All. Night. Long.
The leaving part is tougher. Especially when important Tin Cup business keeps throwing them together. But if she ever hopes for more, will Austen leave her again?
About the Author
Kathleen wrote her first romance at the age of 11, which to her undying embarrassment, was read aloud to her class. After taking over 20 years to recover from the profound distress, she is now proud to announce her new careerromance author.
Kathleen lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and their two children, who outwit her daily. She loves to hear from readers. They can contact her at kathleenoreilly.com.
Read an Excerpt
Broken hearts were a familiar cause of mayhem in Tin Cup, Texas. Arnold Cervantes had broadsided his girlfriend's F-150 with his riding lawnmower after he learned she'd been stepping out on him with the landscaper. When Doc Emerson filed for divorce, Mrs. Emerson had laced her husband's tapioca pudding with a laxative, a charge that was ultimately overturned by Judge Lansdale, who was the second cousin to the defendant. Oscar Ramirez had flown his wife's plus-sized unmentionables in the Memorial Day parade after she refused him certain sexual favors which Harley considered his right, but which were also illegal according to Texas state law.
In the three years since Gillian Wanamaker had been sworn in as sheriff of Tin Cup, she'd seen a lifetime's worth of passion, foolishness and general human stupidity. In Gillian's humble opinion, people needed to practice more self-control and show a little concern for their own reputation within the community. As a card-carrying member of the Broken Hearts Club herself, Gillian had never been tempted to spray-paint a human being, nor set fire to items of clothing. Or at least, not in a really long time.
Usually Gillian avoided dwelling on past unpleasant-ries, or those fleeting moments when she had wanted to dig out a fellow human being's heart with a dull nail file, but this morning was different. First she'd stopped at Harley's Five & Dime to sneak a glance at the Austin newspaper, just as she did every day. While checking Thursday's style section, she'd seen the watchful worry in Harley's eyes. Like he expected Gillian to bust out into great heartbroken sobs. Ha. Maybe when she'd been a gauche seventeen, but now? At twenty-seven? Ha. Ha.
Two doors down, at Dot's Good Eats, Dot had been extra nice, giving her a sausage biscuit for free. Free sausage was a soft-hearted act of pity by even the most liberal definition of the word. As if Gillian was someone people felt sorry for. Sorry! She had been crowned Miss Tin Cup four times running. She had been All-State in softball, with a fastball that could kill a man if he wasn't paying attention. Gillian Wanamaker of the San Angelo Wanamakers was a force to be reckoned with, not a pity case. She was an icon, a role model. She was a goddamned institution, much like Lady Bird Johnson, Jackie O, Lady Di and Barbie.
Needing to escape all the sympathetic stares, but without looking as if she needed to, Gillian left the restaurant and headed for the sanctity of the courthouse, where she could cower in peace. Nearly two hundred years ago, they were driving cattle down this street, instead of pick-ups. There was a permanence in Tin Cup, a consistency that Gillian appreciated more than most. As she passed the red-bricked storefronts on Main Street, they were just opening the doors, some of the old-timers shopping before the heat of the day set in. In Texas, if you weren't practical, you didn't survive.
She could see Rita Talleyrand approaching with that "Let's chat" gleam in her eye, so Gillian took the last hundred feet at a fast sprint, cutting across the well-tended lawn, ticking off the landscapers in the process. She waved an apology then darted inside the courthouse, and up the marble steps. The sheriff's office was located on the second floor, and it wasn't fancy or frilly, but it was more than enough. The old wooden desk had served the Tin Cup sheriff since the first world war. The chair creaked when you moved, and had a drunken tilt to the right, but there was a history here, and Gillian was now a part of it. The walls were lined with photos of the dignitaries who had passed through Tin Cupbut never stayed.
Soon all that was going to change with the upcoming Trans-Texas Light Rail line, a four-hour direct route from Austin to Midland via, yes, you heard it here first Tin Cup.
There were plans for the new station, along with a few extra improvements. A nip and tuck to make Tin Cup, Texas, a travel destination all its own.
After one extra cup of coffee, Gillian settled in her chair, but the mindless paperwork only gave her more time to stew. As she hammered away on the old computer keyboard, she reminded herself that her days were too busy to be filled with ideas of revenge, or physical assault. The Enter key stuck, and she pounded it twice, accidentally cancelling the state's processing form for last month, and she damned every vile participant in this technological conspiracy, along with one non-participant: Austen Hart.
Austen was lumped in merely because he was still living, breathing and now his personal space was a little closer to Tin Cup and already she could see the tiny prickles breaking out along her skin. Hives, she told herself. Nothing more. Not excitement. No siree, bob.
Gillian leaned back in her chair and inhaled deeply, mainlining oxygen, trying to find her happy place.
She had it all: great job; solid, stable, reliable almost-a-boyfriend; loving family. There was no reason to feel unsatisfied because that would mean she was picky. And Gillian was not picky. Particular, yes. Picky, no.
A loud knocking at her office door interrupted the train-wreck of her thoughts, and Joelle appeared before Gillian had a chance to answer.
"Gillian, your momma is here to see you. She brought the refreshments for the council's lunch meeting, but I don't think the snickerdoodles are going to last until noon. It's the extra chocolate that gets me every time." Joelle slid her hands over well-padded hips and then gave a resigned shrug. "Why aren't you fat? Back in high school, I swore you took up smoking. It was the only logical explanation."
After one blissful sniff, Gillian pushed aside the decadent smell of coconut, chocolate and nuts. "Joelle, how many sit-ups do you see me doing every morning?"
"How many miles do I run every afternoon, even when the sidewalks are steaming?"
"Two-point-seven. Twice that, if you get a double-dip at Dot's."
"And how many snickerdoodles do you think I will eat?"
Joelle held her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. Gillian gave a curt nod. "And do I subject myself to these tortures because I want to?"
"Not unless you have some sort of death wish. Speaking of death wish, the man who shall not be named has got a meeting at the lawyer's tomorrow, and a reservation at the Spotlight Inn for tonight. Late arrival guaranteed by credit card, sometime between six and seven. Delores called first thing this morning. She wanted to know how you'd take the news."
Gillian smiled evenly, calmly, because this information did not faze her. Not at all.
"I'm taking the news fine. Maybe I'll call up Jeff for a date. Maybe we'll rent a room at the Spotlight Inn and moan extra loud."
Joelle wiggled her brows. "I bet he'd like that."
Yeah, Gillian wished that Jeff would like that, but no. "Jeff's too much a gentleman to get a room in town." And that was a good thing, a respectable quality in a man. Definitely a good thing. Definitely.
"I was talking about Austen," Joelle replied, a disgustingly knowing glare in her eyes.
"Can we not?"
"You want an extra snickerdoodle before I tell your mom you're available?"
Gillian scanned the While You Were Out Messages piled neatly on her desk. Mindy had called. Five times. Mindywho used to be Mindy Lansdale and was now Mrs. Mindy Shuckwould have heard the news about the man who shall not be named. She would want an update. Ever since second grade, Mindy had been Gillian's best friend and knew all of her secrets. Mindy would understand the misery that Gillian was going through and would want Gillian to discuss it in tortuous detail. Gillian couldn't call. Not yet. Did Jackie O whine about the miseries of her love life? No way.
As she pondered how best to avoid her best friend without seeming as if she was avoiding her best friend, the decadent aroma of chocolate and coconut lingered in the air, like a siren's call that would give her the sugar-high that she'd need to get through this day. Realizing there wasn't enough sugar on the planet to get her through this day, Gillian sighed. "Bring two cookies."
"You're going to do five miles?" Joelle asked in her sweetest, most polite voice.
In answer, Gillian massaged her temple with her middle finger. Joelle, never dumb, left four snickerdoodles on the desk. Gillian would have to run six miles, but it was worth it. Two seconds later, her mother muscled in.
"I came as soon as Vernelle told me. How are you feeling?" Modine Wanamaker put a warm hand on her daughter's forehead. "You look a little flushed, but no fever."
Gently Gillian moved her mother's hand and tried to appear relaxed. "I'm fine, Momma."
Gillian's mother was a short dumpling of a woman, with a perpetual smile, which never wavered except for a small flash of disapproval when she witnessed her only daughter dressed in a regulation uniform with boots to match.
It was a sad fact that Gillian's law enforcement career conflicted with Modine's life goals for Gillian. Gillian's mother respected the law and admired it, but like many other things, she didn't want her only daughter doing it in case it interfered with Gillian's grandkid-making ability. Three cross-stitched birth announcements sat near the top of Modine's needlework bag, almost ready for framing. All that was missing were the names and birth dates.
Gillian always pretended she never saw them. Modine knew she had. But they smiled and loved each other anyway because that was what mothers and daughters did.
Now Modine took a step back and gave her daughter the once-over. "I told Vernelle there was nothing to worry about from that Hart boy. I told her you'd forgiven him."
"I haven't forgiven him, Momma. He ditched me at prom with no phone call, no letter. I had a new dress. I was elected Prom Queen."
He was supposed to be my first.
"And in the end, look at how much better your life is without him," her mother reminded her. "Frank Hart, bless his black heart, raised two misbegotten boys, and those sorts of doings put a dark shadow on the soul. The life of crime, the drugs. Certainly we have to provide for the unfortunate, but there's nowhere in the good book that says you have to marry them. Besides, you have Jeff, who was raised proper and with the right sorts of values and respect for his fellow man. Vernelle let it slip that he was looking at diamonds. Anything I should know?" Her brows shot up, silently demanding confirmation in that way mothers had when they suspected their daughters were keeping secrets. Sure, Gillian had her secrets, but this wasn't one of them.
Gillian shook her head. "Nothing to say." Inwardly, though, she frowned at the thought of diamonds. She liked Jeff, he was fun and thoughtful, the salt of the earth. A vet. The man who healed all of God's smallest and most helpless creatures, but
Why did there have to be a but? There shouldn't be a but. But there was a but.
No doubt, she was picky. Frankly, if she ever found happiness, it would be more than such a persnickety McFickle deserved.
No, that was negative thinking, and Gillian did not believe in negative thinking. Not ever. Not feeling the need to continue the conversation, Gillian huddled over the office printer. While she collected the last pages of the state's processing forms, her mother pulled at the container of paper clips on her desk, bending each one this way and that before twisting three into a flower. Gillian sighed, but her mother, accustomed to Gillian's particular nature, ignored her. "There's a rummage sale at the church on Saturday and I'm putting together some boxes. You have any clothes you want to get rid of?"
There was one slinky white nightgown, never used, still sitting at the back of her closet. It would be perfect for some deserving female who couldn't afford something pretty.
"I got nothing, Momma." Not only picky, but selfish, too. She started to restore her paper clips to their proper place, but then thought better of it, removing her hand from the magnetic container. Metal conducted electricity, and who knew when lightning might strike within a brick-enclosed building.
"Surely you have something to give, Gilly." Modine Wanamaker firmly believed that the road to heaven was paved with dramatic acts of Christian charity. It was a doctrine not without its problems. Six years ago, Gillian's mother had given away the farm. Technically, it had been a two-story Colonial on two acres, which Modine had donated to the poor unfortunate Taylor family when they lost their house to the bank. The next morning, Gillian's parents had shown up on her doorstep, claiming there was plenty of room at her house.
And how did you kick out your own parents?
Yes, Gillian was picky and selfish, but nothing trumped blood-relations in her mind. The way Gillian saw it, having her parents shack up with her was penance for not only everything bad she'd done prior, but an insurance policy against future acts of badness, as well. Her mother's worried expression tugged at Gillian's heartstrings. No, nothing could trump blood-relations in the cardiac region, either. She blew out a dramatic sigh, just like any unworthy daughter would. "I'll see what I can find."
Relieved that her only daughter was no longer going to hell, Modine began to poke through Gillian's phone messages, until Gillian stopped her with a firm hand.
Her mother's serene expression never wavered, and sometimes Gillian wished that her own nature was a little more forgiving. "I'm cooking King Ranch Chicken for supper. Your favorite."
"I've got a meeting with Wayne over at the Chamber of Commerce. He's wasn't happy with the security for the Fourth of July last year. A twenty-five percent drop in business because the sidewalks were locked down. I've got constituents, Momma. I'm an elected official who lives and dies by the voters of this town. The chicken will have to wait."
Gillian made a mental note to call Wayne as soon as her mother left. If she did that, then it wasn't exactly lying, more anticipating what she should have done anyway.
"Can't you leave that sort of business to the mayor?"
Gillian stared silently. Leroy Parson was the mayor of Tin Cup, a ninety-three-year-old war hero from WWII. On every Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and the Fourth of July, Leroy led the usual parade, but that was pretty much the only time that Leroy showed up for work. Nobody was willing to oust a war hero, so instead the town was waiting for him to kick the bucket, leaving Gillian pretty much the top bureaucrat in chargewhich her mother considered one more roadblock in the way of her future baby-making.