Jessica's Cowboy Daddy - Melinda Barron

Chapter 1

“Jessica Diana Barker, as I live and breathe.”

Jessica stopped in the middle of folding a box for donuts and turned her gaze to the doorway of Barker’s Bakery. Of all the things she’d expected to happen today, this was not at the top of her list. It wasn’t even on her list for today, or any other day of this week, or month, or year, really.

“Mrs. Dobbs,” she said, her voice soft.

“Excuse me, but I’m in a hurry.” Jessica turned her attention back to the woman standing across the counter from her.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Cunningham.” She finished folding the box. “A dozen glazed, and a dozen chocolate frosted, right?”

“Exactly.” Mrs. Cunningham beamed, then dug into her purse.

Jessica folded another box, then filled them both. She took Mrs. Cunningham’s money, then hurried across the bakery floor to let her out. It was the least she could do after making her wait. Mrs. Cunningham came in twice a week to pick up donuts for the bank workers. Once a month, Jessica gave them to her for free.

She kept her hand on the door, knowing Mrs. Dobbs was just inches away from her. Deep breath, deep breath, she said to herself before she turned to her once-future mother-in-law.

“How can I help you? Donuts? They’re fresh.”

Mrs. Dobbs—who had never said call me Matilda please, even when Jessica was engaged to her son—stared at her.

“You miserable little witch,” she finally said. “Do you realize how my son suffered because of you?”

“If I remember you like chocolate.” Jessica crossed the room and started to fold another box. “A dozen, on the house.” Anything to get you out of here, Jessica thought as she used the tongs to fill the box. When it was full she folded down the lid and pushed it across the counter. “Good day, Mrs. Dobbs.”

“You can’t get rid of me that easy, not after how you hurt my son.”

“He’s a grown man,” Jessica said. “If he has a problem with how I ended our relationship he can come see me. It’s not as if I’m hiding. After all, the private investigator he hired came in just a week ago. Which is why you’re here, of course. Or did you hire the PI?”

“Grant does not know I’m here,” Mrs. Dobbs said. “You owe him.”

“I owe him nothing,” Jessica said.

“You owe him the ring he gave you when you promised to marry him,” Mrs. Dobbs said.

Jessica glanced around. There were no other customers at this point, and the two women who worked for her three days a week were in the back, making cookies, or dough to put in the freezer. Jessica had worked hard to keep her past quiet, and she intended to keep it that way.

“If you are talking about the engagement ring, I gave it back to Grant the night I broke off our engagement.”

“He says differently,” Mrs. Dobbs said. “That ring belonged to my grandmother, and I will not let a bitch like you keep it. You embarrassed us.”

“Couldn’t hold your head up at a Friday night football game?” Jessica shook her head. “I gave the ring to Grant. I don’t care what he told you.”

“Of the two of you, you’ve been the proven liar, so I will trust my son,” Mrs. Dobbs said. “Get me the ring. Now.”

“I can’t give you something I don’t have,” Jessica said.

“You sold it? Did you use the money to buy this place?”

Jessica took a deep breath before she said, “I can’t sell something I don’t have. The night I broke up with Grant I gave him the ring. I can’t say it any plainer than that.”

“You’re lying,” Mrs. Grant said.

“You can think what you what, I don’t give a damn.” She pushed the donuts toward her unwelcome visitor. “Take them and get out, and don’t come back.”

“Like I would eat anything you made,” Mrs. Dobbs said. “I will give you twenty-four hours, which means I will be back tomorrow. Bring the ring.”

It wouldn’t do her any good to continue to deny it, because no matter what she said, Jessica knew Mrs. Dobbs would never believe her.

“Come in here again and I will call the constable to escort you out,” Jessica said. The door dinged and Joe Mangle from the hardware store came in. He was here for his usual Monday morning purchase, which Jessica had already packed up and set aside.

“Joe,” she said, thankful for his arrival. Mrs. Dobbs might be a witch, but she was ever conscious of how people viewed