Authors: Lorelei James
“On a financial level?”
“Not yet. And I want to keep it from becoming one.”
He crossed those muscular arms over that muscular chest and stared at her coolly. “How?”
“By eliminating the spa concept entirely.” Tierney stopped his interruption. “I’ve scoured the reservations for the next six months. From what I’ve gathered, exactly two female guests are interested in spa services. What does that tell you?”
“Our marketing plan is a piece of shit?”
“Partially. But it means we can cut out this spa option without losing our ass or without pissing off existing customers. It’ll take little more than a Web site change. We’ll delete any reference to the word
and luckily the brochures just feature the lodge.”
Renner looked at her pensively.
“Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong.”
“That’s the thing, Tierney. You’re not wrong. I won’t argue with you on this just for the sake of arguing.”
She was pretty sure her jaw hit the coffee table.
“Between us? Some of these hospitality things weren’t well planned. I take full responsibility for it. The Split Rock shouldn’t try and be all things to all people. We’d be better off focusing on the Western element. Hunting, fishing, hiking, trail rides. I’d still like to get men and women here, but I don’t want this place to get a reputation as a romantic couples retreat.”
“Because calling it such wouldn’t make it more appealing to women at all,” Tierney said wryly.
“Very funny. If you noticed I didn’t call it a dude ranch either.”
“Again, dude ranch implies hot cowboys. What woman isn’t all over that concept?”
Renner leaned forward to bestow a sinful grin. “Are
all over the concept of hot cowboys?”
Only if you’re the hot cowboy who’d be all over me.
Tierney tossed off, “Of course. Since moving to Wyoming I understand the appeal of men who exist in Wranglers, chaps, hats and boots, real men who make their living in the great outdoors. I never did before.”
“I think that’s the most honest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“Other things I’ve said have been just as honest—you just didn’t want to hear them.”
“You may be right. As long as we’re bein’ honest, can I ask you something?”
Do I want to see you naked again? Absolutely.
“How much experience do you have with on-site management?”
“None. However, I will qualify that by saying I’ve been financial overseer for several PFG properties for the last two years. So I’m very good at cost analysis. I lack hands-on experience on the management end. As you’ve pointed out. Repeatedly.”
Renner gave her a hangdog look.
“I’m here to learn. Not to spy.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that from the start?”
“We’re not exactly friends.” She studied him quizzically. “How much experience do
have within the hospitality industry?”
No answer. Several long moments passed.
Guess her honesty didn’t guarantee his. She shuffled the papers together. “I think—”
“Tierney. Look at me.”
She raised her head to meet his gaze and melted a little seeing the softness and sweetness of his smile.
Damn his charming cowboy hide. The man was getting to her.
’m no stranger to management. I’m used to workin’ with men. I’m the boss, they do what they’re told and don’t question it.” Renner’s least favorite part of owning the Split Rock was dealing with employees. He had no problem barking orders at his stock manager Hugh Pritchett, or at half a dozen cowboys and stock handlers, but bossing the women on staff... didn’t feel right.
You’ve got no issue bossing Tierney.
That was different.
You don’t hold any real power over her anyway.
True. Maybe that’s why he was always pissy around her.
No, you’re flustered because the woman riles you up in ways you’ve long forgotten.
“Something else on your mind?” she asked.
He frowned and swigged the coffee that’d gone cold. “You know them pens I’ve been workin’ on? We had the blowup last week about wasting my time on building livestock containment areas? Especially when those containment areas remained empty?”
“Then you snapped that Jackson Stock Contracting was footing the bill. I seem to recall you blowing a gasket about me questioning you.”
He wouldn’t apologize for that dispute. Little Miz Spreadsheet had been out of line. “I always intended to move the rough stock up here.”
“I know. But why?”
“I’d rather be based out of Wyoming. Kansas ain’t my home.” It never had been. After his father and Boz died, he would’ve been happy never seeing another wheat field.
“And Wyoming is your home?”
“Right after I bought the land, before I ever scraped away a shovelful of dirt to set the footings for the buildings, this was where I wanted to be.” Maybe it was foolish, telling her how much this chunk of rock and dirt meant to him when it provided ammo to use against him. So he backtracked. “Then again, I didn’t spring for the sweet setup you’ve got. Bet that cabin set your daddy back a pretty penny.” Another example of the many differences between them. She wouldn’t make do if she didn’t have to.
Tierney’s eyes flashed a warning but she held her tongue for a change.
Rather than snipe at her for the silver spoon in her mouth, he continued brusquely, “The problem is I haven’t moved the stock up here yet, but that doesn’t change the rodeo schedules I’ve committed to. I’m taking off after supper tonight because I’m needed at a rodeo in Nebraska tomorrow. I’ll be back late Sunday.”
“Excellent timing. You’re gone. Harper’s gone. Janie’s limping around. I’m stuck dealing with Dodie, Lisa, Denise, LouLou and that groundskeeper guy . . . what’s his name?”
“Willie. Groundskeeper Willie.”
Tierney didn’t crack a smile at
reference. “What am I supposed to do?”
“You wanted hands-on management experience, darlin’, looks like you’ve got it.”
Renner’s phone rang at four a.m. Never a good sign. He picked it up from the passenger seat and said, “Jackson.”
“Ren? It’s Hugh. Look, we just got to the fairgrounds and were getting ready to unload the steers and . . . Shit, no easy way to say this. They’re all dead.”
“What the fuck? All of ’em?”
“Yeah. It’s the goddamndest thing. I have no idea what happened.”
“Which one of our trucks did you use to haul them?”
Pritchett sighed. “That’s the problem. It ain’t one of our trailers. We were short a truck so we rented from the stockyard. Had to’ve been something inside, ’cause all the livestock ate outta the same load of hay as the bulls and none of them are sick.”
“Fuck.” Renner cracked open his last can of Red Bull. “I assume you’ve isolated the load?”
“Here’s what you do.” Renner rattled off the options. It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, but it was the first time it’d happened at this particular rodeo.
“Thanks, boss. I hated to bother you.”
“The joys of bein’ an owner,” he said without humor. “I’m just damn glad you hadn’t put the bulls in that truck.” That would’ve been a huge financial blow.
“I hear ya there. Where are you?”
“Still about two hours out. Which means I’m close enough to stop and see if O’Hara has extra steers we can use, as well as a trailer.” He hated to ask for help, but he didn’t have a choice. Maybe he’d catch O’Hara in a rare good mood.
Pritchett whistled. “Wish there was another option. You know O’Hara is gonna jack the cost. Especially when he sees you’re desperate.”
“Need to come up with something to sweeten the pot. And rodeo tickets ain’t gonna do it this time. So if you have suggestions beyond offering him a share in BB, I’m all ears.” BB was short for Broken Bones, Jackson Stock Contracting’s prize bull. He’d been named Bull of the Year two years running on the Midwest CRA circuit and the Brahman Charolais cross was just getting meaner. Which moved BB closer to being picked for one of the coveted spots in the AFR finals.
“Hey, I’ve got it. O’Hara’s a big hunter. Offer him and the missus a weekend at the Split Rock. I’ll bet he’d jump at the chance to kill some stuff. Hell, he might even throw in use of the trailer for nothin’.”
Renner snorted. “I doubt that, but good thinkin’.”
“That’s why you pay me the big bucks.”
“That’s why I need you in Wyoming, Hugh.”
Another sigh. “There’s enough shit to deal with without bringing this up now, Ren.”
“I was hopin’ to catch you at a weak moment,” Renner joked.
“No such thing. Good luck with O’Hara and I’ll keep you up to date on the shit storm here.”
The Red Bull pepped him up, but he couldn’t help but consider what else could go wrong. His company had built a solid reputation over the last decade. He’d opted to concentrate strictly on the animal end of the rodeo business. Quite a few stock contractors provided the whole shebang for a rodeo event—the livestock, the personnel, from the bullfighters to the judging officials to the announcers to the entertainers. They also arranged for and set up the venue, dealt with promoting the event, handled the sponsors, the payouts and the behind-the-scenes stuff that’d drive Renner fucking insane. He had a hard enough time keeping four guys on the payroll. He couldn’t imagine dealing with more people.
As much as he loved his part in bringing rodeo action to the fans, life on the road tired him out. Burned him out. His business had more potential than just hauling animals from event to event. He wanted to beef up his breeding programs. Invest in heartier stock—a necessity in the colder climes of Wyoming. But none of that business potential could be realized if he was hanging off the chutes every weekend, spending his life behind a steering wheel.
He spied the turnoff to O’Hara’s house and forced his thoughts away from dead steers, crappy contracts, his key employee bailing on him, and losing what mattered to him most.
A bear of a man barreled down the steps. “Renner Jackson. What are you doin’ in my driveway at five o’clock in the damn morning?”
“Nice to see you too, O’Hara.”
“I’d say the same, but I’m barely awake. I’m hoping you’re a dream and I’m still in bed snuggled up to my wife.”
“Can’t help you there. But as long as you are up and dosing yourself on vitamin caffeine, we need to talk.”
“Talk? Don’t you mean you’re gonna try and sweet-talk me outta something?” he grumbled. “Get to the point, boy, I got cattle to feed.”
“I do need something. But this time I have a sweet deal. And all it’s gonna cost you is a few steers and use of one of your livestock-haulin’ trucks for a couple days.”
O’Hara laughed. “This had better be good.”
“It is. And for your trouble . . . how would you like to hunt in Wyoming?”
anie had panicked a little the first time Renner left the Split Rock to deal with his stock contracting business. Luckily, everything had gone smoothly and he’d been around the last two weeks, spending most of his time working outside, dealing with the property management issues, which was problematic today since she needed his approval on pricing for a group package, from people that he’d personally referenced.
She hadn’t heard the office door slam so Renner and Tierney weren’t barking at each other. Those two drove her insane. Bicker bicker bicker. About nothing. About everything. Sheesh. Half the time she feared she’d burst into their office and find them circling each other, wielding machetes.
Over the past three weeks the rest of the staff had really stepped up. Dodie deserved kudos for creating rustic, satisfying meals. LouLou served breakfast and lunch, and assisted Dodie as a prep cook. Lisa handled guest housekeeping and laundry, also filling in as a bartender. Denise served the evening meal and staffed the private bar until ten o’clock or when the guests retired for the evening—whichever came first. Willie was their jack-of-all-trades: dishwasher, bellhop, groundskeeper and building maintenance. If Renner was in a bind, Willie helped him out with the livestock he’d recently bought. Janie knew Renner needed another full-time employee to deal with the ranch end, but so far he’d refused to bring it up with Tierney and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why.