I have books! A whole box full! Blue found them on the porch yesterday. There will be giveaways coming up. In the meantime, #1lineWed is all about feet today. Going with the flow, here’s the opening to COWGIRLS DON’T CRY because there are boots involved! Enjoy. 🙂
Chance Barron always knew exactly what he wanted. At the moment, he’d set his sights on the attractive blonde sitting at the hotel bar.
The late-March blizzard had shut down Chicago O’Hare Airport, and he wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. The weather service predicted the storm would blow over by morning, and he’d be on the first flight back to Oklahoma City. In the meantime, there was a pretty little gal all alone knocking back martinis like water. She’d twisted her hair up on top of her head and secured it with something that looked like a chopstick. Her face remained angled away from him, but the graceful curve of her jaw and neck had him noticing her profile. The red jacket and black slacks showed fashion flair and, despite the snow, she sported boots with impossible heels.
He studied her like she was evidence in a hotly contested case and debated how to phrase his opening argument. She ordered another martini and when the drink was served, he watched her long fingers play with the plastic pick and all but gulped as her full lips slid over the ripe, green olive stuffed with a cocktail onion. His groin tightened as his mind conjured up sexy images. A one-night stand wouldn’t hurt, and he’d certainly be in a better mood to deal with the old man when he got home.
Thoughts of his father, Cyrus Barron, intruded at the worst possible times. Probably because he was a force of nature. Oil. Land and cattle. Politics and media. Name the pie, and Chance’s old man owned most of it. Too bad he was such a jackass. He delighted in setting his spurs in the hides of his sons, and Chance was no exception. He had his own law firm, though the family was a big client. He certainly wasn’t in charge of the ranch’s breeding program but his father had sent him on a fool’s errand looking for a stud colt that didn’t exist in the state of Illinois. And now he was stuck in the Windy City during a freak March blizzard.
The waitress approached, an interested smile curling her lips. He declined her offer for a refill and handed her a crisp fifty dollar bill to cover his tab and tip. “Keep the change, hon,” he drawled. He slid out of the booth and homed in on the bar—only to realize his quarry had escaped.
“Damn.” His muttered curse was lost in the clatter of glasses and hum of conversation as he pushed toward the exit. She couldn’t have gone far. He’d find her and argue his case for keeping each other warm tonight.
Cassidy Morgan leaned against the window in the hotel lobby, her cell phone pressed to her ear. Outside, fat cotton balls of snow drifted across her view—like staring into the heart of a giant snow globe. Dizzy and a tad claustrophobic, her equilibrium thrown off both physically and emotionally, she closed her eyes.
“I’m not going to make it in time, am I?” The words spoken quietly into the phone were ripped from the depths of her soul.
“No, darlin’.” Baxter “Boots” Thomas didn’t believe in sugarcoating things. “The doctors don’t know how he’s hung on this long.”
She heard the muted sounds from the heart and respiration monitors beeping in the silence that followed on the other end of the line. And she recognized both the exhaustion and surrender in the voice of her father’s best friend.
“Will you put the phone next to his ear? I know he can’t hear me but… ” Her throat closed, and she blinked hard to clear her vision. She pictured Boots’s actions from the rustling sounds and then she heard his muffled, “Go ahead.”
She talked. She reminisced. In the end, her voice broke and she cried. When her mother died of pneumonia, Cassie had been three, so young the emotional pain was lost on her. But this? This hurt far more than she had ever imagined it could. She wanted to be there. Wanted to hold his hand as he passed. He’d always been there for her. And she’d always managed to fail him, the disappointment in his eyes apparent to her every time she’d seen him over the past ten years.
Her father’s voice whispered in her ear. “Cowgirls don’t cry, baby. Ya gotta pick yourself up and ride.”
She blinked against the stinging tears and felt his sharply indrawn breath all the way to her toes. Then silence. He was gone. That quickly. Two blinks of her eyelids, his sharply indrawn breath, and the great bear of a man who’d been her father existed no more.
“You okay, baby girl?” Boots was back on the line.
Cass dashed at her eyes with the back of her hand. Hell no, she wasn’t okay. But she had to be. She had to take care of things. Whether she wanted to or not. “I’ll be there as soon as possible, Uncle Boots. I’m stuck here until the blizzard lets up. Couldn’t even get back to my apartment, so I’m spending the night in a hotel here at O’Hare.” Her voice remained steady. She couldn’t lose it. Not yet.
“I’ll be on the first flight out in the morning. I’ll call to give you my arrival time.” She cleared the lump forming in her throat. “Will you call the funeral home for me? To pick him up. I… Don’t let them cremate him until I get there, Uncle Boots. I…I need to see him. To say goodbye. Okay?”
“Sure, baby girl. I’ll take care of it.”
“You know where he stashed the good stuff. Go home and toast the stubborn old coot for me.”
“Sure thing, sugar. Now get your tail home. We’ve got work to do.”
“I love you, Uncle Boots.”
“Love you, too, baby girl.”
She tapped the red end call bar on her phone and slipped it into her pocket. Damn, damn, damn. How could she absorb the enormity of this event and not let it drive her to her knees? She closed her eyes against the prickle of tears. She didn’t cry. Not in public. Hadn’t she learned that from her dad? Cowgirls were tough. Well, dammit, she wasn’t a cowgirl. Not anymore. Not for a long time. Cass continued to rest her hot forehead against the cool glass.
She’d left the ranch behind ten years ago. With dreams of making her mark, she’d chased life in the big city, where stars in the night sky were outshone by light from skyscraper windows, and the rumble of traffic sounded like far-off thunder.
Ranch life was hard. Early mornings. Late nights. Worrying about the weather—searing heat, freezing cold, too much rain or not enough. Early frosts. Diseases that could wipe out a herd in a heartbeat. Rodeo was even harder. Her dad had loved the rodeo. She had, too, once upon a time when she was a little girl insulated from the reality of it all.
Cass did not want to go home. She didn’t want to say goodbye to the man against whom she measured every boyfriend. Even hurting him as she had, and regardless of his disappointment in the choices she made, he had continued to love her. And now her dad was gone.
She squared her shoulders and decided she needed to go to bed, despite the allure of another martini. Or a bottle of whiskey. Not that it would help. Booze wouldn’t touch the ache in her heart, wouldn’t numb the pain like a shot of Novocain administered to an abscessed tooth. That’s what her heart felt like. A deep, throbbing abscess full of decay and vile selfishness. She hadn’t been back home for a year. And now it was too late.
She reconsidered getting another drink. Or ordering a bottle from room service. She knew that wasn’t the answer. Plus, there were other drawbacks. Fighting the crowd at the airport and dealing with things at home while nursing a hangover just didn’t appeal.
Cass turned—and buried her nose in a starched white shirt.
The man’s large hands gripped her biceps and kept her upright despite the fact her knees had turned to jelly. She tilted her head to look up. Quite a ways up. She took in the chiseled jaw shadowed by dark stubble, eyes the color of amber and dark hair—thick, silky and worn just a little long so that it caressed the man’s wide forehead and kissed the collar of his crisp shirt. She swallowed. Hard.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize you were standing there.” At least she didn’t stammer. Two points for her. But she cringed inside at how breathless her voice sounded. It was surprise. That’s all. She didn’t want or need the complication presented by this sexy man right now.
“S’okay, hon. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
She backed away from him and shook his hands free. “Scare me?” Her brow quirked as she lifted her chin. “I don’t scare, mister.” Now that she had a good look at him, her brows narrowed in speculation. “You look sort of familiar. Have we met before?”
Cass managed not to blush as those wolf-like eyes traveled over her body from head to toe and back again. A smile she could only describe as appreciative spread across his full lips.
“Honey, as beautiful as you are, I’m sure I’d remember.” He held out his hand as if to introduce himself but was interrupted when the theme song from the old television show Rawhide emanated from his pocket, startling them both.
A look of anger flashed across his face, and he muttered something that sounded like, “Dammit, I’m busy.”
Busy? She stepped back, putting more space between them. For an insane moment, she wondered if he was stalking her. She’d noticed a man in the bar watching her. This guy fit the general description even though the corners of the place were dark, and he’d remained in the shadows.
He fitted a smile on his face but was interrupted again. This time his phone erupted with the sounds of a siren. People stopped, turned and stared. She stepped back farther.
“That sounds like an emergency,” she hinted.
Chance fumbled in his jacket pocket and found the blasted phone. He planned to cheerfully kill whichever brother had reprogrammed his ring tones. Stabbing at the screen, he growled, “What!” He held up an index finger to indicate it would be a short conversation, hoping she’d stay.
“Did I catch you at a bad time?”
Chance could feel his brother’s smirk through the phone. “It’s always a bad time when you call, Cord. Tell the old man not even he can control the weather. I’m stuck in Chicago until this freaking blizzard blows over.”
Chance barely listened, his attention focused on the blonde. Something in her expression captured his interest. Every time she blinked, her lashes appeared to leave bruises under her eyes. He peered closer and noticed the dark circles marring the delicate skin. Sadness. That’s what he saw on her face and in her eyes.
“Chancellor! Are you even listening to me?”
“No.” Not even the use of his full name could distract him.
“Well, you better. He called a family meeting for tomorrow. Clay is flying in from Washington. The old man tried to send one of the planes for you, but every pilot on staff refused to fly because of the weather. Pissed him off to no end, but he couldn’t fire all of them.”
Chance resisted the urge to scrub at his forehead. The old man’s temper and propensity for firing people kept Chance hip deep in fixing the messes made by his father. In fact, he cleaned up all the predicaments his family got embroiled in. It was his duty, according to Cyrus Barron, and part of the price to pay for being a member of one of Oklahoma’s richest and most powerful families. The perks of being a Barron were many, so Chance paid the dues.
“I have a seat on the first flight out in the morning. Any clue about the hornet’s nest we’re walking into?”
“Trouble with a capital T. The old man’s worn a path in the carpet from all his pacing. He keeps muttering something about ‘that old bastard thinks he can outsmart me by dying’ with a lot more choice cuss words sprinkled liberally throughout. He had a map spread out on the conference table, so I have the feeling he’s in acquisition mode and isn’t going to take no for an answer.”
“So what else is new?” The rhetorical nature of the question was lost on Cord. Chance resisted the urge to hang up on his brother as he continued to watch the girl. He liked her looks, but the playboy side of his brain told him to run. The abiding sorrow in her eyes boded nothing but trouble—and entanglements. With his father on the warpath, he couldn’t afford either one. He tuned back in to his brother’s voice.
“It’s not enough that Clay is a senator. The old man is bugging Chase to run for governor next year.”
This was a conversation he didn’t want a stranger to overhear. He turned his back and stepped a few feet away. “Chase? In politics? Oh hell, no. Trouble follows him like an ambulance-chasing lawyer. The old man must be losing his grip on reality.”
“Hey, at least he’s not after you or me, bro.”
Chance snorted. “I had that conversation with the old man when I was twelve.”
Cord laughed again, harder this time. “Yeah, I remember that. You couldn’t sit a saddle for almost a week after he finished tanning your hide with that switch. And he got back at you by making you go to law school.”
Chance turned around just in time to see his plans evaporate behind the elevator doors. He laughed as he saw the woman lean over to continue watching him until the doors closed. His intellect remained curious about her. His body had a more basic interest involving naked skin and sheets. He could still smell the scent of her perfume, or shampoo or simply her. Almonds, orange and a hint of cinnamon—the fragrance as distinctive as the woman. With a frustrated snarl, he focused on his brother’s voice yammering in his ear.
“The old man is livid, Chance. I’ve never seen him like this. Not even when Tammy ran off with the foreman. I’m worried he’s actually going to stroke out.”
Chance rolled his eyes. Tammy was wife number six. Or seven. Half his father’s age and built like Dolly Parton, she’d turned her charms on the ranch foreman and convinced him to take off with her. The Barrons owned the two major papers in Oklahoma so she’d threatened to go to the tabloids with fabricated family secrets. She would sink to that level to cause a scandal. As the family lawyer, Chance negotiated a monetary settlement to avoid the nuisance and filed the divorce papers while the ink was still wet on her signature.
“So what the hell’s going on, Cord? You just cost me a roll in the hay. There’d better be a damn good reason for the old man’s fit.”
“Does the name Ben Morgan mean anything to you?”