Authors: Karen Leabo
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright Â© 1996 by Karen Leabo
Deep Autumn Heat
by Elisabeth Barrett Â© 2012 by Elisabeth Barrett.
The Last Warrior
by Kristen Kyle copyright Â© 1999 by Christine K. Benson.
by Adrienne Staff and Sally Goldenbaum copyright Â© 1986 by Adrienne Staff and Sally Goldenbaum.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
LOVESWEPT and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1996.
Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi
Cover image: Â© Rob Lang/Gettyimages
On a warm April day in Destiny, Texas, the high-school spring carnival was in full swing. The scent of popcorn mingled with that of cotton candy, and the gymnasium echoed with whoops of conquest from the many games and the excited laughter of children.
Seventeen-year-old Callie Calloway couldn't enjoy any of it. Her heart was breaking into pieces.
“I'm sorry that's the way you feel, Callie,” Sam said, his usual sunny smile absent. “But Uncle Ned needs me. He's in bad health, the spring calving hasn't gone well, andÂ â¦Â we're talking about my whole future here. You understand that, don't you?”
Callie nodded, swallowing back the tears. For as long as she'd known Sam Sanger, he'd taken care of his family. He'd helped his great-uncle on a ranch in Nevada every summer and had given most of his salary to his parents to add to the meager income they earned from their own struggling farm. It had all seemed so
noble to Callie, and that's one of the reasons she'd fallen in love with him.
He loved her, too, she knew. But just once, she wanted to come first. Was that too much to ask?
Apparently it was. Sam had moved heaven and earth to finish his high-school credits a month early so he'd be free to leave for Nevada for the summer. And now he'd just informed her that he was leaving before the senior prom.
“I'll understand if you want to go with another guy to the prom,” he said. “But do we have to break up? I mean, aren't you overreacting?”
Callie shook her head. “I know you. You're going to stay up in Nevada for good this time. We might as well face that fact and go on.”
“I'll be back,” he said. “I'm learning all about ranching, and I'll come back and build up Mama and Daddy's farm, just like I always said I would. You wait, it'll be the prettiestâ”
Callie covered her ears. “Please. Just go, Sam. I don't want to hear it anymore.”
Sam shoved his thumbs into his jeans pockets. “Okay, Callie,” he said, a little defiantly. “I'll go. But we're not through. Far from it.”
He swaggered away, and Callie sniffed back her tears. She'd played her trump card, and it hadn't been enough. At least she knew where she fell on Sam's list of priorities.
She needed a distraction, something to do that would make her forget all about Sam. Her tear-blurry vision settled on a booth in the corner swathed in glittery red silk. Where had that come from?
The small booth featured a gold-lettered sign that read
Callie frowned and consulted her clipboard. There was no fortune-teller, Theodora or otherwise, on her list of attractions sanctioned by the carnival committee, and no one had told her about any last-minute additions.
“I'll get to the bottom of this,” Callie murmured. A problem to solve would take her mind off Sam's desertion. She shoved a strand of her long dark hair behind her ear and pushed her glasses higher up on the bridge of her nose, ready for battle.
Still, even wearing her official-looking Carnival Committee/Student Division ID badge, she didn't want to confront Theodora alone. She needed reinforcements. She scanned the crowd, searching for her two fellow committee members.
Lana wasn't hard to find. All Callie had to do was look for the biggest crowd of boys, and Lana Walsh would be in the center. It would have been easy to feel jealous of the pretty blonde, except that her charm wasn't forced or calculated; it came naturally. She was a hard worker, too, when properly motivated.
Callie elbowed her way through the appreciative, hormone-driven males who were crowding around the table where Lana was selling tickets.
Lana looked up and smiled. “Oh, hi, Callie. Ticket sales are booming.”
Exactly why Callie had put Lana in charge of tickets. She'd known that all the boys, at least, would buy handfuls from her.
“Mrs. Dingmeir can handle sales for a while,” Callie said. “We have some official business to take care of.”
One of the boys watching the exchange, a big, strapping football player named Bart Gaston, put his hand on top of Callie's head and exerted just enough backward pressure that she was forced to look up at him. “What kind of official business?”
Supremely annoyed, she ducked out of his grasp. “Nothing that concerns you, lunkhead.” She turned her attention back to Lana. “Coming?”
“Sure.” Lana smiled apologetically, then deftly maneuvered the crowd of boys to Mrs. Dingmeir's table.
“You shouldn't be so rude to Bart,” Lana whispered as she and Callie left the group. “I think he's going to ask me to the prom. Has Sam asked you yet?”
The question made Callie's heart clench painfully. “Sam and I won't be going to the prom.” Before Lana could interrogate her, she changed the subject. “Where's Millicent?” Millicent Whitney was the third on their student carnival committee.
“She's helping out with the face painting, remember? Honestly, speaking of not having a date for the promÂ â¦Â I mean, Millicent's not as plain as she thinks she is. If she would only try to meet some boysÂ â¦”
“I know. But she's so darn shy.”
“She's going to end up alone and lonely,” Lana said sadly. “And that's really a shame. She's smart and nice, and she loves kids.”
That much was evident. As the two girls approached the face-painting booth they found Millicent busily painting a unicorn onto a little girl's cheek. The child, about four, sat still as a stone, enthralled by the artist's
soft voice as Millicent told her a story. She finished up just as she saw Callie and Lana approaching.
“Hi, how's it going?” Millicent lifted the child off the table where she'd been sitting and put her on the ground, sending her off to her father with a pat on the head.
“Fine with me,” Lana said, “but Callie says we have official business to take care of.”
Millicent looked to Callie for more of an explanation.
Callie turned and pointed to the silk-swathed booth. “Did y'all notice that?”
“The fortune-teller?” Millicent said. “What about her?”
“She's not on the list. Where'd she come from?”
The two other girls shrugged. “Does it matter?” Millicent asked.
“Of course it matters. She might have sneaked in here under false pretenses. She might be taking cash under the table.”
“Callie, you're so suspicious,” Lana admonished gently. “Probably Mr. Stipley simply forgot to tell us about her.” Mr. Stipley was the principal of Destiny High School, and the carnival was his baby.
“I want to find out for sure,” Callie said. “And I want you both to come with me.”
Lana laughed. “All right. But if we find out she's legit, we all have to have our fortunes told. Agreed?”
The other two girls nodded reluctantly.
As they approached Theodora's booth Callie thought it odd that the fortune-teller had no takers. The carnival was crowded, and almost every attraction
had a line in front of it. But Theodora, a darkly exotic woman dressed in a gypsy costume, sat behind a silk-draped table with a crystal ball in front of her, as if she'd been waiting just for these three customers.
Her wide, red-painted mouth spread into a smile. “Well, now, what do we have here? Did you come to find out which boy will ask you to the prom?”
Callie got a wiggly sensation down her spine. How odd that she and Lana had recently been discussing that very thing. “Actually, Miss, uh, Ms. Theodora, this is an official visit. I'm head of the Carnival Committee/Student Division, and these are my committee members.” She consulted her clipboard, trying to look serious and severe. “You aren't on my list.”
“My, aren't you the official one,” Theodora said, still smiling. In an aside to the other two girls, she added, “I'll bet nothing gets by her, eh? She probably dots all her
's and crosses the
Millicent covered her mouth to disguise her smile, and Lana laughed out loud, earning a scowl from Callie.
“You're the skeptical type,” Theodora continued, looking at Callie. “You love to ask questions and you can't stand an unsolved mystery. You would make a very good newspaper reporter.”
“H-how did you know that?” Callie asked. She'd already been accepted into the journalism program at Stockton University, the college around which the town of Destiny, Texas, had grown.
“I know all kinds of things,” Theodora said mysteriously. “Would you like to hear more?”
“I'd like to hear who gave you permission to set up here,” Callie persisted. “You're not on myâ”
“Chill out, Callie,” Lana said. “I'd like to hear more. Can you tell me who I'll go to the prom with?”
Theodora consulted her crystal ball, and Callie observed, fascinated despite herself. Out of habit, she pulled a small pad and pen from the back pocket of her jeans and began taking notes. She was always on the lookout for a good story for the school paper.
“I see you going to the prom with a football player,” Theodora said.
Big stretch, Callie thought uncharitably. Someone with Lana's looks would naturally snag a football player.
Theodora looked up. “You have many talents, you know,” she said. “I see you surrounded by flowers.”
Lana giggled. “I hope that means Bart will bring me a big ol' corsage for the dance. Now, what about Millicent?” She dragged her friend forward. “Who's she gonna go with?”
Millicent sighed. “I don't need a fortune-teller to give me that answer. I won't be going.”
Theodora peered into the ball. “I see you painting. You have such talent!”
Another big stretch, Callie thought. Millicent had paint smears all over her hands.
“I'll probably be painting the prom decorations,” Millicent said glumly.
“Oh, who cares about this silly prom business,” Lana interrupted. “We want to know who we're going to marry. Right?” She looked to the other two girls for confirmation.