The Prodigal's Return
The only man Jo Lena Speirs had ever loved had finally come home. And though she hadn't seen Monte McMahan for years, she recognized him the instant she saw him. She would have known him anywhere, just by the way her heart left her body. Jo Lena knew she still loved him, but she had more at stake this time than just her heart . . .
After six years on the professional bull riding circuit, Monte McMahan had returned to the Rocking M Ranch. Wounded, Monte thought he sought solitude but instead found himself drawn to Jo Lena and the precocious niece who called her Mom. Would the love of the woman he'd left behind be strong enough to heal his broken spirit?
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Long Way Home
By Gena Dalton
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Gena Dalton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFor maybe half of his ride on the brindle bull, Monte McMahan believed.
That he could stay on for the whole eight seconds.
That he could score high enough to put him back in the running.
That his injured back had healed enough to let him keep going on down the rodeo road.
Then the wily old Brahma dropped his head, shook his ugly horns and spun hard to the right when he'd definitely been looking to the left ever since the first jump out of the chute.
Pain clamped on to Monte's spine like a coyote's teeth around a rabbit. It twisted the breath out of his lungs one second before it sucked the strength from his arms and legs and tore the rigging from his hand.
He flew through space with the bright lights sparkling and the dust shimmering across his vision. He couldn't close his eyes. He would not. If he closed his eyes, he'd be giving up and if he gave up, he'd be dead when he hit the ground.
The impact made him believe he was. But then the pain exploded inside his head and took the place of his last gasp of precious air. He decided a man could live without breathing because a dead man wouldn't be hurting.
A dead man wouldn't be hearing the true concern in the announcer's voice. Good old Butch, he was worried about Monte.
"Folks, put your hands together for Monte McMahan," he boomed. "He's one tough Texas bull rider and he's been ridin' through the pain for a lot of months now. Y'all may've just had the privilege of seeing his last ride, right here in Houston tonight."
The applause started, but it didn't grow. It was hesitant, it died and the fear-filled hush fell over the arena again.
"He's not moved a muscle since he hit," Butch said. "Let's hope Old Brindle hasn't sent him back to the Rocking M for good. As you all know, Monte's one of the fourth or fifth generation of McMahans from that famous ranch in the Hill Country."
Good old Butch needed to get another line of patter. It was nobody's business where Monte was from.
Faces, blurry and worried, bent over Monte.
"Boys, get that ambulance on out here," Butch called. "And we need a big thank-you, friends and neighbors, for our brave bullfighting clowns. They've got Old Brindle outta here, now. There he is, joggin' down the run, already lookin' for his next victim."
Monte cringed inside, in spite of the fact he couldn't move a muscle. Victim. Butch coulda talked all night without calling him that.
Fool, maybe. That'd be more like it. And now he was a crippled fool.
No, he was not. He would not be.
Calling on the raw willpower that had carried him through many a scrape, he tried once, twice, then he caught his breath and he could force his arm to move. He lifted his hand. He waved to the crowd. Their noise returned, instantly surged into a roar.
He would come back. It might take him a little while, but he'd come back.
All the time the guys from the sports medicine trailer worked on him and examined him and then clamped the stabilizer around his neck and slid him onto the backboard, he held that thought.
* * *
Jo Lena Speirs sat her horse on top of the hill and let him blow. She loved this spot overlooking the entrance to the Rocking M. The river bridge glinted in the dying sunlight, far up the narrow highway, and the bluffs on the other side of it lifted green trees to the sky.
"This is getting to be our routine, isn't it, Scooter?" she said, patting his sweaty neck. "Prayers at the old chapel, and then a nice run across the Rocking M before dark."
Which, to be honest, was what was keeping her sane. Trying to be a mother without a husband, a business owner without employees and a daughter without siblings kept her busy every minute.
She'd already prayed this prayer at the chapel, but she said it again, her heart filled with gratitude.
"Bless Bobbie Ann, Lord. Bless her for offering this horse and this place of peace to me."
An old truck and trailer slowed on the highway and turned off onto the Rocking M road. Idly, she watched it. Dexter Hawkins, Bobbie Ann's old neighbor.
Strangely, Dexter didn't follow the road toward the house. He pulled across the entrance and stopped. He must be having trouble. With a truck that old, anything could be wrong.
Jo Lena touched the cell phone she wore on her belt - Dexter, famous for his stinginess, certainly wouldn't have one. She'd ride down there and offer to call for help.
But as she picked up her reins and started to turn, the passenger door to the truck opened. The instant the man stepped foot on the ground, even though he wore a battered hat pulled down, she knew him.
Monte. Monte McMahan. The only man she'd ever loved.
Even though he was stove up and stiff, she'd have known him by the way he moved. She'd have known him in a dust storm, in the dark or in a blizzard.
She'd have known him by the way her heart left her body.
Her eyes strained toward him painfully through the gathering dusk, hungrily watching him limp toward the back of the trailer. Her whole body had gone weak as water.
But the real trouble was her heart. It was pounding like hoofbeats at a gallop - except that her heart had really leapt out of her chest and left her far behind.
It had wrapped itself around Monte. He looked so sore and so completely defeated that she couldn't stand it. Just the sight of him was breaking her apart all over again.
Excerpted from Long Way Home by Gena Dalton Copyright © 2003 by Gena Dalton
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Gena Dalton's inspirational books are the best .. I can't wait till the next one comes out.. She is an awesome writer .. Keep Writing Gena ..!!