Billion Dollar Cowboy(3)

By: Carolyn Brown

“He’ll live. Enough about our family problems. Laura, please join us for any meals that you want. We want you to feel right at home here on the ranch.” Maudie looked across the table at her.

“Thank you.” Laura squirmed in her seat. She damn sure didn’t plan on eating three meals a day in the big house.

“And what did you do before Andy hired you?” Rusty asked.

“I worked at a greenhouse in Amarillo. The owner sold it and the new owners brought in their own staff. So, Roxie, what grade are you in?” Laura deliberately turned the conversation in a different direction.

“I’ll be a junior this fall,” she said.

“She’s in summer school to make up classes she missed when she skipped school,” Andy said.

Roxie looked at her plate. The gesture reminded her so much of her sister, Janet, that it shot a pang of homesickness through Laura’s heart.

“And what are you going to be when you grow up?” Laura asked.

Roxie raised her eyes. “A fashion designer or an interior decorator.”

“That takes college and to go you’ve got to have good grades in school,” Laura said.

“What you ought to do is take lots of computer classes and go to work for the ranch. You’re really good with technology,” Andy said.

Roxie gave him a shy smile. “That’s what Dillon says. Maybe I will change my mind, but right now I just want out of Ambrose. I want to go where nobody knows me.”

Laura had felt the same about Claude, Texas, and there had been two summers that she had to do makeup work at school. Not for skipping classes but for being too shy in those days to raise her hand to answer questions. Janet was the one who had to attend summer school for skipping, and Aunt Dotty had given her extra chores as punishment.

They talked about crops, church, and Roxie’s class schedule, but Laura only listened with one ear. She wondered what Janet was doing that evening. It had been a whole week since they’d hugged and said their good-byes. It would be a long time before they saw each other or even had phone privileges again. If only she’d had another way to get the money to bail Janet out one more time, but she’d had no other recourse than biting the bullet and going to Andy. She just hoped that Janet was holding up her end of the bargain.

At first she was angry at Andy for laying down such rules. She and Janet were sisters and adults. He didn’t have to be such a hard-ass about loaning her the money, but the more she’d thought about it that week, the more she realized that he was a genius. Janet would never stop gambling if she could run to Laura every time she got into trouble.

Andy’s rules had been simple. Number one: they could have no contact, not even phone, emails, or texting until the debt was paid in full. Number two: they could not see each other until the debt was paid in full. Number three: Janet had to stay out of casinos, bingo halls, anything that had to do with gambling, and she had to go to Gambler’s Anonymous twice a week.

Laura shook the rules from her mind and pushed back her chair. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you all. Thank you for supper. I’ll be getting back to the office now to finish up the day’s work.”

“We are glad to have you here on the ranch. Feel free to take any of your meals with us. There’s buffet breakfast and lunch and we sit around the table at supper.” Maudie waved her away with a flick of her wrist.

“Thank you,” Laura said, but she sure did not intend to eat three meals a day with the family. No sir!

“Don’t let Andy chain you to the computer in that office,” Rusty said.

“I’m sure I’ll be out and around more often as soon as we get caught up,” Laura said.

She escaped across the foyer and down the hallway to the small office that she shared with Andy Joe. She flopped down into her office chair, leaned back, laid her glasses on her lap, and pressed her thumbs into her temples. Thank God for Andy and his offer to come to her rescue, but she’d be damned if she made that supper thing a nightly affair. A tuna fish sandwich with peace surrounding her was a lot better than all those eyes on her.

“Hey.” Andy poked his head into the room.

She sat up so quickly that the room did a couple of spins before she got it all under control. “I was just resting my eyes for a minute.”