A big city doctor in a small-town Montana practice... A former nurse who has sworn off doctors forever... The scene is set for passions to ignite in Big Sky Country. For readers of Robyn Carr and Sherryl Woods.
City doctor Josh Stanton and his sports car don't suit the country but with his medical school debt about to bury him, Josh has to make the best of a bad situation. Adjusting to his new job and life in the middle of nowhere isn't easy, but at least the views of the mountains --and one distractingly attractive local--are stunning...
After eight years away, Katrina McCade is back in Bear Paw for a break from her life, bad choices--and men. But when a broad-shouldered stranger bursts into town, she finds herself unexpectedly saddled with the town's sexy new doctor as a tenant. Katrina doesn't need a man to make her happy, especially a disgruntled physician. But try telling her body that...
A Medicine River Romance (Book 1)
Montana Actually receives Publishers Weekly starred review!
"In the first Medicine River contemporary, the charismatic little town of Bear Paw, Mont., hosts delightful characters whose interactions feel deep and real. …The witty conversations, family drama, and accurate (but never maudlin) descriptions of loss and grief will have the reader laughing out loud, wiping away tears, and eagerly awaiting future books.” Read the full starred review here!
In one way, the writing of a book is a very solitary endeavor but in another, it’s a team effort and my team is made up of many parts, all of which are equally important in their support of me. Thank you to my readers; hearing from you and knowing you have taken precious time out of your busy lives to reach out keeps me writing. Many thanks to my wonderful agent Helen for always being in my corner, and to my editor, Wendy for embracing the town of Bear Paw and it’s many and varied inhabitants. It’s the place to be if you ever get sick or hanker to meet a cowboy. Thanks to the team at Berkley, from the art director to the copy editor, the production people and the distributors, all of who contributed to ‘Montana Actually’ becoming a reality and in your hands right now.
I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Kari Lynn Dell, (Montana For Real) for all her Montana ranching information, her stories of life on the land, her speedy email responses and for the laughs. I couldn’t have written this book as accurately without her help and any mistakes I have made are mine. How did authors write books before Twitter? To all the doctors and nurses on Twitter who probably wonder why an author is following them, thank you. Your tweets are both hilarious and heartfelt and strangely educational as well as great book fodder. Go #FOAMed.
On the days when writing is tough, my fellow medical romance writing mates, who totally get my obsession with TV medical drama and all things medical, are always on the other end of an email for support. Their photos of sexy men both in and out of scrubs also help.
Last but by no means least, huge thanks go to my family of men who keep the faith when I lose it, tackle domestic chores with true heroic strength and leave encouraging albeit cheeky notes on my computer such as, ‘finish the damn book.’ And finally, a special shout-out to Barton, my ‘Boy Wonder’ who designs all my website, Facebook and Twitter banners and cheerfully tackles any artwork suggestions I throw at him. Love ya!
To Doris. For the cherry pies, friendship and support over ten thousand miles.
Why I wrote the Book
The decision to become a doctor is a big one. First you have to have the smarts and then you have to compete with other men and women who are equally as smart or even brighter. You have to want to do it so badly that you're prepared to move across the country to accept a place at medical school and then have four gruelling years of study. When you finally graduate four years later and start and finish your intern years and embark on a specialisation, your student loans are staggering. I read an article that the average doctor in the USA has $400,00 in loans. Holy moley! America, like Australia, has trouble attracting doctors to rural areas and many area health boards offer incentives to attract physicans, including assistance in writing down student loans. Give them five years of your life and get a financial break. And that is the genesis of the story. But what if you were in a relationship and you'd made sacrifices for your partner's career but that wasn't reciprocated? Where would that leave you? It's exactly where we find Dr. Josh Stanton; dumped, disillusioned and as mad as hell. On top of all that, Bear Paw Montana, population 1500 is like moving to Mars.I had lots of fun with Josh as he tries to adapt to rural America.
I love writing about family because they are so complicated. The McCade family are a ranching family with a love of the land that runs deep. Katrina has been living the big city life in Philidelphia for eight years but she's home now licking her relationship wounds and wondering how she'd missed all the signs that the man she expected to marry was not who he seemed. Back in the heart of her family, she's struggling to be the independent woman she's been for years and she's worried about her mother. The secondary story in this book deals with Katrina's brother, Beau, a strong, monsyllabic cowboy with a secret. I matched him up with a single-mother struggling with her increasingly disconnected fourteen-year-old son.
I hope this book makes you laugh and cry and leaves you with the feeling that no matter what we face in life, if we have someone by our side who loves us, things will be okay.
For photos of Montana, sexy doctors and hunky cowboys--all who inspired the story-- click through to Pinterest.
Photos courtesy of Kari Lynn Dell, Montana For Real.
Book One in the Medicine River series
Excerpt from Chapter One
The thirty cows blocking the road was a good indication to Dr. Josh Stanton that he was no longer in Chicago. That and the inordinate number of bloated roadkill with their legs in the air that he’d passed in the last few hours along Highway 2 as he traversed the north of Montana. Sure, Chicago had its fair share of flattened cats on its busy inner-city streets, but he’d stake his life no one living between North Halsted and North Wells streets had ever had to step over a deer.
He watched the cows lurch from decisiveness in their chosen direction to utter chaos as two border collies raced at their heels, barking frantically and driving them determinedly toward an open gate on the other side of the road. Josh’s fingers tapped on the top of the steering wheel as they always did when he was stuck in traffic in Chicago’s clogged streets. What was the collective noun for a group of cows? Bunch? Herd? He’d once seen a documentary on ranching in Australia and they’d said “mob” in their flat accent.
He guessed he’d find out the name soon enough, as he was close to finishing his 1,458-mile journey across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and three-quarters of Montana.
When he’d left home three very long days ago, he’d thought the north woods of Wisconsin were as isolated as things got, but now, as he gazed around him and felt the howling west wind buffeting the car, he knew Menomonie was positively urban in comparison to the endless grass plains that surrounded him. Where the hell were the trees?
An older man on a horse, whose weather-beaten face told of a life lived outdoors, stopped next to Josh’s low-slung sports car. Josh wound down the window, his gaze meeting jean-clad legs and horse flesh. He craned his neck.
“Taking a trip?” the cowboy asked conversationally, as if they had all the time in the world to chat.
I wish. “Relocating.”
“Yeah?” His gaze took in Josh’s Henley shirt and the computer bag on the seat next to him. “You’re a bit far north for Seattle. Don’t reckon you should risk the mountain roads driving that vehicle.”
Josh automatically patted the dash as if the car’s feelings needed soothing. Granted, his sports car wasn’t the latest model this side of five years, but it was in great condition and he loved it. The buzz it gave him when he drove it more than made up for the extra money it had added to his outstanding loans.
“I’m not going over the mountains,” he said, his mouth twisting wryly as he checked his triptik.. “I’m going to Medicine River County and a town called Bear Paw.”
A town that was wrenching him from his home and staking a claim on his life that went straight through his heart. A town that Ashley had refused point-blank to even consider visiting, let alone living in.
The cowboy called out an instruction to his dogs, who immediately raced behind a recalcitrant calf, and then he lifted his hat and scratched his head. “Bear Paw. Okay.”
Josh wasn’t certain what to read into the statement. Sure, he’d seen a photo on the Internet of the small hospital, but short of that, he didn’t know much else. “My cell’s out of range so I’ve lost my location on the map, but I think it’s about twenty miles away. Do you know it?”
“Oh yeah. I know it. What takes you there?”
Debt half the size of Montana. “Work. I’m the new physician.”
The man nodded slowly. “Ah.”
Unease skittered through Josh’s belly. What did the cowboy know that he didn’t? “What the hell does ‘ah’ mean?”
He laughed. “Relax, son. Your trip’s over.”
As the last cow finally conceded the grass was indeed greener on the pasture side of the fence and had moved through the gate, Josh looked down the now clear road and saw nothing. Nothing if he discounted some sort of a crop and a hell of a lot of sky. He squinted and just made out what looked like a communications tower. “So where’s the town?”
The older man pointed down the dead-straight road. “Three miles gets you to the outskirts and another mile to the traffic signal. Two miles past that, you’re done with the town and heading to the mountains.”
That distance in Chicago wouldn’t even get him from his apartment to his favorite deli. How small was this place? “What if I turn at the traffic signal?”
“Right? Now that will take you straight to Canada, eh.” He grinned at his own joke.
The town couldn’t possibly be so small. “According to Wikipedia,” Josh said, “it’s got a population of three thousand people.”
The cowboy scratched his head again. “I guess if you include the ranches, it does. It’s surely bigger than Bow. Mind, just about everywhere’s bigger’n Bow.”
Disbelief flooded Josh as he remembered passing a rusty town sign. “That place with the tavern and nothing else?”
“Yup, that’d be Bow.” He shoved his hand through the open window. “The name’s Kirk McCade. Welcome to Bear Paw, Doctor.”
Josh gripped his hand. “Josh Stanton.”
Kirk slapped his hand on the roof of the car. “No doubt this baby is a sweet ride, but once you’ve settled in, best buy yourself an outfit ”
“A what?” Surely the cowboy wasn’t talking about clothes.
“A truck, a pickup. Winter here’s tough on vehicles.”
A slither of indignation ran up Josh’s spine. He might not be used to wide-open spaces, but he knew weather. “I’ve just spent two years in Chicago, so I know all about winter.”
Kirk laughed so hard Josh worried he’d fall off the horse.
Katrina McCade loved her family dearly, but there were some days she wished they didn’t have her cell phone number. Today was one of those days. Every time she got the paint roller primed, raised and in position, ready to paint the living room walls of her cottage, her phone beeped. Over the last hour, almost every member of her family had contacted her.
Her father had been the first—brief and to the point—calling to confirm that she was cooking supper tonight for her mother’s birthday. She’d reassured him, and the moment he’d hung up, her mother, who had no clue about the surprise birthday supper, had called. She’d wanted Katrina to check the menu at both Leroy’s and the Village Lounge and book the one with the best steak special because her father loved his beef. Even on her birthday, she was thinking of others. Ten minutes after that, her phone had vibrated with the sound of a motorcycle, which meant her younger brother, Dillon, was texting her.
Please buy gift for Mom that looks like I chose it. Also wrap it cos I suck at bows.
The moment that missive had pinged onto her phone, her younger sister called wanting dating advice.
Dating advice? Hah! Katrina gave the roller such a hard push that it skated across the wall spreading paint in a wide arc instead of the even vertical plane she’d intended. When Megan, her twenty-one-year-old baby sister, had asked her opinion on the best way to hook up with her latest crush, it had taken all of her self-control not to blurt out that all men required a police check, marital status verification and blood tests before the first date. Only such a caustic comment would have invited questions she didn’t want to answer. Instead, she’d suggested Megan invite a friend to go with her to the Jack-Squat bar.
Her sister had hinted that maybe Katrina might like to come along and meet the guy in question and give her opinion, but the thought of driving an hour and a half south tomorrow night and spending time in a loud and noisy bar with a group of college kids was the last thing Katrina wanted to do. It made her feel old. No way did she need any more reminders that her thirtieth birthday was bearing down on her as fast as the Amtrak that ran through Bear Paw every day at noon. Heck, since coming back to her hometown a few weeks ago after working away for eight years, she’d deflected so many questions about her lack of a boyfriend and her future plans, she could teach a course.
A fine spray of paint dusted her as she found a rhythm, and a sense of satisfaction built on seeing her progress. Her phone buzzed again and she sighed. The only person in her immediate family whom she hadn’t spoken to so far this morning was her older brother, Beau. Technically, he was her cousin, but for as long as she could remember, Beau had lived with them and she considered him a brother as much as her parents considered him their son. He preferred to text rather than to talk, but he’d probably just realized the date and wanted her to buy a present for their mother as well. Men!
Wiping her hands on her paint-stained shorts so that she didn’t swipe paint onto the phone’s touch screen, she hit accept, not recognizing the number. “Hello?”
“Trina.” A familiar voice—one that had made her heart flutter for months and now made it cramp in anger and betrayal—came down the line. She could hear the sound of a code being called over a PA in the background.
“Brent.” She sighed, closing her eyes and automatically calculating the time zone change. She hated that her mind immediately pictured him coming out of surgery wearing his monogrammed scrubs and distinctive red clogs. She quickly opened her eyes and stared out across the plains toward the Rocky Mountains in the distance, desperately seeking calm. “I thought we’d agreed to no calls.”
This time he sighed. “I agreed you needed time and I’ve given it to you. You’ve made your point, Trina, I get it, but it doesn’t change the fact we still love each other. With some compromise and understanding on your part, we can still make this work.”
Still. His arrogance astounded her, although it shouldn’t be a surprise. She still whipped herself for having been oblivious to that particular character flaw. His tone said everything was her fault but she was being forgiven.
She pinched the bridge of her nose, welcoming the pain because she had no clue how to even go about explaining that no amount of trying was going to make them work. Ever. “Nothing’s changed, Brent.”
“I miss you.”
Her throat tightened as the quietly spoken words caressed her, reminding her of the wonderful times they’d shared. Her resolve wavered.
“Trina, I just want to reassure you that you can get me on this number anytime.”
This number. Her brain jolted her back to reality so fast she got whiplash. He’d gotten another phone. Another number just for her. Again. Her knees wobbled and she gripped the doorjamb to hold herself up. Wet paint squelched around her fingers. Shit. She pulled her hand away and found her voice. “Good-bye, Brent.”
She cut the call, hurled the phone onto the sofa as if it were radioactive and then ran fast and hard on the spot, letting out a scream that came from the center of her being. A deer grazing at the edge of the now weed-choked garden took off at a run. All the feelings she’d spent weeks letting go of surged back, buffeting her like the frigid and biting arctic winds that swooped in from Canada. Anger at Brent. Even more anger at herself and at her own stupidity. Anger period. She hated how it dug in, making her feel so powerless, desperately foolish and immensely sad all at the same time. She bit the inside of her cheek to try and stall the shakes that threatened to send her into the fetal position on the couch.
She never, ever wanted to feel like this again, which was why she’d come home in the first place, effectively putting two thousand miles between her and Brent. Closing the door to temptation and poor judgment.
Her old border collie, Boy, heaved himself off his rug and came over to her, licking her hand. He was deaf and half blind but he always knew when she was upset. She rubbed his ears and buried her face in his coat, thinking about how her life had changed so much. A few weeks ago she’d had a great job and a clear vision of her future firmly set in Philly. When it all came tumbling down, she’d bolted back to Bear Paw telling herself it was only temporary. A breathing space. She’d even made some calls about doing some health care volunteering in Ecuador, because at least that was a plan of sorts and it reassured her that her time in Bear Paw would be short.
She hadn’t told her parents the real reason for her return, because she didn’t need to see or hear their disappointment that she’d failed, especially as she’d been heard to say more than once that she preferred living in the city. Instead, she’d skirted the truth and told them she was burned-out from her high-pressure unit manager job and she was taking a break to visit with them and work on the cottage. They’d immediately suggested she work at the Bear Paw hospital like she’d done when she’d graduated, but she was determined to avoid anything to do with doctors and hospitals. Instead, she’d gotten a part-time job at the diner and at Leroy’s. Although her parents had never been thrilled she’d left Bear Paw and they’d been the ones to urge her two years ago to buy the cottage, they’d silently accepted her decision, but she caught their troubled gazes on her from time to time. She hated that. Hated that her inability to make the right choices in her life had landed her back at home.
Giving Boy a thank you but I’m fine rub around the ears, she grabbed the roller with a jerk and quickly made short work of the rest of the walls. By the time she’d finished and was surveying her handiwork, she’d found a modicum of hard-earned calm. The new paint had gotten rid of the nicotine stains left by the stressed-out accountant who’d run from town the moment tax season was over. He’d been a lousy tenant despite Walt, her Realtor, promising her six months ago that he came with great references. After the mess he’d left behind, Katrina was convinced the previous landlord wrote the glowing report just to get rid of him.
The fact her tenant had broken the lease was timely, because as much as she loved her family, she’d lived alone too long to go back to living in the ranch house. Coming home for short visits was one thing, but there was something about moving into her childhood room that turned back the clock. She ceased being Katrina McCade, independent career woman, and became Katrina—dutiful daughter, sibling mediator and general go-to person. It was all wrapped up with a distinct lack of privacy and it was wearing her out.
The moment the paint fumes had vaporized, she was moving in, and she’d repair the other damage that had been inflicted on the house. She’d even use some of her savings to renovate the kitchen. After that, she might go to Ecuador and be useful or she might head to California or . . . She had no clue. All she knew was that her plans were open-ended.
You’ve never done fluid. Her mind went straight to the very scheduled life she’d shared with Brent over the past eight months. She immediately hauled it back. She could do fluid. She could try and go with the flow with one exception. Lesson learned—no matter how much she enjoyed being in a relationship, she was not getting involved with another man anytime soon.
She pulled a screwdriver out of the tool belt around her waist and levered open the paint can containing the lavender paint for her bedroom. She suddenly smiled. At least Bear Paw didn’t have a surgeon with devastating charm, or for that matter a physician under sixty. She was totally safe on that front, and for that small mercy, she was truly grateful.
Josh drove down a long gravel road seriously doubting the directions the hospital administrator had e-mailed him. Surely, the house that came with the job would be in the town and close by the hospital? Only he’d passed the hospital, two miles back, where he’d be reporting tomorrow morning at eight. Now Main Street, with its mixture of flat-fronted brick and clapboard shops, was well behind him, too. He appeared to be heading for Canada.
He hit a pothole and his front fender scraped the road. Shit. He slowed his speed and zigzagged his way around another four potholes before he pulled over to face the intensive stare of a jackrabbit, whose large ears mocked him. This was ludicrous. It was one thing for his student loans to have mortgaged his life, bringing him to a small town in the middle of nowhere, but surely the hospital wouldn’t have rented him a house way out here. He must have missed the turn back in town.
At least he now had one bar of service on his phone. He plugged the GPS coordinates of the house into the app. The melon-colored explanation point magically appeared one-quarter mile away from his current blue location dot. He looked to his left. He needed to turn onto a driveway that had never seen blacktop or gravel.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he muttered as he threw the gear stick into first. No wonder the hospital administrator had said the house would be open and not to worry about a key. It was in the middle of damn-well-nowhere.
Five bone-shuddering minutes later, he pulled up outside a house or a cottage—he wasn’t sure which, and he wasn’t certain the builder had known, either. It was a mishmash of design and was neither attic cottage nor log cabin. One section was cladding and the other logs, and he thought he glimpsed some exposed house wrap between the two. The eaves extended over a door that was offset, in fact the whole side of the house he was facing looked as if it had been tacked on as an afterthought. A small satellite dish clung precariously to the roof, and Josh was surprised it hadn’t been blown away and taken the house with it.
The property screamed first homeowner’s dream, renovator’s delight or student housing. It had been a very long time since he’d been a student, and the gloss of living in a house that had seen better days had well and truly lost its shine. A few scraggly trees attempted to survive to create a much-needed windbreak, but most looked like they’d given up on the job. Weeds dotted the short path to the house, and a rusted-out truck was parked outside, possibly abandoned. Just fabulous.
The property was wrong on so many levels that it had to be a mistake. Reaching for his phone, he prepared to call the hospital administrator to complain when he remembered he’d gotten a message from him saying he was out of town today. Reluctantly, Josh pushed himself out of the car, locked it behind him and walked directly to the door. He knocked and waited but no one came, so with a firm grip, he turned the handle. Surprise jolted him when it opened smoothly and without a squeak.
He had to duck his head as he walked through the small entrance with its coat hooks and a boot box, before stepping into a pine-clad kitchen. Circa 1970, it came complete with faded lime green counters and a breakfast nook. It was a far cry from the granite countertop kitchen with all its modern stainless steel appliances back in his Chicago apartment.
Her Chicago apartment.
Not wanting thoughts of Ashley to creep into his mind, he decided that even though there was no way in hell he was going to live here, he’d explore the house and list all the reasons why the place was unsuitable. Paint fumes hit him the moment he crossed into the living room, and moving carefully, so as not to get paint on his chinos, he soon found himself facing a small, steep staircase.
Years of experience running between floors of the many different hospitals he’d worked in had him taking the stairs two at a time. His head suddenly slammed into the sloped ceiling. “Jesus.”
His vision swam and he rubbed his scalp, already feeling a lump the size of a golf ball rising under his fingers. He mentally added another reason to his mounting list. Not only was the house in the boonies, it was built for dwarfs. Moving decidedly more slowly, he took the rest of the stairs one at a time with his head bent low. He didn’t risk straightening up until he was well and truly on the landing.
Raising his head, he realized there was no landing—he was standing in a room. A dormer bedroom. He blinked in surprise. An old dog lay sleeping on a rug, and a short woman stood on a ladder with her back to him and with white earbuds in her ears. She was carefully painting the area where lavender walls met the white ceiling. Her heavy leather work boots gripped the second-top step and thick, bright red socks peeked out over the top. A paint can perched precariously on a board near her knees.
He almost called out but he didn’t want to startle her and risk her falling off the ladder and breaking something. Plus, his gaze seemed fixed on her bare legs. They weren’t model-long, but the calves were muscular and sculpted as if they worked out often and were strong for the effort. And the skin was tan. A beautiful, golden tan from sunshine, not the orange tint from a bottle like he’d noticed on some patients after the long Illinois winters. Just as his mind and gaze slid upward, hoping to glimpse what he imagined would be the sweet curve of her ass, denim cutoffs rudely broke the view.
Damn. Still, the shorts hinted that the naked view might well be a good one. A bright blue paisley blouse that didn’t remotely match the shorts—and reminded him of his grandmother—flowed over the waistband at complete odds with the wide black band of a tool belt. His brain jolted, trying to merge the juxtaposing images of modern meeting old-fashioned. His gaze had just reached short, glossy black hair when she turned and saw him.
Before he could raise his hands to show her that he came in peace, her enormous green eyes—the color of spring—dilated in shock.
The dog barked.
She moved abruptly, her actions jerky, and her knee caught the edge of the board, sending the paint can flying.
Two seconds later, Josh was wearing lavender paint.
From "Montana Actually" by Fiona Lowe
Copyright: © 2015 Fiona Lowe