Read an Excerpt
"Rise and shine, Sheri, we made it to Mule Hollow." Lacy Brown leaned over and slapped the pair of pointed, high-heeled boots propped on the dusty dashboard of her classic pink Caddy.
The rumpled heap that was her friend and partner opened one eye. "No, not now," she grumbled. "I just started dreaming about handsome cowboys fighting over me."
"Why dream?" Lacy practically sang with enthusiasm. "Open your eyes and look around."
With her hair resembling Rod Stewart's on a bad hair day, Sheri plopped her feet to the floorboard one at a time, pushed up to a sitting position and gaped at Mule Hollow. "You're joking. Right?"
"Isn't it wonderful?" Lacy said, flinging her arms open wide. From her perch on the car's door she felt on top of the world.
"Wonderful. Lace, are we looking at the same view? Look at this place."
"No, no, no, don't go all negative on me, Sheri. Look again. Really look." Overflowing with excitement, Lacy jumped to her feet on the Caddy's seat. "Picture all these sad, colorless buildings painted a different shade of the rainbow. Like like one of those weird ski villages in Coloradoonly brighter." She grasped Sheri by the shoulders and met her eye-to-eye. "We prayed about opening our own business. And you know when I read that classified ad, God gave me a vision. I'm telling you, girlfriend, whoever placed that ad is watching the same movie I'm watching. If we open it, they'll come. I know it. I feel it in my heart."
"Girlfriend" Sheri took a deep breath "this is no cornfield and you are not Kevin Costner."
Lacy dropped back onto the edge of the door. "Nope, I'm not Kevie-baby, but when single women read about all these lonesome, long-legged cowboys pinning away for true lovethey're coming. All kinds of man-hunters from all walks of life. Who knows, there may be hundreds."
Sheri rolled her eyes, but grinned.
That's all the encouragement Lacy needed to rattle on. "No joke. Some gals will come to marry, some to play. Either way, when the courtin' starts, where is the first place those gals are gonna head?"
Sheri bit her lip to hide her smile, and then gave in. "Straight to Heavenly Inspirations," she drawled, "Where love is in the air and the hair!"
"Yup, yup, yup, that's what I'm saying," Lacy chirped. "With me styling their hair and you sculpting their nails, not only are we going to be independent, self-supporting businesswomen, we are going to get the opportunity to tell each and every one of those ladies what the Lord has done for us." Lacy's eyes twinkled. "There absoiutely couldn't be anything betier than that!"
Sheri started chuckling and dramatically slapped a hand to her chest. "Okay, Moses, I give up. God told you to come here and far be it from me to get in His way. We both know you're the one with the direct line to His office, I'm just along for the ride." She paused rubbed her eyes and stretched her arms heavenward. "But, friend of mine" she yawned "we have to take a time-out now and find coffee, I'm dying here."
Sheri was right, it had been a long five-hundred-mile drive through the night. Lacy slid behind the steering wheel, then rammed the gearshift into drive, all in one swift motion. "Coffee it is. I have to say, you do look as though you could use a few cups." She had to dodge a pillow as it was slammed into her shoulder.
Swinging the pink Caddy to the right she aimed it toward a building she'd spied at the end of the street, where a couple of beat-up pickup trucks were parked in front. "The real estate agent said there was a diner of sorts on Main Street. Mmm-hmm, this is it," she mused, swerving into an angled parking space in front of the building. A worn sign proclaimed Sam's Pharmaceuticals And Diner. To the side some small print had been added. Eat At Your Own Peril 6 a.m.-8 p.m.
Lacy stomped hard on the brakes. While her buddy peeled herself off the dashboard, Lacy scrambled over the closed door Dukes of Hazzard-style to survey the dilapidated building up close. She paused when a striped cat hissed at her from its hiding place beneath the plank sidewalk. "What's up, little friend?" Lacy asked, bending down to get a better look at the frightened creature. Obviously not tamed, it backed farther away into the shadows as it continued to emit unearthly noises. "I hope you're not the welcoming committee," she chuckled softly.
From the car, Sheri moaned, "It should be a sin to be so perky. Watching you, no one would believe we drove all night to get here."
Lacy stood and turned toward her friend. "I'm too excited to be tired. Don't you feel it?" She closed her eyes again. The tugging at her heart was stronger now. She felt a whisper of hope. Opening her eyes, she looked straight at Sheri. "This is our future. Our destiny."
Sheri pulled on the door latch. "Only you could read a little ad about a podunk town needing would-be-wives and see your future. And hear God's call at the same time."
"Our future." Lacy stuck her hand on her hip. "You have a stake in this enterprise also."
"Oh, yeah, my life savings," Sheri retorted. "All three hundred and thirty-four cents' worth."
Ignoring Sheri's teasing, Lacy turned, stepped up on the plank sidewalk and swished across to the weathered building. Lovingly she ran a hand over the rough wood. "You know you're just as excited about bringing this town to life as I am." Ignoring Sheri's complaints was habit. Early on in their lives, Sheri had been the straggler, so shy she could hardly look a person in the eyes. That fact had compelled them into friendship as elementary school kids. Lacy had taken it upon herself to pull Sheri off the sidelines, straight into the action. Because of that, Sheri's confidence had grown over the years and with it her ability to banter.
Tracing a finger along the wood Lacy lifted an eyebrow at her friend, "You know you can't wait to paint this dull, dry heap of wood."
"If this place only knew what you have in store for it, they'd roll up the sidewalks and lock the doors." Shaking her head Sheri strode to the door of Sam's. "I'm getting coffee. Now. Before you get us thrown out of town and I have to wait another couple of hours for the next chance."
Lacy watched her not-so-shy-anymore friend stride through the diner's heavy swinging door. Where had that timid little girl gone? Lacy took all the blame for having rubbed off on Sheri, but at least her friend had no fear of new places or new faces. And that was a good thing. With one last glance about, Lacy followed Sheri into the diner. It was definitely coffee time.
Inside the diner, the musty scent of age mingled with smells of pine floors, gumballs from children long grown and strong, fragrant coffee.
"Coffee," Sheri groaned to the older man behind the carved, wooden counter.
He reminded Lacy of a raisin. Small, slightly plump and wrinkled all over, he was so cute she had to fight the impulse to pinch him. Clearly that wouldn't be the right way to start a new relationship. She slid into the booth instead and held up two fingers. "Make that two, please."
She tugged her orange T-shirt from her skin and fanned herself. Riding five hundred miles with the top down made a body slightly sticky and smelly, too. But she loved her convertible and wouldn't take a new car for anything. Clean air blowing through her hair. That was the good life. Who cared about a few bugs here and there, in her teeth, in the eye ?
Tapping her fingers on the table she nodded at the two ancient men hunched over a checkerboard in the corner by the window. So they were what early birds looked like.
"Hi," she called.
They nodded in acknowledgment and continued their game of checkers unmoved as Lacy surveyed the room. A jukebox in the corner snagged her attention, drawing her to investigate. Like everything else in the cafe, it was straight out of a decade before any she'd lived in. The box was covered with bright lights and filled with little records. It was irresistible.
Digging a nickel from her pocket she plopped it into the slot, selected her favorite, "Blue Suede Shoes," then strolled back to her table.
Thank You, Lord. Everything is perfect.
The explosive strains of Jerry Lee Lewis singing "Great Balls of Fire" blasted from the jukebox.
"Rattle my brainBaabaaabie!" Sheri squealed along with the song. "Where's Elvis?"
Lacy shrugged, amazed at how well her friend knew her, even more amazed at how far Sheri's shyness had come since they were kids. "Beats me, that box must have a mind of its own."
"Ain't that the truth," Little Raisin Man said, coming around the counter to set two mugs of steaming coffee on their table. "That there's the only song that thang'll play." He shook his balding head, "I liked the song once, a long, long time ago. What can I get you gals to eat?"
Lacy stilled the rat-a-tat-tat of her hot pink fingernails on the scarred pine tabletop. "Nothing for me, but thank you." Offering her hand in greeting, she smiled up at the darling man. "I'm Lacy Brown, and this is Sheri Marsh."
He wiped his hands on his white apron and shook Lacy's hand violently. "Sam's the name. What brings you gals to Mule Hollow?"
"Business. I'm opening the new hair salon."
Sam's expression didn't waver a smidge as his gaze slid to Sheri, and her brunette bird's nest, then volleyed back to rest once more on Lacy.
Glancing at her reflection in the mirror behind the counter, Lacy nearly fell off her chair. Her whipped cream-colored curls licked from beneath her ball cap like curdled milk on a hot day.
Sam, a real trooper, never blinked. "Figures," he said dryly, as if hair like theirs were a common occurrence. "The real estate agent told Adela you'd be here next week."
"I couldn't wait," Lacy explained, tapping her nails again. "Patience is not one of my strong points."
"Craziest thing I ever heard, this plan of the gals. You're the first, you know."
"We figured it," Sheri and Lacy said in unison.
"At least we hoped we were the first," added Lacy.
"By my calcul ations you might be the only. The women folk put out the ad-verd-is-ment. Not us." He sighed and shook his head as if that told the story in a nut shell.
It was obvious the only one in on this plan other than them was God. Lacy glanced at the checker players, who had abandoned their game to listen intently to their conversation. "By chance, would any of you nice gentlemen know which building out there is mine?"
Sam harrumphed. "Ain't been a building rented out in this town for pert near ten years. Everybody knows your building. It's here on Main Street down across from Pete's Feed-and-Seed. He'd be opening 'bout now. Can't miss it. Only other buildin' with cars out front."
Lacy stood. "Can you catch me later, Sheri? I have to see it."
"Sure, go ahead, check out your destiny. I'm going to sit right here, have another coffee and eat this fine man out of business." Sheri stretched and patted her stomach while grinning at Sam.
"Get ready, Sam, she's not kidding." Already Lacy was pushing through the swinging door, waving goodbye over her shoulder.
Standing on the sidewalk, she tugged the brim of her ball cap lower to shield her eyes against the rising sun's glare. It sat higher in the sky now, and with it a few more cars moved about. Down the street, she spotted a gas station that still boasted a red flying horse sign, clearly ancient. That sign was probably worth a pretty penny at a flea market or auction. But the real jewel of the town could be seen a bit farther down at the end of Main Streeta majestically rambling old house replete with towers, lightning rods and loads of promise. Now that would be worth some exploration, she thought. Then, tugging once more at the bib of her cap, she strode to her Caddy and vaulted over the convertible's door.
The familiar exhilaration filled her when she turned the key and the powerful old engine roared to life. That sound never ceased to thrill her with joy. This morning she was high on life and feeling great. She was pressing the gas pedal when the hissing startedright there between her feet! One minute she had everything under control and then whamo, she had a frantic cat clinging to her leg, claws buried in her flesh. Lacy screamed in pain, but managed to stomp the brake, jerking the car to a halt just as the crazy cat sprang at her with teeth bared and claws out!
Clint Matlock needed a shower, a couple of cups of Sam's thick coffee and a noose. It had been another sleepless night, trying to catch a bunch of thieving rustlers. He was mad enough to follow in his great-great-granddaddy's footstepshangin' 'em first and asking questions later.
Headi ng toward Sam's Diner he turned his Jeep onto Main Street and was surprised to see a strange car parked out front.
"Wouldya look at that," he whistled, eyeing the ugliest pink convertible he'd ever seen. The ancient sedan was so big it dwarfed the slim woman standing beside it. A tiny, little thing, she had cotton-white hair that shot out from under a red ball cap in wild curls. Her back was to him as she looked down toward the old Howard estate, but there was no mistaking she was a woman. As he approached, she surprised him when she sprang over the closed door of the car and landed easily in the driver's seat.
Slowi ng his Jeep behind the vehicul ar monstrosity, he was swinging into the space beside the piece of junk when its engine roared to life. The next few moments went in slow motion as the pink bombshell blasted toward him, then halted abruptly. Clint reacted by slamming on his brakes, but his empty thermos rocketed into the floorboard, lodged between his boots, the brake and the gas pedal. He was wrestling to get it out of his way when he accidentally hit the gas. Like a torpedo being shot out of a nuclear submarine Clint's Jeep raced toward the other car.
The impact took Lacy by surprise. She had been in midscream, watching the terrified cat fly past her face and out of the Caddy when it happened. The metal-on-metal impact threw her into the steering wheel and she ricocheted back against the seat.
Startled, to say the least, she'd managed to get a glance over her shoulder while being thrashed about and nearly croaked at the sight of the Jeep now connected to her back bumper.