“People think being Southern is simple. They assume an occasional y’all, darlin’, droppin’ the goff the end of a word, or listenin’ to country music qualifies you for the Southern way of life. That ain’t so. In fact, it’s far from the way it is. Being Southern is something bred deep within you. The need to help your family, friends, and neighbors during the tough times. The ability to serve sweet tea at the drop of a hat, and be kind to one’s elders. Respect for your family and friends and the capacity to see a need and act to meet it is imperative. Being Southern means going at a slower pace and enjoying the world around you. Sittin’ down and havin’ a home-cooked meal with your loved ones. There is also the required discipline to only say ‘bless their heart’ when people assume us Southerners are stupid because we talk slow. Being Southern is something you shouldn’t take for granted.”
Sunshine listened to G-Daddy’s deep voice as he rocked her on his and G-Momma’s front porch. She hugged him tight as she watched the chickens peck at the grass. Her G-Daddy was the sweetest. He helped her make mud pies, gave her sweets when her Momma wasn’t looking, and kept her from getting a good many whoopings. He seemed to be trying to instill a lot of wisdom in her.
Sunshine knew what wisdom meant. She was ten now. She was intent on taking it all in when she saw her enemy-of-the-moment pull into G-Daddy and G-Momma’s drive. Sunshine jumped out of G-Daddy’s lap and stood on the top step. “What are you doing here, Duck?” She aimed her best sneer at the boy who used to be her best friend.
“Sunshine, I’ve done asked you to quit callin’ me that. My name is Drake. You’ve known it since you were two.” Drake kicked the dirt in the drive. “Momma sent me over here to apologize to you.”
“Well, go on, let’s hear what you gotta say.” She motioned her small hands and threw them on her hips like she’d seen her Momma do when she was mad at Sunshine’s Daddy. Sunshine watched Drake walk to the bottom of the steps, head hung low. Apologizing had to be eating him up.
“I’m sorry for putting that frog down your shirt yesterday,” Drake mumbled reluctantly under his breath. Sunshine had gotten to where she didn’t think some of the gross stuff Drake and his brother, Brice, came up with was funny. She was turning into more of a girly girl, and he didn’t seem too fond of that. He had told her on more than one occasion that girls were weird.
“Thank you, Drake. I will tell your Momma you did a good job of apologizing. Now, I am spending time with my G-Daddy. Goodbye.” Sunshine did her best to sound as grown up as possible. She turned back around to climb into G-Daddy’s lap. Before she could walk two steps, she felt something plop against the back of her shirt.
“Drake!” Sunshine squealed loudly as she felt mud slide down her back. She ran down the steps and tackled him in the front yard.
“Quit being such a sissy all the time!” Drake yelled at her as they each wrestled to be on top. Punches were thrown for a few seconds. Sunshine managed to get him in a headlock for a brief moment and gave him a noogie.
“Does this feel like a sissy kicking your butt?” She jumped up and gave him a quick kick before he knocked her legs out from under her again.
“The necessity to stomp a mud hole in someone’s ass and walk it dry if they deserve it was the last tidbit I was going to tell you, but you seem to have that one in the bag, Sunshine.” G-Daddy laughed from the front porch as G-Momma came barreling down the steps to pull Sunshine and Drake apart, yelling at G-Daddy along the way.
“Damn it! Why the hell are you sittin’ there laughing at them like a loon?”
“Because right now, Sunshine is giving Drake a hard life lesson. Never underestimate a woman or you’ll get your ass kicked.”
Sunshine should have known, from that moment sixteen years ago on, what a snake Drake could be. Even after all the years since he’d been gone, G-Daddy’s voice continued to bang around in her head. She missed that crazy old coot.
She could hear the reruns of Bonanza on in the background. She didn’t turn to look. It was an episode she had seen a blue million times. She bet one of the Cartwrights’best friends hadn’t stolen their damn bull. Truth be told, that happened at least once, but that was beside the point. She had told herself she wouldn’t think about last night’s cattle thievery incident. That line of thinking would cause her to shoot something. She had to get her mind off of the jackass behind her pissed-off mood.
She smoothed her hand over the leather of her couch as it engulfed her and made taking it easy simple. Hair thrown up in a messy bun, head draped over the arm, she glanced at the seventy-inchTV. She purchased it for the main reason of watching theTide roll during football season. Her eyes roamed over to the barnwood-framed picture ofMomma and Daddyat her college graduation. They were smiling and looking at her with complete adoration in their eyes. The Lord knew Momma didn’t look at her that way anymore. Now Momma’s eyes gleamed with predatory calculation that scared the bejesus out of her.
You’d think she’d have a good Southern man by now, according to Momma. After all, she was Ms. Lawrence County’s Chicken and Egg Festival Queen three years running. That accolade had not been by her choice. And let us not forget to mention there were a few crazies in the family. The crazy gene drew in Southern men like flies to honey. Sunshine had a college degree, good birthing hips, and knew her way around a stove. In the South, a lady was supposed to have already married by her advanced age of twenty-six. She had shot that ideal to shit.
She could swear that woman tried to figure out how long Sunshine was still going to be fit and pretty. She hadn’t aged significantly since high school. She had great genes in that regard. Her Momma was still as pretty as ever, and looked more akin to being her sister. Bless her Momma’s heart, always trying to set her up with some man. Sunshine didn’t know when her Momma was gonna figure out that she was as bullheaded as her. She had no need to be set up by the woman, as if that wasn’tembarrassing in itself.
Sunshine needed food. She snagged some Oreos out of the pantry. She’d had to make a grocery run the other day to get some more, Lord have mercy on everyone if she ran out of Oreos or peanut butter. Momma had met up with her to tag along, and it’d seemed she’d been shopping for something a good deal different than what Sunshine was. She giggled over the aisle eight fiasco, named by her mother. That crazy woman stopped a good-looking man who’d been minding his own business right there in the middle of the store. Momma had started listing Sunshine’s attributes, as if she were a cow at the stockyard. She could have crawled behind the Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster board display, she was so embarrassed. Sunshine laughed out loud remembering the look of shock on the guy’s face when he heard the words pouring out of her own mouth. “I would be happy to go on a date, soon as I get permission from my probation officer to leave city limits.” She had sighed for dramatic effect at that point, adding, “But that might be a while since last time I stole a car…again.” He stood there slack-jawed and ran off. She got a smack in the head, but it was worth the look on her Momma’s face.
Sunshine was hitting her prime, but she was happy being single. She’d never needed a man, and didn’t intend to start now. She huffed out a breath of anger at her Momma. She still had many years of being a bachelorette left. She didn’t need to toe to an old traditional line of being married just yet.
Sunshine’s grip about crushed her Oreos when someone started beating on her new front door. She had it installed two weeks ago. It had some magnificent metal and woodworking details. Sunshine loved that door. It was rustic, almost medieval. It was the John Wayne of doors. In other words, it was a badass. That door was the finishing touch on her plantation-style home that sat back on two hundred and fifty some odd acres of beautiful pasture. One of Sunshine’s most proud achievements. If she was being honest, she’d have to say that while she loved picking out all the details of her house, what she’d been working on the hardest was building up her herd of registered cattle. She had been raising them for the past three years over in the neighboring county, out from under the watchful eye of her loving, but nosy parents.
She had found out this past week that she had the chance to supply a new up-and-coming cattle farmer with his first herd of registered Brangus. She was striving to get her herd from Moonshine farms sold in full and start another. The payout of that alone would set her up pretty for a good while.
Sunshine stalked towards the front entrance. There had better not be a scratch on her new door or she would shove her size six boot up someone’s ass. She seemed to be leaving a trail of manure, whether cow or horse was not determined, on the hardwood floors. She maybe should’ve wiped her feet better. Either way, she cringed at the fact that someone would see her house untidy. She may raise cattle and work long hours, but she still tried, on occasion, to resemble a Southern Lady, and hated for anyone to see her house out of order. Hope springs eternal and maybe it was her Daddy coming to tell her that some of the cows they owned together had calved. Even if it was Friday evening, sometimes you gotta go to the field. Hell, most times the field was where she would rather be.
Sunshine opened John Wayne to see a man who would stop most women dead in their tracks. Drake Augustus Caldwell. She gave herself a mental pat on the back for not being most women, and also for not slamming the door in the jackass’s face. If she hadn’t known him all her life, and he hadn’t put that frog down her shirt when they were ten, and stolen the bull she wanted during last night’s incident, she might find him good-looking.
Lord knew what other despicable, immature things he had done over the years that kept her from looking at him any other way than as a friend. Things being what they were, she saw the fourteen-year-old poopy head that stole her bathing suit top while they were swimming at the creek with some of their friends, which had included her crush at that time, Alan Peebles. Alan was a happily married man now. She was sure he had forgotten the flat chest of a twelve-year-old, or at least she hoped. Sunshine leaned on the doorframe, not in the least bit inclined to invite him in.
She took in all of Drake’s six-foot-five muscled frame looming over her in her doorway. His messy black curly hair fell across his forehead, and his trademark shit-eating grin was plastered across his face. Those steel-blue eyes of his gazed down at her. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to kick him in the shin, or berate him for daring to bang on John Wayne. Sunshine decided on the silent treatment. Let him squirm. He hated when she got quiet. Served the cattle thief right. Sunshine gave him the aw you done stepped off in it nowstare. The one that made grown men cry, and animals tuck tail and run.
After her death glare, she made a quick turn and headed straight to get one of her guns. She had them under the stairs in the safe room she had installed for tornadoes, and emergencies. She was going to teach him a thing or two. She decided not to kill him, because his parents and hers would have something to say about that. She didn’t know why. He had been a pain since the day she was born. Everyone talked about how she screamed bloody murder the moment Drake got to hold her. Sunshine was certain it was probably because he pinched her and she was crying at the fact that she would have to deal with him for the rest of her life. Anyone would cry in those circumstances. But no, she wouldn’t kill him. She could scar his nice ass for life, or make him piss his tight-fitting jeans. Either of those options held appeal.
Wait till she told Belle and Willow about his cattle thieving. Drake was going to wish he had never even looked at that bull. When they got done dragging him through the mud, there wouldn’t be a woman in a hundred square miles who would even think about going near him.
Sunshine tossed her hair over her shoulder to get it out of her face while she fiddled with the lock. She kept a handgun beside her bed but didn’t think the situation should go that far. She would get her shotgun out of the safe. She turned around and noticed that the cattle thief was still on her porch.
“Drake, dear,” Sunshine said in her sweet as honey voice. He hesitated to look around, and rightly so, seeing as she was armed with her new Benelli MAX 4 SBE2 12 gauge. She had bought it for duck hunting. Which was perfect in this case, since she was fixing to shoot a Drake. Sunshine’s smile turned evil. “Where’s mybull?”