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“When have you seen him upset?”

“At the hospital after your little bulldoggin’ mishap.”

Celia grinned. “We probably wouldn’t have gotten married if not for those stitches.”

“Wrong.” Tanna kissed her forehead. “You and Kyle were destined to be together.” She placed her hand over the hard mound of Celia’s belly. “I love this little bugger already, so take care of yourself and baby G, mama. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Harper showed up at Wild West Clothiers early Monday morning.

Tanna had finished a new jewelry display. The pieces of twine draped between a small rack wrapped with raffia was supposed to look like straw . . . but it hadn’t turned out as well as Tanna had hoped.

Harper paused in front of it. Looked it up and down and said, “Nope.”

Shit.

“Grab something to drink. We need to talk.” Then Harper turned over the BE BACK IN THIRTY MINUTES! sign and headed into the back room.

She and Harper had a friendly working relationship, but they weren’t friends. And they’d spent very little actual time together, so this felt like she was in trouble with her boss.

Tanna snagged a bottle of water and followed her.

Harper had settled at the folding table, papers spread out in front of her. “It’s come to my attention that you’ll be requesting a permanent switch in the schedule. Since we don’t play favorites with Tierney’s sister as far as her scheduling preferences, I cannot play favorites with you. But this is a timely issue since I’ll be hiring permanent staff to pick up the slack after Labor Day. I’m reducing my hours due to my increased responsibilities at home with a second child. So Harlow will be staying on at Wild West Clothiers until that is finalized and you . . . are being let go. As of today.”

“What? I have three weeks left.”

That’s when Tanna noticed that Harper wasn’t looking at her. In fact, Harper hadn’t made eye contact once during this bogus firing. “This is crap. I deserve to know what’s really goin’ on here, boss.”

Harper looked up, a tremulous smile on her lips. “Shoot. I suck at being the big bad boss lady and firing you for your own good like Celia and I agreed—”

“What does Celia have to do with me losing my job?”

“She came over yesterday and told me what was going on with you and why I had to let you go immediately.”

That little brat.

“While I admire your intent to finish out your commitment to us, I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. So I’m . . . um . . . firing you.”

“Firing me,” Tanna repeated. “Because I won’t leave you shorthanded for the rest of the summer season?”

“That does sound ridiculous. But yes. You are being relieved of your positions at the Split Rock and Wild West Clothiers effective immediately.”

What the hell? This was beyond bizarre. “But . . .”

Harper’s eyes were soft, but determined. “Tanna. Are you really arguing with me? This is your golden opportunity to return to the career you love—or at least loved at one time—or figure out if you’re done with it on your own terms. As good as you are at this job . . . for you it is just a job.”

“Celia didn’t badger you into this?”

Harper raised a brow. “Not hardly.”

“You have staff to cover—”

“Yes, we do.”

“Who else besides Harlow? Is your sister Liberty returning to Muddy Gap? Because I understand if you want to give her a job since she’s a veteran injured in the line of duty.”

Harper laughed. “My sister takes tomboy to the extreme. She’d be horrified if she had to actually wear something besides camouflage. Her idea of hell isn’t Afghanistan. It’s being forced to fix her hair, wear makeup and a dress, trying to sell clothing and accessories to women who love all that insipid frilly girl shit—as she calls it. I’d be too afraid to hire her because she’d pull out her sidearm and shoot customers who annoyed her.”

Yikes. Liberty sounded nothing like sweet, fashionable Harper.

“Liberty will find her place after her short recovery time—it’s just not here.” Harper slid a manila envelope across the table. “Your last paycheck. Also letters of recommendation.”

“Really?”

Harper gave Tanna a smirking smile that was so unlike her. “Really. You were a great employee and I am thankful you were able to fill in. I certainly hope you won’t disappear out of our lives forever.”

There was an opening. “How did things end up with the cattle yesterday?”

Sadness crossed her face. “We lost twenty cows and twelve calves. Bran is just sick about it. We would’ve lost twice that if not for Fletch. He was there until after midnight.” Her gaze met Tanna’s. “Are you and he still . . . ?”

“I don’t know.”

“He’s a good man, Tanna. One of the best I know. He deserves a woman who’ll be there when he gets home at midnight. But he also needs to know when to say when with his job.”

That shocked her.

It must’ve shown because Harper laughed. “Get going before I change my mind and make you tear down that hideous display.”

Another exhausting day and night. So exhausting that Fletch had overslept.

So when Cora called to check on him at ten a.m., he’d mumbled something about being sick and told her to direct his emergency calls to Jet Eriksen for the entire day.

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