Authors: Suzie Quint
|A Knight In Cowboy Boots|
|Pink Petal Boots (2011)|
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A KNIGHT IN COWBOY BOOTS
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Copyright © Suzie Quint,
Cover Art ® by Valerie Tibbs
Edited by Julie Trevelyan
Electronic Publication Date: August
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, Grimes, IA
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A Knight In Cowboy Boots
Maddie had no idea how many laws she’d broken in the last week. They all paled next to kidnapping. Since she’d been advised not to leave the state, she was pretty sure having temporary custody wouldn’t get her anywhere in court. Not that it mattered. She’d never get to court. She’d die before she gave Jesse up.
A soft gurgle issued from the back seat of the
. God, she hated that Jesse couldn’t be beside her where she could reach over and touch his baby soft cheek, but that was one law she wouldn’t break. Not only for Jesse’s sake, but because a ticket would put them on the radar.
She reached back to stroke a chubby knee. Not finding it, she glanced over her shoulder. Light swept across the interior of the car, followed by a blast from a car horn.
“Crap!” Maddie swung back, jerking the wheel to the right seconds before a dark sedan shot past her in the opposite lane.
She white-knuckled the wheel, heart pounding and palms sweating from the adrenaline rush of a near miss.
Where had that car come from?
She took several deep breaths. Gradually, her body caught up with the idea that the immediate danger was over.
“Time to stop for the night,” Maddie muttered. She forced a conversational tone. “What do you think, Charlie Brown? Think we can find a fleabag motel before we hit downtown
Up ahead, Maddie picked out the flash of a neon sign. It had the cheap, garish look of a million other interchangeable mom-and-pop motels. A place with no nationwide computer registry. A place where, if you paid cash, they probably wouldn’t even record the room rental, so they could beat the IRS out of its cut. Eyeing the string of ground level rooms à la The Bates Motel, Maddie guessed she wouldn’t find a listing for it in the Texas Triple A Guidebook.
Just the kind of place she was looking for.
She slowed the car to a crawl. Nearly past it when she saw
spelled out in burned-out neon, she had to swing the wheel hard to make the driveway.
There was parking a short distance from the office, in the dark, where no one would notice a child in the back seat. Her other option was a lit spot directly in front of the office where she would see anyone who approached the
. Since it put her heart in her throat to leave her nephew unattended, even for a few minutes, Maddie chose the light.
Pretending to be brave, she patted Jesse’s knee from the front seat. “Be cool, Charlie Brown. Try to look inconspicuous while I’m gone, okay?” She locked the car, leaving Jesse cooing softly inside, and went to rent a room.
The man who answered the bell was exactly what she’d hoped for: bored with his job and uninterested in the customer. He barely even looked at her. With his skinny arms and his scrawny chest in a yellowed wife beater that hadn’t been washed in far too long, Maddie didn’t find him remotely attractive, yet when he drawled, “Ain’t no long distance service in the rooms,” her heart fluttered unexpectedly. She hadn’t anticipated hearing the
drawl so far north.
“That’s f-fine,” Maddie stuttered, suddenly homesick for a place she’d never been.
With key in hand, she moved the car to the front of unit seven. Once Jesse was safely ensconced inside, she opened the trunk to retrieve the duffel bag, the only other essential she kept as close as she could. She didn’t care about the layer of clothes at the top; that was just camouflage for the forty thousand dollars—less the outrageous sum she had paid for the Social Security card and the
license in her purse—at the bottom of the bag.
As she dragged the bag inside, Maddie steeled herself to face another night in a shabby motel. The worn décor, smelling faintly of mildew and bleach, didn’t bother her, but the unadvertised amenities did. As long as she could remember, she’d heard how everything was bigger in
, but she’d never thought about it extending to the cockroaches.
A small stove and a counter-sized fridge stood in the corner, near the bathroom door. Maddie left Jesse on the worn chenille bedspread, bumpered by the duffel on one side and two flat pillows on the other before getting a dented tin sauce pan out of the cupboards. At six months, cold formula was fine for Jesse, but he slept better if his nighttime bottle was warm. With an eye on the pan of water, Maddie slathered peanut butter onto white bread, then opened the bag of Fritos she’d bought that morning in
. She layered corn chips on the peanut butter before topping it with another slice of bread. Maddie took one large bite then let the sandwich sit until the formula was warm.
“Okay, Charlie Brown. Dinner’s on.”
Jesse had never needed to be coaxed to eat. He sucked at the bottle with machine-like precision, reminding Maddie how, even as a newborn, he’d suckled like he’d been born with an instruction manual in his head.
She changed his diaper and put his jammies on while he ate. When she was done, he smelled reassuringly of warm baby and talcum powder. Maddie breathed deep and smiled. The smile felt strange. And more than a little disloyal, even though she knew, for Jesse’s sake, she had to put the last four months behind her, as much as she safely could. The least of that meant learning to smile again. For Jesse’s sake.
Half a bottle of formula later, Jesse’s mouth action slowed and his eyes dropped to half mast. Maddie craned her neck to peer at the visible sliver of Jesse’s blue eyes. His eyes rarely closed completely when he first fell asleep. Maddie found it endearing. She laid him gently on the bed then put the half-full bottle in the fridge for the middle-of-the-night feeding. Finally, she changed into her baggy sweats.
There was one more thing to do before she went to sleep herself. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, she dialed the disposable phone with its untraceable number that she’d bought for this sole purpose.
“It’s me,” Maddie said.
“Thank God.” Her Great-Aunt Pru’s voice sounded heavy with relief. “I was starting to worry.”
“I know. I should have called last night, but it took me too long to find a place to stay. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Just as long as you’re okay. Next time, don’t worry about waking me.” Pru paused. “You made the right decision.”
Maddie’s heart skipped a beat. “Why? What’s happened?”
came around yesterday.” They never referred to Derek by name any more, at least not out loud.
“He came there?” Maddie’s heart dropped another beat.
“He figures you’ve taken Jesse, but he can’t find anyone to tell him where.”
Maddie wiped her suddenly damp palm on her sweats then shifted the phone to her other ear. “He’s a snake, but he’s got a way of getting things out of people.”
“They can’t tell what they don’t know,” Aunt Pru said, repeating the advice she’d given when they’d first talked about Maddie taking Jesse and running. Back when it had started to look like the state wasn’t going to prosecute Derek for murder. When it began to look like he’d not only walk away scot-free but get custody of his son, too. She had followed her aunt’s advice to the letter. Not even Pru knew where Maddie was or where she was going.
“You be careful, girl. I couldn’t stop him from poking around. He saw Lloyd’s
was gone. I told him I sold it.”
“Did he believe you?”
“He pretended to, but he’s a suspicious bastard. You get rid of that behemoth as soon as you can.”
Maddie had grown fond of her late great-uncle’s car. She felt safe in it, but Pru was right. “I’ll get rid of it as soon as I’m planted someplace.”
“I wish you’d do it sooner,” Pru said.
“I’m being careful. I’m not speeding. I’m not even parking illegally. No one has any cause to run the plates,” Maddie said. She had a bill of sale from Pru safely in her purse. As soon as she landed someplace long enough to find a buyer, she could transfer the title without ever having her name attached to it.
“I wouldn’t worry so much if it was just him,” Pru said, “but his father’s just as determined to get Jesse back, and he can pull strings.”
Sadly, they both knew too well about the strings Derek’s father could pull. It was why Maddie was sitting in a lonely, roach-infested motel room on the outskirts of
. “He can pull ropes if he wants to,” Maddie said, bitterness and determination tingeing her voice. “It doesn’t make any difference if they can’t find me.”
“You got what you needed in
“I got it. They hiked the price on me at the last minute. Thought I was being too fussy.” Maddie felt a spurt of anger, though at the time, she had wondered if they were right. Now she was glad she’d stuck to her guns and insisted her new identity have a middle initial that let her use her own name.
“They can afford to think that; you can’t,” Pru said, expressing her conviction, not for the first time, that if Maddie forgot to answer to a new name, folks around her would take note. Small things like that worried Pru. Privately, it had worried Maddie as well.
“I know I can’t make you stop fretting, but we’re fine,” Maddie said, trying to ease her aunt’s fears, as well as her own, with bravado. “The door’s locked, Jesse’s asleep on the bed, and no one knows where we are. We’re going to be okay.”
“You just keep checking in.”
“I will.” Maddie paused. “But I don’t think it’ll be as often. Once a month maybe.”
A long silence ensued. Maddie closed her eyes. She knew exactly what her aunt was feeling, how much she would miss the reassurance the calls gave her. Maddie felt the same way.
“I understand,” Pru finally said. “Listen, when you do call, call late. Late enough to wake me. In case he drops by again.”
“I will,” Maddie said. “I love you.”
“Love you, too, girl.”
After hanging up, Maddie leaned her butt against the edge of the mini-fridge and ate her sandwich.
We’re going to make it
. She needed to dispel the pall Derek’s visit to Pru’s had caused.
We’re going to hide deep in the wilds of
where Derek will never find us. We’re going to be safe
She wasn’t as convinced as she wanted to be. As if to drive that point home, a car pulled into the space in front of the neighboring room just as she turned the lights out. The thin drapes didn’t keep the headlights from sweeping the room. Maddie’s heart seemed to stop in her chest before it started back up double-time. She nudged the edge of the curtain aside enough to peek out with one eye.
She itched to get the gun from her shoulder bag, but the awful fear that, if she left the car unwatched, even for a moment, she’d never see the occupant until he grabbed her out of the darkness, as though she were a disposable character in a slasher movie, held her at the window.
Maddie had to see the driver if only to keep herself from lying awake in irrational terror. As she waited in the dark, quiet room she shared with Jesse and the
cockroaches, her heart pounded so hard the artery in her throat pulsed. Even after she saw that the man in the next room was a bald, non-threatening stranger, she watched to make sure his goal really was the next room.
Slowly, her heart rate returned to normal, and at last, Maddie lay down, curling her body around her sleeping nephew. The words of a song by Kenny Rogers, one of her aunt’s favorite singers, played in her head as it had so often since she’d left
. She’d heard that song since she was a child but the advice it gave about knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run had never felt more true. What the song failed to mention was how lonely running could be.