Excerpt: River's Bend

Book 1 : River’s Bend Series

River's Bend (River's Bend Series) by JoAnn Ross

Rachel clenched the steering wheel as she stared out the window at the New Chance Café. The scene that greeted her was not the least bit encouraging.

“Well, you’d certainly never see anything like this in Connecticut,” she said with feigned cheer as she took in the log building sitting in the middle of a gravel parking lot where a white pickup, a red fire truck, and a black Jeep Grand Cherokee painted with River County Sheriff’s Department  on the side, were parked.

“The cow’s neat,” her nine-year-old son offered.

Despite her best intentions to remain positive, Rachel cringed as she raised her eyes to the life-size statue of a brown cow standing on top of the roof. A cow the photographs posted on Mitzi Patterson’s real estate website had failed to reveal.

“It’s unique, at any rate.”

“Wait ’til Jimmy finds out we own a log cabin restaurant with a cow on the roof,” Scotty said. “He’ll never believe it!  Can I call him tonight, Mom?  And tell him about the cow?”

“I suppose so,” Rachel murmured, staring up at the cow. Could it be any larger?

“Let’s check out the inside,” she suggested. “We’ll have a nice brunch and take a tour of the kitchen before going to Ms. Patterson’s real estate office to pick up the key to our house.”

“Do you think the house will have a cow on the roof, too?”

“I fervently hope not.”

“Maybe it’ll have a horse,” Scotty suggested. “Wouldn’t that be sweet?”

“Sweet,” Rachel agreed absently.

She’d just left the car and was headed toward the café when a man came out the scarred wooden door, causing her to come to an abrupt halt.

He was, in a word, perfect. Impossibly, magnificently perfect. His tanned complexion revealed a lot of time spent outdoors, his jaw was firm, his chin square and marked with a deep and delicious cleft.  His nose was straight, and his eyes, beneath the brim of a fawn-colored cowboy hat, were a remarkable green so bright that were the rest of him not so flawless, she might have suspected he was wearing tinted contacts.

He was wearing a blue chambray shirt with jeans, wedged-heeled boots and a pistol worn gunslinger style on his hip. It was as if that iconic Marlboro man had suddenly sprung to life and walked off a billboard.

“Ms. Hathaway?” he asked.

His voice was a lush, deep baritone that was as impossibly sexy as his rugged good looks. For a fleeting moment, Rachel imagined showing up with this man at the country club back home. The women would all go wild; it would be like throwing him into a bucket with a school of starving piranha.

That image had her smiling for the first time in a very long while.

“Are you a cowboy?” Scotty asked, staring up at the hat.

“Not really,” he said.

Disappointment moved across her son’s freckled face.

“But I am sheriff of River County.”  He reached into a shirt pocket and pulled out a metal badge.

Scotty beamed. “A real live sheriff. Holy cow! Wait’ll Jimmy hears about this!”

“Jimmy is Scotty’s best friend,” Rachel explained. “Back home in Connecticut.”

Not that Connecticut was her home any longer, she reminded herself. This was home now. This restaurant with the enormous brown cow on the roof.

Up close, the cow appeared even more gargantuan. Rachel blinked, hoping that when she looked again, the enormous animal would prove to be merely a mirage, brought on by exhaustion and too many hours staring at the seemingly endless miles of asphalt crossing the country.

No such luck. When she opened her eyes again, the cow was still there in all its bovine glory.

“I figured as much.” When he took off his hat, revealing thick sun-streaked chestnut hair, Rachel decided that it was unfair for a man to be gifted with such physical beauty. “I’m Cooper Murphy.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sheriff. This is my son, Scotty.”

“Mom,” Scotty complained. “I keep telling you, you have to call me Scott. I’m the man of the house, now,” he explained to Cooper. “Scotty’s a little kid’s name.”

The sheriff held out a broad dark hand to her son. “Hi, Scott. I never would’ve taken you for a little kid. Welcome to River’s Bend.”

“Me and my mom came to Oregon to start a new life,” Scotty —Scott —revealed.

“My mom and I,” Rachel corrected.

Her son shrugged off the murmured grammatical correction. “Anyway, my mom and I  bought this restaurant because she’s the best cook in the whole world. Everyone thinks so. Not just me. Wait ’til you taste her braised short ribs. They even got written about in the newspaper.”

“It was a very small review,” Rachel said, remembering how excited she’d been to see Rachel’s Home Catering in print. Even if it had only been a weekly local paper.

“I’m looking forward to trying them,” the sheriff said.

“Dad always said they were even better than Grandma’s.”

“If your dad said so, it must be true.”

“It is. Grandma died. So did my Grandma and Grandpa Field who lived far away in Iowa. They were my mom’s mom and dad. But that was a long time ago, when I was just a baby. But I’ve seen them on the DVDs Mom kept in the old bookcase we had to sell after my dad died, too. So we’re all alone now, but we still have each other. Right, Mom?”

“Right,” she said absently.

Dragging her gaze from where it had drifted back up to the roof again, Rachel decided to call a halt to this conversation before Scott proceeded to reveal her entire life story.

“Well, as nice as it’s been meeting you, I’d like to inspect my café.”

“Sure. Come on in and I’ll show you around.”

“I appreciate the offer, Sheriff Murphy, but you needn’t bother. Surely giving restaurant tours isn’t part of your job.”

“The name’s Cooper,” he corrected, taking her elbow as he shepherded her toward the front door. “And as for this being part of the job, Ms. Hathaway, I’m afraid that it is.”