Billion Dollar Cowboy(4)

By: Carolyn Brown

“It’s been a long day, Laura. We’ll finish up those reports tomorrow morning. We’re trying to figure out some things in the dining room. You missed dessert so I brought you a slice of pecan pie.”

“Thank you. Maybe I’ll get a run in tonight before I go to bed,” she said.

“If you get lost in the big town of Ambrose, call me and I’ll come get you. Believe me, Claude is a metropolis compared to Ambrose.” He grinned. He turned off the lights and set the pie on the fax machine. “See you tomorrow morning.”

She stuck her glasses on top of her head, ate every bite of the pie, and headed back toward the kitchen to put the dirty plate away. She could hear the soft drone of voices floating down the hall and stopped in her tracks when she heard her name. She tiptoed closer to the open dining room door and plastered her body against the wall.

“That’s crazy. She’ll never do it,” Rusty said. “And neither will Colton.”

“How do you know? We could at least ask them,” Maudie said.

“I vote that we don’t ask. We just orchestrate it and see what happens,” Andy said.

“I think it’s mean,” Roxie said.

Laura was amazed that the girl spoke up, but what in the devil were they talking about. It had to do with her and Colton and something they’d both never go for… but what?

Rusty’s deep voice carried better than Roxie’s when he said, “She will pitch a fit when she finds out. You might be her cousin, but you’ll be in big trouble, Andy. She don’t fool me one bit hiding behind those glasses. She’s a fighter.”

“Yes, she is. She’s always had to be, but I can handle it,” Andy said.

“It sounds like a good plan, and the only way it will work is if you blindside them with it,” Rusty answered.

“I vote we at least give it a try. Raise your hand if you are with me,” Andy said.

She couldn’t see the vote but rustling said that they had cast their vote and were on their way out of the dining room. She hurried down the foyer and out the back door before she got caught eavesdropping.

“Damn!” she whispered as she climbed the steps to her apartment. They were up to something that involved her and Colton together and she’d sure like to know what it was before it happened.

Her apartment was the upper floor of the old carriage house that now garaged three of the family’s pickup trucks. The sun hung above the treetops like it didn’t know whether it wanted to set that night or just look at the world a while longer. Laura looked at the clock when she opened the door. If she hurried, she could get in a run before dusk.

In Amarillo, Laura had a schedule that included running three times a week in addition to the exercise she got at the greenhouse. And she didn’t eat three huge meals a day. Breakfast was usually yogurt in the middle of the morning, dinner was a salad or a sandwich that she brought from home, and supper was one of those lean frozen dinners that she popped into the microwave.

She changed into her favorite old gray sweat suit, put on her running shoes, and did a few stretches in her room. The night air was pleasant, not too hot for the first week in June, which could be getting close to triple digits hot. She’d started to work for Andy on Saturday morning, the first day of June, and now it was a full week later. The sun dipped behind the tall pecan trees lining the lane as she took off in an easy warm-up trot on the gravel road. By the time she reached the road leading into Ambrose, she had built up a good speed. She didn’t see anyone, not until she reached the T in the road and turned north into Ambrose. Then a rusted-out old pickup slowed down behind her. The driver honked, stuck his hand out the window, and waved as he went on by.

Calling Ambrose a town was a far stretch of the imagination. It had a population of less than a hundred people, and the post office had long since been shut down. Now the mail came out of Bells on a rural route. The old school was the color of the formations at the bottom of the Palo Duro Canyon not far from Amarillo and was now a community center. The yard looked unkempt and she visualized a few lantana plants and iris bulbs along with some coleus set back in the corners to perk it up.