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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Jackson

Eternity Springs: The McBrides of Texas

Eternity Springs (Volume 16)

Emily March

St. Martin's Paperbacks

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

Chapter One


NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

Bang. The judge’s gavel fell and officially crushed Jackson McBride’s heart. He closed his eyes. Bleak despair washed over him. Up until this very moment, he hadn’t believed she’d take it this far.

He’d thought she’d come to her senses. He’d thought she would recognize that this proposal was not only nonsense, but truly insane. He’d believed that somewhere deep inside of her, she still had a spark of humanity. That she wouldn’t do this to him. To them. He’d been wrong. Damn her. Damn her and the yes-men she surrounded herself with. Damn them all to hell and back.

The enormity of what had just happened washed over him. Oh, God, how will I survive this?

On the heels of his anguish came the rage. It erupted hot as lava, and it fired his blood and blurred his vision with a red haze of fury. He’d never hit a woman in his life. Never come close, despite plenty of provocation from her direction. In that moment had she been within reach, he might have lived up her accusations.

It scared the crap out of him. That’s what she’s brought me to.

Abruptly, he shoved back his chair so hard that it teetered, almost falling over. He strode toward the courtroom exit. “Jackson? Jackson, wait!” his attorney called, hurrying after him.

Jackson waved her off and didn’t stop. There was nothing left to be said. Nothing left to be done. No place left to go.

No little girl waiting at home to hug and cuddle and kiss good night.

The tap on the toes of Jackson’s boots clacked against the tile floor of the courthouse as his long-legged strides ate up the hallway. He shunned the elevator for the stairs and descended three flights at a rapid pace, then headed for the building’s exit. In a foolish bit of positive thinking, he’d driven his SUV to the courthouse this morning. Now the sight of the safety booster seat in the back seat made him want to kick a rock into next week.

He didn’t want to go home to a quiet, empty house. He shouldn’t go to a bar. Alcohol on top of his current mood could be a dangerous combination. Somebody probably would get hurt.

He got into the car and started the engine. For a long moment he sat unmoving, staring blindly through the windshield, his hands squeezing the steering wheel so hard that it should have cracked. When his phone rang, he ignored it.

A couple of minutes later, it rang a second time. Again, he ignored it. When it happened a third time, he finally glanced at the display to see who was calling. His cousin. Okay, maybe he would answer it.

“Hello, Boone.”

“How did the hearing go?”

Jackson couldn’t speak past the lump in his throat, so he said nothing.

Following a moment’s silence, Boone got the message. He muttered a curse, and then said, “I’m sorry, man. So damn sorry.”

“Well, it is what it is.”

“You can take another run at it.”

“Yeah.” In three years. Three years. Might as well be three decades. He cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So, how are things in Eternity Springs?”

“Good. They’re good. My friend Celeste Blessing visited my office a few minutes ago and spoke of her granite-headed cousin. Naturally, I thought of you.”

“Naturally,” Jackson dryly replied. But he felt a little less alone.

“Do you have plans this weekend? I could use your help with something.”

Pretty convenient timing. Knowing Boone, he had a spy in the courtroom. But Jackson wasn’t in the position to ignore the bone he’d been thrown. “I’m free. Whatcha got?”

“I’d like you to meet me at home.”

Jackson straightened in surprise. “You’re going back to the ranch?”

“No. Not there. I’m never going back there. However, I am talking about Texas. The Hill Country in particular. A little town west of Austin called Redemption.”

“Redemption, Texas?” Jackson repeated. For some weird reason, his heart gave a little skip. “Why there?”

“It’s a long story. Too long for a phone call. I’ll give you the entire skinny when I see you. When can you get there?”

After today’s debacle, Jackson had absolutely no reason to remain in Nashville. “When do you want me there?”

“I’ll be in later today. I’m in Austin now. I’ve been helping a friend with a project. I have a flight back to Colorado Sunday evening. The earlier you can get here the better, but I’ll make anything work.”

Jackson figured the distance and the drive time. “I’ll meet you tomorrow afternoon. Where?”

“Great. I’ll text you the info when we hang up. Bring camping gear.”

When a sound behind him had Jackson glancing up into the rearview mirror and the booster seat caught his notice, he made an instant decision. “Can’t. I’ll be on my bike.”

“You’re gonna ride your motorcycle all the way from Nashville?”

“Yes, I think I am.”

“Okay. I’ll bring stuff for both of us.” Boone hesitated a moment and added, “Hang in there, Jackson. It’ll get better.”

No, I don’t think it will. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jackson ended the call and finally put his SUV in gear and backed out of the parking place. With the distraction of the call behind him, fury returned, and by the time he reached home, he felt like a volcano about to explode.

He threw a handful of things into his tail bag, filled his wallet with cash from his stash, and ten minutes after his arrival, he fired up his bike and took his broken heart and headed out of Nashville. He left behind his home, his work, and his one reason for living, his six-year-old daughter, Haley.

As the motorcycle picked up speed, he recalled their last goodbye when he’d dropped her off at her mother’s at the end of their regular weekend. The nanny met them at the curb, as usual. Haley had given Jackson a hug, then taken the nanny’s hand and walked up the hill toward the mansion’s front double doors.

Jackson always waited to leave until she was inside. She always watched until the door completely closed. This time, she’d held the bright pink stuffed rabbit she slept with at his house in her arms. Bunny-Bunny. Ordinarily, she left him at Jackson’s, but last Sunday, she wouldn’t leave him behind.

He thought he’d probably see that flash of neon pink every time he closed his eyes for the next six months. For the next six months while Haley and Bunny-Bunny traveled the world. Six long interminable months before he’d be allowed to see his sweet baby girl again.

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Caroline Carruthers covered her mouth with her hand as she watched her husband of twelve years lean over and tenderly kiss the cheek of another woman. Caroline knew all about the woman. Her name was Gina. She was twelve years older than Robert’s forty-eight. She was a widow with two children and five grandchildren. Holding hands and smiling, Robert and Gina walked away from Caroline on their way to the community room.

Caroline blinked back tears. Her beloved husband was in love with another woman. Intellectually, she was okay with that. Emotionally, some days, she couldn’t deal. It was too much to see him flirting like a teenager with someone else. Today was one of those days.

Today was her wedding anniversary.

Her husband didn’t have a clue who she was.

Caroline turned on her heels and fled the Easterwood Memory Care Center where Robert Carruthers had been living for the past four months. Most days when she visited, she could look beyond her own heartache and be thankful that he was comfortable and happy, but she simply didn’t have it in her today.

She missed him so much.

Tears blurred her eyes as she signaled the attendant at the door to release the lock so she could leave the building. It was a blustery spring morning with temperatures in the mid-seventies and thunderstorms forecasted later in the day.

Lost in her own misery, she narrowly avoided bumping into a silver-haired woman who rounded the corner of the sidewalk. “Excuse me,” Caroline said, dodging out of the way at the last minute.

The woman looked at her with cloudy blue eyes. “I’m sorry. My fault. I wasn’t watching where I was going. I just … I don’t feel well. I … oh.” The woman swayed, and then her eyes rolled up and her knees gave out and she started to collapse at Caroline’s feet.

Caroline gave a horrified gasp and lunged for the older woman, managing to catch her below the shoulders and ease her to the ground. “Ma’am? Ma’am?”

Was this a heart attack? A stroke?

Caroline touched the woman’s face. She feels warm.

Caroline gazed around quickly. Had anyone noticed? Was help already on the way? She needed her purse … her phone … to call 911. She’d dropped it when she’d grabbed for the lady. There. It had fallen just beyond reach. “Ma’am?” she repeated as she reached for her bag.

The woman’s eyes opened. Brilliant blue, but cloudy. She blinked rapidly, repeatedly, and struggled to sit up. “Oh, dear,” she said, her voice weak. “I’m so sorry. I got a little dizzy.”

“Careful. Hold on. Why don’t you stay down? Let me get help.”


Copyright © 2019 by Geralyn Dawson Williams