Billion Dollar Cowboy(15)

By: Carolyn Brown

“Well, hello.” Laura put on her best Texas drawl. “I would have sworn with your beautiful height and eyes that you were from Sweden.”

Cynthia waved her hands in quick flustered motions and blushed scarlet. “Oh, no, but I thought you might be from Russia.”

“No, ma’am. I’m from west Texas. Andy is my cousin,” Laura said.

Ina Dean stepped in front of them and raised her arms. Colton bent down to hug the tiny, frail-looking woman. Her jet-black hair was slicked back into a tight little bun at the nape of her neck. She wore a navy blue dress buttoned all the way up to the white Peter Pan collar. The only frivolous adornment was her gold watch and it barely peeked out from the white cuffs of her long sleeves.

“I’m looking forward to the party out at the ranch in a couple of weeks. The whole community is getting fired up for the games. Me and Maudie is putting together a whole new set of rules this year. Is your assistant going to be there?”

“I’m sure Laura will be on hand. She works at the ranch, but like I told Cynthia, Laura is Andy Joe’s assistant, not mine,” he said.

“I help Andy in the office.” Laura hoped that her explanation cooled the hot rumors.

“Sure you do, honey.” She stepped back and narrowed her eyes at Laura, scrutinizing her from sandals to blond hair. “How long you been out on the ranch, anyway?”

“A little more than a week,” Laura said.

“Uh-huh.” Ina Dean nodded. “Well, I guess you pulled the wool over our eyes for a little while, Colton, but I’m old enough to see things in the right light and it wasn’t Andy that she was hugged up to in church services.”

“Ina Dean, we need you in here,” a lady singsonged from the kitchen.

“Holy shit!” Laura whispered under her breath.

“Little pissed, are you?” Colton asked.

“No, honey, I’m a whole lot pissed,” she said.

“Well, so am I. We’ll get through this lunch and then we’ll go home and pitch a fit. Deal?”

“You got it,” she said. “Now where is Andy Joe?”

“Whole bunch of them left us to the wolves. Andy said he got a phone call about taxes or some other folderol, and Rusty said that Roxie had a headache so he was taking the ladies home. He said for me to bring you after the lunch.”

“Uh-huh,” she used Ina Dean’s expression. “Who is that woman, anyway?”

“Which one?”

“The elderly one that just went to the kitchen.”

“The head she-coon of Ambrose.” Colton chuckled.

“Andy said that was Maudie’s title. He told me that when he hired me. You are the richest cowboy in north Texas. Roxie is the new member of the household. Maudie is the head she-coon of the whole county, and Rusty is the one who really knows what is going on with the ranch,” Laura said.

“Oh no, darlin’. You got to have been born in Ambrose and lived here your whole life to get the head she-coon title. Cynthia is probably next in line for it, but she can’t have the crown or the right to the benediction on Sunday morning until Ina Dean is dead,” Colton whispered. “But she does know how to organize a dinner. I have to give her that much.”

Laura looked at the two eight-foot tables full of food and the one off to one side filling up with desserts. “I haven’t been to one of these things in years. I’d forgotten how much food gets brought in.”

“Haven’t been to church in years or to a potluck?”

“Both. If I even eat a taste of everything on those tables I’ll have to run twice as far tonight.”

“You jog every night?”

“At least three times a week, but usually always on Saturday and Sunday. Do you?”

“No, I have a gym. When we get back home I’ll show you where it is located. After working outside all day, I’d rather exercise in air-conditioned comfort without mosquitoes or people to stop and ask me if I want a ride. You don’t have to leave the house to exercise, so eat all you want.”

“We’ll bow for a word of grace.” The preacher raised his voice above the noise. Instantly, conversation stopped, ice quit rattling its way into tea glasses, and even babies stopped crying. He gave thanks for the food, for the hands that prepared it, for the forgiveness in all their hearts toward their neighbors, and kept right on going for a good five minutes. Laura stopped listening after the forgiveness thing… she wasn’t going to forgive Andy Joe. He did not deserve it. No sir!