Authors: Verna Clay
Sally stretched and yawned. She hadn't felt so relaxed in ages. She turned her head on her pillow and came face-to-face with Flatfoot. Gauging from his expression, he was just as shocked as she.
"Flatfoot!" she shrieked. She felt something on her right hand and lifted it. A gold band encircled her ring finger. Her mouth gaped and she jerked her eyes back to his.
He raised his hand above the covers and she shrieked again when she saw an identical ring on his finger. She bolted upright and the sheet fell away from her body. She wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing. Grabbing the sheet back to her breasts, she was afraid to look at Flatfoot, but she
to know. She glanced sideways at him. The sheet was no longer covering his upper body and he was also naked, at least from the waist up.
She fell backwards on the bed. "Flatfoot," she rasped, "Are you wearing your pants?"
"I can't remember last night. Can you?"
Again he responded in the negative. "No, ma'am."
"Do you think we…ah…you know…"
He finished her sentence for her. "Tasted the pleasures of wedded bliss?"
She groaned and nodded.
"I'd say there's a ninety-nine percent chance we did since we're both naked and wearing wedding bands."
She covered her face with her hands. "Flatfoot, we've got to get this annulled. I know I'm older than you. How old are you?"
"Just turned forty-nine."
Sally groaned. "My god, I'm fifty-eight and you're forty-nine. It's sinful."
"I don't think you can annul a marriage that's been consummated."
"Maybe we're not really married. Maybe we were just pretending. If we're really married, there'd have to be a document."
"You mean like this one?" He rose on one elbow, grabbed a paper on the nightstand, and handed it to Sally.
She scanned the document that was signed and sealed by a man of the cloth who called himself, Pastor Ivan Begood. Could things get any worse? She was probably going to spend an eternity in hell for robbing the cradle.
Glancing across the room, she saw a champagne bottle and suddenly felt nauseous. How much alcohol had they consumed last night? She started to wretch and grabbed the sheet to her body, running for the bathroom. Hanging over the toilet, she blessedly forgot her marriage while she tossed her guts up.
After washing her face with cool water she stepped back into the bedroom and stopped cold. Flatfoot stood butt naked beside the bed. He glanced up, saw her, and acted like it was no big deal as he bent to retrieve his boxers from the floor.
He had a great body and it took a minute for her to tear her eyes away from it. She gathered her own clothing off the floor and rushed back into the bathroom.
Flatfoot finished tucking his shirt into his pants and began putting two-and-two together. He thought back to the previous day. He and Sally had driven to Cortez and caught a late flight to Vegas. In Vegas he'd rented a car and checked them into separate rooms at the Bellagio. It had been past dinner time so he'd treated her to steak and shrimp at one of the hotel's superb dining rooms. He'd ordered an expensive bottle of red wine and they'd finished it while telling funny stories from their childhoods. After that, they'd wandered the gaming rooms. He'd seen a blackjack table he liked and Sally had encouraged him to join the game. She'd stood close behind him.
He'd always been pretty good at blackjack, and this evening was no different. When his winnings had started to pile up and the chair next to him became available, he'd patted it for Sally to take a seat and handed her half his winnings. The waitress had already come around a couple of times and they'd ordered beers. After Sally sat down, they'd graduated to screwdrivers. That's when things got fuzzy.
When they left the blackjack table he vaguely remembered saying, "Hey, Sally, let's get married. That way you can forget Howard and I can have a reason to settle down."
She'd been leaning against him and glanced up. He'd taken in her pretty green eyes and pink mouth and bent to kiss her. She'd said something like, "I'm so drunk I'm gonna say yes."
After that, there had been a fat woman playing the wedding march while Sally walked a short aisle between empty benches, and then a big man with a booming voice was yelling, "By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Go ahead and kiss her, bro."
Flatfoot didn't remember the kiss or getting from the chapel back to his room. However, he had fibbed when he told Sally he didn't remember anything of a carnal nature; he did have flashes of naked bodies, hot kisses, and experiencing a boner like he hadn't felt in years. If his memory was somewhat intact, and not just wishful thinking, she had done things that almost made him blush. Yep, Howard's loss was his gain. Howard was one stupid man. So, what to do now?
He walked over to the window to gaze at the traffic below. He'd always liked Sally. Did he like her enough to give marriage a try? Since his girlfriend had run away with his best friend years ago, he'd never considered marriage again; he liked his freedom. He liked being able to pick up and go anytime he wanted. But he wasn't a young man anymore. Hell, he wasn't old either.
He heard the bathroom door open, but he didn't turn around immediately.
Sally said, "I think I'd like to cut this vacation short and return home."
He turned around. She had taken a shower and towel dried her hair. It lay flat against her face with none of its waviness softening her features. Her eyes were bloodshot and she looked like hell.
He gave her a slight smile. "I guess I can understand that. First, though, let's go to breakfast and discuss this turn of events—decide what to do."
She frowned. "There's only one thing we can do. If we can't annul the marriage, then we need to file for divorce."
He cocked his head to the side. "Like I said, we'll discuss it." Before she could respond, he grabbed the keycard off the table and walked out the door.
Sally sat in the chair Flatfoot pulled out for her. They were seated beside a wall of windows with a great view. Apprehension gripped her as she watched the comings and goings outside. A lovely fountain spurted a light display that tourists were snapping pictures of. Their waitress returned with water and asked for their drink orders. Flatfoot said, "Sally, would you like coffee?"
"Yes. Thank you."
He said to the waitress, "Two coffees and two orange juices." After the waitress left, he picked up his menu and said, "Looks like they have some great omelettes."
Sally suppressed an urge to scream. All she wanted was black coffee and an airline ticket home—and a divorce.
The waitress returned with their drinks and asked for their orders. When she declined anything, Flatfoot frowned and ordered two Denver omelettes.
"I'm really not hungry," she declared.
"Then don't eat it."
Flatfoot leisurely sipped his coffee.
Sally said, "Look, I don't blame you for what happened last night. We were both drunk and not thinking. I'll contact a lawyer when we get home and see what it takes to get out of this marriage."
He sipped again and then said softly, "Why don't we give the marriage a try?"
Sally's mouth gaped and her eyes widened. "What?" she gasped.
"Why don't we give the marriage a shot?"
"Why would you want to do that? You don't even know me except as an acquaintance."
He tilted his head and gave her a look that said, "Really?"
She felt her face flame.
He said, "Just hear me out."
She couldn't have spoken if she wanted to.
He continued, "I think you're a mighty fine woman, Sally. And, as you know, I'm at a crossroads in my life, and you are, too. You've been hurt real bad but you're a survivor, like me. We'll both go on, but why go on alone? You've got a nice spread that needs lots of work and I can fix just about anything. But don't take me wrong. Your home is yours. I don't want no legal part of it. All I'm sayin' is why not give the marriage a month or two, see how it works out. If it doesn't, you got your place all fixed up with no strings attached. I'll just pack my bags and leave 'cause it'll be your call. I don't stay where I'm not wanted. And as far as sleeping arrangements, we'll stay in separate rooms, unless we both agree to more. Nothing physical will happen between us that you don't want."
He picked up his coffee, sipped again, and Sally wondered how he could be so cool, calm, and collected.
He said, "All I'm askin' is for you to consider what I'm sayin'. Anytime you ask me to leave I'll pack up and be gone within the hour."
Sally met his gaze, looked back out the window at a couple kissing beside the water fountain, and replied, "You promise you'll leave if I ask you to? If I decide things aren't working out."
"I promise on my family's name."
"And you'll not make any advances toward me."
"I swear on my family's honor."
She lifted a fingernail and bit on it. "How long a trial period should we set?"
"How about two months? That way I'll have plenty of time to do the fixin' needed around your place."
Sally chewed her bottom lip, heaved a sigh, and stretched out her hand. "Okay. Two months with all the conditions discussed. Let's shake on it."
During her first week at the dude ranch Dovie kept a low profile. She interacted with the children when they spoke to her, but she didn't force herself on them. She knew they were adjusting to the ranch that would be their home for the next few weeks.
Most of the children got into the spirit of ranch life and were eager to learn about horses, cattle, roping, cowboy etiquette, and the myriad nuances of a lifestyle so different from their own. And everyone working the ranch, from the cook to the hands to the owners, gave a hundred percent for the children. In the evenings, a very old cowboy named Newt Tucker and his wife Molly would gather the children, and anyone else who wanted to listen, around the unlit hearth for storytelling. Usually everyone, whether guests signed up for a few days or the whole summer, would gather on the large sofas to hear Newt entertain them with stories about cattle drives and living out of saddlebags on the range. His tales were so genuine you just knew they were spoken from experience. His wife Molly would then tell a story about a famous character from the Old West, like lawman Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, Jessie James, the Dalton Gang, Butch Cassidy, and Charlie Parkhurst, who was one of the greatest stagecoach drivers ever and was discovered to be a
after his death.
Even Roxy and Benny lost their sour looks and became enthralled with the tales. A couple of times Dovie glanced up to see Toby had joined the group, sitting off to the side. Even though she could feel his eyes on her, she avoided his gaze. He made her feel warm and flustered and question her sanity in agreeing to work at the
for six weeks.
On the Saturday after her arrival, she had joined the children beside one of the corrals to listen to Beaner talk about the care of horses, when unexpectedly, Sage, Toby, Preston, and several hands walked out of the nearest barn leading horses toward their group. Dovie watched excitement light the children's eyes as they wondered what was about to happen. Since their introduction to horses had begun earlier that week, Dovie had a hunch they were about to finally go on a trail ride.
Beaner grinned at the kids. "Bet you wonder what all these horses are doing here?"
Michelle blurted, "Are we going on a trail ride?"
Sage halted his horse and laughed. "Is everyone wearing boots?"
A chorus of voices called, "Yes!"
Sage looked at Preston and Toby. "Well, boys, what do you think? Should we start turning these dudes and dudettes into cowboys and cowgirls?"
Preston scratched his head. "I don't know if they're ready, Pa." He glanced at Toby. "Whadaya think, Toby? Should we head on out to the north pasture, maybe have a picnic lunch?"
The fidgeting children turned pleading eyes on Toby. He surveyed each face, letting his eyes linger on Dovie's, and finally drawled, "Yup. I think these whippersnappers are ready for some cowboy edge-ca-tion." The youngsters whooped with joy.
After that, Sage started assigning horses so his ranch hands could assist the children and their counselors onto their respective mounts. Dovie could see excitement sparkling Benny's eyes when he was given a boot-up onto his horse, a small gray mare. The horses were well trained and gentle with the children.
Roxy stood away from everyone and when Sage said, "Hey, Roxy, what are you doing back there?" and pointed to a horse, her eyes got huge.
"I'm not riding a horse!" she exclaimed.
Sage assured her, "Peaches is very gentle. Come on, I'll help you mount her." He added, "Are you afraid?"
"No! I'm not afraid!"
"Then what's stopping you?"
She jerked one of her canes up. "Are you serious! How am I supposed to ride wearing braces?"
Undaunted, Sage replied, "That hasn't stopped anyone before. If it stops you, you'll be the first."
Roxy declared, "You're just saying that."
Sage looked at his ranch hands. "Am I just sayin' that, boys?"
"No sir," they all piped up. Beaner said, "Why, I remember that girl who couldn't walk at all and was in a wheel chair. It sure didn't stop her."
Sage stared intently at Roxy. "It's up to you, Roxy. You can join us or you can wait for our return."
The girl's belligerent expression turned to one of confusion. She regained her composure and repeated, "I'm not scared," and stepped forward.
Dovie hid a smile behind her hand as she watched Roxy being lifted onto Peaches, and then she turned to walk back to the dorm.
Sage said, "Oh, no, Dovie, we've got you taken care of, too."
Dovie whirled around.
Roxy smirked, "Yeah, Dovie. You need to be our example."
Dovie couldn't think what to say. She'd never been on a horse in her life.
Sage glanced around the horses. "Looks like we don't have enough saddled, but that's not a problem. Toby's horse can handle two people. You can ride with him."
Dovie gasped and started to decline, but seeing the challenge in Roxy's eyes stopped her. She knew if she backed out, she'd never win the girl's respect. Straightening her shoulders, she said, "Okay."
Toby, who had just helped Michelle onto her horse, grabbed the reins of his
one named Blue and walked toward her. Dovie stepped backward a little, whether because of the horse or Toby, she wasn't sure. Both of them were overwhelming.
Softly, Toby gave her instructions and finally said, "Give me your cane and Beaner will bring it to the picnic site when he drives out in the jeep with lunch." He held his arm out for her to hold while he called Beaner over. He handed the cowboy her cane and gave him instructions. Beaner said, "You got it, boss."
Knowing she was about to be lifted onto a giant of a horse was frightening, but what was even worse was realizing Toby would be right behind her. She wanted to cry.
Toby's voice close to her ear said, "It's all right, darlin'. Blue's a big horse, but he's gentle and would never hurt you. Are you ready?"
She nodded and felt hands around her waist. Sage walked over to help his son and together they got her situated on the horse just fine, with her prosthetic leg not posing a problem. And then Toby was mounting behind her and encircling her body with his arms to hold the reins. Although she had held back a squeal when she was lifted onto the horse, she couldn't stop one now. It came out like a loud squeak and she felt Toby's mouth near her ear again. "You all right, Dovie?"
"Y-yes. Sorry about that."
His breath was warm on her cheek when he said, "Let me know if anything feels uncomfortable."
"Everything is j-just fine."
He sat up straight and she puffed a breath. The least of her worries was the horse. She was more concerned about her reaction to Toby. She'd just die if he knew how much he made her insides burn.
Sage double-checked every horse and rider and then mounted his steed, as large as the ones his boys rode, and motioned one of his ranch hands to lead the way. The horses started forward and the children laughed, all except for Roxy. But even though she didn't smile, neither was she wearing her usual mutant expression. Toby waited for all the horses to fall in line and then said to his father, "We'll bring up the rear."
"Okay, son. I'll go in front of you."
Soon, the train of horses was crossing the pasture at a plodding pace.