A Real Cowboy Never Says No

By: Stephanie Rowe

Chapter 1

Mira Cabot's first thought when she saw him was that cowboy hats didn't belong at this funeral.

Her second thought was that it was fantastic he was wearing one.

There was nothing like watching a genuine cowboy saunter boldly into a conservative southern church full of overpriced black suits and expensive leather shoes to remind her that life was not over just because someone she loved was dead.

She grinned, her first smile in what felt like years, knowing that AJ would have been thrilled to see the cowboy ignoring the rigid society rules at his funeral. He'd give the white cowboy hat two thumbs up, and he'd probably even toss in a bonus if the man didn't take it off when he met AJ's domineering father.

She knew AJ had always figured he'd wind up being fêted in a small service by the river, where they'd spent hours as kids. His funeral of choice would have been kids, dogs, bare feet, and a local band playing his favorite country music as a reminder to everyone to get off their butts and live life.

Instead, his father had taken over the largest church in town, and he'd booked the finest ballroom in five counties for everyone to retire to after the burial, because he was more concerned about status and money than he was about his dead son's desires.

The line inched forward, dragging her inexorably forward into the church where AJ's dad was presiding, but the cowboy didn't move from the doorway. Mira watched him standing in the doorway, surveying the church with methodical precision, as if he were taking stock of every person present. He was wearing jeans, but they looked sharp and crisp. His face was clean-shaven, but there were already hints of whiskered shadows caressing his jaw. His dark hair was barely visible beneath his hat, but it was clearly cut short. His blue eyes were shrewd and assessing as he scanned the occupants, apparently searching for someone. There was a life and energy exuding from him, as if he got up every morning and somehow managed to cram forty-eight hours of life into every single day.

He made her feel weary and bone-tired in comparison, but at the same time, it was energizing. She hadn't been around someone that alive in a long time, and it was a good reminder to get off her butt and get outside in the sunshine, just like AJ was probably shouting at her to do right at that very moment, stalking her from heaven.

The usher, one of AJ's cousins, took her arm. "First row, Mira? AJ always considered you his sister."

"You really think I'd be welcome in the family seats?" She almost snorted as she glanced at the front of the church. AJ's dad, Alan Joseph Wentworth, Sr., was flanked by his attorney and his only remaining son, Thurston Wentworth, the hard-drinking underachiever who would now inherit the business, much to the dismay of the clan's patriarch. Thurston looked presentable in a navy suit, and his hair was greased back to hide the unruly curls. Alan, however, was sheer, unassailable properness. His silver hair was precisely coiffed, and his crisp black suit fit him with the precision of a custom-made specialty.

Alan looked up, catching her gaze, and his face hardened.

She shot him a winning smile, the same "you don't bother me" grin she'd been giving him for years, which was a bald-faced lie because the man scared the hell out of her. He was a man who got what he wanted, and he was willing to hurt anyone to get it, including his own son or the family who had given him refuge.

Yeah, there was no chance she was going to sit with Alan today. "You know, that's a great idea to sit in the front, Todd, but I might have to leave early. I wouldn't want to disturb the service." And she didn't want her last tribute to AJ to be tainted by Alan. Instead, she gestured to the last pew. "I'll just slide in the back here."

Not waiting for assent, she ducked into the last row of benches, breaking protocol since the seats in front of her weren't full yet. Not that she cared, and neither would AJ. She wasn't here for his family. She was here for him.

She scooted into the far corner, letting the shadows of the balcony conceal her. She knew almost everyone who walked in, but very few of them would bother to notice her. Unlike Mira, the rest of the attendees were from the south end of town, the section of mansions and gated driveways that wished her end of town didn't actually exist. A few of her friends from high school were there, but they'd moved beyond their shared teenage angst. Not a single one bothered to look over into her dark corner. There was a smattering of sharply dressed twenty-something men and women she didn't know, and she figured those had to be AJ's friends and co-workers from Boston, people from the part of his life she'd never known.

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