|A Lubbock County |
Courtney Madison has battled poverty her entire twenty-five years but is determined to make a safe and happy home for her teenaged brother after the recent death of their mom. Her mom’s illness left Courtney with a mountain of hospital bills, her formerly sweet brother Jimmy is now cutting class and hanging with a rough crowd, and she’s just learned she’s being downsized in two weeks. Hanging on by the threads of a fraying rope, she learns she’s inherited two million dollars from a kind elderly man she befriended when he was in the hospital across the hall from her mom. She thinks her inheritance in West Texas is the answer to all her prayers--but Courtney learns that while money improves her life, it doesn’t guarantee happiness. This modern Cinderella encounters problems even a fairy godmother couldn’t imagine.
Rancher/entrepeneur Derek Corrigan has incredible instincts for flourishing in the business world. With women, not so much. In fact, his friends bemoan he’s King Midas where money is concerned, but his judgment of women is pathetic--evidenced by his ex-wife and the flamboyant woman he’s been escorting of late. His main interest is his two children, Warren eight, and Meg five. He's intrigued by Courtney, yet Derek suspects the worst of his new neighbor and vows to fight his attraction for her. He knows what women do to him--they always leave and take chunks of his heart with them. He's been there, done that, had the vaccination and is cured. Isn't he?
And here's a peek at the first chapter that begins in Dallas:
Courtney Madison rushed down the main aisle of Baker’s Books. Warmth enveloped her, a welcome change from the freezing Dallas weather outside. She was hurrying toward her office at the back of the store when a man stepped from the mystery section. Their collision knocked off his western hat and a stack of books from his hands.
|Downtown Dallas, where Courtney|
works in a book store
“My fault. Let me help.” He bent and grabbed the Stetson.
Her head collided with his and her purse slid from her grasp. Pain radiated across her scalp. She’d be sure to have a bump tomorrow.
Both straightened and stepped back. She stared at the books she’d knocked from his arms. “How could I have been so clumsy? You must be wondering what’s keeping the rest of the Three Stooges…” When she raised her head, her sentence trailed away.
Cobalt blue eyes met her gaze. He stood a good seven inches taller than she, which put him at about three inches over six feet. A deep tan with crinkled lines at the corner of each eye suggested a man at home in wind and weather. The white line of a scar on one cheek and a tiny crook in his nose added ruggedness to his otherwise breathtaking good looks.
Close your mouth before you drool on him.
When she knelt again to retrieve the half dozen or so books he’d dropped, he bent to help, his large tanned hands making short work of the task. A unique scent teased her nostrils, a blend of subtle woodsy toiletries.
He leaned nearer, speaking low. “I thought tornado season started in March, not January.” A smile spread across his face and created a twinkle in his gorgeous eyes.
She knew he meant her, but after an upsetting meeting with her brother’s school counselor this afternoon, combined with her formerly sweet brother’s recent behavior changes, she felt as if she’d been sucked into the vortex of a tornado herself.
Her face heated in a blush. “Speaking in defense of this particular tornado—” she pointed to herself “—I was whirling along nicely until I hit your brick wall.” She pointed to his broad chest and smiled.
He swept up her purse and offered it to her as he rose. She saw the sparks of interest in his twinkling eyes.
“Thanks.” Courtney stood and slid the bag’s strap over her shoulder. Something about him tugged at her memory, but surely she’d recall meeting a man this attractive.
He shifted his reclaimed stack of mysteries and his hat while he gave her an appraising look. The twinkle in his eyes faded and his brows knit. “Are you Courtney Madison?”
Perplexed he knew her name, she nodded, but still couldn’t place him. “Have we met somewhere?”
When he held out his right hand, his smile was polite but cool. “I’m Derek Corrigan.”
“Of course, Sam Warren’s son. Sam showed me photos of you and your children.” She took his warm hand in hers, making her wish she’d worn gloves on her errand. “I was so sorry I couldn’t attend Sam’s funeral.”
Her throat closed and she fought the tears that gathered in her eyes at the mention of Sam’s name. Sighing, she patted their clasped right hands with her left. “And I’m so sorry you lost Sam. Even though you kept your birth name, I know he was your father in all the ways that count.”
“That he was.” His voice grew gravelly. “Appreciated your note and the flowers.”
She smiled up at him. “I’ve missed hearing from him. He was such a dear man.”
He eased his fingers from hers and looked around. “Is there somewhere we could speak in private?”
Embarrassed she’d held his hand for so long, Courtney also became aware that the only other customer in the store now inched closer, obviously eavesdropping. “Let’s go to my office, shall we?” She gestured toward the back then turned.
Her assistant manager, Billy, ambled in their direction. “Need help back here?”
“Everything’s fine now but I’ll be in my office for a while. Could you continue watching the register?”
“Sure thing, Courtney.” Billy headed for the check-out counter near the front of the store.
|Lubbock in West Texas|
where Derek has
She smoothed her hand self-consciously along the waist of her old gray corduroy—her best work dress—and led the way through the maze of aisles to her office. The tiny cubicle at the side of the storeroom shrank even smaller with this man in it. What she’d once thought a subtle rose potpourri on her desk now seemed overwhelming. She knew Derek was a wealthy businessman, and reasoned he probably thought her office shabby.
If he did, she admitted he’d be correct. She’d used her own funds to paint the windowless walls a soothing sea-foam green. From garage sales, she’d found the ladder-back visitor’s chair and two framed prints for the walls. In spite of her efforts to glamorize the tiny space, the office was obviously only a walled-off area of the storage room.
Derek appeared to scan the nameplate on her desk.
Courtney Madison, Manager.
The polished brass plaque on a mahogany stand had been a gift from her mother and Jimmy two years earlier when she’d been promoted to Manager. As far as Courtney was concerned, the title might as well have said Terminated Manager, Desperately Seeking New Position.
She hated thinking about the huge book chain megastore that had opened only one block away from Baker’s Books. Despite all the marketing strategies she, her coworkers, and the owner had tried, sales had plummeted. Mel Baker would emerge from retirement in one week to reclaim his position as manager of Baker’s Books. At that time, Courtney’s and Billy’s jobs ceased.
Not that the change was a black mark against her abilities. In fact, Mel highly praised her management and the way she’d fought declining profits. But with Billy and Courtney gone, the store’s two largest salaries would be eliminated. Mel hoped to salvage the independent bookstore he’d founded and owned for thirty years. Sadly, Courtney believed Mel was fighting a battle he’d already lost. She sighed and pulled her attention back to her visitor.
Courtney slid her arms from her jacket and hung it and her purse on the coat rack. With so little room in her office, she stepped around to sit at her desk, extending her hand toward the only other chair. “Please, sit down.”
Derek complied then placed his hat on the desk. He wore his black hair in a traditional style. Nothing less than custom tailoring had produced the gray western-cut suit he wore with casual elegance. He crossed one leg over the other, displaying hand-tooled black boots. “Didn’t you get a letter inviting you to the reading of Sam’s will?”
She nodded. “That was nice of Mr. Webb, but if I could have gotten away from work, I would have used the time to attend the funeral. I dropped Mr. Webb a note that I trusted him to see I received whatever Sam wanted me to have.” A thought struck her, and she braced herself for more bad news. “Or, do I forfeit the gift since I couldn’t attend the reading?” She wondered at the odd expression on his face and his wrinkled forehead.
From an inside jacket pocket, he removed a folded sheaf of papers. “You get what Sam willed you, regardless of whether or not you showed up to hear about it.”
Anticipation made her smile. “Great. I’ll bet he left me a copy of his and Maggie’s wedding photo. I’d asked him for one. When I heard Sam had included me in his will, I decided that’s what my inheritance must be.” But surely he would have kept a photo flat.
He narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t know Maggie. Why would you want her in the photo?”
She sat straighter, wondering about his gruff tone. “Sam told me stories about her, the early years of their marriage, and how hard they worked. I feel as if I knew her through his tales. They must have been a great team.”
“They were. He was never the same after she died.” He exhaled and shrugged. “That’s not why I’m here. A few days before he died, Sam mentioned you’d asked him for a loan.”
“D-do you mean he agreed and you’re honoring it?” Hope built in her chest. Maybe there was a chance for her and Jimmy to start over after all. “When I didn’t hear back, I figured he was hesitant to give me the loan.”
“Not at all. He mentioned your request. Apparently, he made certain you got precisely what he wanted for you even in the event of his death.” He unfolded the papers and pushed them across the desk. “Here’s a copy of Sam’s will detailing all he’s left you.”
“All? You mean more than one thing?” She took the papers, but her mind whirled so much she couldn’t read them. Instead, she watched the man across from her.
Derek flexed his shoulders slightly and moved as if he sought a more comfortable position on the narrow chair. “You made quite an impression on Sam because—with some conditions—he’s left you property worth well over two million dollars.”
Courtney’s heart almost stopped. Her hands shook and a chill swept over her. Could all the blood have drained from her body and she still be alive? The ticking clock on her wall became a gong that echoed in her mind.
Two million. Two million. Two million.
She clasped her hands in her lap to still their shaking. The walls of the tiny office closed in. She gasped for air, tried to speak, and then gasped again. “Did…um, did you say…t-two million dollars?”
He nodded but his eyes narrowed. “I did.”
“You can’t mean it.” Her heart pumped so fast her head swam. She’d asked for a loan to start a business, nothing more.
“It’s true.” He watched her, eyes still narrowed.
She blinked and shook her head. Still unable to take in the will’s content, she looked at her hands and refolded them on top the desk.
“I don’t understand. Sam hinted several times that he wanted to help Jimmy and me. I knew he had money from the way he talked about himself. But I thought Sam was, well, just a semi-retired farmer with a comfortable nest egg.”
|Where Courtney will|
be living on the
West Texas Plains
“Oh my. That’s so much more than I imagined.” She looked up, trying to reconcile Sam’s wealth with the sweet elderly man she’d known. “Not that he bragged, you understand. He mentioned he had more than he needed to last him all his life and could afford to give some away. He kept hinting he could help Jimmy and me.”
She leaned forward. “That’s why I dared ask him for the loan. To be paid back with interest, of course. If he hadn’t dropped pointed hints, I wouldn't have asked for the loan. But I never dreamed he was so wealthy.”
“Now you have the full picture.”
As memories of the wizened old man returned, she looked past her handsome visitor. In spite of Sam’s unhealthy pallor, years of exposure to the sun had weathered his skin like leather. Though age and disease had bent his gnarled body, his smile and the twinkle in his pale eyes made him appear lively. “Perhaps you know I met Sam while my mom was in the hospital across the hall from his room. Sometimes he came into Mother’s room to talk. Other times, I saw him in the hall and walked with him or I stopped by his room.”
Derek nodded and slid his fingers along the knife-sharp crease on his trouser leg. “He introduced me to your mother when I came to bring him home.”
Really? She wondered why her mother hadn’t mentioned that. “He cheered me with stories of the farm and things that had happened to him and Maggie early in their marriage.” The memory of Sam’s chuckle brought a smile as she recalled one of his outrageous yarns. He’d always made her laugh, even when her mother’s illness had dragged Courtney to her lowest ebb.
After a deep breath, she met Derek’s gaze. “His letters were just the same. They were funny, and he helped me through a hard time. I’ve missed them more than I can say.” She rested a forearm on the desk. “I’m sorry, this must be hard for you. You must miss him far more than I ever could.”
Sadness swept across Derek’s face before he regained his composure. He pushed the papers toward her, tapping them with his forefinger. “You’ll see proof in there of the kind of businessman Sam was. If you accept his legacy, you’ll be agreeing to be a rancher, a landlord, and to try several of the many hats he wore.”
Courtney picked up the papers. Encrypted legal terms tempered her excitement with confusion but, as she expected, the will named Derek as main beneficiary. The pages trembled in her hands as she scanned those portions where her name appeared. Unbelievable. She licked lips that had suddenly become as dry as the West Texas cotton Sam had grown. “ Can this be right?” Heart rate pounding in her ears, she raised her gaze. “I get a ranch and two farms, one of which includes the house where Sam lived?”
“That’s right. The ranch adjoins the farm Sam lived on and the other farm is nearby.”
A ranch. Farms, plural. And money. More than she’d ever dreamed of possessing. She pressed trembling fingers to her mouth and tears of joy filled her eyes.
A huge knot of worry unwound in her chest. Thanks to God and Sam Warren, her future was secure! Jimmy was truly saved. A thrill rushed through her. She felt like dancing. No struggles to stretch her paycheck for rent on a rundown duplex and other bills. Instead, she could sweep Jimmy away from his horrid, rough friends.
“You know, friends tell me I’m too serious and act too old for my age. I guess I can’t help that, taking care of my mother and brother as I have. Everyone’s always telling me to lighten up. Lighten up?” She smiled, truly smiled for the first time in a long while. “I’m practically floating.”
Her hand touched the worn fabric of her corduroy dress and her fingers worried the age softened cording. She could buy new clothes. “I can’t believe it’s true, can’t absorb all the details. I’ll study the will at home and try to decipher it.”
Derek toyed with the brim of his hat. “Let me cut to the basics. Sally and Joe Bailey live in a house behind the one you’ve inherited. They’ve worked for Sam for as long as I can remember. Sally cooks and runs the house—she’s a great cook, by the way. You can depend on Joe to run the farm. There are also relatives, our little church, the Sweet Springs Children’s Home, and several other charities mentioned.”
Her gaze sped across the pages looking for the names he spoke. She pointed at a section of the paper and turned it sideways for him to see. “Are these the conditions?”
“Right. Whether you like it or not, for the first year you must live on the farm and be actively involved in the community.” His jaw tightened. “The farm must show a profit and you can’t turn your responsibilities over to a manager while you reside somewhere else.”
Must live there?
A house and a dozen other benefits popped into her mind. But what did she know of farming?
“That doesn’t give me much time to learn about farming and such.”
He shook his head. “You don’t have to do the actual plowing and planting. Joe will do that. You have to take an active interest in all of your properties, make or help make decisions.”
“Active interest? No problem. I like to keep busy. I don’t know any other way to live.” She straightened in her chair, excitement building at the thought of a new challenge. “I think I can manage to show a profit with this Joe person there to advise me.”
Especially since no dollar amount or percentage of profit was named. Just the same, she wondered about that part. She’d need to hire an accountant.
“What happens if I fail to make a profit or leave before the year is out? Not that I would leave, you understand.”
He drummed his fingers on the desk. “Sam was very generous where you’re concerned. I suppose he couldn’t conceive of you refusing his bequest but, if you do, or if you leave before one year is up, your share goes to my son, Warren. In that case, you’d receive fifty thousand dollars free and clear. If you fail to make a profit?” He dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. “Well, the way things are set up, I don’t see how that could happen.” He shrugged. “Even one dollar over expenses is profit.”
She exhaled and slumped back in her chair. “I know Sam wanted to attract young people back to Sweet Springs and revitalize the community. The loan I asked for was to start a business there.” She pressed the will to her chest, no longer suppressed the laughter bubbling inside her. “This is great. Better than great. This is wonderful.”
Hallelujah! Her prayers had been answered. Throwing her arms wide, she rejoiced. And no more searching for a new job. A new life awaited her in West Texas, and the salary was un-be-liev-able.
Derek held up his hand, palm toward her. “There’s more. Investments you and I share.”
What had he said? “We share investments?” She pointed at herself then at him. ”Do you mean you and I, together?”
He drummed his fingers on the desk again and watched her. “Sam and I shared numerous investments. He left his participation in several of those to you.”
Setting an elbow on the desk, she propped her chin on her hand. She watched this handsome stranger. His inscrutable expression gave her no clue to his true feelings, but he must have a strong opinion of Sam’s will. “What on earth could Sam have been thinking to arrange this bizarre situation?”
When she realized she’d spoken aloud, she raised her head. Her own mind answered before Derek had a chance.
To save you.
With King Midas here to guide her, she wouldn’t blunder around and lose half her money before she learned the ropes.
Derek shrugged and looked at the door. “Sam had his reasons and, as you can see, you’re a major beneficiary.”
“Well, I…I don’t know what to say. Apparently you’re right and I have indeed inherited a large fortune.” Ah, this probably explained Derek’s less-than-enthusiastic attitude. She sobered. “You want me to refuse this bequest so it will go to your son?”
He shook his head. “You misunderstand my concern. My son doesn’t need the money. Nor, I might add, do I. I don’t care whether you accept or refuse.”
His voice held controlled irritation. At her, the will, or his trip in frigid weather? If her inheritance made no difference, why had he come personally to notify her?
“Then, you aren’t contesting the will?”
His scowl indicated such an action was beneath him. “Certainly not. The money was Sam’s to do with as he saw fit. I merely delivered your copy of the will. And a counteroffer.”
She could not imagine the sum represented by Derek’s share of Sam’s estate, or the financial worth of this obviously prosperous man seated across the desk.
“A counteroffer? You came over three hundred miles to deliver this yourself and make an offer?” Ah, she should have known. This really had been too easy. She crossed her arms. “All right. What is it?”
“I’m prepared to give you the cash value of your inheritance. You won’t have to relocate, won’t have to live on the farm at all, much less stay a year. You’d have it all now.” He leaned near and met her gaze. “Two million right now. No waiting, no gamble. How does that sound?”
Like a dream come true, that’s how. With two million she could buy a great house, a dependable car, travel, do anything her heart desired.
Wait. Why would Derek do that? More importantly, she knew why Sam made those conditions in the will. He wanted young people in his community. He’d counted on her to do her part, just as they’d discussed by mail. She’d genuinely liked Sam and believed he’d returned her friendship. He wanted her in West Texas to help fulfill his dream of enlivening his hometown.
And Jimmy. At that farm, her brother would be three hundred miles from his horrid friends. If she took the money, how would she explain her reasons for leaving Dallas? Hmmm, she tapped a finger on her chin.
No, West Texas seemed like a good solution. In the required year, Jimmy would make new friends. Hopefully, they’d be honest, hardworking friends, instead of punks who pulled him toward dropping out of school or worse.
Decision made, she shook her head. “Sorry, not interested. Sam trusted me to help revitalize Sweet Springs. So, I’ll do my best to fulfill his expectations. You’ve wasted a trip.”
|Courtney inherited a |
In her business life she’d been used to placating others. The annoyance she glimpsed briefly in his eyes unsettled her. She met Derek’s gaze and sought to convince him his disapproval was unwarranted.
“You know I asked Sam for a business loan. Please believe that I had no idea he’d include me in his will.”
“He explained that.” Derek uncrossed his legs and stood, brushing at imaginary lint on his sleeve. “So, you’re rejecting my offer and you intend to move to West Texas as per the conditions in the will?”
“Yes.” She calculated her remaining time at the bookstore and figured time for packing her and Jimmy’s belongings. “We’ll arrive in Sweet Springs two weeks from Monday.”
HOME, SWEET TEXAS HOME has received excellent reviews. Here's part of one review:
Becca at The Romance Studio gave HOME, SWEET TEXAS HOME 5 Hearts
...Ms. Clemmons has penned a fabulous novel in this one with some great secondary characters, such as Derek’s children and Courtney’s brother that helped bring more ambience to the story...this is a story I’d definitely recommend because it illustrates that no amount of money in the world brings happiness and that love does.
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