Loving LaurenJill Sanders
~ West Series ~
Lauren & Chase
© 2013 Jill Sanders
Follow Jill online at:
Jill on Twitter
Jill on Facebook
Sign up for Jill's Newsletter
To my cowboy
Lauren had been raised to not be afraid of anything, and she lived by that code, that is until her dad died and left everything in her hands. Now she’s not only in charge of her two younger sisters, but she’s running a full-blown Texas ranch. Caring for a thousand-acre ranch has its ups and downs, physically, mentally, and financially. All she is looking for is a little break. What she doesn't have time for is someone who will only complicate her life further.
Chase is back in his hometown. Helping his dad with his veterinary practice is high on his list. So is being with the lovely Lauren West. Years ago, he found a unique way to bind them together. Now all he has to do is prove to her that he’s the right man to spend the rest of her life with.
Hot wind whirled around Lauren's skirt, causing it to fly up. She laughed as she twirled around. Stopping for a second to catch her breath, she looked over at her sisters, Alex and Haley. Alex's bright blonde head was pointed downward as she sat in the dirt, happily making a mud pile. Haley's dark curly hair lay in the grass as she watched the clouds rush by.
Lauren looked up at the sky and noticed that the clouds were going by very fast. Frowning a little, she decided that dancing some more while keeping her eyes glued to the sky might be fun. She twirled while watching everything rush by her, almost causing her to tumble over and fall.
Dancing in the fields was one of her greatest joys. Even though she had to babysit her younger sisters today, she didn't mind. For the most part, her sisters could entertain themselves. Lauren still had to carry Haley sometimes when her short legs got tired. She supposed that being four was tiring, though she couldn't remember ever being four. She thought she must have slept through her life until she turned five, when her first memories happened. Haley was always asleep, or lying down, like now. But Lauren was eight and she had enough energy to shake the roof off the barn, or so her Daddy always said.
The breeze moved the tall grass around them, making the field look as if it were dancing with her. She stopped to bow to her make-believe dance partner, a move she'd seen late one night when she had sneaked to the edge of the stairs. Her parents had been watching an old black-and-white movie and she could make out the screen if she tilted her head just right. The woman in the long white dress had bowed slowly while smiling at a tall gentlemen in a black suit and tie. They'd looked so wonderful. From that moment on, Lauren had wanted to dance. Every chance she had, she'd moved around like she'd watched the couple do, wishing her dress was longer so it would flow like the lady’s had.
Taking a break, she looked off towards the house. The large three-story stone place sat like a beacon in the yellow fields. Its bright white pillars gleamed in the sunlight, at least when the clouds weren't shadowing the land. It was the only place she'd ever known as home. Her dad's dad had built the place a long, long time ago. Probably a zillion years ago. The outside looked new, and her dad did everything he could to keep the inside looking new, too. But Lauren knew some of the floorboards creaked when you walked on them. And the water only stayed hot long enough for her and her sisters to share a bath at night. But worst of all, she had blue carpet in her bedroom. Lauren hated blue. She'd begged her dad for new carpet, yellow preferably. Her dad told her it was blue because it used to be his room, and that it would have to stay blue until they could afford new carpet. Her room was perfect, except for the blue carpet. It was like a big wart on her room. Not that she'd ever gotten warts. Jenny Steven's had a wart once on her finger and she had to wear a My Little Pony Band-Aid over it. But during recess, Jenny had pulled the Band-Aid off and shown Lauren her wart. It was gross, all wet and puffy. So Lauren thought of her blue carpet as a wart on the face of her bedroom.
Looking at the house, she knew her mama was back in the kitchen making a feast for the church potluck tomorrow. Everyone was going to be there, even Dale Bennett. She didn't like Dale; he always pulled her hair and pushed her into the dirt, even when she was wearing her new church dress.
She knew that her mama was the best cook in the county. Or so her daddy always said.
Hearing a loud noise, she looked off towards the dark clouds that were forming over the hills. Her daddy was somewhere up in the hills, gathering the cows. She didn't know why they had to move the cows around all the time. It was still a mystery to her why they couldn't just stay here in the fields. There was plenty of tall grass to eat right here, close to the house. Another loud sound came from the hills. At first, Lauren thought it was a gunshot. She'd heard a lot of those growing up on the huge ranch, but then she turned her head a little and heard her mother screaming for them.
“Girls! Run, come quick!” Her mother stood in the front door, her apron flowing in the wind as her hands motioned for them to come to her.
“Come on. Mama wants us to run,” Lauren told her sisters.
Alex stood and dusted off her hands and started skipping towards the house. Haley on the other hand didn't move.
“Come on, Haley, Mama wants us to run home.” Another loud noise came from behind her and when she looked, the sky had turned black. Fear shot through her like a bolt of lightning. Without saying a word, Lauren grabbed up her baby sister and started running. Since her legs were longer than Alexis', she made it to her skipping sister and screamed for her to run faster. Halfway to the house, Lauren had to set Haley down. Her little sister had gained a few pounds and was too heavy for her to carry the entire way. Their mother wasn't in the doorway when they got there; instead, she was standing in the hallway.
“Quick, we have to get to the shelter.” Her mother picked up Haley and started running towards the back door.
“Mama, Bear!” Haley screamed. “I want Bear!”
Their old deaf dog was lying by the fireplace, where he always stayed, taking a nap.
“Fine.” Their mother set Haley down next to her and looked Lauren in the eyes. At this time, Lauren could hear the wind rushing through the house. The sound was so loud that Haley covered her ears and started to cry. “Lauren, I want you to make sure you get your sisters into the shelter, like I taught you. Can you do that?”
Lauren remembered the drills Mama and Papa had put her through. Nodding her head, she grabbed her sisters’ hands. “Yes, Mama.”
“Good. Now run,” her mother yelled over the noise, then she took off down the hallway to grab the dog as Lauren turned and started running, dragging her sisters behind her. When they got to the kitchen, Alex stopped. She pulled her hand out of Lauren's and started grabbing cookies that their mother had been baking.
“No, Alex, we have to go now.” Lauren dropped Haley's hand and grabbed Alex by the shoulders, causing her to drop all the cookies.
“No, I'm gonna tell Mama.” Alex started crying. Here in the back of the house the noise was even louder. She could see grass and leaves fly by the windows when she looked out.
“We have to get to the shelter, or Mama is going tell Daddy.” That stopped her sister from picking up the dropped cookies. Lauren grabbed her hand and turned back to get Haley, but Haley was gone. Just then their mother came into the kitchen carrying the old dog.
“Where's Haley?” she screamed, as she held the old dog in her arms.
“I don't know. She was just here. Then Alex—”
“Here, we don'
t have time for stories now. Take Bear and Alex and get to the shelter. Run girls, run!” Her mother pushed Bear into her arms. The dog looked small in her mother's arms, but in hers, he was heavy. She had to shift his fat body to make sure she didn't drop him. Alex ran to the back door and opened it. Hearing her mother's urgent tone, she must have understood that something bad was happening.
The girls rushed across the backyard through the high wind and the heavy rain that was falling. When they reached the storm shelter, Lauren had to set Bear down to open the big door. Alex grabbed Bear's collar, making sure he didn't run away as Lauren pushed the door open. Then Alex pulled Bear down the stairs as Lauren looked back towards the house. She could see a light go on in her sister's bedroom, then her mother’s shadow crossed the window. Her mother bent down, and when she stood back up, Lauren could see that Haley was in her arms. She felt relieved until she looked up.
“Run, Mama!” Lauren screamed. The dark clouds circled above the house, and Lauren’s little body froze to the spot outside the shelter. It seemed like hours later when her mother finally appeared at the back door holding Haley. Her sister's head was buried in her mother's apron.
“Get inside!” her mother screamed halfway across the backyard.
Lauren's feet became unglued and she rushed to the bottom of the stairs. Turning, she waited for her mother to reach the shelter door. She watched as her mother's dress flew sideways in the high winds. Haley was holding onto her apron tightly.
Then everything slowed down in Lauren's mind. Her mother, a few steps from the doorway, looked up quickly, then turned her head and looked right at her. Lifting Haley high, she threw her into the open doorway. Haley fell down the stairs, and her little body hit Lauren's with enough force that it knocked them down. Haley's body shook as she cried, still clutching a piece of their mother's apron, which had been ripped from her shoulders. Lauren quickly got up and stood on the floor of the shelter, looking up into the doorway. She watched in terror as the ferocious winds ripped her mother from the doorway and swept her into the darkness.