The eagerly awaited third installment in the Love, Montana series, Forever, Montana begins where Always, Montana ends. After much personal upheaval Amelia “Rose” Montana is at last regaining a sense of normalcy after losing her husband author Lash Jackson Montana who publishes under the well well-known name of, Montana Joe. Rose has remarried, yet still struggling with a life without her beloved Joe. In Deb Martin-Webster’s latest novel she introduces a host of new characters bringing us full circle in the saga of Rose Montana-Saxton. Along with Martin-Webster’s signature plot twists, romance, Native American wisdom, and loads of humorous moments, Forever, Montana continues to portray the diversity, love and strength of this extraordinary family.
Excerpt From “Forever, Montana”
Potatoes, onions, sugar, milk, sweet feed, horse wormers, three boxes of horseshoe nails, barn door hinges, Jack Daniels, four pounds of coffee and two daffodils for my beautiful Rose Darlin’ .
I miss being called Rose Darlin’. Lash’s death was devastating to an entire generation of loyal Cowboy and Western Fiction fans, especially those in the Cowboy Writers Community. They’re still mourning his death. Many readers knew him only by his nom de plume of Montana Joe. I know some fans that took his death harder than I did. One particularly overzealous woman named Mona Moon Rae. I swear I received at least forty sympathy cards from her, but that’s another story in itself.
Our marriage was short lived; however, the union created a lifetime of memories and a beautiful daughter. I know Joe wouldn’t want me living in the past. As difficult as it was, I had to move on with my life.
I’m now married to Paul Saxton. I remember Lash telling me what a fine man Paul is and if anything were to happen to him, Paul was someone I could depend on. His work ethic impressed Lash, as did his great sense of humor. Lash would say, “He’s one dang entertaining bloke.” He never knew what Paul was talking about. British slang wasn’t Joe’s forte. I’m beginning to pick up some of his expressions. His accent still throws me a bit. He calls me, Poppet – it means sweetie. When Lash and I first met, he gave me the nickname of “Rose” and it stuck. So much so I rarely answer to my given name of Amelia. Our housekeeper Cecilia always addresses me as Amelia. It took her two years to stop calling me, Miss Amelia. In some ways she’s like a second mother to me. She stayed on at the ranch after Lash died and remains in charge of the family menus, shopping, and offers a steady shoulder to cry on when needed. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
On occasion Lash and his cowboy persona Montana Joe would drive into town to pick up a few odds-and-ends and mail autographed copies of his books to special fans. He enjoyed chatting with the locals at the post office and swapping tall tales about his travels at the High Ground Cafe coffee shop where he was a regular. The locals swore that Joe singlehandedly kept the shop in business.
I remember one old fellow saying, “I ain’t ever seen one man drink so much dang coffee in my life! I bet he pisses dark roast.” They always had a good laugh at his expense. He loved sitting at the counter eavesdropping on their cowboy history conversations. Despite his being a world renowned author, the townies, our friends, and family never treated him as such. To us he was Good Ol’ Lash the western writer or simply, Joe.
I read the creased-worn shopping list a few more times before tucking it back into the pocket of his old ranch jacket. I don’t know why I went through the pockets of that particular jacket. It had been hanging in the attic since before his death; however, today I felt as though he wanted me to find it. Maybe it was divine intervention on his part; especially today. Paul and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary. I read the list of things aloud and chuckled. I thought, no matter what I’d jot down, he’d always add two daffodils to the list. It was his way of telling me he was thinking of me. I miss them. I tried planting them but they didn’t do very well in Montana – too cold I suppose.
I also noticed a couple of old emails I’d printed and saved. They were always signed, your cowboy Joe or Love, Joe. Sometimes I believed he was Montana Joe. So much so I rarely called him Lash. The puzzling subject titles were his assurance that I’d open them. Funny, this particular email subject title stated it was part one of two; however, I never received part two of two. But that was Joe. I never knew what he was thinking. I started reading it aloud.
Fr: Montana Joe
Subject: Vincent Van Gogh Lends an Ear – Part 1 of 2
Evenin’ Rose Darlin’
I’m just about to check into my hotel room in Jackson Hole and of course my thoughts drift back to you and how much fun we had at this same old hotel. Sayin’ I love you is the same as sayin’ I love breathin’. You know my heart girl and I know yours. I can be away from you for days and when I see you it’s like I never left. What a pair we are, darlin’. The other night we had some serious talk about how quickly we fell in love…and how things could have gone drastically different if you hadn’t taken that trip out west or if I hadn’t taken that last minute book signing gig in Currysville. Life has a way of working out the way it’s supposed to darlin’. We are a perfect example of that. You brighten this ol’ cowboy’s life and I’ll always be beholdin’ to you for puttin’ up with me. Bein’ the peculiar ol’ cowboy writer that I am!
Speakin’ of peculiar, here’s the perfect example. I remember our visit to the museum to see the Van Gogh Exhibit. Here’s me, not knowin’ the difference between a Monet and a Matisse and you the smart and sexy art critic tryin’ to bring a little culture into this old cowboy’s life. I was askin’ you all kinds of silly questions about Van Gogh’s work. And, you were tryin’ not to laugh when I took off my cowboy hat and had that bandage stuck to my ear. Any other woman would have been embarrassed beyond words and walked out – but not my Rose darlin’. You just looked at me and said, “Do you know that Van Gogh had an extra testicle.” The folks around us were so outraged but we laughed so hard they kicked us out. I tell ya’ darlin’, that was one of the best days of my life. You’re a crazy girl and I’m crazy in love with ya’, more than I’ve ever loved any woman, much more than I deserve. Keep on lovin’ me girl. We can only get better. Goodnight darlin’.
‘Ears to you darlin’, your artistically challenged cowboy, Joe
I loved receiving his emails and, honestly, there are times I miss them. Nonetheless, the past is the past. I’m with Paul now and we’re very happy. I tucked the email back in the box and closed the lid.
Jannine’s yelling from the bottom of the attic steps jolts me out of my daydream or evening dream since it was nearly 8:00 PM.
“Amelia ‘Rose’ Montana-Saxton, are you coming down for dinner or are you going to stay in that attic until your next wedding anniversary? Get your narrow ass down here because I’m out of breath calling you by your entire name.”
Glancing down at my watch I realize I’ve been sifting through Joe’s effects for more than an hour with the champagne glasses still in the box sitting beside me. I can’t believe this is all that’s left of him. I put the spurs, chaps and envelopes of old manuscripts back in their final resting places. Wiping the dust from my hands I dabbed my eyes with my sleeve. Joe, I hope you’re happy for me. Paul is a wonderful husband and has been such a great father figure for Charlotte.
“I’m on my way, Jannine and please tell Paul I found the champagne glass. They were exactly where he said they would be.”
I hate to admit it but Paul’s memory is much better than mine. He says he vividly remembers what I was wearing when we first met. I barely remember to brush my teeth, yet his photographic memory for retaining complex information astounds me. Numbers and routes all tucked away in his mind. I guess it’s his CDL training or just a natural born gift.
That’s why I find it so odd that he didn’t remember his previous marriage. When we first met he said he’d never been married. He later admitted the union was so short-lived that it wasn’t a marriage – more like a drunken mistake; nothing memorable. I left it at that. Still, I never understood the reasoning behind his omission. A marriage is a marriage no matter how short or insignificant. Perhaps I’m overthinking the subject.
Another odd omission on Joe’s mother’s part was finding out that Joe wasn’t born in June, but his actual birth date was in August. I suppose Charlotte didn’t want him to know he was Jameson’s twin brother. I wonder what other quirky facts will be brought to light? Oh well, I’d better head downstairs and join our guests.
Paul’s brother Thom and his wife Maggie flew in from England. Their British accent is much thicker than his. There are times I have to ask them to repeat themselves. They laugh and say that it’s me who has the accent and not them. Keough wouldn’t stand a change. I can barely understand him so I can only imagine their inability to understand him with his thick western drawl. All in all, I enjoy my ever growing eclectic family and friends.
I took one last glance and turned off the attic light. It took two tries to get the door to close properly. It needs new hinges. Keough said he would fix it. I know I’ll have to ask Paul to do it if I want it done before our next anniversary. Keough has his hands full with ranch work. Running a ranch as large as Casa Montana is no easy task and Keough isn’t getting any younger. Eventually, I’ll need to hire additional ranch hands. However, tonight was not the time to worry about ranch duties; it was our anniversary and time to celebrate.
Paul had the first bottle of champagne open and another chilling. The family was mingling in the family room and kitchen. It seems we always end up in the kitchen. I put the glasses in the sink to rinse them off. Paul came up behind me kissing me on my cheek.
“Are you okay Poppet? You were gone for quite a while and you seem a bit quiet tonight.” I told him of my experience in the attic, rummaging through a lifetime of memories.
“Paul, you know how much I love you?”
He nodded and said, “Yes I do and I know how much you still love Joe – am I right?”
I nodded. He continued to explain how a person can love two people with the same intensity. In his own way, he loved Joe as much as I did. “Joe was an amazing fellow. He had an allegiance of loyal fans that still refer to him as the best cowboy fiction writer of the twenty-first century. I know I will never replace him or compare to him, so I love him – just as you do. We shall always love Joe and that’s what makes us so unique. Two people who were brought together by one incredible and extremely bizarre human being – Lash Jackson Montana.”
I kissed Paul on both cheeks and thought, how lucky am I to be loved by such incredible men and not to mention very handsome men.
To say Paul is a brilliant, sexy and kind man was like saying the Aurora Borealis is a bunch of pretty lights in the sky. Not many women can say they’ve found the love of their life twice. We kissed again and joined our guests in the family room. Paul made a toast to another brilliant year of marriage and to friends and family past and present. I swear I felt Joe’s presence standing next to us. In that same moment Paul turned toward me, kissed my palm and winked, “. . . and that is from Joe.”
Rose peeped into Charlotte’s room – she was still sleeping. I swear that girl could sleep through a twenty-one-gun salute with jets flying over the ranch. Her daughter was in her final weeks of fourth grade. Her birthday was six-months away and the only threat Rose felt was not getting the present Charlotte had been subtly hinting for – a canopy bedroom set. The young girl requested that she and Rose paint her room turquoise, orange and white. Rose was considering it. They already agreed on the solid orange; however, she stubbornly insisted on orange trim. Granted her room still has toys from her nursery days—mostly stuffed animals from Paul and Joe. However, the addition of pop singers and cute actor posters were rapidly covering her walls.
Charlotte hadn’t even entered her teen years yet, and Rose was already experiencing the Montana defiance. As much as we love each other she’s as strong willed as I am, not to mention having her daddy’s tenacity.
Charlotte zipped up her backpack and slung it onto her shoulder. Her walk to the truck was hesitant. She threw the bag into the back and plopped into the passenger seat. Rose glanced over at her half-closed eyes and said good morning. What came back was a garbled good morning reply.
“Well that was more or less audibly articulate and good morning to you too.”
She glanced over to Rose and gave a sarcastic grin. It’s the same shit-eating-grin her father flashed so often. Her mother asked her if there was something bothering her. She didn’t answer. Rose asked again.
“Mama, nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired.”
She’s been going to bed on time and Lord knows she’s getting enough to eat. Cecilia still can’t cook less than a banquet for dinner.
The ride was awkwardly silent. The school was only twenty minutes from the ranch entrance. However, they wouldn’t allow the school buses to pick her up stating they’d need to refuel midway to reach their front door.
The school’s entrance was coming up fast. Before they reached her drop-off area, Rose stopped the truck.
“What’s the matter Mama? Why are we stopping?”
Rose took a deep breath and asked her what was going on? “What’s wrong baby girl? You’ve not been yourself for weeks. Is it something I’ve done to upset you?”
She looked at Rose, her eyes tearing. “I’m just tired Mama. Tired of everyone telling me how sorry they are about Daddy’s death and how wonderful he was. I know he was a famous western writer and a celebrity . . . but, I’m not him! To be honest, I never knew him at all. He died minutes after I was born. Everyone expects me to be like him. I’m not a writer and I’m not famous; in fact, I failed my writing test.”
Charlotte pulled out a paper sporting a circled red F. “The teacher wants you to sign it. Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to get an F when you’re the daughter of the famous Montana Joe and Amelia Montana? They expect me to be like you and Daddy, but I’m not – I’m me and I’ll never be as talented at you or Daddy.”
Rose leaned over to give her a hug but she pulled away. “I let you and Daddy down. I’m sorry Mama, I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
Rose could feel her heart breaking into a million pieces. How did she not know how she was feeling? “Come over here baby. Look at me. First of all, you are the most amazing young lady l know. You are sweet, caring, tough and not to mention beautiful. Secondly, you could never disappoint us – ever!”
Charlotte leaned over and hugged her mother. Rose could see she was upset for the both of them. She never realized how tough it must be to be the daughter of Lash Jackson Montana. Rose took the paper and signed it then gave her another hug.
“Charlotte, you know you can always come to me, Pap-Pap, Morgan, Raymond or Paul—especially Paul anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed. We love you and would never judge you or your feelings.”
I remember how Paul was my rock all through Joe’s illness and death. I never thought I’d care for another man, however, his love and kindness supported me through the most dreadful time of my life. Rose asked her if she was okay to go inside
“Yes, and thanks Mama, I love you.”
“I love you too, Baby Girl.” She kissed Rose on her cheek and stepped out of the truck. She was about to drive away when Charlotte ran back over to the passenger-side window. “What’s the matter did you forget something?”
“No, but I need a huge favor Mama and don’t get mad, okay.”
“I promise I won’t – what do you need?”
“When we’re at school can you PLEASE not call me, Baby Girl? I’m almost a teenager for goodness sakes.”
“I’ll try to remember.”
“I love you Mama. Bye-bye.” She flashed her father’s shit-eating-grin and ran to meet up with her friends. Joe our girl is growing up way too fast. I’ll have to practice calling her Charlotte as well. Where had the time gone? She was only 2-years-old a week ago; now she’s almost a teen. Charlotte gazed back one more time, flashed another grin and disappeared into a crowd of noisy kids.
On the drive home, Rose thought how strong her daughter had been through all of the Montana drama: Keough discovering he had another son, Meryl’s husband dying, Jameson’s decision to resign from the Montford-Wellesley Corporation, Meryl appointing a new CEO and she and Jameson deciding to remain board members and backing away from the daily operations. Meryl and Keough have become close friends, refusing to call themselves a couple; however, everyone knew they were friends with benefits. Paul and Kurt have taken over much of the daily ranch work leaving Keough and Meryl to travel. They took a trip to Fiji, and then decided to go to Tahiti. Rose still laughs out loud at the photographs of him in a flowered shirt and cargo shorts. A New York Yankee’s baseball cap replaced his trusty black Resistol. It’s still hanging on the bunkhouse hat rack. As much as Rose misses the banter and petty arguments, he deserved his downtime. Meryl gave him a fancy cell phone for his birthday and he’s slowly learning how to operate it. Although he still thinks the term app is slang for appetite.
Morgan and Jannine decided to elope and married in Las Vegas. Rose agreed to give them a proper reception as a belated wedding gift. Planning the festivities was the only thing keeping her focused. She has been thumbing through party magazines and catering websites bookmarking sites she thought Jannine would like to view. Rose and her dog Lou have become serious homebodies. While the pooch is getting visibly older, he never turns down a walk in the pasture or a swim in the pond with Rose.
Joe’s emails were slowly diminishing. As strange as it must seem, Rose still found herself checking and hoping to see one of his nonsensical titles in the email queue. His long-time friend and faithful lawyer, Canton Parker called last month to inform Rose of his upcoming retirement.
Parker, as Joe referred to him, mentioned that he turned the entire legal portfolio over to his Junior Partner, Maxwell Laurence. “He’s up to speed on Joe’s affairs and . . . eh, his unique emails. He’s a huge Montana Joe fan and he’s eager to meet you.”
Rose thought to herself, Maxwell, I hope you know what you’re getting in to. My husband was strange and unusual to say the least. And I must stop calling him “my husband.” Paul is my husband now and he makes me extremely happy.
Walking over to the door, Rose whistled for Lou. It was a beautiful day to go for a walk. A long walk would clear the fuzziness in her head. Reviewing the morning conversation she had with Charlotte, Rose realized she was not the person her young daughter confided in anymore. Her best friends Juliana and Corey are her new confidants both of whom have been in her class since her days at the Early Childhood Center. To Rose, Charlotte was still that bossy little toddler ordering Corey around. Time is flying by and still Rose could not help but feel stuck in the past. Joe, these are the memories we were supposed to share. But I know you’re looking down at us smiling, chest puffed at how proud you are of our daughter. And to make matters worse an invitation was sent to the house from the school announcing an upcoming Father-Daughter Dance in October. Charlotte refuses to go. I tried to explain that Paul, Keough, Morgan and even Raymond would be honored to escort her. In fact, all four would love to take her. But that didn’t sit very well with her. She still has the Hottie Photo of Joe propped on her bureau. It was though he was close by and still watching over her. I totally understand her feelings of emptiness. Not having a daddy around, like the rest of her classmates, is a heavy burden for a child—especially a girl. It’s an emptiness I can’t hug or kiss away. But Charlotte has Montana blood coursing through her veins. I know eventually she will be able to handle his death. When you live on a ranch you grow up fast and you get used to injury and death. Horses go lame, cattle is hauled off to market for slaughter, ranchers constantly get hurt stringing barbed wire, toes get crushed beneath tractor wheels – the list goes on.
A child shouldn’t have to grow up this fast. I miss that little girl who would run down the hall with her Little Lou stuffed dog clutched in her arms at the first clap of thunder. And the times she’d come into the kitchen to steal a handful of animal crackers when she thought Cecilia and I weren’t looking. She was growing up before my eyes and I was missing it because I was stuck in the past. In my mind I heard Joe’s voice saying, Rose darlin’, it’s time you moved on and said adios to this ol’ cowboy’s memory. I took a deep breath and said aloud, “I’ll try.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Deb Martin-Webster and her husband Pete moved to Western North Carolina and live on a small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains
She enjoys the simplicity of their country lifestyle and takes pleasure in the daily antics of their horse Colonel, a half-dozen rowdy barn cats and a large but friendly black snake they’ve affectionately named Licorice.
After retiring from a successful career in Art Administration, Deb has taken on a new career as a novelist and humor writer. In October of 2012, her western romance series debuted with her first novel Love, Montana. The second installment of the series Always, Montana followed two years later and now the saga of Montana clan continues in the third book Forever, Montana. Deb is also the author of two other books A Hot Dog Stand in the Himalayas, a daily diary for her granddaughter Sammie that developed into a collection of heartwarming fictionalized short stories and The Adventures of Annie Banana Bread and Larry Cranberry, a children’s book that teaches the acceptance of children with disabilities and diverse health conditions.
Deb is one of the original writers forming the successful online humor magazine,