Wish Upon a CowBoy

By: Jennie Marts

This book is dedicated to my mom,

Lee Cumba.

Thanks for always believing in me

And for always being there.

I love you, Mom.

Chapter 1

The crisp mountain air bit her cheeks as Harper Evans stepped off the Greyhound bus and gazed around the town where her son had been living for the past two months. She inhaled a deep breath of air that was better than the stale, canned stuff she’d been sucking for the last nineteen hours. It felt good to stretch her legs, and she rubbed at her hip, trying to get the feeling back into it. She swore her butt had fallen asleep two hours ago. Too bad the rest of her hadn’t.

She’d spent the time staring out the window, alternately replaying the mistakes she’d made in the past and brainstorming ways she could fix them now and avoid making more in the future. Unfortunately, her brainstorming yielded few results. She couldn’t accept that she was destined to make the same mistakes again and again—trusting the wrong people, trying to count on anyone other than herself—but the same piles of poo kept appearing in her life, and she kept stepping right into the middle of them.

It wasn’t true that she couldn’t count on anyone. She could count on Floyd—but he was only eight years old, so he wasn’t that great in the support department. Although her son did have a way of dispensing fairly sage wisdom sometimes. She had been able to count on Michael and her grandmother. But now they were both gone. And so was Floyd.

But not for long. Because she was finally here. The small town of Creedence was barely a blip on one of the highways that crossed the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. They’d passed through Denver about an hour ago and had been steadily climbing ever since. Harper pulled the edges of her jean jacket together and sucked in another breath. The air felt different here—thinner and drier. She was definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Hitching her faded backpack further up her shoulder, Harper let out a sigh as she regarded the truck-stop diner the bus had dropped them in front of. A tall red-and-white-striped sign heralding the Creedence Country Café: Home of the best chicken-fried steak in the county nestled among a grouping of regal pine trees that rose against the backdrop of a snowcapped mountain range. The grand beauty would normally have struck her harder—she had always loved getting away to the mountains—but this wasn’t a getaway, at least not yet. Not until she had her son.

Then they’d get away as fast as they could.

The air brakes squealed and hissed as the bus pulled away. Harper coughed through the cloud of exhaust and followed the other passengers across the asphalt toward the lure of the diner. A light dusting of snow swirled around the soles of her scuffed and worn black military boots. Well, to be fair they weren’t really her boots. They’d been Michael’s, but they were hers now. They were a little big, but along with being tall, she had clodhopper feet, so with a couple pairs of socks and a little cotton stuffed in the end, the shoes worked fine.

And Michael didn’t need them—not anymore. She’d gotten rid of most of his clothes, saving some of her favorites, but she’d held on to the boots and just felt a little stronger when she wore them. As if he was still with her.

She swallowed, stuffing down the grief that burned her throat every time she let herself think about Michael and what they might have had, and fell in behind a mother and son, the towheaded boy clinging to his mother’s hand. Harper knew the feeling of a small child’s hand wrapped in hers—the tiny, sometimes sticky fingers twined through hers—so trusting, believing that their mom wouldn’t let them go.

Except sometimes moms have to let them go. Do let them go.

Stuff. Stuff. She couldn’t think about that either. No sense reliving the past. This was the time to focus on the future. She was here now. That’s what mattered.

She pushed through the door of the diner. The sparse Christmas decorations and limp tinsel clinging to the side of the register with a piece of curled tape conveyed about the same amount of enthusiasm and cheeriness she had for the upcoming holiday.

The air smelled of stale coffee, hot grease, and despair. Not the kind of despair that came from being locked in a small cell that stank of urine and body odor, but despair just the same. She’d known that feeling. Had spent the last two months floundering between misery and rage, switching between the dull, constant ache of missing her son and bright-hot fury at her mother—and herself—for putting her in that cell.

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