Taken, Not Spurred (Page 11)

Taken, Not Spurred (Lone Star Burn #1)(11)
Author: Ruth Cardello

“As far as I know, no one.” It wasn’t often that David looked embarrassed, but his face reddened at the mention of the hired hand who had turned out to be an undercover reporter.

“What about the rest of the hands? You might want to let them go and start fresh. One or another of them is always trying to talk to me.”

“You know we can’t run this place alone.” David crossed his arms. “I’m not firing everyone midseason just because they admire you.”

“Fine, I’ll do it myself.”

David scratched his jaw thoughtfully. “What put a burr under your saddle this morning?”

“You know my rule.”

With a sad shake of his head, David said, “Some of these young men have worked here for years. They’re loyal to you. It’s your ranch, Tony. Fire the whole lot of them if you want, but I’m not cleaning the stalls. You let ’em go, and you find the next ones. That’ll mean going to town, screening them, sorting through the ones with real skills versus the ones who think they can acquire some simply by watching you. By all means, go ahead.” David shrugged. “I’ll take the vacation I’m due to give you some time to figure out what a colossal mistake it was. Then if you ask me real nice, I’ll try to find some qualified help before we lose a whole season.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “I can let you go just as easily.”

David nodded. “Do it. I’ve made good money. It may be time for me to invest in something of my own.” Lifting and adjusting his hat, David said dryly, “I’d miss your sorry, self-destructive ass, though.” Tony caught a shadow of a smile on David’s face and hated the twinkle of amusement in his eyes as David said, “Go on back to the house. I bet your mood will get a whole lot better if you stop hiding down here and go see your little blonde.”

Tony opened his mouth, then shut it with a snap and a glare. Without a word, he turned on his heel and strode out of the barn.

I hate it when he’s right.

The early morning light that filtered through the curtainless windows woke Sarah up. She squinted into the brightness, then grabbed a pillow to cover her head. It took her a moment to remember where she was, but when she did she sat straight up in the twin bed, dropping the pillow to the floor.

Yesterday was not a dream. I really did get lost, made a complete idiot of myself over the first cowboy I met, got ditched by a woman I thought was my friend, and slept in the home of a complete stranger. Sarah sat immobile on the bed, letting it all soak in.

Today can only go up from there.

She swung her legs to the floor, stood, and stretched. A light breeze from the window flitted across body parts she didn’t normally air out. Sarah looked down quickly, past the T-shirt that rested just below her hips, and remembered she’d removed her underwear last night.

Probably not a good idea to stand in front of the window bare-assed. She scrunched down and made her way to the luggage she hadn’t bothered to open the night before. Rummaging quickly produced clean underwear and a fresh pair of jeans.

A shower would be nice. What’s the rule regarding the number of showers you’re allowed when you break into a person’s house? I’m guessing it’s one.

Then again, some rules are meant to be broken, especially if it’s for the common good.

After a quick shower, she slid on the snug-fitting jeans, tennis shoes, and a simple pink blouse, then sought the room’s mirror. A dab of concealer, a quick sweep of her hair into a ponytail, and she felt brave enough to face the new day.

She told herself she wasn’t disappointed when she discovered the only other person in the house was Melanie, washing dishes at the large sink in the kitchen. Sarah paused before entering and said, “Good morning.”

“Tony skipped breakfast, and you’re up late. You’ll have to make yourself something if you’re hungry.” Dressed in worn cowboy boots, faded jeans, and an old gray T-shirt, Melanie looked as rough around the edges as she sounded.

If there was one thing Sarah prided herself on, it was her ability to make friends. She liked people and, in return, most people liked her. She supposed she shouldn’t care how Melanie felt about her, since she was planning to leave after breakfast and it wasn’t likely they’d ever cross paths again. Still, there was something about Melanie that drew Sarah to her side.

“Would you like help with the dishes?” Sarah asked.

The housekeeper stopped and turned the water off. She gave Sarah what could only be described as an insulting, dismissive once-over. “You don’t need to be kissing up to me. I just work here.”

But you wish things were different? I know how you feel.

“My mother would call you essential support staff.”

Melanie turned away and snapped, “There’s coffee by the stove.”

Dismissed.

Sarah poured herself a cup of black coffee and turned to rest her hip against the counter as she sipped it. Almost instantly she spit the tepid bitter liquid back into the cup. Whatever that is, it’s not coffee. If Melanie heard, she didn’t seem to care. “Thank you for making dinner last night.”

“It’s my job,” Melanie said without turning around.

“Well, it was nice,” Sarah said warmly, deciding to ride out the arctic chill from the other woman. “And it may be the only home-cooked meal I have in Texas before I drive home to Rhode Island today.”

Just the thought of that long drive was enough to seriously dampen Sarah’s mood. She might as well start calling the bed-and-breakfasts she’d stayed at on the way down and hope they had rooms open for the return.

Melanie looked at her over her shoulder. “You really leaving?”

Sarah put the coffee cup down on the counter beside her and sighed. “That’s the way it looks.”

After wiping her hands on a towel beside the sink, Melanie turned around and faced her. “I figured you’d be staying longer.”

A flush of embarrassment warmed Sarah’s neck and cheeks. Not when I’m taken in like a dog in a storm. She smiled with self-deprecating humor. Tony’s probably in town stapling my picture on telephone poles with the caption: Found—stray woman. Please call to claim.

“He doesn’t usually bring women here,” Melanie said.

Sarah let out a short rueful laugh. “I sort of brought myself. He was just too nice to throw me out.”

Melanie raised both eyebrows as she said, “Really? ‘Nice’ isn’t how most people describe Tony.” Then she frowned. “I guess it’s not a surprise he’d make an exception for someone like you.”