Authors: Hope Whitley
A Singing River Press Publication
First published in the United States of America in 2015 by Singing River Press
Interior Formatted by write.DREAM.repeat
© Hope Whitley 2015. All rights reserved.
Cowboys Are Forever
is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any similarities to any person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
“I’m going to cocoon.” Marielle Stevens gazed across the small table of the trendy bistro to meet the uncomprehending look of her best friend.
“You’re going to what?” Samantha asked, arrested in the act of spearing a forkful of salad.
“Cocoon,” Marielle repeated calmly. “I’m going to move to Wyoming and get back to basics. Bake my own bread, raise vegetables, make quilts, tend my flocks of … whatever.” She shrugged and waved an elegantly manicured hand in a vague, airy gesture. “Adios, New York.”
Samantha was incredulous. “But, Mari, you’re a city girl. You’ve lived in the Big Apple all of your life. You’re used to crowds and bright lights. I’ll bet there’s not even a Starbuck out there in the wilds of Wyoming, “she said. “You know how you love Starbucks, Mari. Think about it. That would just be one thing you’d be giving up. There’s no Bloomingdale’s out there, either. You’d be lost without Bloomie’s, you know you would.”
Marielle laughed. “I’ll miss all those things, Sam, but my mind is made up.” She leaned back in her chair and pushed her half-empty plate away. “I think it’s just meant to be. In the past two weeks, I’ve been downsized out of a job, dumped by my boyfriend, and my rent-controlled apartment has been sold, so I’ll lose that, too, when my lease is up next month.” She grinned wryly. “Then I get a letter from an attorney telling me that I’ve inherited my great-uncle Dan’s ranch in Wolf Pass, Wyoming. It’s a sign, I tell you. Fate. The tea leaves have spoken and said ‘Go west, young woman.’” Marielle nodded decisively. “So, I’m going.”
Samantha shook her head dubiously. “But what are you going to do there, besides spin and weave and all that earth mother stuff? I hate to sound crassly materialistic, but what are you going to use for money in your cocoon?”
“I’ve thought about that, too, and I have a plan,” Marielle told her. “I’ll draw. I’ve spent years marketing children’s books and I know the sort of illustrations they’re looking for. As a matter of fact, I’ve already contacted some authors. Several of them like my portfolio and promised to give my work serious consideration. I think I can do it, Sam, and this is a good time to find out. Besides”-she smiled at her long-time confidante-“I’m not totally destitute. I received a year’s severance pay and I’ve made a few investments, saved a little … enough to get by on for awhile, anyway.”
Samantha looked skeptical, but resigned. “Well, okay,” she said. “But be careful out there. The closest you’ve been to the great outdoors is Central Park. Wolf Pass, hmmm? I hope there aren’t really any wolves!”
Marielle arched a delicate eyebrow. “Well, if there are, they can’t be any worse than the two-legged kind roaming around New York.” They both laughed and turned their attention to the toothsome confections being offered on a dessert tray by a handsome young waiter
Sighing wearily, Marielle brought the Jeep to a shuddering stop by the side of the narrow road and looked again at the map clipped to the visor.
She was lost. Exactly which of the many turns she’d made since leaving Cheyenne had been the wrong one, she didn’t know. All she knew was that she was exhausted from a bone-jarring ride of at least an hour over this miserable excuse for a road. And her head hurt from concentrating on driving to keep from plummeting off the side of this mountain on one of the hairpin curves. She wished with all her heart she’d skipped that cup of coffee at the last place she’d stop to ask directions-before she left civilization and ended up out here in the middle of nowhere where there weren’t any rest rooms.
Worst of all, the sun had slipped below the horizon and it would soon be dark. She stared at the map, trying to figure out where she was and how best to proceed, then crumpled it into a ball in disgust and tossed it onto the floorboard. Her shoulders and neck ached with strain and tension from the nerve-wracking drive. She stretched as best she could, confined by the steering wheel, then decided to get out for a minute and try to loosen her protesting muscles before going on. Climbing out, she shut the door of the rugged little Jeep and patted it fondly. The layer handling Uncle Dan’s Affairs had advised her to buy a four-wheel-drive vehicle, saying that she’d need it where she was going. Truer words were never spoken, she decided, grateful for the advice.
It was beautiful up here, Marielle realized, ambling across the road to peer down into a wooded canyon. Remote and lonely, the landscape had a wild, untamed, rugged beauty. Looking down, she could see a winding stream at the bottom, glinting like quick-silver in the rays of the setting sun. Throwing her arms wide in one last, luxurious stretch, she started back to the Jeep.
Marielle cast a worried eye on the sun, which had slipped even lower on the horizon during her short break. Beautiful and scenic though it all was, she really didn’t want to be lost up here in these mountains after dark. Her brows knit in thought. There had to be a house up here somewhere to ask directions, she reassured herself. She’d just find it. And soon, she hoped.
Suddenly, tires squealed and brakes screeched loudly. Her vision barely had time to register the large object that bore down on her, so close that she felt the whoosh of air as it hurtled past. Marielle watched with horror as it careened to a stop, mere inches from the steep drop-off. For one heart-stopping second she’d been sure that it was going over the edge.
It was a pickup truck, she saw now. As she watched shaken, a man emerged from the cab and slammed the door. He started toward her, shouting angrily. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” He reached her in a few long strides and grabbing her arm in a hard grip, propelled her from the center of the pavement over to her Jeep.
Marielle looked up into his face. He was furious. His dark eyes were flashing and his mouth was set in a thin line of displeasure.
“I’m lost. I, uh, got out to sort of stretch my legs for a minute and then….” She faltered.
“And then you damned near got run over!” he finished for her. He did a swift appraisal, taking in her designer T-shirt, khaki shorts, elegantly understated makeup and jewelry. “I don’t know where you’ve blown in from, lady. But out here-pedestrians don’t have the right of way!”
Marielle felt her face flush hotly under his scrutiny. “I’m sorry, okay? But I really am lost. Would you happen to know where Dan Steven’s place is and if you do know, would you point me in the right directions, please?”
His eyes narrowed. “Dan Steven’s ranch? That’s what you’re looking for?”
“Yes and yes,” she replied. “Do you know where it is?”
“That’s where I was going,” he said curtly. “You can follow me.” He spun on his heel and headed for the truck, then stopped in midstride and turned back to Marielle, a slow smile spreading across his mouth. “By the way,” he drawled, looking her up and down in a decidedly suggestive manner, “from where I’m standing, your legs don’t look like they need stretching. They’re fine the way they are.”
Marielle stood staring after him for a moment as he climbed back into his truck, then got into the Jeep and pulled out behind him, wondering why he was on his way to Uncle Dan’s ranch. Even angry, the man was a hunk. She didn’t recall ever meeting anyone with eyes exactly the color of his—the color of deep, dark bittersweet chocolate. The rest of him wasn’t bad either, she mused, thinking of his wide shoulders and lean yet muscular build. In fact, if the rest of the men in this area looked anything like him she’d be hard-pressed to keep her mind on what she’d come up here to accomplish.
After negotiating several tricky curves, she saw the truck in front of her slow and followed as it turned down a narrow dirt road by a weathered sign that read Double D Ranch. She remember the sign from her visit here as a child, many years ago. This was it, then, the driveway to the house. Thank Goodness! Marielle breathed a sigh of relief, and felt her battered morale climb upwards a notch. She hadn’t been quite as lost as she’d thought. In fact, if she’d kept on going, instead of pulling over to look at the map again—she’d have seen the sign and been her by now. Which she would’ve preferred to nearly getting run over and having a fairly unpleasant confrontation with … whoever-he-was … her neighbor.