Home > The Cowboy Meets His Match

The Cowboy Meets His Match
Author: Jessica Clare

CHAPTER ONE

 


   February

   Sometimes it was hard to live in a town like Painted Barrel. The community was small and intimate and supportive, but it was impossible to have secrets. Worse than that, everyone seemed to think they knew what was best for you, even if you didn’t agree.

   Which meant Becca heard a lot of well-meaning advice daily, no matter how many times she tried to escape it.

   “You really should get out there and start dating again,” Mrs. Williams told her for the seventh time in the last hour. “A pretty thing like you? You don’t want all your good years going to waste. If you want to start a family, you need to move fast.”

   And wasn’t that just depressing? Becca did her best to smile as she plucked foils off Mrs. Williams’s head, as if the woman’s kind words weren’t stabbing her in the heart. “I’m not sure I’m ready to date. I’ll know when I meet the right person.”

   Her customer tsked. “Like I said, don’t wait too long. You don’t want to be the oldest mother at the PTA meetings.” She nodded into the mirror at her reflection as if this was the worst thing in the world to happen. “It’s very difficult for the children.”

   “I’ll keep that in mind,” Becca murmured as she pulled the last of the foils off Mrs. Williams’s head. “Let’s wash now, shall we?”

   The good thing about washing was that because the water was going, it meant Becca didn’t have to talk—or listen to Mrs. Williams talk. Thank goodness for that, because she needed a few minutes to compose herself. Becca had always thought that two years would be enough time to mend her broken heart. Two years surely should have been enough time to get over the man that left her on the eve of their wedding. It should have been enough time to get over the bitterness that swallowed her up every time she paid the credit card bills that she still had from the wedding that had never happened.

   Instead, it all seemed to just irritate her more and more.

   It didn’t help that everyone in Painted Barrel still asked about the Wedding That Wasn’t. Of course they did. Becca being left at the altar (well, practically) was the biggest scandal that Painted Barrel had had in all of the town’s uninspiring history. She’d always been popular around town. She was moderately cute, tried her best to be friendly to everyone, ran her own local business, and, for ten years, she’d dated the ex-captain of the local football team, handsome, blond Greg Wallace.

   Oh, Greg.

   Greg was not good at making decisions about what he wanted in life. It had taken her ten years to figure out that particular tidbit of information, but once she had, it had explained so much. It explained why Greg never finished college, and why he’d never held down a job for longer than a year or two. It explained why he’d gone back and forth on their relationship, first wanting to see other people, then wanting Becca back, then getting engaged, calling it off, getting engaged again, and then deciding a few days before the wedding that he’d changed his mind and he was in love with another woman.

   She’d been a damned idiot for far too long.

   Becca scrubbed at Mrs. Williams’s hair, asking about the woman’s grandchildren without listening to the answer. Her thoughts were still on Greg. Why had she wasted so much time with him? Was she truly that stupid?

   But, no, she supposed it wasn’t stupidity as much as it was a soft heart, a fear of being alone, and the fact that Greg was a terrible decision maker but a great apologizer. He’d been so sweet every time he’d come crawling back that she’d felt like the world’s worst person if she said no. So she said yes . . . and yes, and yes . . .

   And now look where she was. Becca Loftis still had her salon in Painted Barrel, but she was turning thirty, she was utterly single, and now she was being warned that her womb was aging with every day that passed.

   For someone that had always said she didn’t want to turn into her mother, she sure was doing a terrible job of breaking that pattern. Heck, according to Mrs. Williams, she was failing children she hadn’t even had yet and—

   “Too hot,” the woman under the water cried out. “Too hot, Becca!”

   “Sorry,” Becca said quickly, turning the water cooler and trying not to feel too ashamed. Even now, Greg was ruining her life, wasn’t he? “You were saying it was Jimmy’s sixth birthday last week?” She was relieved when Mrs. Williams settled back down in the salon chair and began to talk once more.

   Enough Greg. She had customers to take care of.

 

* * *

 

   * * *

       Becca was sweeping up underneath the chair after her last appointment of the day when the door to the salon chimed. She looked up and inwardly felt a little stab of emotion when Sage Cooper-Clements waddled in, looking like a plump penguin with her puffy jacket and pregnant belly. The new mayor was the nicest woman, and once upon a time, Becca had thought she was the loveliest, most giving person, sweet and shy and eternally single.

   Then Greg had decided he wanted Sage instead of Becca.

   Then Sage had turned around and married some tall cowboy and immediately gotten pregnant.

   Now Sage was the mayor of Painted Barrel and the new darling of the small town. Everyone loved her. Everyone touched her belly when she walked in and asked about her new husband. They asked about her family’s ranch. They gave her advice and doted on her.

   And Becca didn’t hate her. Not really. It wasn’t Sage’s fault that Greg had bailed on Becca because he’d thought he was in love with Sage.

   It was just that . . . it was hard not to be envious of someone who suddenly had everything you’d always wanted. Not the mayor thing, of course, but a loving husband and a baby? God, Becca had wanted so badly to be in her shoes.

   She gave Sage a wistful smile. “Hey, Sage. How can I help you?”

   Sage beamed at her and lumbered forward, all pregnancy belly and layers of warm clothing. She thrust a flyer toward Becca. “I just wanted to let you know that we’re having a Small Business Summit next year to promote local tradesmen. All of the shops in Painted Barrel and the neighboring towns can rent booths in the gym and we’re going to make a big festival of it. There’ll be food and drinks, and everyone can sell goods from their booths. I wanted to invite you personally since you’re on Main Street and one of this town’s mainstays. I know it’s not for a while, but I want to drum up enthusiasm ahead of time.”

   The pregnant mayor beamed at her, and Becca did her best to take the flyer with a modicum of excitement. It was just as Sage said, a festival featuring small businesses. “I’m not sure if I can do a haircutting booth,” she admitted. At Sage’s crestfallen look, she hastily amended, “But I’m sure I’ll think of something! Maybe quickie manicures?”

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