Catch Me, Cowboy(3)

By: Jeannie Watt



That was when Shelby felt tears starting to burn her eyes. It didn’t matter if they were angry tears, they were tears all the same and she would not cry. “I have work to do,” she said abruptly. “You need to leave.”

With that she turned and started leading the gelding toward the corral, escaping while she still had her composure. It wasn’t the smoothest exit she’d ever made, but it would have to do. At least until she got a grip.

Her next horse, a paint mare she was evaluating as a prospect for a twelve-year-old beginning rider, was waiting for her, head hanging over the fence. The horse gave a gentle nicker, but Shelby barely registered the equine greeting.

She released the gelding and headed for the mare’s pen, refusing to look back. Hell. Afraid to look back. Finally, after an eternity, she heard the truck door open and close. A moment later the diesel engine fired to life and relief surged through her, but it wasn’t until the sound of the engine had faded into the distance that she allowed herself to turn and watch Ty’s truck slow at the end of the long driveway, then ease out onto the county road. She turned her attention back to the paint mare, disgusted that her hands were shaking a little. Reaction. She’d wondered about this reunion   for years—known it was inevitable, but hadn’t expected it to affect her this badly.

The hell of it was, she knew this wasn’t over.

Ty didn’t give up easily and if he wanted to talk to her, he’d made another stab at it. But she wouldn’t allow it to be here, with Gramps around… which meant she was going to have to take matters into her own hands and set a time and place for their final—and she meant final—showdown.

“Hey, Shelby.” She turned to see Gramps standing on the porch.

He was still wearing his town clothes, which was good. It meant he was taking it easy today as he’d promised. He’d been moving more slowly lately and it bothered her. But the one thing her grandfather never did was admit to any kind of pain or weakness. A personal code of honor that drove her insane. He’d taken her in and cared for her in his own gruff way when her mom died, and now she was going to take care of him. The only problem was that he wasn’t cooperating.

“Who was that?”

A lie? The truth? He was going to find out sooner or later, but later wouldn’t kill him. And it would give her time to come up with strategy. “Somebody who needed directions.”

“Ah. Looking for the River Road?”

Shelby just smiled rather than lie again and jerked her head toward the paint mare. “I’m going to be out on her for about an hour on the willow trail.”

“Be careful.”

She always was, which was why Ty wasn’t getting a second crack at her.

*

After leaving the Forty-Six Ranch, Ty drove past what had once been Harding Farms and parked at the edge of the barley field, letting the engine idle as he studied his old home out the back window of his truck. His body ached, as if always did when he held in one position for too long, but this pain went beyond the dull throb of knitting bones and muscles. He felt as if every part of his body had seized up. Stress. Pure and simple.

He’d had no idea how to approach Shelby, but had figured since Carol Bingley, town gossip, had spotted him his first night in town, he be better off seeing her sooner than later. It probably wouldn’t have mattered when he saw her—she was still as pissed at him as she’d been the day that he’d left. Which told him she cared enough to be pissed.

But it didn’t give him a clue as how to proceed, so here he was, communing with his past, as if it would give him an insight into the future.

The farm had changed. The house was freshly painted and the barn had been reroofed—things his father hadn’t been able to afford to do. Two little boys ran out of the house and made a beeline for the swings he and his brother, Austin, had played on years ago. The table he’d helped his father build was still there, too, covered with a red-checkered cloth. When his parents had sold out and moved, they’d left most everything behind, including the table he’d been so proud of. Granted, there wasn’t a lot of room for a redwood picnic table on the postage stamp sized lawn in the Arizona snowbird trailer park his folks now called home. It was as if when his dad had given up farming, he’d wanted to deal with as little land as possible, so he and Ty’s mom had headed south, where there were no Montana winters to contend with. No crops to worry about. No hunting or fishing either—at least not like there was in Montana, but Dad had been fine with that. Austin once said the land had wrung everything out of their father as he fought his losing battle to make the farm continue to pay for itself and support the small family that worked it. He’d given up his dream of being a champion bronc rider to take over the farm and had lost both—the dream and the farm. That was where Ty and Austin came in.

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