Romance to the RescueCover

Excerpt from RIVER'S BEND by JoAnn Ross

Cover of River's Bend

Scott had been to Disney World lots of times. He’d also been to the top of the Empire State Building and a year before his dad had died, his parents had taken him to Italy, where he’d eaten lots of spaghetti and had his picture taken dressed up like a gladiator.

But as neat as all those places had been, none were as cool as Cooper’s sheriff’s office. It wasn’t that fancy. Not at all like his dad’s New York office with the thick carpet and all the heavy antique furniture.

The tops of these black metal desks and filing cabinets were piled high with papers. United States and Oregon state flags stood in the corner, and on the long wall, instead of framed posters of ads like in his dad’s office, there were framed photos of the President and the Oregon governor. Scott recognized the governor from the photo in the office of the Sacajawea Elementary School.

There was also a white board with people’s schedules written on it with a Sharpie and next to it, a corkboard with various notices stuck on it with colored pushpins. Many were layered on top of others, some had official looking raised seals.

But the coolest thing of all was the poster with pictures of the FBI’s top ten most wanted criminals. Scott studied them, just in case he ever spotted one of the baddest of bad guys.

A huge yellow dog, nearly as big as the pony Bobby Erickson’s parents had rented for his birthday party last year, thumped his tail, then unfolded himself from beneath one of the desks. He ambled across the room, stood on his hind legs, put his baseball mitt sized paws on Scott’s shoulders and swiped Scott’s face with his big, pink tongue.

‘“Hummer,” Cooper said, sounding strict, like a real sheriff for the first time since Scott had met him at the New Chance. “Attention.”

After one more swipe that covered the side of Scott’s face from his chin up to his hair, the dog dropped to the floor, sat on his butt, his back straight, big brown eyes looking straight up at Cooper’s.

“Good boy.” Cooper’s approval caused the dog to whine, just a little, but he stayed put. “Scott, meet Hummer. Hummer, this is Scott. You may now shake his hand.”

On command, the dog stuck out his paw, which Scott shook. “Hi, Hummer.”

The dog’s butt wiggled, but Hummer stayed where he was.

“Rest,” Cooper instructed.

Hummer immediately plopped down.

“That’s really cool,” Scott said.

“Sometimes he comes on patrol with me, so it’s important he behave when he absolutely has to.”

At that, Hummer rolled over and began scratching his back on the floor. “Does he do tricks?” Scott asked as he rubbed the dog’s stomach.

“That would involve expending energy. Hummer is deeply into energy conservation. Aren’t you, fella?” When Cooper scratched the dog behind his ear, Hummer moaned with canine pleasure.

“Well, well.” A woman with white hair looked at Scott over the top of her glasses. “What do we have here, Sheriff?” She tilted her head. “A new deputy recruit?”

“This is Scott Hathaway,” Cooper introduced him. “He’s come to help me clean out my files.”

“The good Lord knows you need help.” Dangling orange pumpkin earrings jiggled as she nodded. “You’d be Rachel Hathaway’s son. Your mom’s going to give us our restaurant back.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Scott said, remembering the manners his mom had drilled into him as Hummer wiggled in delight while the big pink tongue lolled. “But the food’ll be a lot better.”

“I’ve no doubt of that,” she agreed with a smile. “You look like a healthy young man, so she obviously feeds you well.”

“Yes, ma’am. She’s the best cook ever.”

“Aren’t you the sweetest thing?” She glanced up at Cooper. “The boy’s polite, too. Would you like a cookie?” she asked Scott.

“Yes, ma’am.” With one last pat to the dog, Scott stood up.

“Oh, don’t fuss with all that ma’am stuff. It makes me feel old,” she complained, but not in a grumpy way. “My name’s LuluBelle, which I’m well aware sounds like a saloon girl from back in town’s wild west days and caused me ever so much grief back when I was your age.”

She shook her fluffy white head, which reminded Scott of the cotton balls his mother had taken her makeup off with. Back when she’d worn makeup.

“I had a friend, Jimmy, back in Connecticut, whose mom changed her name,” Scott offered helpfully. “She went to this psychic who told her she’d been Cleopatra in a previous life. Since she said she’d never felt like a Brooke, she went to a judge and had her name changed to Cleo.”

At the time, Scott had overheard his dad telling his mom that Mrs. Walker was crazy. His mom had said that if it made her happy, then it really didn’t hurt anyone.

But that was the way his mom always was. Or had been, before his dad had died and their lives had changed. She was always smiling and laughing and had told him lots of times that one of the reasons she liked cooking for people was it made them happy.

“Well, isn’t that interesting,” LuluBelle said. “And as it happened, I did consider changing my name to Debbie the summer before I went to high school, but when I brought the idea up to Mama, she cried and wailed like I’d just told her the world was coming to an end since she had, after all, she felt moved to remind me, named me after her own dearly departed mother.

“Mama,” she confided, without seeming to take a breath, “was a very sensitive woman and tended to get the vapors at the least little bit of unpleasantness, so I never brought the topic up again.

“She passed a couple years ago, so after all this time, I guess I’ll just stick with the name she gave me. Especially since people around here don’t take well to change, so I’d just be stuck with them all still calling me LuluBelle. Oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip?”

It took Scott a minute to make the switch back to the lady’s original question, and when he took a bit of time trying to make up his mind, she decided for him.

“Why don’t we just give you one of both?” She stood up and bustled over to a counter on the far side of the room that had a coffee maker, some cups, and a white box of cookies.

“They’re not exactly homemade,” the woman said as she plucked two cookies from the box, put them on a paper plate, and handed him a wet wipe to clean his hands. “But they’re not store-bought, either. I picked them up this morning at Chapter One. That’s a bookstore here in town that serves fresh baked goods. Do you like to read?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good for you. I’ve always said that you’re never alone if you’ve got a book for company. I have books at home that belonged to my children. I’ve been saving them for my grandchildren, but none of my brood seems inclined to make me a grandmother anytime soon, so I’ll bring them down here for the next time you visit.”

She handed him the cookies, then took a pint of low fat milk from a little refrigerator next to her desk, stuck a straw in it and held it out to him.

“You can sit over there,” she said, nodding to an empty desk. “We’ve been short one deputy since Frank Thurman up and retired. Which is why I thought maybe you were the new recruit Cooper’s been looking to hire.”

“I’m only nine.”

“Is that so?” A white brow rose above her red-framed glasses. “Well, I would’ve thought you were older than that. You’re very mature for your age.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.

“It’s LuluBelle, honey,” she reminded him. “We don’t go much for formality around these parts. I guess you’d have some homework in that book bag of yours?”

Since he’d just taken a big swallow of milk, Scott could only nod.

“Well, you’d best get to it right after you finish your snack,” she said.

“In case you couldn’t tell, LuluBelle is the one who really runs the sheriff’s department,” Cooper said.

“Well, I’m not out keeping the streets safe,” she said as she sat back down, hit a computer key that got rid of the River’s Bend photo screensaver and brought up a page of numbers. “But I do keep the trains running as the old saying goes.”

“Cooper took me and my mom on the outlaw train,” Scott said. He hadn’t seen LuluBelle working at the train station when they’d been there.

The pumpkin earrings danced again as she nodded. “So I heard.” She winked up at Cooper, who shook his head, then sent his hat sailing across the office. It landed smack on an antler hat rack, just like Jason Kidd shooting a three-pointer.

When he took his gun out of his holster and locked it away in a drawer, Scott remembered how Cooper hadn’t taken his pistol on the outlaw train because it was Sunday. Maybe the sheriff didn’t have to wear his gun all the time because, like everyone kept saying, River’s Bend was a peaceful town.

As he dug his spelling test words out of his backpack, Scott thought maybe that was because Sheriff Cooper Murphy kept everyone safe.