Authors: Tori Scott
BLAME IT ON TEXAS
Copyright 2011 Tori Scott
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With thanks to my wonderful family, who inspire me every day with their success both in their work and their lives. You give me the strength to go on. And to Blue, who inspired this story with his bravery and loyalty. Even though the UPS man had no intention of kidnapping my kids, you didn't know that when you risked your life to protect them and I love you dearly.
BLAME IT ON TEXAS
If someone asked Logan Tanner what hell was, he'd say living in West Texas and working on the family ranch. He hated the wide open spaces, the red dust coating every surface, the sight of pump jacks bobbing up and down, pumping out thousands of barrels of oil, never stopping. The unrelenting sun in the summer, the bone-chilling cold of winter. Every time he returned for a visit, his skin itched as though fire ants marched beneath the surface.
"Come on, Logan. I'm not asking you to move home permanently. But I need your help to take care of Dad and the ranch." Carol slid an arm around Logan's shoulder and squeezed. "He's worried about it and the animals and it's making him anxious and upset, so I told him we'd take care of things for now."
"You don't know what you're asking." He was going to be sick. He couldn't let Carol do this alone, but he couldn't endure weeks, maybe months, out here.
Carol's brown eyes clouded with worry. "It's only for a few months, while he goes through physical therapy. You can design your games as easily here as you can in Dallas, and I can use Dad's kitchen to make my soaps."
"It's more than that, Carol. I can't be this far from home. I have meetings to attend, I have an apartment. I have a life. I can't just pack up and move." Even as he protested, he knew he was stuck. His stomach churned, and sweat broke out on his brow.
"Logan, what on earth is wrong with you? You're white as a sheet." Carol took his arm and led him to the window seat beneath a stained glass picture of Jesus holding a young lamb. "Sit down before you keel over. This will be good for you. You've been working too hard, and you need some fresh air and sunshine."
He put his elbows on his knees and rested his head in his hands. He couldn't spend months listening to the wind howl. Months blistering his hands stringing fence and burning his skin under the blazing sun.
Think! There has to be another way
. "We can hire someone. I'll pay whatever it costs."
She shook her head. "No. You know Dad wouldn't stand for it. He's always worked the land himself. If we bring someone else in, he'd never forgive us. Like it or not, it's up to us. Or me."
Damned if he did. Damned if he didn't. "But I have to go to Baton Rouge. I have to see Katie, find out if she's all right."
"Logan, I'm sure Katie is fine with her mother. I know you're hurt and angry because Sue Ann won't let you talk to her, but a few weeks isn't going to make that much difference. And your lawyer is working on it, right?" Carol put her hands on her hips, ready to fight for what she knew was right. "There's no one else to take care of Dad, so it's up to us. I don't want to put him in a nursing home."
Logan felt trapped, suffocated as though he'd been buried alive. He'd thought he was free. That he'd never have to return to the life he'd hated since he was twelve years old. "But I have an apartment, a job."
Carol spit out a curse that would have sent Mama running for a bar of soap. "You can sublease the apartment. You can design computer games anywhere. They do have electricity and Internet service out here, you know. They even have running water."
"Very funny. And where will I find someone to sublease the apartment? I can't let a total stranger move in."
"Well, there's Megan, my friend from A & M. She graduates next week and she's looking for a place for the summer. You haven't met her, but I can vouch for her."
"Great. Just what I need, a college kid who'll have wild parties and tear up my furniture."
Carol rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. "Megan is not a kid, and she's not like that. She's very responsible."
"Uh-huh." Logan wasn't convinced, but his arguments were weakening. He tried to think of another excuse that would keep him out of Lynn County.
"Are you going to help me or not?" She plopped down on the seat and looked up at him through her long, dark eyelashes. "Please?"
Damn it. She'd been doing that since she was old enough to talk. Using that pleading tone of voice that guaranteed he'd give her whatever she wanted. He could only think of one time it hadn't worked. When she'd wanted two of his condoms "just in case" the night of her senior prom. He'd decked Jake Reilly that night, just because Carol had thought of having sex with him.
"Oh, hell." He leaned back and lifted his eyes to the stained glass window. "You'd better stick close by, Lord, or we're all going to hell in a hand basket."
Megan Flynn wrestled her grandmother's rocker out of the elevator and into the third floor hallway. Moving was a bitch, no question. But the sublet was just what she needed for the summer and would give her a chance to find the perfect place for her home and business. And it
beautiful. Just not what she wanted as a permanent residence.
Her dream was a home on several acres, with a half-dozen Blue Heelers in various stages of competition training, and a country veterinary practice of her very own. She'd spent her entire life in high rise apartments, and this was absolutely the last time.
Gathering the last of her strength, she picked up the rocker and staggered down the hall. A burst of feminine laughter greeted her as she neared the door to the apartment she'd be sharing with her best friends, Nancy and Jean.
Grateful the door was slightly ajar, she nudged it open with her hip and maneuvered the chair inside. There! She was completely moved in. Everything she owned in the entire world fit into a two hundred and twenty-five square foot bedroom.
"Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in." Nancy said with a grin. She looked elegant and refined, as always, even in a pair of denim cutoffs and a tight, red knit shirt. Of course, she'd had two hulking football players to tote and carry for her. She hadn't had to risk a perfectly polished oval fingernail. "Megan, are you all right, honey? Your face is all red and splotchy."
"Gee, thanks Nancy. Nice of you to notice." Megan laughed and wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. "Is there any iced tea left?"
"Of course. In the fridge."
Megan went into the kitchen and returned with a super-sized cup from her favorite fast food joint. She drained the cup, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Ah, that's better."
Jean walked into the living room, a towel wrapped around her head. "Bathroom's free. Who's next?"
Nancy pushed herself up from the couch but Megan ran for the hall before Nancy could take a step. "Me. I'm burning up. It must be over a hundred out there today." She tossed an apologetic grin over her shoulder. "Sorry, but I'm sure you've heard the saying 'if you don't work, you wait for the shower,' right?"
A couch pillow sailed by her head as she opened the bathroom door. "But I have a date," Nancy wailed.
"Ten minutes, tops." Megan closed the door behind her, stripped out of her clothes, and climbed into a shower stall big enough to hold six people that sported three custom shower heads. She turned on the cold water and yelped when it hit her overheated skin.
Dummy. You should have packed earlier, then Nancy's hunks could have helped you move, too.
But, instead of packing, she'd roamed the campus one last time, storing away memories and dreaming about her future.
She turned the hot water up and leaned against the cool gray ceramic tile. The bathroom was masculine, as was the rest of the apartment, decorated in muted shades of gray and navy. She had a feeling Carol's brother was a diehard Dallas Cowboy's fan.
She quickly lathered her skin with vanilla soap and washed her hair. Then she stepped out of the shower and wrapped a bath sheet around her body and a smaller towel around her hair.
Refreshed and rejuvenated, she lathered her skin with moisturizer and pulled on cutoffs and a Texas A & M T-shirt. She checked her watch. Eight minutes. Even Nancy couldn't complain about that.
Katie Tanner was scared to death. She'd never been on a bus by herself. Every time it stopped at an out-of-the-way small town, she was afraid to get off, terrified it would leave without her. But she had to eat and use the bathroom, so she hurried as fast as she could, always making it back to the bus before the driver.
Her mother was going to kill her when she found out she'd run away. Katie hoped that would take a few days, at least. Long enough for her to find her dad. Her mom thought she'd gone camping with her friend Megan's family, and they weren't due back from their camping trip for a week, so if her luck held she had at least that long.
She picked up her book and tried to read, but a man who'd gotten on at the last stop kept staring at her and it made her nervous. She glanced around the bus at the other passengers and saw a woman struggling to entertain a small child who was getting restless.
Katie put her book back inside her backpack, zipped it, and stood. Holding on to the back of the seats, she made her way forward, aware of the man's eyes on her with every step. When she reached the woman, she forced a smile onto her face and said, "Hi. My name is Katie and I'm really good with kids. Would you mind if I sat with you? I could play with him and give you a chance to rest."
The woman smiled back and said, "Sure, hon. Have a seat."
With a sigh of relief, Katie sat down, out of sight of the man in the back. She checked her small billfold to see how much money she had left. Thirty-two dollars and sixty-seven cents. She hoped that would be enough for a taxi.
When they reached Dallas, Katie gathered up her backpack and made her way to the front of the bus, close behind the mother and child she'd sat with for the last two hundred miles.
A smiling man met the woman when she stepped off the bus, leaving Katie alone again. She glanced back to see the man who had stared at her on the bus watching her again. A shiver raced up her spine and she hurried into the terminal. She hoped a ticket agent could tell her what to do next. She'd never tried to get a taxi before.
Thankfully, she found a nice female agent who helped her not only with information, but she put a "next window" sign up and took Katie out to the taxi stand. She helped Katie into a cab with a female driver, told the lady where she wanted to go, and made sure Katie had enough money.