Authors: Jim Northum
Tags: #Contemporary, #Inspirational, #Romance
Jenny Jones, successful California lawyer appears to have it all—highly respected and highly paid position, an almost unlimited professional career, and a small cadre of close friends. However, a nagging little voice pops into her mind from time to time.
The death of her mother, the arrival of a letter and the discovery of a bundle of unopened letters in her mother’s files reveal bits of family history and the nagging little voice becomes much louder. Deceased grandparents she knows nothing about, a cattle ranch in Arkansas and a ranch manager offer her a chance to follow that little voice to a new life.
Can she leave the California dream and an alternate lifestyle behind and embrace an entirely new life in rural Arkansas?
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Love in Romance Arkansas
Copyright © 2014 Jim Northum
Cover art by Latrisha Waters
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.
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Love in Romance Arkansas
This little tale is dedicated to the highways, byways and back roads of America and to all the wonderful stories to be found there. The name of a community, the people met along the way, the design of an old house or the sweep of the land can all stir the beginnings of a tale limited only by the imagination of the writer.
Jenny drummed her perfectly manicured nails on the polished surface of her walnut desk, looked out the window over the skyline of Los Angeles, and thought about the letter she had just opened.
Who in Arkansas would be writing to me, telling me I’m the sole surviving heir of someone I never even knew existed, much less about inheriting some property? I don’t even know where Arkansas is located. If this didn’t look so official, I’d think someone is playing a joke on me, February the fourteenth and a letter from Romance, Arkansas.
She buzzed her secretary, “Anne, please find anything you can about Romance, Arkansas. For that matter, find a map showing Arkansas. While you are checking, find out what you can about the law firm of Smith & Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas”
“You’ve got to be kidding. Romance, Arkansas! What did you drink for lunch?”
“Not kidding, just find what you can. I’m going home to clear out some more of Mom’s stuff so we can get the house ready for sale.”
Jenny had it all, according to the world’s standard. Fantastic position with a highly respected law firm, the top floor, corner office with a killer view, a swanky condo, a mother she loved, or had loved, and any number of adoring men and lately, women. All seemed well with the world, but there was a little nagging voice that popped up occasionally over the years, more so now, that whispered, “You’re missing out on life, there is so much more in store for you than the shallow existence you now have. Don’t mess around and lose it entirely.”
That little voice returned full force as Jenny carefully sorted through her mother’s papers. As a lawyer, she recognized everything was in perfect order, the result of much effort on her part.
This is Mother’s legacy. Neat stacks of papers and files in a file cabinet, a house now empty, no husband to mourn her passing, a few friends, and me. Is this going to be my legacy also? Is there something better, more meaningful out there for me and am I missing it?
In the very back of the bottom drawer of the file cabinet wrapped in brown paper and tied with string was a bundle she had never seen. She untied the yellowed string and carefully removed the dried paper. A stack of thirty unopened letters addressed to her mother at a post office box lay before her. A casual glance at the postmark sent a shock over her. Each was postmarked Romance, Arkansas. One a year for thirty years, each postmarked February fourteenth.
She decided to open the letters in the order they were written. The letters went from the frustration of a parent berating an errant child to a heart wrenching plea for reconciliation. The last was written by a man, her grandfather, telling her that her mother had died, and a brief note asking for a chance to make things right before it was too late.
The letter Jenny had received earlier that day made it obvious it was too late to make things right.
From the tone of these letters, I would bet they didn’t know anything about me.
She realized this was the history of a part of her life she knew nothing about. As she read, she began to understand the origin of her long, jet black hair and smooth, light brown complexion that always looked tanned without any tan lines, a feature that drove her boyfriends wild and her girlfriends crazy with envy. She also understood why her mother had never remarried. No, make that never married, and why she was so hostile toward men. She got a raw deal, for sure, one that
caused her to miss so much life had to offer. Too bad she couldn’t conquer her fears and feelings and
be able to enjoy life.
Jenny contacted the Little Rock lawyers and arranged a meeting. The flight from LA to Little Rock gave her time to reflect on the strange twists and turns life could take.
From knowing nothing about my past to discovering a grandfather and grandmother, now both deceased, to owning a ranch I know nothing about in a place of which I never heard. Can it get any better than this? My friends will love this.
She met with the lawyers in Little Rock to sign the documents necessary for the property transfer. The junior partner assured her he would take care of the necessary paperwork with the White County Assessor.
Being a lawyer
I’ll still check just to be sure everything is on the up and up.
It seemed she now owned a purebred Angus cattle ranch of some three thousand acres located in the Romance community in White County. She had no idea what an Angus cow looked like or how big three thousand acres was.
Guess I’ll have to follow these directions and find out what I have and how to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Jenny was driving down what she considered to be a trail through western White County, Arkansas. The town—or community—of Romance did nothing to alter her frame of mind. Basically all she saw was a post office, a church and one boarded-up store.
What do people out here, if there is anyone out here, do? There’s nothing here but trees and grass. I haven’t seen much life since I went through Jacksonville, and it wasn’t much. Did have a Starbucks, though.
She was watching the narrow road, but taking notice of the countryside. Trees, interspersed with open fields, dominated the view. The fields had the look of benign neglect. Fences were overgrown with brush and pastures sported scattered shrubs and small trees. She rounded a turn and noticed the fence on one side of the road was arrow-straight, tight and free of brush. She was not a country girl by any stretch of the imagination, but she was observant enough to know careful maintenance when she saw it. The pasture behind the fence was clear of brush and lush with green grass. The fence followed the road for quite a distance until it reached an entrance flanked by tasteful native stone pillars. The sign indicated that she had reached the Romance Angus Ranch. She noticed the fence continued out of sight beyond the entrance.
She pulled into the drive to see a log home—not a big, gaudy log home as some of her friends built in Colorado for weekend retreats or the show place homes built by the ultra-wealthy. This home was sizable, but it had the look of family, friends and solid values. There was a two-story center section with single-story wings on either side. It seemed to beckon…
you belong here, come in and be at home.
A strange feeling tugged on her heart, a yearning to have something solid, something besides her glitz and glamour life.
A tall, rangy man rose from a big rocker on the front porch and waited for her to approach. He had the look of an old time cowboy—worn jeans, checkered shirt and muddy boots. No cowboy hat, but a green and yellow John Deere cap pulled low over his eyes. His greeting was polite, but guarded. Not overly friendly, but not openly hostile either. “Hello, you must be Doug and Missy’s granddaughter. Welcome to the Romance Angus Ranch. I’m John Ponder.”
“Yes, I’m Jenny Jones. Glad to meet you, sir. I’ll be honest with you. I know nothing about my grandparents or this operation. Until about a month ago, I had no clue about any of this. I want to learn as much as I can about them and acquaint myself with the operation before I decide to do anything.” Her lawyer training was working full speed.
This man is more than he seems. The lawyers in Little Rock said something about a caretaker, partner or something. They weren’t sure of his actual status. Bet he thinks this should be his. Nice looking guy though.
Opening massive, heavy front doors he said, “Well, Ms. Jones, let’s take a tour of the house so you can get a feel for the place and some idea of what happens here.”
They entered a great room with vaulted, exposed beam ceiling. A fire blazed cheerfully in a big stone fireplace occupying center stage on the back wall. “Needless to say, this is the social center of the house. The conference room upstairs may be the business center, but here is where most deals are finalized. Some of the most important meetings of the North American Angus Association have taken place in this room. There is a commercial kitchen behind this room. Doug and Missy had their offices, kitchen, bedrooms and bath in the wing on the right. My office, kitchen, bedroom and bath are in the wing on the left. Let’s check out the deck.”
A wide deck spanned the entire back of the house. The view was spectacular, though not as big and open as some in Colorado or Montana, but comforting in a way. The land dropped from the house to a wide valley dissected by a sizable stream to the ridge line about equal distance on the other side of the stream. Neat, straight fences divided the area into several pastures. Everywhere she looked were black cows—Angus, she assumed, since this was an Angus ranch and no other cows were in sight. Two paddocks closest to the house contained horses. She loved horses, had a horse boarded in California, and rode at every opportunity. As she took in the view, overwhelming emotions ran through her.
Some of my friends spent millions of dollars to get something like this and this is mine due to a man I never got to know. I wish I could’ve met Gramps and Granny.
She teared up at the thought of automatically calling them what she imagined she would have called them.
I bet they were nice people. This is a wonderful place, so peaceful and quiet.
* * * *
John stepped to the rail beside her. “It’s a nice view, isn’t it? I used to sit here with Doug and Missy nearly every day. They were wonderful people. I owe everything I have to them—they were like parents to me.”
“What is the story on the hot tub? Looks like a nice one, but it seems a bit out of place on a ranch. I love to relax in a nice hot tub.”
“Missy had back and hip problems. Her doctor recommended water therapy, so they had the hot tub installed. There is a cold weather cover in the barn and a heater in the system so she could use it daily regardless of the weather. It did reduce her pain so she could ride as she loved to do. I’ve seen her in agony after a long day in the saddle. You could see the pain leave her face as she settled down in the warm water. I’ve used it a few times and it does help the stiffness and soreness go away.”
“What’s that little low house with fan shaped concrete walks leading to it?” she asked.
“That’s a trap field. Doug was a trap shooter, a really good one in his younger days. He used to go to shoots all over the nation and even made the All American Team a couple of years. As years crept up on him, he reduced his shooting schedule until he shot mostly in local shoots and here with several of his old shooting buddies. He always managed to attend the state shoot, though. Missy shot some with him, when she could take time away from the horses. He left some superb trap guns as part of his estate. Are you a shooter?”