Authors: Debbie Macomber
“Fans are certain to take to the Dakota series as they would to cotton candy at a state fair.”
is more than just a regional contemporary romance. The lead couple is a wonderful pair, and the supporting cast brings North Dakota to life.”
is a poignant story of the plight of the modern American farmer and of townspeople pulling together to make their hometown one they can be proud of…an extremely well-written and touching tale. Macomber certainly has a knack for telling the story of small-town life.”
Debbie Macomber “is skilled at creating characters who work their way into readers’ hearts.”
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
with a cliffhanger, leaving readers anxiously awaiting the final installment to this first-rate series.”
“Macomber handles her large cast of characters remarkably well…. Her portrayal of North Dakota [is] another strength.”
“Macomber excels at depicting believable characters…who inhabit this delightful town.”
Here at last is
the third book in my Dakota trilogy. I wrote this series of books more than eight years ago in honor of my parents, who were born and raised in the Dakotas, and I’m thrilled these stories still have meaning for you. Buffalo Valley is a prairie town that’s been given a new chance at life; it’s now a place of hope and optimism and energy.
I feel I should warn you about something, though. Margaret Clemens isn’t your everyday kind of heroine—and Matt Eilers is unlike any other hero I’ve written. Life becomes very complicated for this young man—but I’m getting ahead of myself. Besides, you’ll find out all about Matt and Margaret soon enough.
I need to thank a number of people for their help as I worked on this series. One is my cousin Shirley Adler, who braved a Dakota winter so I could do the necessary research. (I probably shouldn’t mention that it was one of the mildest winters on record!) Cousins Gary and Letty Zimmerman and Paula and Mike Greff, North Dakota natives all, offered invaluable assistance, as did authors and good friends Sandy Huseby and Judy Baer. What would a writer do without family and friends?
Okay, my dear reader, settle down in a comfortable chair and get ready to visit Buffalo Valley again. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy your visit!
P.S. I love hearing from readers. You can reach me at
www.debbiemacomber.com or write me at P.O. Box 1458, Port Orchard, WA 98366.
Aunt Betty Stierwalt
Aunt Gerty Urlacher
For gracing my life with their incredible gift for love
I love you both
ernard Clemens was dying and he knew it, despite what the doctors—all those fancy specialists—had said about his heart. He knew. He was old and tired, ready for death.
Sitting in the den of the home he’d built thirty years ago for his wife, he closed his eyes and remembered. Maggie had been his great love. His only love. Delicate and beautiful, nearly sixteen years younger, she could have had her choice of husbands, but she’d chosen
An aging rancher with a craggy face and work-roughened hands. A man who had simple tastes and lacked social refinement. And yet she’d loved him.
God help him, he’d loved
loved her still, although she’d been gone now for nearly twenty-seven years.
Her love had been gift enough, but she’d yearned to give him a son. Bernard, too, had hoped for an heir. He’d purchased the Triple C as a young man, buying the land adjacent to his parents’ property, and eventually he’d built the combined ranches into one huge spread, an empire to pass on to his son. However, the child had been a girl and they’d named her Margaret, after her mother.
The pregnancy had drained Maggie and she was further weakened that winter by a particularly bad strain of the flu. Pneumonia had set in soon afterward, and before anyone realized how serious it was, his Maggie was gone.
In all his life, Bernard had never known such grief. With Maggie’s death, he’d lost what he valued most—the woman who’d brought him joy. When they lowered her casket into the ground, they might as well have buried him, too. From that point forward, he threw himself into ranching, buying more land, increasing his herd and consequently turning the Triple C into one of the largest and most prosperous cattle ranches in all of North Dakota.
As for being a father to young Margaret, he’d tried, but as the eldest of seven boys, he had no experience in dealing with little girls. In the years that followed, his six younger brothers had all lived and worked with him for brief periods of time, eventually moving on and getting married and starting families of their own.
They’d helped him raise her, teaching her about ranching ways—riding and roping…and cussing, he was sorry to admit.
To this day, Margaret loved her uncles. Loved riding horses, too. She was a fine horsewoman, and more knowledgeable about cattle than any man he knew. She’d grown tall and smart—not to mention smart-mouthed—but Bernard feared he’d done his only child a grave disservice. Margaret resembled him more than she did her mother. Maggie had been a fragile, dainty woman who brought out everything that was good in Bernard.
Their daughter, unfortunately, revealed very little of her mother’s gentleness or charm. How could she, seeing that she’d been raised by a grief-stricken father and six bachelors? Margaret looked like Bernard, talked like him and dressed like him. It was a crying shame she hadn’t been a boy, since, until recently, she was often mistaken for one. His own doing, he thought, shaking his head. Had Maggie lived, she would have seen to the proper upbringing of their daughter. Would have taught their little girl social graces and femininity, as mothers do. Bernard had given it his best shot. He loved his daughter, but he felt that he’d failed her.
To her credit, Margaret possessed a generous, loving heart and she was a fine businesswoman. Bernard couldn’t help being proud of her, despite a constant sense of guilt about her unconventional upbringing.
There was a light knock. At his hoarse, “Come in,” the housekeeper opened the door. “Matt Eilers is here to see you,” Sadie announced brusquely.
With effort, Bernard straightened, his fingers digging into the padded leather arms of his chair as he forced himself to meet his neighbor. “Send him in.”
She nodded and left.
Less than a minute later, Matt Eilers appeared, Stetson in hand.
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t get up,” Bernard said.
Bernard gestured toward the matching chair on the opposite side of the fireplace. “Sit down.”
Matt obliged, giving Bernard his first good look at this man his daughter apparently loved. Frankly, he was disappointed. He’d seen Matt at social affairs, the occasional wedding, harvest dance or barbecue, but they’d never spoken. Somehow, he’d expected more substance, and he felt surprised that Margaret would be taken in by a pretty face and an empty heart. Over the past few years Bernard had heard plenty about his neighbor to the west, and not much of it had been flattering.
“I imagine you’re wondering why I asked to meet with you.”
“I am,” Matt said, perching on the edge of the chair. He held his hat in both hands, his expression questioning.
“You enjoy ranching?”
At least he was polite, and that boded well. “How long you been ranching the Stockert place?”
“Four years. I’d like to buy my own spread one day, but for now I’m leasing the land and building up my herd.”
“So I understand.” Bernard leaned back in his chair. His breath came slowly, painfully. “You have family in the area?”
Matt’s gaze shifted to the Oriental rug. “No. My parents divorced when I was five. My father ranched in Montana and I worked summers with him, but he died when I was fifteen.”
“Ranching’s in your blood then, same as mine.”
“It is,” Matt agreed.
Bernard hesitated, waiting until he had breath enough to continue. “You know my daughter, Margaret.”
“What do you think of her?”
The question seemed to take him by surprise. “Think of her? How do you mean?”
Bernard waved his hand. “Your general impression.”
Slumping back in the chair, Matt shrugged. “I…I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Just be honest,” he snapped, impatient. He didn’t have the strength—or the time—for word games.
“Well…” Matt paused. “Margaret’s Margaret. She’s…unique.”
That was true enough. As far as Bernard knew, she’d only worn a dress twice in her entire life. He’d tried to get her into one when she was ten and the attempt had damn near killed him. “Did you know she’s in love with you?”
Matt sprang to his feet. “I swear I haven’t touched her! I swear it.” The color fled from his face and he shook his head as though to emphasize his words.
“I believe you…. Sit down.”
Matt did as asked, but his demeanor had changed dramatically. His posture was stiff, his face tight with apprehension and uncertainty.
“She’s gotten it in her head that she’s going to marry you.”
Matt had the look of a caged animal. “I…I’m not sure what to say.”
“You don’t know my daughter, otherwise you’d realize that when she sets her mind to something, there isn’t much that’ll stand in her way.”
Bernard cut him off. He was growing weak and there was still a lot to be said. “In a few months, Margaret’s going to be a very wealthy woman.”
Matt stared at him.
“I’m dying. I don’t have much time left.” His gaze burned into Eilers. Then he closed his eyes, gathering strength. “God knows what she sees in you, but it’s too late to worry about her judgment now. I raised her the best I could, and if she loves you, there must be more to you than meets the eye.”
Matt stood and started pacing. “What makes you think I’d marry Margaret?” he asked.
Despite the difficulty he had in breathing, Bernard laughed. “Because you’d be a fool not to, and we both know it. She’s going to inherit this ranch. I own more land and cattle than you’ll see in ten lifetimes. She’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted.”
It was clear from Eilers’s expression that he was shocked.
“I called you here today to tell you something you need to hear.”
Matt clutched his Stetson so tightly, his knuckles whitened. “What’s that?”
Bernard leaned forward. “You hurt my girl and I swear I’ll find a way to make you pay, even if I have to come back from the grave to do it.”
Eilers swallowed hard. “You don’t have anything to worry about, Mr. Clemens. I have no intention of marrying Margaret.”
Bernard chuckled, knowing otherwise. Eilers would marry Margaret, all right, but it wouldn’t be for love. He’d marry her for the land and the cattle. No man with ranching in his blood would be able to refuse what she had to offer.
Yes, Matt would marry her, but it was up to Margaret to earn Matt Eilers’s affection.