Well readers, here we are! Thank you for being patient with me. As a reward for being so amazing and just 'cause I love ya, here's the full cover to Scarlett and Blizzard. This is what will be used when the book is completed and released in November. Gorgeous, isn't it? Charlene did a great job and has a wide selection of premades available for those of you in the market for a great cover.
Be sure to vote in the poll below when you finish reading this chapter. I'll get the video up just as soon as I can. It's been a crazy week here. Speaking of crazy, Scarlett's birthday is coming up and things are going to get wild. What's the craziest thing (good or bad) that ever happened on your birthday? Comment here or on my Facebook page and your memories might make it into the story.
Grandma didn’t stay long after Christmas. She declared three puppies yapping all the time was too much for her sensitive hearing. Personally, I think the decision to go was based more on a second argument with Scarlett. Realizing she couldn’t force her own way, Grandma told us three days after our Christmas celebration, “My dears, it has been a wonderful visit, but I believe I have stayed too long. I haven’t been to Sarah’s house in a while. I think I’ll just drop in on her.”
“Oh, Mom, please call her first,” Mom begged. “You know she’s got her hands full with that new baby.”
“Exactly. She needs me there,” Grandma replied.
Unable to talk her into some semblance of reason, Mom reluctantly helped Grandma pack her bags and set up a flight for her. She grabbed my arm when Grandma was out of earshot and said, “Call your aunt and let her know Grandma’s dropping in.”
I nodded and grabbed the phone from the kitchen before heading up to my room. I could hear Scarlett’s voice coming from her own room and I paused. “Yes, I did receive the email and am considering it. There are several factors I need to look into before committing. Yes, I understand that the position may not be available if I wait too long. Yes. Thank you.”
What position? I wondered. I knew I couldn’t ask her about it. So I continued to my own room, worry gnawing at me. What was Scarlett up to? I tried to clear my mind before calling Mom’s youngest sister, Sarah. She lived in northern Utah with her husband and large family. I’d always felt pretty close to her. Perhaps because she, like me, was the baby of the family. She was also just fun and had a heart of gold. She and her husband had just adopted a little baby girl and I knew from emails that she was struggling with colic. I hoped I was calling at a good time for her. When my aunt’s tired voice answered I said, “Hi, Aunt Sarah. It’s Blizzard.”
“Hey, Blizz. How’s our little country star?”
“I’m doing well. Listen, Mom asked me to call because…”
“Don’t tell me. My mother has decided it’s been too long since she visited and is going to be dropping in unannounced soon.”
I laughed. We were all pretty used to Grandma’s flighty nature. “That’s about the size of it.”
Sarah sighed, “Mother. Do you have any idea of when she’ll arrive?”
“Mom’s helping her set up the details as we speak, so I would guess it’ll be tomorrow at some point.”
“Great. Well, I suppose I’ll tell Roy to skip lesson planning and we’ll get the house prepared. Thanks for the warning, Blizz. Tell your mom I owe her one.”
“She probably wouldn’t say no to a box of cookies. Just sayin’.”
Sarah laughed. “I’ll see what I can do about that. Have a great day, Blizz.”
“You too, Aunt Sarah. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
The line went dead and I took the phone back downstairs just as Josiah was coming out of the second guest room. “Well, good morning,” I said brightly.
“Mornin’,” he yawned. “What time is it?”
“D’you really wanna know?”
“I can’t have slept that late,” he murmured, running a hand through his sleep-tousled hair.
“It’s nearly ten.”
He almost swore, but caught himself. “Horses are prob’ly half-starved.”
“No, I took care of them,” Scarlett said, appearing next to me. “I figured the fact that you weren’t out there meant you’d either decided to sleep in or were busy doing something else. You doin’ all right?”
Without answering, Josiah went into the kitchen. I looked at Scarlett and she shrugged. We followed and found Grandma fussing over Josiah. He turned to Scarlett with a pleading look. It was clear he was trying to be rescued from our overanxious grandmother.
“Grandma, do you need me to help you pack up your Christmas presents? I’d be happy to,” Scarlett said.
“Oh no, dear, your mother already helped with that. But just check this boy’s temperature. He’s definitely feverish. He shouldn’t be out of bed.”
“I’m sure he’s fine, Grandma, see?” Scarlett replied, placing her hand on Josiah’s forehead. Then she frowned. “Actually, Joe, you are feeling kind of warm. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine,” he growled.
“I’m going to make him some herbal tea. Then you’d best lie down, Josiah,” Grandma demanded.
“I said I’m fine. I have too much to…” A racking cough interrupted him and I fought down a giggle. He glowered at me. “Just what is so funny?”
“Josiah, you sound awful and you look worse. Take a day off.”
“There’s no such thing as days off on a ranch.”
“Sure there are. Blizzard and I will run by the B after we do some shopping in town. We’ll make sure your hands have taken care of the cattle and see if there’s anything they need.”
“I can do it myself.”
“Oh no you can’t,” Grandma retorted, pushing him back into his seat even though he hadn’t actually moved to get up. “You’re going to rest and get yourself well again. Until I leave for the airport, you are under my command.”
Josiah sent one last pleading look in Scarlett’s direction. “Don’t look at me,” she said with her hands up. “I can’t trump Grandma when you’re actually sick. Don’t worry about the ranch, we’ll check up on things and I’ll give you a full report when I get back.” She kissed Josiah’s forehead. “Promise.”
After helping Grandma get things set up and seeing Josiah was comfortable, though irate, Scarlett and I took the puppies out for a potty break before heading to the truck. “Poor Josiah,” Scarlett laughed. “He was probably feeling henpecked enough before getting sick.”
“Poor you. Depending on how long he’s been sick, you might fall next,” I said.
“Don’t you start on that again,” she warned. “I’ve had just about enough of everyone asking about what happened Christmas Eve. It was just a kiss.”
“A peck on the cheek is just a kiss, Scarlett. Even a brief touching of lips is just a kiss. Making out isn’t just a kiss. There’s more to it than that.”
“Blizzard, drop it.”
“No, Scarlett. You need to be a little more honest with me,” I said, irritation rising in me. “You need to quit keeping secrets.”
Her face blanched and then flushed. “Who says I have any secrets?”
“Don’t play dumb, Scarlett. You’ve been holding a lot back recently. I get that you’re an adult and you don’t have to answer to me or anyone else, but the least you could do is let us know what’s going on in that head of yours.”
“You wouldn’t want to know,” she replied quietly.
I was about to retort that I would actually love to know how her infuriating mind worked when she frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“That car,” she said, tipping her head towards her window, “do you recognize it?”
Turning in my seat to look at the car she was referring to, I gazed back. A nondescript, rusty car was slowly driving down the lane. “Hmm, no. Maybe one of Josiah’s hands is using it. He’s been saying that Franky goes through cars like a woman goes through shoes.”
“What would Josiah know about women’s shoes?” Scarlett muttered. “Anyway, Franky is upgrading his cars and he’s only done it twice. Stupid for a guy working on a ranch, but how he spends his money isn’t any of my business.”
“Maybe he finally decided a junker would be better.”
It wasn’t until we got to town that I realized Scarlett had effectively gotten me off topic long enough that bringing it back up would be awkward. Dang her, I thought as we walked through the aisles of the supermarket. I knew she had something going on that I was pretty sure even Mom didn’t know about. What made me nervous was the fact that I was also pretty sure that if we found out about it, it would not be pleasant.
When we’d finished shopping, Scarlett and I got back into the truck. We dropped by Starwood long enough to have Mom help us take the groceries in. “I can’t believe you allowed my mother to adopt Josiah as a patient, Scarlett.”
“Hey, it’s keeping her busy, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but if Josiah doesn’t get some relief from her soon, one of them might die.”
Scarlett and I giggled. “Don’t worry, Mom. We’re just going to run by the Double Rocking B and check on things before coming back. I’m sure we’ll get here before the house explodes.”
We drove down the road laughing and as I looked out my window, I saw the old car again. I took a longer look at it this time. It wasn’t one we’d seen before that day. Everyone knows when you live in a small town, you know everybody. You also know everybody’s vehicle. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got two in the same make and model, you’ll know which one belongs to John and which belongs to Jane. It’s just sort of the way things are. This car didn’t belong to anyone in town. I tried to get a look at the driver, but we’d already passed by. “Scarlett, is that…”
“The same car? Yeah, pretty sure it is.” She was frowning. “Look, I know we try to be open with Mom and all, but I don’t think we should tell her about this. At least, not with Josiah in the room.”
“Why? He’s the one having trouble with strangers.”
“Exactly. If he hears about a strange car being on the road, he’ll shut us out again. Besides, maybe it’s just a coincidence.”
“Sure,” I said. “Because random cars show up on our road all the time.”
She glared at me, but I could see the worry in her eyes.
“Scarlett, this isn’t something we can just keep secret. We’ve got to figure out who’s been targeting Josiah before they do something to our ranch. At this point, it’s got to be common knowledge that he’s staying with us. This is a small town and there aren’t exactly tons of apartments at the ready.”
“I know.” Scarlett chewed on her bottom lip as she parked the truck in front of Josiah’s ranch. “But what else can we do?”
We got out and were silent as we looked at the ruined remains of the barn and ranch house. I thought of the memories and treasured heirlooms which had gone up in smoke. In my mind, I didn’t see the green-trimmed, white house of the B. Instead I saw our own creamy ranch house, its blue trim like a piece of the sky. Imagination set it ablaze and tears filled my eyes as I wondered what would happen if the attacker decided to come after Josiah again. “Scarlett, we can’t let this happen to Starwood. Josiah would never forgive himself. He already can’t forgive himself for what happened here.”
“It won’t happen to Starwood,” she said, determination in her voice. “We’re going to catch the jack that did this.”
I gaped at her. That was the nearest to swearing I’d ever heard from my sister. “How?”
“I don’t know yet, but somehow or other we’re going to. Come on, let’s find Franky and see how things are going.”
We walked past the rubbled and towards the pastures the cattle were kept in. We could see a large crowd of them around a strewn bale of hay. Out in the fields, men on horseback were driving more into the pasture. A tall, wiry young man was leaning on the fence post barking orders. He heard us approaching and his handsome face broke into a grin. “Hello, ladies. What brings you to the B?”
“Josiah’s not feeling well, so we came to check things for him,” Scarlett replied.
Franky rolled his eyes. “I told him to stay home yesterday, but would he listen to me?”
“You noticed he was sick yesterday?” I asked.
“Not hard to tell,” Franky replied. He took a long look at me and I felt my cheeks go red under his scrutiny. Franky wasn’t much older than me, just nineteen. But he worked harder than most and after disappointing his parents with no desire to attend college, had come to the Double Rocking B without a place to call home. Teddy had immediately taken him in and though he no longer lived at the house, having an apartment in town, he was still considered part of the family. I wondered why we didn’t see him more often, but my thoughts were interrupted when he asked, “Winter break ought to be over soon, huh?”
“School starts again next week.”
“Bummer for you. Enjoying the break?”
“Good to hear. I heard you at the diner the other night. You’re sounding real good.”
I blushed again and could see Scarlett grinning. “Thanks,” I mumbled, looking away from Franky’s sparkling green eyes. There was a little too much mischief in that smile.
“So, anything for me to report to Josiah?”
“Just tell him the rattler is back.”
“Rattler?” Scarlett repeated. “It’s too cold for snakes.”
“Wrong kind of snake. Trust me, Josiah’ll know what I mean.”
“Franky, do you know anything about a car that’s been up and down this road?” I asked.
“You’ve seen it too, huh? Josiah’s been watching it for about a week and a half now. Ever since the fire, he’s been seeing that junker. Most times it’s just parked outside the B, but he’s seen it driving down the road too. He’s called the sheriff out a couple times, but Sheriff Henley’s never seen it once during his patrols. You gals be careful, got it?”
Scarlett nodded and thanked him. “We’ll see you around.”
“Yep.” I looked up again and Franky winked at me. Blushing furiously, I turned away and walked to the truck as fast as my legs could carry me, Scarlett still grinning that fool grin of hers. “What?” I demanded.
“So, how long have you been making moon-eyes at Franky?”
“Can we not discuss it please?”
“Ha! Not so fun when the tables are turned, is it?”
I glared out the window and saw the rusty old car sitting outside Josiah’s place. As I looked at the driver, he smirked at me and my mind took me back to July. “Scarlett, I know who’s driving that car.”
“The man we saw arguing with Josiah at the county fair.”
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius