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A young woman goes out for a night on the town and vanishes. There is no evidence pointing to foul play and her disappearance is written off as voluntary. Martin Bainbridge, who has recently graduated from law school, hears about the case in a community law clinic. He asks Sylvia Wilcox to investigate, which leads to the discovery of a sinister side of her city.

Main Tropes

cowboy romance, second chance romance


Maribel is furious when she meet her new boss. Unfortunately, Blake is the one that got away. Or rather, the one she pushed away. Now Maribel must face her past and learn how to work with her former best friend.

Intro To Chapter One

Is this what I’m supposed to do with my life? Blake wondered as he prepared for the trip to the airport. His bags were packed; the hour had arrived for him to leave for Basic Training. He was standing near the front door of the old farmhouse where three generations of his family had lived, wondering if he’d ever see the place again. His girlfriend, Shana, clung tearfully to his chest, her body shaking with sobs. Blake’s mother leaned against a post at the end of the porch, dabbing her eyes. He had never seen his mom cry before. Watching her swipe at the side of her face as her shoulders heave up and down made him want to rescind his enlistment. Can I change my mind? Is it too late to do that?

Blake wasn’t sure if that was possible. Most of the information the recruiter gave him had gone over his head like a rising tide, slowly engulfing him until he was in too deep. He’d always dreamed of serving his country, but now that the time had come for him to leave, Blake wasn’t sure if he was doing the right thing. Now he was saying goodbye to his parents, siblings, and girlfriend. The hope was that enlisting would provide an escape from ranch life—not from them.

His father stood near the driveway; his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. A black Stetson blocked Blake’s view of his father’s face. He knew his dad was disappointed; tradition dictated that the oldest son should take over the family ranch, but Blake despised ranching. Now the tradition might not be passed down to the next generation. Perhaps one of the twins, Blake’s younger brothers, would take up ranching instead. As if on cue, Luke, one of Blake’s younger siblings, appeared in the doorway. He avoided looking at his baby brother. Joining the Army meant he’d miss seeing his brothers and sister grow up. Luke and Lane were only four, and Elsa was three. Alexis, his sixteen-year-old sister, was the only sibling who would have a lot of memories of him. How often would he see the Sibs—a term he and Alexis used for their younger brothers and sister.

“You’re not going to work on the ranch?” Luke whispered one day after church.

Though only four years old, it was clear that Luke already knew working on a ranch was part of being a Friendly-ite. Blake had left the question unanswered. He knew how painful his departure was for his parents. What if the rest of their children did the same thing?

“I’m going to serve our country,” Blake told him, hoping his response would appease his brother. Friendly was a ranching town. Most people in town loved ranching and those who didn’t, left town. If you wanted to stay, you needed to learn the ropes and carry on the tradition. Every time a young person left Friendly, it made it easier for other teens to pick up stakes after high school and never look back.

“I’ll wait for you, no matter how long it takes,” Shana whispered as she buried her face deeper into his chest. Blake tightened his hold on her, but a small part of him wondered if this was too much too soon. They had started dating only a few months before, would she really miss him that much?

“I’ll come see you when you’re finished with Basic Training,” Shana promised.

Blake nodded, but his thoughts were elsewhere. He’d fallen out with his best friend, Maribel Sykes, several weeks ago. Leaving town without saying goodbye to her seemed impossible, but she’d made it clear. Maribel didn’t want to see him anymore. Earlier that day, he had driven through town and spotted her. She’d been standing near Ben’s Grocery, holding her infant son. Their eyes met briefly before Blake saw something flash across her face. Was it anger? Sadness? He couldn’t be sure.

“Blake, did you hear me?”

He pushed away the memory of Maribel and focused on the present. Blake was grateful to have Shana sending him off and pledging to wait for his return, but he was nervous that Maribel might never speak to him again. The worst part was that he had no idea why she was angry with him.

“Blake? Hello?” Shana said, putting her hands on her hips.

“Yes. I heard you.”

“I love you. You know that?”

Blake nodded, not knowing what to say.

“Don’t you love me too?” Shana asked.

He swallowed hard and said, “We better get going.”

* * *

Maribel rocked back and forth in the oversized wooden rocking chair.

“You’re going to be rocking the baby all the time. Might as well have a chair to help you,” her grandmother, Ruby, told her when she was six months pregnant. Now baby Lucian was in her arms, sleeping soundly. Maribel wasn’t sure what the future held, but her heart was full of love for her son. At sixteen, she was nervous, but ready to tackle life as a single mother. The only regret she had was pushing Blake away. She closed her eyes as she thought back to the day she’d ended her friendship with him.

‘Don’t pity me. I don’t want to hear about how much of a failure you think I am,’ Maribel remembered screaming at Blake. She’d been eight and a half months pregnant. Her belly had been so full she was sure she would topple over. That night, Blake had warned her that the spaghetti sauce would give her indigestion. He’d had her best interests in mind, but Maribel saw it as an opportunity to act out her plan. She didn’t want to hold Blake back from achieving his dreams. If she didn’t push him away, he’d stay and try to take care of her and the baby. That’s not his responsibility, she’d thought.

‘I’m sixteen years old and expecting a baby. You don’t need to be bossing me around.’

‘Maribel, you’re my best friend.’

Blake had crossed his arms over his chest, and Maribel thought he was looking down on her with disdain. But now, as she sat quietly at her grandparents’ house, she questioned if she had fabricated the feeling of superiority radiating off Blake.

‘You’re still a kid yourself, so I don’t need help from you. Go away.’

‘I’m older than you. My mom said you’d be emotional because you’re pregnant.’

‘Leave now!’


‘No. Get out of here and stay away.’


‘Just do it. Don’t call me either.’

“Mar, are you sure you don’t want to–” her grandfather peeked into the room, interrupting the memory.

“No, Grandpa. I’m fine,” Maribel said.

“He’s not coming back for a long time.”

“It’s his choice. I’m okay with it,” Maribel said, speaking quietly and avoiding looking back at her grandfather.

“Mar, he might end up in the Middle East. What if he doesn’t make it back?”

“Grandpa, I…saw Blake at the store this afternoon while Grandma was shopping; I stayed out front for some fresh air.”

“That’s good. It’s important to mend fences. Especially when someone is leaving and you don’t know when you’ll see them again,” her grandfather said. “Do you need a break?”

“Thanks Grandpa, but I’m okay,” Maribel said. She was so thankful her grandparents were helping her out.

She hated to lie to her grandfather, but she didn’t want to tell him she was letting Blake leave without saying goodbye to him.

Excerpt From
Relcutant Cowboy
Braylee B. Parkinson
copyright 2023

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