Lone Star Winter

By: Diana Palmer

Chapter One

It was Monday, the worst day in the world to try to get a prescription filled. Behind the counter, the poor harassed male druggist was trying to field the telephone calls, fill prescriptions, answer questions from patrons and delegate duties to two assistants. It was always like this after the weekend, Cy Parks thought with resignation. Nobody wanted to bother the doctor on his days off, so they all waited until Monday to present their various complaints. Hence the rush on the Jacobsville Pharmacy. Michael, the pharmacist on duty, was smiling pleasantly despite the crush of customers, accustomed to the Monday madness.

That group putting off a visit to the doctor until Mon day included himself, Cy mused. His arm was throbbing from an encounter with one of his angry Santa Gertrudis bulls late on Friday afternoon. It was his left arm, too, the one that had been burned in the house fire back in Wyoming. The angry rip needed ten stitches, and Dr. “Copper” Coltrain had been irritated that Cy hadn’t gone to the emergency room instead of letting it wait two days and risking gangrene. The sarcasm just washed right off; Coltrain could have saved his breath. Over the years, there had been so many wounds that Cy hardly felt pain anymore. With his shirt off, those wounds had been apparent to Coltrain, who wondered aloud where so many bullet wounds came from. Cy had simply looked at him, with those deep green eyes that could be as cold as Arctic air. Coltrain had given up.

Stitches in place, Coltrain had scribbled a prescription for a strong antibiotic and a painkiller and sent him on his way. Cy had given the prescription to the clerk ten minutes ago. He glanced around him at the prescription counter and thought he probably should have packed lunch and brought it with him.

He shifted from one booted foot to the other with noticeable impatience, his glittery green eyes sweeping the customers nearest the counter. They settled on a serene blond-haired woman studying him with evident amusement. He knew her. Most people in Jacobsville, Texas, did. She was Lisa Taylor Monroe. Her husband, Walt Monroe, an undercover narcotics officer with a federal agency, had recently been killed. He’d borrowed on his insurance policy, so there had been just enough money to bury him. At least Lisa had her small ranch, a legacy from her late father.

Cy’s keen eyes studied her openly. She was sweet, but she’d never win any beauty contests. Her dark blond hair was always in a bun and she never put on makeup. She wore glasses over her brown eyes, plastic-framed ones, and her usual garb was jeans and a T-shirt when she was working around the ranch. Walt Monroe had loved the ranch, and during his infrequent visits home, he’d set out improving it. His ambitions had all but bankrupted it, so that Lisa was left after his death with a small savings account that probably wouldn’t even pay the interest on the loans Walt had obtained.

Cy knew something about Lisa Monroe because she was his closest neighbor, along with Luke Craig, a rancher who was recently married to a public defender named Belinda Jessup. Mrs. Monroe there liked Charolais, he recalled. He wasn’t any too fond of foreign cattle, having a purebred herd of Santa Gertrudis cattle, breeding bulls, which made him a profitable living. Almost as prosperous as his former sideline, he mused. A good champion bull could pull upward of a million dollars on the market.

Lisa had no such livestock. Her Charolais cattle were steers, beef stock. She sold off her steer crop every fall, but it wouldn’t do her much good now. She was too deeply in debt. Like most other people, he felt sorry for her. It was common gossip that she was pregnant, be cause in a small town like Jacobsville, everybody knew everything. She didn’t look pregnant, but he’d over heard someone say that they could tell in days now, rather than the weeks such tests had once required. She must be just barely pregnant, he mused, because those tight jeans outlined a flat stomach and a figure that most women would covet.

But her situation was precarious. Pregnant, widowed and deeply in debt, she was likely to find herself homeless before much longer, when the bank was forced to foreclose on the property. Damned shame, he thought, when it had such potential for development.

She was clutching a boxed heating pad to her chest, waiting her turn in line at the second cash register at the pharmacy counter.

When Lisa was finally at the head of the line, she put down her heating pad on the counter and opened her purse.

“Another one, Lisa?” the young female clerk asked her with an odd smile.

She gave the other woman an irritated glance as she dug in her purse for her checkbook. “Don’t you start, Bonnie,” she muttered.

“How can I help it?” the clerk chuckled. “That’s the third one this month. In fact, that’s the last one we have in stock.”

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