Cade hiked a hip on the porch railing and waited for Retta to go to the bunkhouse for her purse. Carrying a large cooler of iced tea in one hand and a sheath of disposable cups in the other, Levi backed out of the house. He took both to his truck, then turned around and came back.
“What’s goin’ on with you and Retta?”
“Nothing,” Cade answered.
“Okay, then. If you want to play it that way, I won’t get in your way,” Levi said. “Ain’t none of my business anyway.”
“What do you think is going on?” Cade asked.
“There’s chemistry. I can almost see the sparks dancin’ around y’all, and when you look at her . . . well, there’s something there that ain’t been since Julie,” Levi answered.
“Any more than between me and any of the sweet little blondes I meet at a bar?”
“Oh yeah, and this one ain’t goin’ home the next mornin’, Cade. Just remember that.” Levi settled his hat on his head. “Y’all goin’ to be home in time for dinner?”
“More than likely. How about you?” Cade said.
“Not me. Skip is bringing sandwiches out to the corral for me and the boys so we can keep working. There’s plenty of room for one more hand when you get back,” Levi said.
“I’ll be there.” Cade nodded.
The dust from Levi’s truck had barely settled when he noticed a movement in his peripheral vision. Turning that way, he watched Retta making her way toward the house with Beau in front of her and Hopalong bringing up the tail end of the parade. Mavis always said that you can’t fool dogs or kids. If that was the truth, then Retta had definitely passed the test with flying colors when it came to the an- imals. When she reached the porch, she sat down on the bottom step, picked Hopalong up and kissed him right on the nose, and then scratched Beau’s ears.
“You guys hold down the fort.” She stood to her feet and turned toward Cade. “Do you know the girls’ names that I’ll be getting?”
“Not until they get here. We just know that there will be four boys and four girls and that Benjy is one of the boys.” He opened the truck door for her. “Why did you ask?”
“I’m going to buy each of them a little welcoming gift. If I knew their names I’d be able to personalize it.” She put her purse on the floor and fastened the seat belt.
See there. If I was really interested in her, I would have taken care of that seat belt for her, Cade thought.
“That’s pretty nice of you,” Cade said as he got into the truck. “But it’s really not necessary.”
“When my Sunday school class went on retreat, I always did this and it works two ways. It makes me feel good to do something for them and it shows them I’m interested in them,” she said.
After only two days, he could already tell that Retta was an amazing woman. She fit in with Mavis and the guys. Beau and Hopalong loved her. And now she was buying presents for little girls that she hadn’t even met. Maybe Levi and Justin were right—the chemistry between them might be more than fun flirting and a flash in the pan. But—and there always seemed to be one of those when he thought about relationships of any kind—if he was totally truthful, he wasn’t over Julie. Sometimes he thought he was, but when just a simple memory of her carrying a quart of tea shot pain through his heart, then he had to be honest and admit that he had not completely moved on.
“Did you hate living in the country? Is that why you moved to the city?” He drove slower than usual so he’d have more time to talk to her.
“You wouldn’t understand.” She turned to look out the side window.
“Try me,” he said.
“When you were in high school, what were your dreams?” she asked.
“I wanted to be a pro-football player. I got a scholarship to play for the Longhorns, and that set me on my way. The first couple of weeks were fine in the city, but then I got homesick for the strangest things. Like the sound of crick- ets and tree frogs, the smell of a roast in the oven. When I realized I’d rather be stretching barbed wire than throwin’ a football down the field, I changed my dreams and my plans,” he said.
“You been back to your class reunions?”
“Two.” He nodded. “The five-year and then the ten-year a couple of years ago. Have you?”
She shook her head. “I got put down in high school. I was too tall, not thin enough, not pretty enough, not rich enough—you name it, and I fell short of the mark except when it came to playing girls’ football. So I made up my mind that I was going to get a fancy job in the city and when I came back to Waurika for a class reunion . . . ” She paused.
“That you’d show up in a low-slung sports car, wearing designer clothes, and show them all that you’d made it?” he asked.
“Something like that.”
“But did you really love the city once you reached that goal?”
One shoulder popped up in half a shrug. “Liking or loving is a luxury. I threw myself into my work and didn’t think about anything else.”
“Then your dad got sick, right?” He parked at the tractor supply place but didn’t make an attempt to get out.
“Yep, and I reassessed everything a dozen times. I knew from day one I’d lose the farm and accepted it. That meant I’d be going back to the city to work and I accepted that. It’s all in the mind-set, Cade. You do what you got to do for survival,” she answered. “We’d better go get whatever you need for that tractor. What’s the matter with it anyway?”
“The one I’ll be working on needs a tune-up,” he answered.
“I can help with that.” She got out of the truck and was halfway across the parking lot before he caught up with her.
“Are you serious? You know how to work on tractors?”
He nodded. “That’s right.”
“I can do basic stuff like tune-ups.”
The automatic doors swung open and he stepped to the side to let her go first. “I’d appreciate the help. When I get ready to work on it, I’ll give you a call?”
He shouldn’t compare because they were two different women with two different backgrounds and lifestyles. But Cade couldn’t fathom Julie ever even going into a tractor supply store much less knowing where to go once she was inside or worse yet, getting her hands dirty working on a tractor.
Thank you for reading this excerpt from Cowboy Bold, the first book in Carolyn Brown's Longhorn Canyon series. Available on May 29.