Home with the CowboyBy: Mary Sue Jackson
The second Willa Markson opened the door of her rental car, the blast of Texas heat and humidity threatened to melt her into a puddle. New York City could get hot, but there was nothing like a Texas summer. She slapped at a mosquito in irritation.
I’m not going to be here long, she told herself for the thousandth time. I’ll just hand Bobby off, and then I can get back to civilization.
Bobby Gunn, her two-year-old charge, was in the backseat babbling about cows the whole time Willa was unbuckling him. Willa smiled as Bobby pointed to the cows out in the pasture, his fat legs kicking her in his enthusiasm.
“Yeah, those are cows, buddy,” she said. “And look, there are horses, too.” Bobby didn’t know the difference between the two animals, only knowing they were animals and they were smelly, both things the toddler loved with all of his boyish heart.
As Willa walked up to the sprawling farmhouse, she wondered for a second if she’d gone to the wrong property, as there didn’t seem to be anyone—anyone human, at least—around. But the house number was right, so this had to be it.
Although the yard was neatly trimmed and the house newly painted, even Willa could see that the house was old: one window had a crack in the corner, most likely from a hailstorm, while the porch steps squealed so ominously that Willa was afraid she’d fall through the step if she weren’t careful.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the front door opened and a man stepped out. She blinked as she took in his wide shoulders, the cleft in his chin, the stubble on his cheeks. He was dangerously handsome. And his eyes were so blue that her heart stuttered as she gazed into them. Her heart continued to stutter when she saw the look on his face, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. He looked like she was a bug he’d found skittering across his kitchen counter.
Well, this must be Daniel Gunn. And he looks thrilled to see me.
Willa swallowed, her mouth dry as she stared up at the man. A blush climbed up her face when she realized that she was staring and hadn’t said a word.
“You must be Miss Markson,” the man said in a heavy Texan drawl as he approached Willa. “I’m Daniel Gunn.” He held out his tanned hand and shook hers with a firm grip; Willa barely restrained a shiver at the feeling of his callused palm against her own. Daniel’s gaze went to Bobby. “And you must be my nephew. Howdy, cowboy.”
Bobby’s babbling quieted as he stared at the strange man before he turned his face into Willa’s shoulder.
“He’s shy around strangers,” she explained, then immediately felt bad for saying that Daniel was a stranger in the first place. Willa had heard a few bits of the story of Bobby’s family, mostly involving estranged brothers and uncles. Now that Bobby’s parents had died tragically in a car accident only a few weeks ago, Daniel Gunn was all that Bobby had left.
Willa swallowed against the sadness rising inside her. Maybe she was only Bobby’s nanny, working as an au pair for his parents Robert and Stacey, but the couple had become her friends, not just her employers. Stacey especially had taken Willa under her wing and had introduced her to all of her favorite places in New York. Willa smiled sadly, remembering when Stacey had treated Willa to lunch at a hotdog stand near Times Square that served the biggest hotdogs Willa had ever seen.
Along with Robert and Stacey, Willa had fallen for Bobby, hook, line, and sinker.
Daniel gestured for her to follow him inside. “My uncle James was going to be here, but he had to run some errands. He’ll be here in a bit. You want some tea? It’s a hot one out there.”
Having grown up in Texas, Willa knew that declining a glass of diabetes-inducing sweet tea was akin to treason, so she smiled and said she’d love a glass. Daniel returned with two glasses just as Willa set Bobby on the living room floor and began to give him some toys to play with to keep him occupied.
“Thank you again for bringing him all this way,” said Daniel as he handed her a glass of sweet tea. He gestured for her to sit down, and she took a seat on the worn but well-maintained suede couch. “We thought it’d be easier on the boy to be with someone he knew when he came here.”