Monday, June 22, 2009

Chapter 1 - Investment of the Heart by Linda Smith LaRoque

Simon Cole despised people who arrived late for
appointments. It showed a lack of respect for the other
person's time. That he waited for a woman, one he didn't
look forward to meeting, did little to soothe his mood.

He rolled his tense shoulders and neck, popped his
knuckles, then propped his elbows on the white tablecloth.
Leaning forward, he clasped his hands, and with his thumbs,
massaged his temples where the beginnings of a headache

Folks in Granite Springs considered him a fair,
considerate man—one always willing to lend a helping hand.
Today he hoped Hallie Barron would leave this restaurant
believing him to be a real bastard.

He would not, could not, let history repeat itself. If his
nephew, Justin, married Mrs. Barron's daughter, he feared
the boy would end up with a broken heart as had his father.
Justin's mother, Loretta, thought ranch life would be
romantic. It didn't take her long to get bored. She stuck it
out for a long time, then left five years ago leaving the
children to be reared on the ranch. When Sidney died in a
car crash two years later, protecting Justin and his little
sister Whitney, fell to Simon. If Mrs. Barron disliked him
enough, she might discourage the match.

Full to capacity, the room hummed with the low
murmur of voices, the clatter of dishes, and background
piano mood music. Periodic bursts of laughter broke through
the wall of restrained conversation.

Simon listened with half an ear, the sounds not much
different from the ones of cowboys in the cattle pen, the
lowing and whistling often interrupted by a bawling calf or
upset heifer.

Draining his first beer, he scanned the gaudy room,
taking in the familiar dark red flocked wallpaper, white
tablecloths, and heavy gold drapes pulled back with black
tassels. The red velvet swing suspended from the stage was
empty. He grinned. Damned if the place wasn't decked out
like an old west bordello, an expensive one. The décor
notwithstanding, they served superb steaks.

He ordered another beer and glanced around the
room. His gaze stopped at the attractive blonde sitting two
tables away. Dressed in a wrinkled-type skirt and a silky
close-fitting knit top, she sat with her chin propped on her
right hand. With her left, she drummed trimmed bare
fingernails on the white linen tablecloth that ended almost at
her lap. She sipped her iced tea as she surveyed the room,
her attention returning to the maitre d' near the entrance as
if expecting him to walk someone to her table.

Yeah, yeah, I know how you feel, honey. It's hell
waiting on someone when you've better things to do.
Hell. He had business in town this afternoon. If the
woman didn't hurry up, he'd end up stuck in the city instead
of returning to the ranch near Granite Springs. Not a
pleasant prospect since he hated the beds in motels. He
could call his cousin, Jo Beth. She'd be glad to see him, but
her matchmaking was an aggravation he didn't want to deal
with tonight.

A flash of color jerked his attention back to the nearby
table. The woman swiveled, swinging her arm over the back
of the chair, pulling her silky top tight across lush curves. He
caught his breath and almost choked on a mouthful of beer.
Jaw length blond hair teased her cheek. Straight white teeth
worried her rosy bottom lip. Oh, man. What a fine looking
woman. Scanning the area behind her, she appeared to
check the people at each table before moving on to the next.
When she turned back around, her gaze locked on his.

The pretty blonde blinked as he studied her. Heat
flushed her face. She didn't back down, and inspected him in
return. His eyes crinkled with mischief, and his shoulders
shook as he gave in to silent laughter. He held his beer
bottle with both hands, thumbs stroking the neck as if it
were a woman's neck. Her eyes widened, and her jaw
dropped as she observed his movements. When her gaze
returned to his face, he grinned and winked. She gasped at
his arrogance then she bit her lip to keep from laughing.

He watched as she picked up the napkin she'd dropped
when she'd turned. For a minute he thought she'd use it for
a fan to cool her still red face. But she stopped in mid motion
and laid it across her lap.

She sighed. Where was her dinner date? Most men she
knew arrived on time. It was her women friends who were
always late. She didn't consider this a date. It was a meeting
and since they were both busy people, they'd eat too.

Unable to resist the man's magnetic pull, she found
herself glancing sideways to study him. Somewhere in his
mid-forties, his plaid shirt, opened at the neck, exposed
traces of curling auburn hair. Below the short tablecloth, his
faded jeans hugged legs that ended in worn leather boots.
His wide-brimmed cowboy hat sat in the vacant chair to his
right. She looked again at his face, tanned and lined from
exposure to the sun, then back to his hat and boots.

Her mouth formed a silent "Uh-oh." Could this man be
Justin's uncle, her dinner date? Good grief, she hoped not. If
so, she'd burn to a cinder from embarrassment.

He'd said to look for a cowboy in a plaid shirt. She'd
been expecting a western shirt, not the casual sport shirt
type. This man didn't quite fit the picture in her head of a
rancher. Like she knew many ranchers.

Indecision gnawed at her. Should she confront him or
head for the door? Tired of waiting, she took another sip of
iced tea, then stood, picked up her purse and pushed in her

Simon watched her collect her things. Damn, she's
leaving. For some unknown reason, he was disappointed.
He'd enjoyed the harmless flirtation, not that he made a
habit of flirting. Hell, he never did. There was something
about her. Intelligence and a sense of humor radiated in her
eyes. As she'd studied him, he'd done likewise and could see
she wasn't too young for a man his age—in her late thirties
or early forties. He'd never understood why mature men
chased young women. They were smart enough, he
supposed, but what could they have in common, talk about?
What would she be like if they had a chance to get
acquainted? When he'd winked at her, she hadn't smiled, but
he could tell by the twitch of her lips she'd been tempted.

As soon as Justin took over the ranch, he hoped to
find a woman like this one. At one time he'd thought he and
Joanne would marry, but there was no spark between them,
at least not on his part. He knew she'd been disappointed,
but they'd remained good friends.

Right how, it appeared like his dinner guest had at last
arrived. A beaming petite woman, in her mid-fifties strolled
his way. She wiggled her fingers in greeting. He stood as she
approached and pasted a smile on his face. Without glancing
in his direction, she breezed past in a cloud of cloying
perfume and kissed the grinning man at the table behind

Well hell, it looks like she's not coming. I may as well
go ahead and order. When he turned back, the attractive
blonde stood beside his table.

This must be my lucky day. Without speaking he
enjoyed the view. Small smile lines crinkled around her eyes
and mouth, adding to her appeal. Without having met this
lady, he knew he could like her. Like, hell. He was attracted.
She smiled. "Hello, I—"

Her voice sounded warm and low, like aged whiskey,
soothing. Simon had a strong urge to pull her close to see if
her head would fit just under his chin. Not that he would
touch her. Hands clasped at her waist, she twisted them as
she looked at him and spoke.

"Excuse me," she said. "This is awkward, but I've been
waiting to meet a man named Simon Cole, and I wondered if
you were him?"

Oh, God, please no.

He nodded. She beamed and extended her hand. "Oh,
thank goodness. I was afraid I'd be making a fool of myself.
I'm Hallie Barron."

Oh hell, why did this woman have to be Hallie Barron?
His neck flushed with heat, his smile froze, and then melted
into a grimace. Disappointment hit him hard, leaving an ache
in his belly. He struggled to regain his composure, cover his

Hallie stood waiting for some response. The smiling,
teasing man turned sober, frowning at her. Had she made a
mistake? After a long pause, he gazed down at her
outstretched hand and in slow motion, clasped it.

"It's about time. I thought you'd never get here." He
pulled out a chair for her and motioned for her to join him.

"You've got to be kidding," she said, sitting. "I arrived
long before you."

He cleared his throat. "You're not what I expected."
She grinned and cocked an eyebrow. "What did you
expect? Someone a little older, perhaps?" Glancing at the
table behind him, she added. "Wearing a flower print dress
and a wide brimmed hat?"

"Maybe." He handed her a menu.

She laughed. "Well, you weren't what I expected
either. I watched for a man in a country western shirt—you
know, the kind with snaps down the front and on the
pockets—nothing like the sporty type you have on."
He glanced down at what he had on then back to her.

"Would you like a beer or mixed drink? If you don't mind, we
need to order. I've got appointments this afternoon." He
turned and signaled the waiter.

"Yes, a glass of white wine would be nice." A busy
woman herself, she understood his need to rush. "And a chef
salad with the dressing on the side." She clasped her hands
on the table. "I also have a busy afternoon, Mr. Cole, so,
shall we begin. What do you need to discuss with me?"

He leaned back in his chair. "I might as well get right
to the point. This is nothing personal, but I don't want my
nephew to marry your daughter." He released a breath and

For a minute Hallie couldn't speak, then blurted, "Well,
why not?" She picked up the glass of wine the waiter set
before her and took a sip. It was cool and tart on her tongue.

"From what I understand, you've never met Elise. How could
you object?"

Hands locked tight in her lap, knuckles white and
shoulders rigid, she listened in shocked silence. "This has
nothing to do with your daughter. I've nothing against her.
I'm sure she's a nice girl, but she's not the right one for
Justin." The hands that had caressed his beer bottle minutes
before now held it in a harsh grip. She expected it to shatter
any minute.

Not right for his nephew? Her daughter? "How do you
know this?" Angry sparks danced in her head making it
difficult to be civil. "Is this some kind of cowboy intuition or

A low growl erupted from him. Jaws clenched, he
leaned closer. Hallie straightened her back. "I know because
Justin's been sweet on the neighbor's daughter for years.
She's what both he and the ranch need. She's familiar with
the lifestyle and will bring our two properties together. The
Cole ranch needs that partnership to survive."

"He may have been fond of this girl at one time, but
now he's engaged to my daughter." The movement of her
hair tickled her cheek. She flipped it away in frustration.

He combed his fingers through his hair impatiently. "I
don't expect you to understand, being a city woman and all,
but your daughter can't be the help to Justin Caitlyn can. Of
what use would a woman with a theater degree be on a
working ranch? Tell me that."

Ignoring his question, she asked one of her own.

"What about love? Doesn't it have some importance? It's
obvious Elise is his choice, not this neighbor girl."

He snorted. "Love? These kids know nothing about it.
They've known each other for such a short time. They're
infatuated. You know—in lust."

His remark was the final straw. She threw her napkin
on the table and reached for her purse.

Simon clasped her hand to keep her in her seat.

"Please, Mrs. Barron, wait a minute and let me finish."
She pulled from his grasp but remained seated. "I
can't imagine what you could add to this delightful
conversation. I hope you know if you follow through on this,
Justin will end up hating you."

He shook his head and cleared his throat. "I'd hoped
you could help me. Between the two of us, given time, we
could help these kids see reason. You know, split them up."

The deep blue eyes that had crinkled with mischief, now
beseeched her. "I know it'd be hard for them at first, but it'd
be what's best for both of them. What do they have in
common? I'll tell you what, nothing. Your daughter doesn't
have the least idea what it's like to live and work on a

"That may be true, but if they love each other, they'll
work hard to overcome any differences they encounter."
Simon couldn't help but admire the woman. Her
defense of her daughter was as it should be. If the situation
were reversed, he'd do the same for Justin.

Keeping his voice down, he spoke through gritted
teeth. "I've seen first hand what can happen when two
people so different try to make a life in ranching. One of
them will be hurt, and, by God, I don't want it to be my
nephew. For that matter, I wouldn't want to wish it on your
daughter, either. Justin's mother put the ranch in financial
trouble. Caitlyn would bring land and the money needed to
return it to its original prosperity."

"I'm sorry, but not all women are like your sister-inlaw.
Maybe money can be found elsewhere." She knew a
way. Elise would inherit a large sum of money when she
married, but she'd promised Elise's father not to reveal the
information. "I'll not be party to this plot to break them up."
She stood, turned on her heel, and walked away from
the despicable man.

~ * ~

Simon shook his head. That went well. The look
of shock on her face, that pretty mouth shaped in an "O"
when he proposed they buddy up to sabotage the kids'
wedding plans, had been comical. However, he hadn't
laughed. Instead of elation, he felt empty. He respected her
defense of her daughter, but he had to make it clear. He'd do
whatever it took to prevent this marriage. The ranch's
future, as well as Justin's, was at stake.

What had caused his nephew's change of heart this
spring? The reason remained a mystery that worried him. At
Christmas, love had vibrated between him and Caitlyn like
heat rising on the scorching Texas highway. Then in March,
he changed.

Propping his elbows on the table, he dropped his head
into his hands and massaged his temples. A soft, subtle
scent reached his nostrils. Lowering his right hand, the one
he'd caught her wrist with to his nose, he sniffed. Her
fragrance smelled clean, fresh, and tart like the woman
herself. Heat coursed through his body. God, she was
something with her face flushed and fire in her eyes. His
reaction to her exceeded anything he'd felt for a woman in
years. He didn't understand it. What was it about her? It
must be her scent—those pheromones or whatever the hell
chemicals they say caused attraction these days. Doc better
add some Field and Stream magazines to the women's
magazines to her waiting room reading material.

Damn. He scowled at the sixteen-ounce sirloin he'd
been looking forward to. His appetite gone, he forced himself
to take a bite of his steak. Having met Hallie Barron and
faced her disdain, the food tasted like cardboard. The idea of
having made an enemy of her didn't sit well.

She'd left him no doubt of what she thought of him.
Her dislike made his job easier. One comment had cut to the
bone—would Justin hate him?

~ * ~

Hallie couldn't believe the audacity of that insufferable
man sitting in the restaurant.

Jerking open the door to her white Lincoln Town Car,
she threw her purse across the seat, then slid behind the
wheel. With the door closed it was hot enough to bake bread.
She started the car, turned the air conditioner on, and
directed the vents toward her flaming face. Laying her head
on the steering wheel, she strived for calm.

His comments echoed in her head. Yes, maybe the
kids were rushing things. They hadn't known each other
long, but to stoop to what he'd suggested went beyond
ludicrous. If he hadn't made her so mad, she'd have told him
she thought time together before the wedding was a good
idea. Let them get to know each other better on the turf
where they'd build their life together. Let nature take its
course, so to speak. But, to plan and plot against them? No
way would she stoop so low. And to think she had been
attracted to him.

Before she met him, that is. Yet, she couldn't help but
understand his worries. She respected him for trying to save
Justin's ranch, but no amount of money would assure
happiness. She'd learned that first hand. She'd wanted to tell
him Elise would bring money to the marriage but she'd
promised her husband she wouldn't. Elise didn't even know
about her inheritance. Her father hadn't wanted someone to
marry her for her money.

Georgetown was a short drive from Austin. Heavy
traffic made it take longer to reach. The cool air tossed her
hair, freezing her face and ears. She lowered the
temperature and adjusted the vents. What would she tell

Hallie turned onto the blacktop road leading to her
home north of Georgetown. Fruitless pear trees lined both
sides of the road, a glorious sight when in full bloom. Her
two-story brick Georgian home came into view. It was more
extravagant than she and James ever dreamed they'd have.

With four bedrooms, four and a half baths, they were very
comfortable. James, her deceased husband, had provided
well for them by investing in the stock market. The house
was paid for and she and both kids had substantial portfolios
for the future. Her dress shop, Stepping Up, on the square in
Georgetown provided whatever else they needed, like the
new car.

Elise lounged on the padded front porch glider, one
long bare leg hung over the armrest while the other kept up
the back and forth movement. Smile on her face, she
discarded her book and with the grace of a gazelle, met her
mother on the sidewalk.

"Hi, Mom. You're back early." Brow wrinkled, she
added. "Did everything go all right?"

Hallie put her arm around her daughter's waist and
hugged her to her side. They strolled up the walk together.

"Our meeting went fine. I wasn't hungry, so I left
before eating. We got our talking done and I wanted to get

My God. Lying to my own daughter. What will I stoop
to next?

Hallie opened the door and entered the cool of the
wide entry hall. Dropping her purse and keys on the hall
table, she walked into the living room, kicked off her shoes
and sat on the crème leather sofa with one leg drawn under
her. Double French doors drew her eye to the spacious lawn.
Crepe myrtle bushes, shaped into small trees, outlined the
circle drive. Their delicate pink blooms complemented the
accents of the muted mauve and green in her French country
decor. Like a cool watercolor painting, it was a soothing
scene, one she'd enjoyed for years.

At times like this, troubling situations or joyous
occasions, she missed James the most. She'd recovered from
her grief, but not the loneliness—the joy of sharing with
someone you love. Of course, she missed sex too, but until
today, no one had stirred her.

"And…?" Elise waited in expectation.

"And what?"

"Mother!" Elise stood with hands on her hips. She
plopped down beside Hallie. "You know what. Will he like
me? What's he like? Justin thinks he hung the moon."

Hallie smiled at her daughter, took her face in both
hands and kissed each cheek. She stroked the long flaxen
hair back behind each ear. She wasn't going to let Simon
Cole hurt her baby. "He will when he gets a chance to know

Elise leaned back and studied her mother's face.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means," she changed positions on the sofa to ease
the cramp in her hip, "Simon doesn't think you two are
suited, that you'll be able to adjust to living on the ranch so
far from a big city."

"Hmm. He doesn't, does he?" She stared out on the
lawn in thought and sighed. "Well, he has a right to his
opinion. I might feel the same if I were in his shoes. Justin's
mother couldn't handle it."

Relieved to have the issue in the open, Hallie relaxed.

"I'm glad you're not upset."

"What about you, Mom? How do you feel about our

"I have some reservations. You haven't known each
other long, and though you've been exposed to rural life,
you've never experienced the hard work involved." She
shrugged. "But, I can't dictate your life. I hope during the
next few months you'll explore your feelings and
expectations." Hallie stood. "Come into the bedroom with me
while I change into something comfortable."

She stepped into her large closet, Elise's chatter
following her path. "Justin called awhile ago. He's glad you
were meeting his Uncle Simon. Mom, he invited us to come
stay on the ranch for a couple of weeks."

Hallie froze in the process of removing her skirt. Two
weeks on the ranch with Simon Cole? Would either of them
survive? She'd never been so mad at a man before. And,
mad at herself for being attracted to him.

Stepping out of the skirt, she called to Elise from the
closet. "Let me think about it." Elise sounded happy about
the prospect.

"Sure, Mom."

The time for Elise and Justin would be beneficial, but
could she face Simon after their encounter today? A vacation
would be good for her. She hadn't taken one since the
summer before James died. Right after school started she'd
bought the boutique, remodeled and decorated before
bringing in a higher quality clothes. A vacation would be
good for her. She snorted. A cruise to Alaska, away from
Simon Cole, would be better.

Dressed in denim shorts and a white cotton blouse,
she sat on the bed to put on her sneakers.

The boutique wouldn't be a problem. Gladys would fill
in for her. She'd jump at the chance. But she would need to
come back to town for a day or two to meet with a lady from
Fredericksburg. The woman wanted to open a Stepping Up
Boutique in the small tourist town and wanted her help. If a
good credit risk, she might consider providing the funds.

Elise gave her a quick hug. "Let me know when you
make up your mind." She started for the door then turned
back. "You know, even if we don't go, you need to get away
from the store for awhile."

"Yes, you're right."

She couldn't tell Elise the full extent of her
conversation with Simon Cole. She'd be on the defensive
when she met him and not herself. After he met Elise, no
way could he not adore her.

If Simon pursued their attraction, would she be able to
resist him? The love and companionship of a man hadn't
been an issue before today. Now the need lingered in her
mind. Their encounter had been an eye opener. Her body
wasn't dead after all. Neither was her heart. But loving could
bring about hurt and disappointment. She wasn't sure she
wanted to expose her emotions again. Love and life with
James had been perfect, and his death devastated her. If she
decided to get involved with a man, it sure as heck wouldn't
be with Simon Cole. "Hell, yes I can resist him."

~ * ~

Elise appeared in the doorway of Hallie's bedroom.
Hair held on top of her head with a stretch band, it bounced
as she walked toward the bed.

"Mom, phone for you." She mouthed, "It's a man,"
and wiggled her eyebrows with a grin.

Hallie looked at the bedside clock. It read 10:25 p.m.
Who could be calling at this hour? And what man? Could it be
Simon? Her heart leapt at the possibility. Maybe he wanted
to cancel the invitation Justin had extended. Laying her book
aside, she took the phone from Elise.


"Sorry to call so late but I just got back to the ranch."
Goosebumps rose on her arms at the sound of his
sexy drawl. "Mr. Cole?"

Elise stretched out across the foot of the bed.

"Yes, this is Simon." He cleared his throat. "I hear
Justin invited you and your daughter out to the ranch for a
couple of weeks."

She held the phone to her nightshirt. "Out," she
whispered using her toe to urge Elise off the bed.

Elise left the room, closing the door behind her.

"Yes. Elise told me when I got home this afternoon."
She pulled at the threads on her chenille bedspread. "I've
given it some thought and don't think it's a good idea."

She held her breath waiting for his response, uncertain
how she'd feel if he agreed with her, then added. "After our
meeting today, it would be hard for either one of us to be
civil to each other."

"We're being polite right now. Don't you think we
could act like mature adults and be courteous regardless of
how we feel?"

So, he was still angry too. "Maybe. But don't you think
the kids and your mother will feel the tension between us?"
He was quiet for a moment.

"I think it's a good idea for you and Elise to visit. It'll
give her a chance to experience ranch life, and give her and
Justin time to get to know one another better."

"I can't argue with that." She smoothed out the
threads on the bedspread.

"Don't take me wrong, I'm still against this marriage
and will fight it tooth and nail, however—"

Hallie laughed. "You've made your intentions clear, Mr.
Cole. But, I think it would be a mistake to keep them from
having this one-on-one time together to see if their feelings
are genuine and lasting."

He coughed. "Mrs. Barron, I'm not a complete ogre
and if you decide to make the trip, I'll be nothing but polite
to you and your daughter while you're in our home."

She had to give the man credit. He'd called and
reinforced the invitation. She could at least do the same. "I'll
try not to show my animosity, though after our earlier
conversation, it'll be hard."

He chuckled. "I think we both know where we stand
on this issue."

~ * ~

Hanging up the phone, Simon leaned back in the old
leather chair, and propped his feet on the desk. Was he
doing the right thing going along with this visit? So much
was at stake. He sure as hell didn't want to cause a rift
between him and Justin. Justin was like his own son. He
didn't think Justin loved Elise, not the true abiding kind that
lasted a lifetime—like his parents, Anthony and Ruth Cole,
had shared.

Remembering the mornings he'd caught his dad
grabbing his mom and kissing her in front of the kitchen
stove made him smile. She'd tell Dad, "Go on about your
business, old man." He'd say, "I am. This is my business."

He'd swat her on the rear with his big hand, and popping him
with her dishtowel, she'd send him jumping out of her way.

That old stove still stood in the kitchen at the original
ranch house, his ranch. He looked around at the room—
Sidney's office. It was the one room in the dwelling where he
felt at home. His brother, Sidney, built this monstrosity five
miles west of the existing home place. His wife, Loretta,
didn't like the plain old farmhouse. Which worked out well
while Sidney was alive. Simon loved the old place where he'd
lived with their mother, Ruth, until his brother died. Now he
and Ruth were at the new house with Sidney's kids.
Simon lowered his feet to the floor, stood and walked
into the large den where his mother sat mending his and
Justin's work clothes. He leaned into the doorframe, one foot
crossed over the other in what he hoped resembled a relaxed

"Mama, Mrs. Barron and her daughter Elise are coming
Monday to stay for a couple of weeks. Will that be all right?"

Putting her sewing down, she smiled at him. "Of
course it will. I'll enjoy having some women in the house."

She patted the empty cushion next to her. Simon
walked over and sat down. She picked up the shirt and went
back to sewing on buttons. He put his arm around her
shoulders and hugged. Leaning down, he kissed the silver
hair at her temples. She still wore it long and pulled back,
twisted into a chignon, like Dad had loved it.

"You know I'm against this match, don't you, Mama?
They come from different backgrounds. Her mother is pretty,
like Loretta, only blonde. Doesn't look like she's worked a
day in her life. I can't see the relationship working. It's like
history repeating itself."

Her hands stopped their work as she thought about
what he'd said. "Simon, you can't know any such thing. You
can't judge all women by Loretta. I've always wondered if
your dislike and distrust of Loretta is why you never married.
You should have a family and kids of your own."

"I do. I've got you, Justin and Whitney. You're all the
family I need."

She sighed. "I know you're worried about finances and
afraid Justin will make a mistake like Sidney's. But, Justin's a
lot smarter than his daddy. He saw how he was hurt, and
he's level-headed."

"I hope you're right, Mama. But, I don't know how this
ranch is going to survive if this marriage takes place."

~ * ~

"Hell, son. You sure you're doing the right thing?"

Chester, Simon's grizzled cowhand turned chow boss, leaned
over his shoulder to better view the map Simon had drawn
for the women arriving the following day. Chester scratched
his week's worth of gray stubble as he talked. "If your mama
finds out what's going on she'll skin you alive."

Chester had known Simon most of his life. He'd
watched him grow to manhood and had been there for him
when both his father, Anthony, and brother Sidney died.
Simon hated to think what they'd have done if he hadn't
been here to help pick up the pieces. He loved the old coot,
as irritating as he could be at times.

"Well then, I'll have to make sure she doesn't find out,
Chester. I told Mama they would arrive Sunday or Monday. It
depends on how long they survive at the old cabin."

He leaned back in the old cowhide-covered chair and
folded his arms over his chest. "I'm betting they leave after
one day. Then I can tell Mama they called and changed their

Chester hitched up his baggy pants before he plunked
his skinny frame down in the chair across from him. "Simon,
you're fooling yourself. Your mama knows everything that
goes on around here, and I'm here to tell ya, she ain't gonna
like this, that's for dang sure."

Simon's chair hit the floor with a thunk. "It can't be
helped, Chester. We've got to do something to keep those
two kids apart."

He'd tried his best to come up with an idea of how to
make Justin and Elise break their engagement. The best he
could do was to make the women so uncomfortable they'd
want to leave. Being city ladies, they'd balk at the idea of
spending one night, much less two, at the old homestead

Chester jerked his skinny frame upright in the chair.

"We! Whatda ya mean, we? I'm staying out of this tangle.
Miz Ruth will run me clean off this place if she finds out I
took part in this farce."

He watched Chester run his hand through the few
strands of hair left on his head. They were so wispy it took
several passes to get them to lie down.

"Anyhow, don't you feel bad lying like this?"

Simon shoved his chair back from the table. "I feel like
shit and you know it."

He scooped up his map, walked to the door and stood
with one arm leaning against the frame, head down. "I need
your help, Chester. Please don't let me down." The screen
door slammed shut behind him.


  1. This sounds great Linda. I'll have to pick up a copy.

  2. Lynne used to worry she had a serious problem with daydreaming, then she discovered she was supposed to write the stories in her head. A late bloomer, Lynne came to fiction writing after her children were nearly grown. Now she battles the empty nest by writing stories which always include a romance, sometimes medicine, a dose of mirth, or both, but always stories from her heart. She is a Southern California native, married for almost thirty years, has two adult children she is super proud of, is a dog lover, cat admirer, a power walker, and fellow traveler on this wild road called life!