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The Montana McKennas Prequel


  THE MONTANA MCKENNAS

  Prequel

  by

  Jan Scarbrough and Maddie James

  The Montana Ranchers Series

  Book One

  Copyright © 2014, Jan Scarbrough and Maddie James

  The Montana McKennas: Prequel

  Media > Books > Fiction > Romance Novels

  Keywords: romance, contemporary, western romance, romantic heroes, cowboy, second chance, rodeo romance, ranch, pregnancy, baby

  Digital ISBN: 978-1-62237-397-0

  Digital release: March 2014

  All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work, in whole or part, by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, is illegal and forbidden.

  This is a work of fiction. Characters, settings, names, and occurrences are a product of the author’s imagination and bear no resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, places or settings, and/or occurrences. Any incidences of resemblance are purely coincidental.

  This edition is published by Turquoise Morning, LLC, PO Box 43958, Louisville, KY 40253-0958.

  THE MONTANA MCKENNAS

  Welcome to McKenna Ranch!

  Meet Brody, Callie, Mercer and Parker—the four siblings in the clan of James McKenna, a Montana rancher. Growing up on the ranch was a great life, until Callie and Parker’s mother passed away, leaving James a widower. It wasn’t long, however, before he remarried, bringing stepmother Liz into their lives, along with her son, Brody. Soon, James and Liz added a new McKenna to the family, when daughter Mercer was born.

  Brothers and sisters are prone to disagreements and this Brady Bunch family of step, half, and full siblings is no exception. As they grew up on the ranch, they learned values that stuck with them throughout their lives—even though they may live apart as adults. But there is one thing that will bring them all back together. Their father’s only wish.

  Beginning with a short prequel novella that tells the story of James McKenna and Liz Caldera, and how they came to blend their families, these stories put you on the McKenna Ranch near Yellowstone National Park. This series leads off with Jan Scarbrough’s Brody, with Maddie James’ Callie to follow, while the siblings begin the long road home. These sweet to sexy stories give you a glimpse into Montana rodeo and ranch life, and of course, provide lots of contemporary cowboy love and romance.

  The Montana Ranchers Series

  The Montana McKennas

  The Montana McKennas: Prequel, Book One

  by Jan Scarbrough and Maddie James

  Brody, Book Two, by Jan Scarbrough

  Callie, Book Three, by Maddie James

  Parker, Book Four, by Maddie James

  Mercer, Book Five, by Jan Scarbrough

  Liz, Book Seven, by Jan Scarbrough

  Montana Heat

  Corporate Cowboy, Book Six, by Maddie James

  Seducing Sarah, Book Eight, by Maddie James

 

  Chapter One

  James McKenna

  May 1996

  James McKenna looked down on the freshly covered gravesite, swiped his nose with the back of his hand, and wondered how in the hell he was going to raise two kids without their mother. He stared at the granules of Montana sand shifting over the grave and held the moment steady in his heart for as long as he could, because when he turned around and got into his truck where his children, Parker and Callie, were waiting, and then headed back to the ranch, things were going to be different.

  Inhaling deeply, he lifted his gaze to look out over the family burial plot and beyond. Situated high in the hills behind the ranch, this piece of land was the spot where Claire Parker McKenna’s family rested. And where his wife, Claire, now rested too.

  Claire. His beautiful Claire.

  He’d fought for her love and had to prove to her father that he was worthy. He’d married later than a lot of men his age but when the sweet and young Claire entered his life, he was hooked into the power of her love for him.

  And she loved him with all her heart, although at times he didn’t know why. He could be a gruff, stubborn man at times, ignoring her for days on end while he tended to the ranch and the animals. Nothing he could help, it was their livelihood, and Claire understood that. She’d been content to see to the house and the children. And he’d never had to worry about her running around behind his back.

  Life was wonderful.

  Until she found the lump.

  Tears stung his eyes as James McKenna peered down at the ranch house he’d built for her on her family land. Claire’s grandparents had deeded them a portion of the ranch when they married. Later, when Claire’s folks passed, the rest of the Parker land came to them.

  He’d never been happier. A ranch of his own, a beautiful wife who loved him, and a son and a daughter he adored. How he was going to step one foot away from this grave, and another closer to the reality of the situation, he was not quite sure.

  ****

  “I will not!”

  Callie McKenna stood hands on hips in the center of the McKenna family kitchen and shouted to her father. James did a double take, staring at his daughter and wondering what in hell was wrong with the girl. She had never in her life raised her voice to him. Not like this anyway.

  “Callie, you’re not wearing that make-up to school. Go do what I said and take it off.”

  “No!”

  Dumbfounded, James shook his head again and took a step toward his daughter. He reached out to grasp her arm but realized how angry he was and stopped himself. Get a grip. She’s just a girl and you are the one in control.

  He stepped away and turned his back on her, then strode over to the sink and began putting dishes in the dishwasher. Where in the hell did she get make-up, anyway? He should probably be making eye contact with her but at this moment, he couldn’t.

  “Then you’re staying home from school today.”

  “Awesome!” Callie raced off for the sofa in the great room.

  Hell, that wasn’t the right response either.

  “If she doesn’t have to go, you know I ain’t going to school.”

  James shoved another glass into the dishwasher and looked to his sixteen-year-old son. “You are going to school and so is she. Get your stuff together because I’m leaving to take you to the bus stop in five minutes.”

  Parker rolled his eyes and retreated up the back stairwell. James heaved a sigh, hung his head a bit, and glanced into the great room. Callie sat there with her feet propped up on the coffee table, the remote control scanning through channels. He dampened a paper towel under the faucet, moved determinedly into the room, took the remote control out of her hand, and said, “Stand up.”

  “Hey!” She jumped to her feet. “Give me that!”

  James grasped her hand that was groping toward the remote control. “Callie, stop it right now.” He didn’t do anything but hold her arm, but she twisted and pulled so that he let her go, fearing she’d fracture a bone if he didn’t.

  And then where would they be.

  Callie burst back. “I hate you!”

  “No you don’t, Callie.”

  “I do!”

  He expected her to run away from him but she didn’t. She stood right there in front of him, in defiance. He lowered his voice. “You don’t hate me, Callie. You’re just missing your mama.”

  Her face turned red and she started shaking. “Why do you think I wanted to wear Mommy’s make-up!” she shouted.

  Ah, shit.

  She melted in front of him. James caught her up in his arms and held her against him. “I love you, baby girl. It’s okay.” He was exhausted. This was not the first time Callie had had a meltdown since her mother died. Probably wouldn’t be the last. He’d be glad when school was out—at least that morning fight would be over for a while.

  “I…love you, Daddy.” She sobbed and James just held her.

  “I know.”

  Parker bounded down the stairs and into the great room. James looked into his son’s questioning face and said, “No one’s going to school today. We need a day off.”

  ****

  James paced ten feet one way and then the other, raking his fingers through his thinning hair. “I just don’t know what to do about it, Sam.”

  Sam Chambers watched James chew a piece of hay, one foot propped up on a bucket. “Stephanie says Callie is having some trouble at school.”

  “Yes. And at home. I’m about at my wit’s end.”

  Stephanie and Sam had lived on the ranch for years. Sam was one of James’ best ranch hands, and a trusted friend. Stephanie, his daughter, was Callie’s age. He had always been glad the girls had each other, growing up around all of the boys and men on the ranch. “What else does Stef say?”

  Sam shook his head. “Not much. Just that Callie’s still taking it hard.”

  Nothing James didn’t already know. “I thought I knew my girl, but she sure is pulling a switch on me.”

  Sam stood. “She’s at that age, James. Stef pulls some drama queen acts on me from time to time. I think it’s those hormones.”

  James jerked his head up to look at Sam. “Hell no. The girls are too young.”

  Sam shook his head. “Naw. They’re not, James. Seriously. There is a lot going on with girls this age, or so I gather.”

  James stared at him. “How’d you get so smart?”

  He shrugged. “I just ask questions. With Stef’s mom gone, I got good at asking other women what to expect. I try to remember what they tell me.”

  James thought about that. “What do you think is going on with Callie?”

  Sam didn’t immediately answer. “James, I can’t say for sure. Maybe you need to talk to someone at the school. Maybe she needs some counseling. Someone to talk to about dealing with Claire’s passing. Maybe some professional help.”

  That thought struck James in the heart like a dagger. No. No. “I don’t think so, Sam.”

  Sam exhaled. “Well then, maybe you need to go out and find you a woman to talk to. But hell, James, you have to do something. For your sake and Callie’s.”

  Chapter Two

  Liz Mercer Caldera

  September 1996

  Liz Caldera perched precariously on a bar stool and sipped a glass of the house red wine. What was she doing at the Wild Horse Saloon? What made her agree to this blind date?

  A tight angst settled in her stomach. Looking around, she tried to act as if she belonged. She didn’t. She rarely frequented bars. She was uncomfortable. Out of place. If only she’d turned down Sam Chamber’s request, she’d be home on Saturday night watching Cops and America’s Most Wanted. She’d be wearing her pajamas and socks. She’d be in bed by ten-thirty.

  Saturday night was Brody’s time with his dad. When his dad was in town—which wasn’t often—her ten-year-old son went with him to dinner. That was about it. All she dared expect. But Nate Caldera wasn’t in town tonight. Brody was at a friend’s house at a sleepover. Liz had a rare night alone.

  Why had she caved and agreed to this stupid blind date?

  “Ms. Caldera?”

  Liz swiveled on the stool turning around quickly and steadied herself by catching the man’s flannel shirtsleeve. She dropped her hand just as quickly.

  “Mr. McKenna?”

  “Yes, ma’am.” He tipped his cowboy hat. He actually tipped it as if he was an old-fashioned wrangler and she was a lady with a parasol in her hand, not a divorced woman and Brody’s mother, a woman wearing faded jeans, flannel shirt, and old boots.

  She smiled at him, a tentative smile that spread into a genuine one even as her face flushed warm with embarrassment. “I saved you a stool,” she said, “or we can go to a booth.”

  “A booth suits me fine,” he told her.

  Jumping down, she again supported herself by clutching the man’s arm. He was solid. Cowboy solid. His thinning hair was turning gray. She looked him in the eye. It wasn’t often that a man was her same height. Poor Brody had gotten her ex’s build. He would probably always be shorter than many men, but he was agile and athletic with a bronc rider’s body. He already dreamed of rodeos. Just like his daddy.

  Liz led the way to an empty booth and slid in one side. He slipped in the opposite side, removed his hat, and placed it beside him on the bench seat.

  “Would you like something to eat?” he asked.

  “Oh, no.”

  “Another drink?”

  “I’m good.”

  He waved to the waitress and ordered a beer. Then he grinned at her and lowered his eyes. He looked about as nervous as she felt.

  “It’s James, isn’t it?”

  He looked up and nodded. “Yes.”

  “I’m Elizabeth, but don’t dare call me that. I’ve been ‘Liz’ all my life.” She tried to make her words sound like a joke, but it went flat.

  He nodded again. The waitress brought his bottle of beer, and James held by its neck and drank a long swallow.

  Then the silence settled between them. Heavy. Awkward. Maybe he didn’t want to be there either. The weather was iffy, and he’d driven from his ranch down south near the Yellowstone border. Sam was a good salesman. Maybe he’d managed to talk James into this blind date too, just as he’d talked her into it.

  James let out a long breath. He gazed at her, thoughtfully, as if he was sizing her up. His face was lined from days in the sun and saddle. But there were marks near his eyes that suggested laughter and good times. Liz liked him—maybe because of what Sam told her about him and his family. Maybe because he looked mature and steady, characteristics men in her life had rarely displayed.

  “I’m afraid I shouldn’t be here,” he said quietly. “It’s much too soon.”

  James was a widower. Sam had explained that to her. He’d said James needed to get out a little. And she did too. She shouldn’t keep herself holed up in her apartment and nose down at her job. She was too young for that kind of isolation.

  Liz cocked her head to one side. “I understand. I think Sam has talked us both into this blind date, but we’d rather be somewhere else.”

  “It’s not that.” He was quick to make amends. “I am glad to meet you. It’s just that it has been tough since Claire died.”

  “And you’re still grieving for her.”

  James nodded his head in assent. “Being here is not fair to you. I don’t want you to expect anything to come out of this date.”

  “Hey, no expectations.” Liz lifted one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “Although, when I was in group therapy after my divorce, the counselor said men, who have been happily married and who lose their spouses to divorce or death, often re-marry again fairly quickly.”

  James looked shocked. Why did I say that?

  “What I meant to say,” she stuttered, “is that happily married men desire to be married again because they’ve had one good experience with it.”

  He acknowledged her awkwardness with a sheepish grin. “I understand. My pastor told me the same thing. It’s just that it’s so new. Losing Claire.” He shook his head. “And the kids. They’re having it rough.”

  She related to that. Liz rested her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “I know what you mean. I have a ten-year-old boy, and he takes spells when he acts out. But, of course, his father chose to leave him.”

  “A loss is a loss,” James said philosophically.

  “But it’s still damn crappy for the kids.”

  Her cheeks grew hot. Liz had a habit of saying what she meant, even if they were words she shouldn’t utter in mixed company. James would think her crude and uneducated. She guessed Claire never used words like she had just used.

  But James didn’t seem to care. “I don’t understand my daughter,” he said, continuing the conversation. “Callie is eleven and already defying me. There are days I don’t handle it well.”

  “Brody is too big for his britches. I never had brothers, so it’s very hard for me to know how to deal with a boy.”

  “Claire had a way with the children,” he told her, then reddened. “I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear me talk about Claire.”

  “Honestly, James, I don’t mind. I’d like to hear about her.” Liz reached across the table and placed a hand over his.

  Unlike the brief contact earlier when they first met, Liz felt the connection go straight to her heart. It warmed her. It was almost like there was an invisible bond forming between them. A need. A desire. James looked stunned. He gazed at their hands resting together on the tabletop.

  Liz snatched her hand away quickly. What am I doing?

  She sat back and took a breath. “I try not to bad-mouth my ex,” she said, hoping to ease the moment. “But it is hard. What sort of man would abandon his own child?”

  “I’d say a man who wasn’t much of a man.”

  Liz glanced out the window at the already darkening sky. “No, he wasn’t. But when I was twenty, I was in love and nobody could tell me how wrong Nate Caldera was for me.” She returned her gaze to James. “You were lucky, James. Very lucky to have such a wonderful wife for so many years.”

  “I know.” His eyes softened. “I know.”

  Liz relaxed a bit. “You know, I am a little hungry. Why don’t we order something? Then you can tell me about your ranch and maybe describe what your kids are doing to drive you crazy. Maybe we can give each other advice.”

  “Okay,” James said, hesitating for a second. Then he smiled a smile that lit his eyes. “Sounds like a plan, Liz. Sounds like a very good plan.”

  ****

  They left Wild Horse Saloon near midnight. A cold rain fell. Liz pulled the hood of her windbreaker up over her head.

  “Where’s your car?”

  “I have a truck. Over there.”

  He followed her to the Dodge pickup. She unlocked the door and climbed into the cab. Turning, she glanced down at James. “I really enjoyed the evening.”

 
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