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Million Dollar Cowboy (Cupid, Texas #5)

By:Lori Wilde

Million Dollar Cowboy (Cupid, Texas #5)
        Author: Lori Wilde

       
         
       
        
Chapter 1




Ridge Lockhart was three years old when his mother abandoned him on the doorstep of the second-richest man in Jeff Davis County.

His father.

It was his first clear memory. The forever event stamped on the retina of his life.

Midnight. Or so it seemed to a kid. Late. Way past his bedtime. Deep dark in far west Texas, except for the glittering stars overhead.

Desert sounds. Coyotes howl. Hoots of a night owl. Whispers of wind blowing across sand.

Mommy left the car parked at the gate, crawled over the cattle guard, carried him and a small duffel bag stuffed with his things thrown over her shoulder. Stumbling the half mile hike to the big house in pink cowgirl boots. She was humming a lullaby and crying. Crying so hard he patted her face to comfort her.

"Don't cry, Mommy. Don't cry."

"Shh," she cautioned.

The odor of a burnt-out campfire, barbecue and beans, filled his nose. His stomach growled because he was hungry, and there was nothing to eat but the stale graham cracker clutched in his fist.

She reached the front porch, and set him down.

He wore Mutant Ninja Turtle house shoes and Batman pajamas. She let the duffel bag fall off her shoulder, dropping it onto the cement beside him. Thump.

A strand of blond hair fell across her face. She did not push it back and he could not see her eyes, but he could see her breasts pushed up high against the low neck of her tight blouse. She smelled like vanilla and sadness.

He tried to press his head against her chest but she yanked back.

"No."

His hands shook and his tummy turned upside down. What had he done wrong?

She pulled a square white envelope from her purse with one word written on the front and fastened it to the front of his pajamas with a safety pin, right through Batman's head.

He tugged at the envelope.

"Leave it," she said, moving his hand away.

He stared at her, the funny feeling in his tummy wriggling into his throat. "Why?"

"Because I said so." She took a deep shaky breath. "Okay now," she muttered. "Ridgy, you can count to ten, can't you?'

He bobbed his head. He could. She'd taught him. He held up his fingers one by one. "One . . . two . . . free . . ."

"Good boy. Good boy." She patted his head. Her lipstick was smeared and there were tears in her eyes. "Listen to me."

He cocked his head sensing something big was happening. Biting his bottom lip, he nodded again.

"Be my big brave boy and count to ten. When you get to ten, you ring this bell right here. See it? Press right here."

Ridge reached up to press the button glowing orange in the porch shadows, but she snatched his hand back. 

"No. Not now."

Tears burned his eyes. He'd made her mad. He hated to make her mad. "Sowwy."

"It's okay. But you must wait until I hide. Wait until you count to ten and then press the bell. Do you understand?"

"Uh-huh." The funny feeling in his throat and tummy slipped down to his knees. Mommy's gonna leave me. He was scared. Scared all over.

"It's a game." She laughed but she didn't sound happy.

"Like hide-and-seek?" His tummy felt better and his knees stopped shaking. He loved when she played hide-and-seek with him.

"You smart boy." She kissed his forehead. "So smart. You stay here and count while Mommy goes and hides."

He studied her. He wanted to play, but this felt wrong. Why were they playing hide-and-seek in the dark? In a strange place? Why did he have to push the orange button? He didn't like it.

"Give me a head start before you start counting. Understand?"

"No, no." This wasn't right and he knew it. He wrapped his arms around one of her legs.

"Ridge," she said in her mad voice. "Let me go."

He clung tighter.

She pried his fingers open, peeled him off her leg, gripped him by the shoulders, sank her thumbs into his skin, shook him gently. "Close your eyes now."

His entire body trembled, and he felt like he was gonna throw up. "Mommy?"

"Close your eyes."

Slowly, he closed his eyes, heard the scoot of her cowgirl boots against the sidewalk. Scoot, scoot, scooty-scoot. Going fast, then faster.

His tummy hurt really badly. He didn't want to play hide-and-seek anymore. But he'd promised her he would count, and then ring the bell. So he counted. Got mixed up at seven. Started again.

When he reached ten he opened his eyes. Mommy was gone. Everything was dark except for the glowing orange button by the front door.

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