Shirlene Dalton has it all: a dream marriage to a man who spoils her rotten and the most outrageous mansion Bramble, Texas, has ever seen. But when her husband unexpectedly dies, Shirlene finds herself right back where she started-in a rundown trailer on the wrong side of the tracks. Never the type to let a little bad luck and a whole heap of heartache get her down, Shirlene is ready to prove to the local gossips she can make it on her own . . . until she ends up living next door to the most tempting cowboy in town.
Billy Wilkes has a score to settle and a plan to wipe Bramble right off the map. But when his sexy, redheaded neighbor figures out what he's up to, his good ol' boy charm won't be enough to save him. With the town on his tail, Billy will have to come clean quick-or kiss Shirlene goodbye.
About the Author
Katie Lane's interest in romance was sparked in high school in the backseat of a '65 Mustang-okay, so maybe it wasn't romance as much as raging teenage hormones. Still, coupled with a wild imagination, those make-out sessions inspired many a steamy storyline along with a strong belief that true love does prevail. Katie lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with the owner of that Mustang and would love to hear from her readers.
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Read an Excerpt
Catch Me a Cowboy
By Lane, Katie
ForeverCopyright © 2012 Lane, Katie
All right reserved.
WHOEVER CAME UP WITH THE SAYING, “You can never go home again” was loonier than a snakebit coyote. You can go home. You just shouldn’t.
This became crystal clear to Shirlene Grace Dalton as she stared out of the windshield of her Navigator at the beat-up trailer she’d been born and raised in. Not that her mama had done much raising. Abby Lomax preferred raising a bottle to raising her two children. And even though her mama had been dry for over eleven years, it was hard to hang on to forgiveness when memories swept through Shirlene’s mind like the west Texas wind buffeting her childhood home.
But Shirlene had never been one to live in the past—a philosophy that had gotten her through the trials and tribulations of the last year. She believed in living in the present. And at the present moment, she needed a place to sleep for the night.
“Just what kind of a low-down ornery scoundrel would evict a poor widow from her home without one word of warnin’?” she grumbled.
At the snuffled snort, she glanced over at the pig who sat next to her in the front bucket seat. The beady eyes over the soft pink snout held not one ounce of sympathy. In fact, they looked almost reproachful.
“Okay, so maybe there had been a few words of warnin’,” Shirlene conceded. She reached down and grabbed her Hermès Birkin handbag off the floor and scrounged around until she found the Snickers candy bar. Since she had gained a few pounds over the last nine months, she probably shouldn’t. But willpower had never been one of her strong suits.
“But for the love of Pete, how can that new bank owner expect me to know about managing money when Lyle,” she glanced up, “God rest his soul, took care of all the financial details? I never had to worry about late fees and overdraft charges… and eviction notices.” Her green eyes narrowed as she peeled off the candy wrapper and took a big bite. “Eviction. Even the word sounds like it comes straight from Satan himself.”
A high-pitched squeal resounded through the interior of the Navigator, and Shirlene pinched off a piece of candy bar and held it out to the pig, who exuberantly attacked the chocolate as if he hadn’t just downed two of Josephine’s bean burritos and a bag of extra-crispy Tater Tots. Being the other white meat, Sherman was a devout vegetarian.
“You realize, don’t you, that Colt and Hope would skin me alive if they found out what I’ve been feeding you, especially after the fiasco with the margaritas.” She shook her head. “As if I were responsible for you helping yourself, or for the drunken rampage you went on afterwards. Considering it took two days for you to sober up, I’m surprised they allowed me to watch you while they’re in California.”
At the thought of her brother, Shirlene took another bite of chocolate. If she thought Colt would be unhappy about her feeding Hope’s pig Tater Tots and candy, it would be nothing compared to how upset he would be when he found out she had blown through the money her late husband had left her like a tornado through the panhandle. Especially after she had insisted she could handle her finances all by herself. She just hadn’t realized how bad her compulsive spending had become, and her depression over Lyle’s death had only made it worse. But shopping trips to Austin and Dallas hadn’t made her feel any better. All they had done was fill her home with a bunch of pretty but useless things—things she couldn’t even get into her sprawling estate to see.
Which explained what she was doing back on Grover Road.
Her old trailer was the only place in Bramble, Texas where she could spend the night without the nosy townsfolk finding out and tattling to her brother. And one night was all she needed. First thing in the morning, she was going to pay a little visit to the new bank president and set him straight. By nightfall, she would be right back where she belonged—in a big mansion with a pitcher of margaritas.
But until then…
She opened the door and stepped out. A blast of ninety-degree wind slapped her in the face, and she teetered on her four-inch Manolo Blahniks before she grabbed onto the side mirror and caught her balance. Pushing the thick strands of blond hair out of her face, she staggered around the front of the SUV to let Sherman out. The pig didn’t like being out in the wind any more than she did. He took his time climbing down, then huddled against her legs as she walked around the piles of rusted junk.
A few feet from the front door, the Navigator lights clicked off, leaving her and Sherman in thick darkness. Shirlene had never much cared for the dark—or the eerie sound of tree branches creaking in the wind.
She glanced around at the sinister shadows. “This night isn’t fit for man nor beast.” Sherman grunted his agreement as they climbed up the sloping front steps that looked as if they were seconds away from becoming nothing more than kindling.
Wanting out of the ferocious wind as quickly as possible, Shirlene reached for the battered doorknob. It took numerous twists and a couple of stunned seconds before she realized it was locked. And no one locked their doors in Bramble except the librarian, Ms. Murphy, and only because she lived next door to Elmer Tate, who had trouble remembering where his house was after seven or more shots of Jack Daniel’s. Of course, no one had been out to the trailer in years so maybe Lyle had locked it against looters.
The thought made Shirlene smile. Her late husband had been so sure she would want to hang on to her childhood home. So sure that one day the bad memories would be replaced with good ones.
Pushing down the sadness that threatened, Shirlene searched for the key that Lyle had given her on their first anniversary—along with a diamond and ruby bracelet. At the time, the jewelry had been much more appreciated. But now, with the darkness and wind pressing against her, she took the time to be grateful for the gift.
“Thank you, honey,” she whispered up at the moonless sky. “You always did know what I needed, even before I needed it.”
She unlocked the door, but it still refused to open—almost as if something held it from the inside. Leaning her five-foot-ten-inch frame against the cheap plywood, Shirlene shoved. The door cracked open just wide enough to see a figure in white float past before it slammed shut.
The keys slipped from Shirlene’s fingers and clunked on the steps, followed by her purse, as a chill tiptoed down her spine. Frozen in place, she stared at the door with its fist-sized imprint put there by Colt during his belligerent teenage years and tried to figure out what she’d seen. Or what she thought she’d seen.
If she’d had her nightly margaritas, she could’ve blamed it on Jose Cuervo. But since being evicted from her home, the only thing swirling around in her stomach was Josephine’s chicken fried steak—something that could give you indigestion but not hallucinations. Which meant one of two things: Someone had moved into the trailer without her knowing it… or her childhood home was haunted. And since very few things happened in Bramble without Shirlene hearing about it, she was leaning toward the latter.
Her heart started to thump like the Bramble High drum corps. There might not be a person on the face of God’s green earth that she feared, but the macabre was a different matter. Be it ghosts, demons, or the boogie man, the thought of something she couldn’t flirt into submission scared the bejesus out of her. But before she could retrieve her purse and keys and get the hell out of there, Sherman lost patience with the weather and his chicken-livered pig-sitter. With a frustrated grunt, he lowered his head and plowed into the door.
Plywood splintered as the door flew open. With a triumphant toss of his head, Sherman trotted in. Shirlene, on the other hand, moved a tad bit slower. The room was dark but familiar. For a second, she could almost smell her mother’s Avon perfume and cigarettes.
She reached for the switch on the wall and released a sigh of relief when the eye-squinting overhead light came on. The living room was smaller than she remembered, especially with the fold-out couch opened up, the couch with the same paper-thin mattress Colt had slept on every night. In fact, with the rumpled sheets and blankets, it looked as if her brother had just climbed out of it.
“Hello?” she said, hopeful that a living, breathing human being would step out of one of the two bedrooms and cordially explain their presence in her trailer.
Sherman had no such illusions. Hopping up on the low mattress, he proceeded to root around in the blankets until he’d made himself a comfortable nest. With one exasperated look from those beady eyes, he flopped down.
“Oh, no,” Shirlene whispered. “I’m not staying here after—”
The wind whistled in through an open window, fluttering the dingy sheet that served as a curtain and slamming the door closed. At the loud bang, Shirlene almost peed her designer jeans. But it only took a second for the proof of her foolishness to have her chuckling with relief.
“Silly goose,” she breathed. “It was just the wind.” She walked over and pushed her phantom ghostly sheet aside as she slammed the window closed. When she glanced over at Sherman, it almost looked as if he rolled his little piggy eyes. “Okay, so I’m getting as nutty as the Widow Jones,” she said, as she walked back and opened the door so she could collect her purse and keys. “Pretty soon I’ll own twenty-five cats and wear my bathrobe and slippers to Sunday services. But I’ll still be the only one who feeds you chocolate and tequila, so I wouldn’t be acting too snooty if I was you.”
The pig snuffled, then dropped his head down to the blankets and closed his eyes. Shirlene didn’t usually go to sleep until well after Letterman. But with no television in sight, she resigned herself to an early night.
As she closed the door, she glanced down at the worn carpeting to find the Barbie doll Colt had given her on her sixth birthday. Picking it up, she stared at the wild blond hair and naked body—the type of body she had dreamed of possessing. But the dream of perky breasts and skinny hips died at thirteen when Shirlene started to develop more curves than an Indy raceway.
Carrying the doll with her, she flipped out the lights, slipped off her high heels, and climbed onto the fold-out couch. No doubt there was still a mattress in each of the bedrooms, but after her fright, she had no desire to sleep alone. Even if it meant she had to share a bed with a hog.
“Scoot over, Piglet.” She gave him a shove, and he gave her a mere two inches more before snuffling back to sleep. Rolling to her back, she stared up at the ceiling while she stroked Barbie’s short, uneven hair. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember cutting the doll’s hair. Just one more piece of her childhood she’d chosen to forget.
The night was hot and dry and the mattress so thin that the metal frame pressed into her back. How Colt had managed to sleep on it was beyond her. Her brother had sacrificed so much growing up so she would have what other kids had—like her own room. Which was why she wasn’t about to let him sacrifice any more. Not when he had a new wife and baby girl to worry about. No, this time, Shirlene would fix her own mess. Come hell or high water—or nasty bank owners.
Despite the bad mattress, it didn’t take her long to fall asleep. It wasn’t surprising that she dreamed of Grover Road.
She was nine years old again and playing in the broken-down Chevy in the front yard. The day was hot and, even with the windows open, sweat glued her bright copper hair to her temples and to the back of her neck. Regardless of the heat, she refused to climb out of the rusty car. There were too many places she wanted to travel to, too many things she wanted to see. It would’ve been much more fun if Hope and Colt had been traveling with her. But Hope had moved into town, and Colt spent most of his days at Tinker Jones’s garage. So Shirlene was all alone, except for her mama, who was passed out cold on her bed inside the trailer.
Of course, that was the one nice thing about Grover Road—you were never alone for long. A man suddenly appeared in front of the hood ornament of the old Chevy, a man with a friendly smile and eyes as green as Shirlene’s. She wasn’t surprised to see her daddy. Even though he’d died in a car accident when she was a baby, she dreamed of him often. He walked around to the open window and reached in to smooth back her hair. At first, his fingers were cool and soothing. But, as with most dreams, when you least expect it, things could take a turn for the worst. Suddenly, he wasn’t stroking her hair as much as strangling her neck. As his fingers tightened and she fought for breath, his face turned from her daddy’s into her husband’s—not the living Lyle, but the dead Lyle. Eyes that were deep holes of nothingness stared out of a lifeless face.
Shirlene woke with a start. Pre-dawn filled the room with grayish light. It sounded like the wind had died down, although it was hard to tell over the wild thumping of her heart and her heavy breathing. The nightmare slowly receded from her mind. But what she couldn’t seem to shake was the feeling of icy fingers on her neck. It only took a subtle tightening for Shirlene to realize that the icy fingers were no longer part of a dream.
“Mine,” a deep voice growled in her ear.
Releasing an ear-splitting scream, Shirlene jumped from the bed and headed for the door. When her hand closed around the doorknob, she quickly glanced back to see how closely the strangler followed. The room was empty except for a startled pig that looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. Maybe she had. But whether it was a figment of her imagination or not, she’d had enough of Grover Road. Without waiting for Sherman, she threw open the door, only to come face to face with an image straight out of a horror movie.
But it wasn’t the hockey mask that held her attention as much as the chainsaw. And having watched the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at least a dozen times, Shirlene knew exactly what happened to the pretty blonde. Luckily, Sherman had no intention of being carved into ham hocks, and with a high-pitched squeal, he sailed off the mattress and charged the door. The short psycho killer stepped back long enough for pig and blonde to hightail it out.
They took the front steps in one leap, Sherman landing on all fours and Shirlene going down to one knee. But she got up quickly enough when the chainsaw cranked to life. Since her keys were still in the trailer, she bypassed her SUV and headed for the hole in the shrubs that separated her lot from her neighbor’s. If she had been thinking clearly, she would’ve run to a trailer that was occupied, but her brain had flown right out of her head the minute the ghostly cold hands had closed around her throat. Add a chainsaw-wielding midget, and her only thought was escape.
Since the trailer next door was vacant at the moment, Shirlene didn’t waste any time knocking. She just swung open the screen door and barged right in. She closed the door behind Sherman and fumbled with the lock. While the lock at her trailer worked perfectly, this one didn’t work at all. Even locked, the flimsy door would be no match for a chainsaw, something she didn’t think about until the front steps creaked and a masked face peered in the kitchen window.
Terrified, Shirlene glanced down at Sherman, who shot her a look that pretty much said every pig for himself before he streaked behind a dilapidated recliner. With no room left behind the chair, Shirlene headed for the back bedroom. Unfortunately, the bedroom door didn’t have a lock either, and with her heart pounding in her chest, all she could do was listen and wait.
The chainsaw sputtered to a halt. She didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe the psycho was lulling her into a false sense of security—hoping she’d open the door to peek out so he could decapitate her in one slice. The image of splattered blood and her rolling head was fresh in her mind when someone grabbed her from behind.
Before she could do more than squeak in terror, she was being pulled down. But it wasn’t the cold blade of a chainsaw that pressed her into the sagging mattress, but rather a solid chest of warm hard muscles. Shirlene barely had time to suck in a startled breath before a pair of firm lips settled over hers in a deep, tongue-dipping kiss that curled her toes into the sheets and sizzled all thoughts of ghosts and psycho killers right out of her head. Of course, her senses came back quickly enough when the man nibbled his way over to her ear and whispered in a whiskey-soaked voice.
“Now I’m shore not the type of man to look a gift horse in the mouth.” A hot palm settled over her breast, and Shirlene sucked in her breath. “Especially a gift that turned out to be more than I expected. But I’m afraid I’m a little too tuckered out from my trip to give you the kind of ride you deserve, Marcy. So if you don’t mind showin’ yourself out….”
“Marcy?” Shirlene huffed. Suddenly indignation took the place of fear. How could anyone in their right mind confuse her for Marcy Henderson? Marcy had to weigh a good twenty pounds more than Shirlene, with breasts that she was still making payments on.
The lips stilled against her neck, and he pulled back and brushed the hair out of her face. As he stared down at her, his brown eyes appeared to spark with something that actually resembled thought. But it must’ve been a trick of the early morning light that filtered in through the sheet over the window. Because when she looked again, all she saw was a whole lot of nothing.
IF SOMEONE HAD TOLD Shirlene that one day she would find herself in bed with Bubba Wilkes, the biggest redneck to ever come out of east Texas, she would’ve laughed them clean out of town. But she wasn’t laughing now, especially when the country hick dipped his lips for another taste. Without fear muddling her mind, his skillet-fried kisses turned into lukewarm milk toast. When he finally came up for air, it took a real effort not to wipe off her mouth.
An idiotic smile split his face. “If I had known you had such a hankerin’ for me, Ms. Dalton, I’da been back much sooner.”
“I think there’s been a mistake, honey,” she stated with as much civility as she could muster.
“Not in my book, Honey Buns.” His gaze drifted down to her breasts, nuzzled against his chest. “And all I’ll need is a couple minutes to prove it.”
“I hate to decline such a fine offer,” she said between gritted teeth, “but the only reason I’m here is because I was being chased by a psychotic killer.”
His forehead crinkled before a light went on. As usual it was the wrong light.
“Now there’s no need to come up with whoppers like that one, Ms. Dalton. If you wanted a tour of Wilkesville, all you needed to do is ask.”
Shirlene rolled her eyes. Good Lord, it had been so long since his last visit, she’d forgotten what an arrogant hillbilly the man was. A hillbilly who had wiggled his way into the hearts of every man, woman, and child in Bramble. Which was the only reason Shirlene didn’t knee him in the family nuggets and be done with it—that and the fact that there was a chainsaw-wielding killer on the loose.
She flashed him a dimpled smile. “Yes, well, I’ll have to take that tour another time. Right now, I need you to—”
“You sure about that?” he cut her off. “Because some offers only come once in a lifetime.”
“I guess that’s a chance I’ll have to take.” She glanced back at the door. “So do you have a gun?” It was a stupid question, considering that most Texans owned a gun—or two.
“Yes, ma’am.” He pressed his hips closer. “Would you like to see it?”
She stared back at him in disbelief. “Do you really get women with these lines?”
Good Gravy, and she thought dealing with a psycho had been tough.
“Look.” She patted his cheek in an attempt to knock a little sense in him. “All I need—”
The front door banged open.
And brains or no brains, she clung to Bubba like he was a bathtub in a tornado. But instead of the whine of a chainsaw, Kenny Gene’s voice drifted in. Which was almost as terrifying, when she realized one of the biggest gossips in Bramble was about to find her in bed with Bubba Wilkes.
“Hey, Bubba,” Kenny Gene yelled. “You in here, buddy?”
Remembering the kind of hell her best friends, Faith and Hope, had been put through at the hands of the crazy, matchmaking townsfolk, Shirlene sent Bubba one look of warning before she dove beneath the covers. Not that the man would know a look of warning, but she really didn’t have much choice. Especially when Kenny Gene didn’t believe in the sanctity of a closed door.
Throwing it open, he walked right in.
“There you are!” Kenny sounded like he had just found his long-lost hound dog. The floorboards creaked as he stepped into the room. “Rossie Owens said you showed up at Bootlegger’s last night. And I was damned sorry I let Twyla talk me in to stayin’ home to watch that exterminator show—although watchin’ that skinny, weird dude flush out them roaches was pretty fascinatin’.”
“Hey, Kenny,” Bubba drawled. “How you been?”
“Fair to middlin’. I had a bad case of the runs last week, but I feel fit as a fiddle now. ’Course things in town have been a little scary since Lyle passed away and Dalton Oil changed hands. But that C-Corp seems like a good enough outfit, so people are probably worryin’ about losin’ their jobs over nothin’—” He stopped in mid-sentence, and Shirlene’s breath hitched in her chest.
“Hey, who’s that sleepin’ next to you? By the size of that bee-hind I’d say it was Ernie Clines. You two plannin’ on gettin’ an early start on fishin’? You mind me taggin’ along?”
A squeak of disbelief slipped out of her mouth, and she clamped a hand over it. First Marcy Henderson and now Ernie Clines. Her butt was not that big. She might have a little junk in the trunk, but it was nothing close to Marcy and Ernie’s bubble butts. Still, she made a mental note to cut back on the chocolate.
“You’re always more than welcome to come along, Kenny,” Bubba replied in his thick drawl. “Except I’m not goin’ fishin’ with Ernie.”
“You ain’t? Huntin’?”
There was a long stretch of silence before Kenny spoke. “Then why is Ernie sleepin’ over? You ain’t one of them fellers that—”
Before Kenny could finish and the smirk even began to settle on Shirlene’s face, she was pulled, blanket and all, into Bubba’s arms.
His deep voice rumbled against her ear. “As much as I like my fishin’ buddies, I prefer my bed partners to be of the female variety.” His hand slipped down and patted Shirlene’s butt. “Even if those females have a little extra paddin’.”
Her humor evaporated as Kenny crowed like a proud papa. “Why, you sly dog, you. In town for less than a day, and you already got yourself a woman—a pretty blonde by the looks of that hair.” The floor creaked as he backed out of the room. “Well, I’ll just leave you to it then, Bubba.” But before Kenny left, he added, “You want me to let Slate know you’re here so he can bring by your truck?”
“I’d shore appreciate it,” Bubba said.
“Call me if you change your mind about that fishin’.”
The front door banged closed, and Shirlene pushed the blanket back and glared at Bubba.
“You can let me go now.”
The dark brows over his deep-set eyes lifted. “You shore you haven’t changed your mind about Wilkesville?”
“Get. Your. Hand. Off. My. Butt.”
A grin tipped up the corners of his wide mouth. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, although those warm digits didn’t seem to be in any hurry to comply. It took Sherman’s earsplitting squeals of pain to get him to release her.
“What the hell?” Bubba sat straight up, almost dumping her to the floor.
In her desire to get Kenny out of the trailer without recognizing her, Shirlene had forgotten all about Sherman—and the psycho killer. Although Kenny had more than likely scared the killer away. Still, she wasn’t taking any chances.
“Where’s your gun?” she said as she jumped up from the bed. When he continued to sit there with a stunned look on his face, she yelled, “Your gun, Wilkes!”
He rolled to his feet, giving her a glimpse of Wilkesville as he slipped into a pair of Wranglers. If Shirlene hadn’t been so worried about Sherman getting carved into Sunday dinner, she might’ve been impressed by the lean muscled streets and the half-mast flagpole in the center of town. Instead, she didn’t even wait for him to cover that fine butt before she hurried out the door.
Fortunately, she didn’t find Sherman sliced into a hundred pounds of bacon. But she did find his head caught in the springs of the overturned recliner.
“Oh, Piglet.” She hurried over and sat down next to him, trying to soothe him until she could figure out how to get him loose.
“A pig?” Bubba stood in the doorway of the bedroom, wearing nothing but his unbuttoned jeans. Distracted by the lean stomach and defined chest, it took her a moment to notice the revolver he held in one hand.
“I gotta tell you, Ms. Dalton.” He rubbed his whiskered jaw. “I like my pork about as much as any man. But I don’t much care for shooting defenseless animals.” He nodded at the door. “Now if you was to let him loose, it might be a little more sportin’.”
“I don’t want you to shoot Sherman,” she snapped. “I want you to shoot the maniac with the chainsaw who was trying to kill us. Now could you put that thing down and give me a hand?”
Bubba hesitated. “Does it bite?”
She glanced up. “Don’t tell me that a good ol’ country boy like yourself has never been around a pig before.”
“We didn’t have pigs,” he stated as he set the gun down on the counter in the kitchen right next to a bottle of tequila that Shirlene could’ve used a few minutes earlier. “We had passive cows. Not some squealing overweight animal.”
“Sherman is not overweight,” she stated. “He’s a perfect weight for his species and height.”
Bubba nodded. “Sorta like you, I suppose.” He knelt down next to her and brushed her hands away. “Pretty soon you’ll have him so tangled up I’ll be forced to keep him as a conversation piece.”
“What do you mean sort of like me?” She bristled. “Are you comparing me to a pig?”
“No, ma’am,” he said, but his smirk said something else entirely.
She wanted to wipe that stupid country grin off his face with her fist. And seeing as she was not a violent person, she wondered where the powerful reaction had come from. The man was nothing to her. In fact, she’d only been in his company a couple of times. But both times she’d gotten the distinct feeling that Bubba Wilkes didn’t like her. And maybe that was where her animosity for the man came from—very few people disliked Shirlene and none of them were men.
After taking his good sweet time assessing the situation, Bubba gripped the coils on either side of Sherman’s head in his lean hands and, with a simple flex of muscles, set the pig free. Sherman shook his head a few times before he nuzzled against Shirlene and received her sympathy scratches.
Reaching into the springs of the recliner, Bubba pulled out a half-eaten bag of Doritos. “Was this what you were lookin’ for, Pig?”
Sherman leaned over and sniffed the bag before very delicately taking it out of Bubba’s hand.
“See,” Shirlene cooed. “He’s as gentle as a lamb.” At which point, Sherman proceeded to rip the bag to shreds trying to get to the last of the crumbs.
With a wary look, Bubba sat back on his heels and watched the animal scarf up the cheesy chips. “So is this maniac with a chainsaw the same psychotic killer you were telling me about? Or are they two different fellers?”
Having lived in Bramble most of her life, Shirlene had developed a tolerance for the country psyche. But after being evicted from her home, choked by ghosts, and chased by psycho killers, she wasn’t about to be made fun of by a redneck from east Texas. So she shot him a look she gave very few people and climbed to her feet.
“Come on, Sherman,” she said. Before she headed out the door, she took a detour to the kitchen, where she slammed down a shot of tequila and picked up the gun.
The sun had crested over the horizon, but Shirlene didn’t stop to enjoy the mellow pinks and oranges of the beautiful sunrise as she trotted down the steps with Sherman close on her heels. She had some things to get accomplished, namely talking to the new bank president so she could get back to the lifestyle she was used to. Not this crazy trailer trash nightmare she had stepped into. And in order to do that, she had to face whoever—or whatever—had taken up residence in her trailer long enough to retrieve her purse and keys. After that, the ghosties could have the pile of aluminum for all she cared.
“Would you slow down,” Bubba said as he followed her through the opening in the hedge. She accidently released a branch, and it slapped him in the face. Or maybe not so accidently. But what was a branch in the face compared to all the butt pats and heinous pickup lines? He was lucky she didn’t turn the gun on him. Although the women of east Texas would probably thank her for ridding them of such a distributor of bullshit.
“Now just hold up there,” he said. As they weaved their way through the junk maze, he reached out and grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop. He was careful to grab the arm that didn’t hold the gun. “You can’t just run around shooting at anything that moves.”
“I can if they’re on my property.”
He released her arm and glanced around at the pathetic lot. “This is yours?”
“Since the day I was born.” She continued to the front steps, but when she reached the door, she hesitated. The door looked even worse than it had to begin with. The plywood was splintered and cracked, and the hinges sagging.
Bubba came up behind her, and she couldn’t help but be comforted by his presence, especially when Sherman had refused to climb the steps and was now cowering beneath an old, metal lawn chair with the remnants of the Doritos bag still clutched in his mouth.
“The psycho?” Bubba asked when he noticed the battered door.
“No, the pig,” she answered as she pushed the door open.
Before she stepped over the threshold, Bubba reached down and took the gun out of her hand. “Wouldn’t want you shooting off your toe by accident—or other important body parts.”
Shirlene rolled her eyes as he preceded her into the room. Except for the bright sunlight shining in through the thin sheets that covered the windows, the room looked much as it did the night before—the couch was still pulled out and the sheets and blankets still rumpled. When she saw her purse and shoes sitting on the floor, she heaved a sigh of relief.
Bubba might be an annoying redneck, but he wasn’t a coward. He boldly checked out the rest of the trailer while she followed more cautiously behind him. After looking in the tiny bathroom, he stepped back out in the hallway where she stood. The narrow space seemed much smaller with his bare chest so close.
His eyebrows hiked up over those deep-set brown eyes. “No maniacs or psychos that I could find.”
“And you expect the villains to stay at the scene of the crime after the sun comes up? What horror movies have you been watching, honey?” She shot him a skeptical look before she headed back to the living room, where it was much easier to breathe.
While she sat down on the edge of the couch and put on her shoes, Bubba walked into the room and flopped down next to her. “I don’t watch horror movies. Those things scare the hell out of me—even if it’s only Hollywood magic.”
It was difficult to concentrate on fastening the tiny little buckles with his body stretched the length of the mattress and then some. Her gaze couldn’t help wandering over to the flat stomach with its slit of a belly button, or his muscled-coated ribcage, or the deep brown of his small nipples. But what really had her stomach fluttering was the patch of dark hair under each arm. She couldn’t ever remember looking at Lyle’s underarms—or any man’s for that matter. And seeing the contrast of the white skin with the rest of his tan body had her face flushing as hot as Main Street in late August.
It took his eyelids sliding open and a very quizzical look to get her attention back to her shoes. It took a couple moments more before she could speak.
“Well, the thing that chased me this morning wasn’t Hollywood magic.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t your imagination?” He sat up, and she released her breath. “Sure you didn’t have yourself a little happy hour last night?”
“No, I did not have myself a little happy hour,” she said. Although as she looked around the dismal but ordinary room, she had to wonder if maybe the cold fingers and chainsaw-wielding horror star hadn’t just been figments of her imagination—the remnants of her nightmare. But if that was the case then what had scared Sherman?
Bubba rolled to his feet and tucked the gun in the waistband of his jeans. “Well, I don’t think it was a psycho killer. Probably just some fool tryin’ out his new Craftsman eighteen incher—you know how we Texans love our man-tools.” He pulled a can of chewing tobacco out of his back pocket. After unscrewing the lid, he pinched out some tobacco and placed it in his mouth.
As far as Shirlene was concerned anything that involved stained teeth and streams of disgusting brown spit was a nasty habit that needed to be outlawed. But she didn’t expect anything less from Bubba Wilkes.
“At five o’clock in the morning?” she asked.
Using his tongue, he maneuvered the tobacco down to the corner of his mouth before he spoke. “Which brings up a good point. What is the privileged Ms. Dalton doing out on Grover Road so early?”
“I was just looking things over before I sell it.” It was a pretty good lie if she had to say so herself. And it wasn’t so far from the truth. After her night of hell, she had no intentions of keeping the trailer.
The dark eyes stared back at her for only a moment before he grinned and pointed a finger mere inches from her nose. “You had me goin’ there for a second. But there’s no way a person would want to sell such a prime piece of real estate. Which leads me to believe that I was right in the first place; you do have a hankerin’ for a little Bubba lovin’.”
Shirlene stared back at him for only a second before heading for the door. It wasn’t Bubba lovin’ that she had a hankerin’ for as much as her Tempur-Pedic mattress and down pillows. “I’d tell you thanks for the hospitality, but an uninvited mauling isn’t what I consider being hospitable.”
“As hospitable as a woman breakin’ into someone’s huntin’ lodge without an invite? ’Course I figure Ms. Dalton can stay just about anywhere she pleases.” The way he said it sounded almost sarcastic. But since Bubba wouldn’t know sarcasm if it bit him in the behind, she figured she was mistaken. Or maybe just exhausted from her harrowing night.
“See ya around, Bubba.”
“More than likely, Ms. Dalton.” He followed her out.
Wasting no time, she hurried down the steps and hollered for Sherman. Never in her life had she been so happy to slip inside the plush leather seats of her Navigator. And Sherman looked about as happy as she did when she cranked on the air conditioner full blast. He stared back at her with relief in his beady eyes and orange Doritos cheese dust on his upside down heart-shaped snout. As she backed out into the road, she glanced back at the trailer. Bubba still stood on the steps, the pinks and oranges of the sunrise gilding the wavy dark strands of his hair and the hard rippled plains of his body.
Wilkesville was sure nice to look at. Too bad once you got there, it was nothing more than a ghost town.
“BUBBA” BILLY WILKES WAITED until the black Navigator had disappeared from sight before he leaned over the steps and spit the wad of tobacco out of his mouth. Still, the strong flavor stayed with him as he wiped off his chin and looked around.
It wasn’t the first time he had seen the lot, but with his mind preoccupied with other things, it was the first time he’d really looked at it. It was a pathetic sight. The yard was so cluttered with trash and junk he couldn’t even see the ground. Water-stained mattresses stuck out of piles of garbage, treadless tires were stacked haphazardly next to rusted-out car and truck frames, and dilapidated couches leaned against dinged-up appliances.
It had to be the biggest pile of crap Billy had ever seen in his life. Even Aunt Mildred and Uncle Fin’s yard didn’t come close, and people had long confused their double-wide for the town junkyard. But it wasn’t the magnitude of junk that surprised him. It was the fact that Mrs. Lyle Dalton owned it. Something he hadn’t discovered from the talkative townsfolk on his visits to Bramble. Of course, he hadn’t been interested in the wife as much as he was in the husband.
Still, Billy didn’t like unanswered questions. Good thing all it would take to find out why a flashy blond gold digger, who clothed herself in diamonds and designer denim, owned a rundown trailer on Grover Road was a trip to the town diner. And since his stomach was touching his backbone, he could kill two birds with one stone.
Padding down the steps, he weaved his way through the junk toward the high hedge. But before he slipped through, he noticed the old ’55 Chevy sitting under an elm tree in one corner of the lot. Compared to the rusted-out, weathered frames of the other vehicles in the yard, the car looked to be in excellent condition.
Billy had always preferred trucks to cars. But his big brother had a weakness for antiques, so he walked over to check it out. The paint had a few rust spots, and the tires were all flat. But the windows were still intact, although the back one had a long spidery crack—
A head popped up and two bright eyes stared back at him through the dirty glass. Before Billy could get over his surprise at seeing a little kid in the backseat of the car, an engine cranked to life and a chainsaw-wielding psycho-killer came charging out from behind the trailer.
Now Billy had never backed down from a fight in his life. But the scary mask and haphazard way the psycho swung the chainsaw had him rethinking his position. Except before he could make a run for it, two things caught his attention: One, his assailant was no bigger than a Munchkin, and two, there was no blade on the chainsaw. Still, the metal arm hurt like hell when it came down on his shoulder. And pain wiped out all logical thought.
“Why you little shit!” Billy dodged the next swing, then brought his arm down and knocked the chainsaw out of the kid’s hands. The kid turned and tried to make a run for it, but Billy easily grabbed the neck of his Batman t-shirt and jerked him back.
“Let me go!” The kid fought like a little demon.
Billy tightened his grip as he reached out and pulled off the mask. The defiant redheaded imp that stared back at him caused Billy’s temper to cool, although he refused to let the struggling kid go.
“You better let me go!” the boy yelled. “’Cause if you don’t, you’ll be sorry. My daddy is the sheriff of this town. And when he finds out you’ve been threatenin’ me, he’ll shoot you dead.”
“Considering Sheriff Winslow doesn’t carry a loaded gun, I’m not real scared,” Billy stated. “Besides, who was threatening whom?”
The kid stopped struggling and glanced down at the gun in the waistband of Billy’s jeans. “Then what are you doing with that?”
“I was planning on using it on a psycho killer who likes to scare women with his chainsaw. Seen any of them around?”
The kid’s brown eyes didn’t even flicker. “Nope, I sure ain’t.”
Billy chuckled before he released the kid. “So what’s your name, son?”
“I ain’t allowed to talk to strangers,” he said sullenly.
Billy shrugged. “Then maybe I should get Sheriff Winslow out here, after all. I’m sure you’ll have no problem explaining yourself to your daddy.”
“Jesse,” the kid said in his belligerent tone.
“Nice to meet you, Jesse.” Billy stuck out a hand. “I’m your neighbor, Billy Wilkes. ’Course most folks call me Bubba.”
The boy’s eyes widened. “You’re Bubba? You sure? Because the Bubba I heard about sounded a lot younger—and a lot more fun.”
Billy scowled. “I’m not in my grave yet. And as for fun, I’m always in a better humor when I’m not being threatened.” He glanced down at the chainsaw. “You do realize that doesn’t have a chain, don’t you, son?”
“Mia won’t let me have one with a chain,” he groused. “She thinks it’s too dangerous.”
“Is Mia your mama?”
“Nope, my sister.” Jesse shot a quick glance behind him before he lowered his voice. “But she acts like my mama, always harpin’ at me for one thing or another. Geez, a guy can’t even catch a break.”
It was hard to stay mad at such a sassy kid, and Billy found himself smiling. “So I guess you live around here?”
“A couple over. You gonna be livin’ next door for good?”
“No.” The word came out a little too fast, and Billy backpedaled. “I’m just here for a little fishin’ and huntin’, is all.” He looked back at the Chevy and the child who still watched him through the cracked window. “You know that kid?”
“That’s my little brother, Brody. I’m babysitting him while my sister went into town.”
Unless it directly affected him, Billy believed in staying out of other people’s business. Still, he couldn’t stand the thought of a kid getting hurt.
“Listen, you and your little brother need to find another place to play. This yard has way too many dangerous—” His words were cut off by a deep, familiar rumbling, and both he and Jesse looked out at the road as a huge monster truck drove past.
“You better get on home, Jesse,” Billy said as he turned and headed for the hedge. He had barely gotten through when the beast of a truck turned into his lot, its huge deep-treaded tires flattening the waist-high weeds as the mud-splattered chrome grill stopped within inches of him. The diesel engine cut off, and the door swung open.
“You plannin’ on shootin’ me for keepin’ your truck for so long?” Slate Calhoun said as he hopped down from the truck.
Billy cocked a hip and rested his hand on the revolver. “Only if you brought her back empty. Of course, even then, you’ll have to wait here while I run into the house for bullets.” He walked over and grabbed Slate’s hand in a firm shake. “Good to see you, man.”
“Same here.” Slate thumped him twice on the shoulder. “I thought you’d run off and forgotten about Bramble.”
“Nope, just been too busy for recreational sports. So what’s this I hear about you gettin’ hitched?”
Slate’s smile spread from ear to ear. “Married with child.”
“No kiddin’?” He shook his head. “Sounds like you’ve been busier than a four-legged bee.”
“A little.” Slate leaned up against the truck and crossed his arms. “So I take it the farm equipment business is going well.”
“Good enough.” Billy looked away from Slate and stared out at the road. “I heard about Dalton Oil.”
“Yeah, it sure came as a surprise. Not just the company doing so poorly, but Lyle dying of a heart attack. He was a good man.”
“So I hear.”
“But things are looking up,” Slate continued. “C-Corp hasn’t laid anyone else off. And we have some other businesses thinking about making a home here in Bramble.”
Billy’s gazed snapped back over to Slate. “Really? Anyone I know?”
“Colt Lomax for one—Shirlene Dalton’s brother.”
“Is that so?” Billy shook his head. “Well, I guess I need to catch up on all the town gossip.”
“I’ll have to fill you in another time, buddy,” Slate said as a Yukon pulled in behind the monster truck. “Right now, I’ve got early mornin’ weight-training with the team.” He placed a hand on Billy’s neck and herded him toward the SUV. “But come meet the family.”
Billy barely had time to flip the gun in the bed of the truck before he was being introduced to a pretty brunette with big blue eyes.
“This is my wife, Faith,” Slate said. “Faith, darlin’, this here is Billy Wilkes,” he paused as if waiting for a drum roll before he finished, “Bubba.”
If possible those blue eyes got even bigger as her lips formed a perfect O.
Grinning, Billy stuck his hand in the open window. “I’m sure pleased to meet you, ma’am.”
Her mouth snapped closed as her soft hand slipped into his. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you… Bubba. Or would you rather I call you Billy?”
The prim and proper manners coupled with the eastern accent took him by surprise, but he recovered quickly and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “A pretty lady like yourself can call me anything she wants.”
“Be careful, Bubba,” Slate cut in. “This one’s taken.”
Billy winked at Faith. “Only because I didn’t get back sooner.” He tipped his head at the car seat in the back. “And I suppose that’s little Slate Junior.”
“More like Faith Junior.” Slate walked over to the back window and poked his head in. And Billy couldn’t help but squint his eyes at the cooing and babbling idiot the head coach of Bramble High’s football team had turned into.
“Why, hello, daddy’s little dumplin’. Did my Daisy have a good ride with her mama? Yes, you did, didn’t you?” His head popped back out. “Take a look, Bubba, isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”
Realizing there was no way to get out of it, Billy walked over and leaned down to take a look at the tiny little body completely engulfed by the car seat’s shoulder harness. Big blue eyes stared back at him from beneath a crop of silky brown hair. Unwilling to babble like her father, Billy kept it simple.
The baby studied him so intently that Billy had trouble holding her gaze. Then as if she didn’t like what she saw, she scrunched up that chubby face and let out an ear-splitting scream. Billy couldn’t get away from the Yukon fast enough.
“I told you she was a genius, Faith,” Slate said, while flashing a teasing grin at Billy. “At a little over a month, my daughter has already developed good taste.”
“Slate,” Faith chastised as she reached around to soothe the child.
“It’s the truth, darlin’. And once you’ve been around the man for awhile, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.” He headed to the passenger side. “Stop by the stadium later on, Bubba. That’s if an East Texan can stand to see what a real football team looks like.”
Billy snorted. “I heard about that state championship trophy, but I didn’t realize they handed those out for flag football.”
“Flag, my—” Slate glanced at the backseat, “butt.” Still grinning, he climbed into the SUV.
“It was nice meeting you, Billy,” Faith said. “We’d love to have you over for dinner sometime.”
Slate leaned across her. “She’s only saying that because she’s never seen you eat.”
“It can’t be any worse than you with a plate of ribs, Calhoun,” Billy shot back before he returned his gaze to Faith. “I’d love to come for supper, Ms. Calhoun. You just say the word.”
The quick reply took Billy by surprise. And before he could think up a good excuse, Slate jumped in. “We’ll see you on Friday then.”
“Damn,” Billy muttered under his breath as he watched Faith carefully back out. When she reached the road, she waited for the non-existent traffic for what seemed like a good five minutes before pulling out. But instead of telling her to get a move on like Billy would’ve done, Slate just sat there grinning like a fool. Obviously, the man had fallen hard. Billy was happy for him. Slate was good people.
When the Yukon was finally gone, Billy turned back to the trailer. The truck caught his attention, and he couldn’t help but smile. From the floodlights to the American and Texan flags that hung from poles on either side of the back window, the monster truck screamed redneck like a flashing neon sign. The weathered stickers plastered on the huge back bumper didn’t hurt: DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS; REBEL BORN AND REBEL BRED AND WHEN I DIE I’LL BE REBEL DEAD; I LIVE BY THE THREE B’S: BEER, BRAWLS, AND BROADS; CRUDE RUNS THROUGH MY VEINS.
And Billy’s favorite: IF YOU THINK MY TRUCK IS BIG…
It was male Texan philosophy at its finest. And Billy ate it up like a slice of apple pie à la mode.
Billy glanced away from the truck and over to the redheaded kid who had just slipped through the hedge. And Jesse wasn’t alone. He held the hand of his little brother. Although Billy figured he’d misunderstood Jesse when he noticed the naked doll clutched in the child’s fist.
“Sorry, kid.” Billy headed for the door. “I don’t have time to chat.”
But Jesse was a quick little pain in the butt, and before Billy could reach the steps, he had dropped his sibling’s hand and raced over.
“So you ain’t gonna call the sheriff on me about the chainsaw?” he asked, his face wary. “Not even for chasin’ Ms. Dalton?”
Billy looked down at the kid with his mussed hair and dirty, freckled face and didn’t hesitate a second before answering.
“Nope.” He reached in his pocket, pulled out a ten dollar bill, and handed it to Jesse. “In fact, keep up the good work.”
THERE WAS SOMETHING NICE about growing up in a small town. Something nice about driving down the one main street and being greeted and waved at by the people you’d known since you were in droopy diapers. But the flipside of that coin was that sometimes people knew you too well.
“Either I’m gettin’ senile, or I need to go get my eyes checked,” Moses Tate said as Shirlene hopped down from the Navigator. “Because I sure ain’t never seen Shirlene Dalton in town before noon.”
Since Moses had to be close to a hundred and never remembered to wear his hearing aids, Shirlene yelled back as loudly as she could. “No need to waste your time at the doc’s, Mr. Tate. It’s me in the flesh.” She shot him a wink as she walked around to the passenger door to let Sherman out. “Pig-sittin’ is keepin’ me from gettin’ my beauty rest,” she fibbed. “But I guess a pig’s got to eat when a pig’s got to eat.” As if to confirm her words, as soon as Sherman hopped to the ground, he trotted over to the gutter and started sniffing around a candy wrapper.
Moses slowly pushed himself up from the bench in front of Sutter’s Pharmacy and shuffled out to the curb. “I guess Colt and Hope got off okay.”
“Dropped them and little Daffodil off at the airport in Lubbock yesterday,” Shirlene yelled. She pulled the leash out of the truck and walked over to snap it on Sherman’s collar. Cattle, sheep, cats, and dogs were allowed to roam free on the streets of Bramble, but pigs had to be on a leash. Which seemed like the worst sort of discrimination to Shirlene.
“How long they gone for?” Moses asked. Without teeth or dentures, his mouth resembled a puckered peach left out in the sun too long.
“At least a week or two. Colt’s got a lot to do if he wants to get his motorcycle shop moved here by winter.”
Moses nodded. “Always knew that boy would turn out all right. A person don’t watch out for their mama and sister like he did and not have a good heart. ’Course you can’t tell the people of this town anything. They still think Colt spent time in prison.” He shook his head. “Durn fools.”
Moses was right. The folks of Bramble might have their noses in everyone’s business, but rarely did they get their facts straight. Something Shirlene had given up trying to change a long time ago.
“See you, Mr. Tate.” She tugged the disgruntled pig away from the wrapper. But she only made it halfway down the block before Kenny Gene’s girlfriend Twyla came trotting across the street, her over-processed hair teased higher than a Jersey girl’s.
“Hey, Shirl. Missed you at the Founder’s Day decoratin’ meetin’.”
Shirlene shot her a big smile. “Well, I’m sure you got things figured out just fine without me, honey.”
“We shore did. Darla’s takin’ care of all the decoratin’ and Josephine the food.” Her gaze wandered over Shirlene’s hair. “I’m havin’ a special on cuts and dyes this week.”
Since the woman could destroy hair better than nuclear fallout, Shirlene kept her mouth shut and continued to smile. The smile drooped when Twyla continued.
“Did you hear the good news? Bubba’s back in town. I guess he just strutted right into Bootlegger’s last night as if he’d never been gone.” Her face turned all dreamy. “Wish I’d been there. Cindy Lynn said he was flirtin’ and dancin’ with all the girls like there was no tomorrow.”
Fortunately, about then, Sherman spotted a paper cup blowing in the wind and took off after it. Glad for the excuse, Shirlene let him tug her down the street, waving a hand behind her. “Take care now, Twyla.”
Like most of the other buildings on Main Street, the bank stood two stories high and was made out of red brick. It sat on the corner of Walnut and Main, its large maple doors facing out at an angle. Thanks to her industrious friend Hope, who had organized a painting party in early April, the wood trim was freshly painted a bright Bramble High purple. Shirlene had to admit that it looked real nice. Of course, she’d always loved purple. What she didn’t love was the fact that the bank doors were locked.
“What in the world is goin’ on in this town?” she grumbled under her breath as she tried the other door.
It was locked as well, which just didn’t make any sense. Shirlene knew it was early, but the bank manager, Luther Briggs, was always at his desk by seven. And even if he was late, The Bank of Bramble didn’t keep their front doors locked—that was what the huge gray vault was for. Of course, there had been that one time when the bank teller, Ruby Lee, had an affair with that Coca-Cola distributor. When her husband found out, he’d come to the bank with his shotgun and filled the Coke machine with buckshot, forcing Luther and two other employees to drag him out and lock the doors.
But since Hank had long since forgiven Ruby her infidelity, Shirlene figured the locked doors were a mistake so she lifted her fist and knocked. After only a few minutes, the door was thrown open. Except it wasn’t Luther that greeted her, but a short skinny stranger with eyes beadier than Sherman’s and a skinny, black mustache above a thin, sweaty lip.
“I’m sorry,” he stated in an uppity voice with not an ounce of Texas charm, “but the bank doesn’t open for another two hours.” He pointed a finger at the schedule posted on the window, a schedule that hadn’t been there when Lyle was alive.
Confused, Shirlene stared at it for a few seconds, just long enough for the man to start to close the door.
“Now wait just a minute.” She pushed it back open, which wasn’t difficult with such a scrawny man holding it. “I realize I’m here a little bright and early, but I need to speak to Luther.”
His thin eyebrows arched. “Are you referring to Mr. Briggs?”
“That would be the one.” Shirlene slipped inside, Sherman close on her heels.
“Have you lost your mind?” The little man stared down at Sherman, who started licking the solid wood floor like it was coated in honey. “You can’t bring that filthy animal in here.”
Now Shirlene had always believed in being cordial, especially to a stranger who didn’t have a clue who she was. But she couldn’t let the slight go, not when Sherman was extremely sensitive. Still, the best set-downs were done with a smile, and she flashed him one of her better ones.
“What’s your name, honey?”
“Mr. Reginald Peabody the third,” he sputtered with indignation. “But it doesn’t matter what my name is, young lady. You can’t just bust into a bank that is not open for business—especially with a… pig!”
Shirlene’s eyes narrowed. “Well, Mr. Peabody, I think that’s exactly what I did. And Sherman’s not just a pig. He’s our new town mascot.” She flapped her hand as the man started to speak. “Yes, I know that we’re the Bramble High Bulldogs. But since Emmett died a few months back at the ripe old age of fifteen, Sherman here is filling in until we get us a new bulldog. And let me tell you, that little purple sweater with the ‘B’ on it looks breathtaking against all that pink skin.”
“B-but,” the man stammered.
“No ifs, ands, or buts about it, Reggie. School pride is school pride. But if it will make you feel any better, Sherman and I don’t plan on staying very long.”
“Just because he has a name,” Mr. Peabody groused, “doesn’t mean he can be in my bank.”
Shirlene’s eyebrows popped up. “Your bank?”
“Well, not mine exactly.” His pointy chin came up. “But I’m the new bank manager. So therefore, I’m the man in charge.”
Shirlene knew that the bank had been sold—just another one of Lyle’s assets that had been auctioned off to the highest bidder after his death. She just hadn’t considered the fact that Luther Briggs would no longer be working there. But now that she thought about it, it made sense. Luther would never have repossessed her house without talking to her first.
“And if you don’t take that animal out of here this instant,” Mr. Peabody continued, “I’m reporting you to the authorities.”
It was a lame threat considering Sheriff Winslow had absolutely no authority over anyone—not even his wife. But regardless, Shirlene didn’t want the sheriff knowing about her situation so she tried to smooth things over.
“Now there’s no need to call Sam. If you’ll just give me the keys to those new locks you’ve put on my door, I’ll be out of here in a jiffy.”
The man looked confused for only a second. “Ms. Dalton?” he asked.
“That would be me.” She held out a hand. “Keys?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Excerpted from Catch Me a Cowboy by Lane, Katie Copyright © 2012 by Lane, Katie. Excerpted by permission.
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