Romance, huh? He could do romance.
Two hours later the phone rang in Gemma’s kitchen.
An angry voice demanded, “Why is it that I have to hear from my mother-in-law that Cash Big Crow is working for you as your ranch foreman?”
Gemma smiled. “Hey, Channing.”
“Are you sleeping with him too?”
“I have half a mind to come to the Bar 9 and kick your ass.”
“Gonna have to grow a bit, Mrs. McKay.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t call me, Gem. So spill the details, woman.”
“Huh-uh. I ain’t telling you nothin’ over the phone.”
“How about just a small hint?”
“You’re getting mean in your old age, Gemma.”
“Damn. I’ve missed your smart mouth. I’d take a chance on you whipping my butt if it meant you were comin’ for a visit.”
“Funny you should mention that.”
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“Well, we were cleaning out the big barn on Colby’s folks place last week and I saw Colby has all this bull ridin’ stuff, which he’ll never use again. Round about that time Amy Jo Foster and a couple of her young male admirers pulled up. Those boys are hardcore rodeo kids, and when they saw the mechanical bull? They immediately wanted Colby to give them bull ridin’ lessons.”
“Oh Lord. He didn’t, did he?”
“Over my dead body will that man ever get on another bull. Anyway, Colby has an attachment to that stuff and he won’t sell it outright, so we wondered if Cash might be interested in teaching some of these boys how to ride bulls. Since Cash is one of the few who wouldn’t feed them full of crap about how great it is chasing the rodeo dream. And he was a good rider. The bonus is they are willing to pay. Good money, I guess.”
“Really. There isn’t a true rodeo school around here, and I think these boys would like a taste of it before they pony up any money and head off to California or Florida or Texas for one of the real schools.”
Gemma began to pace. How could she keep Cash away from an opportunity like that? She’d been watching him with Macie and he had more patience than she’d imagined. He would be a great teacher.
“Yeah, sorry. So you’d want him there at the McKay place teachin’ these kids?”
“Hell no. I want the bull ridin’ paraphernalia as far away from Colby as I can get it. I thought maybe since you have an extra empty barn and extra corrals that we could give—
lend—the equipment to you, and Cash could set it up there. Then we could start funneling kids his direction.”
“I can’t speak for Cash, but I’m sure he’d consider it. You want me to talk to him?”
“That’s the other thing.” Channing’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Colby doesn’t know I’m calling you. He wanted to talk to Cash about it first before we contacted you.
Some stupid male pride thing. But since the Bar 9 is your ranch, I figured you should be the first to know. I didn’t want you to be caught off guard.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Plus, if you do say yes, Colby and I will personally deliver the equipment, and we’ll need a place to stay, so you will get to see me. And then we can drink whiskey into the wee hours, and you can tell me all about the hot monkey sex you’re having with that very sexy Indian man.”
Gemma laughed. “For that, I’m all in. When would you be comin’ by?”
“Next week at the earliest.”
“Let me know when to get the guest room ready.”
“Dad. I’m never gonna get this.”
“Yes, you will.”
“No. I suck. See? I totally missed again.”
“It just takes practice.” He peered at the unmarked orange circle. “I think live targets would’ve been easier. I know I’m a better shot with them.”
Macie gave him a sardonic look. “Shot a lot of people, have you?”
“Just a man in Reno. Just to watch him die.”
Macie laughed. “Came by your name honestly, didn’t you?”
“Yep.” Cash grinned. He loved the sound of her laughter. “Come on. You can do this, honey-girl. Try again.” He watched as she lifted the gun. He studied her form and her stance. Her aim. She jerked her arm before she pulled the trigger and the bullet went high into the field behind the hay bale.
“Yep. I know what you’re doin’ wrong.” He stood behind her as she flipped the safety back on and kept the gun pointed at the target. Then his arms came around her and he repositioned her slightly. “Keep your elbows loose. Like this. Straight-armin’ it is makin’ you flinch at the last second, which is jerkin’ the muzzle higher, which is why you’re seein’ puffs of dust behind the bale, instead of makin’ holes in the target. Try again. Look through the sights. Keep your eye on that center dot. This time, don’t think about it, just empty the clip.”
Macie inhaled a deep breath. She flicked the safety off. Moved her finger from the barrel to the trigger and pulled in rapid succession: pop pop pop pop pop—followed by an empty click as the slide kicked back. Methodically she thumbed the safety, ejected the empty magazine into her palm and lowered the gun by her thigh.
Just like he’d taught her. Might’ve been silly, but Cash had a proud parent moment.
He hadn’t been around to experience many of them in Macie’s life, so he swore he’d soak up even the littlest ones whenever given the chance.
She ran up to the target, whooped and turned around to beam at him. “I hit two!
“I see that.”
“Can we shoot some more?”
“As much as you want.”
“Cool.” Her eyes danced. “What other guns do you have hidden in your truck?
Rifles? Shotguns? Bazookas?”
“Settle down, Annie Oakley.”
“But I want to shoot something besides this little plinker.”
“The Walther P22 is plenty for you to handle right now.” Cash scratched his chin.
“Although, next time I might let you try the Colt revolver. It’s heavier, with a little more kick, but since you’re shootin’ high, you might have better luck with something that weighs more.”
Macie opened the box of bullets and started loading clips. “How do you know so much about guns?”
“Been around them all my life. Wasn’t a lot to do for fun on the rez. My tunkasila used to take me shootin’ when I was a kid.”
“What’s that word mean?”
“You don’t speak Lakota very often.”
“Don’t remember a whole helluva lot. It’s a use it or lose it thing. I never spoke it fluently anyway, though I mostly understood what my tunkasila said to me. ’Course, purposely misunderstandin’ him or my unci, my grandmother, worked to my advantage on occasion too.”
“Know what sucks? I don’t know anything about your—our—family. Mom didn’t tell me stuff like that.”
“I know you don’t wanna believe it, but that’s probably a good thing you don’t know nothin’ about that side.”
“It ain’t pretty and it ain’t happy.”
Slide click slide click echoed as she slipped bullets in the steel clip. “So? I still deserve to know. And I’m gonna be a total pain in the butt until you talk to me about it.”
Cash directed his gaze away from her. “Macie, it ain’t like the Big Crow family has anything to be proud of in recent years. We’re not like some of them families, keepingwith Lakota traditions. Talkin’ ’bout our glorious past. I never much cared about my Indian heritage.”
“There’s so much wrong I don’t even know where to start.”
“Start with your parents.”
When he hesitated, she used a sad, doe-eyed look that would net her anything she wanted. He’d’ve been putty if she’d done that as a little girl.
“Fine. My mom died from alcohol poisoning when I was nine. My dad ended up in the state pen long before that.”
“Then where’d you live when you were growin’ up?”
“With my mom’s parents until I lit out on my own.” Right after he found out about Jorgen’s pregnancy. There was a proud moment in his life, running from his responsibilities.
“What happened to your dad when he got out of jail?”
“Died in a drunk drivin’ accident.”
Thick, uncomfortable silence weighted the air.
“So you’re like me, basically alone?”
“I guess I’d always heard Indians had big families. You don’t have brothers or sisters, aunts, uncles and a billion cousins?”
“I only have one brother, Levon. And he’s repeatin’ the family history.”
“He’s in the pen on narcotics charges. Long story.”
The lift in her eyebrow reminded him of Gemma for some odd reason. “Have some place to be that you can’t tell me now?”
I don’t want to tell you now. Or ever.
Cash sighed. “Long story short: I felt sorry for him after his wife kicked him out, so while I was off rodeoin’, I let him live on the ranch our grandparents deeded to me.
Stupid son of a bitch was makin’ meth in the barn. So when the DEA caught him, the state of South Dakota confiscated the ranch and sold it at auction to pay legal fees, and the hazardous waste clean up bill, and the back property taxes. Nothin’ I could do. I lost the only thing that was ever really mine.”