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Shokugeki no Soma 221

Cowgirls Don't Cry

By: Silver James

One

Chance Barron always knew exactly what he wanted. At the moment, he’d set his sights on the attractive blonde sitting at the hotel bar.

The late-March blizzard had shut down Chicago O’Hare Airport, and he wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. The weather service predicted the storm would blow over by morning, and he’d be on the first flight back to Oklahoma City. In the meantime, there was a pretty little gal all alone knocking back martinis like water. She’d twisted her hair up on top of her head and secured it with something that looked like a chopstick. Her face remained angled away from him, but the graceful curve of her jaw and neck had him noticing her profile. The red jacket and black slacks showed fashion flair and, despite the snow, she sported boots with impossible heels.

He studied her like she was evidence in a hotly contested case and debated how to phrase his opening argument. She ordered another martini and when the drink was served, he watched her long fingers play with the plastic pick and all but gulped as her full lips slid over the ripe, green olive stuffed with a cocktail onion. His groin tightened as his mind conjured up sexy images. A one-night stand wouldn’t hurt, and he’d certainly be in a better mood to deal with the old man when he got home.

Thoughts of his father, Cyrus Barron, intruded at the worst possible times. Probably because he was a force of nature. Oil. Land and cattle. Politics and media. Name the pie, and Chance’s old man owned most of it. Too bad he was such a jackass. He delighted in setting his spurs in the hides of his sons, and Chance was no exception. He had his own law firm, though the family was a big client. He certainly wasn’t in charge of the ranch’s breeding program but his father had sent him on a fool’s errand looking for a stud colt that didn’t exist in the state of Illinois. And now he was stuck in the Windy City during a freak March blizzard.

The waitress approached, an interested smile curling her lips. He declined her offer for a refill and handed her a crisp fifty dollar bill to cover his tab and tip. “Keep the change, hon,” he drawled. He slid out of the booth and homed in on the bar—only to realize his quarry had escaped.

“Damn.” His muttered curse was lost in the clatter of glasses and hum of conversation as he pushed toward the exit. She couldn’t have gone far. He’d find her and argue his case for keeping each other warm tonight.

* * *

Cassidy Morgan leaned against the window in the hotel lobby, her cell phone pressed to her ear. Outside, fat cotton balls of snow drifted across her view—like staring into the heart of a giant snow globe. Dizzy and a tad claustrophobic, her equilibrium thrown off both physically and emotionally, she closed her eyes.

“I’m not going to make it in time, am I?” The words spoken quietly into the phone were ripped from the depths of her soul.

“No, darlin’.” Baxter “Boots” Thomas didn’t believe in sugarcoating things. “The doctors don’t know how he’s hung on this long.”

She heard the muted sounds from the heart and respiration monitors beeping in the silence that followed on the other end of the line. And she recognized both the exhaustion and surrender in the voice of her father’s best friend.

“Will you put the phone next to his ear? I know he can’t hear me but...” Her throat closed, and she blinked hard to clear her vision. She pictured Boots’s actions from the rustling sounds and then she heard his muffled, “Go ahead.”

She talked. She reminisced. In the end, her voice broke and she cried. When her mother died of pneumonia, Cassie had been three, so young the emotional pain was lost on her. But this? This hurt far more than she had ever imagined it could. She wanted to be there. Wanted to hold his hand as he passed. He’d always been there for her. And she’d always managed to fail him, the disappointment in his eyes apparent to her every time she’d seen him over the past ten years.

Her father’s voice whispered in her ear. “Cowgirls don’t cry, baby. Ya gotta pick yourself up and ride.”

She blinked against the stinging tears and felt his sharply indrawn breath all the way to her toes. Then silence. He was gone. That quickly. Two blinks of her eyelids, his sharply indrawn breath, and the great bear of a man who’d been her father existed no more.

“You okay, baby girl?” Boots was back on the line.

Cass dashed at her eyes with the back of her hand. Hell no, she wasn’t okay. But she had to be. She had to take care of things. Whether she wanted to or not. “I’ll be there as soon as possible, Uncle Boots. I’m stuck here until the blizzard lets up. Couldn’t even get back to my apartment, so I’m spending the night in a hotel here at O’Hare.” Her voice remained steady. She couldn’t lose it. Not yet.

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