Piece Of Me-Excerpt

Book 2: The Bridgestones Of Montana

Chapter one

            Scarlett Bridgestone didn’t set out to become the number one topic of conversation in Big Bend, it just sort of happened.

On a clear and sunny afternoon, mid-July, she appeared out of nowhere along Main Street, walking at a brisk pace, shoulders square, hair blowing in the wind. Now, normally this isn’t a thing that’s special or to be talked about, but since Scarlett had come back to Montana in January, no one had seen a lick of her. She’d taken herself off to the Triple B Ranch where all the other Bridgestones lived, and all but disappeared.

            Some folks thought she’d up and left again what with her having a new baby and all, while others thought she might have had some of that depression young mothers get. Totally understandable on account of no baby-daddy being in the picture.  Either way when Mary Margaret Christchurch saw her walk by the old Five and Dime (or more correctly the new Dollar and More) she had to take a second look. And then a third. And then she popped into the Coffee Pot, where she spied some of the women from her hot yoga class.

            “I swear to God, Scarlett Bridgestone has gone crazy,” she announced with a flourish, her bright orange lips pursed, her slicked back hair glistening.

            “What’s that?” Mabel Banks asked, eyebrows raised as she poured old Mr. Barclay a fresh coffee.

            “Scarlett Bridgestone,” Mary Margaret repeated. “She’s gone off the deep end.” She smoothed an invisible piece of lint from her black yoga pants and waited for a response.

            “Ain’t that so.” Mabel winked at Mr. Barclay, as the elderly man took his coffee, snuck a look at Mary Margaret, and then took a seat by the window to watch the show. He swept off his hat and hunkered down.

            Aware that she now had an audience, Mary Margaret set her bag down on the counter and turned to the gathered women. “First off her hair is purple.”

            “Purple?” One of the ladies said. “You sure about that?”

            “I’m as sure as the rain that’s coming tomorrow.” Mary Margaret shuddered. “And she’s got ungodly roots coming through.”

            “Well, hair color is an individual thing,” Mabel chimed in. “Nothing wrong with experimenting.”

            “It’s not just the hair,” Mary Margaret continued. “She was wearing a night shirt.” A pause for dramatic effect. “A nighty. In public. Have you ever?”

            “Oh,” the ladies murmured in unison, as if some deadly sin had been committed.

            “On her feet? Cowboy boots. Pink ones with fringes.”

            “My my,” Mabel exclaimed, palms of her hands on the counter as she leaned forward. “You see how some of these young’uns walk about? Could be a dress is all. I swear my daughter drives her daddy crazy with the getups she wears. Most of her skirts hardly cover her bare ass.”

            “This was a nighty. With a unicorn on the front.” Mary Margaret shook her head. “And she looked so intense, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was packing.”

“Kind of hard to hide a shot gun in a nighty.” Mabel said dryly.

Mary Margaret carried on as if she hadn’t heard a thing. She chewed her bottom lip. “She looked crazy.” She shrugged. “We all know the apple don’t fall too far from the tree so to speak. That family has some history.”

            Mabel straightened up and frowned. “Did you come in here for anything other than to gossip?”

            Mary Margaret scrunched up her face. “Of course, I did.” She pointed to the display case. “I’ll have a honey crueller and latte to go.”

            Across town Scarlett, unaware of the spectacle she was creating marched into the post office and paused at the blast of cold air. Her skin was clammy from the heat and her long hair stuck to the neck. She moved it away, and impatiently tapped her toe as she waited for the two ladies in front of her to finish up their business.

            God, she was so mad.

            The burn in her gut was still there, and uncaring that in fact, she was in an old night shirt, her favorite if anyone wanted to know, she set her shoulders back, and glared at the man behind the counter.

            David Wilcox.

            He’d been a few years ahead of her in school and had always been a dick. For some reason he’d chosen her to bully. It was as if she had a bullseye tattooed to her body. He used to yank on her braids when they rode the bus home—something he’d do whenever he had the chance. Once day, when she was seven or so, Scarlett had had enough. She’d jumped over the seat, punched him in the nose, kneed him in the nuts, and bit his cheek.

            Scarlett angled her head for a better look. Yup. There it was. Faint but still visible, the scar she’d left behind. She’d gotten into a lot of trouble, but it had been worth it because the boy had never touched her again.

            The ladies ahead of her finished up their business and turned around. The one on the left, Jill from the bank, Scarlett knew. The other woman looked vaguely familiar, but she wasn’t exactly in the mood to sit and think about it.

            They slowly walked past her, though they gave a wide berth and didn’t say a word. Scarlett watched them out of the corner of her eye until they were gone. The door opened behind her, and if she were paying attention, she would have heard a male voice, but as it was, all of her focus was on one man.

            David Dickhead Wilcox. He was tall, like she remembered, though his midsection had gone soft and hung over his waist, kept in check by a belt pulled too tight. His hair, always thin, was nearly gone save for the round patch that circled his head, and his brown eyes were wide as he looked at her, obviously more than a little concerned.

            She smiled to herself. He should be.

            Scarlett marched up to the counter and before she had a chance to say anything he spoke.

            “Are you okay?”

            Lord. Have. Mercy.  

            “Am I okay?” she said, planting her hands onto the counter. She blew at a wisp of hair that tickled her nose. “No, David, I’m not okay. I’m so far from okay that I had to hop into my brother’s truck, which if you’ve seen it, you’d know how ridiculous it is. I can barely reach the damn gas pedal. And try parking that thing. I couldn’t find a spot close by that would fit its big ass, so I had park clear across town by the water tower.” She shook her head. “So no, David, I’m not okay.”

            “Oh, well, I…” He was clearly frustrated.

            “Why did you put me on hold this morning and never pick up again?” she interrupted.

            His brow furrowed. “This morning?”

            “I called about my package?”

            “But I—”

            “I’m not here to listen to excuses. I want my package. It was supposed to be delivered yesterday, and it didn’t come. Then I was told it was to be delivered today, and again nothing.” She threw her hands into the air. “You can imagine how pissed off I was when it didn’t arrive.”

            Sweat broke out on David’s brow and he nervously, shuffled his feet. “I’m sorry, Scarlett but it—”

            “Again,” she held up her hand. “I’m not interested in why it didn’t come. I’m standing here in my damn nightgown, so you know how serious I am.” She thrust out her chin. “I’m not leaving until I have it.”

            “But Scarlett…” His voice trailed off as she leaned toward him, and he took a step back.

            “No buts, David. I will hurt you. Remember the bus?” She made a shooing motion with her hand. “Go get my package.”

            His gaze moved to just behind her, but at her annoyed tsk, he hopped to attention and disappeared into the back.

            “Well, that was entertaining.”

            Scarlett froze, suddenly aware of an audience. The voice was low, warm, with a hint of rasp and a Texas twang. She didn’t recognize it and angled her head to the side, noting a pair of worn brown boots and the frayed edges of jeans that covered long legs. To get a better look she’d have to turn around, and she wasn’t in the mood.

            “Glad you liked it,” she replied lightly, eyes on the door as she waited for Wilcox to bring out her package.

            “It’s not every day I see a little slip of a woman make a man twice her size crap his pants.” A pause. “Makes me wonder.”

            “Why are you talking to me.” Her voice was sharp.

            “Just trying to be friendly.”

            “Well don’t be.”

            “Can’t help it. My momma raised me to be a gentleman.”

            “Good for her.” Annoyed, she took a step forward.

            “That’s not nice,” he replied lightly.

            “I’m not a nice person.”

            “I’m beginning to see that,” he replied, moving so that he was abreast of her.

            Scarlett didn’t have to turn her head to know he was tall. Out of the corner of her eye she noted the long, lean lines. The broad shoulders and muscular chest shown to perfection in a plain white T-shirt. She couldn’t see his face exactly, but she was guessing it was as interesting as the rest of him.

            Not that she was interested.

            “Do you think I care what you think of me?”

            “I think you’re consumed by a package that didn’t arrive.”

            “Well wouldn’t you be?” Exasperated she turned to him. Light green eyes stared back at her, fringed by lashes so thick it wasn’t fair. His hair was the color of burnt tobacco, the long wavy ends stuck out from beneath a faded old Texas Ranger’s ball cap. His features were strong, a square jaw, high cheekbones, and a nose that had been broken more than once. He was wholly masculine, and her mouth went dry as a slow grin touched the corners of a mouth that was meant for sinning.

            “I didn’t mean to offend you,” he said slowly and held out his hand. “I’m—”

            “I know who you are,” she cut him off.

            Taz Pullman.

            “That so?”

            He was a dangerous man. It took Scarlett all of two seconds to know this. She wanted nothing to do with him.

            “I’m sorry to say I’m at a disadvantage. I don’t know your name.” His smile opened wide. It was ridiculous really. That smile. It was as if the heavens opened up and shone only for him. As if all the birds and unicorns and puppies danced in a circle and sang kumbaya. His charm was off the charts, and she was guessing he knew it.

            Screw him, she thought.

            She’d tangled with a man like him a year ago. A man who’d nearly broken her. A man who’d left her pregnant and alone and so scared that she’d promised herself it would never happen again.

            And yet something about him brought out the devil in her because Scarlett raised an eyebrow and spoke when she damn well should have stayed silent. “You don’t need to know my name because we’re not friends.”

            “We could be.” There it was. That warmth and charm that made her want to vomit.

            “No,” she replied. “That’s not going to happen.”

            He was clearly puzzled by her hostility. “Have we met before? Have I done something to you?”

            She’d seen him once, last fall when her brother Cal had declared his love for Millie Sue at Sundowner. But back then her light had been dim, hidden beneath the hurt and sadness she’d brought back from Europe. She’d made no effort to interact with anyone. Hell, for the longest time she barely talked to her own family.

            It was only after the birth of her son that she’d come alive. Her joy. Her life. Her little Bodhi.

            “You don’t know me,” Scarlett replied, turning back to face the counter as David appeared, face flushed, noticeable pit stains under his arms. In his hands was a package which he gingerly handed over.

            “Sorry, it was buried in the back, and I guess Charlie didn’t see it.”

            Suddenly at ease, body loose, Scarlett sank back onto her heels. “Thank you, David,” she said sweetly. She grabbed the package and turned around, nearly stumbling when her body betrayed her, and she glanced down at her chest.

            “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she muttered from between tight lips. Forget about David’s pit stains, they had nothing on the very visible, very round damp circles that suddenly appeared across her chest. Her breasts, tender and hard made her wince and she swore, glancing up as Taz Pullman’s gaze lowered.

            Great. Just fucking great.

            “What are you looking at?” she said, shoving past him.

            Head high, shoulders out, Scarlett Bridgestone marched past Taz Pullman, and half the town of Big Bend it seemed. She kept on past the bakery and the bookstore, then crossed the street and walked past the Coffee Pot.  She didn’t stop until she reached the water tower and Cal’s truck, then hopped inside. She tore out of town like a bat out of hell. Her hormones high, the town’s gossip mill even higher.

            Scarlett Bridgestone knew she’d be the talk of the town for days, maybe weeks and she didn’t give a rat’s ass. In fact, she giggled as she turned up the radio and barreled down Dry Creek Road.

            As she headed back to the ranch, one very curious man glanced at David Wilcox and shook his head.

            “Who in hell was that?” Tax Pullman asked, more interested in the answer than he should be. The woman was clearly married. And with a child. But man, she was something else.

            Wilcox smiled weakly. “That was Scarlett Bridgestone.” He paused dramatically and ran his hand over his bald head. “If you’re smart, you’ll stay away from her.”

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