"If you like stories about small-town life and close-knit communities, you'll love VIRGIN RIVER"
Reviewed by Kymberly Hinton
Posted June 1, 2008
Los Angeles native Melinda Monroe needs an escape from her
life after her husband dies in a robbery. Mel answers an ad
for a nurse practitioner/midwife needed to assist a doctor
in a small town called Virgin River, which seems like the
perfect solution to her problems. She sells her house and
her clothes, gets rid of her husband's things, and drives up
into the mountains of California. Mel has an idea of what
she can expect from small-town life. A slower pace in her
work. Clean air and quiet time to herself. And best of all,
a respite from the violence and despair she sees every day
as a nurse in one of LA's biggest hospitals. But life in
Virgin River turns out to be different than she expected,
and she soon learns that small towns have drama of their own...
Former marine Jack Sheridan is the proprietor of Virgin
River's only bar and restaurant (which is eerily reminiscent
of Luke's place in the Gilmore Girls), and one of the only
single, attractive men in the small town. When Mel shows up,
Jack he finds himself instantly attracted to her. He has
always been the sort of guy who didn't form attachments with
women, and made it known from the start, but when Mel comes
into town he can't help but fall for her. And suddenly
convincing this city girl that small-town life is a good
idea becomes his sole mission...
VIRGIN RIVER is the first in a series, followed by Shelter
Mountain and Whispering Rock. This book reminded me
instantly of the Gilmore Girls, which I love, with its small
town charm and close-knit relationships. Mel is grieving
when she shows up in town, and she's using Virgin River as a
way of rebuilding the life that she's lost. When she shows
up, however, she quickly learns that it's not going to be
that easy. The doctor that she's supposed to assist is a
surly older man who doesn't want any help, the cabin she's
been promised rent free is falling apart and covered in
dust, and the quaint small town that she's expecting isn't
nearly as endearing as it appeared in the photos. Mel has to
learn to look past outside appearances and see the town for
what it can be. And Jack is a guy's guy who likes fishing,
scotch, hanging with the guys, and running his own business.
He's not looking for love, and he has a woman in the next
town over who satisfies his physical needs. But he can't
help but want to protect Mel and figure out what makes her
so sad. He wants her to stay in Virgin River and he finds
himself falling for her right away.
This book was endearing, entertaining, and heart-wrenching.
Some of the scenes as Mel works through losing her husband
tore at my heart, but Jack was always there to hehlp her
pick up the pieces. Also, the supporting characters in
VIRGIN RIVER were just as interesting as the hero and
heroine. Between the crotchety old doctor, Jack's former
marine buddy Preacher, and Hope McCrea (who lured Mel into
Virgin River in the first place), I can't wait to read the
next book in the series, Shelter Mountain. If you like
stories about small-town life and close-knit communities, I
think you'll definitely enjoy VIRGIN RIVER.
Wanted: Midwife/nurse practitioner in Virgin River,
population six hundred. Make a difference against the
backdrop of towering California redwoods and crystal-clear
rivers. Rent-free cabin included.
When the recently widowed Melinda Monroe sees this ad she
quickly decides that the remote mountain town of Virgin
River might be the perfect place to escape her heartache,
and to reenergize the nursing career she loves. But her high
hopes are dashed within an hour of arriving: the cabin is a
dump, the roads are treacherous and the local doctor wants
nothing to do with her. Realizing she's made a huge mistake,
Mel decides to leave town the following morning.
But a tiny baby, abandoned on a front porch, changes her
plansâ€¦and a former marine cements them into place.
Melinda Monroe may have come to Virgin River looking for
escape, but instead she finds her home.
ExcerptMel squinted into the rain and darkness, creeping along the
narrow, twisting, muddy, tree-enshrouded road and for the
hundredth time thought, am I out of my mind? And then she
heard and felt a thump as the right rear wheel of her BMW
slipped off the road onto the shoulder and sank into the
mud. The car rocked to a stop. She accelerated and heard
the wheel spin but she was going nowhere fast.
I am so screwed, was her next thought.
She turned on the dome light and looked at her cell phone.
Sheâ€™d lost the signal an hour ago when she got off the
freeway and headed up into the mountains. In fact, sheâ€™d
been having a pretty lively discussion with her sister Joey
when the steep hills and unbelievably tall trees blocked
the signal and cut them off.
â€śI cannot believe youâ€™re really doing this,â€ť Joey was
saying. â€śI thought youâ€™d come to your senses. This isnâ€™t
you, Mel! Youâ€™re not a small-town girl!â€ť
â€śYeah? Well it looks like Iâ€™m gonna be â€“ I took the job and
sold everything, so I wouldnâ€™t be tempted to go back.â€ť
â€śYou couldnâ€™t just take a leave of absence? Maybe go to a
small, private hospital? Try to think this through?â€ť
â€śI need everything to be different,â€ť Mel said. â€śNo more
hospital war zone. Iâ€™m just guessing, but I imagine I wonâ€™t
be called on to deliver a lot of crack babies out here in
the woods. The woman said this place, this Virgin River, is
calm and quiet and safe.â€ť
â€śAnd stuck back in the forest, a million miles from a
Starbuckâ€™s, where youâ€™ll get paid in eggs and pigâ€™s feet
â€ťAnd none of my patients will be brought in handcuffed,
guarded by a corrections officer.â€ť Then Mel took a breath
and, unexpectedly, laughed and said, â€śPigâ€™s feet? Oh-oh,
Joey â€“ Iâ€™m going up into the trees again, I might lose
â€śYou wait. Youâ€™ll be sorry. Youâ€™ll regret this. This is
crazy and impetuous andâ€“â€ś
Thatâ€™s when the signal, blessedly, was lost. And Joey was
right â€“ with every additional mile, Mel was doubting
herself; her decision to escape into the country.
At every curve the roads had become narrower and the rain a
little harder. It was only 6:00 p.m., but it was already
dark as pitch; the trees were so dense and tall that even
that last bit of afternoon sun had been blocked. Of course
there were no lights of any kind along this winding
stretch. According to the directions, she should be getting
close to the house where she was to meet her new employer,
but she didnâ€™t dare get out of her swamped car and walk.
She could get lost in these woods and never be seen again.
Instead, she fished the pictures from her briefcase in an
attempt to remind herself of a few of the reasons why she
had taken this job. She had pictures of a quaint little
hamlet of clapboard houses with front porches and dormer
windows, an old- fashioned school house, steepled church,
hollyhocks, rhododendrons and blossoming apple trees in
full glory, not to mention the green pastures upon which
livestock grazed. There was the Pie and Coffee shop, the
Corner Store, a tiny one room, freestanding library, and
the adorable little cabin in the woods that would be hers,
rent free, for the year of her contract.
The town backed up to the amazing sequoia redwoods and
national forests that spanned hundreds of miles of
wilderness over the Trinity and Shasta mountain ranges; the
Virgin River, after which the town was named, was deep,
wide, long, and home to huge salmon, sturgeon, steel fish
and trout. Sheâ€™d looked on the Internet at pictures of that
part of the world and was easily convinced no more
beautiful land existed. Of course, she could see nothing
now except rain, mud and darkness.
Ready to get out of Los Angeles, she had put her resume
with the Nurseâ€™s Registry and one of the recruiters brought
Virgin River to her attention. The town doctor, she said,
was getting old and needed help. A woman from the town,
Hope McCrea, was donating the cabin and the first yearâ€™s
salary. The county was picking up the tab for liability
insurance for at least a year, to get a practitioner and
midwife in this remote, rural part of the world. â€śI faxed
Mrs. McCrea your resume and letters of recommendation,â€ť the
recruiter had said, â€śand she wants you. Maybe you should go
up there and look the place over.â€ť
Mel took Mrs. McCreaâ€™s phone number and called her that
evening. Virgin River was far smaller than what sheâ€™d had
in mind, but after no more than an hour long conversation
with Mrs. McCrea, Mel began effecting her move out of LA
the very next morning. That was barely two weeks ago.
What they didnâ€™t know at the registry, nor in Virgin River
for that matter, was that Mel had become desperate to get
away. Far away. Sheâ€™d been dreaming of a fresh start, peace
and quiet, for months. She couldnâ€™t remember the last time
sheâ€™d had a restful nightâ€™s sleep. The dangers of the big
city, where crime seemed to be overrunning the
neighborhoods, had begun to consume her. Just going to the
bank and the store filled her with anxiety; danger seemed
to be lurking everywhere. Her work in the three-thousand-
bed county hospital and trauma center brought to her
attention the victims of too many crimes, not to mention
the perpetrators of crimes hurt in pursuit or arrest --
strapped to hospital beds on wards and in Emergency,
guarded by cops. What was left of her spirit was hurting
and wounded. And that was nothing to the loneliness of her
Her friends begged her to stave off this impulse to run for
some unknown small town, but sheâ€™d been in grief group,
individual counseling and had seen more of the inside of a
church in the last nine months than she had in the last ten
years, and none of that was helping. The only thing that
gave her any peace of mind was fantasizing about running
away to some tiny place in the country where people didnâ€™t
have to lock their doors, and the only thing you had to
fear were the deer getting in the vegetable garden. It
seemed like sheer heaven.
But now, sitting in her swamped car looking at the pictures
by the dome light, she realized how ridiculous sheâ€™d been.
Mrs. McCrea told her to pack only durable clothes â€“ jeans
and boots â€“ for country medicine. So what had she packed?
Her boots were Stuart Weitzmanâ€™s, Cole Haanâ€™s and Fryeâ€™s â€“
and she hadnâ€™t minded paying over a tidy four-fifty for
each pair. The jeans she had packed for traipsing out to
the ranches and farms were Rock & Republicâ€™s, Joeâ€™s,
Luckyâ€™s, 7 For All Mankind â€“ they rang up between one-fifty
and two-fifty a copy. Sheâ€™d been paying three hundred bucks
a pop to have her hair trimmed and highlighted. After
scrimping for years through college and post grad nursing,
once she was a nurse practitioner with a very good salary,
she discovered she loved nice things. She might have spent
most of her workday in scrubs, but when she was out of
them, she liked looking good.
She was sure the fish and deer would be very impressed.
In the past half hour sheâ€™d only seen one old truck on the
road. Mrs. McCrea hadnâ€™t prepared her for how perilous and
steep these roads were, filled with hairpin turns and sharp
drop-offs, so narrow in some places that it was a challenge
for two cars to pass each other. She was almost relieved
when the dark consumed her, for she could at least see
approaching headlights around each tight turn. Her car sunk
into the shoulder on the side of the road that was up
against the hill and not the ledge where there were no
guard rails. Here she sat, lost in the woods and doomed.
With a sigh, she turned around and pulled her heavy coat
from the top of one of the boxes on the backseat. She hoped
Mrs. McCrea would be traversing this road either en route
to or from the house where they were to meet. Otherwise,
she would probably be spending the night in the car. She
still had a couple of apples, some crackers and two cheese
rounds in wax. But the damn Diet Coke was gone â€“ sheâ€™d have
the shakes and a headache by morning from caffeine
No Starbuckâ€™s. She should have done a better job of
She turned off the engine, but left the lights on in case a
car came along the narrow road. If she wasnâ€™t rescued, the
battery would be dead by morning. She settled back and
closed her eyes. A very familiar face drifted into her
mind: Mark. Sometimes the longing to see him one more time,
to talk to him for just a little while was overwhelming.
Forget grief â€“ she just missed him â€“ missed having a
partner to depend on, to wait up for, to wake up beside. An
argument over his long hours even became desirable. He told
her once, â€śThis â€“ you and me â€“ this is forever.â€ť
Forever lasted four years. She was only thirty-two and from
now she would be alone. He was dead. And she was dead
A sharp tapping on the car window got her attention and she
had no idea if sheâ€™d actually been asleep or just musing.
It was the butt of a flashlight that had made the noise and
holding it was an old man. The scowl on his face was so
jarring that she thought the end she feared might be upon
â€śMissy,â€ť he was saying. â€śMissy, youâ€™re stuck in the mud.â€ť
She lowered her window and the mist wet her face. â€śI...I
know. I hit a soft shoulder.â€ť
â€śThat piece of crap wonâ€™t do you much good around here,â€ť he
Piece of crap indeed! It was a new BMW convertible, one of
her many attempts to ease the ache of loneliness. â€śWell, no
one told me that! But thank you very much for the insight.â€ť
His thin white hair was plastered to his head and his bushy
white eyebrows shot upwards in spikes; the rain glistened
on his jacket and dripped off his big nose. â€śSit tight,
Iâ€™ll hook the chain around your bumper and pull you out.
You going to the McCrea house?â€ť
Well, thatâ€™s what sheâ€™d been after â€“ a place where everyone
knows everyone else. She wanted to warn him not to scratch
the bumper but all she could do was stammer, â€śY-yes.â€ť
â€śIt ainâ€™t far. You can follow me after I pull you out.â€ť
â€śThanks,â€ť she said.
So, she would have a bed after all. And if Mrs. McCrea had
a heart, there would be something to eat and drink. She
began to envision the glowing fire in the cottage with the
sound of spattering rain on the roof as she hunkered down
into a deep, soft sofa with an old quilt wrapped around
her. Safe. Secure. At last.
Her car groaned and strained and finally lurched out of the
ditch and onto the road. The old man pulled her several
feet until she was on solid ground, then he stopped to
remove the chain. He tossed it into the back of the truck
and motioned for her to follow him. No argument there â€“ if
she got stuck again, heâ€™d be right there to pull her out.
Along she went, right behind him, using lots of window
cleaner with her wipers to keep the mud he splattered from
completely obscuring her vision.
In less than five minutes the blinker on the truck was
flashing and she followed him as he made a right turn at a
mailbox. The drive was short and bumpy, the road full of
pot holes, but it quickly opened up into a clearing. The
truck made a wide circle in the clearing so he could leave
again, which left Mel to pull right up to... A hovel!
This was no adorable little cottage. It was an A-frame with
a porch all right, but it looked as though the porch was
only attached on the one side while the other end had
broken away and listed downward. The shingles were black
with rain and age and there was a board nailed over one of
the windows. It was not lit within or without; there was no
friendly curl of smoke coming from the chimney.
The pictures were lying on the seat beside her. She blasted
on her horn and jumped immediately out of the car,
clutching the pictures and pulling the hood of her wool
jacket over her head. She ran to the truck. He rolled down
his window and looked at her as if she had a screw
loose. â€śAre you sure this is the McCrea cottage?â€ť
She showed him the picture of the cute little A-frame
cottage with Adirondack chairs on the porch and hanging
pots filled with colorful flowers decorating the front of
the house. It was bathed in sunlight in the picture.
â€śHm,â€ť he said. â€śBeen awhile since she looked like that.â€ť
â€śI wasnâ€™t told that. She said I could have the house rent
free for a year, plus salary. Iâ€™m supposed to help out the
doctor in this town. But thisâ€“?â€ť
â€śDidnâ€™t know the doc needed help. He didnâ€™t hire you, did
he?â€ť he asked.
â€śNo. I was told he was getting too old to keep up with the
demands of the town and they needed another doctor, but Iâ€™d
do for a year or so.â€ť
She raised her voice to be heard above the rain. â€śIâ€™m a
nurse practitioner. And certified nurse midwife.â€ť
That seemed to amuse him. â€śThat a fact?â€ť
â€śYou know the doctor?â€ť she asked.
â€śEverybody knows everybody. Seems like you shoulda come up
here and look the place over and meet the doc before making
up your mind.â€ť
â€śYeah, seems like,â€ť she said in some self-
recrimination. â€śLet me get my purse â€“ give you some money
for pulling me out of theâ€“â€ś But he was already waving her
â€śDonâ€™t want your money. People up here donâ€™t have money to
be throwing around for neighborly help. So,â€ť he said with
humor, lifting one of those wild white eyebrows, â€ślooks
like she got one over on you. That placeâ€™s been empty for
years now.â€ť He chuckled. â€śRent free! Hah!â€ť
Headlights bounced into the clearing as an old Suburban
came up the drive. Once it arrived the old man said, â€śThere
she is. Good luck.â€ť And then he laughed. Actually he
cackled as he drove out of the clearing.
Mel stuffed the picture under her jacket and stood in the
rain near her car as the Suburban parked. She couldâ€™ve gone
to the porch to get out of the elements, but it didnâ€™t look
The Suburbanâ€™s frame was jacked up and the tires were huge â€“
no way that thing was getting stuck in the mud. It was
pretty well splashed up, but it was still obvious it was an
older model. The driver trained the lights on the cottage
and left them on as the door opened. Out of the SUV climbed
this itty bitty elderly woman with thick, springy white
hair and black framed glasses too big for her face. She was
wearing rubber boots and was swallowed up by a rain
slicker, but she couldnâ€™t have been five feet tall. She
pitched a cigarette into the mud and, wearing a huge toothy
smile, she approached Mel. â€śWelcome!â€ť she said gleefully in
the same deep, throaty voice Mel recognized from their
â€śWelcome?â€ť Mel mimicked. â€śWelcome?â€ť She pulled the picture
from the inside of her jacket and flashed it at the
woman. â€śThis is not that!â€ť
Completely unruffled, Mrs. McCrea said, â€śYeah, the place
could use a little sprucing up. I meant to get over here
yesterday, but the day got away from me.â€ť
â€śSprucing up? Mrs. McCrea, itâ€™s falling down! You said it
was adorable! Precious is what you said!â€ť
â€śMy word,â€ť Mrs McCrea said. â€śThey should have told me at
the Registry that you were so melodramatic.â€ť
â€śAnd they didnâ€™t tell me you were delusional!â€ť
â€śNow, now, that kind of talk isnâ€™t going to get us
anywhere. Do you want to stand in the rain or go inside and
see what we have?â€ť
â€śIâ€™d frankly like to turn around and drive right out of
this place, but I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d get very far without four-
wheel-drive. Another little thing you mightâ€™ve mentioned.â€ť
Without comment, the little white-haired sprite stomped up
the three steps and onto the porch. She didnâ€™t use a key to
unlock the door but had to apply a firm shoulder to get it
to open. â€śSwollen from the rain,â€ť she said in her gravelly
voice, then disappeared inside.
Mel followed, but didnâ€™t stomp on the porch as Mrs. McCrea
had. Rather, she tested it gingerly. It had a dangerous
slant, but appeared to be solid in front of the door. A
light went on inside just as Mel reached the door.
Immediately following the dim light came a cloud of choking
dust as Mrs. McCrea shook out the tablecloth. It sent Mel
back out onto the porch, coughing. Once she recovered, she
took a deep breath of the cold, moist air and ventured back
Mrs. McCrea seemed to be busy trying to put things right,
despite the filth in the place. She was pushing chairs up
to the table, blowing dust off lampshades, propping books
on the shelf with bookends. Mel had a look around, but only
to satisfy her curiosity as to how horrid it was, because
there was no way she was staying. There was a faded floral
couch, a matching chair and ottoman, an old chest that
served as a coffee table and a brick and board bookcase,
the boards unfinished. Only a few steps away, divided from
the living room by a counter, was the small kitchen. It
hadnâ€™t seen a cleaning since the last person made dinner â€“
presumably years ago. The refrigerator and oven doors stood
open, as did most of the cupboard doors. The sink was full
of pots and dishes; there were stacks of dusty dishes and
plenty of cups and glasses in the cupboards, all too dirty
â€śIâ€™m sorry, this is just unacceptable,â€ť Mel said loudly.
â€śItâ€™s a little dirt is all.â€ť
â€śThereâ€™s a birdâ€™s nest in the oven!â€ť Mel exclaimed,
completely beside herself.
Mrs. McCrea clomped into the kitchen in her muddy rubber
boots, reached into the open oven door and plucked out the
birdâ€™s nest. She went to the front door and pitched it out
into the yard. She shoved her glasses up on her nose as she
regarded Mel. â€śNo more birdâ€™s nest,â€ť she said in a voice
that suggested Mel was trying her patience.
â€śLook, Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™d make it. That old man in the pick-
up had to pull me out of the mud just down the road. I
canâ€™t stay here, Mrs. McCrea â€“ itâ€™s out of the question.
Plus, Iâ€™m starving and I donâ€™t have any food with me.â€ť She
laughed hollowly. â€śYou said there would be adequate housing
ready for me, and I took you to mean clean and stocked with
enough food to get me through a couple of days till I could
shop for myself. But thisâ€“â€ś
â€ťYou have a contract,â€ť Mrs. McCrea pointed out.
â€śSo do you,â€ť Mel said. â€śI donâ€™t think you could get anyone
to find this adequate or ready.â€ť
Hope looked up. â€ťItâ€™s not leaking, thatâ€™s a good sign.â€ť
â€śNot quite good enough, Iâ€™m afraid.â€ť
â€śThat damned Cheryl Chreighton was supposed to be down here
to give it a good cleaning, but she had excuses three days
in a row. Been drinking again is my guess. I got some
bedding in the truck and Iâ€™ll take you to get dinner. Itâ€™ll
look better in the morning.â€ť
â€śIsnâ€™t there some place else I can stay tonight? A bed and
breakfast? A motel on the highway?â€ť
â€śBed and breakfast?â€ť she asked with a laugh. â€śThis look
like a tourist spot to you? The highwayâ€™s an hour off and
this is no ordinary rain. I have a big house with no room
in it â€“ filled to the top with junk. Theyâ€™re gonna light a
match to it when I die. It would take all night to clear
off the couch.â€ť
â€śThere must be something...â€ť
â€śNearest thing is Jo Ellenâ€™s place â€“ sheâ€™s got a nice spare
room over the garage she lets out sometimes. But you
wouldnâ€™t want to stay there. That husband of hers can be a
handful. Heâ€™s been slapped down by more than one woman in
Virgin River â€“ and itâ€™d be a bad thing, you in your
nightie, Jo Ellen sound asleep and him getting ideas. Heâ€™s
a groper, that one.â€ť
Oh God, she thought. Every second this place sounded worse
â€śTell you what letâ€™s do, girl. Iâ€™ll light the hot water
heater, turn on the refrigerator and heater, then weâ€™ll go
get a hot meal.â€ť
â€śAt the Pie and Coffee shop?â€ť
â€śThat place closed down three years back,â€ť she said.
â€śBut you sent me a picture of it â€“ like it was where Iâ€™d be
getting lunch or dinner for the next year!â€ť
â€śDetails. Lord, you do get yourself worked up.â€ť
â€śGo jump in the truck and Iâ€™ll be right along,â€ť she
commanded. Then ignoring Mel completely, she went to the
refrigerator and stooped to plug it in. The light went on
immediately and Mrs. McCrea reached inside to adjust the
temperature and close the door. The refrigeratorâ€™s motor
made an unhealthy grinding sound as it fired up.
Mel went to the Suburban as sheâ€™d been told, but it was so
high off the ground she found herself grabbing the inside
of the open door and nearly crawling inside. She felt a lot
safer here than in the house where her hostess would be
lighting a gas water heater. She had a passing thought that
if it blew up and destroyed the cabin, they could cut their
loses here and now.
Once in the passenger seat, she looked over her shoulder to
see the back of the Suburban was full of pillows, blankets
and boxes. Supplies for the falling-down house, she
assumed. Well, if she couldnâ€™t get out of here tonight, she
could sleep in her car if she had to. She wouldnâ€™t freeze
to death with all those blankets. But then, at first
A few minutes passed and then Mrs. McCrea came out of the
cottage and pulled the door closed. No locking up. Mel was
impressed by the agility with which the old woman got
herself into the Suburban. She put a foot on the step,
grabbed the handle above the door with one hand, the arm
rest with the other and bounced herself right into the
seat. She had a rather large pillow to sit on and her seat
was pushed way up so she could reach the pedals. Without a
word, she put the vehicle in gear and expertly backed down
the narrow drive out onto the road.
â€śWhen we talked a couple weeks ago, you said you were
pretty tough,â€ť Mrs. McCrea reminded her.
â€śI am. Iâ€™ve been in charge of a womenâ€™s wing at a three
thousand bed county hospital for the past two years. We got
all the most challenging cases and hopeless patients, and
did a damn fine job if I do say so myself. Before that, I
spent years in the Emergency Room in downtown LA, a very
tough place by anyoneâ€™s standards. By tough, I thought you
meant medically. I didnâ€™t know you meant I should be an
experienced frontier woman.â€ť
â€śLord, you do go on. Youâ€™ll feel better after food.â€ť
â€śI hope so,â€ť she said. But, inside she was saying, I canâ€™t
stay here. This was crazy, Iâ€™m admitting it and getting the
hell out of here. The only thing she really dreaded was
owning up to Joey.
They didnâ€™t talk during the drive. In Melâ€™s mind there
wasnâ€™t much to say. Plus, she was fascinated by the ease,
speed and finesse with which Ms. McCrea handled the big
Suburban, bouncing down the tree lined road and around the
tight curves in the pouring rain.
She had thought this might be a respite from pain and
loneliness and fear. A relief from the stress of patients
who were either perpetrators or victims of crimes, or
devastatingly poor and without resources or hope. When she
saw the pictures of the cute little town, it was easy to
imagine a homey place where people needed her. She saw
herself blooming under the grateful thanks of rosy-cheeked
country patients. Meaningful work was the one thing that
had always cut through any troubling personal issues. Not
to mention the lift of escaping the smog and traffic and
getting back to nature in the pristine beauty of the
forest. She just never thought sheâ€™d be getting this far
back to nature.
The prospect of delivering babies for mostly uninsured
women in rural Virgin River had closed the deal. Working as
a nurse practitioner was satisfying, but midwifery was her
Joey was her only family now; she wanted Mel to come to
Colorado Springs and stay with her, her husband Bill and
their three children. But Mel hadnâ€™t wanted to trade one
city for another, even though Colorado Springs was
considerably smaller. Now, in the absence of any better
ideas, she would be forced to look for work there.
As they passed through what seemed to be a town, she
grimaced again. â€śIs this the town? Because this wasnâ€™t in
the pictures you sent me, either.â€ť
â€śVirgin River,â€ť she said. â€śSuch as it is. Looks a lot
better in daylight, thatâ€™s for sure. Damn, this is a big
rain. March â€“ always brings us this nasty weather. Thatâ€™s
the docâ€™s house there, where he sees patients when they
come to him. He makes a lot of house calls, too. The
library,â€ť she pointed. â€śOpen Tuesdays.â€ť
They passed a pleasant looking steepled church, which
appeared to be boarded up, but at least she recognized it.
There was the store, much older and more worn, the
proprietor just locking the front door for the night. A
dozen houses lined the street â€“ small and old. â€śWhereâ€™s the
school house?â€ť Mel asked.
â€śWhat school house?â€ť Mrs. McCrea countered.
â€śThe one in the picture you sent the recruiter.â€ť
â€śHm. Canâ€™t imagine where I got that. We donâ€™t have a
â€śGod,â€ť Mel groaned.
The street was wide, but dark and vacant â€“ there were no
street lights. The old woman must have gone through one of
her ancient photo albums to come up with the pictures. Or
maybe she snapped a few of another town.
Across the street from the doctorâ€™s house Mrs. McCrea
pulled up to the front of what looked like a large cabin
with a wide porch and big yard, but the neon sign in the
window that said OPEN clued her that it was a tavern or
cafĂ©. â€śCome on,â€ť Mrs. McCrea said. â€śLetâ€™s warm up your
belly and your mood.â€ť
â€śThank you,â€ť Mel said, trying to be polite. She was
starving and didnâ€™t want an attitude to cost her dinner,
though she wasnâ€™t optimistic that anything but her stomach
would warm. She looked at her watch. Seven oâ€™clock.
Mrs. McCrea shook out her slicker on the porch before going
in, but Mel wasnâ€™t wearing a raincoat. Nor did she have an
umbrella. Her jacket was now drenched and she smelled like
Once inside, she was rather pleasantly surprised. It was
dark and woody with a fire ablaze in a big stone hearth.
The polished wood floors were shiny clean and something
smelled good, edible. Over a long bar, above rows of
shelved liquor bottles, was a huge mounted fish; on another
wall, a bear skin so big it covered half the wall. Over the
door, a stagâ€™s head. Whew. A hunting lodge? There were
about a dozen tables sans tablecloths and only one customer
at the bar; the old man who had pulled her out of the mud
sat slumped over a drink.
Behind the bar stood a tall man in a plaid shirt with
sleeves rolled up, polishing a glass with a towel. He
looked to be in his late thirties and wore his brown hair
cropped close. He lifted expressive brows and his chin in
greeting as they entered. Then his lips curved in a smile.
â€śSit here,â€ť Hope McCrea said, indicating a table near the
fire. â€śIâ€™ll get you something.â€ť
Mel took off her coat and hung it over the chair back near
the fire to dry. She warmed herself, vigorously rubbing her
icy hands together in front of the flames. This was more
what she had expected â€“ a cozy, clean cabin, a blazing
fire, a meal ready on the stove. She could do without the
dead animals, but this is what you get in hunting country.
â€śHere,â€ť the old woman said, pressing a small glass of amber
liquid into her hand. â€śThisâ€™ll warm you up. Jackâ€™s got some
stew on the stove and bread in the warmer. Weâ€™ll fix you
â€śWhat is it?â€ť she asked.
â€śBrandy. You gonna be able to get that down?â€ť
â€śDamn right,â€ť she said, taking a grateful sip and feeling
it burn its way down to her empty belly. She let her eyes
drift closed for a moment, appreciating the unexpected fine
quality. She looked back at the bar, but the bartender had
disappeared. â€śThat guy,â€ť she finally said, indicating the
only customer. â€śHe pulled me out of the ditch.â€ť
â€śDoc Mullins,â€ť she explained. â€śYou might as well meet him
right now, if youâ€™re okay to leave the fire.â€ť
â€śWhy bother,â€ť Mel said. â€śI told you â€“ Iâ€™m not staying.â€ť
â€śFine,â€ť the old woman said tiredly. â€śThen you can say hello
and goodbye all at once. Come on.â€ť She turned and walked
toward the old doctor and with a weary sigh, Mel
followed. â€śDoc, this is Melinda Monroe, in case you didnâ€™t
catch the name before. Miss Monroe, meet Doc Mullins.â€ť
He looked up from his drink with rheumy eyes and regarded
her, but his arthritic hands never left his glass. He gave
â€śThanks again,â€ť Mel said. â€śFor pulling me out.â€ť
The old doctor gave another single nod, looking back to his
So much for the friendly small town atmosphere, she
thought. Mrs. McCrea was walking back to the fireplace. She
plunked herself down at the table.
â€śExcuse me,â€ť Mel said to the doctor. He turned his gaze
toward her, but his bushy white brows were drawn together
in a definite scowl, peering over the top of his glasses.
His white hair was so thin over his freckled scalp that it
almost appeared he had more hair on his brows than his
head. â€śPleasure to meet you. So, you wanted help up here?â€ť
He just seemed to glare at her. â€śYou didnâ€™t want help?
Which is it?â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t much need any help,â€ť he told her gruffly. â€śBut
that old womanâ€™s been trying to get a doc to replace me for
years. Sheâ€™s driven.â€ť
â€śAnd why is that?â€ť Mel bravely asked.
â€śCouldnâ€™t imagine.â€ť He looked back into his glass. â€śMaybe
she just doesnâ€™t like me. Since I donâ€™t like her that much,
makes no difference.â€ť
The bartender and presumably proprietor was carrying a
steaming bowl out of the back, but he paused at the end of
the bar and watched as Mel conversed with the old doctor.
â€śWell, no worries, mate. Iâ€™m not staying. It was grossly
misrepresented. Iâ€™ll be leaving in the morning, as soon as
the rain lets up.â€ť
â€śWasted your time, did you?â€ť he asked, not looking at her.
â€śApparently. Itâ€™s bad enough the place isnâ€™t what I was
told it would be, but how about the complication that you
have no use for a practitioner or midwife?â€ť
â€śThere you go,â€ť he said.
Mel sighed. She hoped she could find a decent job in
A young man, a teenager, brought a rack of glasses from the
kitchen into the bar. He sported much the same look as the
bartender with his short cropped, thick brown hair, flannel
shirt and jeans. Handsome kid, she thought, taking in his
strong jaw, straight nose, heavy brows. As he was about to
put the rack under the bar, he stopped short, staring at
Mel in surprise. His eyes grew wide; his mouth dropped open
for a second. She tilted her head slightly and treated him
to a smile. He closed his mouth slowly, but stood frozen,
holding the glasses.
Mel turned away from the boy, the doctor. She headed for
Mrs. McCreaâ€™s table. The bartender put down a bowl along
with a napkin and utensils, then stood there awaiting her.
He held the chair for her. Close up, she saw how big a guy
he was â€“ over six feet and broad shouldered. â€śMiserable
weather for your first night in Virgin River,â€ť he said
â€śMiss Melinda Monroe, this is Jack Sheridan. Jack, Miss
Mel felt the urge to correct them â€“ tell them it was Mrs.
But she didnâ€™t because she didnâ€™t want to explain that
there was no longer a Mr. Monroe, a Dr. Monroe in fact. So
she said, â€śPleased to meet you. Thank you,â€ť she added,
accepting the stew.
â€śThis is a beautiful place, when the weather cooperates,â€ť
â€śIâ€™m sure it is,â€ť she muttered, not looking at him.
â€śYou should give it a day or two,â€ť he suggested.
She dipped her spoon into the stew and gave it a taste. He
hovered near the table for a moment. Then she looked up at
him and said in some surprise, â€śThis is delicious.â€ť
â€śSquirrel,â€ť he said.
â€śJust kidding,â€ť he said, grinning at her. â€śBeef. Corn fed.â€ť
â€śForgive me if my sense of humor is a bit off,â€ť she replied
irritably. â€śItâ€™s been a long and rather arduous day.â€ť
â€śHas it now,â€ť he said. â€śGood thing I got the cork out of
the Remy, then.â€ť He went back behind the bar and she looked
over her shoulder at him. He seemed to confer briefly and
quietly with the young man, who continued to stare at her.
His son, Mel decided.
â€śI donâ€™t know that you have to be quite so pissy,â€ť Mrs.
McCrea said. â€śI didnâ€™t sense any of this attitude when we
talked on the phone.â€ť She dug into her purse and pulled out
a pack of cigarettes. She shook one out and lit it â€“ this
explained the gravelly voice.
â€śDo you have to smoke?â€ť Mel asked her.
â€śUnfortunately, I do,â€ť Mrs. McCrea said, taking a long
Mel just shook her head in frustration. She held her
tongue. It was settled, she was leaving in the morning and
would have to sleep in the car, so why exacerbate things by
continuing to complain. Hope McCrea had certainly gotten
the message by now. She ate the delicious stew, sipped the
brandy, and felt a bit more secure once her belly was full
and her head a tad light. There, she thought. That is
better. I can make it through the night in this dump. God
knows, Iâ€™ve been through worse.
It had been nine months since her husband, Mark, had
stopped off at a convenience store after working a long
night shift in the Emergency Room. He had wanted milk for
his cereal. But what he got was three bullets, point blank
to the chest, killing him instantly. There had been a
robbery in progress, right in a store he and Mel dropped
into at least three times a week. It had ended the life she
If she had to spend the night in her car, in the rain, it
would be nothing by comparison.
Jack delivered a second Remy-Martin to Miss Monroe, but she
had declined a second serving of stew. He stayed behind the
bar while she ate, drank and seemed to glower at Hope as
she smoked. It caused him to chuckle to himself. The girl
had a little spirit. What she also had was looks. Petite,
blond, flashing blue eyes, a small heart-shaped mouth, and
a backside in a pair of jeans that was just awesome. When
the women left, he said to Doc Mullins, â€śThanks a lot. You
could have cut the girl some slack. We havenâ€™t had anything
pretty to look at around here since Bradleyâ€™s old golden
retriever died last fall.â€ť
â€śHumph,â€ť the doctor said.
Ricky came behind the bar and stood next to Jack. â€śYeah,â€ť
he heartily agreed. â€śHoly God, Doc. Whatâ€™s the matter with
you? Canâ€™t you think of the rest of us sometimes?â€ť
â€śDown boy,â€ť Jack laughed, draping an arm over his
shoulders. â€śSheâ€™s outta your league.â€ť
â€śYeah? Sheâ€™s outta yours, too,â€ť Rick said, grinning.
â€śYou can shove off anytime. There isnâ€™t going to be anyone
out tonight,â€ť Jack told Rick. â€śTake a little of that stew
home to your grandma.â€ť
â€śYeah, thanks,â€ť he said. â€śSee you tomorrow.â€ť
When Rick had gone, Jack hovered over Doc and said, â€śIf you
had a little help, you could do more fishing.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t need help, thanks,â€ť he said.
â€śOh, thereâ€™s that again,â€ť Jack said with a smile. Any
suggestion Hope had made at getting Doc help was stubbornly
rebuffed. Doc might be the most obstinate and pigheaded man
in town. He was also old, arthritic and seemed to be
slowing down more each year.
â€śHit me again,â€ť the doctor said.
â€śI thought we had a deal,â€ť Jack said.
â€śHalf, then. This goddamn rain is killing me. My bones are
cold.â€ť He looked up at Jack. â€śI did pull that little
strumpet out of the ditch in the freezing rain.â€ť
â€śSheâ€™s probably not a strumpet,â€ť Jack said. â€śI could never
be that lucky.â€ť Jack tipped the bottle of bourbon over the
old manâ€™s glass, gave him a shot. But then he put the
bottle on the shelf. It was his habit to look out for Doc
and left unchecked, he might have a bit too much. He didnâ€™t
feel like going out in the rain to be sure Doc got across
the street all right. Doc didnâ€™t keep a supply at home,
doing his drinking only at Jackâ€™s, which kept it under
Couldnâ€™t blame the old boy â€“ he was overworked and lonely.
Not to mention prickly.
â€śYou couldâ€™ve offered the girl a warm place to sleep,â€ť Jack
said. â€śItâ€™s pretty clear Hope didnâ€™t get that old cabin
straight for her.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t feel up to company,â€ť he said. Then Doc lifted his
gaze to Jackâ€™s face. â€śSeems youâ€™re more interested than me,
â€śDidnâ€™t really look like sheâ€™d trust anyone around here, at
the moment,â€ť Jack said. â€śCute little thing, though. Huh?â€ť
â€śCanâ€™t say I noticed,â€ť he said. He took a sip and then
said, â€śDidnâ€™t look like she had the muscle for the job,
Jack laughed. â€śThought you didnâ€™t notice?â€ť But he had
noticed. She was maybe five-three. Hundred and ten pounds.
Soft, curling blond hair that when damp, curled even more.
Eyes that could go from kind of sad to feisty in an
instant. He enjoyed that little spark when she had snapped
at him that she didnâ€™t feel particularly humorous. And when
she took on Doc, there was a light that suggested she could
handle all kind of things just fine. But the best part was
that mouth â€“ that little pink, heart shaped mouth. Or maybe
it was the fanny.
â€śYeah,â€ť Jack said. â€śYou couldâ€™ve cut a guy a break and been
a little friendlier. Improve the scenery around here.â€ť
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