Wild Cowboy Ways(3)

By: Carolyn Brown

“Aaaaachoo.” He grabbed a paper napkin from the middle of the table in time to cover his mouth, when it burst from him like a bomb.

“I hope you’re not getting sick, Walter,” she said as she marched across the room, grabbed his cheeks with her cold hands, and pulled his face down to kiss him on the cheek. “Katy’s wedding is coming up, and I don’t want a red nose and puffy eyes.”

“Of course not. Just a tickle in my nose, that’s all.” Best thing he could think to do was play along until he was able to find who the hell the old girl was talking about.

The woman hung her cane on the edge of the table and plopped into a chair. When she sat down the tail of her robe fell back to show that she was wearing jeans underneath it. She must have escaped from an institution, but Blake couldn’t remember anything resembling a nursing home closer than Throckmorton or Wichita Falls, and the old gal would have frozen to death if she’d walked that far.

She laid an icy hand on his forearm. “Is she out feeding the chickens? Are we safe?”

“I’m not sure.” Blake eyed her closely as he sat back down.

She squeezed his arm pretty damn tight for such bony fingers. “Aren’t you even going to offer me coffee? I walked the whole way over here to see you, Walter, and it is cold as a witch’s tit out there.”

Holy smokin’ shit! Would the real Walter please stand up and do it in a hurry?

Blake opened his mouth to tell her that he was not Walter, but then clamped it shut. If he made her mad, he’d never find out her name and without that, he wouldn’t be able to get her back where she belonged. He could call the police, but Dry Creek depended on the sheriff’s department out of Throckmorton for emergencies and he didn’t have that number.

“Yes, let’s get you warmed up. You take cream and sugar, sweetheart?” he drawled.

“Oh, sweetheart now, is it? You know very well I take it black, Walter.”

“Should I call you baby? Sugar bun? Hot lips?”

“Irene will do just fine,” she harrumphed, but Blake could see a smile tilting her lips.

He patted her hand as he pulled his arm away and got up from the table to retrieve a second coffee mug. “How about a toaster pastry to go with that?” he asked. Maybe if he got some food in her, she’d snap out of it and figure out he wasn’t Walter.

“What in the hell is a toaster pastry? Your mama usually makes gravy and biscuits.” The smile faded and her eyes darted around the room.

“Not this morning, darlin’.” So the woman who put even more craziness in the old gal’s eyes wasn’t Walter’s wife but his mother.

“I keep telling you to move out on your own,” Irene continued as he placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of her. She wrapped her hands around it like a lifeline. “If you had your own place, I’d leave my husband and we could be together all the time.” She pursed her mouth so tight that her long, thin face had hollows below the high cheekbones. “A man who’s almost forty years old has no business living with his mother, especially one who won’t make you a decent breakfast.”

“But what if she can’t get along without me to help her?” Blake asked.

She shook her fist at him. “You’ve got four brothers. Let them take a turn. It’s time for you to own up to the fact that this ranch is bad luck—always has been, always will be. You aren’t going to make it here, but we could do good out in California. We’ll both get a job pickin’ fruit and get us a little house in town. I always wanted to live in town.” She took his hand, hope shining in her eyes. The old girl just about broke Blake’s heart.

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