Love Drunk Cowboy
Author:Carolyn Brown

chapter 3

It was Saturday morning, the day before Easter, which fell on the first Sunday in April that year. No matter where Austin was, Saturday was her day to sleep in. She didn’t care that research had shown that missed sleep couldn’t ever be reclaimed. She put in long, hard hours all week and she slept on Saturday morning. Neither psychological nor physical proof meant squat to her. She didn’t care what the specialist in Vogue magazine said about the issue or if Professor Know-It-All had proven beyond a doubt that one day of sleeping in did not atone for five nights of working late; sleeping in on Saturday caught her up on missed sleep and if she didn’t get it she was bitchy.

The sun was barely up when she was awakened to rattling pots and pans banging in the kitchen. She put a pillow over her head but it didn’t go away. She groaned, looked at the alarm clock, and sat straight up in bed when she realized she wasn’t in her apartment in Tulsa. If that wasn’t Granny Lanier resurrected from ashes and come back to life, then whoever was in there had better be able to run fast or else like the sting of rock salt on their hind ends. Because Austin fully well intended to jerk that shotgun from behind the door and start shooting. She didn’t bother pulling on a robe or slipping her feet into house shoes but stormed down the hallway muttering curses the whole way.

“What the hell are you doing?” She popped both hands on her hips and glared at Rye O’Donnell. “Do you know what time it is?”

He poured a cup of coffee and set it on the kitchen table. Damn, but she was cute in those pajamas with her hair all tousled. She didn’t have a bit of makeup on and yet she still looked gorgeous. He laid a hand on her shoulder and steered her to a chair. “Drink that. It will wake you up.”

A night’s sleep hadn’t taken the jolt of electricity away when he touched her shoulder. The steam rising up off the boiling eggs was cool compared to his hand and yet there was a deep desire to pick her up, carry her to that big recliner in the living room, and hold her until she woke up.

“I don’t want to be awake. I told you I sleep late on Saturday.” She grumbled to cover up the way his mere touch made her knees go all weak and rubbery.

She wanted to be grumpy. She wanted to be mad until the next Saturday when she planned to sleep in, but his smile sure knocked a hole in that idea. That and his red-hot touch on her shoulder didn’t do a damn thing but make her want to grin back at him. She picked up the coffee and sipped but she was not going to dye Easter eggs. If he wanted that gazillion eggs all colored up and pretty then he could dye all day. When she finished her coffee, she was going right back to bed.

“I told you that we dye eggs every year for the Easter egg hunt. I promised Granny Lanier that I would keep up the tradition for her and I’m going to, with or without you,” he said.

The coffee was just like Granny made and ten times better than Starbucks. The second sip woke her up a little more. She shouldn’t finish drinking the whole cup or she’d never go back to sleep, but it was so good she kept sipping. “It’s not even seven o’clock!”

“If you’ll step out on the porch, there’s a beautiful sunrise putting on a show just for you,” Rye said.

More than the aroma of good coffee wafted to Austin. He had shaved recently and the aroma of his shaving lotion blended with the coffee smell and good Lord, was that bacon frying in the electric skillet? A man that dyed Easter eggs, cooked breakfast, and looked like he just walked out of a western movie. It wasn’t fair that he lived in Terral and not Tulsa.

“How do you like your eggs?” he asked.

“In an omelet with tomatoes and mushrooms.”

“Don’t have fresh things in the fridge and the garden won’t be ready for weeks so it’ll have to be with ham and cheese.”

“Why’d you ask if you were going to make them that way?”

“So I’ll know next time. Get that smaller skillet out from under the bar and you can stir the sausage for gravy while I keep the bacon turned.”

“This is my house.”

He pointed at the bar. “Yep, it is. After today you’ll know there are two electric skillets that we use on Easter weekend when we need all the burners on the stove to boil eggs.”

She set her mug on the bar and pulled out the small skillet. “Sausage, ham, cheese, and bacon. I’ll gain ten pounds on breakfast alone.”

“And you’ll work every bit of it off on a watermelon farm. Plug that in and crumble the sausage…”

“I know how to make gravy. I don’t need a lesson.” Her tone had softened and she almost smiled.

His eyes twinkled every time he glanced her way. “Good. The biscuits are already in the oven. Out of a can because my biscuits have to be registered with the police as weapons. Granny never could teach me how to make decent biscuits. If you can make them like hers we’ll go on to the courthouse in Waurika and get married today.”

She gasped.

“Don’t faint. I was teasing. I’m not in the market for a wife even if it is a sore spot with my family.” He said the words but his heart didn’t believe them for one minute. If Austin had turned around and said she would marry him right then he’d have scooped her up in those cute little pajamas and carried her out to this truck before she could change her mind.

Good Lord, what in the hell am I thinking? I’m not ready for marriage. Austin is hot and I’d love to date her, but marriage? I don’t think so.

She cut off a fourth of the roll of pork sausage and put it in the skillet, fished an egg turner from the drawer under the bar, and stomped it into tiny pieces. Her stomach growled as the smell of the sausage blended with the other breakfast aromas in the small kitchen. On weekdays she grabbed a Starbucks on the way to work and called that breakfast. On Saturday she had a late brunch with her mother at the dealership which usually consisted of a bagel with cream cheese and a cappuccino with skim milk and extra vanilla. It had been years since she’d had a big country breakfast, probably the last time she was in Terral.

Traitor, she thought as she touched her noisy stomach. One day in this place and you already want to dive right into country eating.

“After we eat breakfast, that batch of eggs should be ready to put in a sink full of cold water and we’ll start the next batch to boiling.”

“I told you…”

“I know and, darlin’, if you don’t get the Easter fever the first time you dip an egg into dye, you can put on them fancy shoes and go on about your business. Granny and I did this every year. Several years ago the folks decided to use plastic eggs and fill them with candy, but not Granny. She said that bunnies didn’t lay eggs one day a year to be replaced by store-bought plastic eggs and as long as she was alive there would be real eggs. She carried enough clout in town that no one argued with her, but no one would help either so I got recruited. From day one I loved it. I’m doing it this year in memory of her.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll help. No more guilt trips.”

Rye’s face lit up when he looked down at her in the close quarters. He raised the fork he was using to turn the bacon and said, “Be it known that this country boy will never buy a plastic egg. He vows to uphold the tradition of the real Easter egg until his dying day.”

“We’ve got a lawyer coming around in a few hours. I’ll get him to work up an affidavit and notarize your signature on that profound statement.”

A sensitive man with his looks. Just what you’ve been searching for, young lady.

Austin could swear her grandmother’s voice had entered her head or else the old girl had come back to life and was standing behind her. She looked over her shoulder but the only person there was Rye in his tight fitting jeans, a three button yellow knit shirt with a slightly wrinkled collar, and dark hair that needed a trim two weeks before. He really was what she’d been searching for, but why did she have to find him in Terral, Oklahoma, right on the edge of hell?

I’ve told you all about him for years. Didn’t you listen to a blessed thing I said? He’s a good, honest man. Verline’s voice argued with common sense inside Austin’s head.

Austin had said, “We have a lawyer coming.” That little word “we” put another big smile on Rye’s face as he turned the bacon to be sure it was cooked just right. He stole long sideways glances at Austin as she stirred the gravy, amazed at how comfortable she was in the kitchen. He’d found a woman who set his heart to doing double time but she was a fancy lady, not someone who’d be at home at a rodeo or riding beside him on a tractor. Now what was he supposed to do and where did he start?

She looks like she’s pretty well at home in the kitchen and that’s a plus. He could hear Gemma’s arguments. Come on, Rye. If you don’t get married soon our parents are going to be too damned old to even enjoy their grandchildren.

Hey, he argued silently with his youngest sister, it’s not written on stone that I have to marry before the rest of you do. Don’t wait on me.

Irish rules, remember. Daddy said we got to do it in the right order and I’m getting tired of waiting on you. We’re all going to be gray haired and walking with canes by the time you find someone that’ll meet the long list of ridiculous qualifications you’ve got. I wish you’d never gotten that damned tattoo.

He was gazing out the kitchen window without seeing a thing.

When he finally blinked, Austin was doing the same thing.

He touched her arm lightly, letting his fingers linger just a beat longer than he should have. “What are you thinking about?”

She looked around quickly to find him staring into her eyes. “What are you thinking about? You were staring out the window all the way to eternity. If you burn my bacon after getting me up before daylight, I’m going to be one upset woman.”

“I’m not burning the bacon. I was arguing with my sister. She gets into my mind and fights with me.”

“About bacon?”

“No, about Easter eggs.”

Austin looked away, poured milk into the skillet, and kept stirring. “I don’t believe you. What were you arguing about?”

He avoided the question. “Do you ever argue with someone who’s not really there?”

“Sure, I was just doing so with Granny but I’m not telling you about what.”

Rye grinned. “Then I don’t have to tell you what Gemma and I were fighting about.”

Austin drew down her brows in a frown. “Gemma?”

“She’s my youngest sister and even more Irish than the rest of us. Black Irish, Daddy says. We are all dark-haired. Some of us have green eyes like Daddy and some brown like Momma.”

“Is Gemma an Irish or Indian name?”

“Irish to the letter. Gemma is number five. Three boys. Me, Raylen, and Dewar. Then Colleen and Gemma makes number five. She’s named for Daddy’s grandmother.” Rye drained the bacon on a paper towel before transferring it to a plate and making an eight-egg omelet in the bacon drippings.

“Did you invite all the hired hands in for breakfast?”

“Nope, I have a healthy appetite. Granny did too, and since you are her kin, I kind of figured you wouldn’t eat like a bird. Don’t worry. Anything we have left over old Rascal will be glad to clean up for us.” It felt right to be in the kitchen with Austin. It even felt right to be arguing with her.

“Is that old cat still alive? He must be fifteen years old?”

“Sixteen. He just gets fatter and lazier every year. He’ll be on the front porch by the time we finish breakfast. Long about noon he’ll move to the shade tree in the backyard and then to the shed after supper.”

“Has he turned gray?”

“Around the nose but he’s so big and sassy the other tomcats leave him alone.” Rye turned the omelet over, loaded it with grated cheese and chopped ham, and flipped it in half.

Austin poured the gravy into a bowl and took two plates from the cabinet. In a few minutes she was sitting at a table that would have put any waffle house to shame. She split open a biscuit and covered it with gravy, cut a fourth of the omelet and slid it over into her plate, and picked up three pieces of bacon with her fingers.

“Crispy.”

“You like it floppy?” he asked.

“Oh, no. Granny and I like our bacon crispy, our steaks medium rare, and onions in our fried potatoes.”

“Women after my heart.” He smiled. “What time is the lawyer coming around?”

“Pearlita said at ten o’clock. How many eggs are in that refrigerator?”

“A helluva lot. We boil four dozen at a time then we color them all pretty and put them back in the crates. Tomorrow we’ll hide them all around the community center. One will be the prize egg. That means whoever brings it to me gets a certificate to go down to Cavender’s Western Wear in Nocona and pick out a brand new pair of cowboy boots.”

“How do you know which is the prize egg?”

“We do different things. Sometimes we just write prize on the side with one of the wax pencils that comes with the dying kit and sometimes when Granny was real spicy we did it in glitter. I got both up there on the fridge so you can decide this year since it’s your first time.”

“What on earth made you move to Terral? I thought people moved out of here, not to here.”

“Cheap land. My uncle had this property out in west Texas and when he died it willed it to me. Never had any kids. I didn’t want to live out there so I sold it and started looking for a place close to Ringgold. My folks live seven miles across the river. Oklahoma taxes are lower than Texas and the land was less expensive. So I got four sections of land, two miles long, two miles wide across the road from here. My folks are seven miles away, two miles south of what’s left of Ringgold, so I can see them any time I want. What keeps you in the big city? You’ve got a farm free and clear and Felix and the guys are here all legal and ready to work.”

“I like my job. I like what I do and I’m in line for a big promotion. I’ll clear the table if you’ll start those eggs to cooling and the next batch to boiling. We might even get most of them done before the lawyer gets here if we work at it together.”

She scraped the final two tablespoons of omelet onto a paper plate and added the rest of the gravy on the other side and carried it to the front porch. Sure enough there was Rascal, the big old black tomcat, waiting patiently for scraps. He rubbed against her leg and purred as loud as a threshing machine until she set the plate down and then he hovered over it, daring even a sparrow to look crossways at his breakfast.

She sat down in the rocking chair and watched the sun going from half an orange to a full-fledged giant Nerf ball as it left the far horizon and took its place in the cloudless sky. Granny used to talk about the Easter snap, a cold spell that usually hit every year on Easter weekend but she must’ve taken it with her on her journey down the river because the day promised to be beautiful with no hint of bad weather.

The peace that surrounded her was like a warm cloak on a blustery cold winter night. She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. Instead of horns honking as people rushed around the city, crickets and tree frogs serenaded her. A dog barked over across the road at a passing truck. The driver stuck his hand out the open window and waved at her. Somewhere down near the river she heard a coyote howl and a boat motor firing up.

It wouldn’t be difficult to sit in that rocker day after day and let life pass by in peaceful hours. In a month I’d be bored out of my mind. But right now after only one day I feel more relaxed than I have in years.

“You ready to dye eggs?” Rye asked from the doorway.

“Are they cooled?”

“I put them all in the sink, ran cold water on them, and dumped in two trays of ice. I think they’re ready but you might want to get dressed to keep from ruining those cute little pajamas.”

She fought the impulse to cross her arms over her braless breasts, even though they were discreetly covered by pink knit and he’d already seen her. Hell’s bells, they’d had breakfast together so it was too late to be covering up her boobs now.

“I’ll find some work clothes and meet you back in the kitchen.” She stood up, raised her arms high over her head, and stretched.

Rye couldn’t take his eyes from her. He really needed to step back but he couldn’t move from the spot and she was coming toward the door. When she opened the old-fashioned screen door, he managed to move to one side and she brushed against his side. It took every ounce of self-control he had not to grab her right there in the doorway and kiss the living daylights out of her. As it was, he felt like just the brush of her hip against his was setting him on fire. He cleared his throat and she looked back at him.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he lied. He couldn’t tell her what effect her body had on him, not after less than twenty-four hours. What he needed was a shot of tequila to calm his nerves and a lime to bite on to wipe the constant smile off his face.

Austin headed down the hallway to her bedroom. She vowed she’d never ever let herself fall for Rye because if his touch was an indication of how hot things would be, one night in bed with him and they’d both burst into flames. How was that man not married? There wasn’t a woman on the face of the earth who wouldn’t fall backwards on the bed if he so much as laid a little finger on their cheek.

If I don’t stop thinking about him, I’m going to need to dip my whole body in that ice bath for the eggs. But I do wonder what a kiss would be like. Would I have lips left after he kissed me or would they melt right off my face? Hush! I can’t go back out there with naughty thoughts like this.

She flipped through the hangers in the closet while she removed her pajamas and put on a bra, but she’d brought nothing to wear while dying Easter eggs. She took a pair of khaki capris from a hanger and had one leg in them before she remembered that they cost too much to ruin with dye. That’s when she saw Verline’s faded overalls hanging in the closet.

She and her grandmother were both five feet ten inches and there probably wasn’t ten pounds difference in their weight so the overalls should fit fine. She stepped into them. They were comfortable. She found a sleeveless chambray shirt, put it on and buttoned it up the front, then flipped the galluses over her shoulder and fastened them. She rolled the legs up to right under her knees and slid her feet into an old pair of rubber flip-flops she found on the closet floor. Then she secured her shoulder length hair up into a ponytail and giggled at her reflection in the long mirror. “Farmer Jane. Mother would be appalled. I should have Rye take a picture of me with my cell phone and send it to her. She would either drop dead with a heart attack or fly down here and jerk me back to Tulsa so fast I’d think this was all a dream.”

Mismatched coffee cups filled with six different colors of egg dye were sitting on the table. Two crates of eggs were cooked, cooled, dried, and waiting. Rye was working on another crate when she walked in the kitchen. His mind went stone cold dead. Not one word would form and all he could do was stare. Dressed up she was stunning. In pajamas she was sexy. In those adorable overalls, she took his breath away.

He started across the floor with a crate of eggs, stumbled, and had to do some fancy footwork to keep from dumping two dozen eggs right at her feet. Only four fell out, but he managed to step on all four in his attempt to get his balance.

“I bet you say you can’t dance,” Austin laughed. “Only messed up four. That’s a miracle.” She rolled off several rounds of paper towels and bent down to clean the smashed eggs from the floor.

He started at the back of her long legs but his gaze stopped at her rounded rear end just inches from his fingertips. He was glad he still had a crate of eggs in his hands or he would have patted that fanny even if it cost him a hard slap on the face.

“I can dance. Want to go honky tonkin’ with me?” He set the eggs down, grabbed the paper towels to help her, bent down, and butted heads with her as she was standing up.

The woman would think he was a klutz. Thank goodness she didn’t know about him forgetting to change out of his best clothing. Or that he’d actually forgotten the feed yesterday. Or that he’d come close to burning down the house the night before when he was thinking about her.

He sat flat down in the floor. “I’m sorry.”

She joined him, holding her head. “It was my fault. I should’ve said I was standing up.”

“Let me see.” He pushed back her hair and checked her forehead with his fingertips. There was the heat again, boiling up from deep inside his body. He looked into her eyes and time stood still for what seemed like eternity. He knew this was a bad idea but a tractor trailer and a team of six horses couldn’t have stopped him from leaning in for that kiss, especially when Austin gulped and then nervously licked her lips. He just about pounced right then, but used every ounce of his willpower to move slowly. He could hardly wait to kiss her, but then the phone rang. He froze, and she stared at him for a beat, but the moment was over so he took a deep breath and sat back.

Austin had wanted that kiss—she was just about drawn to that man’s lips like flies to honey—and then the blasted phone rang. She didn’t even care if his kiss did melt her lips off her face. She’d hire a plastic surgeon to build her some new ones.

He helped her up with one hand.

She grabbed the kitchen phone on the third ring. “Hello?”

“Is this Austin Lanier?”

“It is. Who is this?”

“Your lawyer. I will be about thirty minutes late. Is that a problem?”

“No, sir. That’s fine,” she said.

“Then I will see you at ten thirty. Good-bye, Miss Lanier.”

She didn’t even have time to say good-bye before the line went dead. She put the receiver back on the base and turned around. Rye had cleaned up the egg mess, tossed the paper towels in the trash, and was sitting at the table.

“That was the lawyer. He’ll be here at ten thirty instead of ten. He sure was curt. It’s been at least twenty years since I’ve dyed Easter eggs so I’m not so sure I remember how.”

“All lawyers are like that, so don’t worry about it. Dying eggs is like riding a bike. It’ll all come back to you.” He had come so close to kissing her that it was scary. A kiss that quick would scare her right back to Tulsa for sure. He had to remember to take things slow. Sure, he had the hots for her but maybe she didn’t feel the same way. After all, he was pure country and she was a city girl.

“It is coming back to me right along with the smell. Haven’t they figured out a way to make it where you don’t have to use vinegar?” She put an egg in a wire holder and held it down in the purple dye.

“Granny said that this kind works better because it sets it better.”

“She never was one much for change. This one has color. Now what?”

“Decals or glitter or paint pens. Decorate to your heart’s desire.”

She picked up a decal of a butterfly and read the directions. She held a wet cloth against the decal and counted to ten using the one-Mississippi method and then gently peeled the paper away to show a lovely yellow and hot pink butterfly.

“I hope a little girl finds this one.”

“If she doesn’t, I bet a little boy will peel it and cram the whole thing in his mouth. They have contests among themselves to see who can eat the most boiled eggs. That’s something you can’t do with plastic eggs.”

One second he couldn’t talk; the next his mouth flapped like laundry hanging on the line on a windy day. Austin would think he was the dumbest old redneck cowboy she’d ever met up with if he didn’t get it together any better than that.

“Do they really have an egg eating contest?” She dipped the next one into pink dye and affixed a white bunny decal to the side. “I’d forgotten how much fun this is.”

“Not a sanctioned egg eating contest. They don’t get a prize for it but it happens every year. Granny thought it was a hoot. Their mommas would have a hissy if they knew, but they hide over behind the stage and lay bets as to who can eat the most in three minutes.”

“How do you know so much about it?”

“I watch. One of Kent’s boys has won the past two years with more than ten eggs. And that’s after a big Easter dinner.”

“Good Lord. Ten eggs! Does it make him sick?”

“I don’t know what happens when he gets home.”

He picked up the wire holder and sunk an egg down into the yellow dye after he’d drawn a smiley face on the side with the wax crayon. He brought it out and set it on the drying rack for a few seconds and then outlined the smiley face in bright orange with a fine tipped paint pen.

“So you raise cattle, take care of a bunch of mean old rodeo bulls, and you are an artist to boot. I’m impressed,” she said.

“Enough to sell me this place after you get through taking out Granny’s personal things?”

She cut her eyes around at him. “Is that what this is all about? Buttering me up to steal the place out from under me?”

“No, this is about Easter eggs. I’m real good at buttering women up though if that will work.”

“I bet you are and no, it will not work.”

“Can’t blame a man for trying. We’d better work faster if we want to get these finished before your lawyer gets here. Granny said he was the fanciest thing in Wichita Falls in his three-piece suits, alligator boots, and driving that Caddy.”

“Are you saying I should change before he gets here?” she asked.

“No ma’am. I think you are sexy as hell in that outfit. Just don’t be surprised if he hits on you and it won’t have a thing to do with the money Granny left in the trust fund for you. He’s already rich.”

“What money? We always figured she barely got by from one year to the next. I mean, all she did was grow watermelons.”

Rye chuckled. “I’ll let the lawyer explain it all, but honey, raisin’ watermelons is like finding gold. She told me part of it but I don’t have the whole story. She played her cards close to her vest. Speaking of which, if a couple of old girls from up at Ryan call and want to come down here for a poker game and you need a fourth hand, call me.”

“Greta and Molly?”

She grinned and his heart did a flip, skipped a half-beat, then raced like he’d run a mile on an uphill slope.

“Don’t let those two old gals fool you into thinking they’re lousy at poker. Me and Granny played with them about once a month. They’ll clean out your bank account and laugh all the way out to Greta’s 1958 Chevrolet truck.”

Her grin widened. Who would have thought those little blue-haired ladies would be crackpot poker players? Jefferson County was just full of surprises.

Crates of colored eggs lined the bar and the table was barely cleaned up when ten thirty rolled around. Austin pulled the ponytail holder from her hair and shook loose a mane of dark hair to fall around her shoulders. She started toward the front door at the same time Rye headed for the back door. They collided in the middle of the kitchen floor. He wrapped both arms around her to keep her from falling and she grabbed him firmly around the neck. He looked down into her blue eyes, which were looking up at him. Once again time stood still and Rye felt like he was moving in slow motion. He leaned in and she rolled up on her toes. When their lips met it was like nothing he’d ever experienced before—hot and sweet, brand new and like destiny that had been waiting for him forever, and as he touched the tip of his tongue to hers, he felt his whole body respond with a rush of steaming need and raw desire and heavenly heat. That kiss came close to frying a hole in the kitchen linoleum.

It set off bells in her head and fire down low in her gut that only a romp between sheets could put out and Austin was not that kind of woman. She did not fall into bed with a man just because he tickled her fancy. Casual sex was for other people; not Austin. The doorbell rang again but she thought it was the crazy music in her head. When it rang a third time she took a step back. “I don’t do that. I’m not that kind of woman. I don’t kiss a man.”

His heart fell to down to the kitchen floor. “You aren’t straight?”

“Yes, I’m straight!”

“Then what are you talking about?”

“I’m not loose legged, Rye. I’m pretty old-fashioned.”

“Well, you better get your old-fashioned butt over there and answer the door because I think I saw the shadow of your lawyer giving up.”

She took off for the door and he slipped out the back door, through the garage, and around the side of the house. He slid down the rough bark of the old shade tree in the backyard and put his head in his hands. He felt as if he’d known Austin Lanier for ten years but nothing had prepared him for the emotional roller coaster set loose in his heart and mind when he saw her in those overalls. Barefoot she was even sexier than she’d been in the fancy business suit down on the river when he’d first seen her and his world tilted ninety degrees to the left.

Austin opened the front door and yelled in a breathless voice, “Are you Verline Lanier’s lawyer?”

He was dressed in a three-piece suit that left no doubt that it had not come right off the rack at Sears but had been custom tailored to his slim build. His light brown hair was feathered back and his blue eyes luminous behind wire-rimmed glasses.

“I’d given up on you being here.”

His smile reminded her of a wolf approaching a helpless newborn lamb. It had none of the warmth of Rye’s boyish grin. There wasn’t one thing about Mr. Fancy-pants that made her want to kiss him or even dye an Easter egg with him. She touched her lips to see if they were actually as hot as they felt and was surprised to find them cool.

“My neighbor and I’ve been up to our ears in Easter eggs. Granny had already ordered them so we went ahead with her plans.” She held the door open for him. “You can set your briefcase on the table. There’s only a little bit of stain from the dye.”

His nose flared at the old table and the smell of vinegar still in the house.

“Care for a glass of sweet tea or a cup of coffee?”

“No, thank you. I’ve got another appointment back in Wichita Falls at noon. I’d like to take care of this quickly,” he said.

The expression on his face when he looked at her overalls and the dye on her fingers said it all. He thought Granny had been crazy to leave all her earthly belongings to her redneck granddaughter.

She pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. “I’m sure we can.”

“I am Glen Rushing. I’ve handled Verline Lanier’s affairs since she got sick. She wanted me to arrange things so there would be a minimum of fuss for you when she was gone. I thought you were in the oil business in Tulsa.”

“Did Granny tell you that? That’s what she would have liked for me to be,” she said.

The man rubbed her wrong. It wasn’t his business if she lived out of the back of a rusted out pickup truck with a leaky hooch over the bed and counted it a good day when she had bologna sandwiches. Not that she did any of that, but if she had, it wasn’t his concern.

He popped open his briefcase with a flourish and brought out several papers. “For the record, I don’t usually make house calls. Especially on Saturday, but Mrs. Lanier made me promise I would come see you the day after the memorial. Now to begin with I need you to sign this paper saying that you will take over her business transactions. That includes the farm and the wine business.”

Austin was shocked to know that there was a wine business. She picked up the papers and began to read. In the fifth grade they’d timed her at four hundred words a minute with perfect retention so it didn’t take long. The farm, all one thousand nine hundred and twenty acres, and all the equipment, house, personal belongings, and the crop with any other of Verline Lanier’s earthly possessions was willed to Austin Lanier along with the wine business. It took her twenty minutes to read every single paper he put in front of her and sign them. He left a sheaf of original documents for her with instructions that she would probably be wise to put them in the bank deposit box at Verline’s bank in Ryan. He turned over the stock portfolio that Verline kept with a company in Wichita Falls and the bank statements for the past six months with enough zeroes to stagger Austin.

“And that concludes our business, Miss Lanier. A bit of advice that I hope you won’t take the wrong way.” He scanned her from bare toes upward across the overalls and chambray shirt. “If you use this wisely it will support you, your children, and your grandchildren. Mrs. Lanier worked hard to leave this to you. Don’t squander it.”

“I’m sure I’ll take care of things just the way Granny told me to.”

“One more thing.” He snapped his briefcase shut with a flourish and popped up like a wind-up toy from the chair. “Did you really read those things or can you not read and you were putting on a show for my benefit?”

“That is a rude question that I have no intention of answering. Good day, Mr. Rushing.” She marched to the door and held it open for him.

“You’d be so proud of me, Granny,” she said when he was gone. “I didn’t pepper his better-than-thou ass with rock salt.”