by Stacey Espino
eBook ISBN: 1-61034-064-7
Colton and his brothers can’t get enough of the feisty blonde cowgirl with the wicked tongue and killer curves. They love playing their naughty games with Callie but never want the fun to end. Before they can convince her that she belongs to them, they’ll have to prove their intentions are honorable.
Siren-Bookstrand ‖ Kindle
Callie ripped the letter into four, then eight pieces before hurling the white bits through the air like oversized confetti. She reared out of the wooden chair and paced the country kitchen with a seething anger. Another eviction notice. Her grandparents’ house had been paid off decades ago, but the state kept raising their property taxes to the point they couldn’t afford to pay them. It just wasn’t right that wealthy landowners could drive small farmers off their land with a phone call to the nearest crooked politician.
When she noticed her grandpa standing in the doorway, her anger melted away like the butter on her morning toast.
“Don’t tell me that was a love letter from Josh,” he said with concern etched on his aged face.
“It was nothing, Grandpa. You shouldn’t be up. Do you need something?”
“You’ll have me bed-bound in no time. I’m still quite capable, child.”
She smiled gently. “I know you are. I just want you to take it easy. Doctor’s orders, remember?”
“I may be up in years, but I can still handle a rifle. Is that Josh boy causing you heartache?”
Her grandfather, such an old-school cowboy, and she loved him more than life itself. Even in his late seventies, he had his wits and kept in good shape. Not even after her grandmother’s death, some four years earlier, did his health falter. Not the way it had since those bastards tried to take his land. Callie vowed not to allow him to know what was currently waging with the attempted takeover of their farm. As far as he was concerned, all was well, and his only mission was to get well. She’d find one way or another to pay those taxes and get the law off their backs.
“You know Josh would never hurt me. In fact, he’ll be over this afternoon with a shipment of feed.”
“Good to hear. Now be a doll and fetch your grandpa his pipe. I’ll be on the porch.”
Callie forgot about the shredded letter and made her way to her grandpa’s small bedroom and located his pipe and tobacco on his night side table. Her earliest memories were of him rocking back and forth in the old wooden rocker on the front porch with a pipe between his lips. As she padded her way through the bungalow, she heard the slam of a truck door. It was too early for Josh to show up. He had fields to clear first thing in the morning.
Pushing open the whiny screen door, she noted the tall, thin man sauntering up to the front porch with a briefcase in hand. Trouble had shown up at the front door. Her mind whirled as she thought of ways to deal with the stranger while avoiding upsetting her grandpa. She had no doubt the visit had something to do with the frequent phone calls and letters threatening to take their farm.
“Good mornin’ to you,” said her grandpa.
“Mr. Johnson, I’d like to have a word with you, if you don’t mind.”
Callie bounded off the porch, placing herself between the two men. “Can I help you?” She narrowed her eyes at the man, willing him away with her most heated death stare.
“My name’s Jack Smith. I’ve been sent by the Black Corporation about some important business matters.”
“If you need to talk business, you can talk with me.”
The man hesitated for a moment, appearing as though he’d like to argue, but held back. His thin, mousy brown hair fluttered as a warm, light breeze swept by. He stood out like a sore thumb in his navy blue business suit, surrounded by pasture. Callie felt like a child next to him in her white cotton summer dress. But she wasn’t a child, and if these land thieves thought they could show up and bring her grandpa grief, they had another thing coming.
“And who might you be, young lady?”
Callie ground her molars together at his patronizing tone. He might be old enough to be her daddy, but he sure as hell wasn’t. She had no daddy—no mother, either. It was just Callie and her grandpa, and she couldn’t lose him, too.
“I’m Callie Johnson.”
“Ah, I see. So you must be the one giving me the runaround.” He shook his too-thin face and cast his beady eyes on her with disapproval. “Dangerous game you’re playing here. You can’t play dumb and ignore the call of progress.”
Her grandfather rose to his feet and braced himself on the porch railing with one hand.
“What’s going on here? What’s he talking about, Callie Lynn?” He only called her by both her names when he was angry. It was her only warning because he never raised his voice or hand toward her.
“Seems you have your head underwater in the flood of unpaid taxes for this property, Mr. Johnson. If you can’t pay up, that’s not a problem.” He pulled out a folder from his open briefcase and held it up. “I’ve been authorized to pay a pretty penny for this home and the surrounding acreage.”
Callie flipped her head back and forth between the men in attempts to gauge their expressions.
“Haven’t you paid the taxes?” Her grandpa questioned her.
“Of course! This is all a big misunderstanding. Mr. Smith, perhaps we could discuss this at your office. My grandpa is a sick man and shouldn’t be troubled with this nonsense.”
“As you wish.” He handed her a business card. “I’ll expect to hear from you before the week is through, or I’ll have no choice but to pay another visit.” He whispered, for her ears only, “Next time, I’ll be forced to bring the sheriff.”
He nodded his head politely to her grandpa and turned back to his truck. She noted it was a company vehicle with a rearing black stallion as the logo for the Black Corporation. What a tangled web her life had become in such a short time. How in heaven’s name was she expected to pay those back taxes? Even if she did come up with the money, they’d only find some other excuse to run them off the land.
Callie could adapt, but her grandpa was old and tired. He should spend all his last days in the only home he had ever known. Generations of Johnsons had worked this land, and memories of his beloved wife filled the picture-littered walls of the small bungalow. She had to do something.
“You sure you paid those taxes, Callie? It’s not like a banker to come all the way out here for a house call.”
“I’m sure, Grandpa. I’ll go get the receipts in order and head over this afternoon and straighten it all out. Nothing to worry about.”
She hated lying to him. It’s not like she avoided her responsibilities. She worked the land harder than any man. From sunup until sundown, she maintained the farm all on her own. They only had a small herd now and a few planted fields. It should be enough to survive on. Had always been enough. Now, the bank wanted more than they were able to provide because they wanted their land, probably for oil, but she had no proof. Greedy vultures thrived off the poor and vulnerable.
Thank God she had Josh in her life. That was another story in itself. She loved him like the good friend he was, but he wanted more than she was willing to give. A farmer with no ambitions beyond the fields he plowed, no dreams, no hopes, was not the man for her. Josh was a sweetheart. Younger than she and raised good and proper by his parents, he’d make an excellent husband and provider. But she couldn’t marry out of necessity or expectation. She may be a fool, but she still held on to hope for the elusive true love spoken about in fairy tales. If she never found it, the farm could keep her busy enough. But she wouldn’t settle. Not even for Josh. If she were being perfectly honest, the boy was too downright sweet. He never had a harsh word for her, and no matter how cruelly she behaved, he took it. A real man wouldn’t put up with half of her nonsense.
She found herself testing his limits when they were together. He deserved better than her, and she needed more than he could offer.
After slipping on some blue jeans and a clean T-shirt, she pulled her long blonde hair into a functional ponytail and then grabbed her truck keys to head out. She’d show up at the Black Corporation and give them a piece of her mind, all right. Surely someone there had a conscience. She was a reasonable woman. If she had to, she’d sell off most of the land to keep them happy. What really mattered was the home her grandpa occupied and the surrounding land.
Callie’s truck skidded along the gravel drive as she plowed her way to the dirt road that would lead her to the Black Corporation.
Siren-Bookstrand ‖ Kindle