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Picnic in Someday Valley
Author: Jodi Thomas

 

 

Chapter 1

Fall

Someday Valley, Texas

 

 

Marcie

 

 

Marcie Latimer sat on a tall, wobbly stool in the corner of Bandit’s Bar. Her right leg, wrapped in a black leather boot, was anchored on the stage. Her left heel hooked on the first rung of the stool so her knee could brace her guitar. With her prairie skirt and low-cut lacy blouse, she was the picture of a country singer. Long midnight hair and sad hazel eyes completed the look.

She played to an almost empty room, but it didn’t matter. She sang every word as if it had to pass through her soul first. All her heartbreak drifted over the smoky room, whispering of a sorrow so deep it would never heal.

When she finished her last song, her fingers still strummed out the beat slowly, as if dying.

One couple, over by the pool table, clapped. The bartender, Wayne, brought Marcie a wineglass of ice water and said the same thing he did every night. “Great show, kid.”

She wasn’t a kid. She was almost thirty, feeling like she was running toward fifty. Six months ago her future was looking up. She had a rich boyfriend. A maybe future with Boone Buchanan, a lawyer, who promised to take her out of this dirt-road town. He’d said they’d travel the world and go to fancy parties at the capital.

Then, the boyfriend tried to burn down the city hall in a town thirty miles away and toast the mayor of Honey Creek, who he claimed was his ex-girlfriend. But that turned out to be a lie too. It seemed her smart, good-looking someday husband was playing Russian roulette and the gun went off, not only on his life but hers as well.

He’d written her twice from prison. She hadn’t answered.

She’d tossed the letters away without opening them. Because of him she couldn’t find any job but this one, and no man would get near enough to ask her out. She was poison, a small-town curiosity.

Marcie hadn’t known anything about Boone Buchanan’s plot to make the front page of every paper in the state, but most folks still looked at her as if she should have been locked away with him. She was living with the guy; she must have known what he was planning.

She shook off hopelessness like dust and walked across the empty dance floor. Her set was over, time to go home.

A cowboy sat near the door in the shadows. He wore his hat low. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she knew who he was. Long lean legs, wide shoulders, and hands rough and scarred from working hard. At six feet four, he was one of the few people in town she had to look up to.

“Evening, Brand.”

“Evening, Marcie,” he said, so low it seemed more a thought than a greeting.

She usually didn’t talk to him, but tonight she thought she’d be civil. “Did you come to see me play?”

“Nope. I’m here for the beer.”

She laughed. One beer wasn’t worth the twenty-mile drive to Someday Valley. He’d had to pass two other bars to get to this run-down place.

“You ever think of buying a six-pack and staying home for a month?”

“Nope.”

Marcie couldn’t decide if she disliked Brandon Rodgers or just found him dead boring. If they spoke, they had pretty much the same conversation every week. He was a Clydesdale of a man, bigger than most, but easy moving. She had no doubt he talked to his horses far more than he ever did people.

It wasn’t like she didn’t know him. He was about three years older than her, owned a place north of here. Ran a few cattle and bred some kind of horses, she’d heard. Folks always commented that the Rodgers clan kept to themselves, but lately he was the only Rodgers around. His mother died and his sister married and moved off. He’d never dated anyone that she knew about. In his twenties he had gone off to the Marines for six years.

“You want to sit down?” He dipped his worn Stetson toward the chair to his left.

She almost jumped in surprise. He’d never asked her to join him. But Marcie didn’t want to make a scene. He never talked to anyone, and no one talked to her, so they could sit at the same table in silence together.

In a strange way they were made for each other, she thought. “Sure.”

“You want a drink?” His words were so low they seemed faded by the time they reached her.

“No.” Marcie folded her arms and stared at him. They’d run out of conversation, and with his hat on, she couldn’t see anything but the bottom half of his face. Strong jaw. A one-inch scar on the left of his chin was almost camouflaged by his week-old beard. He wasn’t handsome or homely.

She decided to wait him out. She guessed he wasn’t a man to enjoy chatter.

“I’m not trying to pick you up, Marcie,” he finally said with the same emotion he’d read a fortune cookie.

“I know. ‘You want to sit down?’ is the worst pickup line ever.” She raised her voice slightly as a half dozen good ol’ boys who smelled like they’d been fishing stumbled in. They all lived around Someday Valley, most with their folks, and even though they were near her age, not one had a full-time job.

Joey Hattly, the shortest of the pack, bumped into Marcie’s chair. Joey must have heard Marcie say ‘pickup line.’

“I got a line that never fails.” The stinky guy pushed his chest out as if performing to a crowd.

Marcie smelled cheap liquor on his breath and fish bait on his clothes. She moved an inch closer to Brand. She wasn’t afraid of Joey, but she didn’t want her sins listed again. Some of the bar regulars liked to remind her that she was a jailbird’s girlfriend.

Luckily, Joey was more interested in talking about himself tonight. “I can pick up any gal with just a few words. I walk up to a table of pretty gals and say, ‘Evening, ladies. This is your lucky night. I’m single and here to dance. I’ve got a college education and I know my ABD’s.’ ”

He held up a finger to silence everyone before adding, “Wanna C what I can do?”

The fishing buddies laughed. One slapped Joey on the back. “Don’t waste your lines on Marcie; she’s not interested. She’s sworn off all men since she slept with the bottom of the barrel.”

She didn’t count Brand as a friend, but right now, he was the safest bet in the room. A pack of drunks was never good, and they all appeared to have more than a few bottles of courage in them.

Another fisherman joined in. “Yeah, she was shacking up with a killer. They say a man who thinks about burning folks alive is sick in the head. If you ask me, she knew what he was planning. She don’t deserve to just walk away free when that fire Boone set almost killed four people. Least we should do is give her a spanking.”

The oldest of the group added as he scratched his bald head, “Maybe we should strip her and paint an A on her chest like they did in that old book Mrs. Warren made us read.”

“They stripped a woman in The Scarlet Letter?” Joey’s squeaky voice chimed in. “Maybe I should have read that.”

His buddy added, “There were no pictures, Joey.”

The sound of the bartender racking a shotgun silenced the room. “Closing time. One more drink and I’m turning off the lights.” Nothing in Wayne’s action suggested that he was kidding.

The gang turned their attention to the bar. Marcie had never seen the bartender fire the shotgun, but Wayne had slapped a few drunks senseless with the stock.

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