I gave you my heart but.., p.1

I Gave You My Heart, but You Sold It Online, page 1

 

I Gave You My Heart, but You Sold It Online
 


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I Gave You My Heart, but You Sold It Online


  I Gave You My Heart,

  but You Sold It Online

  DIXIE CASH

  CONTENTS

  one

  On a sunny October afternoon, Quint Matthews’s red Ford truck…

  two

  Mommy, can I tell you something?”

  three

  Debbie Sue Overstreet pulled her truck behind the Styling Station.

  four

  The driver of the dark blue sedan drove onto a…

  five

  Debbie Sue left the Styling Station not just tired and…

  six

  Was the woman baking those damn cookies?

  seven

  In the restaurant’s entryway, they were greeted by a lifelike…

  eight

  An orchestra of bass drums thundered in Quint’s head. He…

  nine

  Monday morning, Debbie Sue was the first to arrive at…

  ten

  Debbie Sue fought the urge to scratch her face as…

  eleven

  Trick-or-treat? Mom, I’m twelve. I’d die if someone saw me.

  twelve

  The ride to Midland in Quint’s luxurious pickup passed quickly.

  thirteen

  For the second time in four days Quint found himself…

  fourteen

  Nothing like starting the day with a grouch. Tag peered…

  fifteen

  Allison had a habit of arriving at Almost the Rage…

  sixteen

  Allison’s body was in Almost the Rage; her hands and…

  seventeen

  Debbie Sue arrived at the Styling Station the next morning…

  eighteen

  An hour later Allison was motoring toward Sam’s Club in…

  nineteen

  By late afternoon Debbie Sue and Edwina had viewed, read,…

  twenty

  Following Edwina from the storeroom, Debbie Sue saw Maudeen. Another…

  twenty-one

  Allison, unable to stop laughing, came to where Debbie Sue…

  twenty-two

  Allison had to share her suspicions with her friends. She…

  twenty-three

  Tag Freeman’s conversation had left Debbie Sue’s heart galloping through…

  twenty-four

  I swear to God, when I left she was alive.

  twenty-five

  Allison awoke to the enticing aroma of coffee and the…

  twenty-six

  At a quarter to six, before leaving for the bereavement…

  twenty-seven

  Debbie Sue and Edwina followed the sheriff. At his office,…

  epilogue

  All charges against Quint were dropped. He was free to…

  acknowledgments

  Other Books by Dixie Cash

  Cover

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  one

  On a sunny October afternoon, Quint Matthews’s red Ford truck roared along the endless gray highway that stretched through the wide-open spaces of far West Texas. As he sped past tumbleweed forests, sparse mesquite trees stunted from lack of moisture, and scattered pumpjacks laboring against the horizon, Quint returned his cell phone to its cradle on his dash and cussed again. This was getting old, damned old.

  The Visa customer-service representative had been polite, even sympathetic, just as she had been every time he had called and reported unauthorized charges on his credit card. His credit limit was “no limit” and the girls in his office always paid his bills on time. Canceling his card altogether was something the bank had already proved it was not eager to do. “Don’t worry, sir,” the customer-service rep said. “We’ll cancel this card and issue another.”

  When he asked for help in identifying the unauthorized user, she suggested he speak to the bank’s fraud and abuse department. Quint had talked to the fraud and abuse department a dozen times and gotten nothing but absurd excuses about how the charges hadn’t been large enough to set off alarms and cause automatic action.

  The credit-card abuse was aggravating enough, but the real blow was that deep down in his heart and ego, Quint believed he knew the abuser. Monica Hunter. It had to be her. The pieces he already knew about fit the borders of the jigsaw. What was missing was the rest of the puzzle.

  Monica had entered his life like a tsunami swamping a sleeping sunbather. Just when he had been playing it safe, too.

  And just when he had been vulnerable and recovering from an experience so horrible he couldn’t bear to speak of it. He might not talk about it, he might try not to think about it, but he would never forget how a good-looking redhead had perpetrated an outrageous deception, fooled him completely, and publicly humiliated him. For months, tabloid newspapers and magazines blaring about the scandal had appeared beside the cash registers of every grocery store in Texas. And who knew where else?

  Since that nightmare, Quint had limited his social life to hooking up with women through an exclusive—and expensive—Internet dating site that thoroughly screened all of its members. His relationships with the women he met on the Internet had amounted to nothing more than casual dinners and one-night stands. Then one evening as he surfed the Net, Monica had come online and hit him harder than a rodeo arena floor. Up to then, he had been seeking nothing serious with the fairer sex. Monica had turned his world upside down. For ninety blissful days and nine ideal evenings, he had entertained the notion that he had found The One.

  Then she disappeared.

  What had appeared, on the other hand, and in a matter of hours, really, were myriad baffling charges on his Visa.

  Well, he had no intention of shrugging it off and moving on. No intention whatsoever. He was no ordinary lovesick fool. What Monica didn’t know, couldn’t possibly know, was just how royally she had screwed up. In the world Quint Matthews had carefully carved for himself in years of living in the rough-and-tumble world of ProRodeo, he was the King. And everybody knew, you don’t shit on the King. Nosiree, baby. You don’t squat wearing spurs and you don’t shit on Quint Matthews.

  He picked up the phone again and keyed in another number that had been programmed into it for several years. On the third ring, he got an answer. He recognized the hello and a sense of relief flowed through him. The voice on the phone was the one he shouldn’t have let get away. “Debbie Sue?” he said with a grin. “Hey, darlin’, this is Quint. How you doin’, sweetheart?”

  “Why, Quint. What a surprise.”

  Debbie Sue Pratt was the only human alive he trusted to help him solve his current problem. “I’ve been thinking about you, darlin’. When I need somebody good-looking and clever, I always think of Debbie Sue Pratt.”

  “Why, thank you, Quint, but you know my name isn’t Pratt anymore.”

  Shit. He did know that. He just didn’t like to think of her being married to Buddy Overstreet. Buddy, who used to be the sheriff in Cabell County, had always looked at him with a jaundiced eye. These days the guy was a Texas state trooper, working toward becoming a Texas Ranger. Big deal.

  “Sure, darlin’,” he told the one who made him feel more alive than any woman he had ever known. “I heard you and Buddy got together again. But just because you got married, you wouldn’t high-hat an old friend, would you?”

  “Nope. Not for a minute.”

  “You and your pal up for taking on a new customer?”

  She laughed. “You need a detective?”

  Quint laughed, too. He loved the way nothing got past her.

  When Debbie Sue and her partner, Edwina, had solved the mystery of Pearl Ann Carruthers’s murder, a reputation for being experts at crime solving de
scended upon them. Quint had even read about them in Texas Monthly.

  Debbie Sue had taken advantage of the publicity. Dragging her partner along, probably kicking and screaming, she had opened sort of a private investigation agency in one end of her beauty shop. The Domestic Equalizers, she had bragged in the article, specialized in spoiling the fun of philandering spouses and significant others.

  Quint had neither, but when it came to his love life, he might be better off if he did.

  “I do need a detective, darlin’, and I need one now. Look, I’m gonna be in Salt Lick on Saturday. You think Buddy would care if I stopped by your shop for a little visit?”

  To Buddy Overstreet, Quint suspected, a visit to his wife by Quint Matthews would be about as welcome as a drunk driver traveling the wrong direction on I-20. Buddy didn’t have to worry, though. Under the present circumstances, Quint’s interest in Debbie Sue had to be more professional than carnal. He listened again as she told him to come on by the shop anytime.

  “Hey, thanks, Debbie Sue. I’ll call when I get into Salt Lick. You’re the only one I can trust.”

  Why did he trust only her? Because she was honest and loyal to her old friends. She would keep what he told her in the strictest confidence. Despite their rocky history, he had no doubt she would take his best interest to heart.

  Disconnecting, he felt better. There was just something about that woman’s attitude that made him believe his problem was near an end.

  DEBBIE SUE TURNED from the Styling Station’s payout desk and looked at Edwina Perkins-Martin, her longtime friend and now her business partner.

  A frown creased Edwina’s brow. “Good Lord, who died?”

  “You’re not gonna believe who that was,” Debbie Sue said.

  “From the look on your face, I’d say it was the Angel of Death and you’re next on his list.”

  “Quint. That was Quint Matthews. He’s coming to see me.”

  “Bingo!” Edwina said. “I’m right again.”

  THE DRIVER OF a plain, dark blue sedan slowed and switched to the right lane behind an eighteen-wheeler. Keeping sight of Quint Matthews’s bright red one-ton truck was easy. It didn’t blend in with the rest of the traffic, and if it should, the vanity license plate, RODOMAN, was easy to spot. Rodeo Man. The driver chuckled. It was hard to tell which was bigger, the rig that was in Quint’s control or the ego that wasn’t.

  Following Quint stealthlike wasn’t the ideal means to an end, but what choice was there? Being recognized could cause a confrontation and ruin everything. A clash with him could be ugly, even dangerous. Behind his public, successful-businessman facade Quint was still an ex-professional athlete, strong as the bulls he used to ride. He was capable of physical harm. His quick temper had erupted over smaller things than his public image.

  The most important thing was to avoid identification. “Just keep a low profile,” the driver mumbled to no one, “and have a little patience.”

  two

  Mommy, can I tell you something?”

  Allison Barker’s twelve-year-old daughter, Jill, never called her Mommy unless she wanted something badly or catastrophe was imminent. Allison swerved her attention from the Excel spreadsheet on her computer screen to the slender girl standing in the doorway.

  “Don’t freak out, okay?” Jill said in a tiny voice. “And promise me you’ll go and try to have a good time.”

  Extracting a commitment from her mother before the end of a discussion was typical of Jill. “I don’t like the sound of this already. What have you volunteered me for this time?”

  The preteen stood in the doorway with a wide-eyed stare, a maneuver Allison recognized as one Jill resorted to in order to avoid tears. A feeling of foreboding crept through her. This was serious. She closed her laptop, stood up, and took a seat on the sofa. She patted the cushion beside herself. “Come sit down and tell me what’s got you so upset.”

  “I can’t. We don’t have long and you need to get ready.”

  A tiny panic rose in Allison’s chest. “What in the world are you talking about?”

  “It’s six-thirty. You’ve got a date in thirty minutes. A really nice man. He’s coming to Salt Lick on business and he’s coming to pick you up. Pul-leeze, Mommy, pleeeze. Promise me you’ll go and have fun.”

  It was Allison’s turn to stare wide-eyed. “Jillian Elaine Barker, what have you done?”

  Words rushed from Jill’s mouth. “He’s perfect for you, Mommy. He’s really nice. He lives on a ranch and he likes long walks on the beach and sharing a glass of wine with a special lady.”

  Long walks on the beach?…A glass of wine? Special lady? Concern replaced shock. “When and where did you meet this person?”

  “Online,” Jill said meekly.

  “Good Lord, Jill. Tell me you didn’t give him our address.”

  “How would he pick you up for a date if I didn’t give him our address?”

  Allison dropped her forehead to her hands. She was accustomed to her daughter’s frequent comments about her needing to get out of the house and have a life beyond working twelve-hour days, but she hadn’t dreamed the child was so concerned she would resort to arranging a blind date.

  “Please, Mommy—”

  “Honey, you just don’t give out your address to perfect strangers, especially perfect strangers on the Internet.” Allison got to her feet and went to her daughter, placed an arm around her narrow shoulders. “You don’t know who or what someone really is. He could be a stalker. A rapist or a murderer. Haven’t any of the talks we’ve had gotten through to you?”

  Jill’s posture stiffened. “I wouldn’t give our address to just anyone.”

  “But, honey, apparently you already have. You don’t know this person.”

  “Yes, I do. We’ve been talking online almost every day for a month.”

  “A whole month? Good Lord, where have I been?”

  “Working.”

  The answer stung because it was true. Two years ago, Allison had moved herself and her daughter from the small West Texas town of Haskell to the smaller and even farther-west West Texas town of Salt Lick to help her mother salvage her dress shop, Almost the Rage. In reality, Almost the Rage was Almost the Bankrupt. At the time of the move, Allison had no idea the monumental task she had agreed to take on.

  What she discovered, too late to back out, was that everything in her mom’s store was outdated, starting with the fashions and ending with the hand-posted bookkeeping system. True, she had visited her mother in Salt Lick over the years, but she hadn’t bothered to look deeply into the small dress shop’s operation. The work that had to be done to save it had left little time for Jill and even less for herself.

  “I know I’ve been in the dress shop a lot, but I’m doing this for us. You know our goal. I’m trying to build the store to be successful enough to move into a space at the mall in Midland. With the right clientele in Midland and Odessa—”

  “I know, Mom, I know. I want that, too, but what I want more is for us to be a family. Before you know it, I’ll be grown and gone. You say so yourself all the time.” Jill’s eyes glistened; her face began to pucker. “More than anything I want us to be a family.” She burst into tears and ran from the room.

  Allison rolled her eyes. So much drama, so little time. She trudged up the hallway and rapped gently on her daughter’s bedroom door. “Jill?…Honey, I’m coming in.”

  Allison eased the door open and paused to watch her daughter as she sat at her computer, tapping at the keys between sniffles, her brown ponytail bobbing in time with the rhythm of her fingers. Many times Allison had questioned the wisdom of letting Jill have her own computer, her own TV in her room. She had seen the warnings. But a grandmother’s determination to shower her only granddaughter with what ever she desired, even if Grandma couldn’t afford it, had been hard to fight.

  For a few seconds, Allison looked around Jill’s bedroom. It held most of the symbols of a young girl in transition. Ageless Barbies sitting i
gnored, a toy-filled bookshelf huddled beneath a poster of a hot rock band. Where had the time gone? Wasn’t it just yesterday that Jill was playing with dolls? Allison walked over, stopped behind Jill, and smoothed her hand over her daughter’s brown hair.

  She had raised Jill alone after being deserted at the age of eighteen by Jill’s father. Most women had a scrapbook of memories from prom night—corsages pressed between the pages of a book, pictures of a smiling young couple. Allison had a crib and high chair…and a child now standing at the edge of adolescence. Until this moment she had viewed the “sperm donor’s” departure as a blessed event. God, she hated having to question a belief she had clung to for so long.

  Other mothers had warned her that adolescence brought a unique set of problems and situations. Allison had thought her and Jill’s special relationship would make them immune. Had she been wrong? Had she been so busy making a living and patting herself on the back for raising Jill alone that she had failed to see the angst their lifestyle had instilled in her daughter? Now she felt guilty and helpless. “Sweetie, I didn’t know you felt this way. I thought we were happy. I’m always here for you. You know that, don’t you?”

 
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