“We went our separate ways. We both got what we wanted. No regrets, no promises, no invites to become Facebook friends. Just one night of turnin’ those teenage fantasies a reality.” Ben popped the cap on a bottle of water and drank. “Did it play out that way for you too?”
Tell leaned against the side of the barn, dreading that scenario. “It’s different for me because Georgia is back in town for good.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Along the lines of what you said. Wondering if we just scratched an itch.”
“You thinkin’ that’s all there is?”
“No. I know there’s more than that since we’ve been hangin’ out the last two weeks. But that don’t change the fact the only reason we started spending time together was because she needed a date for the reunion. Now that it’s over… I don’t know where we go from here.”
Ben frowned. “You haven’t discussed it with her?”
Tell shook his head. “I’m the fun hookup guy, remember? My morning after conversations are more along the lines of, Hey, darlin’, have you seen my pants?”
His cousin laughed.
“Then Dalton showed up Sunday morning two hours early. We’d promised Brandt and Jessie we’d be at their place when Dad came over to see Tucker. But my dumb-ass little brother made it sound like some big, stupid secret, callin’ it that one thing because neither of us wants to talk about our fucked-up family in front of someone that ain’t family.”
“So Georgia thought you were what? Tryin’ to get rid of her?”
Tell groaned. “Yep. Then she was dismissive. Like she couldn’t wait to get the hell away from me. And she was goddamn vague about her plans for this week. Complaining about bein’ so swamped she’d barely have time to breathe. Basically, she said don’t call me; I’ll call you. So see why I’m stuck on what to do?”
“Yeah. I guess if she ain’t goin’ anywhere, I don’t see the harm in letting it ride. Give yourself a couple of days away from her to figure out if you wanna continue what you started and let her do the same.”
Sound advice. Not what he wanted to hear though. “Thanks, man. I appreciate it.”
“No problem. You gonna be crushed and moping around like a kicked dog if she’s done with you?”
Probably. “Fuck you.”
He grinned. “Couldn’t resist. But seriously, why aren’t you talkin’ to your brothers about this?”
“I would if I could catch Brandt between diaper changes and Dalton between poker games.”
Ben’s eyes narrowed. “Left you holding the bag again, did they?”
“Like that’s a surprise. You know how it goes, Ben. Seems us middle kids—you, Colt and me—always get stuck with a shit ton more chores than the oldest or the youngest.”
“No sir. It doesn’t have to be that way. Just because Brandt has added on the responsibility of parenting a kid doesn’t give him the right to blow off his ranch responsibilities. I know you and Dalton shouldered way more of the work in the last six months. I’ve been there, cuz, and it sucks ass.”
“You had that issue with Quinn?”
“Yep. Prince Adam arrived and Quinn’s priorities shifted, which meant the day-to-day ranch stuff shifted squarely onto my shoulders. Chase wasn’t around. My dad tried to pick up the slack, but shit wasn’t getting done. Pissed me off. I let my brother know it. Was ugly for a couple weeks, because Quinn is one stubborn cuss, but he got back on track. It would’ve gone on for as long as I let it go on. Confront your brother, Tell, or nothin’ will ever change.”
“I hear ya. I guess if it was just ranch issues with my brothers, I’d be okay, but family stuff can eat away at me until I’ve been chewed up and spit out.”
“Something going on with Uncle Casper?”
“No, Dad ain’t the problem, if you can believe it. My mom… Jesus. She’s so involved in her own life she can’t see that other folks have lives too.”
“Meaning, she expects me to…” Tell shook his head. “Never mind. I feel like a fuckin’ whiner. No one can take advantage of me without my permission, right? So I just gotta buck up and remember to say no.”
“Good plan. As far as Dalton not pulling his weight?”
Tell shrugged. “He ain’t bad. He covers for me about as much as I cover for him. It’s just Brandt who’s the deadweight.”
Ben shot the baler a disgusted look. “Speaking of deadweight… I’m sick of fucking with this thing. It’s plain wore out. Time to put in a request for a new one.”
“After all the times it jammed last summer, I’ll back you on that request.”
“This ain’t the only piece of equipment that’s seen better days. Seems everything breaks at the same damn time.”
Ainsley’s car pulled up and Ben’s entire demeanor changed. “Looks like my lunch is here.”
Didn’t sound like Ben was talking about food.
Tell took that as his cue to leave.
On Monday, Georgia loaded her briefcase, trying not to dread the process of cold-call sales pitches. It’d be easier to drive the ten blocks to Sundance’s main drag rather than hoof it in four-inch wedge sandals. The day was much warmer than forecast, and she’d be sweating like a whore in church by the time she reached her destination.
She waited in her car for a moment as she scanned the list of possible advertising sponsors for the Devil’s Tower Rodeo program guide. Barbara’s suggestion of hard-selling the locals—especially after the previous rodeo promotion company’s lack of communication—scared Georgia a little. They’d both agreed playing catch-up at this late date might mean no business owners would be interested. No sales would reflect badly on her, so she had no other option but to channel her inner saleswoman and sell, sell, sell.
Luckily the committee that handled hiring the stock contractor, the entertainment, the rodeo announcers, the special guests and the individual chute sponsors also had commitments from the banks in Sundance for major sponsorships of the rodeo itself.
Her idea—albeit not an original one—was to get the businesses in Sundance, Moorcroft and Hulett to sponsor a grand prize called the cash cow, where the winner could choose between a fully processed and packaged whole cow or the cash equivalent. Their company had seen success with this type of promotion for a small rodeo in Oklahoma, and the participating businesses had a big uptick in the amount of walk-in traffic to their stores.
Georgia inhaled a couple of breaths to calm herself and smoothed the wrinkles from her khaki linen skirt. New businesses had popped up in the years she’d been away, so she’d start there.
Fields, an upscale restaurant that featured locally grown ingredients from vegetables and grains to beef, pork and chicken, took out a big ad.
The hardware store bought a full-page ad. As did Lettie from the Golden Boot. Then Georgia had to wonder if some of the businesses were doing it out of pity because she was a poor pitchwoman.
So? Her inner demon argued. A sale was a sale. And if she had to answer gossipy questions to make that sale, so be it.
She’d convinced the dentist’s office to advertise. As well as the feed store. The local implement dealership was providing ball caps, T-shirts and Frisbees for the breaks between events, and they placed a quarter-page ad anyway.
All the places agreed to allow promotional signage and flyers in their establishments, in addition to the entry boxes for the grand prize.
When her stomach growled, she realized she’d missed lunch. She ducked into Dewey’s for a quick bite.
The restaurant was nearly empty. Thankfully the waitress who’d filled her ear with nastiness about Tell wasn’t serving. She ordered the soup and salad special, shuffling through her notes while she waited. She had quite a few businesses left to approach in Sundance and she hadn’t even started in Moorcroft or Hulett.
The server set the salad down first and spilled the soup. When she swore in Russian, Georgia’s gaze snapped to the willowy blonde. Then she apologized in English. “Sorry. It’s pretty obvious I haven’t filled in as a waitress recently.”
Georgia said, “No worries,”—in Russian.
That startled the woman. “It’s not often I run across someone in Sundance who speaks Russian.”
“My mother is from Russia.”
“Ah. I was born in the Ukraine. I knew many women who found husbands here. Do you speak Russian fluently?”
“Just passably.” Georgia slid her paperwork aside and pulled the salad and soup closer. “You’re welcome to join me if you’re not busy.”
The woman smiled. “Really? That would be great. Let me grab the iced tea.” She returned and refilled Georgia’s glass. “Busy lunch. Feels good to be off my feet.” She took a long drink of tea. “I’m Domini.”
“Named after Soviet Georgia?”
“Yes, few people catch that. I haven’t seen you in here before.”
“I’m usually in the back, making schedules and placing orders. I used to cook, hostess and serve, but I’m part time now.” Domini shrugged. “Most people think I’m crazy for working at all when I have six children at home.”
Georgia nearly choked on her soup. “You have six kids?”
“Yes. All of our sweet darlings came to us through adoption. While I love being a wife and mother, I need something for me too.”
“My mother didn’t understand that until she divorced my father.” Georgia stabbed a few pieces of lettuce onto her fork.
“So your mother…?”
“Was basically a Russian mail-order bride? Yes. It’s strange to say, even now. How about you?”
Domini shook her head. “I came to the US with a church group. Became a citizen and met my husband here a few years later. I spent most my life in an orphanage, so I am grateful that Cam has a large family in the area and they’re willing to help out with our kids. Are you from around here?”