Billion Dollar Cowboy(16)

By: Carolyn Brown

But she would like an explanation as to why he’d want everyone in Ambrose to think that she was the rich cowboy’s new lady love. Of all the women in the world, it was evident that he wouldn’t want to throw in his lot with a nerdy woman who wore thick glasses. And God knew, it would take a whole lot more than a billion dollars to make her even think about a relationship at this time of her life. She was barely getting her own affairs in order. She sure didn’t have time for a boyfriend.

“Amen! Now Colton and our visitor can start the line,” Preacher Roger said.

Laura felt a hundred eyes on her as she and Colton filled their divided Styrofoam trays. Would there be talk later that she didn’t eat Ina Dean’s casserole and took a double helping of someone else’s chicken and dressing? There was no way she could eat some of everything on the table, so she bypassed the corn casserole and the tuna salad but when she got to the end, her tray still needed sideboards. Maybe she’d made enough women happy that they wouldn’t show up at the Circle 6 with a big wood cross to hang her on.

Cynthia was the hostess at the drink table and it was a very good thing she wasn’t a poker player because she couldn’t hide what she was thinking. She looked down at Laura’s plate and her expression said, That woman eats like a horse. No wonder she’s so fat.

Her face softened when she touched Colton on the arm and said, “I’m glad to see that you both have a good healthy appetite today. Sweet tea or lemonade?”

“Tea, thank you,” Colton said.

“The same.” Laura smiled.

“Laura, I do hope you are happy here in Ambrose,” Cynthia purred.

Laura managed a smile, but she didn’t feel it in her heart. “Thank you so much. You’ve got more trees and less mesquite than we do, but Texas is Texas. We all speak the same language. This actually reminds me of northeast Arkansas where I lived when I was a little girl,” Laura said.

She could feel dozens of eyes on her as she carried her plate to the nearest table. Colton set his plate and tea glass down and pulled out a chair for her. Two jar candles burned brightly in the middle of the long table. A plastic fork, knife, and spoon had been wrapped up in an oversized white paper napkin that marked each place.

“Where is Maudie?” Ina Dean sat down across from them.

“Roxie had a headache so she took her home. She’s got allergies and she was playing with the cats yesterday,” Colton said.

“I hope that’s all she’s got. Her momma was a rounder and blood will have its way,” Ina Dean said.

Laura filled her mouth so that she couldn’t say a word back to Ina Dean. She’d been that girl when she was a teenager. The one who had a momma with a reputation, a momma who’d died in her late twenties because she’d lived too hard, drank too much, and couldn’t fight off lung cancer.

“I’m sure it’s just a headache. Granny keeps a real tight rein on her,” Colton said.

“Well, I hope so. Her momma was a handful and couldn’t nobody tame her down. Roxie is lucky to have Maudie.”

Laura had been lucky to have Aunt Dotty too, but she sure didn’t take the place of a mother. Janet came closer to filling that spot and that’s why she owed Janet all the help she could give her when she made mistakes.

“This is really good potato salad. Did you make it?” Colton asked.

“Yes, I did. I figured you’d recognize it. Old family recipe that I don’t share with nobody,” Ina Dean said seriously.

Patsy sat down on one side of her and Cynthia on the other. Pretty soon they were in a heated discussion about how much mustard to put in potato salad. Laura thought they’d forgotten all about her until she caught Cynthia giving her sidelong looks across the table. She wanted to stand up between those two scented candles and announce to the whole congregation that her boobs were real, they were not bought, and Colton hadn’t spent a dime on them.

Preacher Roger sat down beside Cynthia and she beamed, batted her lashes, and flirted blatantly with him. Laura watched the whole process with a smile on her face. Evidently, if the woman couldn’t be rich, then by damn she’d be holy. Or maybe she was trying to make Colton jealous. After all, he hadn’t made an announcement about being engaged to the ugly duckling in the glasses, and all was fair in love and war, especially when there was a billion dollars at stake.