Kayla's Cowboy

By: Callie Endicott

CHAPTER ONE

KAYLA ANDERSON STARED at the sign indicating she was still more than a hundred miles from Schuyler, Montana. After driving all night from Seattle, she was exhausted. And scared.

A hitchhiker caught her eye and she leaned forward to get a better look. She sagged with disappointment. It wasn’t her son.

Had Alex gotten this far?

Fifteen-year-old kids couldn’t rent cars, though they could take a train or bus without raising too many questions.

She shuddered at the idea of her son hitchhiking. Surely he had better sense. Of course, she’d never dreamed he would run away during his two-week visitation with his dad and head for Montana on his own. And how could Curtis have waited all day to let her know Alex was missing? She’d rushed home to see if Alex had come back, only to find a note explaining where he’d gone. Despite that, Curtis still hadn’t been concerned, certain Alex was just “exerting his independence.”

Her smartphone sounded with a chime indicating she had a voice mail. Could it be Alex? She’d gotten a signal off and on the whole night. Pulling off the road, Kayla checked her messages.

“Kayla, this is your grandfather. Don’t worry, Alex is here and he’s all right. I imagine you’re on your way. Travel safe, and we’ll see you soon.”

Kayla let out a shaky, relieved breath. She still had dozens of questions, but the most important one was answered. Her son was safe, instead of lying in a ditch or kidnapped, or any of the other terrible things her imagination had conjured. She debated calling her grandparents but decided to wait until they were face-to-face.

Glancing into the rear seat, she saw her nine-year-old daughter was asleep again, the wrappers from her fast-food breakfast scattered on the floor. Curtis had said it was ridiculous to bring DeeDee with her, but he hadn’t been that upset to have his time with the kids cut by a few days. As she’d learned during their marriage, Curtis Anderson had a short attention span. Since their divorce he’d slid from one relationship to another. His work history was the same.

Kayla’s mouth tightened and she tried to remember that her ex-husband wasn’t a terrible father. And he had wanted to adopt Alex from the very beginning. He’d just never grown up. He adored romance and falling in love and playing daddy, but relationships were beyond him. He was now on his third marriage since their divorce. Kayla no longer cared, but it was hard on the kids.

Before getting on the road again, she called Curtis to tell him Alex was safe. Two hours later, they passed the Schuyler city-limit sign. Her terror had subsided, but other anxieties had surfaced; the last thing she’d ever wanted was return here.

It wasn’t that she’d hated Schuyler. In fact, she’d had high hopes when she and Mom had moved into her grandparents’ home. Though it was the first time Kayla had met them, she’d thought the Garrisons were nice and she had started making friends at high school. But less than a year later Mom had been hitting the bottle even harder and they were on the road again. As far as Kayla knew, her mother hadn’t spoken to her parents since then.

Kayla pulled up in front of a three-story house that hadn’t changed since the day her mother had driven them away from it. As she hurried up the walkway, the front door opened and a familiar figure emerged—like the house, Elizabeth Garrison also appeared unchanged by the years, except that her brown hair was now shot with gray.

“He’s all right,” Elizabeth assured quickly.

“I know, I got Granddad’s message.”

“Good. We called the home phone as well but figured you were already on your way.”

“Where’s Alex?”

“He’s gone to the office with your grandfather to clean and organize the supply room.” Elizabeth’s eyes crinkled with a gentle humor. “We decided it was a suitably mundane thing for a kid to do after running away.”

Kayla agreed with a shaky laugh. “What’s the number?” she asked, taking out her phone. “I need to hear his voice.”

She punched in the numbers and the secretary put her through to her grandfather, who told her how much he loved her before passing the phone to Alex.

“Uh, hello?” her son said cautiously.

“Are you all right?” Kayla demanded.

“I’m fine, Mom, just dusty from some boxes that haven’t been moved in, like, forever.”

“We’ll talk later. We’ll talk a lot,” she warned.

“I kind of figured.”

After hanging up, she couldn’t keep the tears from stinging into her eyes.

Elizabeth gave her a quick hug before drawing away to gaze at her intently. “Oh, honey. It’s so good to see you.”

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