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Heap of Hay


Having a firm grasp on the loft’s door frame, Scott leaned out as if to take flight in the morning air, hooked the final bale and yanked it through the barn opening for a muffled thump onto dusty floor boards. The right amount of slack needed in the rope created a well-placed landing. A far cry from Scott’s first attempt after setting foot on Lancer land when he’d damn near fallen and broken his neck. The insightful words of John Adams were confirmed. Practice makes perfect.


The wooden-handled iron hook released its hay captive with a quick jerk. Having served its purpose for the day’s chores, a toss from a gloved hand sent the tool to corral with a few other barn implements cluttered on a nearby shelf.


Instead of joining the stacked hay, the bale remained by the opened loft door, gifting an impromptu bench with a view which Scott gladly accepted. Swiping a shirt sleeve across his forehead removed the day’s first sweat while below a figure required attention near an out building.


Gus Chenoweth. Even at a distance, his fading black eye could still be spotted as he unloaded supplies from a wagon. The man’s snide remark it looks like that fine piece of Aussie calico castrated young Lancer had demanded a rebuttal. Scott gladly obliged. Since then, Chenoweth gave his boss’s oldest son a wide berth whenever possible.


A glance in the direction of the hacienda inspired a double take from the blowhard hired hand. Adopting a relaxed stance of folded arms, his task appeared to no longer hold importance. Something had lassoed Gus’ interest.


Correction. Not something, but someone.


Scott’s squinted eyes followed Chenoweth’s gawp to settle on a young lady, dressed for a morning ride, marching toward the barn.


Hold up. Not marching. More like stomping.


Yes, practice makes perfect, but even the illustrious Mr. Adams would have agreed it took little practice to perfectly read the mood of the livid Miss Furlong.


“Scott Garrett Lancer! Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?”


From its barn loft perch, Scott’s smile greeted the little cousin. “I do. And may I say it’s one of my finer stacking of hay bales.” The game was afoot.


“You can’t be serious?!”


“I am.” A jabbed thumb over the shoulder presented an invitation. “Please be my honored guest and see for yourself.”


The absence of Kinsey’s tea party tantrums over the last several months had led innocent bystanders to believe a calming breeze named Seth Westcott had blown her temper out to sea.


However, watching the scowl of dark clouds build above flashing brown eyes confirmed what Scott knew all along - a storm always brewed just beyond the horizon.


A verbal lightning bolt introduced the first clap of thunder. “You, sir, are a despicable, exasperating, antagonizing, frustrating, tormenting… ”


Kinsey’s list of attributes her older cousin had acquired over time became muddled as she entered the barn, although her boisterous inflection successfully filtered up through the loft’s wooden planks. Bracing for the storm to ascend the barn’s ladder inside, Scott settled back on his hay bale ottoman and soaked in the cloudless blue sky outside as a familiar figure recaptured interest.


Now residing with Gus Chenoweth’s fading black eye, a spreading smirk spoke of his anticipation. Taking in the unfolding scene, he clearly awaited that fine piece of Aussie calico to castrate another Lancer boy with her sharp tongue. A lively tale, indeed, for the bunkhouse boys.


But, given some thought, perhaps Scott could take advantage of their abrasive audience-of-one and reduce the impending turbulent thunderstorm to a gentle summer shower.


“… rebarbative, pestiferous caveman to walk the face of this earth.” The tempest had arrived, standing front and center with hands on hips. “And you can take this amusing little jest of yours and shove it up a brawling marsupial’s arse!”

Scott’s brow silently dipped at the suggestion. Having viewed a boxing kangaroo at Maximillian’s Museum of the Curiously Odd and Unexplainable, one had to question the difficulty of completing the fore-mentioned task. Food for thought to be revisited over a cool beer.


The jabbing thumb which earlier served as an invitation now provided a pointer out the loft’s open door. “See the fella by the wagon?”


Surprised by Scott’s unrelated response to her recommendation of jocularity placement, the young lady’s reaction could only produce a drifting gaze to spot the fella.


“His name is Gus Chenoweth. And, little one, at this moment that gent would like nothing more than to witness me tossing you over a knee and warming the seat of your britches for unladylike behavior.”


Color rose in Kinsey’s cheeks, signaling Scott was on the right path to fairer weather.


“The boys say when Gus spins a tale, what he lacks in details he fills with colorful embellishments.” An eyebrow raised. “So would you prefer to compliment my bale-stacking ability or make that bastard one popular storyteller in the bunkhouse tonight?”


The young lady’s eyes narrowed at the sight of Chenoweth’s subtle tip of the hat which spotlighted his leering grin. “Bloody bugger from Hades.”


“Establishing the man’s birthplace wasn’t one of the options, Freckles.”


Spying an upward twitch in the corners of Kinsey’s mouth followed by a tilt of her head toward the hay bales, Scott swore he heard the first smattering of soft rain extinguishing a hot temper.


An extended sigh ushered in a reluctant observation. “Your stack of straw-”


“Hay.”


Lips pursed. “Excuse me?”


“It’s hay, not straw.” Scott smiled. “There’s a difference.” Was he poking the bee’s nest? Yes. But sometimes it just couldn’t be helped.


“I see.” A slow nod digested the unwanted information as a smirk, competing with Chenoweth’s, graced Kinsey’s face. “Pardon my error, sir. Your heap of hay is quite… lovely. I’m certain Uncle Harlan and his Union Club associates would applaud the effort you’ve put forth. However, like myself, I imagine they also suffer from fodder folly, which allows us the unenlightened to be easily impressed.”


Scott’s smile widened as he stood.“Touché, Kinsey Rose.” The thumb jab took on the gentlemanly role of proper etiquette. “May I offer you a comfortable seat with a view?”

While the barn loft guest accepted, Scott snagged an overturned wooden stool and planted himself across from his cousin. “Now, what did you wish to talk about?”


“Bollocks! You know what I want to talk about!”


Whoa. It appeared there were a few lightning strikes still lingering in the dissipating storm. “What I know is I spoke too soon regarding someone comfortably sitting.” Scott planted hands on thighs and leaned in.


Keeping in time with her older cousin’s movement, Kinsey leaned backwards. “Perhaps I misspoke. Allow me a moment to gather my thoughts.”


“Our friend down below has only half of those supplies unloaded so please don’t hurry on your pondering.”


Kinsey’s quick glance confirmed Gus’ progress. “Scott, I’m quite certain you’re aware that Johnny has made the unwise choice of selecting the McGuire hussss-”


A stern eyebrow cocked concern.


“Ssss-IS-sters as his wedding escorts.”


“I’m aware you gave him the choice.”


“And he was to choose Leticia!”


“And Miss Lopez chose a well-dressed piker.”


Blink. Pause. “No. Are you certain?”


“Sheriff Crawford watched the young lady carrying a packed bag climb aboard the stage headed to San Francisco with the gent.”


“What was she thinking?!” The little cousin’s tongue tsked in dismay. “Leticia possessed such a multitude of fine talents. Her hands worked absolute magic in the kitchen. Oh, the expression on Johnny's face the first time he watched Leticia knead bread dough.”


“I believe you’ve mentioned this before, Freckles.”


“And she could truss up a turkey with her eyes closed. Give that girl a piece of rope and… well…” Sigh. “That poor innocent girl being taken in by a shyster.”


Questioning Leticia Lopez’s degree of innocence came to mind, but Scott held his tongue. Why add a name to Kinsey’s list of hussies?


“Johnny must be heartbroken.”


“Well…”


“No wonder he’s been so-” Kinsey’s gaze drifted back outside. “Attentive.”


It was Scott’s turn to blink and give pause at his cousin’s comment. Attentive. It certainly gave Johnny’s recent behavior a different perspective. One that Scott may have been misinterpreting without the knowledge of Leticia Lopez running off. “That could well be the case, little one. And you must admit the McGuire twins have a special knack of gathering up any spare attention a man might have.”


“I wouldn’t call it a knack.”


“Then let’s say it’s a temporary remedy for a young man’s broken heart, Miss Providence.”


“Or a possible scoundrel’s revenge for his interrupted bath?”


Scott placed a hand over his heart below a saddened expression of the falsely accused.


A sharp whistle from outside swiveled heads to discover a friendly wave and wide grin.


“Seth!” Kinsey planted a kiss on her cousin’s cheek. “You’re forgiven!” The Westcott calming breeze blew a young lady down the barn’s ladder, out the door and into the arms of her fiancé.


Framed by the loft’s opening, Scott stood and returned Seth’s wave. “I commend you, sir. The timing of your arrival is impeccable.”


With his one arm holding Kinsey close, Westcott pulled out a letter from his back pocket and held it up. “I believe Boston also has impeccable timing when it comes to arrivals.”


Indeed.


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