My Cowboy Valentine - Page 11

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somer, then offered him a drink—rum and Coke, her favorite. He took it. And then another, and another. But when her boyfriend came home late that afternoon he wasn’t pleased to see Cade and things got heated and Cade got tossed.

Cade left his foster family’s car somewhere they could find it, and then he took off, hitchhiking out of Parker County and going as far as the truckers would take him.

Cade ended up in Wyoming, got a job at the Frank B. Douglas Ranch, outside Cheyenne, working for peanuts and a place to stay, but he liked working with horses, wasn’t intimidated by the cows or bulls. It turned out he had a knack for riding and roping and, after being encouraged by Mr. Douglas himself, entered his first junior rodeo at seventeen in Casper. Cade didn’t win anything but did well enough that he entered three more that summer. By the end of the summer he was placing and taking home prize money. By eighteen he was winning consistently. At nineteen he joined the PRCA and started competing in open events, with Douglas Ranch as his first sponsor.

Cade never knew until later that Frank Douglas Sr. had once competed on the circuit himself and had known Cade’s father—not well, but well enough to take an interest in Cade King. And Cade had never forgotten that it wasn’t blood that got him through, it was the time and patience of a stranger. Cade had often wondered what he would have become if Frank hadn’t allowed Cade, just a teenage runaway, to crash for a night or two while he figured out what he was going to do.

Giving up on sleep, Cade left his bed and headed back downstairs to his office and his desktop computer. Flipping on the light, he sat down in front of the screen and clicked on the internet, and then typed in autism, hit Enter and began to read.

* * *

RACHEL WOKE UP SUNDAY morning tense, jittery and edgy, and her mood just worsened throughout the day. For some reason she kept expecting Cade to call or drop by. She didn’t know why—she certainly didn’t want him to come by—but he’d stirred something up inside of her, and she was mad this morning, really mad, and she wanted him to know it. She wanted him to feel her wrath and her disappointment, as well as her disgust.

Who did he think he was, waltzing back into her life five-plus years later, acting as if he had a right to be in her life?

He had no rights when it came to her or Sally or the past. He’d known from the moment he met her how she felt about drinking, having lost her parents at thirteen when a drunk driver slammed into their car, killing them instantly.

Rachel had never been okay with alcohol, much less drinking and driving. Or drinking and riding. Or drinking and fighting. And Cade knew it. But that didn’t stop him from eventually wanting liquor, needing liquor, more than he wanted her, and so when she put her foot down, telling him to get help or risk losing her, he chose to walk away.

No, correction—run away. Because that’s exactly what he’d done. Because it sure was easier to leave her than try to change.

For over five years she’d heard nothing from him. Not a word. But now he was back, and because he’d gone to some AA meetings and apologized for being a jerk, he thought he could give her advice and tell her what to do...

Ha! And she was going to tell him that, too.

But Cade didn’t call on Sunday. He didn’t call Monday, either. She did hear from the mechanic, though, and the tow-truck driver was right. Her blown head gasket had caused her Jeep to overheat, which had put an ugly crack in the engine, and she needed a new engine.

Before Rachel could truly panic, Phil, the mechanic, said he had an engine that might work for her. It wasn’t a new engine, but it was in a lot better shape than the one he’d just pulled out of her Jeep, and she could have it if she wanted it, provided she’d pay for the labor to get it installed.

Rachel felt a massive wave of relief, followed by an uncomfortable prick of suspicion. “Did Cade tell you to do this?”

“What’s that, ma’am?”

“Did Cade King tell you to do this?”

“Fix your car, ma’am?”

Rachel sighed, knowing she was sounding a bit crazy, and maybe that’s because she was feeling crazy. “Never mind. It’s great, and I appreciate you helping me out like this. When do you think it’ll be done?”

“I’m shooting for tomorrow afternoon, but it might be Wednesday morning. I’ll call you as soon as it’s ready.”

“Thank you.”

Hanging up, she stared at the phone for a long moment before summoning her courage and dialing Cade’s number. But he didn’t answer and her call went to voice mail, so Rachel left him a brief message. “No need to call me back. Just wanted you to know that my car will be ready tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday morning. If you can still give me a ride to the garage, that would be great. Thanks.” And then she hung up, put her phone down on the counter and forced herself to resume packing as if nothing had happened.

As if calling Cade King was routine and thinking of him didn’t still hurt. And remembering the way he left her didn’t make her angry and furious, and crazy as hell.

But she didn’t like feeling this way. She didn’t like the intense emotions churning inside her, aware that being angry was just as bad as being helpless, and neither accomplished anything. Angry didn’t change the fact she’d gotten pregnant, and angry didn’t save Grandma. No, angry just made her feel small and mean and that was no way to live. Since Grandma’s death, Rachel had dedicated herself to making her life—and Tommy’s life—as warm and wonderful as possible. Because life, even if hard, even if painful, could still shimmer and shine and be full of beauty, love and good things.

At one on Tuesday, Phil called from his Weatherford garage to say her Jeep would be ready by two. Rachel phoned Cade immediately, and he answered immediately, too, as if expecting her call. Cade told her he was wrapping up a meeting with Jeffrey Farms and could pick her up within the hour, if that worked for her. She told him it would, and then she got Tommy dressed—never easy when he didn’t want to put on real clothes, far preferring to be naked, which didn’t go over big when they were in public places—and then she changed into a soft pair of Wrangler jeans and a cream peasant-style blouse with blue embroidery. She fluffed her dark hair and swirled some mascara onto her lashes, before slicking pink gloss onto her lips.

Rachel didn’t know why she was making an effort to look nice. Did she hope he’d want her back? That he’d realize he’d made a massive mistake and that she was everything—and more—than she’d been before?

Just then Tommy screamed from his room. She knew the scream. It wasn’t a panic scream, but one of frustration. He’d probably gotten impatient with something and then thrown it, or hit it, and broken it. It’s how they’d lost the DVD player. It’s how so many of his toys ended up in the garbage.

She was still calming Tommy down, consoling him over shattering his Little Critter car, when the doorbell rang. She gulped a panicked breath. Cade had arrived.

Chapter Six

The car wasn’t ready.

Reaching Weatherford, they arrived at the garage, only to discover that although the new engine was in, the car still wasn’t running correctly. Apparently there was an issue with the alternator.

Rachel stood outside the garage, looking at her gray Jeep where it was sitting in the pit with its hood propped open, listening to Phil’s explanation. He earnestly explained in great detail what alternators did, and why she needed a new one, and how horrible he felt about hitting her with this now on top of the new engine. The good news was that he should have it done by five

if she could give him another couple hours.

She nodded when it seemed appropriate, letting his words stream over her while she tried not to think of what her bank account would look like by the time she finally got her car back. Thank goodness she’d already put her first month’s rent down on the apartment—along with the last—or she wouldn’t have a place to go ten days from now.

“So that gives us two, two and a half hours,” Cade said, looking at Rachel and then at Tommy, who was hanging on to Rachel and her coat as if they were a piece of playground equipment. “Do you have errands you need to run?”

Rachel wouldn’t let herself think of all the things she wanted to buy...groceries, that DVD player, a new pair of shoes for Tommy...and shook her head. “Nope. We’re in good shape.”

“Is there anything you want to do?”

She thought of her small house and the things still to be packed, but shook her head again. “No.”

“I have an idea, then,” Cade said. “I didn’t know if Tommy liked dogs, or was scared of them...?”

“He likes them,” she said drily, knowing that once he found a dog, he was like flypaper. It was almost impossible to peel him off. “A lot.”

“Lacey, my lab, had puppies six weeks ago, and I thought I’d take you to the ranch so Tommy could see them. They’re cute as heck and the ranch isn’t far. Twenty minutes away.”

Rachel knew there were reasons they shouldn’t go, but Tommy would love to see the puppies. The pet store in Mineral Wells was his favorite place to go and he couldn’t handle the puppies there but he spent hours crouched in front of their cages looking at them. “He’d love it. He’s never held a puppy before but he loves them. Half of his picture books are about dogs.”

They’d been walking to the truck as they talked, and she watched now as Cade lifted Tommy into the back and secured him into his booster seat. Cade did it smoothly, easily, as if he’d been lifting children into car seats his entire life. And she told herself not to be impressed—if he could bridle a horse and rope a calf and wrestle a steer, he could certainly buckle a four-year-old into a booster seat—but Tommy didn’t like to be touched. He didn’t want help. But for whatever reason, he allowed Cade to touch him. He wanted Cade to help him. Interesting.

Tags: Jane Porter Romance