Cowboy hat, ring box

Travis — Sneak Peak — Part 4

Tanner raised his brows. “So why is she willing to come to a ranch on the outskirts of Texas? What have we got to offer? Why not some fancy-schmancy restaurant in New York?”

His aunt smiled. “Let’s just say that she’s had some bad things happen in her life and she needs a break from the culinary world but wants to continue doing what she loves.”

“Well, then she’s not going to stay here long,” Tanner said. 

Travis remembered when she had flown down and toured their kitchen and cooked them a meal. The food had been excellent. Kind of frou-frou, but that’s what people were expecting. Tanner had been visiting the VA Hospital in Dallas. Getting his quarterly check-up. 

“Stop making assumptions, Tanner,” Cousin Cameron said. “We don’t know that. She may learn she loves Texas.”

“No snow, warm winters, and hot-as-hell summers,” Justin said. 

Travis glanced at his brother and grinned. He’d just gotten his hand slapped by the next to youngest Burnett cousin Cameron and a smackdown from Justin. Desiree was the youngest, but that girl had a head on her shoulders. 

“I make a motion that we hire her,” Cousin Desiree said. 

“Have we tasted her cooking?” Tucker asked. 

“Yes, we had her out here a few weeks ago. You were in LA,” Cody said. 

That was the problem with Tucker. He had his own business to run and, oftentimes, he wasn’t here when important decisions were made, though he did his best to attend every board meeting. 

“Where was I?” Tanner asked. 

Travis leaned over. “You were getting a checkup at the VA Hospital in Dallas,” he said. 

Tanner frowned and Travis knew he didn’t like it when they talked about his PTSD. But the man had come so far from when he came home from the war.

“All in favor, raise your hands,” his aunt said. 

It was unanimous. 

“She’s hired. I’ll have Katie send her the package offer. If all goes well, she’ll be here in the next two weeks.”

They all glanced around at each other, knowing the board meeting was almost over and ready to get out of here. The small room was stuffy and he could hear the office staff right outside the doors keeping things running. 

“I need someone to make a motion to adjourn the meeting.”

His cousin Jacob spoke up and immediately they all voted on ending their once-a-month board meeting. 

Once it was over, he slowly rose, knowing what he had to go do. It was past time and he wanted to get out there before they closed the gates. 

“Gotta go,” he told his family and grabbed his hat on the way out the door. 

Shoving it on his head, he walked out to his truck parked not far from the office building. 

Climbing in, he started up the vehicle and pulled out of the drive. As much as he hated cemeteries, he seemed to always find a sense of peace going to visit. Then he would dread going out there again. 

It took him about twenty minutes to drive to the Riverdale Cemetery. When he pulled through the gate, the memory of the day of the funeral slapped him in the face. 

Of standing between his brothers, staring in horror as they lowered her casket into the ground. The feeling of numbness that this couldn’t be happening had overwhelmed him. In an instant, his life had changed forever. 

Putting the truck in park and turning off the ignition, he reached for the flowers he’d bought and grabbed them off the seat.

As he climbed out of the truck, he glanced around at the barren place and the sense of sadness that seemed to permeate the air. 

Walking up to the grave, he stared down at the tombstone. Amanda Burnett and child. Taken Much Too Soon.

With a sigh, he leaned down and took out the old flowers in the vase and put the new ones in. Every time he came here, his heart would ache with loneliness. Sorrow would fill his eyes with tears.

“God, how I still miss you. Our baby would be almost two years old. You two were my life and now I have nothing.”

The wind blew and he heard the tinkling of wind chimes. It almost sounded like she answered him. 

“I doubt you know I’m here, but still I have to come check on you. Even if I’m just staring at a piece of rock with your name on it.”

Slowly he rose. “Today, I tried to convince the family to close the dude ranch, but they weren’t interested. I couldn’t help but think about how much you loved the talent show. Without your touch, it just never is the same. God, how do I go on living without you?”

For almost three years, he’d asked himself that same question over and over. 

He sighed and glanced around at all the tombstones. His heart ached with the sadness of this lonely land. Glancing over, he saw other family members, but he never thought to bring flowers to them. 

Only Amanda and their baby. 

Swallowing hard, he knew he had to leave. He couldn’t stay long, it hurt too much. 

“Gotta go, darling. See you next time.”

Turning, he hurried to the truck, jumped in, and started the vehicle. 

Damn, it just wasn’t fair. They had loved each other since they were sixteen and their life together had ended way too early. 

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