Billion Dollar Cowboy(12)

By: Carolyn Brown

Laura felt like a bug under a microscope, one of those that had a straight pin pushed through its body to keep it from crawling away. The old man across the aisle smiled as if he’d found something miraculous under the lens of the scope. The old lady in the pew in front of him had turned to stare at her with a scowl as if she’d like to drag up a cross and hang her on it.

Laura removed a hymnbook from the back of the pew in front of her and studied it. When she’d first moved away from Aunt Dotty’s ranch, she’d learned to love to read and every Saturday morning after she finished her half day at the greenhouse, she went to the library. That morning she was reminded of the scariest book she’d ever read, titled Harvest Home, and written by Thomas Tryon. It was an older book, written long before cell phones or Internet, but it had scared the bejesus out of Laura because it wasn’t fantasy. It could really happen in a small town set off in the middle of nowhere… somewhat like Ambrose, Texas.

The hair on her forearms stood straight up as she looked up at all the people staring at her. Did these people have a harvest ritual and were they thinking about her for the next harvest queen? She shuddered from head to toe just thinking about that book and how the setting was so much like Ambrose.

“Preacher has the air-conditioning turned down. Guess he’s going to give us a hot sermon,” Colton whispered.

“Shhh.” Maudie shot a look his way.

Roxie winked shyly at Laura.

“Let’s begin with singing ‘Abide with Me’ and we’ll sing every verse today.” The preacher gave out the hymn number and Maudie grabbed the only remaining hymnbook in the pew pocket.

Colton scooted close enough to Laura that she caught a full blast of his shaving lotion which just made her even more nervous. Sharing a hymnbook with a man was a first for Laura. She didn’t know about Ambrose, but in the little church where Aunt Dotty took her all those years, it was a big, big thing. If a girl shared a hymnal, it was right up there next to being engaged.

She blushed scarlet. Was that why they all turned around in their seats and stared at her? They wanted to see what kind of woman had the privilege of sharing a hymnbook with the rich and sexy bachelor, Colton Nelson?

Just as the last notes of the hymn settled over the congregation, Preacher Roger cleared his throat and said, “We have a visitor this morning. I understand that Laura Baker has taken on the job as an assistant out on Colton Nelson’s ranch. We are glad that you have joined us, Miss Baker, and hope that you make your presence a regular thing.”

She smiled up at him, but inwardly she wanted to crawl under the seat, through all the shined cowboy boots and high heels, to the back door where she’d sneak away and walk all the way back to the ranch. She would not be making her presence a regular thing at the Ambrose church, especially if she found out they had a fall harvest festival like Tryon talked about in that book.

“Now if everyone will open your hymnals, we’ll sing one more song before I begin my sermon.”

As soon as the last note of the hymn faded, Preacher Roger went right into reading the Scripture about the Good Samaritan. To get her mind off Colton’s shoulder snuggled up to hers in the packed pew, Laura sent up a silent prayer that Janet hadn’t fallen back into the gambling pit.

Janet loved her and she’d proven it too many times to count. It was just that Janet couldn’t stay out of trouble, especially at the casinos. She was always looking for the fast buck and always wanted more than her salary as a hairdresser could buy.

Preacher Roger had speechified for the full thirty minutes, but Laura had been off in her own thoughts so she was surprised when he wound down his sermon by saying, “The Ladies Auxiliary has gotten together a potluck reception in the fellowship hall and everyone is invited to stay for food and fellowship. Now Sister Ina Dean, will you please deliver the benediction?”

The elderly woman who had given her the evil eye stood up and bowed her head. “Dear Lord,” she started and went on so long that Laura began to worry that all the casseroles would be molding before she finally said, “Amen!” The whole congregation said it a split second after she did, probably because they were starving, and the noise level shot up from zero to ten in two seconds.