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“She hasn’t mentioned a preference and we haven’t needed them so far. Why?”

“I know Marshall bought the stiffer kind. That’s what I use. I figured if Celia liked the softer ones, I’d swap her. Ronna bought the wrong kind.” Josh shook his head. “That’s why I don’t send her to the ranch supply store.”

“Everyone makes mistakes.”

“Bet Celia never buys the wrong damn thing,” Josh grumbled.

No, but I probably would. Not that Kyle would admit it to Josh or anyone else. “Why don’t you return it to the store?”

“No refunds or exchanges.”

“Not even for unopened merchandise?”

“Nope.”

“That sucks. Guess I’d shop somewhere else, especially if you’ve been a good customer. I’d also point out to the store manager that you can probably buy the same stuff online, but cheaper. And if they wanted to keep you as a customer, they’d relax their policies.”

Josh gave him an odd look.

“What?”

“For a second, you reminded me of Marshall.”

Kyle didn’t know how to take that. He shrugged. “I don’t tolerate that kinda bullshit.” He stepped back and squinted at the corral. “Anything else you need a hand with before I take off?”

“Nah. Thanks for helping today. I appreciate it.”

“You’ve helped us plenty, so I’m happy to return the favor.”

Rather than dragging his piss-poor mood inside, he grabbed his gloves and headed for the woodshed. Chopping wood cleared his mind, worked his body, and was one thing he didn’t need to ask direction on.

Celia honked as she cut through the pasture on the ATV to do a round of cattle checks.

As soon as he’d chopped a few days’ worth of fuel, he stoked the wood burner. He climbed in the tractor and stacked three straw bales next to the gate where the heifers were penned. Then he scooped and packed more snow along the north side as an additional windbreak. By the time he finished it was full-on dark. He was starved and exhausted, but his night wasn’t close to over.

Kyle didn’t bother to shower. He’d be back out in the elements covered in manure and birth fluid before too long. He hung up his outerwear and settled in front of the TV with a beer and a box of Triscuits.

Celia returned a little more than an hour later. She wasn’t her usual chatty self, so Kyle should’ve suspected something was up. The cupboard door slammed. The refrigerator door slammed.

Yep, something was definitely up with her.

She stood in front of the TV. “So we’re not having supper tonight?”

“Why you askin’ me?”

“Because we’re supposed to share the household stuff. I thought maybe since you were inside first you would’ve started supper.”

Maybe since she’d been inside since after breakfast she could’ve planned supper. Not that he could say that to her. Kyle held out the box of crackers. “I’ll share my supper with you.”

She glared at him. “Funny.”

“Suit yourself.”

“When was the last time you cooked supper?” she demanded.

“I don’t remember.” Kyle swigged his beer. “But I imagine you do. And I imagine you intend to remind me too.”

That comment earned him a half growl. Then she stomped away from the TV.

Good.

He heard her rattling pans in the kitchen. Any other day he’d have followed her, trying to coax her into a better mood by acting in the annoyingly charming manner she couldn’t resist. Tonight he let her stew. He didn’t budge when he caught a whiff of eggs and toast. Not even when his stomach growled.

After she ate, Celia sat in the recliner, but she wasn’t watching TV. She had a couple notebooks open, switching back and forth to write in them.

“What are you doin’?”

“Composing love letters,” she muttered. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I asked.”

She tapped the pen on the notebook. “I’m recopying my notes while they’re still fresh in my mind. Then I’ll put them in the spreadsheet on the computer.”

So she’d been on the computer all damn day. He drained the last of his beer. “I saw Abe’s truck drive past Josh’s place.”

“He and Hank stopped by.”

“Both of them? What did they want?”

Celia continued scribbling in her notebook. “Nothin’ really. They had to go to Rawlins on a diaper run and checked to see how we were doin’ during calving.”

Right. So they didn’t need to talk to him? Just Celia? Because obviously he didn’t know what the f**k he was doing.

“Why?” she asked.

“No reason. Just thought it was odd you didn’t mention that both your brothers showed up.”

“So I have to report everything to you now?”

Kyle’s eyes narrowed on her. That was a little defensive.

“It wasn’t a big thing,” she insisted. “And they didn’t stay long.”

“I’m not sorry I missed them. I’m sure they would’ve gotten a huge kick out of asking me specific questions just to see if I knew the proper rancher answer. So, yeah, sorry I missed that fun time.”

Her mouth dropped open. “What has gotten into you?”

“Nothin’.” He stood. “Forget it. I’ll deal with the livestock tonight. If you don’t think I’ll f**k it up too badly.”

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