why it is so special?”
“Under Montana Stars is a family novel. Set in Montana. It’s a USA Today bestseller as a self-published ebook. My agency has gotten involved to produce a trade paperback and handle the other rights—foreign, movie, audio book, you know.”
Yes, he knew. “As I asked, what’s so special about it?”
The agent drew in a breath and then launched. “Under Montana Stars is a fabulous book about a blended family and how they coped with the loss of the patriarch, their father and stepfather. It expresses family values—love, loyalty—things that are so hard to find in much of today’s society. It is a feel-good book. One that will give the viewers a sense of hope.”
One book can do all that?
Chaz rolled his eyes. “Sounds fabulous.”
“It really is.” The agent must not understand sarcasm because of her enthusiastic reply. “It’s written by Stephanie Caldera, wife of the famous bull rider Brody Caldera. In fact, it’s semi-autobiographical in many respects.”
Chaz had never heard of Brody Caldera or this wonderful book that had somehow had broken through all the millions of other self-published ebooks to hit the bestseller list. That didn’t mean it wasn’t worth checking into, but at the moment his mind was elsewhere.
“Give me time to read the ebook, and I’ll get back to you,” he said to put off the agent.
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Kingston. You won’t be sorry!”
The call ended and so had Chaz’s patience. He was tired. Sick of people poking at him from all angles, wanting this or that. He was no magician. Hell, he couldn’t even control his own daughter or make his brother respond to a phone call.
Chaz stuffed the cell phone back in his pocket and strode to the metal gate that shut Dalton’s home from the world. He punched in the security code and pushed open the gate. Walking across the courtyard, he rang the doorbell. No answer. He twisted the doorknob. The heavy, ornate front door was unlocked.
Chaz entered and glanced around. The house was eerily quiet. No light jazz provided background music through the all-house sound system. Only the whir of air conditioning and the tick-tock of a distant clock broke the silence.
The décor was pristine white with an occasional beach scene watercolor on a wall. The Pacific Ocean was meant to be the house’s main design element and the tall picture windows exposed ocean views from every direction. Dalton’s home was built into a hillside with four stories. The top floor was the entrance and contained a few bedrooms. Chaz knew his brother never used them. He descended a staircase built into the right-hand corner of the house that would take him from the entry hall to the family area on the bottom floor.
“Dalton!” he called when he reached the second-floor chef’s kitchen.
The sink was filled with dirty dishes and legal papers were scattered on the table. Housekeeping wasn’t Dalton’s strong suit. Folding doors stood wide open to the massive outdoor entertaining deck. Chaz crossed the deck and gazed at the ocean.
Something was wrong. He’d known it all week, but he’d tried to ignore the gut feeling. Now it punched him hard in his stomach. What would he do if anything happened to his baby brother?
The expansive master suite on the third floor was empty—the bedclothes rumpled and a pair of blue jeans cast off on the bathroom floor. Chaz opened the door to the private deck and went outside. He saw the blue water of the infinity pool below. It seemingly cascaded into the ocean, located one level above the sand.
But he didn’t see his brother.
Heart in his throat, Chaz went down the stairs one more time and came into the family room. As in the kitchen above, the folding doors stood open. Someone was stretched out in a wicker chaise lounge facing the pool and ocean. The chair was situated under the deck, obstructing Chaz’s view from above.
No response. Chaz walked closer and paused behind the chair.
He knew what he’d find, but he had to force himself to take the last step.
Facing the rolling ocean and the brilliant orange sunset, Dalton Kingston sat with a needle sticking into his outstretched, bare arm.
He was as dead as Chaz knew he would be.
Meet Jan Scarbrough
Jan Scarbrough is the author of two popular Bluegrass series, writing heartwarming contemporary romances about home and family, single moms and children, and if the plot allows, about another passion—horses. Living in the horse country of Kentucky makes it easy for Jan to add small town, Southern charm to her books and the excitement of a Bluegrass horse race or a competitive horse show.
With author Maddie James, Jan has written the Montana McKenna series, the story of the family of James McKenna, a Montana rancher whose death changes the lives of his wife and children.
Leaving her contemporary voice behind, Jan has written paranormal gothic romances: Tangled Memories, a Romance Writers of America (RWA) Golden Heart finalist, and Timeless. Her newest book, My Lord Raven is a medieval story of honor and betrayal.
A member of Novelist, Inc., Jan has published with Kensington, Five Star, ImaJinn Books, Resplendence Publishing and Turquoise Morning Press. Today she self-publishes her books with the help of her husband. She has published 23 romances.