Authors: Jodi Thomas
Return to peaceful Crossroads, Texas, where community comes first and love thrives in the unlikeliest places...
Yancy Grey is slowly putting his life back together after serving time for petty theft. As he rebuilds an old house, he finally has a sense of stability, but he can't stop thinking of himself as just an ex-con. Until one night, he finds a mysterious dark-haired beauty hiding in his loft. But who is she, and what secret is she protecting?
The art gallery Parker Lacey manages is her lifeâshe has no time for friends, and certainly not lovers. But when her star artist begs Parker for help, she finds herself in a pickup truck, headed for the sleepy town of Crossroads. A truck driven by a strong, silent cowboy...
Gabe Snow has been a drifter since he left Crossroads at seventeen after a violent incident. When he accepts a job in his hometown, he'll have to decide whether he can put the worst night of his life behind him and build a future in the community that raised him.
Praise for Jodi Thomas
and her RANSOM CANYON series
“Compelling and beautifully written, it is exactly the kind of heart-wrenching, emotional story one has come to expect from Jodi Thomas.”
âDebbie Macomber, #1
New York Times
“Thomas sketches a slow, sweet surrender.”
“Jodi Thomas is a masterful storyteller. She grabs your attention on the first page, captures your heart, and then makes you sad when it's time to bid her wonderful characters farewell. You can count on Jodi Thomas to give you a satisfying and memorable read.”
New York Times
“Thomas is a wonderful storyteller.”
RT Book Reviews
“Western romance legend Thomas's
will warm readers with its huge heart and gentle souls.”
“A pure joy to read.”
RT Book Reviews
Also available from
and HQN Books
Lone Heart Pass
And don't miss
Wild Horse Springs
, coming soon!
into a ball, trying to make herself small, trying to disappear. Her black hair spread around her like a cape but couldn't protect her.
All the sounds in the airport were like drums playing in a jungle full of predators. Carts with clicking wheels rolling on pitted tiles. People shuffling and shouting and complaining. Electronic voices rattling off numbers and destinations. Babies crying. Phones ringing. Winter's late storm pounding on walls of glass.
Victoria, Tori to her few friends, might not be making a sound, but she was screaming inside.
Tears dripped off her face, and she didn't bother to wipe them away. The noise closed in around her, making her feel so lonely in the crowd of strangers.
She was twenty-four, and everyone said she was a gifted artist. Money poured in so fast it had become almost meaningless, only a number that brought no joy. But tonight all she wanted was silence, peace, a world where she could hide out.
She scrubbed her eyes on her sleeve and felt a hand touch her shoulder like it were a bird, featherlight, landing there.
Tori turned and recognized a woman she'd seen once before. The tall blonde in her midthirties owned one of the best galleries in Dallas. Who could forget Parker Lacey's green eyes? She was a woman who had it all and knew how to handle her life. A born general who must manage her life as easily as she managed her business.
“Are you all right, Tori?” Parker asked.
Tori could say nothing but the truth. “I'm living the wrong life.”
Then the strangest thing happened. The lady with green eyes hugged her and Tori knew, for the first time in years, that someone had heard her, really heard her.
The stone-blue days of winter
perfectly straight on the side of her hospital bed. Her short, sunny blond hair combed, her makeup in place and her logical mind in control of all emotions, as always.
She'd ignored the pain in her knee, the throbbing in her leg, for months. She ignored it now.
She'd been poked and examined all day, and now all that remained before the curtain fell on her life was for some doctor she barely knew to tell her just how long she had left to live. A month. Six months. If she was lucky, a year?
Her mother had died when Parker was ten. Breast cancer at thirty-one. Her father died eight years later. Lung cancer at thirty-nine. Neither parent had made it to their fortieth birthday.
Longevity simply didn't run in Parker's family. She'd known it and worried about dying all her adult life, and at thirty-seven, she realized her number would come up soon. Only she'd been smarter than all her ancestors. She would leave no offspring. There would be no next generation of Laceys. She was the last in her family.
There were also no lovers, or close friends, she thought. Her funeral would be small.
The beep of her cell phone interrupted her morbid thoughts.
“Hello, Parker speaking,” she said.
“I'm in!” came a soft voice. “I followed the map. It was just a few miles from where the bus stopped. The house is perfect, and your housekeeper delivered more groceries than I'll be able to eat in a year. And, Parker, you were right. This isolated place will be heaven.”
Parker forgot her problems. She could worry about dying later. Right now, she had to help one of her artists. “Tori, are you sure you weren't followed?”
“Yes. I did it just the way you suggested. Kept my head down. Dressed like a boy. Switched buses twice. One bus driver even told me to âHurry along, kid.'”
“Good. No one will probably connect me with you and no one knows I own a place in Crossroads. Stay there. You'll be safe. You'll have time to relax and think.”
“They'll question you when they realize I've vanished,” Tori said. “My stepfather won't just let me disappear. I'm worth too much money to him.”
Parker laughed, trying to sound reassuring. “Of course, people will ask how well we know one another. I'll say I'm proud to show your work in my gallery and that we've only met a few times at gallery openings.” Both facts were true. “Besides, it's no crime to vanish, Tori. You are an adult.”
Victoria Vilanie was silent on the other end. She'd told Parker that she'd been on a manic roller coaster for months. The ride had left her fragile, almost shattered. Since she'd been thirteen and been “discovered” by the art community, her stepfather had quit his job and become her handler.
“Tori,” Parker whispered into the phone, “you're not the tiger in a circus. You'll be fine. You can stand on your own. There are professionals who will help you handle your career without trying to run your life.”
“I know. It's just a little frightening.”
“It's all right, Tori. You're safe. You don't have to face the reporters. You don't have to answer any questions.” Parker hesitated. “I'll come if you need me.”
“I'd like that.”
No one would ever believe that Parker would stick her neck out so far to help a woman she barely knew. Maybe she and Tori had each recognized a fellow loner, or maybe it was just time in her life that she did something different, something kind.
“No matter what happens,” Tori whispered, “I want to thank you. You've saved my life. I think if I'd had to go another week, I might have shattered into a million pieces.”
Parker wanted to say that she doubted it was that serious, but she wasn't sure the little artist wasn't right. “Stay safe. Don't tell the couple who take care of the house anything. You're just visiting, remember? Have them pick up anything you need from town. You'll find art supplies in the attic room if you want to paint.”
“Found the supplies already, but I think I just want to walk around your land and think about my life. You're right. It's time I started taking my life back.”
“I'll be there as soon as I can.” Parker had read every mystery she could find since she was eight. If Tori wanted to disappear, Parker should be able to figure out how to make it happen. After all, how hard could it be?
The hospital door opened.
Parker clicked off the disposable phone she'd bought at the airport a few weeks ago when she and Tori talked about how to make Tori vanish.
“Miss Parker?” A young doctor poked his head into her room. He didn't look old enough to be out of college, much less med school, but this was a teaching hospital, one of the best in the country. “I'm Dr. Brown.”
“It's Miss Lacey. My first name is Parker,” she said as she pushed the phone beneath her covers. Hiding it as she was hiding the gifted artist.
The kid of a doctor moved into the room. “You any kin to Quanah Parker? We get a few people in here every year descended from the great Comanche chief.”
She knew what the doctor was trying to do. Establish rapport before he gave her the bad news, so she played along. “That depends. How old was he when he died?”
The doctor shrugged. “I'm not much of a history buff, but my folks stopped at every historical roadside marker in Texas and Oklahoma when I was growing up. I think the great warrior was old when he died, real old. Had six wives, I heard, when he passed peacefully in his sleep on his ranch near a town that bears his name.”
“If he lived a long life, I'm probably not kin to him. And to my knowledge, I have no Native American blood and no living relatives.” By the time she'd been old enough to ask, no one around remembered why she was named Parker and she had little interest in exploring a family tree with such short branches.
“I'm so sorry.” Then he grinned. “I could give you a couple of my sisters. Ever since I got out of med school they think I'm their private
dial a doc
. They even call me to ask if TV shows get it right.”
“No, thanks. Keep your sisters.” She tried to smile.
“There are times when it's good to have family around.” He said, “Would you like me to call someone for you? A close friend, maybe?”
She glanced up and read all she needed to know in the young man's eyes. She was dying. He looked terrible just giving her the news. Maybe this was the first time he'd ever had to tell anyone that their days were numbered.
“How long do I have to hang around here?”
The doc checked her chart and didn't meet her gaze as he said, “An hour, maybe two. When you come back, we'll make you as comfortable here as we can but you'll needâ”
She didn't give him time to list what she knew came next. She'd watched her only cousin go through bone cancer when they were in high school. First, there would be surgery on her leg. Then they wouldn't get it all and she'd have chemo. Round after round until her hair and spirit disappeared. No, she wouldn't do that. She'd take the end head-on.
The doctor broke into her thoughts. “We can give you shots in that left knee. It'll make the pain less untilâ”
“Okay, I'll come back when I need it,” she said, not wanting to give him time to talk about how she might lose her leg or her life. If she let him say the word
, she feared she might start screaming and never stop.
She knew she limped when she was tired and her knee sometimes buckled on her. Her back already hurt, and her whole left leg felt weak sometimes. The cancer must be spreading; she'd known it was there for months, but she'd kept putting off getting a checkup. Now she knew it would only get worse. More pain. More drugs, until it finally traveled to her brain. Maybe the doctor didn't want her to hang around and suffer? Maybe the shots would knock her out. She'd feel nothing until the very end. She'd just wait for death as her cousin had. She'd visited him every day. Watching him grow weaker, watching the staff grow sadder.
Hanging around had never been her way, and it wouldn't be now.
A nurse in scrubs that were two sizes too small rushed into the room and whispered, loud enough for Parker to hear, “We've got an emergency, Doctor. Three ambulances are bringing injured in from a bad wreck. Pileup on I-35. Can you break away to help?”
The doctor flipped the chart closed. “No problem. We're finished here.” He nodded to Parker. “We'll have time to talk later, Miss Parker. You've got a few options.”
She nodded back, not wanting to hear the details anyway. What did it matter? He didn't have to say the word
for her to know what was wrong.
He was gone in a blink.
The nurse's face molded into a caring mask. “What can I do to make you more comfortable? You don't need to worry, dear. I've helped a great many people go through this.”
“You can hand me my clothes,” Parker said as she slid off the bed. “Then you can help me leave.” She was used to giving orders. She'd been doing it since she'd opened her art gallery fifteen years ago. She'd been twenty-two and thought she had forever to live.
“Oh, but...” The nurse's eyes widened as if she were a hen and one of her chickens was escaping the coop.
. I have to leave now.” Parker raised her eyebrow silently, daring the nurse to question her.
Parker stripped off the hospital gown and climbed into the tailored suit she'd arrived in before dawn. The teal silk blouse and cream-colored jacket of polished wool felt wonderful against her skin compared with the rough cotton gown. Like a chameleon changing color, she shifted from patient to tall, in-control businesswoman.
The nurse began to panic again. “Is someone picking you up? Were you discharged? Has the paperwork already been completed?”
“No to the first question. I drove myself here and I'll drive myself away. And yes, I was discharged.” Parker tossed her things into the huge Coach bag she'd brought in. If her days were now limited, she wanted to make every one count. “I have to do something very important. I've no time to mess with paperwork. Mail the forms to me.”
Parker walked out while the nurse went for a wheelchair. Her mind checked off the things she had to do as her high heels clicked against the hallway tiles. It would take a week to get her office in order. She wanted the gallery to run smoothly while she was gone.
She planned to help a friend, see the colors of life and have an adventure. Then, when she passed, she would have lived, if only for a few months.
After climbing into her special-edition Jaguar, she gunned the engine. She didn't plan to heed any speed-limit signs.
was no longer in her vocabulary.
The ache in her leg whispered through her body when she bent her knee, but Parker ignored it. No one had told her what to do since she entered college and no one, not even Dr. Brown, would set rules now.