The oldest of five boys, Tripp shoulders the heavy burden of running the family businesses. His responsibilities bring with them bitterness, as his only desire is to work the family ranch away from the annoyances and frustrations of the city. However, the love he possesses for his younger brothers drive him to assume the role so they may be free to pursue their lives outside of the onerous name of Maverick. He finds himself withdrawing from the things he once loved and fears happiness is a noun that will never again apply to his life.
Hannah Price has worked hard for everything she has – which isn’t much. Born into a family mired in poverty to parents who dealt with addiction, they struggled to take care of themselves, much less raise their only daughter. Refusing to feel sorry for herself, Hannah quickly learned the value of a dollar and through her entrepreneurial spirit scraped and saved enough money to open her own business. However, the niche she thought she would be filling has been slow to catch on as the red meat loving cowboys all around her aren’t impressed by a fancy, gluten-free bakery.
Unwittingly, their paths collide and heads butt. Their struggles to reach their dreams seem to depend on the successes or failings of each other. Soon, the hard line Tripp draws between business and pleasure begins to blur, and the infallible Maverick falls.
Old Man Maverick was due any minute to collect rent, and I had to tell him I didn’t have it—in only my second month of business.
I paused long enough to look around my little bakery, and as I did, I felt a surge of pride, and with it, determination to succeed somehow, someway. I had been so sure my allergen-sensitive, gluten-free pastries would fill a niche in Great Falls, but instead I continued to watch all the red meat-eating cowboy types and their farm-raised families file into the steakhouse next door.
Still, I believed All Buns, No Glutes would catch on and become a success. I had only to convince my landlord to give me a chance to prove it. I glanced at the clock. It was nine o’clock exactly, and Mr. Maverick was never late.
My heart thumped an extra anxious beat when a dark shadow filled one window and then the doorframe. A moment later, a mountain of a man stepped through the threshold and squinted down at me. He was the most attractive person I’d ever laid eyes on, and for a moment, I swear I forgot my name.
“Hannah Price?” Right. That was it. His voice was deep and sounded hoarse as though he spent his days barking orders like a drill sergeant.
“Yes. Can I help you?”
He extended a palm the size of my dessert plates. “Tripp Maverick. I’m taking over the property management business for my father. I’ll be here the first of every month to check on the building and collect rent.”
I swallowed the dry lump that had formed in my throat before I accepted his handshake. I’d never met Tripp Maverick, but I knew his name well, and the fact that he was my new landlord was bad news for me. His reputation was that of a bulldozer—straight and steady—his will bent to no man. Or woman, as it were.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Maverick.” I pulled my hand from his strong grip and unconsciously wiped it down the apron covering my thigh. “Is everything okay with your dad?”
I didn’t know Rhett Maverick well, but he’d always been kind to me, and it seemed strange he’d turn the property management business over to his son without first notifying his tenants.
“He’s just taking a step away from some of the family businesses for a while. I’m going to fill in for him until other arrangements are made.”
The Maverick family had a long history in this part of Montana and had built an empire first through ranching, then by expanding to everything from oil to financial investments to real estate development. Through the latter, the family now owned much of downtown including the building we stood in.
“I see. May I get you a cup of coffee or a scone? The special this week is orange cranberry.”
“No thank you, ma’am. I’ll just take a quick look around to familiarize myself with the building, then collect your payment and be on my way.”
He stepped around me, the scent of pine and man dizzying. I counted six loud echoes of his boots against the floor before I found my voice again. “Mr. Maverick?”
He turned to look back at me, and the sun streaming through the windows found his face, highlighting an unusual set of blue-gray eyes and a day’s worth of stubble covering a strong jawline. His left eyebrow ticked up as he waited for me to speak.
“I, umm, well the thing is… I have a question. It’s a funny story actually. So, as you know, this is a new business. And sometimes it takes something new a while to catch on with the locals… and so I was wondering…”
His muttered curse stopped me short. “Excuse me?”
He pushed his cowboy hat up off his forehead and looked at the ceiling, hands coming to rest on hips. “You want an extension.”
“Well… yes, actually.”
His eyes remained skyward when he asked, “Miss Price, do you have any idea how many stops I have to make today?”
“Is that rhetorical?”
His eyes leveled with mine, and I had to stop myself from flinching at the hard edge I found in his irises. “Twenty-four. So, if I put in a twelve-hour day that leaves me exactly thirty minutes per business owner including drive time. If even one of those properties is not prepared for our scheduled appointment, then it not only affects my day but the schedules of everyone else I have to meet with today.”
“I understand this is an inconvenience…” I began, but he continued as though I hadn’t spoken.
“And since it is the policy of Maverick Properties to make on-site visits each month, I must hold up our end of the agreement, and I expect our renters to do the same.”
“Of course. I would never ask if this wasn’t an emergency. I just need a little extra time to…” He moved toward me, his steps slow and intentional. My heart sped in my chest. His size was overwhelming, his energy palpable.
“But because we want to foster the success of small businesses in Great Falls, I’m willing to grant you an extension.” He stopped just inches away from me, his towering height forcing me to crane my neck to meet his eyes. He held up a finger between us. “Once.”
The air left my lungs in a relieved whoosh, and I wanted to weep with relief. “Thank you, Mr. Maverick. I won’t let you down. I promise.”
Eyes the color of storm clouds held mine a beat longer than I was comfortable with before replying, “I hope you don’t.” Then he stepped around me and called over his shoulder, “I’ll be back in one week.”
I stood rooted to the floor, relief swirling amidst a new and rising panic. I had seven days to come up with the rest of my rent which left just twenty-three more before next month’s rent was due. I had far too much pride to tell him exactly how dire my situation was, that if he evicted me at the end of my extension, I wouldn’t only be out of business.
I’d be homeless.
Somer Hayes is an avid reader and writer of stories, hailing from the Midwest.