Wyoming Heart

By: Diana Palmer


“Maybe that’s what I need,” Cort said sardonically. “Someone to be my friend and listen to my complaints when estimated taxes come due.”

“Miracles happen every single day.”

“So they say.”



* * *



CORT DREAMED THAT NIGHT. He was dodging rockets, covered with dust, flat on his belly in it behind a wall, his heartbeat shaking him as he waited to see if he was going to die or not. He was back in Iraq, thirteen years ago, in the Army fighting insurgents.

Beside him, a younger soldier was praying. Nearby, another was cursing as every shell hit.

“I hate rockets!” the cursing soldier burst out.

“Not too fond of them myself,” Cort replied. “Where’s our sniper? We need to take out that position.”

“McDaniel? He caught some shrapnel in the chest,” he replied, indicating a form under a blanket. “Poor guy.”

Cort’s lips made a thin line. “Where’s his rifle?”

The soldier found it and handed it to Cort.

“That’s going to be a hard shot,” the man told him solemnly. “He’s got the high ground and he’s got plenty of cover.” He indicated the position, where movement could just barely be seen among some trees in the dim light of dusk.

Cort loaded the high-powered rifle. “No problem.”

He stole around the side of their position, going very slowly, making no sound. He was a hunter. Every fall, he brought home at least two deer for the dinner table. He loved venison stew. Nobody made it like Chiquita, nicknamed Chaca, who’d cooked for the men since Cort had been a little boy.

When he found a place that gave him a good view of the mortar and its operator, he hunkered down and rested the stock of the rifle on the broken wall that ran around the perimeter of the bombed-out blockhouse where he and the other soldiers had set up camp.

He took slow, deliberate aim at a spot he was certain the insurgent was occupying. Sure enough, seconds later, there was the faintest glint of light reflecting off metal. Cort smiled as he pulled the trigger.

There were no more rockets. Cort hadn’t seen the result of the shot, but he was pretty sure he’d wounded the enemy soldier. He put the rifle down and caught his breath.

“Nice shot,” another soldier said.

He smiled. “Thanks. I hate being bombed when I’m trying to sleep.”

“Tell me about it!”

The conversation, and his actions, had been real. But the dream suddenly morphed into a nightmare. There was a woman nearby. He couldn’t see her, but he heard her screams. She was begging someone to stop, to leave her alone. Cort searched for her, but all he could hear was her voice in the distance. “I’ll never marry!” she was sobbing. “No man will ever have power over me again!”

He wanted to tell the shadowy woman that unless she lived in a cave, someone would have power over her. A boss. A stubborn friend. Doctors. Lawyers. Power came and went. It never ended. But he couldn’t find her.

She was crying softly. “They said it would get better with time, but it doesn’t get better. It will never get better!”

“What will get better?” he asked.

“Life.”

He opened his eyes and the ceiling was above him. Bart’s ceiling. Bart’s house. He sat up in bed and drew up his knees so that he’d have a place to rest his forehead. The dream had seemed very real. The woman had sounded as if she were being tortured. He wondered why her voice sounded so familiar. He wondered who had hurt her.

Well, he reasoned, it was only a dream, after all. He lay back down and went back to sleep.



* * *



THEY WERE WORKING out on the ranch, branding calves, when one of Bart’s part-time cowboys rode up.

“There’s going to be a party for that friend of yours who writes,” the cowboy told Bart. “And get this—they’re going to have it at the Simpson mansion. How’s that for highbrow? When she was in school, the kids of the family who lived there used to throw rocks at her when she went by toward the school bus stop.”

“She’s had a hard life,” Bart agreed quietly. “It’s nice to see her getting some recognition, finally.”

“What sort of party is it?” Cort asked.

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