Spotlight & Giveaway: Big Sky Summer by Linda Lael Miller
A Parable, Montana novel
Welcome back to Parable, Montana—the rural western town of multiple #1 New York Times bestselling author Linda Lael Miller’s new series that has won over readers’ hearts and bookshelves.
In BIG SKY SUMMER, (Harlequin MIRA, June 2013, $7.99 U.S./ $9.99 CAN.), Miller introduces another swoon-worthy cowboy and proves that love is possible, even in the Wild West.
With his father’s rodeo legacy to continue and a prosperous spread to run, good-looking cowboy Walker Parrish has no time to dwell on wrecked relationships. That is, until country-western singer sweetheart Casey Elder, finds her way back to Parable, Montana for a break from the spotlight. Taking some much needed time off from touring, she seems to be everywhere that Walker is—from the church bake sale to a friend’s wedding—and that’s making it hard for Walker to concentrate on work and his new rescue dog, Doolittle. But he already knows where things with Casey will lead if he lets his guard down. He’s been there before and his “act now, think later” passion for her has had consequences in the past. Two teenage consequences!
Keeping her children’s paternity under wraps has always been part of Casey’s plan to give them normal, uncomplicated lives. Now the best way to hold her family together seems to be to let Walker be a part of it—as her husband of convenience. But will her kids forgive her deception if she comes clean? And are Walker and Casey actually strong enough to keep their hands off each other? Casey’s managed a successful career and raising two kids on her own, but for some reason she can’t stomp out her design to be Walker’s wife in every way. At least that’s her little secret. For now. But if it comes out, will her life and heart completely unravel?
BIG SKY SUMMER will be followed by BIG SKY WEDDING (September 2013) and is available wherever books are sold, and at Harlequin.com.
Giveaway: 2 print copies of BIG SKY SUMMER
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BIG SKY SUMMERBy LINDA LAEL MILLER
From Chapter One
Walker Parrish, wedged into the middle of a third-row pew, with old ladies wearing gauzy hats and floral dresses packed in tightly on either side, risked a glance up at the church ceiling, just to make sure it wasn’t fixing to fall in on his head. He resisted a nervous urge to loosen his tie—for him, like churchgoing, tie-wearing was reserved for funerals and weddings. This occasion, fortunately, fell into the latter category.
The small sanctuary seemed charged with excitement; folks chatted in whispers, the organist was tuning up for the wedding march, and the groom, Sheriff Boone Taylor, stood tall up front, just to the right of the simple altar, looking eager and scared shitless, both at the same time. Like most men around Parable, Montana, Boone lived in jeans, cotton shirts and boots most of the time, and he looked a few degrees past uncomfortable in his rented tux.
Hutch Carmody and Slade Barlow, half-brothers and Boone’s closest friends, stood up with him, hardly recognizable in monkey suits of their own. Both married men, and cowboys to the core, they kept an eye on Boone, as if ready to catch him by the elbows if his knees buckled, but wry grins twitched at the corners of their mouths, too. They were enjoying this, most likely figuring that if they’d had to get up in front of the whole county and plight their troths, Boone shouldn’t be spared the ordeal, either.
Walker fixed his gaze on Hutch, remembering the last time he’d set foot in this tiny church—a June day, much like this one, with birds chirping in the trees and warm breezes sweeping up the aisle from the open doors of the entry way—and felt the hinges of his jaws lock down. Back then, almost two years ago now, Hutch had been the bridegroom, not a best man. And Walker’s kid sister, Brylee, the only blood kin he could—or would—rightly claim, had been the bride, shiny-eyed and full of bright hopes, wearing the kind of gown women start dreaming about when they’re little girls.
Just when the organ cue sounded, on that other day, the bridesmaids having already taken their places up front, as endlessly rehearsed, and Walker had swung one foot forward to march Brylee between the rows of pews, jammed with people, Hutch had suddenly broken rank with Boone and the minister and walked midway down the aisle, where he stopped.
“Hold it,” he’d said, in a sheepish but nonetheless determined tone.
He’d stopped the wedding, called it off, right then and there, shattering Brylee’s fairy-tale dreams and maybe souring her forever on the subject of marriage.
While a part of Walker had been relieved—he’d never thought Brylee and Hutch Carmody were a good fit—the memory of his sister’s humiliation still stung like a thistle stuck in his hide. If he hadn’t been so busy trying to keep Brylee from doing something stupid, he’d have punched Carmody in the mouth, church or no church.
Which was part of the reason he didn’t trust the rafters to hold.
He tossed another wary glance toward the ceiling.
The Reverend Walter Beaumont was officiating, and he took his place, book in hand, resplendent in maroon robes and a long gold scarf of some kind. Most times, the preacher dressed western, like most everybody else, but today he looked as serious as an Old Testament prophet about to lower the boom on a gathering of unrepentant sinners. He looked like Morgan Freeman and sounded like James Earl Jones, so everybody got ready to listen.
Beaumont cleared his throat.
The organist struck the first rousing chord, and the congregation settled in to watch the show. Walker suspected some of them were, like him, wondering if history was about to repeat itself. The thwarted Carmody-Parrish wedding was, around Parable County, anyhow, the stuff of legend.
Tara Kendall’s twin stepdaughters, just barely teenagers, served as flower girls, happily scattering rose petals in their wake as they fairly danced up the aisle, both of them beaming and obviously enjoying the attention of the guests.
Joslyn Barlow, married to Slade and in a noticeably advanced state of pregnancy, soon followed, wearing an elegant lavender maternity dress and carrying a bouquet of multi-colored flowers in both hands.
Walker noted the electric look that passed between Joslyn and her husband as she took her place opposite the three men dressed like tall, rangy penguins.
Kendra Carmody, Hutch’s beloved—the woman he’d thrown Brylee over for—came next, sleek and classy in pale yellow and also carrying the requisite flowers.
Hutch winked at her when she came to a stop beside Joslyn, and a fetching blush pinked her cheeks.
Next to join the march were Boone’s two young sons, wearing suit jackets and slacks and little bowties. Each of them carried a satin pillow with a gold wedding band nestled in the hollow, and the smaller boy stopped a couple of times along the way, seeming to forget the procedure. He showed the ring he was carrying to Opal Dennison, and she smiled and gently steered him back on course.
This brought an affectionate twitter from the assembly, and the clicks of several phone-cameras slipped in between the notes of organ music.
Walker grinned as the older boy finally backtracked and herded his little brother the rest of the way.
Then it sounded, the loud, triumphant chord signaling the imminent approach of the bride. Walker felt a pang, again reminded of Brylee’s ill-fated wedding, but the truth was, he was glad for Boone and glad for Tara Kendall, too.
Widowed several years before, Boone had been one of the walking wounded for a long time, doing his job but clearly unhappy. He was a good sheriff and a fine man, and Walker liked him.
The bride, a glamorous city-slicker hailing from the Big Apple, had come to Parable some time before, reportedly to reinvent herself after a nasty divorce. It had been a while before Boone and Tara got together, considering that they’d evidently disliked each other on sight, but they’d finally gotten past all that. And, wisely, Walker thought, they’d agreed on a fairly long courtship, just to make sure.
And now their big day was finally here.
There was a church-wide shuffle as the guests rose, turning to watch the bride start what probably felt like the longest short walk of her life.
Boone’s brother-in-law, Bob, escorted Tara, but he was pretty much lost in Tara’s glow. She looked like an angel-bride in her billowing, lacy dress, and her smile was clearly visible behind the rhinestone-studded netting of her veil, as were the happy tears sparkling in her eyes.
Walker felt a catch in his throat, wishing her and Boone well, without reservation, but at the same time wanting that kind of joy for his disillusioned kid sister. She’d been invited to this shindig, right along with him, but Brylee stayed away from weddings these days. She stayed away from too many things, in his opinion, working crazy hours, too worn out to say much when she did turn up, long after all her employees had called it a day and gone home, immediately retreating to her apartment in the main ranch house, her rescued German shepherd, Snidely, following devotedly at her heels.
Realizing he’d gone woolgathering, which was unlike him, Walker was a little startled when Casey Elder appeared beside the organist, music sheet in hand. She wore a blue choir robe and almost no makeup, and her shoulder-length red hair, usually tumbling around her face in spirals, had been pinned up into a sedate knot at her nape.
Inwardly, Walker allowed himself a grim, silent chortle.
This was a side of Casey he’d rarely if ever seen, despite the tangled and chaotic history they shared. She could still pack arenas and major concert halls, even after fifteen years as a professional entertainer, and she’d never recorded a song that hadn’t gone straight to number one on all the charts and ridden there for weeks on end. Her videos were legendary, full of fire and smoke and color, and she was as famous for her flashy style as she was for her voice, always astounding in its power and range. A thing that spread its wings and took flight, soaring like a soul set free.
On stage or on camera, she wore custom-made outfits so bejeweled that she glittered like a dark Montana sky full of stars, a one-woman constellation, and between her looks and the way she sang, she took every member of every audience captive and held them spellbound until the moment she retreated into the wings after the last curtain call. Even then, the magic lingered.
Walker wondered if Casey’s legions of fans would even recognize her, the way she looked today, all prim and well-scrubbed.
He shook off the riot of reactions he felt whenever he encountered this woman, up close or at a distance, and kept his face impassive when she started to sing.
She’d written the song, all about promises and sunrises and sticking together no matter what, especially for Boone and Tara. The organ played softly in the background, a gossamer thread of sound supporting that amazing voice.
By the time she finished, the old ladies on either side of Walker were sniffling happily into their lace-trimmed hankies, and Walker felt the need to blink a couple of times himself.
Casey retreated as swiftly and silently as a ghost, and the ceremony began.
The truth was, most of it was lost on Walker. He sat there in a daze, Casey’s song reverberating inside him like some sweet echo.
Boone moved to stand tall and proud beside his bride, and the reverend began his speech.
Vows were exchanged, promises made, and the light of Boone’s and Tara’s separate candles bonded into a single flame, strong and steady, barely flickering. They slipped rings onto each other’s fingers, their faces shining.
Walker, a man in a daze, took it all in, like a dream with Casey’s remarkable voice for a soundtrack.
The reverend pronounced them man and wife, in a tone of rumbling jubilance, and Boone gently raised Tara’s veil, smoothed it back, and kissed her with a tenderness that struck even Walker’s tough cowboy heart like the plucking of a fiddle string.
The organ erupted again, joyous thunder, startling Walker out of the spell Casey had cast over him, and Mr. and Mrs. Boone Taylor came down the aisle together, both of them beaming, cheers breaking out all around them.
Patiently, Walker waited for the guests to file out into the afternoon sunshine, scented with flowers and new-mown grass and fresh asphalt, glad the wedding was over and equally glad he’d put on scratchy duds and shown up.
Now, all he had to do was put in an appearance at the reception, eat a little cake, shake Boone’s hand and kiss Tara’s cheek, nod to this person and that one, and make a subtle escape. The to-do, which would probably resemble a small circus, was to be held in Casey’s massive backyard, about the last place Walker wanted to hang out, but there was no avoiding it, since he was representing Brylee as well as himself. If he was lucky, he might manage to steal a moment or two with Clare and Shane, while steering clear of their mother.
Clare and Shane. Casey’s children.