New York Times bestselling author Joan Johnston brings to life an unforgettable love story between two strong-willed people from different worlds in her thrilling new novel featuring the Blackthornes of Bitter Creek, Texas, and their formidable rivals, the Grayhawks of Wyoming. Juggling single motherhood and her job as deputy sheriff of Teton County, Sarah Barndollar hasn't lost hope of solving two cold cases of missing young women. When a third vanishes, all hell breaks loose -- because she's the illegitimate daughter of Texas scion Clay Blackthorne and the granddaughter of his mortal enemy King Grayhawk. The crisis pits the two powerful families against each other in a race against time. Playboy Drew DeWitt, a Blackthorne cousin, insists on taking part in the search -- putting him on a collision course with Sarah. Her cop instincts tell her the sexy Texan is trouble. But when evidence emerges of a conspiracy against the U.S. government, Sarah accepts Drew's high-powered help as she negotiates a shadowy landscape of hidden rivals and ruthless greed where every moment counts in saving lives, including her own.
At the start of Johnston's swift-moving Bitter Creek romance (The Price, etc.), 17-year-old Kate Grayhawk, the out-of-wedlock daughter of Libby Grayhawk and Clay Blackthorne, skips out of her Virginia boarding school and heads for Jackson Hole, Wyo., where her mother lives. But soon after leaving a phone message for her mother, she's drugged and kidnapped at a Teton Village bar near home. Desperate to find her daughter, Libby phones Clay, the U.S. attorney general, and is surprised when he later shows up on her doorstep. Romantic tension sizzles between the estranged lovers as they recall their long-ago affair and the decades-old animosity between their families, but they put their differences aside to join Deputy Sheriff Sarah Barndollar in the hunt for Kate, which is made perilous by threats of avalanches and impending blizzards. A precipitous secondary romance between Sarah and Drew DeWitt, Clay's cousin, is complicated by the disappearance of Sarah's husband, Tom, 15 months earlier. But as the search for Kate leads Sarah and Drew to nearby Bear Island, Sarah discovers that Kate's disappearance may be linked to Tom's "abandonment." Though some elements of the protagonists' heroic search will strain readers' belief, the story's suspense and surprising conclusion nicely counterpoint the dual romances. Agent, Trident Media Group. (Sept. 1) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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June 30, 2007
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Excerpt from The Rivals by Joan Johnston
Sarah was making oatmeal raisin cookies after dinner when she got the call from her sister-in-law that Sarah's brother Mike was drunk again and had run the tow truck off the road on his way to a job. Theresa couldn't leave the kids alone and wanted Sarah to please rescue Mike and then go tow some idiot out of the Hoback River.
"The call came in more than an hour ago," Theresa said. "The guy must be going crazy waiting for his tow."
"No problem, Theresa," Sarah said. "I'm leaving now."
Sarah yelled for her stepson. "Nate, can you come and keep an eye on the cookies in the oven? I've got to go do a tow for Uncle Mike."
"I'm playing Metroid," Nate shouted back. "I'm about to defeat Mother Brain. Can't Brooke do it?"
"Brooke is getting Ryan ready for bed."
"Is Uncle Mike drunk again?"
Sarah headed into the living room, wiping her hands on a dish towel, and got there in time to meet Nate's eyes as he finished speaking.
"Yes, he is," she said. "Which should be a lesson to you about the dangers of drinking."
Nate flushed. He'd been caught the previous Friday night drinking at the Valentine's Day dance at school and had been suspended for three days. He set down the controller and rose from his seat on the floor facing the TV, heading for the kitchen. "You've made your point, Mom," Nate said. "Endlessly," he muttered under his breath.
Once upon a time, Sarah would have ruffled her stepson's hair as he passed by her. But Nate was already six feet tall and still growing. He had her husband Tom's wiry build and Tom's warm brown eyes, sandy hair and freckles. She brushed a hand down the sleeve of Nate's black-and-gold Jackson Broncs sweatshirt instead, wanting the contact, wanting to reassure him that they were going to be all right, despite the hardships of the past fifteen months.
"Thanks, Nate. I appreciate the help. Don't eat all of them before I get back," she said with a grin. "Save one for me."
"Sure, Mom," he said, shrugging free of her touch.
As she was putting on her coat, her eight-year-old son Ryan came running toward her, his pajama top still unbuttoned. Brooke came stalking in behind him, her hands on her hips -- her jeans a few inches below that -- and her fifteen-year-old eyes so caked with mascara that it was hard to tell they were hazel behind the black fringe.
"Where you going, Mom?" Ryan asked as he launched himself at her.
Ryan was too big to be picked up, really, but Sarah picked him up anyway. If Tom were still around, he could easily have hefted Ryan's weight. But Tom was gone.
Sarah knew there was debate in town about whether Tom Barndollar had finally gotten tired of his wife wearing the pants in the family and taken off. In fact, she and Tom had argued the morning he'd disappeared about the long hours Sarah was spending as a Teton County Deputy Sheriff hunting for some missing teenage girl, instead of staying home and taking care of her own family.
Sarah might have believed Tom was mad enough that morning to walk out on her, but she couldn't believe he would have left without a word to Nate and Brooke, his children by his first wife, and Ryan, who was Sarah and Tom's son.
Sure they'd argued, but in the past, they'd always worked things out. Only, that long-ago morning Tom had given her an ultimatum. He'd threatened to leave her if she didn't put her family first.
He'd only threatened to leave. Which meant he was giving her a chance to change her priorities. But when she'd come home that evening, both Tom and his truck had been missing.
That had been fifteen months ago. She hadn't heard a word from him since.
Sarah knew her husband was dead. Because if Tom Barndollar had been alive, he would have contacted her. Whatever the town of Jackson thought, Tom had loved her. And he would never have walked out on Nate and Brooke and Ryan.
Nate had been seven and Brooke six when Sarah married Tom. She'd been twenty-two and looking for an escape. She'd found it in Tom's arms. It hadn't been easy winning her stepchildren's love. She'd persisted, despite the setback when Ryan had been born, and Nate and Brooke had feared she wouldn't love them anymore, now that she had a child of her own.
Sarah's relationship with all three kids had been tenuous lately. A second girl had disappeared from Jackson three months ago, and Sarah was suddenly spending more time at work than ever before. She'd called on Nate to take care of the housework and on Brooke to keep an eye on Ryan.
Neither of them were happy about the additional responsibility. Both of them had heard that final argument between Sarah and Tom. Both of them had recently accused Sarah of reverting to the behavior they believed had caused their father to leave home.
To make matters even worse, Sarah's husband and her brother Mike had run the tow service together, but since Tom's disappearance, Mike had had trouble managing on his own.