Outlaw Annie

Outlaw Annie

Chapter One

“Good Morning. I was hoping I could get a room.”

The dark-haired beauty had walked into the B&B just as Glenda was putting the last of the returned keys back on the peg board.

“Well then you’re in luck. A day earlier and we were sold out. How many nights are you staying?”

“Maybe just one. I’m looking for a man. Maybe you know h….”

“Alright, Miss Glenda, I changed the last of those little chandelier lights in the dining room. Anything else you need before I take the ladder back over to the fire station?”

Young leaned the ladder against the edge of the front desk and wiped his forehead with the kerchief from his back pocket.

“Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there. I was just lea… Wait a minute. Are you Annie LeCroix? Outlaw Annie?! Seriously? In Evansville? I don’t believe it! Uh, Hey there, I’m Young Knight. I’ve seen you ride a hundred times.”

Young extended his right hand for the woman to shake but drew it right back and wiped it with the sweaty kerchief before extending it again.

“Yeah, I’m Annie. Pleasure to meet you. You follow the circuit?” Annie lightly touched Young’s hand and quickly withdrew her own.

“I was on it for awhile,” Young blushed.

“Yeah, I remember you. But you didn’t go by Young. Hot Tulsa Knight! That’s it, right?”

“Oh do tell us more.” Aunt Emily had come up to the desk with a stack of towels and she and Glenda leaned inquiringly toward the young woman. Huge smiles plastered on their faces.

“You mentioned looking for someone?” Young was scrambling to change the subject before his fiancé’s aunt got more information than was prudent.

“A man. I’m looking for Chase Johnson. I heard he might have moved to Evansville.”

Chapter Two

“Oh, Chase is over …,” Aunt Emily began talking.

“Chase is not in town right now, Miss Annie. How about I let him know you’re lookin’ for him and he can reach you here?” Young was cautious.

“So he does live here? In Evansville?” Annie’s dark eyes pierced Young’s.

“I will be sure and get him the message you’re here. Maybe you might get settled in and then drop by Truvie and Sam’s Diner for lunch.” Young was not giving away Chase’s whereabouts until he knew more about why Annie was here.

“That’s a good idea,” Glenda agreed. “You could even do a little shopping at Lacey’s Gift Shop while you’re in town.”

Young didn’t like the turns this conversation was taking, so he picked up the ladder and headed for the front door.

“Be sure and let him know I’d like to see him today, okay Tulsa?”

“I certainly will, Miss Annie.”

Young carried the ladder to his pickup, secured it in the back and got behind the wheel. As he pulled away he resisted the urge to look back and see if Annie had followed him outside.

Chapter Three

Well now I wonder what that’s all about, Young thought to himself as he drove the short distance to the Evans County Fire Department. How did Annie know Chase? Outlaw Annie was one of the best riders in the WPRA, if not the best. She competed in every event; barrel racing, team roping, breakaway roping, and tie-down roping.

Like Young had, she also participated in special trick riding demonstrations and exhibitions. Annie was the best. She’d earned the nickname Outlaw Annie by competing against the cowboys in unsanctioned events. She could outride and out rope most any man, including Young and he wasn’t the least bit modest about his abilities.

But where did Chase fit in? He’d never mentioned rodeo to Young even when working together out at Circle P or Double J, Young’s family’s ranches. He rode well and could mend fences quicker and better than Young or Carl. He worked the cattle usually riding flank when they moved the herds.

He hadn’t dated since coming to Evansville that Young knew of. He was Katie’s half-brother and lived in a cabin on Circle P. He’d done well in his training for the fire department and had just naturally fell into being second in charge when Young wasn’t on duty. Truett had checked him out when Chase first appeared out at Double J looking for Harlan. Nothing unusual had stood out. Hmmm, it was a quandary.

Chapter Four

Young pulled into the lot beside the fire station and grabbed the ladder out of the back. After he’d returned it to it’s rightful place, he walked into the station looking for Chase who was in the kitchen area.

“Hey, you get the lights changed for Lacey’s Aunt?,” Chase asked Young as he came in.

“I did indeed but that’s not the interesting part of my visit to the B&B.”

You wanna just tell me or you gonna tease me with it?”

“Well now I don’t know about any teasing, but I would love to know how YOU know Outlaw Annie LeCroix?”

Annie LeCroix? What brought her name up?”

“She checked into the B&B this morning and she’s looking for you. Now why would that be?” Young straddled a chair backwards.

“Annie’s here in Evansville?”

“She is. So what’s her interest in you?”

Chase leaned back against the counter, legs crossed at the ankles, arms crossed across his broad chest as he looked at Young.

“Well, I might be married to her.”

Chapter Five

“I didn’t expect to hear from you.” Annie held her cell phone near her ear.

“I could say the same. It’s been awhile, Annie.” Chase’s voice was noncommittal.

“I said I would be in touch.”

“Listen, I don’t want to talk on the phone. Could I meet you somewhere?” Annie’s tone was more of a plea.

“The last time you promised to meet me somewhere, I waited on you for two hours and when I got home you and all your stuff was gone. And that was what, over a year ago? What do you want Annie?”

“Your friend mentioned some local diner. I will be there in an hour. And if you want me to, I’ll sit there two hours waiting for you. I’m not leaving town until I see you.”

“This about divorce papers? You could have mailed them.”

“I’ll be at that diner in one hour, Chase. At least give me a chance to talk to you.”

“I’ll be there, Annie, but if you ain’t there, I ain’t waitin’ another five minutes on you.” Chase disconnected the call.

Chapter Six

“One hour exactly.” Chase pulled a chair from the table, turned it backwards and straddled it facing Annie across the table.

“I’ve actually been here half an hour.” Annie replied.

“Well another hour and a half and we’d be even.” Chase nodded his head toward Truvie who was holding an iced tea pitcher up across the room.

“I know I can’t make it even, Chase. But I owe you an explanation.”

“You don’t owe me anything, Annie. I never was what you wanted. I’m just a poor farm boy who had the bad luck to fall in love with the rancher’s daughter. You were always in love with the rodeo. I knew that. I’d just hoped things would be different when you came back that last time.”

“And I thought it could, Chase. I wouldn’t have married you if I hadn’t thought we’d make it.”

“You came home hurt and broken and I guess I took advantage of that, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. You can have your divorce and be gone. No hard feelins’. Chase shifted his large body aside for Truvie to set the sweating glass of sweet tea down.

“Y’all gonna be eatin’ anything?” Truvie smiled. “Let me top that off for you, Dear.” She reached for Annie’s glass.

“No, Ma’am, Miss Truvie. We won’t be here that long. Thank you for use of the table back here.” The look in Chase’s eyes tugged at her heart. Yep, nothing could break a man faster than a woman.

“Well, stay long as you like. Let me know if you need anything, Darlin’.” Truvie patted Chase’s huge shoulder as she walked away.

“You’ve made friends here.” Annie reached for her tea to busy her hands.

“I’ve actually got family here, a half-sister, same mom.”

“I didn’t know your mom had other children. Was she married?”

“Yeah. I found a marriage certificate and a birth certificate after she died. Get this, HE was rodeo, too. Harlan Johnson. Quite the bronc rider back in the day. Career ending fall.”

“I’ve heard of him. There’s a plaque and buckle at the museum in Colorado Springs. And their kid is your sister?”

“She is. She’s sittin’ right over there with her husband, the County Sheriff. She’s the pregnant one. Name’s Kate.”

“Pretty. You both favor your mom’s light colorin’.”

“They’re good people. I plan to stay.”

“Who’s the carrier pigeon to you? The man I gave the message to this mornin’?

Chase smiled at the description. He’d have to rib Young about that later. “That is my boss, Young Knight. Lieutenant Young Knight, Evans County Fire Department.”

“Fire Department, huh? That suits you. Well, just so YOU know, HE has another name. Few years back he was Hot Tulsa Knight and tore the circuit by up with his trick ridin’ and womanizing.” Annie took a drink of her tea.

“Now THAT is useful information. He’s got a fiancé now. Lacey, she’s got the gift shop next door. She keeps the reins tight.”

“She needs to!” Annie laughed causing Chase to chuckle. “I’ve missed you, Chase. I’m sorry I ran off.”

“Well, it ain’t like it was the first time, Annie. We been playin’ at this about twelve years now, I reckon.”

“You took such good care of me that summer. I might not be walkin’ much less ridin’ if it weren’t for you. Pretty much got all the range back in my arm, too.”

“You sure were a pretty bride. I still carry the picture in my wallet. Wild flowers in your hair. Breeze blowing your dress around the tops of your boots. Your Daddy’s pasture. That was a good day.”

“Daddy still hasn’t forgiven me for leavin’ you. He tried to tell me I was too wild to settle down and be a wife to you. He was right.”

“So why are you here, Annie?”

“To tell you I’m done with rodeo. I’m gettin’ too old and these young girls are gettin’ harder to beat. I came to tell you that I’m sorry. I don’t want a divorce, Chase. I want to give our marriage another shot.”

“Well, I didn’t see that comin’.” Chase looked down at the table and fiddled with the tea glass, unable to look her in the eye just yet. Afraid of what he’d see in hers or give away in his.

“Chase, I’ve never stopped loving you and I’m sorry I’ve put you through so much hurt. I’ve been selfish and headstrong just like Daddy says. Can you look at me?”

Chase raised his eyes to look deep into the liquid chocolate of Annie’s. “I can’t trust myself when I look at you, Annie. I ain’t much, but I gave you all I had and would’ve worked my ass off to make you happy. I’ve just never been enough for you and I don’t rightly think I ever will be. Go home, Annie. Go back to Fort Worth.” Chase stood and stalked from the table only tipping his hat at Katie when he passed his family’s booth on his way out of the diner.

Chapter Seven

“Hello! I’m Shell Knight and this is Kate Price. Hate to see anyone sittin’ alone.” Shell layed her coat over an empty chair and sat her purse on the table in front of it, as she pulled out the empty chair next to it.

“Oh, another Knight. I assume you’re related to Hot, er Young?” Annie forced a semi-smile at Shell as the two women settled across from her.

“Young is my brother-in-law and you better not let his fiancé hear you call him hot!” Shell laughed as Truvie walked up.

“I knew him, or of him, on the rodeo circuit. A life-time ago. She has absolutely nothing to fear from me.”

“Her jealousy is mostly a joke around here. A little run-in with the town vixen,” Katie explained. “Welcome to Evansville. Are you a friend of Chase’s?”

“How about some pie, Ladies? Katie, I have warm apple or peach,” Truvie interrupted.

“0hhhh, the apple and may I have some vanilla ice cream?”

“Anything for the pregnant lady. Shell?”

“I’ll have the same and it’s my treat if our guest will join us?” Shell smiled invitingly at Annie.

“No, but thank you. I need to be going.” Annie pushed back from the table.

“Oh please don’t go. Really, we aren’t butting into your business with Chase, just wanted to be neighborly. And I meant it about hating to see anyone sitting alone,” Shell said.

“Actually, I’m Chase’s sister, well half-sister,” Kate added.

“I really do need to go. It was nice to meet you both.” Annie put a five dollar bill on the table for the tea she and Chase drank and left.

“Well, shoot. I really did want to meet her. She looks so sad.” Shell unrolled the silverware from the napkin Truvie had set down.

“Carl is right. None of our business. Thank you, Truvie.” Katie dove into her ice cream.

Chapter Eight

Chase strode toward the fire station from his parked truck. Dammit, Annie. Why couldn’t you just stay away? Chase had been sitting in his parked truck replaying the diner scene for the last ten minutes. He had no idea what to think. She won’t stay. She never does. She runs to you every time she’s injured or loses. Leave the rodeo? Yeah, right. That’ll be the day. She’ll leave on a stretcher with a sheet over her face.

Young exited the station before Chase made it to the door. “You busy?”

“No.”

“Come with me.”

“Where we going?”

“Lacey called. Pipes burst in the basement at her shop.”

“Pipes are burst all over town. Gonna get worse as it warms up.”

“Yep. How’d it go with Annie?”

“I have no idea.”

“She didn’t show again?” Young glanced from the road to Chase.

“Oh she showed, alright. I was expecting to sign divorce papers.”

“But?”

“Says she wants to try again. Our marriage. A life with me. She’s killing me.

“Man. What do you think about that? If it hurts, don’t that mean there’s something still there?” Young looked again at Chase’s unreadable face.

“She will just break my heart again. How many do-overs do I give her?”

“I guess as many as it takes for your brain to override your heart. What the hell is that?” Young stopped his truck in the middle of Main Street.

Pink foam was billowing down the street at them from Lacey’s Gift Shop.

Chapter Nine

Young parked as close to Lacey’s shop as he could get and he and Chase sprinted toward the front door. Pink foam, well mostly pink, although there was some distinct blue, green and orange creeping along behind the pink, was not just pouring out her front door; it was coming up the stairs from the basement.

“Lacey? Honey? You down there?” Young shouted from the top of the steps leading down. Chase slipped and fell as he entered the store and was attempting to regain his footing.

“What the hell is this?” Chase bellowed as he blew and brushed the fragrant foam off his pants, face and hands.

“Young? Is that you? Come down here NOW!” Lacey sounded desperate.

As the men navigated the stairs on the slippery stuff, they could see water pouring from overhead pipes in the basement. Lacey was knee deep in water and foam, damaged cardboard boxes and merchandise all around her. More foam was pouring from the soaked boxes.

“Lacey what IS this stuff?” Young was wading toward her. About that time, Chase began to sneeze violently.

“I don’t know, man, but I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to it!” Chase’s eyes and nose were running and he was beginning to itch.

“They’re bath bombs.” Lacey looked through tears at the disaster around her. “Can you turn the water off?”

“What’re bath bombs?” Young was looking for the cutoff.

“Women drop them in their bath water to soften and scent the water.”

“AAAACHOOOOOO!!” Chase’s throat was beginning to tighten.

“HEY, DOWN BELOW? NEED HELP?” Annie LeCroix was coming down the basement steps in rubber wader boots.

“AAAACHOOOOOO!! I’m DYING here!” Chase gasped.

“Chase? Hey there, Big Red, you KNOW you can’t take stuff like this. You nearly died in a candle shop at the mall. Get out of here!”

“Annie? My eyes are blurry and I can’t breathe.”

Annie waded through the water and foam to where Chase was gasping. “I gotcha, Red. Come on. I’ll lead you to fresh air.”

“Young?” Chase yelled across the noise from the pouring water just as Young got the water turned off.

“GO!” Young returned.

Chapter Ten

Chase leaned an arm across Annie’s shoulders as she led him to the stairs and up out of the cloying perfumed air in the gift shop basement.

Annie steered Chase out of the gift shop and to the sidewalk. At least the foam was only shoe-deep there.

“You’ve got that crap all over you. What’d you do, roll around in it?” Annie was still supporting a lot of Chase’s substantial weight.

“I slid and fell and then I got it everywhere. AAAACHOOOOOO!”

“You’re losin’ ground, Cowboy. Let’s move over to that hose.”

“You can’t hose me down. It’s freezing out here.” Chase was breathing better already.

“It’s that or strip you down and shower you and we ain’t home. Come on.” Annie unwound the hose in front of the diner that Sam used to clean the sidewalk. “Hope it ain’t froze and they left it drippin’.”

“Damn, Annie. You’re killing me!”

Annie had turned the hose on full force and was spraying Chase top to bottom. Chase was raising enough Cain to bring Truvie and Sam and a few diners to the big window.

“Take your shirt off but don’t wipe your face with it!”

“I am freezing to death, Annie. Stop!”

“Nope. I quit carryin’ an epi pen for you a long time ago. Suck it up, Red. You’re gettin’ decontaminated like it or not.”

Sam came out with towels and blankets just as Annie deemed Chase chemical-free and turned the water off.

Sam wrapped a blanket around the trembling Chase and ushered him into the diner. Annie went back in the gift shop to help Young.

“Tulsa? You need help down there or up here?” Annie yelled down the stairwell.

“How can you help?” Young yelled back. He was still working on leaks.

“Well I’m thinkin’ you need to get a sump pump goin’ down there and we need a tanker to flush this crap out of the street and off the sidewalk. You got anybody but Chase can drive the tank? Cause I can if you don’t. My Daddy was the Volunteer Fire Chief where I grew up. Been around it forever and I’m licensed.”

“Hell, yes. Go get the tanker. Chase can give you directions. He okay?”

“He will be when his teeth quit chatterin’ and he’s not so blue.” Or pink, Annie smiled.

“Yeah, go. And thank you. I’ll get a sump started.”

Chapter Eleven

Truvie went into automatic mother-mode with the dripping Chase. She and Sam ushered him through the kitchen and into a sitting area also used as an office. Truvie had already poured hot chicken broth into a mug and she sat it in front of him as she wrapped another blanket around his shaking shoulders. Sam handed him a towel to dry his hair.

“Sam, move that heater closer. The boy’s goin’ to have pneumonia.”

“T-t-t-hhh ank yyyoouuu.” Chase tried to still his chattering jaw.

“Shhh now. You just get warm. Drink that soup. Sam, you think your old pants might fit him? The ones before you lost all the weight?”

“Maybe those old sweatpants. I know the donation bag they’re in. I’ll get them.” Sam headed for their living quarters above the diner.

“Looks to me like maybe that girl ain’t done with you yet. You done with her? She did the right thing, you know.”

“Hhhhoww mmmmuuchhh ddiidd yyyyou hhhear ttttday?”

“Enough to know you’re married to her and maybe not bein’ together wasn’t altogether your idea.”

Chase took a big drink of the now warm broth. “Nnnnooo. Wasssnnnt myyy idddea attt allll.”

“Hmm. She come lookin’ for you. She grabbed those rubber waders from her truck and ran down the street when she saw you get out of Young’s truck. And then she kept you from going into anaphylaxis from that allergy none of us knew about. My sister’s got that. Could’ve killed you before we could help you. Yeah, I’d say it at least bears another conversation with her.”

Sam came back in with the sweatpants. “If I pull the string out they might fit. I couldn’t find a shirt that would cover that chest though.”

Chase dropped the blanket to reach for the dry pants and Truvie gasped.

“Good Lord, look at that rash. Better call Shell. The girls were goin’ back to Walgreens for Katie’s prescription.”

“I’ll call her cell,” Sam answered.

Chapter Twelve

Annie had found the fire station and cleared leaving with the tanker with the Dispatcher on duty. Young had already called. Annie drove it like a pro down Main Street, parked close to the hydrant and hopped off the truck. Young met her at the back to unwind the hose and connect it. Hopefully they wouldn’t need the backup tanks from the truck.

While Young hosed the street and sidewalk, Annie walked over to the diner to check on Chase.

“Go on back, Hon,” Graciela motioned toward the kitchen at Annie while she kept ringing up the guest at the register.

“Oh, hey there. Come on in. Oh, wait. Chase is it okay for Annie to come in?” Shell was trying to be professional.

“I’ve seen him worse,” Annie answered at the same time as Chase.

“Chase, you should stay in town tonight,” Katie spoke up from the sofa across the room. “I’m sure Emily has a room and you need to be closer to the hospital than out at the ranch.”

“Don’t forget the ointment. Front AND back, Buddy. You need extra hands.”

“And that would be me. I AM still your wife.” Shell’s jaw dropped open at Annie’s words and Katie choked on her tea.

Chapter 13

“I’m sorry. You’re his who?” Shell recovered quicker than Kate.

“His wife. At least for the time being. They’re right, Chase. You should stay in town tonight. Let’s walk you over to Emily’s and get you a room.”

Chase had replaced his sopping jeans with Sam’s old sweat pants, but the effect was comical. Even riding a good three inches below his navel, the pants barely stretched down to his oversized calves. Shirtless and barefoot, with his boots drying in front of the heater, he looked like the Incredible Hulk’s stunt double standing in the crowded office.

“You can’t walk outside like that. You’re gonna catch pneumonia for sure.” Truvie was hovering near Chase.

“Do you have clothes at the fire station?” Annie looked at Chase. She knew how much he hated being the center of attention under the best of circumstances. This kind of scrutiny had to be killing him.

“Yeah. I stay there three or four days a week.”

“I’ll go pack you some stuff. You stay here and keep warm with Miss Truvie’s soup and blankets.”

“Please, Son. Let her help you. I’ll call Emily’s and have her get a room ready,” Truvie had a soft spot in her heart for Chase. She and Sam had lost their only child, a son, from SIDS at only eighteen months old. They’d never been able to have another child. That baby had been red-headed too.

“Yeah, sure. Go. Thanks,” looking dejected Chase wrapped the blanket around his body again and sat back down at the table.

“Okay then, guess we’ll be going too, Chase. Unless you need us. Do you need us? For, ANYTHING?” Shell stressed her last word. Curiosity was killing this cat for sure.

Kate stood, walked over and wrapped an arm around her brother. “I’ll call and check on you after while. You KNOW you are home here, right? I’m a phone call away.” She leaned down and kissed his rough cheek.

The girls left through the front of the diner, passing Young coming in.

“Where’s Chase?” he asked Shell.

“Back there with his wife,” Shell deadpanned.

“Oh yeah. Annie. She’s great, isn’t she?”

The girls kept moving but Shell tossed back over her shoulder, “Sometimes, Young Knight, I could just slap you.”

Chapter 14

“Glenda? It’s Truvie. Honey could you get another room ready for tonight? Chase Johnson had an allergic reaction on a call today and needs to stay in town closer to the hospital.”

“We’ve got plenty tonight, Truvie. Only have one lady staying with us right now.”

“About that. That’s Annie LeCroix, right?”

“Yes, I believe she knows Chase.”

“Oh I’ll say she knows him. In the Biblical sense. She’s his wife.”

“HIS WIFE! No!!!! EMILY? Come in here, Em. Ms. LeCroix is MARRIED to Chase!” Glenda switched the phone to speaker mode.

“They’ve been living apart, but yes, Annie and Chase are married. Now about that room. Can you put Chase near her? He needs some medical attention she can handle, but those kids need to do some talkin’ too.”

“Actually the room Annie is in connects to the room next to it. Sometimes we have parents that want their kids next door with access.”

“Excellent. Maybe don’t mention that particular feature right away when they get there, okay? They should be over in a half hour or so.”

“Will do, Truvie. Anything else we should know?”

“I don’t think so. He just had an allergic reaction to some chemicals and should be fine in a day or so when the rash clears. The bigger thing is that they get some space to work some things out.”

“We’ll take good care of them, Truvie. Don’t you worry. I’ll go up and make both rooms nice and cozy.”

“Thanks a million, Glenda. We’re all so glad you decided to stay and help Emily for awhile. I’ll talk to you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Truvie. Give our best to Sam.”

“Well can you beat that?” Glenda disconnected the call and turned to Emily.

“I’m getting fresh sheets and a couple of those wedding ring pattern quilts out. Who knows? Maybe we’ll have something to celebrate.” Glenda left for the linen closet.

“Oh, and let’s build a fire!” Emily started up the stairs behind Glenda.

Chapter Fifteen

Lacey Stanton was sorting through soaked cardboard boxes trying to salvage what she could. Young Knight came halfway down the stairs and squatted down to see her.

“I don’t think you lost much up here. Things on the floor and bottom shelves, mostly stuffed animals I think. The floor is super-clean,” Young attempted a positive spin.

“Well down here is pretty much a total loss. That bath bomb shipment had just come in. I only had some of it out upstairs.”

“The sump pump is taking care of the water. Will you be okay a little while? I need to take the tanker back to the station and I have a weird text from Dixie about bringing four hay bales over to the Sheriff’s Office.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m coming up and see what I can clean up. Wanna meet me later at the diner for supper? It will be good to get off my feet in a less dramatic atmosphere.”

“Yeah, it’s usually quiet over there. I’ll text you when I get through with the hay. Whatever the hell that’s about.”

“Hey, Young?”

“Yeah, Sugar?”

“I love you.”

Young was halfway out the front door when he heard Lacey yell from the basement, “HEY?! WHO WAS THAT WOMAN AND WHY DID SHE CALL YOU TULSA?”

Chapter Sixteen

Annie had gathered enough clothes and toiletries from the fire station for Chase to last him a couple of days. She returned to the diner and Chase gingerly buttoned a soft flannel shirt over his rash-beleaguered chest. She’d found the sweatpants he often slept in and after adding tube socks and sneakers he was ready to trek down the street to Emily’s.

“You two take care and get some rest. Glenda has your room ready, Chase. I look forward to getting to know you better, Annie.” Truvie walked the couple through the diner to the front door.

“Thanks for everything, Truvie,” Chase tightened an arm around the older woman’s shoulders.

“You just get better. Stop in tomorrow if you’re out.”

“Friendly town,” Annie commented as they walked down the sidewalk.

“They are.” Chase was apprehensive about the night before him. He’d have rather just stayed at the fire station or out at the ranch. Or did he? He knew things needing saying between him and Annie.

“Listen, can we just call a truce for tonight? I know we have a lot to settle but just for tonight can we talk like we used to and just relax around each other?” Annie reached for Chase’s hand.

“We can try but it won’t change anything.” Chase was struggling.

“As I see it, you’re going to be very uncomfortable tonight whether we talk or not. Now this cream should help you but I gotta tell you, I could use a little TLC right now too.”

“Are you hurt?” Chase was suddenly all concern for her.

“Not physically but I’m sure beat up mentally and emotionally.”

“And I get you all built back up and off you go again? Is that it?” Chase was earnest, not snarky. He didn’t think his heart could take another round of breaking and healing.

“This is what I wanted to avoid. At least for tonight. Can we just help each other for tonight and then I promise, we’ll talk it all out tomorrow.”

As they turned up the walkway to the bed and breakfast, Chase gave Annie’s hand a squeeze and pulled her a little closer to his side.

“Okay. Truce. One night.” He held the door open for her.

Chapter Seventeen

Good Morning, we have a delicious spinach and mushroom frittata, a fruit compote and fresh baked pumpkin muffins for breakfast. I’ll just leave it on the table. There’s coffee and juice on the sideboard.”

“Thank you, Miss Emily. I’ll just take Annie a cup of coffee for now if that’s alright.” Chase was already filling two mugs with coffee.

“Well of course it’s alright, Hon. Just be sure you two get some breakfast. It’s a package with the bed, ya know.” Emily smiled at her small joke.

“We will. You headed for church now?” Chase was adding cream and sugar to both mugs.

“I am. Glenda’s already over there. You two are the only guests this morning, so take your time. We’ll clean up when we get back. Do you have plenty of towels?”

“Yes, Ma’am, I think we do.”

“The linen closet is right next to the bath if you need more.” Emily picked up her purse and started toward the front door. “Will y’all be needing those rooms again tonight, Dear?”

“Probably just one for tonight.”

“Then, just let us know this afternoon. Enjoy the morning.” Emily closed the door behind her not knowing whether to be happy or sad for the couple.

Chapter Eighteen

“Gotcha some coffee.” Chase sat the steaming mug on the dresser in Annie’s room.

“Thank you. You sure about this?” Annie was looking at her reflection in the full-length mirror in the corner of the Southern Victorian room.

“You look great. Wouldn’t matter what you wore, you’d still be the prettiest girl in the room.”

“I don’t mean the dress, although it was really sweet of your sister to think of me when she dropped your church clothes off. I meant, sure about meeting with the pastor.”

“I am. You’ll like Pastor Tim and marital counseling from him is the only way I’ll consider renewing our vows. We’re doing it right this time or not at all. If you’re sure that’s what you want, I’m all in.”

“I’m sure. I’m not sure about completely leaving rodeo, but I am sure about you, and I know we’ll work it out. Taking care of you last night; waking you to put the cream on your back and chest; watching you sleep. Well that’s the first time I’ve felt at home since I run out on you and I was in a strange room, in a strange town, and among strangers. You’re home to me, Chase.”

“You know counseling is six or eight weeks at least. You sure you can stick around that long?”

Annie walked over to where Chase sat in the wingback chair by the window and sat down on his lap. Chase wrapped his arms around her waist.

“I’m sure,” Annie answered as she kissed his lips. “I love you, Chase Johnson.”

“Well then let’s go to church.”