Kiss My Boots(2)

By: Harper Sloan

Stepping into the back office, I cringe when I see the mess on my desk. Normally, it’s kept in the state of what I lovingly refer to as organized chaos, but all it took was one visit from our resident Tank and it looks like an EF5 tornado blew through.

“Jesus Jones,” I mutter, shoulders dropping in frustration. “How the hell am I supposed to find something in this mess?”

“My guess would be clean it up.” A familiar sardonic voice laughs from behind me.

“I do clean! Which you know damn well!” Fake annoyance laces my words as I spin around, smiling as I face my eldest brother.

“Let me guess: Tank?” The corner of his mouth tips up as he smirks at me. I can’t see his eyes because of the shadow of his cowboy hat, but I imagine the deep hunter green is brighter than usual with a knowing sense of mirth.

“The one and only,” I drone.

“I just stopped in to handle payroll. I didn’t have everything I needed at the ranch, but I can hang around if you need somethin’.”

“Now, Clayton Davis, you keep that up and I might think you enjoy tinkerin’ around the garage,” I jest, knowing damn well Clay hates working in the shop.

He takes off his hat, placing it on top of the filing cabinet open-side up as any good Texan would, running one hand through his thick black hair. “Funny, Quinny.”

“I try, big brother. I know you’ve got your hands full at the ranch, so don’t worry your pretty little head over things here. I’ve got everything under control.”

“I know you do, Q. You could run this place hog-tied and blindfolded. But everything is handled at the ranch. Drew’s been one step ahead of me all damn week. It’s drivin’ me insane.”

I laugh at the mention of the ranch’s foreman, Drew Braden. He’s the only man I know who works harder than Clay. He keeps that ranch running with so much pride you would think it was his own family’s land—but that’s just the type of man he is. He always does say you can tell the measure of a man by how hard he works. He’s been around since well before my father died last year, and he’s always treated all of us like his children.

“Still workin’ like crazy?”

“Ever since Jill told him she was pregnant. You would think at his age he would know how to wrap his shit up, but I have a feelin’ Jill knew exactly what she was doin’.”

“You make forty-eight sound ancient, Clay.” I giggle, pushing some of the papers around, hoping to find some sort of message regarding the call Tank took.

“Shit, Q, I’d be freakin’ out too if I was going to be a dad—again—years after my grown kids had already left the house. He’s old enough to be my dad.”

I roll my eyes. “I think that’s a stretch, cowboy.”

“He had Missy when he was fifteen, Q. And I graduated high school with Missy. Not exaggerating in the least, darlin’.”

“Well, even so, that’s what happens when you’re pushing fifty and get yourself a new bride who probably graduated with your daughter, too.”

Clay starts grumbling under his breath about beauty queens, big hair, and gold diggers. Not that I would call Jill a gold digger, but rumor around Pine Oak has it that she married Drew for his money. The man might work at the Davis ranch by choice, but he’s never had to work a day in his life, he’s that loaded. His grandfather’s grandfather struck it big in the oil fields years ago, and to this day the Braden family is rolling in money from the investment. Not that Drew acts like it; the man still drives the same truck he had when he was in high school.

Finally spying Tank’s near-illegible chicken scratch, I grab the torn scrap of paper and move to sink my tired body into my office chair. Clay heads toward his desk in the corner—much neater than my own—right as I pick up the receiver to dial what I hope are the correct numbers that Tank wrote down.

Then I see the name.

And everything around me washes away, my vision going foggy until memories long since banished start slamming into my head. They’re so crystal clear that I feel like I’m the same love-drunk eighteen-year-old all over again.

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