Dr. Jonas Concannon has left his practice in New York to return to his hometown of Randolph, Vermont, a picturesque snow-covered village nestled in the glorious Green Mountains. He’s doing it all for Bridget, his first love, the woman he abandoned a decade ago. But he soon discovers she’s no longer the unquestioning innocent he left behind. A strong and resilient widow and single mother, she has her own business, a new man in her life, and an aversion to revisiting the past.
Bridget has to give Jonas credit—what other man would have the nerve to try and shake her resolve after so many years and expect to win her back? While it’s true that she’s never forgotten him, Bridget’s never forgiven him either . . . even if his smile is still potent enough to warm the coldest of hearts. Now, as winter melts into spring, bitter feelings begin to thaw too. But for Bridget that means daring to be vulnerable and trust Jonas all over again.
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Green Mountain Man
The Americana Series: Vermont
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
THE TIRES made a crunching sound in the crusty, packed snow along the edge of the snow-plowed road. Crossing the highway overpass, Jonas Concannon felt the grip of nostalgia at the sight of the picturesque village nestled in the valley. A patchwork of roofs rose ahead of him, the snow melting where the chimneys were perched.
The white church spire was lost against the backdrop of snow-covered mountains and fields, but Jonas located it by memory. Garlands of snow draped the trees, the full evergreens and the bare branches of the maple alike.
At the top of the small hill just before the center of town, the traffic light turned red. The car protested the forced stop on the slope of the slippery icy street.
"Nothing has changed," Jonas muttered wryly.
The light changed to green and the tires spun uselessly for seconds before finding the traction to pull the car over the top of the hill. His mouth was still twisted in the wry smile, an expression of neither gladness nor amusement, a touch of cynicism in its half-curved line, as he considered his comment.
Nothing had changed, he had said. On the surface it seemed that way. Vermont had been covered with snow when he had left it ten years earlier. Everything in the village of Randolph appeared exactly as it had then.
"It isn't the same," Jonas declared grimly. "Not after ten years, regardless of the way it looks."
Turning onto the main street of downtown, he drove slowly across the bridge into the business district. His narrowed gray green eyes glimpsed familiar faces among the bundled figures walking along the sidewalks.
"Why did I come back?" he demanded. "Because you need a rest." He answered the question himself, and again there was the wry, twisting curve to his mouth. "And if you want any more proof of that, just keep carrying on a conversation with yourself and you'll find out how much of a rest you need, Jonas Concannon!" There was an empty parking space in front of the busy station and Jonas maneuvered the car into it. He had told Bob and Evelyn Tyler that he would drive up on Friday, but they wouldn't be expecting him until late afternoon. He had plenty of time to walk around the town and see the changes below the surface.
Snow was shoveled in a mound near the curb. He had to force the door into the snow to get his long frame out of the car. His breath formed a vapory cloud as he stepped into the chilling air and he reached back into the car for the fleece-lined jacket lying on the passenger seat.
Shrugging into it, Jonas slammed the car door and stepped over the snow pile to the sidewalk. He didn't bother to button the jacket. Instead he shoved his hands deep in the pockets to hold the front shut and began walking down the street.
Impervious to the freezing temperature and the overcast skies, he wandered aimlessly past the stores, gazing into shop windows and at the people he met. Several people he recognized, but he made no attempt to renew acquaintances.
A snowflake floated in the air before him, large and crystalline, and his hand reached out to catch it, triggered by a long-forgotten habit, something he used to do with Bridget. He stopped abruptly, the muscles working along his jawline as he stared at the white flake melting in his palm.
Face it, he told himself sternly, she's why you've come back. She is why you are wandering the streets on the off chance that you'll see her. His hand closed into a tight fist, as if to crush the snowflake and the memories it evoked.
He began walking again, more slowly, hands clenched in irritation within the pockets of his jacket. During the ten years he'd been away from Randolph, he hadn't tried to keep in touch, not after Bob had written him that first year to tell Jonas that Bridget was married.
It was purely by accident that he'd run into Bob in Manhattan shortly before the Christmas holidays. It had been a brief reunion, with Jonas insincerely promising to come for a visit. He had never intended to come. December, January, February ... then came March, and his resolve weakened. The pressures of work, Jonas had told himself, the need for a rest and a total change of scene no matter how brief.
The line of his mouth thinned in anger at the way he had deluded himself into believing the only reason he was returning to Randolph was for rest and relaxation This past week when he had contacted Bob to let him know he was accepting his invitation, Jonas had carried the self-deception further by insisting no one know of his visit.
"A quiet weekend, Bob, that's all I want," Jonas had declared. "None of your parties."
"Damn!" Jonas muttered now beneath his breath, teeth clenched.
No, he hadn't wanted any parties, no chance meeting with Bridget amidst a crowd of people, no alcohol clouding his mind when he saw her again. And that was why he was here—to see Bridget again. He cursed silently in frustration; hating the inner weakness that had brought him back.
Pausing in front of a shop window, Jonas stared at his reflection framed in a pane partially steamed over. What was it the wise "they" once said? That you never quite get over your first love? Maybe he had returned to bury Bridget, he reasoned, or at least bury his image of her.
Since he had learned she had married within a year of his leaving, he had tried to imagine her with three or four kids hanging on her skits, her slim waistline and hips gone, a frumpy housewife with rollers in her hair waiting dinner for her husband.
Jonas didn't know the man she had married. He had even blocked the man's name from his memory. But the mere thought of that stranger lying next to Bridget, touching her silky skin, sent him into a cold rage that brought a wintry frost to his gray green eyes.
A hand touched his shoulder. "Excuse me, but aren't you—"
Jonas pivoted away. "You must be mistaken," he snapped without sparing a second to identify the elderly woman.
Long, impatient strides carried him to the end of the block. Instead of crossing the street, he turned up the side street, wanting to avoid the mainstream of traffic and people and the chance that someone else might recognize him.
Slowing his steps, Jonas raked a hand through the thick tobacco brown of his hair. He breathed in deeply, filling his lungs with the cold air while trying to check the tide of impotent anger flowing through him.
"I need a drink," he muttered, nerves and muscles stretched taut.
Looking around to get his bearings, he glanced briefly at the shop nearest to him. Magnetically his gaze was drawn back, caught by the gleam of chestnut hair inside the store. Fire seared through his loins, sharp and painful and white hot, his breath stolen in the shock of recognition.
It was Bridget. He'd know that face, that profile, anywhere, even blurred by the foggy shop window. He had expected that when he saw her again after ten years, he would feel curiosity and, perhaps, the pangs of long-ago desire. Actually seeing her, he felt shaken. He hadn't anticipated this fiery leaping of the senses.
She moved, disappearing from his view. Jonas knew he had to see her more closely without the distortion of the fogged glass. Through it, she had seemed unchanged, no different than when he had left ten years ago. He didn't want that. He wanted to see her changed into a someone he no longer loved.
A bell tinkled above his head as he opened the door and walked in. Bridget's back was to the door, but she didn't turn around. Jonas paused inside, staring at her and feeling the years roll away.
A bulky pullover in forest green gave an initial impression of shapelessness until his gaze slid to the smartly tailored wool slacks of winter white she wore. The slacks revealed the slenderness of her hips and the rounded firmness of her buttocks.
Her figure hadn't changed more than an inch in ten years. She turned slightly at an angle and Jonas corrected his assessment. Not even the bulky sweater could conceal the mature fullness of her breasts jutting against the heavy knit.
Fire spread through his veins and he swore inwardly at the desire the sight of her was arousing. It wasn't what he wanted to feel. He wanted to be indifferent, distantly amused that he had once been attracted to her. He lifted his gaze to her oval face, hardening himself against its classic beauty.
Her complexion seemed paler, the innocence gone, only the freshness remaining. There was a strained look to her mouth, a forced curve to her lips as she smiled at the woman standing in front of her. Jonas remembered the way her hazel eyes used to sparkle with a million starry lights. When he looked at them, he found them luminous and bright but lacking that fiery glitter.
It was a full second before he realized Bridget wasn't looking at the woman before her but staring beyond at something else. His gaze shifted to locate the object of her intense interest and encountered her image in a mirror placed in a corner so the shopkeeper could always see who entered the store.
Jonas realized that she had seen him almost from the instant he walked in. While he saw her reflection, Bridget saw his, the mirror locking their eyes until she sharply averted her head.
He waited for her to acknowledge him, to voice the recognition that had been in her eyes. But she gave not the slightest indication that she was even aware he was in the shop. All her attention was directed at the woman with her. The low, vibrant pitch of her voice that he remembered so well spoke only to the woman.
The impulse to force the moment of confrontation surged fiercely through him, but he checked it, steeling himself to wait. A frown creased his forehead when Bridget walked behind the cash-register counter, ringing up the sale and packaging several skeins of yarn for the woman. It struck him only then that she worked in the shop.
"Don't forget to call me when that dazzle yarn comes in, Bridget," the woman reminded her as she picked up her sack and turned toward the door.
At the last minute, Jonas realized he was blocking the exit and stepped to one side, nodding indifferently at the woman when she walked past him. The bell above the door dinged briefly.
All thought about Bridget working in the store vanished at the knowledge that there were only the two of them. There were no other customers. They were alone and Bridget couldn't ignore him any longer.
So cool, so composed. Jonas seethed at her calmness. She could have been greeting a casual acquaintance instead of a man she had once sworn she would never stop loving. But, of course, she had stopped loving him.
That was evident by the gold wedding band she wore on her ring finger. Again, cold hatred raged in Jonas for the man who had put it there and thus became entitled to certain rights from Bridget that he couldn't claim.
"Hello, Bridget." He walked to the counter where she stood.
"You're looking well," she offered politely without extending a hand in friendly greeting.
On second thought, Jonas decided that was best. A handshake would have been a farcical gesture considering their previous relationship. He kept his hands in his pockets, an elemental tension crackling over his nerve ends.
"So are you." He returned the compliment, letting his gaze skim over her face and figure.
Alertly he saw her stiffen slightly under his deliberately intimate inspection. Just as quickly she relaxed, tipping her head to a vaguely inquiring angle.
"What brings you back to Randolph, Jonas?" she questioned.
He watched her lips form the words and their final curve into a courteous smile of interest for his answer. He remembered their softness, their responsiveness beneath the pressure of his. Passion lurked beneath her calm exterior and he knew how to arouse it.
Hadn't he been the one to awaken Bridget to the desires running latent in every woman? It was on the tip of his tongue to admit that she was the reason he had returned. Just in time, he remembered that another man had taken over the teaching of how to make love.
"I'm here visiting Bob over the weekend," he explained.
"Bob Tyler? Yes, he mentioned that he saw you before Christmas." Bridget nodded, her chestnut hair gleaming with a golden sheen from the overhead light. "He said that you'd promised to come for a visit, but I didn't think you really would."
"Didn't you? Why?" challenged Jonas, not liking the insinuation he sensed behind the remark. Regardless of the doubt he had felt at the time, events had proved he had been right to leave ten years ago.
The bell above the door chimed loudly a second before the latter was slammed shut with a force that rattled its glass. Jonas pivoted toward the sound, angered, at the interruption, but the two little girls paid no attention to his icy look as they raced breathlessly past him.
"Mom, is it all right if I go over to Vicki's house?" The request was issued by the smaller of the two.
Jonas froze, his gaze narrowing on the red-cheeked girl looking earnestly at Bridget. A wisp of sandy brown hair had escaped the green-and-brown-striped stocking cap on her head, the trailing end wrapped around her neck.
The girl's brown hair was a shade lighter than Bridget's, but she had the same classic features and the same hazel eyes, the same deceptively petite build. She was Bridget's child, not necessarily a miniature of her mother, but the resemblance was obvious just the same.
"If you re certain it's all right with Vicki's mother, I don't mind." Bridget's permission was met with gleeful giggles and hurried assurances from the second girl that her mother didn't mind. "I'll pick you up at Vicki's house a little after five. You watch for me."
"I will, mom." The promise was blithely made, the girl's bubbling excitement centered on now and not later.
As the two girls turned to leave, they simultaneously noticed Jonas and paused. Youthfully bright hazel eyes studied him curiously, seemingly unaware of his intense scrutiny. Jonas kept staring, searching for the mark of her father. Finally the girl glanced hesitantly at Bridget.
"Molly, I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine, Jonas Concannon." Reluctantly the introduction was made. "Jonas, this is my daughter, Molly, and her friend Vicki Smith."
"Hello, Molly, Vicki." He nodded curtly, for some reason not trusting himself to say more.
"Hello." The breathless greeting from Molly was shyly echoed by the second girl.
"Run along, you two." Bridget smiled, and the pair darted past Jonas and out of the door with the same exuberance that marked their entrance.
Jonas watched Molly disappear before slowly bringing his gaze back to Bridget. "She looks very much like you," he commented stiffly.
"I'll—" There was a breathless catch to her voice, which Bridget self-consciously laughed off. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"I meant it as one;" he confirmed. "How old is she?"
"Eight. Of course, Molly would insist that she's almost nine. It's funny how when you're young, you always want to be older."
Bridget lifted a hand to flip her shoulder-length hair away from the rolled collar of her pullover, the first gesture of nervousness Jonas had seen her make. There was a measure of satisfaction in knowing she wasn't as poised and nonchalant as she appeared.
He hoped he was making her uncomfortable. He knew what she was doing to him. God, how he knew! He thrust his hands deeper in his pockets, balling them into fists.
"Do you have any more children?" The question was dragged from his throat while over and over his mind kept repeating, "Molly could have been ours."
"Only Molly. She's happy and healthy, and I'm satisfied with that." Bridget forced a smile, the corners of her mouth trembling with the effort.
Jonas wondered if she, too, was thinking that Molly could have been their child, but she wasn't. Another man had fathered her, and Jonas felt the bitter swell of jealousy and anger.
"How are your parents?" He changed the subject abruptly.
"Very well." Her hazel eyes didn't quite meet his look as she answered. "It's coming into the busy time for them with sap starting to run. You wouldn't recognize the sugar-bush. Dad has pipes running all over now. It's much more efficient than bucketing it out in sleds."
"Genuine Vermont maple syrup." Jonas tipped his head back, remembering. "It's been years since I've had any."
Not in ten years. But it was eleven years ago that Jonas was recalling. He had volunteered to help Bridget and her father gather the sap one weekend. Once the sap started running it was a daily chore and he had taken part on that one occasion.
Excerpted from Green Mountain Man by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1978 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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