The Rancher and the Event Planner - By Cheryl Gorman

Chapter One

WELCOME TO SALVATION, TEXAS. The sign sported a smiley face as an exclamation point and a bullet hole over the “I”...which pretty much summed up Salvation in one image.

“Welcome to hell is what they should say,” JC Barrett said to herself. Thank goodness she was only passing through her home town and not staying. Her brother, Cade still lived in Salvation but she knew he’d understand if she didn’t stop by and see him. He loved this town and she hated it. Always had, always would. Besides, Rafe McCord lived here and she had mixed feelings about seeing him again.

She glanced at the dashboard clock. Another hour and a half and she’d be in Dallas to oversee Senator Grant’s fundraising gala for her Shreveport employer, ‘Affairs to Remember’. She cranked the fan on the air conditioner of her compact car and grabbed another chocolate chip cookie from the bag sitting on the passenger seat.

She bit into the cookie savoring the sweet chocolate, and tried to ignore the fact she’d be wearing the cookies tomorrow on her hips and thighs. True, she’d have to put in some extra time on the treadmill to work off the calories, but right now she needed chocolate—bad. Especially before planning a big event. She zipped down Main Street, passed Duncan’s Hardware, Joe’s Market and Phillip’s Pharmacy. The town had always been on a first name basis with itself. Some people might call that cozy and comforting. JC called it suffocating.

With one hand on the wheel, she dug around inside her purse with the other. Damn it. The cell phone continued to ring. Probably her boss with some last minute instructions.

For a moment, she took her eyes off the road while she groped for her phone. A siren’s wail filled the air with an ear-piercing scream, and her head snapped up. A police car with flashing lights ate up the road behind her. “Holy Christmas monkeys.”

Her gaze jerked back to the road as a small dog darted across the pavement in front of her. A spurt of panic fueled with adrenaline zipped through JC’s body. She wrenched the steering wheel to the right and slammed on the brakes, narrowly missing the ball of white fur. The car skidded in a circle for what seemed an eternity. Breath gusted from her lungs in short, ragged gasps. “OhmyGodOhmyGodOhmyGod!”

A white picket fence loomed ahead and on the other side, an older man wearing a fishing hat stood at a mail box. JC’s heart nearly stopped and the breath in her lungs seized. She jammed the heel of her hand on the horn. “No, no, no. Please, God don’t let me hit this poor man.” The man looked up, and his eyes widened. He leaped out of the way right before the front of her car flattened the mail box, barely missing him. Letters flew into the air like hot corn kernels and landed on the top of her car with a soft rat-a-tat-tat.

The car rocked to a halt jerking JC in her seat, but at least she avoided hitting her head on the steering wheel when the seat belt yanked her back painfully. “Ow!”

The engine sputtered once and died. Her purse and its contents lay at her feet, broken cookies decorated the dashboard.

She couldn’t control the shaking in her hands or her heart trying to push its way out of chest as she unbuckled her seat belt and bolted from the car. She ran weak-kneed to the man’s side. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay? Everything happened so fast.”

The old man, who looked like a stiff breeze could blow him away, glared at her with light, gray eyes. “No, I’m not okay. You almost ran me over, young lady. I bet you were on your cell phone. They’re a menace and so are you. And what about my mail box?”

A fresh wave of anxiety twisted her stomach into a knot. “I don’t blame you for being angry. I promise I’ll replace your mailbox.”

“Darn tootin’ you will.”

She touched his arm. “Are you sure you’re all right? Maybe you should get checked out by a doctor.”

“Henry, are you okay?”

JC turned.

A short, skinny cop stood beside her. She didn’t remember him from growing up in Salvation, thank goodness.

“I’m fine,” the old man said pointing toward the pile of twisted metal and shards of wood, “but look what she did to my mailbox.”

The cop turned his gaze to JC. “Ma’am, are you hurt?”

Still shaking from head to foot she gave her body a