Author: Robyn Carr

“To rich men,” Mike said, joining the toast.

Only a week after Melinda’s hysterectomy, she was getting around very well. She had some surgical soreness and tired easily; she didn’t wander around the house much. She dressed in a comfy sweat suit and stayed mainly on the big king-size bed, the cradle close at hand so she could nurse Emma as often as possible, trying to get her caught up. All she had to do was give Davie a little boost under the bum and he could climb up to the bed with her.

With Brie and Joey in charge of the house during the day, making sure Mel had everything she needed and was getting plenty of rest, Jack was able to spend a few hours at the bar in the afternoon. Then he could take dinner home to his wife.

He didn’t get a lot done at the bar. He didn’t dare go on supply runs, it would take him too far from Virgin River. But he added up receipts and inventoried, finding, unsurprisingly, the bar ran just fine under the watchful care of Paige and Preacher.

In that little space of time after lunch was finished, and before the dinner crowd began to drift in, when the bar was typically very quiet, often deserted, an old familiar ghost in his Shady Brady wandered in. Jack had had some traffic with this guy in the past; some good, some not so good. He was a known illegal grower from somewhere around the mountains and Jack had refused to take his money once because it stank of freshly cut marijuana. But he’d materialized out of nowhere one night when Paige was in danger and saved her life.

He came up to the bar and for once made actual eye contact with Jack. A first. “Hey,” he said somberly. “How’s the family?”

“Getting by,” Jack said.

“Heineken and Beam,” he said. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

Over the man’s shoulder, Jack saw Mike come into the bar. He stopped short, obviously recognizing their friend from the broad expanse of his back and the familiar hat. Jack looked back at his customer. “We’ve been over this,” Jack said. “You know what kind of money doesn’t work in this bar and I’m not comping you. I’m in no mood.”

Mike sat up at the bar, just one stool separating him from the stranger. “I got that, Jack. I’ll have a beer. Take care of my friend here.” Mike pulled out a few bills. “It’s my pleasure.”

“You sure about that?” Jack asked Mike.

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

Jack set them up with drinks, then went back down the bar to where his trusty clipboard with inventory sheets waited. There was no conversation between Mike and the Shady Brady. Just silent, serious drinking.

Paige came into the bar carrying a fresh stack of towels. She recognized the man, was paralyzed for a moment, then gave him a very slight nod before escaping back into the kitchen. Mike half expected to see Preacher right away, but nothing more happened. Then there was a low, rumbled comment from the man next to him. “Things worked out then,” he said, having noticed the obvious pregnancy.

Mike chuckled in spite of himself. “Oh, yeah. Just fine.” He looked at the man and lifted a brow. “Once more on that boilermaker?”

“Nah. I don’t want to put you out.”

“Jack,” Mike called. “Fix up my friend here.”

Though Jack scowled disapprovingly, he served the whiskey and refreshed the beer. It was a strange situation—Jack appreciated the help the man had given them in an emergency, but he wanted nothing to do with growers. They were trouble. And he wouldn’t have their money in his till. He went back to his clipboard and counting, leaving the men to finish their drinks.

It wasn’t long before the stranger scraped back his stool to stand up. He looked at Mike and tipped the brim of his hat.

Mike pulled a hand out of his jacket pocket, put something on the bar and slid it toward him, turning his black eyes up at the standing man. He took away his hand and there, on the bar, was a padlock.

Shady Brady glanced over his shoulder toward Jack, finding him occupied with counting bottles beneath the bar. He slid the padlock off the bar and into his pocket. “Thanks for the drinks,” he said to Mike.

“Hey. Don’t worry about it. Even a private sort of guy like you should catch a break sometimes, huh?” He jutted his chin toward Jack. “He’s not real flexible.” Then Mike looked back into his beer.

For the first time ever, Shady Brady gave a quick, short grin. He touched the brim of his hat again, though no one was watching him. Then he quit the bar.

Mike smiled into his beer. There, he was thinking. Mike knew and Shady Brady knew he knew. Something about him was iffy—but not all bad. Their business was done. At least for now.


O nce the Haggerty family had been told a wedding was imminent, Paul called Joe. “How are those plans coming for Preacher and Mike?”

“Close to ready for you, buddy,” Joe said.

“Maybe you could sketch up another house and we could talk about design…”

“Yeah? What you got?” Joe asked.

Paul took a breath. “You’ll never believe it,” he said. “It didn’t go the way we thought it would. Vanni—she didn’t let me down easy. Turns out I was a little slow, which shouldn’t surprise you. We’re getting married.”

“Whoa! You serious?”

“Why wait?” Paul said. “It’s not like we need time to get to know each other.”

“But what about that little problem we talked about?”

“It turns out, it’s not my problem after all. And Vanni—God, man. She’s been just wonderful about everything—me taking so long to come clean, having a serious complication to work out, everything. We’re gonna get it done before Tom leaves for boot camp in two weeks. I thought maybe, if you had some plans lying around, it might be a good time to visit Virgin River. And if the plans work for your clients—I could stay right here and build.”

“Who’s the third set for?”

“Me and Vanni,” Paul said. “The general gave us a nice big parcel on the other side of the stable and, brother, having our own house down here sounds better all the time. Might as well build it before I get real busy.”

Joe laughed. “Good for you, man,” he said. “Any idea what you’re looking for?”

“Oh, yeah—Vanni loves my house in Grants Pass. But that’s set up for a bachelor or a couple without kids—sunken great room, that kind of thing. Raise the floor and level it, add a bedroom, more kitchen…You know what to do.”

“I know what to do.” Joe laughed.

“And come down for the wedding. It’s gonna be small and quick, but Jack tells me he’s calling the boys and there could be poker.”

“Deal me in.”

There was enough going on in Virgin River in June to create a great deal of excitement. First there was high-school graduation and the following weekend Vanni and Paul would be married. Somewhere between the two, Rick would be home on leave before shipping out to Iraq and for both his leave and the wedding, the rest of the marines would hit town.

Vanni had been busy in her father’s kitchen whenever she wasn’t tending to the baby, trying to prepare hors d’oeuvres for a Saturday-evening open house for Tom’s graduation. The youngsters would be roving from party to party and would barely make an appearance, but Walt still insisted Tom deserved a celebration of his own, not just one coupled with the wedding the following weekend. And he was right in this—Tom had graduated with honors and an appointment to West Point was a huge achievement. Even though Tom had a three-star for a father, it still required a near-perfect GPA and a congressional recommendation.

Vanni took a short break and, wiping her hands on a dish towel, walked out on the deck for some cool air. What she saw took her by surprise. Paul was standing in front of Matt’s grave. Memories of standing there herself came flooding back, and she walked down the deck stairs and across the lawn, up onto that small rise. “Paul?” she asked.

He turned, saw her there and gave her a small, sad smile, lifting his arm. “Aw, Vanni, Vanni…”

“Are you all right, Paul?”

“Sure,” he said, giving her shoulders a squeeze.

“You know, if we both start brooding at this grave, it’s going to drive Dad nuts.”

“I’ll try not to make a habit of it. Listen, can I say something? Just once, then I won’t again?”

“Paul, you can say anything to me. Are you missing him?”

“I’ll always miss him, honey. Sometimes I think about when we were just boys together and I can see it so clearly, it’s like being back there. When we were kids in high school, we never even talked about the Marine Corps. We talked about girls, sports, girls, tattoos, girls, trucks…He had all the girls, though. I never had any nerve. I wouldn’t have even had a prom date if Matt hadn’t made it happen. Who knew the crazy fool was going to make himself into a lifer.” Paul turned and held her upper arms in his big hands, looking down into her eyes. “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”

“I do,” she said, smiling.

“Well, I’d give my life for you, that’s how much. I’ve never been happier than these past few weeks. But I was just telling Matt—I’d give it all up and live alone and miserable and jealous till the end of time if I could get him back. He was the most amazing man, the most incredible friend. It would probably kill me, but I’d give this up if it meant he could live.”

Vanni put a hand along his cheek. “He knows that already, Paul. He always knew that.”

“You have to be real sad sometimes, honey. Even now. You don’t ever have to hide that from me. I’ll hold you through the tears now, just like I did before—and I won’t feel cheated. Not by a long shot.”

“Paul, I wouldn’t hide anything from you,” she said sweetly. “Not long after Matt and I met, I lost my mom—and she was the best friend I ever had. And then I lost my husband to a war. Do you have any idea what a gift I have in you? It was like being rescued. I didn’t know I could feel like this. I thought every day would hurt forever. It’s probably not really stronger than what I felt for Matt, but coming after all that loss and pain, it sure feels like a miracle to me. Oh—I’ll always miss him, too. I can’t help that. But I’m so grateful to have you in my life. I’m not giving you up.”

“I just wish there was a way I could know—I wish I knew he was okay with this—you and me.”

“Remember, I told you,” she said, smiling. “I ran it by him already. A few times. Before you ever let me know how you felt.”

“I wish I could know he forgives me for—for wanting you all those years you belonged to him…”

She laughed softly, sweetly. “I think you’re being silly now. You showed him such incredible respect, never letting anyone know. Paul, there’s nothing to forgive.”

“The night Mattie came, I was out here talking to him. Jack came and got me—he said Matt had moved on. He said we each have our destiny and Matt’s took him somewhere else.”

“Yeah—wherever he is, he’s tearing the place up, making people laugh, feel good. Paul, this would make Matt happy. You know how much you love him? He loved you that much or more. I can’t think of anyone he’d rather have raise his son.”

“I’ll do the best I can with that, honey. I’d sure like to make Matt proud. I’ll try to be as good a husband as Matt was.…”

She shook her head and smiled at him. “You’re not going to have to try. As far as I can tell, you’re a natural.”

Jack stood on his front porch with his morning coffee. He saw something in the distance that caused his pulse to pick up. He looked out over the valley to the northeast and saw a thin column of gray smoke that wound its way to a plateau in the sky and he hoped, beyond hope, it was nothing to worry about. It had been an unusually dry spring.