Love Drunk Cowboy
Author:Carolyn Brown

chapter 5

“This is my father, Cash O’Donnell, and my mother, Maddie.” Rye pointed as he made introductions. “My sisters, Colleen and Gemma, and brothers, Dewar and Raylen.”

“I’d be his grandmother, Franny, and this is his grandfather, Tilman,” a woman with gray hair said from a rocking chair right at Austin’s elbow.

“Now can we eat, Momma? I’m starving,” Gemma said.

“It’s on the bar in the kitchen. Everyone can help themselves the rest of the day soon as Poppa says grace,” Maddie said.

Everyone talked at once as they headed through an archway leading into the dining room and beyond that to the kitchen. Rye steered Austin with his hand still on her back. The house was cool but that spot where his hand rested felt as if someone was holding a blowtorch two inches from it.

Maddie bowed her head but opened one eye a slit to look at her oldest son. He’d been the serious one of the boys but he had an expression on his face she’d never seen before, not even with Serena, the girl he thought he was in love with back when he was about twenty-one. He was absolutely smitten with Austin Lanier and Maddie wanted to weep for him. The girl was a high-powered businesswoman who lived in the big city of Tulsa. Rye would never be happy away from a ranch.

Tilman delivered the grace. “God bless the corners of this house, and be the lintel blest, and bless the hearth and bless the board and bless each place of rest, and bless each door that opens wide to stranger as to kin. And bless each crystal window pane that lets the starlight in, and bless the rooftree overhead and every sturdy wall. The peace of man, the peace of God, the peace of love on all. Amen.”

It was the strangest prayer Austin had ever heard and she looked at Rye with a question on her face.

“It’s an Irish blessing that he says every Easter,” he whispered.

“Then you weren’t kidding about being Irish?”

“Not one bit. Momma is too. She was Maddie O’Malley before she married Dad.”

“And we’ve all got the temper to prove it. And Rye is the worst of the lot. That’s why he’s not married,” Gemma said.

She had black hair cut in short layers that framed an oval face, deep green eyes beneath arched dark eyebrows and heavy lashes, and a wide mouth. She took care of her short height with a pair of three-inch wedge espadrille sandals on a one-inch platform. She wore a flowing gauze skirt in a splash of bright spring colors and a skintight tank top the same color as her eyes.

Colleen playfully poked her sister on the arm. “He’d be runnin’ a close race to you.”

Her hair was that strange burgundy color that usually comes out of a bottle but looked totally natural. Her face was slightly rounder than Gemma’s angular planes and her lips a wee bit wider. She was a little taller than Gemma but her bright red high heels that matched the cute little capris and western cut top put them about the same.

“Love your hair,” Austin said.

“Looks like it would come right out of a Lady Clairol bottle, don’t it?” Gemma said. “But it’s virgin as the Mother…”

“Don’t say it.” Dewar pointed.

That he and Rye were brothers was undisputable. They had the same dark hair and the exact same shade of eyes, but Dewar wasn’t quite as tall and his face more square. He also sported a deeper dimple in his chin and a scar on his cheek.

“What? I wasn’t going to blaspheme. Not with Poppa in the house. He’d bring down lightning to strike me dead. God wouldn’t have to lift a finger,” Gemma said.

Raylen chuckled. He was the shortest of the O’Donnell brothers; about the same height as Austin. As if God were making it up to him for making him the short straw, He gave him the deepest voice, the lightest blue eyes, and thick dark chestnut hair, colored somewhere between Colleen’s and Rye’s. He also gave him almost as much sex appeal as Rye and a smile that would cause major global warming.

“We’re glad you came today. We’ve missed Verline. She’d become part of our family,” Maddie said. “She was a hoot!”

“Thank you,” Austin said.

Maddie didn’t look old enough to have five grown children. She had a few crow’s feet around her bright blue eyes but her chestnut hair was as virgin as Colleen’s. She was taller than her daughters and slim as a model. Any twenty-year-old woman would have been delighted to look that good in snug jeans and a western cut lime green blouse.

Hell’s bells, Austin thought. I’d be happy to look that good and I’m thirty!

Maddie handed Austin an oversized paper plate. “Did Rye make an offer for the farm? I told him to talk to you soon as you got into town. He’s been wanting to expand for a while and that would be ideal since it’s right across the road.”

“Rye did mention it but I’m still thinking about things,” Austin said.

“Darlin’, Easter isn’t the time to talk business.” Cash nudged his wife on the arm. “Excuse her, Austin. She’s got a mind that never quits. Woman is what made this ranch what it is.”

“You got that right,” Grandma O’Donnell said from across the bar where she was piling her plate high with ham, baked beans, sweet potatoes, and a corn casserole that looked scrumptious. “Maddie took this old wore out place and turned it around. I swear that girl could make silk flowers reproduce and what she can do with horses is a gift from God. She can take a colt that’s all gangly legs and turn it into a million-dollar racer.”

Grandpa patted Grandma on the shoulder. “Got that from you, sugar.”

“Damn right she did. If I could only have one daughter among all them eight wild Irish boys then she had to be smart well as pretty.”

Austin wasn’t shy about filling up her plate. The banana nut pancakes had been wonderful but hiding Easter eggs had used up that energy and she was as hungry as Gemma. If the girl planned on having a piece of the pecan pie on the dessert table, she’d better eat fast because Austin had laid mental claim to the biggest slice.

When she sat down beside Rye at the long dining room table he raised an eyebrow at her plate. “Need some sideboards there?”

“This is just round one. I like good food and nothing you say will make me feel guilty,” she said.

Raylen slapped Rye on the back. “Met your match, did you?”

“Them Frenchies can’t hold a candle to us Irish for eating.” Rye’s eyes twinkled. He started toward his mouth with a forkful of corn casserole at the same time Austin poked him with her elbow and every bit of it landed on the front of his shirt.

He couldn’t catch a lucky break if he’d been driving a hundred and forty miles down the road in a good tailwind. The one woman he wanted to impress more than anyone in the world and every time he turned around he was as clumsy as a hippo in ice skates.

“I’m so sorry,” she said.

He wiped at it with a napkin. “At least my shirt is yellow and it won’t show.”

“You’re a good sport but be careful what you say about the French, darlin’. I’m only half French. The other half is pure English and we can whoop your Irish butt when it comes to eating,” Austin said.

Grandpa tapped Grandma on the shoulder. “Aha, she’s got spunk, sugar!”

“What’d you expect? She’s Verline’s granddaughter,” Grandma laughed.

“I forgot to get a beer. What would you like?” Rye asked Austin. “We’ve got Coke, Dr Pepper, sweet tea.”

“Coors?” she said. She could count the number of beers she’d drunk in her lifetime on one hand and wondered why in the devil she’d asked for beer when she meant to say sweet tea.

“You bet,” he said as he pushed back his chair. It was torture sitting so close to Austin with everyone wedged in so close around the table. His elbow touched hers. His leg brushed against hers. And yet he found himself rushing back to the table so he could sit close to her again.

“Loved your grandma.” Gemma was crammed in so close to Austin that their elbows practically touched when they picked up their forks. “I should’ve sat at the end of the table with this left hand handicap but I wanted to get to know you. I used to tell Verline that I was going to grow up and be just like her.”

Austin smiled. “Me too. So she was here often?”

“Every Sunday Rye could talk her out of Terral. She was like an extra granny to us all.”

Rye set a can of Coors beside her plate. It was so cold that the outside had water beads hanging on it and when she popped the top, foam floated out so fast that she had to gulp it to keep it from spilling out on the table cloth.

“Sassy, smart, and knows how to drink beer. We might keep you,” Cash said.

If Mother saw me right now I’d be casket shopping tomorrow. Beer and paper plates, all the fat and calories in the state of Texas, and a cowboy from Terral flirting with me. I don’t know if it’s because he wants my property or if he really likes me but his touch just plain sets me on fire and makes me think thoughts that would make the devil blush.

Austin raised her beer to Cash and smiled. “You’d be paying someone to take me off your hands come morning light.”

Rye wasn’t surprised by his family’s reaction to Austin. She was smart, beautiful, and sassy. That all fit right in with the Irish clan but they’d have been happy to see him bring a plain, shy woman who was only marginally pretty to Easter dinner. He was thirty-two years old and they’d always kidded that the O’Donnell offspring would marry in the order of their birth.

He’d always liked dark-haired women ever since he’d kissed his first girl when he was thirteen out behind the barn after a cattle sale. Her name had been Kaylene Stephens and her father had bought one of the O’Donnell horses. They lived in Hereford, Texas, and he never saw her again or forgot the way the kiss made him feel.

But that was nothing compared to the delicious taste of Austin Lanier’s lips on his, the feel of her soft skin on his palm, or the way her curvy body fit just right all up and down his when he held her close. If kissing had made her knees go as weak as it did his, she would have fallen over backwards on the kitchen floor and taken him with her. Now there was a happy thought.

Maddie looked across the table at her oldest son. “How’s the ham?”

“It’s wonderful. Watermelon wine?” Rye asked.

“In honor of Verline. It was my last bottle. Are you going to keep making it like she did?” Maddie asked Austin.

Austin shrugged. “Don’t know. Didn’t even know she made it.”

“Well, I hope you do. It makes the best ham in the world. Just pour a bottle over it and put it in the oven. Gives it just the right amount of sweet. I used blackberry wine until she brought me a bottle of hers. Does your mother have a secret for ham?”

“My mother doesn’t cook. She has a combination housekeeper and cook. I’ve never known Rosa to make ham. Mother is very health conscious and ham is on her blacklist, but this is wonderful. You should open a restaurant!”

“Don’t give her any ideas,” Grandma giggled.

“Maybe I will when I retire from raising horses,” Maddie said.

“What do you do?” Gemma turned to Austin.

“I work for Humphrey’s Oil in Tulsa. How about you?”

“I’m a hairdresser over in Wichita Falls.”

“And I’m a blackjack dealer at the casino in Randlett, Oklahoma. Sometime you’ll have to pop in at Gemma’s joint, get all dolled up, and then come over to the casino and win a few dollars at my table. Bet you could find something a hell of a lot better than Rye O’Donnell in my casino. We get some damn fine lookin’ cowboys in there,” Colleen said.

Austin smiled. Was Colleen trying to strike up a friendship or trying to steer her away from Rye?

“Want some help over there at Granny Lanier’s? She was a collector.” Gemma winked and shifted her eyes toward her grandmother.

Austin nodded ever so slightly that she understood. “Thanks, but I’ll have to go through it myself to know what to toss and what to pack for storage, but anytime you got a spare hour or two, drop by and keep me company.”

“I just might and don’t you roll your eyes at me, Rye,” Gemma said.

“You can’t see me,” Rye protested.

“I can hear it when you roll your eyes,” Gemma told him.

Austin giggled. Her childhood had been lonely. Her father had wanted at least two children; her mother wanted none. They had too much wine in Austin celebrating their first anniversary so they compromised. One child. And no more accidents.

Rye poked Austin on the arm and white-hot heat flooded through him in the form of pure old sexual desire. “What’s so funny?”

“All of you. This is fun.”

“I’m glad you think so. It’s a blistering chore to come down here on Sunday and put up with their sass,” he said but his expression didn’t back up his words.

“And what do you think it is for us? You’re a big blister on all our asses,” Colleen said.

“Momma, she’s using ugly words at the dinner table,” Raylen teased.

“No, she’s not. She’s speaking the gospel truth.” Dewar put his two cents into the mix and the argument was on.

Austin couldn’t remember the last time she’d had so much fun on Easter Sunday or any other Sunday for that matter. She’d polished off a healthy piece of pecan pie and wished she had room for another small slice when Grandma stood up and announced that it was pickin’ time.

Austin wasn’t sure what they were going to pick or if it was time for her to make excuses, say thank you, and let the family get on with whatever was next for their Easter afternoon. Surely they weren’t talking about five grown children hunting eggs out in the pasture! If they were then someone else was hiding the damn things.

“Music,” Rye whispered, his warm breath sending tingles down her arms and putting goose bumps on her scalp. “Grandma likes to do a little playin’ on Easter or any other time she can talk us into making music. Out under the shade trees in the backyard. I think it reminds her of when she was young.”

Grandma slapped him on the shoulder. “I might be old but my hearing is still good. A woman likes good music; it don’t have nothin’ to do with her age. And you need to bring that girl around more often. You’ve smiled more today than I’ve seen you do in a long time.”

“What makes you think it’s Austin causing me to be happy? Maybe I just like Easter,” he said quickly.

Grandma just patted him on the shoulder and grabbed Grandpa’s arm as he headed out the door.

Quilts had been thrown down in front of six chairs under the shade of two enormous pecan trees. Kittens romped and played on the patchwork quilts but scattered quickly when Rye and Austin sat down.

“I’d best sit in a chair today. I can sit down on the quilt without a problem, but gettin’ up, now that’s a different story.” Grandpa pulled an extra folding chair from behind the tree and set it up beside where Austin was sitting.

Colleen pointed at Rye. “You’ve got a job to do and it’s not sitting there while we work.”

“I’ve got a guest.”

“So? Granny Lanier was your guest and you still played. Get on up here. She can hold down that quilt without you.”

Two cowboys flopped down on the pallet with Austin and Rye.

The taller one with the light brown eyes flashed a smile at Austin. “Hey, we’ll help hold down the quilt and talk to the pretty lady while y’all play.”

The other one nodded seriously at her. “I’m Ace Riley and that ugly cowboy would be Wil Marshall. He can’t help it if he’s as ugly as a mud fence covered up in horse apples. Protect your eyes and don’t look at him, ma’am. And you’d be Miz Verline’s granddaughter? She always did say we ought to meet each other.”

Rye bristled at the banter and shot a mean look across the distance separating him and Ace. He would have liked to have shot a fist over and connected up with his eye even if Ace and Wil were his two best friends.

Colleen strummed on the banjo. “Come on, Rye. We are waiting.”

Grandma pulled up a chair beside her husband. “I’m sittin’ this one out. You kids get the instruments warmed up and then I’ll take over.”

Rye slowly got to his feet and picked up the guitar waiting on the last chair left with an instrument in it but he kept an eye on his two friends who were busy carrying on a conversation with Austin. Raylen was adjusting the strings on a fiddle. Colleen had a banjo strapped around her neck; Gemma was playing the Dobro; Dewar was sitting down with a dulcimer in his lap. And Maddie had a harmonica up to her mouth, running up and down it to get the feel for the right sound.

Rye struck up a chord and they all fell in to begin the backyard concert with “Red River Valley” and followed that by “Bill Bailey.” In the latter Rye had the lead and made the guitar whine the melody so well that Austin could hear the words to the old song in her head as well as if someone was singing it.

Grandma stood up at that time and kissed Grandpa on the forehead. “They got them all warmed up now, darlin’, so I’ll play your favorite.”

He grinned and she took the dulcimer from Dewar and motioned for him to relieve Raylen from the fiddle and for Raylen to take over for Rye.

“Good grief, can they all play all of those things?” she asked.

“No, honey, only Raylen can do it all. The rest are limited to a couple or three each. But Raylen and my sugar can play anything that falls into their hands,” Grandpa said.

“We’ll be doing ‘Rye Whiskey’ now and, honey, you’ll be singing,” Grandma said.

Grandpa nodded.

Dewar pulled the bow across the stings and the whine of the fiddle stirred something deep in Austin’s soul. Guitar music joined him and then the rest of the instruments before Grandpa came right in on cue with the first words of “Rye Whiskey.”

Rye held out a hand to Austin. “Walk with me and see the new colt Momma got last week.”

“No fair, stealing her away. You know Granny Lanier wanted me to meet her. She even said our blue eyes matched up so perfect that we’d have beautiful great-grandchildren for her.” Ace laid a hand on hers to hold her back.

She didn’t feel anything but a big, old warm hand; no tingles, no internal fires, no oozy feeling in the pits of her gut. She pulled her hand away and put it in Rye’s and there it was: all the blazes of hell!

“Granny Lanier would have shot you on the spot if you’d come sniffin’ around the door,” Rye said. “She knew you were a bad boy.”

“Not me.” Wil reached up and grabbed her other hand to keep her from walking away with Rye. “I’m the good boy. You two were always the ornery ones. Austin, I swear I’m the good one and I can prove it. Look at their arms. They’re the ones who got drunk and wound up with tats. I was the good one who didn’t let them talk me into such a thing.”

Austin was amazed. Rye’s touch was sending shock waves from her hair roots all the way to her toenails. Wil’s was like shaking hands with a new customer at the oil company. She pulled free from Wil’s hand and let the jolt of electricity flow through her as Rye pulled her to her feet.

“Yeah, right!” Rye said. “You were too drunk to get out of the backseat and get one. If you’d held your whiskey better you’d have been right in there with us.”

Austin had never had three men fighting over her. It felt pretty damn good even if they were all teasing, but Rye was the only one she had eyes for that day. She didn’t jerk her hand free when he laced his fingers into hers and led her toward the barn in the distance. She looked back to see Ace and Wil grinning, Gemma giving her a thumbs-up sign in between strums on the Dobro, and Colleen frowning.

When they reached the corral, Rye popped a leg up on the lowest rung of the white fence and looked out over the mares and their new offspring. Austin leaned on a fence post and watched the long legged colts romping in the afternoon sunshine.

She could hear music behind her and recognized “Barbara Allen.”

“Do they play anything current?”

“Yes, they do. We just play the old ones when Grandma is around. She still likes that kind of music. Isn’t listening to the old stuff better than going through dusty old boxes all day?”

She leaned on the fence beside him. “Yes, it is. Granny used to have an old fiddle cassette with lots of those songs on it. When I was little we’d dance around the living room together. Come to think of it, there was actually room to dance around in those days. When did she start bringing in so much junk? Did you and Granny walk out here on Sunday afternoons?”

He shook his head. “No, she sat on the porch with Grandma and Grandpa and talked politics. If Congress would have come on down here to north Texas and spent the afternoon with them, the whole government wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in today. They could have solved all the problems and even gotten the country out of debt in one Sunday afternoon. And she always was a collector but after she got the tumor she started hitting every garage sale in the county and always brought home a box of stuff. I thought it was something in her brain. She seemed to get a big charge out of putting it everywhere. I told her once that you would have a time getting rid of all of it and she told me to mind my own business and stay out of hers.”

“Sounds about right. Granny was very opinionated. That’s why she and my mother never did get along. They’re too much alike.”

Rye could have stood right there forever with his left forearm resting on the fence and holding her hand with his right hand. Their fingers intertwined felt so right—there was the heat, the tingle, but also a feeling like their hands were joined together with their souls somehow—like this was meant to be. “I didn’t even know your mother was alive. I did know all about her son, Eddie, and her granddaughter, Austin, but she never mentioned your mother.”

“That’s too funny for words.”

“Why?”

“Because Mother still asks about her every week. We have brunch together most Saturdays and I talked to Granny on Thursday nights. Mother always asks how she’s doing and what’s going on at the farm,” Austin answered.

“Why is it that they didn’t like each other?”

“Granny never forgave her for taking him away from Terral. Even if he didn’t want to come back, it became Mother’s fault. End of story.”

“I wouldn’t like it either if some hussy stole my only chick.”

“My mother is not a hussy,” Austin said. At last he’d said something that irritated her and proved he wasn’t perfect after all.

“Hey, pardon me. I wasn’t out to stomp your toes. To each his own and all that shit.”

“Apology accepted.”

He reached out and ran his knuckles down her jawline leaving a trail of heat that swirled all the way down to her toes. “You get all tense when you are angry. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“I’ve been told that my eyes flash lightning bolts.” Right then more than her eyes was hot!

Using the other hand, he cupped her face in his hands and leaned in for the kiss. She shut her eyes and got ready for the shock. His lips moved slowly, drinking in the taste before his tongue teased her lips apart and he made sweet love to her mouth. The tension left her body and the pure raw desire began.

Then all of a sudden he pulled away leaving her panting and her lips suddenly cold—almost bereft.

“What was that all about?” she asked.

“Happy Easter. I’m glad you came to dinner even if my family gave you hell.” He struggled mightily with himself not to plunge back into another soul tearing kiss, but Rye knew he had to stop or else he was going to throw sanity out the window and take her to the hay loft and do a helluva lot more than kiss her, and Austin Lanier deserved better than a bed of hay.

“I love that your family included me in the teasing. I’ve enjoyed the day but that didn’t have a thing to do with a kiss like that.”

“I wanted to kiss you all day. You looked so damn cute hiding eggs and sitting on the tailgate watching the kids,” he said softly.

“And I thought you were just trying to get next to me to get my watermelon farm for a song and a dance—or would it be a home cooked meal and a kiss?” she smarted off. How dare he call her mother a hussy! Granted she might be just that, but he had no right to call her one.

“If that’s what you think of me then it’s time we go back to Terral. I’ve got chores to do anyway after I show you the wine cellar.” She’d finally aggravated him and it had only been a little more than twenty-four hours. He knew it was too good to be true and that eventually he’d figure out she wasn’t as perfect as he’d thought when he finally saw her in real life.

“That sounds fine by me. I’ll tell your family good-bye and thank them for the lovely afternoon.”

“Don’t bother. Just get in the truck and I’ll call Momma later tonight.” Rye’s tone was curt and serious. The smile was gone and his eyes were dark instead of sexy.

She wished she was wearing anything but high-heeled sandals on her stomping journey back to the house. Rye O’Donnell had horse crap for brains if he thought for one minute that he was going to order her back into the truck, leaving his family to think she was too damn rude to thank them. He could drive his sorry ass home alone and she’d walk the whole seven miles before that happened. Her hussy mother hadn’t raised a rude child.

“Looks like trouble in paradise to me, sugar,” Grandpa said loudly.

“I said I’d call Momma later.” Rye laid a hand on Austin’s shoulder when he caught up to her. Anger did not take away the jolt of desire brought on by a touch.

She shrugged his hand away. “I’ll do my own talking.”

“Looks like he really has met his match,” Grandma giggled.

“Flowers and candy for a starter, Rye. And follow it up with a nice dinner at the Peach Orchard and a walk down on the riverbanks after the stars come out,” Ace said.

Rye shrugged and sat down on the pallet. “Where’s Dewar and Colleen?”

“Dewar had to go get a guitar pick. Colleen went with him to get something to drink.”

Austin smiled at Maddie. “I’ve got to get back to the house and pack some more this afternoon but I wanted to thank you for a lovely meal and all the fun. Can I help with anything before I go?”

Maddie hugged her. “No, honey, not a thing. Come on back with Rye anytime. We’ll look for you next Sunday.”

“Thank you. I’ll get my purse from the house.”

Maddie motioned with her hands. “Gemma put all the purses on her bed. Upstairs. First door to the left.”

When she’d retrieved her purse she went straight for the bathroom. If someone made Austin mad, she talked to her reflection in the mirror as if she were the therapist and the woman in the mirror the patient. She’d barely shut the door when she heard voices outside in the hallway. She heard her name so she forgot all about the therapist session and pressed her ear against the door.

“He’s smitten with her. I’ve never seen him act like he did today. He can hardly keep his hands off her and she’s not the right one, Dewar. We’ve got to do something,” Colleen said.

“She’s not country material and he’s smart enough to realize it.”

“But he’s never had that look in his eyes. Not even with Serena. Lord, can’t you just see her on the ranch? She wouldn’t last a week. Rye can’t live in a city or work in an office. He’s a rancher and a cowboy.”

“Don’t you like her?” Dewar asked.

“She sees a good lookin’ rich man.”

“Colleen, think! She comes from money. She’s inherited three sections of land and a wine business. She’s not looking at him for what he’s got. And he’s only known her a couple of days, Colleen.”

“He fell hard for Serena too.”

“That was ten years ago.”

“And he hasn’t brought home another woman until now.”

Austin wondered who in the devil Serena was, and why it even mattered.

“He should have married Serena,” Dewar said.

“He would have but she left him and this one will too.”

“It was that big fight they had over living in Oklahoma and then that other guy…”

Colleen didn’t let him finish. “You don’t have to remind me. I was fifteen and thought all love ended like in the fairy tales.”

“Well, he’s a big boy. He can take care of himself.”

“They’ll fight and his heart will get broken and he’ll never find anyone else.”

Dewar chuckled. “You don’t have to wait on him to get married. That’s just a family joke.”

“It would take a special man to ever put me in a corral,” Colleen said.

And me, Austin thought. I’d like to walk out of here right now and tell you both that I’m not interested in your brother so you can stop worrying. I like the way he kisses. I like the way he fills out those jeans and the way his shirt is stretched over that broad chest but… She couldn’t think of any buts other than Rye’s and the way he filled out those Wranglers.

“Amen to that, sister,” Dewar laughed.

“You won’t tell Rye that I’m not too impressed with his woman, will you?” Colleen asked as their voices faded.

Austin stepped back and looked at the blushing woman in the mirror. “Don’t look at me like that. They were talking. I just listened. So the family is divided in their opinion of the new girl in town. Well, it’s a Scarlett O’Hara situation here. Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn.”

But I do. I loved being here today among all these people. I loved the teasing and the sibling rivalry and all of it. Even if it was a one-day thing never to be repeated, I wanted it to be one of those memories that I can pack away and get out every so often and think about and now I’ve spoiled it with my temper.

She slowly went downstairs and out onto the porch. Grandma was coming in the door so Austin held the door for her.

“Don’t hold whatever he said or did against him. He gets them high temper genes from his dad. That man always did say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s a wonder he ever talked Maddie into marryin’ up with him.”

Austin looked at Rye sitting on the blanket with his friends.

“It’s the O’Donnell pride,” Grandma whispered.

Austin smiled. “Well, tell that proud O’Donnell jackass when he gets finished with his important conversation that I’m walking home.”

Grandma cackled. “I’ll do that, honey.”

She went straight to the truck where she changed back into her running shoes and put her high heels inside her purse. A nice long jog might work some of the humiliation out of her system.

What were we fighting about other than he called Mother a hussy? It had to have been important but I can’t remember. Whatever it was didn’t cool the physical attraction one bit because he’s still sexy as hell sitting out there with his cowboy friends.

She did a couple of deep knee bends, slammed the pickup door, and took off in a slow run down the lane toward the highway. I’ve never felt so stupid or done anything so silly in my life but it feels pretty damn good.

“Where is Austin?” Rye asked his grandmother when she returned with a glass of iced tea.

“I guess she’s gone home. She said to tell you that you are a proud O’Donnell jackass and that she was walking home. I wouldn’t date her no more, Rye. She’s done lied to you on the first date. She ain’t walkin’. She’s runnin’.”

“Well, shit!” Rye ran to his truck, fired it up, and caught up to her midway down the lane.

“Get in the truck, Austin. It’s seven damn miles back home. Stop your pouting and get in.”

She shot him her best go-to-hell look and kept running.

He drove another ten yards and hung his head out the window again. “Come on, Austin. You are acting like a spoiled teenager.”

She picked up the speed.

She reached the end of the lane and turned left out onto the highway and heard the truck engine stop. She glanced over her shoulder to see him coming after her, making pretty good time in those boots. She put it into high gear and ran faster and then in a whirlwind of motion, he spun her around and threw her over his shoulder. Her butt was in the air. Her legs were pinned down by strong arms and her head was dangling so close to his rear end that she had a view that made her mouth water. She braced her hands against the backs of his thighs and felt the most amazing muscles she’d ever experienced flexing against her palms. She thought she might pass out right then and there.

“Put me down!” she yelled.

“Yes, ma’am. I will do that as soon as we get back to the truck.”

I’ve never been so turned on in my life.

“You are a jackass,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am, it’s the Irish. You are a smart-mouthed Frenchie. Hell of a combination, ain’t it?”

He turned his head slightly and kissed her right on the fanny and thought he’d die of lust and embarrassment and he’d never be able to face her again. A thirty-two-year-old man shouldn’t be carrying a thirty-year-old woman down the road like a sack of chicken feed. And it shouldn’t be as intoxicating as a double shot of rye whiskey.

He opened the passenger door to the truck and plopped her down in the seat. She folded her arms across her chest and stared out the window. He fired up the truck, slung gravel when he stomped the gas pedal, and parked in her front yard in four minutes. If there had been a highway patrolman out that Easter, he’d have had a ticket for sure but it would have been worth every dime it cost him.

She opened the door, let herself out, and leaned back inside. “That was uncalled for, childish, and rude. Where’s the wine business?”

He pointed at the new truck sitting under the makeshift shed roof. “Pull out her new truck. She built the shed over an old cellar where she keeps her wine. There’s a trap door under the truck. Pull it up. And I wasn’t the only one who was childish.”

She slammed the door with enough force to rattle the angels out of heaven. She stormed through the house, tossed her purse on the kitchen table, picked up the truck keys, and stomped the whole way to the carport or shed or whatever to hell the thing was called.

Rascal followed her and sat next to the far wall while she backed out the year-old Ford Ranger truck. Didn’t anyone in this area drive a Silverado? If Austin had known that Granny was in the market for a new truck she could have gotten her a fantastic deal on a Chevrolet at the dealership.

Sure enough there was an old cellar door right there under where the truck had been. She vaguely remembered it being in that part of the yard and playing jacks with Granny on the concrete top a few times when she was a little girl. She pulled the door up and looked down into the dark abyss. She didn’t like basements, dark cellars, spiders, or mice so she stood at the top of the stairs a long time before she took the first step. Nothing squeaked or crawled off the wall onto her leg. The second step built a little confidence but the third one sent her scrambling to the top of the stairs brushing spiders from her face.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Feeling like a contortionist, she checked everywhere for a black hairy varmint crawling on her but found nothing. She peeked down the stairs and sunlight reflected off something dangling in the air at about the third step. She leaned in but didn’t take a step and studied the thing until it moved again.

Feeling like a fool she figured out the wicked thing that had attacked her wasn’t a spider but a wooden spool hanging on a long length of twine. She caught the spool on the third step and gave it a good solid yank and the whole cellar lit up. At the bottom she stopped and stared. It was shiny clean with rows of bottles on three sides and a small desk with a computer right in the middle of the room. She sat down in the comfortable chair and opened the laptop. It came up with a window asking for her password. She typed in watermelon but it refused it. She tried dozens of words and it refused them all. Standing up and looking around she tried to think of what Verline would use as a password and nothing came to mind.

She pulled a bottle of wine from the rack. It had a parchment colored label with a picture of a watermelon entwined with crawling vines and leaves. Lanier Wine was written in fancy script lettering with the year 2006 written down the side. She slid it back into its slot and opened the desk drawer searching for recipes or notes. The first thing she picked up was a small notebook and the first page yielded the password: Austin.

The password opened the wine world up to her on a wireless connection. She flipped through folders that were organized beautifully by year, by recipes, and by distributors. Evidently there were a lot of people who loved Lanier Wine.