Texas Heritage, Book 3
Release Date:

May 22, 2023



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The Texas Cowboy’s Rescue


Debra Holt

This charge nurse and helicopter pilot bring a new twist to flight risk…

Single mom Kenzie Calhoun has returned to Burkitt, Texas, and the Aces High Ranch determined to build a loving home. She has a new position as a nurse on an air medical evac team, a house to remodel, and a whip-smart six-year-old daughter to raise. After a disastrous marriage, the walls around her heart are high. There’s no room for another mistake in the romance department.

Major Deke Hayes takes pride in his air evac helicopter service that assists area ranches, including the Aces High, during roundups and predator removal. In his spare time, he flies emergency calls for the local hospital. But his call sign, Lone Wolf, says it all: his trust issues mean he flies through life solo, too.

That is, until precocious Brooke Calhoun, with a penchant for climbing trees and a fondness for sprinkles on cupcakes, can’t help but bring the two adults together with her antics. Will Kenzie and Deke see that sometimes walls have a way of crumbling in the face of second chances?


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“Lordy, lordy, that is one fine pilot . . . and I ain’t talking about his flying skills. If I ever need rescuing, please send him fast.” Britt Connors sank down in the chair in front of the computer screen. The nurses’ station on the third floor had a prime view of the elevators down the hallway. The papers in her hand forgotten, covert glances continued toward the tall figure in a red jumpsuit who stood waiting for an elevator to open.

“I think a lot of mouth-to-mouth might be needed for me.” Carrie, the nursing assistant, added her two cents into the conversation, glances moving in rotation between the notes in front of her to the male in red.

“When you two get finished crushing on that pilot, perhaps you could help the patient in 312 get out of bed and get ready for a trip down to X-ray, Nurse Connors? And Carrie, you have vitals to take before your shift ends.”

“Come on, Kenzie, spill it . . . you’ve worked with him in the tight confines in his helicopter. What’s he really like?” Britt spoke up, adding a wink to her question. She and Kenzie had known each other since grade school, so she could get away with speaking in such a familiar way to the charge nurse on certain occasions. “You’re the only female in this hospital . . . probably in the whole town . . . not having breathing problems when he comes on the floor. Eligible men are in short supply around here in case you haven’t noticed. And one that looks like him? He is one hot commodity.”

“Yes, I have worked with him. And it’s because I grew up and out of the stage of crushing on boys in my teens that I can behave like a responsible adult with work to do. I can tell you that he is a private person, and you won’t get much conversation from him. He takes care of his job.”

They shook their heads with reluctance. “He’s awfully quiet.”

“Believe me, he isn’t much for communicating with his fellow humans unless he must in the course of the job. His call name on the side of his chopper is appropriate . . . Lone Wolf. Therefore, I wouldn’t be wasting time on an arrogant flyboy type that is too important for mere mortals. End of that subject. Now let’s get moving so shift change can begin.”

Pulling away from the hospital parking lot an hour later, Kenzie left her window down and enjoyed the fresh air that was cooling from the heat of the day. She hoped it would air out the clutter in her brain left over from the conversation between her female staff concerning the pilot. She didn’t care for gossip and her staff knew that. There was a fine line she walked between being seen as a super-strict witch and still exhibiting that she was a human with emotions, just like all the others. And she had allowed her personal history to get the best of her for a moment with her last comments. Well, nothing she could do about it now.

But there was an extenuating circumstance when it came to the Lone Wolf. He reminded her far too much of someone else . . . the same aloof arrogance, appearing far above any other mortal. Almost to the point of condescension. He issued orders and others were to follow. And that all added up, along with his hot looks, to make him catnip to females. She had fallen once and that was more than enough. She knew her job and was good at it or she wouldn’t have been sought out for his team by the head of the trauma unit. She had agreed to try it on for three months. And the money was very good. It would certainly be worth ignoring the things about their pilot that irritated her. She was a single mom who intended that her daughter have every chance as she grew up. Suck it up.

The first step was deciding to leave the city and come back to Texas, back to the old ranch house where she and her sister had lived with their mother for most of their lives. A lot of elbow grease and a good part of her savings to that point had gotten it to a place that was home. That had been a good decision. And good decisions were all she was interested in making.

Five minutes later, Kenzie shifted gears from nurse to mom, and the hospital and a certain pilot were left behind. She pulled into her neighbor’s driveway and exited her car. On cue, Jackie came out onto the front porch of the house, a couple of glasses of iced tea in her hands. She handed one over to Kenzie at the top of the steps. Kenzie wasted no time in taking a long drink from it.

“This is why you are such an incredible neighbor and best friend. You know what I need after a long day like this one.”

“I am pretty perfect, aren’t I? Sit down and take a load off those loafers. You can spare a few moments to breathe.” She motioned Kenzie into the rocking chair across from the one she made herself comfortable in. Kenzie hesitated but a second and followed her hostess’s suggestion.

“Did I say the word perfect? I don’t recall that,” Kenzie kidded back, taking another sip. She began to shed the day’s traumas and headaches. The peace and quiet of the country setting was a balm. A few moments later, her head cocked at a listening angle. “Is that quiet I still hear? That can’t bode well. Not with your two and my one in the vicinity. Or did you finally sell them to the circus?”

“Believe it or not, they are in the backyard, with a bowl of popcorn and juice bottles, and doing some finger painting . . . I believe the subject is our goldfish posing for them in their bowl in the center of the picnic table.” Then she stopped. Her head cocked into mom-listening mode.

“They have been quiet for almost fifteen minutes, though.” Automatically, both mom radars had kicked in and they stood in tandem, relaxation and teas forgotten. Around the side of the house they went, and they found the picnic table with Jackie’s two children seated, munching away and intent on their fish masterpieces.

“Where’s Brooke?” Jackie asked. That brought a small shrug from her daughter, Ashton. Thomas looked up at his mother, then his eyes gave a swift glance skyward and he, too, returned to his endeavor. Kenzie got the message loud and clear. Looking at one of the two tall trees in the shaded yard, she saw a pair of small white sneakers, with bright-pink and green laces, dangling from a branch, while the rest of the body was concealed by the shield of thick green leaves. Kenzie shook her head as she moved forward, the grass keeping her footsteps quiet. She came to a halt below the branch that had sprouted the feet, bare legs now in view. Then there was a telltale giggle from above.

“Brookelynn Calhoun, what did we discuss about a certain little girl climbing a tree with no adult present?”

The leaves began to shake and Kenzie was about to speak again with firmer instructions when the pair of legs was replaced by her daughter’s grinning face as she had switched, legs draped over the concealed branch, and her head a few inches from Kenzie’s startled gaze.

“What did I just say?”

“A certain little girl shouldn’t climb without a grown-up here, but I’m not a little girl, Mama. I’m a circus monkey, like in the cartoon we watched!” She followed that statement with a fit of giggles.

Kenzie kept a straight face as best she could. She should be used to her daughter’s antics, but there was always a surprise or two lurking around the corner. She lifted her arms. “Get down here right now. Come on.” More leaves shook and a few ended up falling on the pair of them as the child made a semi-graceful plummet toward the ground, broken by Kenzie’s arms.

She soon ended up with her feet planted firmly on the ground. A few more errant leaves had managed to adorn the jet-black hair braided into two long ropes, with purple ribbons at their ends. A pair of large violet eyes rimmed by naturally dark lashes gazed up in impish innocence. It was an elfin face, adorning a small body, but also lending disarming capabilities when she chose to unleash her powers of persuasion on some unsuspecting new acquaintance. Kenzie had been well aware of her daughter’s persuasive powers since the moment she arrived in the world, casting that violet gaze on hers and locking her tiny fingers around her pinkie.

The message had been clear from the start. Hold tight, Mama. It’s going to be a wild ride. And every day had been an adventure for the last six years, soon to be seven. Brookelynn Sarafina Calhoun was one of a kind. And Kenzie was blessed to have been chosen to be her mother . . . even if she would probably be totally gray by the time she hit thirty-five, thanks to her daughter’s penchant for antigravity-defying exploits.

“It’s time to get this monkey home and feed her. Thank Ms. Jackie for being ringmaster today for a circus of monkeys.”

“Thank you, Ms. Jackie. It was really fun and the cookies were super. You need to teach my mom how to make them.” This came as a muffled hug slid around the woman’s waist.

“Your mom is the one who gave me that recipe, young lady.”

Brooke motioned with her finger for the woman to bend closer as she whispered. “But Mom makes the edges funny and brown, and they crunch. I like the way yours are nice and smooth and gooey. She might need your help.”

“And on that note,” said Brooke’s mom, the person needing cookie help, “we need to head home.”

“This isn’t the way to our house,” Brooke spoke up a few minutes later, noting the scenery as they drove past the familiar town square with its ornate courthouse. The sun was sliding behind the hills in the west and the streetlights were coming on along the almost empty sidewalks in front of the storefronts that were in various stages of closing for the evening.

“I know, but I got a text from one of the nurses who needs me to sign off on some special orders that just came through for a night duty nurse for a patient on our floor. I promised the physician that I’d make certain it all went okay. I won’t be long. And how about we grab a bite in the cafeteria, since we don’t want to have to cook so late when we get home?”

“Oh boy! Do you think they’ll have my favorite chocolate cake with the sprinkles?”

“I think they just might, but that’s only if your plate doesn’t have any vegetables or meat left on it. Especially since you had those gooey cookies earlier.” Kenzie had to shake her head. Their hospital cafeteria happened to be one of those anomalies . . . a cafeteria that actually had people wanting to eat in it. That was thanks to Jackson Monroe, who could cook Southern food like someone’s grandmother and yet make it healthy in the process. And he had a special soft spot for Brooke and knew that the sprinkles on a cake would get her every time.

They went straight up to the third floor, where Brooke waited in her mom’s office while she spoke to the nurse pulling the private duty post and took care of the paperwork the hospital was waiting on. There was a sigh of relief from Brooke when Kenzie finally motioned they could leave. She skipped ahead to punch the button for the first floor on the elevator panel.

It was relatively quiet in the cafeteria when they arrived. Brooke checked out the dessert cart first of all. “Okay, concentrate on the entrée first. And you know how to earn a trip to the desserts.” Kenzie was being her usual mom self and inserting parental reality.

Brooke gave a slow nod. “I remember. And I’m going to get the chicken strips, mashed potatoes and broccoli. Then I’ll get the strawberry cake. I just wish the other cake was in its place.”

“Well, a clean plate will earn you a trip to that table. Let’s get our trays.”

The cafeteria had been remodeled recently and it was a pleasant area for the visitors and staff. The ceilings were high, and in the center was an atrium filled with green plants and a small water feature. On one side of the dining room, there was a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that looked over an expanse of lawn, and in the distance, down the hill, there was a nice view of the town. Kenzie enjoyed a ritual of morning coffee at a table next to the window so she could have a few moments of quiet before she began her day, usually with a view of the sunrise waking up the valley below.

Brooke chose a table at the far side of the room that had a nice view of the fading sunset. She wasted little time working on the food on her plate. Kenzie took a little slower approach with her chef’s salad and mixed fruit side dish.

“That man keeps looking at us,” Brooke whispered across the table. “Is he a doctor here? Do you know him?”

Kenzie ignored the first reaction to simply turn around and see who she might be talking about. She hadn’t paid much attention to the identities of the other patrons . . . maybe four other occupied tables spread across a good-sized room. “First of all, don’t stare back. You need to finish your food so we can get home at some point today.”

Very slowly, Kenzie rose with her tea glass in hand and moved to the drink cart where she refreshed her drink and then turned back toward the table. Her glance was meant to be just that. But her gaze met and stumbled across a too familiar one. She was about to place a social smile on her face when the man simply turned his attention back to his food. She was dismissed. It rankled her, but why had she expected anything more from him? Kenzie took her seat and found her appetite might have been left somewhere between their table and the tea cart.

“Yes, I do know him. He is the pilot I work with.” She didn’t plan on any more explanation.

Brooke came alive. “Pilot? He flies the helicopter? Really!? Do you think he’d let me ride in it sometime? Could you take me to see it? I think it would be so cool.”

Kenzie was surprised at her reaction. “I had no idea you were even listening when I was telling Ms. Jackie about my new assignment. What brought about this interest in flying?”

“I think it would be awesome to take off and fly wherever you want to go.”

“Well, we don’t take off and fly wherever we would like. We are sent to places where there are seriously hurt patients who need to get to the hospital very fast.” She didn’t get to elaborate as her pager sounded. Kenzie sighed and pushed the rest of her dinner away. “I’m going to have to run back up to the floor for a moment. I know you have worked on your dinner and are almost done, with the dessert cart calling soon. So I will run upstairs while you sit here and finish, and then we’ll see about that cake. Okay?”

“I’m okay. I’ll finish my dinner and sit right here until you get back.”

“And if you need anything,” Kenzie nodded toward the slender older man checking on the food line. He looked up and nodded in their direction. “Mr. Monroe is right here, and he always has an eye out for you. I’ll hurry.”

“Mom, I’ve got this. I’m not a baby.”

Kenzie limited her grin at the words. She had news for her little girl that, even when she reached her twenties, she would still be her little baby and that would reach well past her twenties even. But she’d let her think what she would. She couldn’t resist dropping a quick kiss on her child’s forehead as she left the table. As she passed the salad bar, Jackson nodded. “Don’t worry about little missy. We’ve got our eye on her.”

“I know,” Kenzie smiled in return. “You all are so sweet. I’ll be right back.”

Right back ended up stretching to fifteen minutes instead of the five or less she had thought. The elevator was taking its sweet time, to her irritation. Especially after she made a quick call downstairs when she saw she might be running longer and heard from Jackson that Brooke was enjoying her cake with Kenzie’s partner. Partner? And then Jackson described him, and she knew. She ended up taking the stairs down. Whatever had transpired while she was gone?

It was true. Her daughter was still at their table, but she was in the midst of a laughing fit. And while she couldn’t see the man’s face, only his back, it was clear that he was also amused by the slight movement of his broad shoulders. Kenzie was mystified. Brooke saw her first.

“Mama, there was only strawberry cake for dessert, but Mr. Deke asked Mr. Jackson for some sprinkles and he got some for my cake, so now this one is my favorite.”

“Since that slice is almost gone, I think I can see how much you enjoyed it. Did you remember your manners and thank him for the sprinkles?”

Deacon Hayes had pushed back his chair and stood at her arrival. Was that the remnant of a smile on his face? It was odd, but she didn’t remember seeing one of those in the couple of weeks they had been working together. Granted, they had been on a half-dozen flights only, but she had been surprised when Dr. Damian had asked her to consider joining the air evac team after she had been drafted to help in an emergency involving her cousins during a flood situation. He had explained they could use someone with her level of skill to get the program off the ground . . . no pun intended.

She had also realized that an added plus would be that she would be able to return home, to Burkitt, and have Brooke get to know her family—the Burkitts and the Hawkes—and strangely enough, it had come to light not long before that Deacon Hayes was actually a half-brother to the Hawkes brothers, Jaxson and Beaudry, who had married her cousins, Sammi Jo and Laurel Burkitt.

Did that make them relations? She doubted it was something he cared about and certainly she did not. Kenzie had found him to be a man who didn’t like conversation all that much. He preferred to keep his thoughts to himself and little was known about his background other than he had been in the military, where he had flown medivac helicopters in some of the worst areas in the world, and then he had come back home to open up his own air care business.

The hospital system had contracted with his company. It seemed that while he was the owner, he also flew one of the four helicopters in his fleet. So he wasn’t someone who let others do the work while he sat behind a desk. He was just the lone wolf who liked his space. She could allow him to be the lone whatever he wanted because she found that she worked best with little interaction of a social kind on her shifts. That made them a good match . . . workwise. As long as he stayed in his cockpit and stayed out of her workspace, they would get through the assignment. Now what was he doing talking to her daughter?

“Being a sprinkle aficionado myself, I saw the long face over the strawberry cake with its plain icing and could not watch a fellow sprinkler go without. I sought out Mr. Jackson, who took pity upon us. And did I mention that she cleaned her entire dinner plate? Couldn’t ignore that.”

Who are you and what did you do with the hotshot pilot? That was what her mind said, but her words were simply, “Thank you. I hope my child wasn’t a bother, so that you felt you had to come over to our table.”

“Not a bother at all. Miss Brooke has excellent manners, and it was very nice to share desserts together. But I know I must be holding you up with the rest of your evening plans.” He looked at the young girl finishing her last bite of cake. “Thank you, again. And for your help in where I should shop in town. I’ll remember your helpful information. Have a safe trip home, ladies.” And he left them without a look back . . . no nod to Kenzie, but all smiles for Brooke.

She waited until they were in the car and headed home for some blanks to be filled in.

“What brought him to the table tonight?”

“Mr. Deke? I smiled at him and waved.”

“Why in the world would you do that? He’s a stranger. What have I . . .”

“But you told me who he was. He’s your coworker and you fly in his helicopter together rescuing people so he can’t be a bad stranger, right? And he had Mr. Jackson bring him over to the table and he even introduced us, so you wouldn’t be upset with him talking to me. He really is funny and nice and he did get sprinkles for the cake. And did you know he has a dog named Ranger? And he flew with him in the Army too. Ranger even got a medal. He said I could meet him one day if you said it was okay. Is it? And you said that sometimes others need one of our smiles, and he looked like he was alone and a little sad, so I smiled at him.”

Seemed her daughter had found out more about Deacon Hayes in fifteen minutes than she had in all the time they had been flying assignments. And how could she fault her daughter for using her own words against her? But lonely and sad? Is that how her daughter saw him? Then another thought eased into her realization . . . could she be guilty of a rush to judgment?

He was quiet . . . that was Brooke’s description. Maybe lonely and sad. Whereas she had been quick to label him aloof and even arrogant. Perhaps a little jealous of his expertise? And she might have allowed his looks and the other females’ reaction to a new male in their midst to shade her opinion as well. Possibly because of her experience with Brooke’s father, a Casanova of renown.

It was just as well they rarely spoke of him, and that was understandable, given he had died eight months after Brooke’s birth. She had never really known the man who had fathered her, since Kenzie left him two months after Brooke was born. And that was a blessing for the most part. Kenzie had to keep reminding herself that it was not nice to speak ill of the dead . . . but she couldn’t help thinking about it. Her marriage had been the biggest mistake of her life. But the saving grace, for which she would always be thankful, was that her little girl had come from it. Together, the two of them made a family.

“Mom, can I meet his dog?” Brooke’s repeated question brought Kenzie back. And she gave a standard mom response that made her wince inside as she sounded so much like her own mother in the moment. “We’ll see.”

Thanks, Major Deacon Hayes, for reminding her of so many less-than-pleasant moments in her life. He was just the “gift” that seemed to keep on giving. She did what she did during her assignments with him, reminding herself that the clock was ticking and, with any luck, he would be out of their lives in less than three months. She and life would return to normal routines at the hospital.

Get through two more months, and he would be a vague memory. That made her smile.


End of Excerpt

The Texas Cowboy’s Rescue is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-959988-08-3

May 22, 2023

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