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By Debbie Macomber
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One "Annie, I'm so sorry! I can't tell you how sorry I am."
Annie Applegate shifted the receiver to her other ear and blinked repeatedly. Jane Patterson's sympathetic voice had brought tears to her eyes.
"You should've let me know," Jane continued.
It'd taken Annie nearly twelve months to write her childhood friend about the disasters that had befallen her in the past two years. Jane had called the minute she'd read the letter; Annie was grateful for that, although even now, a friend's genuine sympathy threatened her shaky resolve in a way that indifference didn't.
"I ... couldn't," she said. "Not right away."
Four years ago, Jane had left southern California - where Annie still lived - and moved to Promise, a town in the Texas hill country. She'd gone there to work in the local health clinic as partial payment for her medical-school loans. Her parents had been dismayed and delighted in equal parts when their only daughter married a local rancher and settled in the small community.
"What are you going to do?" Jane asked briskly.
She'd always had a practical, we-can-deal-with-this quality that Annie envied. "What are your plans?"
Annie wished she knew. The question was one she'd asked herself a thousand times since the car accident and everything that had followed.
"Do you think you'll stay in California?" Jane pressed when Annie didn't answer.
"I ... I don't know. Probably not." Only she had nowhere to go, nowhere she needed to be, and no real family to speak of. Her friends here all seemed at a loss. They urged her to get on with her life; what they didn't understand was that she needed a completely different direction. A new sense of purpose. If she was going to pick up the shattered pieces that had once been her comfortable orderly existence and move forward, she had to make some real changes first.
"Come to Promise," Jane said, her voice unnaturally high with excitement.
"Texas?" Annie murmured. "You want me to go to Texas?"
"Oh, Annie, you'd love it! This town isn't like anyplace else in the world. The people are friendly and kind and there's a ... a kind of caring here. Promise is small-town America at its best." Jane's enthusiasm was unmistakable - and contagious. "Smalltown Texas at its best, too."
Annie smiled. "I'm sure a visit would do me a lot of good," she said, thinking aloud, deciding then and there to take Jane up on her offer.
"I'm not suggesting a visit," Jane said, interrupting Annie's musings. "I think you should move here. You need a change, a fresh start - you know you do."
She hesitated. "It might sound odd, but I have this feeling that Promise needs you, too."
Staring out the display window, Dovie Hennessey watched her husband hurrying along Promise's main street. He was headed toward her shop, and judging by the look on his face, he had something he couldn't wait to tell her.
"Dovie!" Frank barreled into the store a moment later, his eyes twinkling with amusement. At sixtyfive, he remained muscular and fit, she noted with pride. Every time she saw him, he gave her heart a little thrill - even after three years of marriage. Their romance had begun more than a decade before they decided to "make it legal," as Frank put it. He'd initially been reluctant, since he'd never been married before and was afraid of losing what he'd thought of as his freedom. Dovie, who'd been widowed for years, had desperately wanted the comfort and respectability of marriage. In the end Wade McMillen, the local pastor, had suggested the perfect compromise: marriage with separate residences. It hadn't taken long, however, for Frank to move into Dovie's house full-time.
"My goodness, Frank, what's gotten into you?"
"Adam Jordan," Frank told her, shaking his head.
"I swear I've never seen anything so funny in my life. Just wait'll you hear what that deputy did this time round."
"Sheriff Jordan," Dovie gently reminded him. Frank had retired five months earlier, and it had been an adjustment for both of them. After serving as the town's sheriff for almost fifteen years, he'd found it difficult to hand over the reins to someone else.
Especially when that someone had been such an unpromising specimen as a teenager. Adam Jordan had gotten into one scrape after another and had nearly worried his parents sick before he enlisted with Uncle Sam. Somehow the army had straightened him out. To everyone's amazement, Adam had thrived under the structure and discipline of military life. After basic training he'd applied and been accepted to Airborne Ranger School, and from there had gone on to serve a distinguished twelve years as a member of the elite outfit.
With the recent cutbacks in the military, Adam had returned to Promise. Much to the delight of his parents, who owned the local western-wear shop, he'd applied for a job with the sheriff's department. Frank immediately saw that he'd found his replacement. Al Green, who'd served as deputy for almost twenty years, had no desire to assume the responsibilities of the sheriff's position.
So Adam had arrived at precisely the right time. When Frank announced his retirement, the exAirborne Ranger had run for the office of sheriff and promptly been elected; that was almost six months ago now, in the November election. Frank continued to spend much of his time with Adam, helping, he claimed, with the transition. Dovie didn't know who required more assistance, Adam or Frank.
"Boy's made a fool of himself with that new teacher." Frank chuckled. "Again. Locked her keys inside her car trying to show her the importance of security."
Dovie groaned, embarrassed for Adam. Anyone could see he was infatuated with Jeannie French. Fresh out of college, the first-grade teacher had been hired the previous August, and Adam Jordan hadn't been the same since. He'd done everything he could think of to attract her attention, but according to rumor, he hadn't yet asked her out on a date. Some days, it was all Dovie could do to resist shaking some sense into the man.
"Naturally he had no way of knowing she always throws her car keys under the front seat," Frank explained.
"Why in heaven's name would she do something like that?" Dovie was exasperated with Jeannie, too. Surely the girl could figure out how Adam felt! She sighed; she could just imagine Adam's face when he realized what he'd done.
Frank shrugged. "Why do women do anything?" he asked philosophically. "She had her purse with her, as well as the keys for the school. Apparently she picked up the habit from her father. He's got a ranch a ways north of here. Not much concern about theft in a place like that. Or here, either."
Excerpted from Promise, Texas by Debbie Macomber Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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