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Authors: Helen Evans

The Cowboys Heart 1

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The Cowboys Heart

by

Helen Evans

Copyright © 2015 by Helen Evans

This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely
coincidental.

The Cowboys Heart

All rights reserved.

This book is protected under the copyright
laws of the United States of America. No part of this work may be used,
reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording and faxing, or by any information
storage and retrieval system by anyone but the purchaser for their own personal
use.

This book may not be reproduced in any form
without the express written permission of Helen Evans, except in the case of a
reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages for the sake of a review written
for inclusions in a magazine, newspaper, or journal—and these cases require
written approval from Helen Evans prior to publication. Any reproduction or
other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without
the express written permission of the author.

Chapter One

“I
s your homework finished?” I called up the
stairs to my son. When he’d gotten home from school half an hour ago, he
grunted, mumbled something about hating school, and then ran upstairs. I didn’t
know what was up with him lately, but his attitude was awful. I wondered if
that bully, Paul, was harassing him again.

“Jamie! Did you hear me?” I shouted again.

“Yes!” he hollered.

I sighed with frustration, hating when he did that. What was
he saying yes to? The homework question or the one about hearing me? “Is your
homework done?” I tried again, gripping the solid oak banister a little
tighter, curling my toes against the soft, plush carpet then flexing them.
There was nothing quite like the feel of soft carpet after being in heels all
day.

“YES!” He turned up his radio, drowning out any further
attempts I could make to talk to him.

I hesitated for a moment, debating whether I should march up
to his room and reprimand him for his disrespectful behavior or just let it go
for the sake of keeping the peace. I’d had a horrible day at work and really
wasn’t in the mood to have a disagreement with Jamie, which we’d been having a
lot of lately. My own mother had warned me the teen years were the hardest, and
she hadn’t been lying. The day Jamie turned thirteen, things had drastically
changed. He wasn’t the same sweet little boy anymore, and I missed him.

The throbbing in my temples was my answer. I turned away
from the stairs and headed into the kitchen. I’d give both of us some time to
calm down then I’d talk to him over dinner. I made a mental note to call the
school first thing tomorrow morning to find out if there had been any recent
incidents between Jamie and Paul.

I stepped into the kitchen and took a deep breath. This was
my favorite room in the house. It was always the cleanest and had a unique
scent of spices and floral dish soap. The marble countertops accented the
stainless steel appliances perfectly, and the chandelier style overhead light
was gorgeous. There was a beveled floor to ceiling window in the corner with a
small two person table situated in front of it. In the morning, I’d sit there
and sip coffee while watching the sun rise. And the connecting dining room was
fit for royalty. A twelve person table sat in the center of the room. It was
surrounded by hand crafted china cabinets, packed full of dishes from all over
the world. I used to host countless dinner parties there, but since the
divorce, I hadn’t had a dinner guest over in months. I got our son and the
house in the divorce while my ex-husband, Phillip, seemed to get all of our
friends (and his hot, twenty-two year old secretary).

Opening the refrigerator, I pulled out the package of pork
chops I’d put in there this morning to thaw. I knew they were Jamie’s favorite,
and I hoped it would soften him up and get him talking. I sliced open the
package and set them on a baking sheet before searching my spice rack for just
the right seasoning.

My cell phone rang, startling me from my thoughts. I reached
for it. “Hello?”

“Heather?”

I froze. “Mom, what’s wrong?” Her voice is tight and
strained with tears. She’s sobbing and muttering something I couldn’t
understand. “Mom. Calm down. Take a deep breath, and tell me what’s going on.”
I moved toward the small kitchen table and sat down.

“It’s… Oh, God, Heather. It’s your grandmother. She’s…”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. The color drained from my
face, and everything around me seemed to disappear. I propped my elbow on the
table and dropped my forehead into my hand. “No, she’s not gone. She can’t be.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, sweetie. So, so sorry.”

My hand trembled, and tears burned my eyes. Growing up, my
grandmother was my best friend, the one person in the world I knew I could
always count on no matter what. She was my favorite person, and now she was
gone. And the last words I’d had with her weren’t the greatest.

“Heather? Are you still there?”

“Yes,” I whispered as the first tear rolled down my face.
“How?” I didn’t know why I asked that question because I wasn’t sure I really
wanted to know. Yet it seemed like the logical thing to ask.

“She went to sleep last night and just didn’t wake up this
morning,” Mom said.

I took some relief in the knowledge that her passing was
peaceful. I could only hope her final thoughts were the same – happy and
peaceful.

“We’re having the funeral this coming Thursday. Can you make
it?” There was a brief pause, and then she added, “You have to make it.
Grandma’s last wish was for you and Jamie to come home, to be here for the
reading of her will. She made me promise I’d get you to come home.”

The tears came too fast and hard now that I couldn’t do
anything to stop them. My grandmother had practically begged me to move back
home to Texas, to raise Jamie near his family, to give him the same
opportunities I’d had when I was his age. But at the time, I’d been so focused
on me – on my career, my failing marriage, my social life. It was the only
thing she’d ever asked of me, and I’d blown her off. And for what? A lying,
cheating husband who left me and our son all alone?

I straightened and wiped at my face, sniffling. “Yeah.” My
voice cracked. I cleared my throat. “Yes, I’ll be there. I’ll book a flight
right now.”

My mom sighed with relief. “Thank you. I know this would
mean a lot to her.”

“I’ll call you back when I have flight information.”

“Okay, love you.”

“Love you, too, Mom.” I hung up and rested my head on the
cool, wooden table. Once again, my tears took control of me. My shoulders
shook, my breaths were painful, and my entire body trembled. Grandma was dead.
It couldn’t be possible. I wrapped my arms around my midsection and rocked in the
chair, trying and failing to calm myself. If only I had one more day, one more
chance to tell her how much she meant to me, how much I loved her and adored
her.

“Mom!” Jamie’s footsteps pounded down the stairs. “I’m going
to Derrick’s. Don’t worry, I’ll be—” He stopped in the kitchen doorway. “What’s
wrong?” He came over to the table and pulled out a chair, sitting. “Is Dad
giving you shit again?”

“Jamie!” I snapped. “Language.” My response was automatic,
and I immediately regretted it. I wiped my face again and took a deep breath.
“My grandmother passed away.”

“Nammy Noreen?”

I simply nodded, knowing I wouldn’t be able to speak again
right now. For a brief time, when I first learned Phillip was cheating on me,
I’d gone home for a few weeks. Jamie had hated it, but he’d hit it off with
Nammy Noreen, and even though he wouldn’t admit it, he’d missed her. What kind
of mother was I to deny my child from knowing their grandmother?

Jamie stood and gave me an awkward side hug. “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” I hugged him back the best I could. It was nice
to know that no matter what our disagreements were, he was still the loving,
compassionate boy I raised. “We’re going to go to Texas for the funeral.”

“When?” he asked, pulling away.

“Probably tomorrow. The funeral is Thursday, and then we’ll
have to go to the reading of the will on Friday.” I already knew he was going
to give me a hard time, so I tried to head it off. “Don’t worry. We’ll be back
home by Sunday.”

“That means I’ll miss school the rest of this week.” He
failed miserably at containing his grin.

“It’s only three days. I’m sure you’ll be fine, but you’ll
have to make up the work,” I said sternly.

“Okay. Can I still go to Derrick’s tonight?” he asked.

I sighed. Ideally, I’d like to have him home with me, but my
night would now be spent making travel arrangements and finding someone to
cover my work commitments. My boss was probably going to have a fit that I
needed time off. He could be a real jerk, especially when there were big
meetings lined up, like I had the next two days. But what could I do? I had to
be at Grandma’s funeral.

“Yes, but please be home by nine okay?”

“Okay,” he said without argument. Then he kissed me on the
cheek and left out the side door attached to the kitchen.

I blew out a breath. At least he didn’t argue with me on
curfew like he normally did. That was a blessing. I took another moment to
compose myself then reached for my cell phone. The first person I called was my
boss.

“Jeremy Johnson,” he answered in his usual, no-nonsense,
gruff voice. The man had the personality of a rock.

“Hello, Mr. Johnson. It’s Heather Walsh. I’m so sorry to
bother you after hours, but I just found out my grandmother passed away. I need
the rest of the week off to travel home to Texas for the funeral.” I stood and
began to pace. He always made me so nervous because his moods shifted so often
and so easily. You never knew how he’d react to something.

There was a long pause, and my stomach knotted. If he
threatened to fire me… “How long?”

I stopped abruptly. “The rest of the week,” I repeated.
“I’ll be back on Monday.”

He made a noise that sounded an awful lot like an angry
groan. Great. That’s just what I need, for him to be a jerk about giving me
time off. “And what about the meetings we have lined up this week?”

I knew this was coming. I took a deep breath. “Amanda can
handle them. She’s been working very closely with me on the campaigns and knows
just as much as I do about the clients. She’s more than qualified.”

“She better not screw it up. We’ve got too much riding on
these new clients, Heather.”

I hated it when he said my first name like that. It sounded
too much like my father scolding me. “I know, Mr. Johnson, and I promise she
won’t screw it up.” I would make sure of it even if that meant I had to spend
the rest of the night on the phone coaching Amanda.

“Fine. But plan on staying late Monday to catch up,” he said
brusquely.

“Yes, sir, of course.” That was the last thing I wanted to
commit to, but it was better than losing my job over this. “Thank you.”

He grunted, “Yeah.”

“Okay, well, have a good night, sir,” I stammered.

“Mmm hmm. And sorry for your loss, Heather.”

“Uh, thanks.” Of all the things for him to say, that was the
least expected thing for him to say. I shook my head and ended the call. His
moods were as finicky as feline at times. Next, I dialed Amanda’s number,
silently praying with each ring that she’d answer. Finally, on the fourth one,
she did.

“Hello?”

“Oh, Amanda, thank god you answered.” I exhaled with visible
relief. “I need a huge favor.” I returned to the table and sat, feeling
slightly calmer now that I knew my boss wasn’t going to fire me.

“Okay,” she said slowly, “what’s up? You sound really
frazzled.”

“I just found out my grandmother passed away.” Simply saying
the words had tears clogging my throat. I swallowed hard against them.

“Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry. What can I do?” she asked
without hesitation.

“Thanks.” I forced a tight smile, not that she could see me,
but she was always calling me sweetie, even though I was a few years older than
her, and hearing it now really comforted me. “I have to head back to Texas for
the funeral, and I need you to cover the meetings this week. You know these
clients and their needs probably better than I do.”

“Yeah, of course, I can totally do it,” she said.

If I wasn’t mistaken, I’d think she was a little too excited
about the idea of covering my place in the meetings. Maybe she was. She was
still young, unjaded, had a driving zest to prove herself, to move up within
the company. I wondered if I needed to be worried about my job. Would she try
to undercut me? No, Amanda might be enthusiastic, but she wasn’t a backstabber.

“Thank you so much, Amanda. I owe you big time,” I said.

She chuckled. “Seriously, don’t worry about it. I’m the one
who owes you. You’ve really taken me under your wing and taught me everything I
needed to know.”

I sighed, grateful for her gratitude and willingness to help
me in my time of need. And regardless of what she said, I’d be sure to repay
her somehow, even if it was just lunch or a delivery of flowers or something.
After a few more moments of small talk, I said goodbye and hung up. Then I
retrieved my laptop and began to search for flights. It was a good thing I had
some money saved up. The prices were ridiculous, especially for roundtrip.
Maybe I should just book one way tickets for now, and then book the return
flight after all of Grandma’s estate is settled. I’m sure my parents would help
with the return plane tickets.

It was almost nine by the time I finished booking flights.
Jamie arrived home exactly at nine. I gave him a weary smile. “We leave
tomorrow morning at seven,” I said.

He nodded. “Cool.” Then he jogged upstairs and I heard his
bedroom door close a second later.

I didn’t know if I should be happy or worried that he wasn’t
putting up more of a fight. I yawned and stretched. For tonight, I’d be happy.
Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Lord knows I needed one right about now.
Tomorrow would be a long day, so would the day after and the entire weekend.

As I trudged up to bed, I realized I never ate dinner. My
stomach rumbled, and I headed back downstairs to grab a bowl of cereal. Jamie
hadn’t come in complaining he was hungry, so I assumed he ate at Derrick’s. It
wasn’t the first time. I scooped a spoonful of Cheerios into my mouth.
Exhaustion seeped into my bones, and more tears trickled from my eyes. I
couldn’t believe Grandma was gone.

BOOK: The Cowboys Heart 1
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