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Janessa Greene could have sworn her old hatchback lost a little more oomph with each passing day. As she pulled off the highway and through the Bar-G Ranch gate, she sent up a prayer. No way could she spend money on her car right nownot with all the expenses she had coming up. Both she and her car would have to go the extra mile for just a little longer.
As she gunned down the long stretch toward the house, the sight of twenty or so impatient-looking parents standing outside their horse trailers made her stomach buckle. She checked the clock on the dash and grimaced. Why did they all have to be so prompt on the days when she was running behind?
She clattered to a halt between the house and the barn, then gathered up her work bag and purse. Leaping out of the car, she gave the parents a quick wave. "I'll only be a sec!"
A grating mixture of grumbles and moans followed her as she ran toward the front porch steps. She winced. Those folks had paid good money to have her teach their kids to ride this summer, and they had every right to expect her to deliver her best. She had tried to get there on time. If only the restaurant would stop being so busy on her class days.
She scurried inside, slowing only to push the door shut and to gather up the mail from the table next to it. Flipping through the stack as she bounded across the foyer, she held her breath. Today had to be the day.
"Argh!" She tossed the pile of pure disappointment onto the bench at the base of the staircase, gripped the bannister, and charged up. It was July already. Shouldn't she have heard from Le Cordon Bleu by now?
Reaching the top step in record time, she darted across the hall and into her room. She kicked the door closed, dropped her bags on the bed, and tore off her grease-splattered tee, then grabbed a plaid cotton Western shirt from the back of her desk chair. As she yanked it on, a rap on the door gave her a jolt.
"Ness, it's Courtney."
Her fingers found the shirt buttons as she searched the floor for a pair of jeans. "I'll be right out."
"I can go down and get the kids started if you want."
"Really?" Relief surged as she retrieved some decently clean Levi's off the window seat. "That would make you my favorite sister-in-law."
Courtney's laugh sounded through the door. "I'm your only sister-in-law. Besides, you know I love those kids."
Janessa breathed a little easier. The parents would feel better seeing Courtney, but she'd still have to hustle.
As she fumbled with her cuff button, her focus fixed on the poster over the desk. A plain chef's jacket hung on a fancy wire hanger with the words Le Cordon BleuL'Art Culinaire above, and the logo of the school below.
Leaving her second cuff undone, she tugged at the laces on her white SlipGripsgreat for the kitchen but definitely not for the arenaand allowed her thoughts to stray. Le Cordon Bleu had been her dream ever since she'd realized she wanted to be a chef. Not only was it a great school, but they had a location in Seattle, not far from Thornton Springs. She bit her lip and yanked at the second lace. Okay, not too far to drive home for holidays and an occasional weekend, anyway. Montana only seemed like a million miles away from everything truly exciting in the world.
She kicked off the shoes. For as long as she could remember, all she'd wanted was to get out of Thornton Springs. Now that she had finally graduated from high school and worked for a year to save up money, her plans were just about to jell.
Flinging herself onto the bed, she quickly replaced her white Dockers with the jeans. She rolled onto her belly to reach under the bed, pulling out one boot, followed by a second.
She maneuvered into a sitting position, then yanked on the boots and scanned the immediate vicinity for her belt. Her eyes flicked across the framed photo that sat on her bedside table, momentarily sidetracking her with the familiar combination of comfort and sorrow that always accompanied it. Absentmindedly fingering the ever-present heart-shaped-diamond necklace at her throat, she wondered for the zillionth time how different her life would be if her dad was still here. He had her heart, even after he'd been gone for so many years.
Forcing her thoughts back to the task at hand, she plucked up her floral-shammed pillow from the head of the bed and let out a mini-cry of victory. She dove for a large gold buckle that peeked out from under her sloppily placed duvet, then swung her legs around and clambered to her feet. She quickly looped the belt into her jeans and grabbed a hair band off her bedside table, then dug through the pile of hats on the chair next to the door. She paused, running her hand over her Le Cordon Bleu ball cap. Her mind latched on to the one problem with her plan, the probability of which grew with each passing day: What if the school didn't accept her?
Shoving away the thought, she snapped up her favorite white cowgirl hat and plunked it onto her head. She just couldn't let herself think that way. It was only July. There was still plenty of time for her to hear from them. Besides, if she didn't get in, they'd send a rejection letter. No news didn't necessarily mean bad news.
She darted back out into the hallway and took the stairs two at a time, awkwardly yanking her hair into a pony-tail as she flew.
Making her way across the drive, she saw that Courtney had gotten the class started preparing their horses. A few parents lingered along the outside of the fence, but most of them had left, probably furious at her for cutting short the hour they counted on to get things done while their kids were occupied.