Cowboy Strong - Carolyn Brown Page 0,1

one time when I take a nap, I’ll take that final step from earth to eternity.” He went to the bar and started making sandwiches. “We’re going to live each day to its fullest. Now, let’s have some dinner and then get back out there in the hay field. I’ll drive the truck, and the kids who’ve got hired for summer help can throw the bales.”

He didn’t have to say the words. She had heard them often enough that they echoed through her heart and her mind. “If I can live long enough to know that Alana is settled down with a good man, I’ll be happy to go on to heaven with my sweet Joy.” The fact that he’d said those words so often the past year made her wonder if somehow in his subconscious he’d known that his time was limited, and he’d soon be in eternity with his beloved wife. “I’ve had a good life, and my only regret is that I can’t walk you down the aisle at your wedding. I’d like to leave this world knowing that you’ve got a partner in your life, like I had with your mama. You’re a strong woman, Alana, but I’d rest easier knowing that someone was beside you to share in your joys and halve your sorrows.”

What he said wasn’t anything new. The same thing had come up often in the past, more so this last year. She’d figured it was because she was getting closer to thirty years old. Alana couldn’t snap her fingers and give him more than six weeks to live. She couldn’t wish the tumor away or even make it less serious so the doctors could remove it. She sure couldn’t pull a boyfriend out of her cowboy hat and plan a wedding so he could walk her down the aisle. Or could she?

The only trouble with the plan that popped into her head was that it would involve a huge lie. Still, it would make her father rest easy, and he’d never have to know she hadn’t told him the truth.

No, she told herself. I need to spend every waking minute with my daddy, and Daddy would be so disappointed in me if he found out. The little devil in her head kept showing her smiling, happy pictures of her father’s face as he walked her down the aisle and left her in the care of a loving man.

I don’t need a man to care for me, she argued.

No, but think how happy it will make your dad, the pesky voice whispered.

There was only one man who might be willing to say yes to such a wild plan—Paxton Callahan. Her father liked him as a man and a cowboy, but Pax had a wild reputation. Scenarios played through her head—one after another until she couldn’t think about anything else.

She dried her tears, took a deep breath, and pushed back her chair. She got out a jar of pickles from the refrigerator and set out a banana cream pie she’d made the day before.

She draped her arm around her father’s shoulders. They did seem a little bonier than they had been. Why hadn’t she noticed that he was losing weight?

Because you see him as the big, strong cowboy he’s always been. The voice in her head was definitely her mother’s that time. Make him happy, Alana. Don’t let him leave with a single worry.

She hugged him a little tighter and then sat down in her chair. “Have you gotten a second opinion?”

“Don’t need one,” her father said. “I trust our doctor and the team that took care of me in Amarillo. Besides, I can feel it.”

Alana took a deep breath. “I have something to say, and you might not like it.” Her father was going to have his wish, and by damn, Paxton had better agree or else.

“It’s not bad news, is it?” All the color had left his face.

Alana stood up, crossed the kitchen, and picked up the coffeepot and two mugs. That gave her another minute to put into the hardest words that would ever come out of her mouth. “It all depends on how you look at it, I guess, but it doesn’t have anything to do with my health.” She set the mugs on the table, filled them, and then returned the pot.

“All right then.” His blue eyes stared right into her brown ones.

She sat back down, took a deep breath, and said, “Daddy, don’t get mad, but I’ve been