Can't Stop Believing (Harmony Novel)

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9781611738582: Can't Stop Believing (Harmony Novel)

A generations-old feud is about to come to a head -- and the stakes couldn't be higher with two hearts on the line . . .

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About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Jodi Thomas is a certified marriage and family counselor, a fifth generation Texan, a Texas Tech graduate, and writer-in-residence at West Texas A&M University.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

MARCH 2012
HARMONY, TEXAS

CORD MCDOWELL FELT SWEAT TRICKLING DOWN HIS BACK as he worked in the pit beneath the semitruck’s engine. He ignored the heat along with all the sounds and smells around him. His hands were black with oil and dirt, but he didn’t dare take a break. Old Man Whitaker had been itching for a reason to fire him since the day he’d come to work three years ago.

Tannon Parker might own the trucking company, but Whitaker ran the shop. The old ex-Marine had told the boss he’d take Cord McDowell on, but he’d also fire the convict the first time he messed up. Like a vulture, he’d been waiting and watching for his chance. Cord made a habit of being early to work and last to leave. He ignored jabs from the other mechanics and never talked to anyone unless he had reason. Cord worked alone, here and on his farm.

As long as he worked here he had a chance of keeping his farm, and as long as he had his farm, he held on to one dream. The last dream.

When Cord had been arrested nine years ago, his folks had a couple hundred thousand in reserve to cover bad years of farming, but when he got out of prison there was no seed money in any account and they’d both been buried long enough for weeds to grow up around their graves.

“McDowell!” Whitaker yelled from above. “You dead down there?” He barked a laugh. “’Cause if you’re dead, we might as well just fill in the hole with dirt and move on. No one will waste time trying to haul that big body of yours out.”

Cord fought down a curse and pulled himself up. “I’m about finished. Another two hours if I work through lunch.” He knew that would make the old man happy. He liked having his men work the noon hour without an extra hour’s pay, and Cord didn’t really mind. The work was easier than sitting in the box of a break room while men talked around him but rarely to him.

“Never mind the truck, McDowell. There’s a lady out front who wants you to work on her Jeep. Says she won’t have another man even open the hood.”

Cord wiped his hands on a rag almost as dirty. “Since when do we work on anything but Parker trucks?”

Whitaker looked like he was irritated to even have to talk to Cord, but for once he didn’t sound angry when he answered, “That’s what I told Mr. Parker when he called saying he was sending her over, but Parker isn’t a man to argue with. If he wants his shop to work on a Jeep, we’ll work on a Jeep, even if the damn thing looks like it should have been scrapped twenty years ago.”

Cord remembered how quiet he’d been when he’d met the owner of Parker Trucking. Cord had just stood in front of the massive desk and waited for Tannon Parker to read his application. The trucking company was the fifth place he’d applied that day. Every other shop had taken one look at where he’d learned his skills, Huntsville Prison, and said they’d call if they had an opening. One guy had glanced up at Cord and simply said their business hadn’t had anything stolen in five years and he planned to keep it that way.

Parker, however, had studied Cord’s application for a few minutes, then walked around the table and offered his hand like the part about Cord being in prison for six years hadn’t mattered.

“We need good mechanics,” Tannon Parker said. “Welcome to the company, McDowell.”

Parker was the first person who’d treated him like an equal in years. Cord had been so shocked he barely remembered how to shake hands. He’d made up his mind that day that when he earned enough money to quit, he’d go back into Parker’s office, shake hands with him again, and thank the owner for giving him a chance.

As he followed Old Man Whitaker through the maze of hallways toward the front office, Cord reminded himself he worked for Tannon Parker and not for Whitaker.

The sun almost blinded Cord as he stepped out the front door and into the cool morning air. There was a March chill, but he could feel spring coming. In another few weeks he’d need to have seed in the ground.

“Over there.” Whitaker pointed with his head.

When Cord raised his gaze toward a beat-up old Jeep parked at the end of the drive, Whitaker swore, mumbling something about wasting time.

Cord pulled his worn baseball cap from his back pocket, combed his sandy blond hair back with one rake of his hand, and crammed the hat on his head. He followed the foreman over to a woman leaning against a piece of junk that looked like it had seen its best days thirty years ago.

As he neared, he recognized Nevada Britain. His farm bordered her huge ranch. He’d watched her from a distance riding her horses full out across her land or driving down the county road past his place at twice the speed limit, but it had been years since he’d seen her up close. If possible she was even more beautiful than she’d been at sixteen.

Only today, she was stone cold sober, a far cry from the wild, drunk teen he’d once watched.

Whitaker took on his official role as shop manager. “What seems to be the problem, little lady?”

Cord hung back, staring at Nevada Britain beneath the shadow of his cap. A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth as he saw that she hadn’t liked being called “little lady.” Whitaker didn’t pick up on it and was therefore destined to make the mistake again.

She was taller than Whitaker’s five feet six inches and looked like she was dressed for a funeral in her expensive charcoal suit and high heels. Only her white blouse was unbuttoned just enough to show a hint of lace when she straightened.

Maybe the wild teen hadn’t completely vanished, Cord thought.

No, she wasn’t quite funeral proper, and she knew it. From all he’d read, Nevada Britain hadn’t been proper in years. If Harmony, Texas, had a tabloid, she’d be the centerfold.

She was beautiful, he’d give her that. Darn near perfect as far as he could tell from looking, but from what he’d heard, she was no lady. Some said she had her mother’s beauty and her father’s ruthlessness. Cord had never figured Nevada Britain out. She looked like she’d always gotten everything she wanted, but it never seemed enough. She’d even called the sheriff on him once for flying too low over her horses. People like her even thought they owned the air.

Harmony was a small town, and he’d heard about her wild parties and parade of loser husbands. Apparently she fought to outdo her three crazy brothers.

Technically, he was her neighbor, but she didn’t even wave when she passed him. She lived five miles down from him, but it might as well have been another planet. The Britains called themselves ranchers, but mostly they were from old oil money. When he was in prison, his mother used to send him clippings of their court battles and wild ways. He’d seen pictures of her in the Founders Day parade and riding one of her fine horses at some big horse show. Like all the other pictures of her, she wasn’t smiling, so it didn’t surprise him that she didn’t smile now.

When he went to prison there had been four Britain children, all sent to private school back east after they aged into double digits. By the time he got out of Huntsville, two were dead. One from an overdose and one from a drunken boating accident.

Nevada was the youngest, and probably the only person in the county disliked more than he was. Folks said, to the Britains’ way of thinking, there was only one way—their way. Like pit bulls, they were bred to be hot-tempered scrappers and all the money in the world couldn’t wash away heredity.

“How can I help you, Miss Britain?” Cord asked as Whitaker moved aside. He’d seen Parker Trucking’s rigs going onto her land and could guess why Tannon Parker had said yes to having his men look at her little Jeep. Business was business. Parker probably shipped all the cattle they raised.

She frowned at him. “Is that you, Cord McDowell, under all that dirt and grease?”

“It’s me.” He was surprised she remembered him. They hadn’t talked since he’d been arrested ten years ago, and they hadn’t been friends then. Cord braced himself for the insult or questions to come. Something about how he had liked prison or how he was wasting his life.

“I heard you were working here.” She leaned her head sideways as if studying him. “Tannon says you’re the best mechanic he’s got.”

Looking surprised that Cord and Nevada were talking, Old Man Whitaker said something about getting back before the whole damn shop fell apart and left the two of them to work things out.

“I don’t work on Jeeps much.” Cord kept his voice low. Nevada wasn’t afraid of him, which was more than he could say about most women in town. They all seemed to think that since he’d been in prison, he might go ballistic any minute and murder the whole town.

“I know,” she pouted, like the spoiled woman she probably was. “I’ve been to every garage in town. Nobody knows how to fix it. Half of them wouldn’t even take a look.”

“You could take it into Amarillo. There’d probably be someone there.” He couldn’t help but wonder if the other shops didn’t want to deal with her, or the Jeep. He’d heard that her father had bankrupted the company who’d sold his son the speedboat years ago.

She pulled off her sunglasses and looked up at him with tears in her beautiful blue eyes. Cord had no trouble seeing why she’d had three husbands and wasn’t out of her twenties. Any man would have trouble saying no to her.

“Please take a look at it, Cord,” she said, as if she knew him well. She patted the old piece of junk as if it were her pet. “She was my grandfather’s, and if she gives out, I’ll lose the last part of him.”

Cord knew how she felt. Sometimes things get attached to the love left behind when someone dies. Maybe that happens to leftover love when there’s no one to pass it along to. He had one of those “things” taking up half of the old barn on his farm. His grandfather had loved the old biplane, and he couldn’t bear to junk it.

“All right,” he said. “If you’ll leave it with me for a few hours, I’ll see what I can do.”

She handed him her keys. “You’ll handle her with care?”

Her hand touched his for a moment as he answered, “As if she were my own.”

He stood next to the Jeep watching Nevada walk away. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he wished for more than he had.

Chapter 2

MARTHA Q PATTERSON DROVE AWAY FROM PARKER TRUCKING with the image of Cord McDowell and Nevada Britain stuck in her mind. Like she always did on her morning errands, she watched people, and those two were saying more with their body language in a few minutes than most people say aloud in a week.

For a few blocks she let the plot of a steamy novel play out in her thoughts. Tough guy in working clothes talking to society girl who’d been wild since she started wearing a bra. The lines from a song about a man not fitting into her highbrow world drifted through the imagined scene. Martha Q might be older than the two of them put together, but she could remember romantic times she’d once had in a garage with her fourth husband.

Or maybe it was her second. It was hard to keep track, but the smell of motor oil still turned her on even though her engine never got a chance to run these days.

Everyone in town knew Nevada Britain. The girl was on her way to breaking Martha Q’s record for number of husbands. Just seeing her standing beside Cord, good-looking trouble that he was, made Martha Q start writing love scenes in her head as she drove. Ever since she’d signed up for the creative writing class at the library, Martha Q couldn’t stop building backstories in her mind. The habit was getting so dominant that she sometimes confused what was real and what she’d made up.

Occupational habit, she decided. All great writers have the same problem. Or at least she thought they did. Take George Hatcher, owner of the used bookstore; she’d provided him with a far more interesting past than he’d probably ever manage on his own. Martha Q waved at him as she made the square on Main and headed toward her huge old house that she’d turned into a bed-and-breakfast after her last husband died.

Once she’d made up a story about dear old George Hatcher being a time traveler come back a hundred years to collect period pieces for the History Channel. Martha Q couldn’t seem to be completely truthful with the man who smelled like mildewed old paperbacks. She even left out one of the ingredients to her apricot scones just in case he planned to take it back to the future someday.

As she turned into the oldest neighborhood in Harmony, Texas, Martha Q let her mind drift back to the way Cord McDowell had tipped his greasy ball cap like it was a top hat when he’d said good-bye to Nevada in her tailored suit and she’d tried to look him in the eye. He was a gentleman, Martha Q decided, beneath all that dirt. It didn’t matter what folks said about him.

Some claimed he’d gone wild one night and almost killed a deputy, but Martha Q figured there was more to the story. She considered herself an expert on crime because she had a pen pal in prison who grew more handsome in her eyes with every letter.

A moment later she was ripped from her fantasy when she almost slammed into the black hearse parked in her driveway.

Martha Q opened her door and wiggled out of her boat of a car before the engine finished its usual death rattle. As always, she’d parked too far to the left of the thin sliver of concrete and had to fight the budding elm branches to move around her car. “I’m going to cut that thing down before . . .”

She stopped when she noticed someone was listening to her talk to herself. Martha Q never minded the habit, but she hated others eavesdropping.

“Tyler Wright,” she yelled at the man on the porch as she waddled toward him. “I told you not to come before eleven. I get my nails done on Mondays and I need time for them to dry before I can have a proper conversation.” She waved her fingers in the air while her purse, looped to her elbow, battered her ample breast.

The chubby funeral director just smiled as he watched her heading toward him. “It is eleven, but I’ll be happy to come back if you like.” He bowed slightly. In his black suit he looked funeral ready.

She frowned. Agreeable men always bothered her. She’d preferred the yellers and fighters. They made the best lovers, that was a fact. Course, they always turned into ex-husbands who either cried or stalked her. She’d figured out one fact about men years ago: Most couldn’t do two things at once. It didn’t matter if they were having sex or yelling, they didn’t seem to be able to think at the same time.

Tyler Wright smiled as she neared, obviously having no idea what she was thinking, thank goodness.

“No, don’t leave.” Martha Q grabbed the railing and pulled herself onto the porch. “I need to talk to you, Tyler, and it has to be before noon. The widows will be back as soon as they finish the early-bird lunch at the Mexican Hat.”

She motioned for him to take one of the wicker chairs on the wide porch of the Winter’s Inn Bed-and-Breakfast. “I don’t want you coming back, or staying too long for that matter. The neighbors will get the idea I’ve died and rush over to start picking at my bones.”

“Now, Martha Q.” Tyler sat beside...

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