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Authors: Debra Kayn

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BOOK: Chantilly’s Cowboy
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Chapter Thirteen

Margot paced back and forth in the middle of the waiting room at St. John’s Medical Center, talking in a low voice on her cell phone. Val sat across from Chantilly, her legs bouncing against the plastic chair at the rapid rate of a jackhammer. Jack and Florentine flanked each side of her, holding her hands. Chantilly squeezed her eyes shut and wished she could stand up and throw something across the room.

After the McDougal sisters arrived at the hospital behind the ambulance, the paramedics informed them their dad was breathing but hadn’t regained consciousness on the trip here. Chantilly pulled her hands free and stood up.

“I’m gonna see what’s taking so damn long.” She headed to the front desk, but Margot stepped in front of her.

“Give ’em time.” Margot closed her phone and threw her arm around Chantilly’s shoulder. “It’s not gonna do Dad any good to have you causing trouble out here.”

“I don’t understand how this could happen. Dad’s always been healthy as a horse. He’s strong and stubborn.” She swallowed. The tears gathered behind her eyelids again. “This ain’t supposed to happen. He’s only fifty-five years old. Do you think it’s his heart?”

Jack came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. She leaned her head back against his chest. Her dad was the one constant person in her life. Heck, he’d braided her hair when she was little, bought her first bra for her and sent Tom Dirkens packing when he tried to sneak into her room one night when she was fifteen. Her dad promised he’d never go away like her mom did.
I remember when he made that promise. It was my eighth birthday and I was sad that the other girls had mommas at my party.

“Chantilly, let’s go sit down. I think Florentine would like you to sit with her.” Jack urged her back to the chairs.

Tears flowed down Florentine’s cheeks. Chantilly sat down beside her, picked up her sister’s hand again and placed it in her lap. Jack squeezed her shoulder.

“Let’s keep it together. Be strong for Dad, okay?” Margot sat beside Val.

Val laid her head in Margot’s lap and closed her eyes. “This ain’t happening. I just want everything to go back to the way it was yesterday.”

“Does anyone know what Dad was doing in his bedroom?” Margot stroked Val’s hair back from her face. “I was talking to the Olsons. I didn’t even know…”

Jack shook his head. “Last time I saw him he was talking to a group of men outside the barn, but that was ’bout a half hour before Chantilly came out of the house.”

They all fell silent. Chantilly glanced at the clock. If she had gone straight to find her dad instead of talking to Judy and getting her sweatshirt and those damn blankets, she could have helped her dad. Who knew how long he’d been lying on the floor unconscious.

“McDougal family?”

Chantilly raised her gaze toward the door. Her heart beat fast and she struggled to breathe over the tightening sensation in her chest. The doctor stepped farther into the room, his blue cap in his hand.

“We’re Stuart McDougal’s family.” Margot stood up.

Chantilly and Florentine scooted to the edge of their chairs, their hands squeezed tightly together.

“I’m Dr. Scarborough, your father’s physician. I have Stuart resting comfortably, and you can see him in a moment when the nurses finish making his room ready and we’ve transferred him upstairs. He’ll remain asleep because of the medicine we’re using to treat the high fever he had on arrival to the hospital.” The doctor sat down in one of the empty chairs. “We’ll admit him to a third floor room and monitor him for the next twenty-four hours. His white blood count is too high for my comfort. In his condition, we have to be careful of every little infection that weakens his system.”

“H-his condition?” Margot’s gaze flipped from one sister to the other.

Chantilly shook her head and frowned. “What are you talking ’bout?”

The doctor dropped his chin. “I take it he hasn’t told you.” He inhaled. “Your father was diagnosed six months ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

Margot pinched the bridge of her nose. “Shit.”

“I-I don’t u-understand.” Chantilly shrugged off Jack’s hand and stood up. “Margot?” She shook her sister. If anyone could make sense of medical terms, it would be her oldest sister. “‘Oh shit’ what? What does that mean?” She turned back to the doctor. “Just tell us. He’s gonna be okay, right? You’ll give him some antibiotics and he can come home. That’s what an infection means.”

Margot reached over and turned Chantilly around. “It’s more serious than that.” She moved Chantilly back to her chair. “ALS is an incurable neuromuscular disease.”

“Are you saying he’s gonna die?” She covered her mouth. “No. No. Don’t say that, Margot Lace McDougal. Daddy’s not gonna die!”

Jack pulled Chantilly to his chest and pressed her face into his shirt. He rubbed the back of her neck. She sobbed.

“Sh…darlin’.” He kissed the top of her head.

The doctor cleared his throat. “I know this is a lot to absorb and understand. From the time Stuart came in with complaints, I figure he’d already shown signs of the disease for almost a year.” He paused. “I’ll give you some literature to take home with you that explains it in much greater detail. Your father is going to need you all to support him. It won’t be easy. I understand that.” Dr. Scarborough stood up. “I’ll have my nurse give you all the literature and the number for my office. Please…if any of you have any questions or concerns, feel free to call and I’d be happy to discuss this with you.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Margot sat back down and held Val’s hand.

Chantilly pushed herself off Jack and turned to Florentine. “Why didn’t he tell me? I live with him.”

Florentine hiccupped, reached for the box of Kleenex on the end table and after grabbing a few for herself, passed the tissues to Chantilly. “This is a nightmare.”

“It’s all wrong.” Val stormed across the room. “Daddy should have told us all.”

“Did anyone notice anything different lately?” Margot crossed her arms.

“No, I—” Chantilly shook her head. “Oh God. He’s been leaving the ranch a lot lately.” She buried her head in her hands. “I thought…I thought he had a girlfriend.”

“Shit.” Margot stood up, began to dial her cell phone, but stopped and turned to Chantilly. “We’ve gotta be strong. It’ll do Dad no good if we all fall apart and he believes he needs to take care of us.”

“What is this…thing, this A—whatever the doctor called it?” Chantilly rubbed her hands down her cheeks.

Margot plopped down on the chair and leaned forward. “It’s a progressive disease that attacks the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, causing them to deteriorate, and it eventually kills you.”

Chantilly sat in stunned silence.
That wouldn’t happen to Dad. He’s so strong. He’ll fight it.

“There’s no cure?” Florentine asked.

Margot shook her head. “No.”

“W-when will he—” Val clamped her lips shut.

“I don’t think they know.” Margot stood up. “Some patients last only months, others years.” She rubbed her arm. “We need to call Bisette. She needs to come home.”

“I’ll do it after I see Daddy.” Florentine took Margot’s cell phone from her.

A petite woman with brown hair pulled back in a ponytail stepped into the room. “You can see Mr. McDougal now. He’s still sleeping, but the doctor said you can spend a few minutes with him before you leave for the night. He’s up on the third floor, room 327.”

“Thank you.” Margot led the way out of the room and over to the elevator.

“Darlin’?” Jack brushed her hair off her forehead. “I’m gonna let you go in with your sisters. I’ll be outside at the truck waiting for you, okay? This is a time when your daddy needs all you girls around him.”

She nodded. “Thanks for bringing us, Jack, and for staying with me. I don’t know what I’d do right now without you.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” He kissed her softly on the lips. “Go see your dad, and then I’ll take you girls home.”


The heels of Jack’s boots seemed to echo down the hall. He stepped through the electric doors, turned left and headed for the truck. He’d give anything to protect Chantilly. Hell, he wanted to protect all the McDougal girls from the heartache that was sure to come.

He unlocked the driver’s side door, climbed up into the cab and closed the door. Smacking the steering wheel, he hoped like hell Stuart pulled through whatever was infecting his body and they’d all have more time with him. At least he’d have the love of his family around him now. If anyone deserved the love of five successful women, Stuart McDougal did.

Chapter Fourteen

Rickrack’s cinnamon-colored mane slapped Chantilly face, but she pushed the horse forward, cantering over the land that had always brought her security but now brought her a grim dash of reality. The ranch was her daddy’s pride and joy. Stuart had built the ranch from the ground up. He’d worked, sweated and breathed life into the land. How would she walk the fields, run the cattle and go on without her daddy by her side? He
the McDougal ranch. She’d never thought he wouldn’t be here.

The wind dried her cheeks. She was sick of the tears, the helplessness that crept up when she least expected it.

This time it only took seeing her dad and Jack sitting on the porch. She blinked her vision clear. Was it really only four short hours ago that they brought Stuart home from the hospital?

She slowed Rickrack down and jumped off the horse before he came to a complete stop. Dropping the reins, she stomped over to the old well house where her dad had drawn a bull’s-eye on the side of the dilapidated building and taught each of his daughters how to shoot a rifle.

Without a gun handy, she picked up a stone out of the field. Staring at the faded red spot in the middle of the target, she hurled the rock at the sidewall. She missed. She stomped her foot and searched for more things to throw. A stick, a pebble, a dirt clod…anything would do. She wanted to beat something up if she couldn’t scream and fight away this disease that was claiming her dad, the sickness that would take him away from her.

Never before had she lost all sense of control over every aspect of her life. She was losing the last parent she had left. What good was the McDougal ranch without the man who made it everything it was today?

Not finished relieving her anger, she scooped up another stick and yelped. She dropped the piece of wood and squeezed her finger. A sliver of wood pierced the spot under her fingernail where nail met skin. Pulling the shard out, she gazed down at the spot of blood growing bigger. Screaming, she kicked the offending stick and doubled over at the waist. “It’s not fair!”

A hand touched her back. She whirled around and choked on a sob. “Go away, Jack.”

“Sh.” He clamped his hand down on her neck. “I wanna stay, darlin’.”

She violently shook her head. “I-I can’t. I can’t do this. Just go. Give me time. I—”

“You’re hurting.” He pulled her closer, but she resisted.

She pushed against his chest. “No, Jack. I-I’m not strong enough.” With his shirt bunched up in her fist, she attempted to shake some sense into him. “I can’t handle any of this.” She screamed in frustration. “I can’t lose everyone.”

“Sh, baby. You can do this, because you have to. You’re strong and your daddy needs you. Your sisters need you.” He held her hands on his chest. “Look at me.” He waited until she stopped struggling. “I’m here. I’ll help you any way I can. Dig down deep, Chantilly. You know what your daddy thinks ’bout this ranch. He trusts you one hundred percent to keep the McDougal ranch going. The greatest gift you can give him is to keep his dream alive for you and your sisters. Concentrate on that. Every head you sell will come from Stuart, every field that produces a useable crop comes from seed he planted. Keep this place goin’…for him and you. I’ll help you any way I can, I promise, darlin’.”

Chantilly stared into his eyes. She gasped for breath. Her lungs wouldn’t fill. She couldn’t breathe. How could she believe his words when life had disappointed her so much in the last forty-eight hours? Everything had changed, and she’d never get back the predictable happy life she had a couple days ago.

“Do you hear me, Chantilly?” He cupped her face in his hands. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll help you. I love you.” The pads of his thumbs stroked the tears from underneath her eyes. “I. Love. You.”

Instead of pushing him away, she pulled him closer. She wanted the quiet strength that came from his body, his words and his presence in her life. Standing in his arms wasn’t enough.

“Jack?” She licked her lips. “Make love to me.”

His brows lowered. “Chantilly?” He kissed her forehead. “You’re not thinking straight, darlin’.” He leaned closer and pressed his lips against her cheek, near her mouth, and stayed leaning against her. “Let’s go back to the cabin. Florentine is with your dad, and you need to rest.” He stroked the back of her head without moving away. “I’ll lay down with you. You’re exhausted, and I don’t want you getting sick.”

“No, Jack.” She let go of him and fumbled with the buttons on her blouse. “I need you, want you, right now. Make me forget everything but you. You’ll make me feel better. Just you and me, Jack.”

He leaned back and gazed down at her hands. “Are you sure, darlin’?”

“Yes.” She opened her shirt all the way and had the button on her jeans undone in no time. “It’s the only thing I’m positive ’bout.”

He braced her as she stepped out of her jeans, and then removed his shirt to spread out on the ground. She nibbled on his neck, at the same time undoing his belt and lowering his zipper.

“On the ground, Jack.” She placed her hands on the side of his waist and backed him up. “Hurry.”

He lay down on his back, propped himself up on his elbows and gazed up at her. She straddled his body and stared down at him. Her body hummed in response to the way his eyelids lowered and his chest rose as if he didn’t believe she was serious about making love with him out here in the open.

“Chantilly?” He held out his hand. “Come here, darlin’.”

She knelt, shuddering as his hardness slid into her body. His hands spanned her waist. She leaned forward, her breasts spilling out of her bra above his face. He licked his lips and groaned. Moving on top of him, she put all the emotions over learning about her dad’s prognosis into showing Jack how desperately she needed him.

The muscles in her legs burned and her arms quivered, yet she kept moving. The delightful feelings coming from her core pushed away the depression. She wanted it gone, to forget for a moment, to only have pleasure back in her life.

“Jack.” She clawed his chest. “I want…” Closing her eyes, she held her breath, the fire building inside her rushing to the surface seeking release.

“That’s it, darlin’.” He helped her rise and fall without losing the pace she set. “Ah, yeah.” His legs stiffened.

Chantilly’s head fell back and she sank down until she was sitting on him fully. Her body spasmed around him. She shuddered and gave in to her orgasm.

She lay down on his chest. His arms circled her body. Even after having sex with him, she realized her tears continued to fall. Happy emotions mixed with despair, and she could no longer distinguish between the two.

“Sh, darlin’.” He stroked her back. “You’ll survive. Margot, Bisette, Val, Florentine and I will be right here. That’s the way your daddy wanted it. You don’t have to worry ’bout the ranch, I’m here. I promised Stuart the day he hired me I’d stay through to the end. You spend all your time with your dad and cherish how much he loves you.”

She stiffened.
Pushing herself off him, she fell on her butt beside him. Shaking her head, she scrambled up and stared at him.

“Chantilly?” Jack stood up and tugged up his jeans. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

“You.” She stepped backward. “You knew.” Turning around, she picked up her pants and slipped them on. “I can’t believe this.” She shoved her stocking feet inside her boots.

“Wait…” He reached up to touch her face, but she jerked away.

“You knew.” She narrowed her eyes. “You…son of a bitch! You knew the whole time you’ve been here that my dad was sick and gonna d-die. You kept it secret!”

Jack dropped his chin. The brim of his hat covered his expression. “Yes. I knew from the first day Stuart hired me. It wasn’t my place to interfere.”

“Interfere? You said you loved me, we’re a team. You kept this from me.” She raised her arm and pointed her finger. “Get off my ranch, Jack Grady. I never wanna see your lying no-good self again.”

Running to Rickrack, who’d wandered over to eat out of the tall grass, she kept her back to him.

“Chantilly Lace, please…let me explain.”

She leaped up into the saddle without using the stirrup and whipped her head around to stare down Jack. “Pack your bags, Jack. You’ve done your job. I’ll have Daddy write you a check.”

Chantilly kicked the sides of her horse and left Jack standing out in the field. She clenched her jaw. She’d not cry over Jack. He wasn’t worth the tears.

She rode into the ranch at a full gallop, put Rickrack in his stall, rubbed him down, put some alfalfa cubes in his feeder and stalked up to the house. Each step hardened her resolve and made her stronger. Jack’s betrayal gave her something to focus her energy on.

Stuart sat on the porch alone, a lace throw covered his legs to keep the chill off. “What’s wrong, girl?”

“I fired Jack.” She crossed her arms and stood on the first step.

“Humph.” Stuart set the chair to rocking. “Last time I looked, I still owned this ranch, Chantilly Lace. You’ve overstepped yourself this time. I’m not firing Jack.”

She reeled back, caught herself and stuck her chin up. “Fine. If you want a lying dirt bag for a foreman, go ahead and keep him.” Clomping up the steps, she stormed to the door.

Stuart grabbed her wrist, slamming her to a stop. “He told you.”

She sucked in her breath. “A lil’ too late—”

“He was following orders. A man’s word is worth a pretty penny, sweetheart.” Stuart let go of her arm. “I didn’t raise you to be stupid. Wait until your mind clears and you can think straight before you throw away a man who loves you the way Jack does.” He paused. “You can’t deny that you love him back, sweetheart.”

Chantilly stepped to the door, opened it and disappeared into the house. She never stopped, but continued straight to her room.
This time, love’s not enough, Daddy.

BOOK: Chantilly’s Cowboy
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