Today, I’m revealing the cover and description of the third installment of The Sawtooth Mountains Stories. Anywhere is the story of Reese Webb, owner of the Apple Jack Saloon, and Gigi Mackenzie, a prodigal daughter and citizen of the Sawtooth Jasper Shoshone Reservation. If you’ve read the previous installments of the series, Somewhere and Someday, you know that Reese has some heartbreak in his past. That heartbreak came ten years ago, when Gigi–whom he calls Mac–left town. The night before their wedding.
So this is very much a second chance romance.
Anywhere will release on Saturday, 7 September. A preorder will be available in three weeks, on Saturday, 17 August.
Meanwhile, you can add Anywhere to your Goodreads TBR here.
BTW: the bead heart on the cover is an earring by Cheyenne River Sioux artist Sheyenne Tereshko
BOOK THREE OF THE SAWTOOTH MOUNTAINS STORIES
Gigi Mackenzie left home in a hurry ten years ago, and she hasn’t looked back. She’s spent the decade traveling the world, moving fast, never landing anywhere long, chasing something she’s never been able to find, or even define. In all those years, there’s only one thing, one person, she’s truly missed—the one person she hadn’t been running from at all. The person she hurt most when she left.
When she gets word of trouble at home, she knows she has to go back. Tragedy sent her flying, and tragedy brings her back to the nest.
Like his father and his grandfather before him, Reese Webb runs The Apple Jack Saloon. In more than forty years of life, he’s hardly crossed the Idaho state line, and he has no need or intention to go anywhere. Jasper Ridge, and the Jack—that’s his home. He’s a man who likes things to stay the way they are.
Ten years ago, he meant to bring the love of his life home to these familiar, well-worn walls. But the night before their wedding, she ran away.
Now Gigi is back, and Reese realizes there’s a reason he’s been standing in place all this time. He’s been waiting.
But has too much time, and too much pain, filled the space between them?
And a teaser chapter:
He’d known she was in town, there’d practically been a line of people who couldn’t wait to tell him she was back in town, and he’d been working all day on getting things right in his head. He’d thought he was prepared. He wasn’t.
Look at her.
She walked to him, down what could for all the world have been a wedding aisle, with all their neighbors lined up on either side, staring at her.
Pearl was right behind her, grinning, trailed by a couple seasonal girls from the Moondancer whose names Reese hadn’t bothered to learn. To see her with Pearl was fairly surprising; they hadn’t been close. She thought Pearl was vapid and grasping, which was an astute assessment. But Pearl loved gossip, and right now, there was no tastier gossip in Jasper Ridge than the woman walking through the saloon toward him now.
Jesus, look at her.
Those goddamn gorgeous dark eyes, circled with thick black lashes. That amazing mouth. That slender body, that long neck, those endless legs. She wore a scuffed and cracked brown leather jacket over a plain t-shirt and ripped jeans faded sky blue. They could have been the exact same clothes she’d been wearing when he’d left her at the Boise airport and come home alone to take apart the wedding that never was.
When he’d last seen her, more than ten years earlier, she’d been twenty-two years old. Too young for him—a notion he’d had plenty of time to examine and really comprehend, though back then he’d been too bullheaded and besotted to see why it could be trouble. To see her now, though, he felt like he’d fallen into some kind of time warp. He felt every day of those ten years, but she hadn’t aged a single one. She didn’t look any different at all.
Except … “You cut your hair.”
Reaching the bar, she laughed a little and ran her fingers through the shiny black strands that just skimmed her shoulders. She still wore the silver cuff bracelet her father had given her for her sixteenth birthday, with the big turquoise stone at the center.
“Yeah, I did.”
“It looks good. You look good.”
“Thank you. You look great. I like the beard.”
His hand came up and touched his cheek. “Thanks.”
Their eyes locked, and their mouths went still.
Why the fuck were they making stupid small talk, after all this time? Where were his feelings? What were his feelings? He’d had them all since she’d left, in a constant, shifting cycle. Sorrow. Disappointment. Fury. Betrayal. Bitterness. Jealousy. Spite. Love. Loss. Forgiveness. Understanding. Loneliness. Impatience. Acceptance. Where was he in the cycle right now?
He had no idea. The Jack was packed full of Jasper Ridge and reservation folks, all of them here for exactly this show, every one of them gawking like they were under the big tent at the circus, and there was nothing in his head but noise.
But Jesus Christ, look at her.
It was all still there, still fresh—the heartbreak, the love, all of it, clamoring at once.
He’d thought he’d gotten himself ready for this moment. He was wrong.
Her smile twisted shyly, and her eyes slid to his hands, which were hooked on the edge of the bar. “Hi, Reese.”
His mouth smiled back without waiting for an instruction. “Hey, Mac. Long time no see. Get you a drink?”
“That’d be great, thanks.” As she scooted onto a barstool, she met his eyes again, and her pretty white teeth showed. “The usual.”
He nodded and grabbed an old-fashioned glass and filled it with ice. Having something to do was a relief, and his task served as a signal to the people around them, who broke their greedy gawking.
His friend Paul said, “Okay, people. I think that’s just about enough rubberneckin’ for the night. Come on, you fuckin’ vultures,” and he and Emmett started herding people back to their own little groups. The jukebox started up again. Somebody broke a rack at the pool table.
Reese splashed grenadine over the ice and added 7Up. He dropped a handful of maraschino cherries on top—she loved the cherries—and set the glass on a bar napkin in front of her.
Shirley Temple was her usual. She’d never had a drink when he’d known her before, and after the way her father had died, Reese couldn’t imagine she’d had once since.
She’d blamed Reese a little for her dad, though Eugene had been coming home from Boise and been nowhere near the Jack that night. She’d never said it outright, but he knew it was true.
He hadn’t seen it at the time, but he’d had ten years to reflect on it: her dad’s death had been the first snag in their weave. Everything had unraveled from that, until he’d been standing at the edge of the airport security checkpoint, watching her walk away from him. Hoping she’d look back. Desolate when she hadn’t.
“Thanks,” she said and reached for the glass before he had a chance to take his hand away. Their fingers brushed, her soft fingertips over his rough knuckles, and Reese yanked his hand back like she’d burned him. Maybe she had.
Hurt feelings fluttered through her black eyes, and Reese had a second of fresh guilt.
“We should probably talk sometime soon,” she said. “When we don’t have an audience.” Her focus slid to her kiddie cocktail. “I mean, if you want to.”
Reese had no fucking idea what he wanted.
At the opposite end of the bar, Luke Taylor waved, and he took that blessed opportunity to get clear of her and get the man a fresh beer. Other patrons took the opportunity to return to their regularly scheduled drinking, and for about five or ten minutes, Reese was just a bartender again, focused on pouring whiskey and drawing beer.
When he looked again at that end of the bar, she was gone.
Just faded away. Again.
God damn it.
He collected her half-finished drink and dumped it in the bar sink. She hadn’t even eaten her cherries. Disappointed and pissed and hurt, he hurled the glass at the bus box under the bar—with more force than he intended. It struck another glass, and they both broke. Shit.
“I’ll clean it up, boss.” Kelly, one of his barmaids, had scooted behind the bar, and she reached for the bus box.
“It’s my mess. I got it.” He pushed her away—maybe a little too hard.
She gave him a defensive look, grabbed three bottles of Blue Moon out of the cooler and headed back to the floor. “Suit yourself.”
Reese grabbed the broken pieces out of the box and dropped them in the trash. One took a bite out of him on the way. “Fuck!” He stuck the webbing between his right thumb and forefinger in his mouth and sucked the blood away.
“Easy, bud. You okay?”
Reese glared at Emmett, who was leaning on the bar, his long, skinny arms crossed. “I’m fine. Fuckin’ dandy. You lookin’ for another round?”
His friend was impervious to Reese’s misdirected hostility. “I’m askin’ if you’re okay. I know that was hard, man.”
Emmett and Paul, and Heath and Victor, his best friends, they’d been there back then, nursing him through a long, blurry drunk after she’d left, for those fucking endless weeks, the whole summer, when he’d stood in the eye of a gossip hurricane. That summer he’d kept expecting that she’d be back, that they’d pick up where they left off, that all she’d needed was some time to get her head clear. That summer when she’d still been returning his emails, every now and then, and he’d had hope. And then the autumn when he’d begun to comprehend that she meant to disappear.
He covered the little cut on his hand with a Band-Aid. “Where’d she go?”
Emmett shrugged. “She just walked out. Nobody followed her that I saw. She’s staying with her people. Linda and Kelly can hold the fort if you—”
“No.” He wasn’t going to chase after her. Too much time had passed. There wasn’t anything left to chase. “No. If she wanted to talk to me, she wouldn’t’ve left. You want another round?”
The rest of the night was more or less like any other Friday night at the Jack. Reese got on with his work, and even managed not to think about her for a few minutes at a time. A few people tried to mention her to him, but he just glowered at them and got them their drink. He was perfectly aware that ‘Reese & Gigi’ was once again the number-one topic of conversation, but he didn’t give a shit, as long as they kept it in whispers and out of his face.
He did last call at one in the morning and rolled the last straggler out the door at one-thirty. Then he, Kelly, and Linda got to work cleaning the place up, as usual. Normally, they kept the jukebox going and talked their way through the closing chores, but tonight, they worked in quiet. Reese was in no mood for chitchat, and Linda and Kelly crept around him like they were sweeping up a lion’s cage.
Once the work was done, he said good night to his waitresses and locked the front doors. He lived upstairs, but for a while he simply stood in the middle of his quiet saloon and breathed.
The Apple Jack had been standing since 1872. It hadn’t been the Apple Jack back then; its original name had been The Parker, for the man who’d built it and first run it. In those early days, it had been a typical western saloon, renting rooms upstairs to weary riders and renting girls to warm the beds. The place was laid out just like the saloons in the old movies, with a staircase off to the right side and a bit of a balcony before the second floor led to rooms.
When Reese’s family bought the place, back in the 1950s, it was still running as the town bar, called the Jasper Joint, but those owners lived away, and the place was being mismanaged into the ground. His granddad had bought it, renovated it, turned the upstairs rooms into a single living space, and moved his family in. Reese’s father had taken over when his granddad died, slowly, of cancer, and Reese took over when his dad died, suddenly, of a heart attack. He’d been the owner-operator of the Apple Jack Saloon since he was twenty-six years old.
He’d never lived anywhere else. His family had property just outside the town limits, a couple hundred acres of beautiful foothill land, with a full, fresh stream that ran off from Cahill Creek. The only real building out there, though, was a rough little sportsman’s cabin. Like his grandfather and father before him, Reese went out there for some time away from his life, to hunt and fish and ride, but his life was smack dab in the middle of Jasper Ridge. Which was as he liked it, usually.
The bar was locked up, empty and clean. The house lights were up. Since he was a kid, he’d loved moments like this, when the Jack was closed and quiet, best of all. There was something about it—the bright lighting in a space normally dim, the wide emptiness of a space normally crowded, the silence in a space normally discordant with noise—that made the knots in his shoulders untie. It was in these moments that the whole building was his home. Usually, what he felt in these moments was deep calm.
Tonight, though, it was just lonely. Mac had been hammering away at his head for hours, and the last thing he wanted was to go upstairs and be alone.
Ten years should have been plenty of time for all the wounds to heal, no matter how deep they’d been. He’d thought they’d healed; he’d thought he’d moved on.
He went behind the bar and took a bottle of Knob Creek off the back shelf. He grabbed a glass and the key for the jukebox. After he picked the song he wanted and set it to play on repeat, he sat down at the nearest table, under the bright house lights, and poured himself a deep glass of bourbon. He leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes, and let his head think its thoughts.
In a way, he’d known her all her life. She was Eugene and Elaine Mackenzie’s baby girl, and the Mackenzies were regulars at the Jack in Reese’s time and in his father’s. He could remember seeing wallet photos passed around, and the cute little miss in braids had to have been her. But he’d never thought of her or noticed her himself until Founder’s Day fifteen years back. She’d been seventeen then, about to start her senior year. He’d been twenty-six, a month off of burying his old man, reeling under the weight of that grief and the responsibility of running the Jack and taking care of his heartbroken mother.
That year, she’d entered the Miss Jasper pageant and caused a stir by wearing a traditional Shoshone dress rather than the usual prom dress getup—and then caused another stir by winning the pageant. But damn, of course she had. In deerskin and moccasins, she’d been twice as gorgeous as any of the bedazzled, big-haired girls, and she sang like an angel. She’d sung the Shoshone Love Song, a cappella, and laid out everybody in the audience. Yeah, she’d caused a hell of a stir.
That was when he’d first really seen her, standing on the Miss Jasper float in that beaded, fringed deerskin dress, surrounded by the runners-up in their spangles and curls, singing that song as the float rolled through town in the Founder’s Day parade.
She’d been a high school kid, and his mind had been on other things. After that day, though, he’d seen her often around town—she worked in Old Town, at one of the tourist shops—and always noticed her. But he’d never made a move, or considered making one.
Until one night, a couple years later, he’d had to call out to the reservation and get somebody to come to the Jack to collect a Eugene up to his eyeballs in whiskey, and it had been Mac who’d come for him.
He still remembered how he felt, watching her with her drunk of an old man. How patient and sweet she’d been with him, how goddamn sad those black eyes had been. Nineteen years old, half a foot shorter and at least a hundred pounds lighter than her father, she’d all but carried him out to his truck and poured him into the passenger seat. Then she’d stomped herself right back in and up to Reese and barked chapter and verse up at him for letting her father get so drunk, poking a slender finger into his chest to punctuate every word out of her pretty mouth. Before he could defend himself, she’d spun on her heel, waist-length hair flying, and stormed back to the door.
But then she’d stopped, turned again, all her attitude quieted, her eyes heavy again with sadness, and, with a quaver in her voice, she’d thanked him for calling and not letting him get on his Harley.
Reese had been a lost cause after that night.
Hell, he was still a lost cause. Obviously. Because the way she’d left, on the night before their wedding? The way she’d faded away, leaving him hanging without ever hearing for sure that she was done with him, and with Jasper Ridge, and with her own fucking family? She’d worked him over hard. He should hate her. She deserved it.
He’d never felt hate for her. Not even a single tremor of it. Just about every other conceivable emotion, but not that.
Shit, he’d actually helped her run. He’d tried to convince her to stay, to see that everything would be okay once they were married, that he would take care of her, that she wasn’t trapped here, wasn’t destined to follow the path of her family, but she’d been so damn scared, so confused, so twisted up with grief, she couldn’t see it.
He thought he’d understood what she’d needed. Just some time to clear her head. So he’d told her he understood. He told her he’d take care of everything at home, and he’d helped her run.
Just a few weeks, he’d thought. The summer at the outside. She’d go away by herself, get some distance, some perspective, and she’d turn around and see what she had at home.
But she’d never come back. Reese had been walking around with a part missing since.
Loving Mac had come to him as easy as falling over. He’d never known anyone like her. She was keen and curious, opinionated but not obnoxious about it. She was quick to laugh, but when she wasn’t, she had this deep solemnity to her, like she was always looking beyond the moment, into either the past or the future, and seeing disappointments there. She got along with almost everybody, but rarely made close connections. She was kind and patient with the people she loved, but she’d scrap fiercely with anybody who got in her way, including her family. When you landed on her bad side, she made sure you knew it. She could make cleaving to tradition an act of rebellion.
She was exactly the kind of girl who’d wear a Native dress to a town beauty pageant—and win it. And then never do anything in a pageant again, because she hated everything they stood for.
She was the kind of girl who could love the owner of the town bar while her family drowned in alcoholism.
His love for her had been like wildfire, taking over everything in him. They were together about three years, with nary a snag between them until her father dropped his bike in the dark on the road between Boise and home. Less than two months before the date they’d set for their wedding.
In all the time she’d been gone, try though he might, he’d never loved anyone else. Even Ellen—
Had he had even a single thought about Ellen all damn night?
He checked his watch; it took him a second or two to focus. Three o’clock. He’d sat here for more than an hour, lost in old memories. The bottle of bourbon had a nice dent in it, too, which accounted for the way his vision had frayed at the edges. It was too late to call Ellen, too late to go to her place. And he was too drunk to get there, anyway.
He poured himself another glass of bourbon.
Reese groaned and batted away the nuisance at his shoulder. But it came back, more annoying than ever.
“Reese. Babe, come on.”
He came to all the way, and then wanted to die all the way. Fuck, what the hell? Lifting his head—ah, damn, that hurt—he blinked blearily and forced the ground glass that filled his skull to make a thought. He wiped at his chin; his beard was wet.
He was in the bar. The light was weird. Because it was morning, and sun slanted through the windows.
Right. Now he remembered. Unfortunately.
Crap, had he passed out at the table? Well, yes, indeed he had. And wasn’t that a pathetic picture: passed out alone in an empty bar, with a bottle of bourbon—no, half a bottle of bourbon—at his elbow? At least the jukebox was quiet; he didn’t think he could face the sad-sackery of waking in this condition to the soundtrack he’d chosen for his pity party of one.
But he wasn’t quite so lucky.
“’I Will Always Love You’? Honestly?” Ellen’s voice had enough bite to make him wince. “That’s a bit on the nose, don’t you think?”
Attempting to save some dignity somewhere, he ignored the subtext and answered in what he meant to be a bantering tone. “I don’t care what anybody says, Dolly’s version is the best one.”
She sighed and sat down across the four-top from him. She was dressed for work, in jeans and an embroidered western shirt. Her bright auburn hair was loose over her shoulders. She was a beautiful woman in her own right. Not exotic or glamorous, but lovely, and that fiery hair was really something. They’d known each other all their lives; they’d been seeing each other for almost three months.
Ellen was smart and forthright. She’d made a career for herself as the operations manager of the Moondancer, climbing up over the past few years from a housekeeping job to basically running the place. And she’d been instrumental in getting Heath cleared of a murder charge, putting herself in harm’s way to find the evidence that exonerated him. She still bore the scars of the harm she’d taken. Jasper Ridge had few better people to offer the world than Ellen Emerson.
It had been going well between them. It was going well. Not past tense. Right now.
Well, maybe not right this very second.
When she only stared at him, Reese blinked and tried to make a smile. “Mornin’, babe.”
“Reese, just don’t jerk me around. Okay? It’s not like I don’t know that having her back is gonna get you turned around. Everybody in town knows that. There’re probably children who weren’t even born when she left who heard she was back and are talking today on the playground about how fucked up you must be over it.”
His head hurt too much—and his neck, too; he was too fucking old to sleep hunched over a table like that—for this conversation. He raked his hands through his hair and then dropped his elbows to the table and rested his head.
“It’s been ten years, El.”
“And yet here I found you, half a bottle in, passed out in a puddle of drool, playing Dolly Parton on repeat.” Her hand crossed the table and hooked gently around his elbow. “I’m telling you I understand. I know I can’t fight what you feel for her—I knew that when we started. Being with you’s been wonderful, and I don’t want to stop. I’ll be sad if we end. But I’ll understand. Just don’t jerk me around. Figure out what you want, okay?”
He lifted his head and made his boiling eyeballs focus. “What’re you sayin’?”
“I’m sayin’ I’ve been happy these past few months. I’d be happy to have a chance to fall in love with you. But I only want to be in love with someone who can love me back. Right now, I think you and I should take a break. Sort things out with Gigi.”
“There’s nothing to sort out.” He knew that for the outrageous lie it was, and so did Ellen. Goddamn, he couldn’t think. “I don’t know, babe. I don’t know.”
She stood and came around the table, setting her hand on his shoulder. “I know you don’t. That’s what I mean. I’m gonna step to the side while you work this out. I don’t want to get caught in the middle of this. I deserve better than that.”
He closed his fingers around hers on his shoulder. “Yeah, you do.”
“I’ll be around.” She kissed his head. “Go upstairs, Reese. Get some real sleep.”
As she walked toward the back door, Reese called out, “El, wait.”
She stopped and turned back. She waited.
He wanted to say something real, something she deserved. She was a good woman. He felt close to her and enjoyed what they were building. But words failed him now.
As she started to turn away again, he spat out, “I care about you.”
She smiled. “I know. I care about you, too. A lot. Get some sleep, hon.”
© 2019 Susan Fanetti