A Sweetgrass Springs Novella
Texas Heroes, Book 22
Gib Douglas has been on the road a long time, with no place to really call home. When he pays a holiday visit to relatives in Sweetgrass Springs, the last person he expects to encounter is the girl he loved, the girl who’d promised to marry him and love him forever…until she betrayed him and married someone else.
Dulcie Maguire gave up her dreams so that Gib could follow his all those years ago. She made a decent life for herself while watching him soar to success with great pride, never expecting to see him again. Now widowed, she’s in dire straits with four children depending on her, when into her life walks Gib again—and she realizes that she’s never gotten over him.
But the man he’s become is not the boy she once knew—and he may never forgive her, once he knows the secret she’s been concealing.
“Did you know when you made the call for two tires and a splash at Phoenix that it would lock you into the points lead?”
Gib glanced over at the speaker, a young girl of maybe twelve or thirteen, he’d guess, wearing his team’s cap with her dark ponytail sticking out the back. Pretty insightful question for a kid. “No,” he admitted. “But we needed to get off pit road ahead of the 87 car.”
“Is it true that all the teams in your shop get victory bonuses, no matter which team wins?” Her eyes were blue and slightly tilted up at the corners. Somehow they seemed familiar.
He nodded. “I think it’s a good policy.”
“It seems odd to me. You’re racing against the others in your shop.”
“It’s not an easy balance,” he admitted. Tempers could fly in his very competitive business, and no one was more driven to win than him, but he couldn’t lead a team if he couldn’t control himself.
“So after a race, when your team loses and—”
“Torie!” A younger African-American boy skidded to a halt beside her. “Mom says come eat. The rest of us are nearly finished.”
The girl named Torie looked exasperated. “Not yet, Andre,” she whispered fiercely.
“You’re gonna be in trouble,” Andre said. “We have to get Bobby home soon, you know.”
“I know, but I just need to—” Her cheeks were fiery red. “Don’t you know who this is?” she muttered.
Gib crouched down to the boy’s level. “It’s my fault,” he said, extending his hand for a shake. “Hi, Andre. I’m Gib Douglas, crew chief of the No. 91 car. Your sister and I were just talking racing.”
The boy took his hand but rolled his eyes. “That’s practically all she ever talks about.” Then his gaze widened. “The 91—wow! You’re the champions!”
“We are,” Gib agreed.
“That’s really cool,” Andre said. Then he frowned. “But I’m supposed to bring her back. It’s a school night, so we have to get home. Our mom’s right over there.” He pointed behind Gib.
“Well, I don’t want to get Torie in trouble.” Gib rose. “You suppose it would help if I explained?”
Torie’s eyes were the wide ones now. “Would you?”
Gib glanced at his aunt and uncle. They nodded and smiled. “You go right ahead, son,” his Uncle Raymond said. “We’ll get a booth but wait to order.”
“I won’t be a second,” he promised. “Andre, how about you lead us?” He glanced at Torie and winked.
“Sure!” Andre took off like a shot.
“Slow down—” Torie ordered, then sighed as the boy did exactly the opposite.
“So you follow racing,” Gib began. “When did you start?”
She ducked her head shyly. “I can’t remember when I didn’t. I watched with my dad when I was little. I’ve seen nearly every one of your races.” She smiled up at him. “I want to be in NASCAR someday.”
“As a driver?” he asked. “There are more women on the track now than ever.”
“Drivers aren’t the most important part of the team,” she insisted. “They come and go. I’d like to own a team.”
Gib’s eyebrows flew upward. “That’s quite a goal you’ve got there.”
She slanted him a decidedly sassy look. “You don’t believe I can?”
Gib laughed and clapped her on the shoulder. “I’d be a fool to bet against you, I’m beginning to think.” They traded smiles. “So do you go to the races much?”
Those eyes that seemed so familiar darkened. “I’ve never been to one.” She shrugged. “My mom can’t afford it.” Her features grew determined. “But I’m saving my money for the spring Texas race. Mom doesn’t like racing, but she won’t let me go alone. If I can save enough for all of us to have tickets, I’m hoping I can change her mind.” She glanced ahead. “Uh-oh.”
“Young lady, you know we have to go soon.”
That voice. Gib went very still.
“But Mom—” Torie protested. “This is—”
Even as Gib was turning to face the woman who’d spoken, something deep in his gut was telling him her identity before he ever took a look.
And when he did, his heart stumbled, even as the ashes of anger and hurt sparked to life again. The curly brown hair was shorter now, but the eyes—her daughter’s eyes—still possessed the power to level him. To strike straight at his soul.
She stood there, holding the hands of a small Asian girl and an undernourished little boy. Her face had lost all color. “Gib.” Her voice was barely a whisper.
He wanted to hate her for breaking his heart. Wanted to make her explain why she’d betrayed him.
But “Hello, Dulcie,” was all he could manage.
…Excerpt from BE MINE THIS CHRISTMAS by Jean Brashear © 2016.