So here it is—the third and final installment in the Manning series. I hope you’ve enjoyed
in 1990 and dedicated it to my friend Ginnythe stories thus far. I wrote Bride on the Loose
and her husband, Dean, for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Ginny was a special reader whoinspired me and I came to love her feisty nature and her zest for life.
As is often the case with a series, I thought I was finished. I’d written about all five ofthe Mannings and was happily moving on with my writing schedule. Yet every now and then, JamesWilkens, the man who was once Christy Manning’s fiancé, would drift into my mind. I wastouched by the way he insisted that since he was the one to put the engagement ring on herfinger, he should be the one to take it off. Nearly four years later I decided to give Jameshis own book, and that was how Same Time, Next Year came about. So although James isn’t really
a Manning groom, his story belongs with theirs.
Like my own family, the Mannings are a close-knit group. At the time I wrote these books, myfour children were teenagers. Now, like the Manning sisters and brothers, they’re all marriedwith children of their own. It was a joy to write the Mannings’ stories and it’s been an evengreater joy to see them come to life a second time.
My wish is that you’ll enjoy this last installment. I love hearing from readers! You can reachme at www.debbiemacomber.com or you can write me at P.O. Box 1458, Port Orchard, Washington98366.
Praise for #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Macomber is a master storyteller.”
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—New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs
“Prolific Macomber is known for her portrayals of ordinary women in small-town America. [Sheis] an icon of the genre.”
“I’ve never met a Macomber book I didn’t love!”
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The Manning Grooms
Also by Debbie Macomber
Blossom Street Books THE SHOP ON BLOSSOM STREET A GOOD YARN SUSANNAH’S GARDEN BACK ON BLOSSOM STREET TWENTY WISHES Cedar Cove Series 16 LIGHTHOUSE ROAD 204 ROSEWOOD LANE 311 PELICAN COURT 44 CRANBERRY POINT 50 HARBOR STREET 6 RAINIER DRIVE 74 SEASIDE AVENUE 8 SANDPIPER WAY A CEDAR COVE CHRISTMAS The Manning Family THE MANNING SISTERS THE MANNING BRIDES THE MANNING GROOMS Christmas Books A GIFT TO LAST ON A SNOWY NIGHT HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS GLAD TIDINGS CHRISTMAS WISHES SMALL TOWN CHRISTMAS WHEN CHRISTMAS COMES THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS LETTERS WHERE ANGELS GO Dakota Series DAKOTA BORN DAKOTA HOME ALWAYS DAKOTA Heart of Texas Series VOLUME 1 (Lonesome Cowboy and Texas Two-Step) VOLUME 2 (Caroline’s Child and Dr. Texas) VOLUME 3 (Nell’s Cowboy and Lone Star Baby) PROMISE, TEXAS RETURN TO PROMISE
THIS MATTER OF MARRIAGE MONTANA THURSDAYS AT EIGHT BETWEEN FRIENDS CHANGING HABITS
BRIDE ON THE LOOSE Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen
BRIDE ON THE LOOSE
To Virginia and Dean,
whose fifty years of love have inspired me. Happy Golden Wedding Anniversary!
It was one of those days. Jason Manning scrubbed his hands in the stainless-steel sink, thenapplied ointment to several scratches. He’d just finished examining and prescribingantibiotics for a feisty Persian cat with a bladder infection. The usually ill-mannered felinehad never been his most cooperative patient, but today she’d taken a particular dislike toJason.
He left the examining room and was greeted by Stella, his receptionist, who steered him towardhis office. She wore a suspiciously silly grin, as if to say “this should be interesting.”
“There’s a young lady who’d like a few minutes with you,” was all the information she’dgive him. Her cryptic message didn’t please him any more than the Persian’s blatant distastefor him had.
Curious, Jason moved into his book-lined office. “Hello,” he said in the friendliest voice hecould muster.
“Hi.” A teenage girl who seemed vaguely familiar stood as he entered the room. She glancednervously in his direction as if he should recognize her. When it was obvious he didn’t, sheintroduced herself. “I’m Carrie Weston.” She paused, waiting expectantly.
“Hello, Carrie,” Jason said. He’d seen her around, but for the life of him, couldn’t recallwhere. “How can I help you?”
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“Ah…no.” He couldn’t see any point in pretending. If a cat could outsmart him, he was fairgame for a teenager.
“We’re neighbors. My mom and I live in the same apartment complex as you.”
He did his best to smile and nod as though he’d immediately placed her, but he hadn’t. Heracked his brain trying to recall which apartment was hers. Although he owned and managed thebuilding, Jason didn’t interact much with his tenants. He was careful to choose renters whocared about their privacy as much as he cared about his. He rarely saw any of them other thanto collect the rent, and even then most just slipped their checks under his door around thefirst of the month.
Carrie sat back down, her hands clenched tightly in her lap. “I—I’m sorry to bother you, butI’ve been trying to talk to you for some time, and…and this seemed to be the only way I coulddo it without my mother finding out.”
“Charlotte Weston. We live in 1-A.”
Jason nodded. The Westons had been in the apartment for more than a year. Other than whenthey’d signed the rental agreement, Jason couldn’t recall speaking to either the mother orher daughter.
“Is there a problem?”
“Not a problem…exactly.” Carrie stood once again and opened her purse, taking out a thin wadof bills, which she leafed through and counted slowly. When she’d finished, she looked up athim. “It’s my mother,” she announced.
“Yes?” Jason prompted. He didn’t have a clue where this conversation was leading or how longit would take the girl to get there. Stella knew he had a terrier waiting, yet she’d purposelyrouted him into his office.
“She needs a man,” Carrie said, squaring her shoulders.
“I beg your pardon?” The girl had his attention now.
“My mother needs a man. I’m here to offer you one hundred dollars if you’ll take her out ona date. You are single, aren’t you?”
“Yes…but…” Jason was so surprised, he answered without thinking. Frankly, he didn’t knowwhether to ask which of his brothers had put her up to this, or simply to laugh outright. Hecouldn’t very well claim he’d never been propositioned before, but this was by far the mostoriginal instance he’d encountered in thirty-odd years.
“She’s not ugly or anything.”
“Ah…I’m not sure what to tell you.” The girl was staring at him so candidly, soforthrightly, Jason realized within seconds it was no joke.
“I don’t think my mother’s happy.”
Jason leaned against the side of his oak desk and crossed his arms. “Why would you assume mytaking her out will make a difference?”
“I…don’t know. I’m just hoping. You see, my mom and dad got divorced when I was little. Idon’t remember my dad, and apparently he doesn’t remember me, either, because I’ve neverheard from him. Mom doesn’t say much about what went wrong, but it must’ve been bad becauseshe never dates. I didn’t care about that before, only now…”
“Only now what?” Jason asked when she hesitated.
“I want to start dating myself, and my mother’s going totally weird on me. She says I’m tooyoung. Boy, is she out of it! I’m not allowed to date until I’m sixteen. Can you imagineanything so ridiculous?”
“Uhh…” Jason wasn’t interested in getting involved in a mother-daughter squabble. “Notbeing a father myself, I can’t really say.”
“The ninth-grade dance is coming up in a few weeks and I want to go.”
“Your mother won’t allow you to attend the dance?” That sounded a bit harsh to Jason, but ashe’d just stated, he wasn’t in a position to know.
“Oh, she’ll let me go, except she intends to drop me off and pick me up when the dance isover.”
“And that’s unacceptable?”
“Of course it is! It’s—it’s the most awful thing she could do to me. I’d be mortified tohave my mother waiting in the school parking lot to take me home after the dance. I’d behumiliated in front of my friends. You’ve just got to help me.” A note of desperation raisedher voice on the last few words.
“I don’t understand what you want me to do,” Jason hedged. He couldn’t see any connectionbetween Carrie’s attending the all-important ninth-grade dance and him wining and dining hermother.
“You need me to spell it out for you?” Carrie’s eyes were wide, her gaze scanning the room.“I’m offering you serious money to seduce my mother.”
For a wild instant, Jason thought he hadn’t heard her right. “Seduce her?”
“My mother’s practically a virgin all over again. She needs a man.”
“You’re sure about this?” Jason was having a hard time keeping a straight face. He couldhardly wait to tell his brother Rich. The two of them would have a good laugh over it.
“Absolutely positive.” Carrie didn’t even flinch. Her expression grew more confident.“Mom’s forgotten what it’s like to be in love. All she thinks about is work. Don’t get mewrong…My mother’s an awesome person, but she’s so prim and proper…and stubborn. What shereally needs is…well, you know.”
Jason felt sorry for the kid, but he didn’t see how he could help her. Now that he thoughtabout it, he did recall what Charlotte Weston looked like. In fact, he could remember the dayshe’d moved in. She’d seemed feminine and attractive, more than a little intriguing. Buthe’d noticed a guardedness, too, that sent an unmistakable signal. He’d walked away with theimpression that she was as straitlaced as a nun and about as warm and inviting as an Alaskanwinter.