A Light At Winter's End

A Light At Winter's End

Cedar Springs, Book 3

Contemporary Romance and Women's Fiction
February 22, 2011

Whose baby is he?

Hannah has always done everything right: getting married, having a baby, caring of her mother in her final days, all the while performing impeccably in a high-level job. Her sister Holly is the college dropout, the one who works at a coffee shop and wants to be a songwriter. Then one day perfect Hannah suddenly--without explanation--leaves her baby with Holly and disappears. What Holly knows about babies is laughable, but she takes little Mason to the empty family homestead, where she meets Wyatt Clark, a close-mouthed, handsome cowboy who is mysteriously good with babies. And then, just as Holly can no longer imagine her life without either Mason or Wyatt, Hannah returns for her son...

In an emotional new novel that is also a tender love story, New York Times bestselling author Julia London brings back a sexy hero from Summer of Two Wishes while posing the toughest question about the meaning of family: How do you make a heartbreaking choice about someone you whom you love more than yourself?

The cowboy rose at dawn’s first light and pulled on a pair of worn, dirty denims. “Come,” he said to his dog and, scratching his bare abdomen, which had been made lean and hard by the work he did around the ranch, he padded down the hall of the nondescript red brick ranch house and into the kitchen.

There was something sticky underfoot on the linoleum, but since a fluorescent bulb overhead was out, he couldn’t really see.  He sleepily made a note of it and thought Sunday, when he washed his clothes in that old harvest yellow washer, he might wash a few things around the house, as well.  He couldn’t remember ever mopping the floor here, and figured, after a year, it was as good a time as any.

He studied the row of buttons on the trendy contraption that some would call a coffee machine, and he called a pretentious piece of pain-in-the-ass machinery.  It was one of the few things he’d kept from his marriage.  He’d bought it for her, of course, and she’d been ridiculously pleased with it.  He’d never quite figured out how to operate it correctly.  Why had he kept it?  He didn’t know anymore.  The only thing he did know was that Wyatt and Macy Clark were no more.

He punched a few buttons and the machine sounded like a locomotive steam engine.  He turned away and almost tripped over his black lab.  Milo was always sneaking up on him like that, appearing underfoot, that damn tail always wagging.  Wyatt had never known a happier dog, and he’d had quite a few in his life.  No matter what he put the dog through, he grinned and wagged his tail and acted like he wanted more hard living.

Milo was the other thing Wyatt had kept from his marriage.  Because Milo was his dog.  Not hers.  His.

His dog was hungry.  Wyatt opened a sack of dog food he kept in a trashcan next to the greasy kitchen wall.  He scraped out two cups of chow and poured it into a dirty dog bowl.  Milo didn’t mind that he ate from a Petrie dish—he had one eager paw in the bowl as he wolfed it down.

Wyatt walked back to his bedroom and found a shirt in his pile of unwashed clothes that didn’t smell too bad.  Today, he was going to tackle that broken fence the cattle kept trampling, and he didn’t need to be clean or smelling of roses to do that.  He dressed, pulled on his boots, brushed his teeth and ran his fingers through his black hair.  It had grown kind of long, and he’d taken to wearing it in a little ponytail at his nape.  Never thought he’d see the day he did that—he’d always been a clean-cut kind of guy before his world collapsed—but what the hell?  He lived by himself.  The only person he saw on a regular basis was his baby daughter Grace, and she didn’t care what he looked like.  He didn’t have anyone to impress, and Milo would like him if he walked around naked.  Which, in all honesty, he’d done a time or two.

Wyatt returned to the kitchen.  The coffee maker now showed all green lights, so he poured himself a cup and sat down at the kitchen table.  There was a neat line of stuff he used every day:  Salt and pepper, Tabasco sauce.  A stack of paper napkins next to a stack of paper plates.  And his laptop, his only real connection to the outside world.  Oh, he had a television hooked up to some rabbit ears so he could get football and golf, but not much else came in over the rabbit ears.

He opened the laptop and his home screen popped up, with the news and the sports scores and his personal favorite, the Word of the Day.  Today’s word was chary.

Chary. chary • \CHAIR-ee\ adjective

1  a : discreetly cautious: b : hesitant and vigilant about dangers and risk.  Example:  The gentleman is chary about voicing his concerns.

Chary.  He sipped his coffee, clicked over to ESPN.com to check the baseball scores.  He didn’t see anything he didn’t already know, and closed his laptop.  He took a couple of sips of coffee and looked outside.  Wyatt never bothered with breakfast.  He liked getting out early while it was still cool and the wind was still.  He liked the sound of the morning birds before the day got too warm for them and they disappeared into the brush.

He heard a bit of whining and looked over his shoulder.  Milo had finished his breakfast and was standing at the back door, ready to go out.  The paint was all scratched up where Milo would claw on it when Wyatt wasn’t paying attention.  Wyatt stood up, picked up his sweat-stained hat from the table, and fit it on his head.

He opened the back screen door.  Milo took off, racing across the unkempt lawn with his nose to the ground.  Coffee cup in hand, Wyatt moseyed on down to the barn, put his coffee cup on a shelf inside the barn next to two other coffee cups.  He had three horses inside and turned two of them out to the pasture, swatting their rumps and sending them trotting to stretch their legs.  He saddled the third.  Troy, he called him, named for the great Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.

When he had Troy saddled, he led him out, whistled for Milo, and swung up into the saddle.  The dog raced out of the brush and ran alongside Troy as Wyatt reined him around.  He rode out into uncut land, through thickets of cedar and pin oaks and around prickly pear cactus spread as wide as swimming pools.  His ranch was big for this part of Texas, about fifteen thousand acres and twenty- four square miles.  That was a lot of fence to mend, a lot of ground for cattle and horses to cover.  Wyatt had had an old pickup truck he used when the work warranted, but mostly, he liked to ride.

He rode up on the southeast corner of the fence where the cattle had gotten their big heads through and had busted through the barbed wire.  He surveyed the damage; the wire would have to be cut out and restrung.  He figured he’d call Jesse Wheeler to come out and give him a hand.  Jesse was Cedar Springs resident jack-of-all-trades, a skill he’d picked up as he hopped from one woman’s bed to another, when he needed to do odd jobs to earn his keep.

Wyatt spent the morning cutting the barbed wire from the posts.  It hot as blazes by eleven, and he paused to wipe the sweat from his eyes and take a drink from his canteen.  He was standing next to Troy in the shade when he heard the cars.  He turned around to see a hearse turn into the drive on the adjoining property.  Another car was right behind it.  And another.  A funeral procession was heading up to the old Fisher cemetery.  Wyatt had heard the old lady who lived there had cancer, but he hadn’t heard she’d died.  Frankly, between him and Milo and the big blue sky, he’d had been biding his time, hoping to buy up that property when the opportunity arose.

That’s what Wyatt did.  Or used to do.  He used to buy and sell ranch lands, then turn them into developments.  And Wyatt Clark of Clark Properties would buy up half of Texas if that’s what it took to keep him from civilization.  Since his wife Macy had left him for her first husband, he hadn’t felt much like being in the world, and the more land he could put between him and the world, the better.

He squinted at the cars as they disappeared into the cedar on the drive up to that old homestead cemetery and took another swig from his canteen.

It looked like the opportunity to make some chary inquiries had presented itself.

“A passionate, arresting story that you wish would never end.”

~ Robyn Carr, New York Times bestselling author of Paradise Valley

Most women would agree that it’s preferable to be labeled a goddess than “hardheaded.” It’s true that Cat Stevens celebrates his hardheaded woman — she’ll “make me do my best” — but Elvis Presley has a different take, calling her “a thorn in the side of man.” Love songs aside, a man with a “head like a rock” is not high on my list of ideal spouses. However, these five novels make a strong play for the desirability of a stubborn partner. The problem is that a hardheaded person is likely to have planned out his or her life without including you. And he or she is unlikely to want to change direction.

Julia London’s A Light At Winter’s End is a complex and heartbreaking novel about a country western songwriter, Holly Fisher, whose sister has a breakdown and dumps her baby on Holly’s doorstep. Heather graduated valedictorian, married the perfect man, and wears diamonds and heels. Holly, on the other hand, has stubbornly kept writing country music her entire life, in the face of her family’s conviction that she’s a drifter and a failure. Holly’s career is finally taking off when she has to move to the country to take care of the nephew she hardly knows. Her neighbor turns out to be a lonely cowboy, Wyatt Clark, who knows more about babies than she does, since his wife left him, taking their child. Together Holly and Wyatt forge a sweet, tentative, and joyful family — until Heather reappears. When Holly, sans baby, is swept off to Nashville, she leaves Wyatt behind. She’s spent her whole life fighting to be a singer, and she can’t imagine changing direction — even just to include Wyatt in her plans. It takes her quite a while to realize that she’d been a fool to think that her life had to go as planned. When she tells Wyatt that she misses him, that she loves him more than anything, “more than music,” it’s doubly romantic because we’ve watched her fight so hard against that realization.

~ From Eloisa James’s “READING ROMANCE” column on The Barnes & Noble Review

Cedar Springs

In Summer of Two Wishes, a woman is faced with a devastating choice when her first husband comes back from the dead–and she must choose between him and her second husband. A woman goes in search of her birth mother, but finds more secrets in One Season of Sunshine. A woman is shocked when her sister dumps her baby on her doorstep and disappears in A Light at Winter’s End.

of Two WishesOne Season of SunshineA Light At Winter's End

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