The Trouble with Texas Cowboys (5 page)

BOOK: The Trouble with Texas Cowboys
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“I'll put the broom up and get our coats,” Sawyer said.

* * *

It was almost midnight when they reached the bunkhouse, and Jill melted into the corner of the sofa. “Just ten minutes, and then I'm going to take you up on borrowing your shower before I go to bed.”

Sawyer went straight to the kitchen. There was only enough leftover coffee for one cup, so he popped it into the microwave. Then he cut a piece of pie big enough for two people and put it on one plate, along with two small pieces of chocolate cake. When the microwave dinged, he picked up the plate with one hand and the coffee with the other.

“We're sharing. I couldn't carry three things.” He sat down right next to her and handed her the coffee.

She put it on the end table and picked up one of the forks, ate two bites of pie, and shook her head. “I'm too tired to eat.”

“I could feed it to you.”

“I'm too tired to chew.”

“Then you are on your own. I'm not doing that for you,” he said.

She laid her head over on his shoulder and stretched out her legs until her feet were resting on the well-used coffee table. “Looks like lots of boots have been propped up on that table.”

, her inner voice chided.
before. Better watch out, or you'll be making another mistake.

, she argued.
We're just friends, and he already gave me a foot massage. This is resting, not flirting.

“Yep, it does look like lots of cowboys have come through this bunkhouse and done just what you're doing. This pie is amazing. I'll just eat all of it, since you are too tired to eat,” he said.

“Enjoy. I could sleep right here all night.”

“After our last twenty-four hours, it is pretty nice to be in a peaceful place where Gallaghers and Brennans aren't welcome.”

“Let's make a pact.” She yawned. “Even if you like one of those brazen hussies who got a beer bath tonight, don't bring them into the bunkhouse.”

He kissed her on the forehead. “And if you fall for one of those sumbitches, you don't bring them here either.”

She snuggled down tighter. “I'm not going to fall for one of them, but I promise I won't bring anyone into our sanctuary.”

“Me, either,” he said.

Chapter 5

Jill found it impossible to keep a few inches of space between her and Quaid. That side of the church was packed with Brennan families, settled into the pews so tight that daylight couldn't get between them. If church services lasted past the customary hour, she feared she'd smother plumb to death right there on the fourth pew between Quaid and Kinsey.

“We're so glad you are coming to Sunday dinner,” Kinsey whispered. “It's been a long time since my cousin was interested in someone. We'll have to talk about him later, and I'll tell you how sweet and kind and wonderful he is.”

Quaid leaned over and spoke softly in her other ear. “You were such a big help in the Sunday school class. I sure wish you would consent to help me out every Sunday. The girls in there really took to you.”

“I need to get settled in before I make any commitments, but thank you for making me feel so welcome,” she said.

The section on the other side of the church was filled to capacity too. She was thinking about Sawyer and how lucky he was that he hadn't gotten roped into Sunday school, church, and dinner when she looked past him sitting in the center section. She was actually looking for red hair to see if Betsy came to church that morning, when Tyrell caught her eye. His bright smile and sly wink reminded her that the day was still young.

The Sunday school secretary took his place behind the podium, held up a hand, and all conversation stopped. “We broke our Sunday school attendance record this morning. We haven't had this many people in church since the Christmas programs more than a decade ago. I'm hoping you all made it your New Year's resolution to attend church every Sunday this year.” He went on to tell about the Sunday school offering that morning and to make the announcements for the past week concerning births and deaths. Then he covered the events for the coming week: visits to the nursing home in Gainesville, a youth rally in the middle of the week that included supper in the fellowship hall, a baby shower, and a wedding shower.

Jill caught Sawyer's gaze when the man mentioned the youth rally. The unspoken message couldn't be clearer. Thank God she had agreed to help man the bar all week. That would give her a damn fine excuse for not going to the rally. As if on cue, Kinsey cupped her hand over Jill's ear and said, “I'm one of the supervisors of the youth group. I'd love to have your help at the rally. Quaid and I get pretty rushed at these things.”

Jill mouthed, “I have to work.”

“We could find someone else to help Sawyer at the bar for one night,” Kinsey pressed.

Jill shook her head. “Sorry, but I can't do that.”

Kinsey pouted. “But I thought you could bring one of your apple pies.”

Jill stuck to her guns. “Can't.”

Two days and the whole town already knew about her baking skills. Holy hell, by the end of the week would they know what color underbritches she wore and where she ordered them from?

It was the music director's turn next. A tall, willowy blond, with big brown doe eyes and a red knit dress that left little room for underwear and even less to the imagination, took her place behind the podium. “Some of you might not have heard the news, but Polly Cleary broke her ankle yesterday. She'll be in the hospital a couple of more days, and then she'll be staying with Gladys for a while. Keep her in your prayers. Now let's sing ‘Victory Ahead' before the sermon is delivered.”

Jill's eyes settled on Sawyer while she sang that by faith she saw victory ahead. Would he stand his ground with those two women, or would they wear him down? Just how strong was he when it came to determined women? She felt sympathy for him, almost as much as for herself. By summer, he might be wishing she had shot him when they first met.

She was glad there wouldn't be test questions on the sermon that morning, because she hadn't heard half a dozen words. She thought he mentioned something about starting over, and she did hear the name Ruth a few times, so possibly she could fake her way through part of the test if it meant going to heaven or being sent straight to hell. She spent most of the time stealing glances over toward Sawyer. Eight times he'd been looking at her at the same time. Three of those he grinned; two of them he winked. It gave her confidence that she could get through the day and that tomorrow would start a brand-new week. Hopefully with no Gallaghers or Brennans to plague them.

* * *

“Back the truck in slow like, right up to the chute. Me and Hart will herd them into the truck. Won't take thirty minutes,” Eli Gallagher said.

Randy nodded. “This is the first job Granny has trusted us with. Y'all better not mess it up. She said every single one of them hogs, babies and all, was to go in this truck. I'll get parked right up next to the chute and come help y'all herd them, but I'm tellin' you, if there's a single problem, I'll whip both y'all's asses.”

“Hey, you're the youngest one of us, so don't try to be the big boss man. We're in this together, and we ain't makin' no mistakes. Granny said that we got to be in Salt Holler by the time the benediction is done at church this mornin', and on our way to Mingus by the time the Brennans realize their hogs are gone,” Hart said. “Now back her up easy-like, and we'll make Granny proud.”

Randy clicked off the instructions in his head: Load 'em up. Make sure to cover any tracks by runnin' some cattle across the ground after they'd loaded the hogs. Unload them at Wallace's place, and then take the cattle truck to Mingus, Texas, where there was a bull and two heifers waiting to come to Wild Horse Ranch. Job done and alibi in place.

It was the wrong time of year for piglets, so the job wasn't as difficult as it could have been. Lord, rounding up squealing piglets was tougher than herding cats. Eli did have a problem with one old sow that set her heels and lowered her head. Damn near set him on his ass in the mud before he got his balance and was able to turn the pig into the chute. Other than that, it was an easy job.

They were in the hog house and out within the allotted thirty minutes, hogs grunting and squealing in the cattle truck as it made its way back to the main road. Randy and Hart stayed behind to chase about fifty head of cattle across the ground to cover the truck tires, and then jogged to the truck.

“Next stop—Salt Holler and turnin' these over to Wallace,” Eli said.

To get to Salt Holler, they had to cross a bridge that should have fallen down years ago and would in no way support a cattle truck. Besides, there was a gate with a padlock closing off the bridge. Eli parked on the far end and grew impatient with the wait after ten minutes.

“Where is he?” Randy asked.

“It's only eleven fifteen,” Hart said. “Don't go pissin' your pants yet. Benediction ain't over until smack up twelve o'clock. And if the preacher calls on Quaid Brennan to give it, it might last another ten minutes past that. He does love the sound of his own voice.”

Five minutes later, Wallace appeared at the other end of the bridge in an old beat-up pickup with a cage on the back. He was a big man with a bald head and wire-rimmed glasses. He came to the end of the bridge, unlocked the gate and threw it up, and then he held up one finger.

Fog settled around the bridge, giving it an eerie feeling. A freezing mist had started falling that morning. It reminded Hart of an old black-and-white movie about villains appearing in a fog. Wallace didn't look like a machine-gun-toting gangster as he crossed arms as big as hams over his wide chest and waited. But something about his stance made him every bit as scary.

“What does that mean?” Eli asked.

“I reckon he wants one of us to meet him there. I'll go,” Hart said.

He bailed out of the truck and stuck out his hand as he drew close to Wallace. “Hello, I'm…”

“That'll be far enough, son, and I don't need to know your name,” Wallace said in a deep voice. “Y'all boys get that truck turned around, and then set them pigs loose on this bridge. I'll let my hog dogs out of the truck, and between them and my family, we'll herd them hogs to where we want them. Y'all best keep quiet about this sale, because if the law comes snoopin' around Salt Holler, it's your face that I'm keepin' in my head.”

One of Wallace's front teeth was slightly longer than the other one. He didn't blink, and his expression didn't change a whit. Hart felt like he was standing before the devil on judgment day.

“That's a narrow dirt road out there, sir. I'm not so sure we can turn the truck around,” Hart said.

“Little place a hun'erd yards backwards that you can nose into, and then back it up to the edge of the bridge. Time you get that done, my family and friends will be here to herd hogs. Once you open the truck gate, your job is done. Now you can get on back in your seats, and I'll slap the side right hard when we get the last one out. That's your signal to get the hell away from Salt Holler.”

Hart nodded.

“You be rememberin' what I said, boy,” Wallace said. “And tell your granny that it was a pleasure doin' business with her.”

“Yes, sir,” Hart said and jogged back to the truck, his cowboy boots sounding like they were beating on a snare drum with every step.

“What did he say?” Eli asked.

A cold shiver ran down Hart's back when he relayed what Wallace had said. “I don't think it's only our cattle truck that isn't allowed to cross that bridge. It's anyone that doesn't live in Salt Holler.”

“How do you reckon they intend to get all those hogs across that bridge?” Randy asked. “There's got to be fifty or sixty back there.”

“It's need to know, and we don't,” Hart said.

Eli put the truck in reverse and watched his side mirrors until he saw the dirt pathway cutting off to the south. He carefully backed into it and then pulled out as if going back the way he came from. When he looked in his mirror again, people lined both sides of the bridge and Wallace waited at the end with a hand up in the air. When the hand went down, Eli applied the brakes.

Hart opened the door, and Wallace yelled, “Y'all boys stay on in the truck. Gates ain't locked. We'll take care of the rest.”

Hart slammed the door shut and waited. “This feels crazy, like a scary movie.”

“Granny knows what she's doin',” Randy said. “Them Brennans embarrassed us and caused a hell of a lot of damage to the ranch house at the Christmas party when they pulled that plate glass window right out of the wall. Had to replace the carpet and redo the whole damn room, and like to have never got them cows out of the house. We can put up with a scary movie long enough to get these hogs out of the truck.”

“Then we drive out to Mingus and get to eat at the Smokestack for supper. Lord, I love that food,” Eli said.

“But we will miss getting to meet Tyrell's new woman when he brings her to supper. I'd love to see Quaid's face when he loses his hogs and his woman both.” Randy laughed.

“We'll go to Polly's tomorrow night and see her. I hear she's the barmaid there at night, and that Gladys's new foreman is the grill cook.”

Wallace slammed the gates shut and rattled the side of the trailer. Eli shifted gears and pulled out.

“We did it,” Randy said. “We got our first assignment from Granny, and we did it.”

“Y'all know what we have done is felony larceny, don't you?” Hart asked.

Randy slapped him on the shoulder. “Don't be studyin' law right now, Cousin. Just be a Gallagher.”

They were heading south on Interstate 35 when the church doors opened and kids poured out like puppies let out of a kennel to romp and play in the pasture.

* * *

After the last amen had been said, the Brennan family surrounded Jill, throwing out so many names that they all mixed together. No way would she remember any of them, except Kinsey, with the extra makeup on one cheek, and Quaid with a black eye and a cut across his nose. It was amazing that corn could do that to a big, strong man when it fell from a distance of six feet.

She spotted Sawyer's black truck pulling out of the parking lot as she and Quaid made their way to his big white double-cab vehicle with an extra-long bed. She was in the process of snapping her seat belt when a bright red truck skidded to a stop right in front of her eyes. Tyrell blew her a kiss, held up five fingers, and then sped off toward the only paved road in Burnt Boot. She hadn't seen a single sign to point her toward anything but a one-Sunday-stand for both of the feuding families.

“Hungry?” Quaid's felt hat preceded him into the truck and found its place in the backseat. He strapped the seat belt in place and started up the engine.

“Starving,” she said.

“It's a potluck, so there will be plenty.”

“You should have told me. I would have brought something. Your family will think I'm horrible, showing up empty-handed,” she said.

“My family will think that you are adorable. And guests aren't expected to bring food. A heads-up though. Kinsey's potato salad is fantastic, but Granny's beet salad tastes like shit.” He laughed.

His laughter was as deep as his voice and downright sexy. His jeans were creased perfectly, his white shirt spotless, and his leather sports jacket fit his wide shoulders like a glove. Three years ago she would have stumbled over her own two feet to get him to ask her out.

Sawyer had told her to forget about the feud, the size of the ranches and bank accounts, and to focus on the man. There was not one thing wrong with Quaid so far. If he kissed as good as he looked, he'd be quite the catch, but there wasn't a bit of zing, not a single spark or bit of fizzle between them.

“Penny for your thoughts.” He pulled out onto the road and turned right.

“Hundred dollar bills couldn't buy them.” She smiled. “How far is it to River Bend?”

“River Bend is to your right, but it's about three miles to the lane back to the main house. River Bend is a conglomerate of several ranches. We've already passed the road back to my land. Anytime you want a tour, I'll be glad to give you one. I've got about a thousand acres.”

BOOK: The Trouble with Texas Cowboys
6.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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