AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the novelization of a script that was greenlit at Hallmark thanks to screenwriting guru Blake "Save the Cat" Snyder and his partner several years ago. It was shelved after a huge regime change a few days later. But I have always believed it would "rise" again. So here's to ya' Blake! Let's give it one more try...
Braving the blast furnace heat of a Tucson summer, Ty Rodaker rolls down the window of his refrigerated truck window, leans his head out and blasts the horn.
There's a backhoe moving at a snail's pace up ahead, followed by a long convoy of cars and trucks.
It's a rural road. No passing lanes. And the other drivers are honking and cussing, too.
At wit's end behind a smelly garbage truck, Ty finally swerves out across double yellow lines, gasps and swerves back into line narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a massive dump truck.
He's still flushed and reeling from near disaster when the backhoe driver finally offers a halfhearted wave to the motorists crawling along behind.
"Oh, now he moves," Ty mutters, giving a last "bip, bip" on his horn before making a sharp right turn through a cast iron archway.
The words "Rancho Viejo Est. 1840" run along the top of the arch in big, block letters. And once he's passed through, Ty cautiously eases his big truck into the crowded parking lot of The Stage Stop, a log cabin steak house built at the entrance of a real, working cattle ranch.
There are two large shops on either side of the restaurant. One devoted to Southwestern and Native American arts, crafts and jewelry and another where patrons can purchase everything from official University of Arizona tees to bottled prickly pear jelly and jalapeno suckers--and one more very special item, which merits its own banner proudly advertising:
Miz Dakota's World-Famous Fruit Pies
(As seen on TV)
At present, the boardwalk is teeming with tourists and devoted locals in old dusty work jeans, cowboy hats and boots. So Ty steers carefully past the petting zoo, pony ride, and the actual stage stop that served all of Arizona in the 1800s that makes the site historic.
It's just a little sandstone block building that might be mistaken for some kind of Indian ruin without the rusty old bars on the tiny windows and metal door.
A splintery wooden bench and an even more splintery looking barrel, both so old the wood has turned dusty grey, sit where they've been since the stagecoach days.
There's an old rusty hand pump a foot or two from the bench. It doesn't work anymore. But once it was the difference between life and death.
This is desert country. Ranch land.
Ty, in fact, looks like one of the cowboys that still work in those ranches--this one, included. Long legged. Broad shouldered. Slim hipped. Muscled from hard work, not the gym.
He's the kind of ruggedly handsome some women want to believe all cowboys are. Longish blond hair. Crystal blue eyes that cut right through the masks most people hide behind. No mustache or beard, but a little stubble that only makes him more appealing.
He pulls up to the kitchen entrance. Gets out of the truck, whistling along with one of the hokey Roy Rogers songs perpetually playing from a jukebox just inside the front door of the restaurant.
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