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.Of course, these people would always have a special place in Carey’s heart, as his own wife, Amy, had found her way to Carson Hill via a cattle drive vacation years ago.“Well either way, we’ve got a whole crop of kiddos between the six of us, and they can watch out for the newcomers.The last thing I want is a repeat of anybody getting hurt like that group a few years ago.”“Come on, Casey, you can hardly still blame yourself for that.How were we supposed to know the guy was gonna bring explosives on the trip? I don’t know what kind of wildlife he was expecting to run into, but there’s nothing out here that needs a stick of dynamite to handle it.How did he ever get it on an airplane in the first place?”“It’s not the airplane that worried me.It’s the idea that we went off on the drive and spent two weeks sleeping at night with that man hanging around before any of us figured out how crazy he was!”The brothers’ conversation evolved into laughter as they swapped stories of some of the colorful characters who’d appeared at the ranch over the years, intent on riding like a real cowboy.Carey thought back for a second to the woman who’d tortured Amy during those first few days of the drive, the one who’d made it her personal mission in life to ensure that men knew she was not their inferior, not that anyone had even hinted at it.They had gotten to work finalizing other equally important details of the trip when Emily, the family’s cook of more years than anyone could remember, came into the office with a folder thick with papers.She plopped the folder on Casey’s desk and sat on the large brown leather sofa, positioning herself between the two brother’s stations.“I’ve done all the calculating and this is what I think we’ll need to order for the trip.The menu’s on top, with each day’s ingredients list and dish needs in sequential order beneath it, starting with the first day.I included the incidentals like dish soap, laundry soap, and body soap, too, and I’ve got to say it, I’m sure glad there’s this much washing taking place on a trip like this! It’s not like the olden days when the cowboys went weeks without getting to wash unless they happened to fall into a creek.They ended the drive smelling worse than the cows!” She laughed at her own joke before waiting for the brothers to answer.“You’re amazing as ever, Emily.I don’t know how you had time to do all this and still get all the food on the table four times a day!” Carey flipped through the folder, checking it once in a while against the spreadsheet on his computer while Casey spoke.“Well, I have great help.Which reminds me, I’ve been asked about bringing along the new girl, Rose Blalock, since Claire won’t be able to go again this round.She’s got that baby and there’s no way she’d want to be away from the little dear for this long.”Casey and Carey looked at each and, as if on some adjoining mental wavelength, both shrugged at the same time.Emily roared with laughter.“I haven’t seen the two of you do that since you were small and one of you was in trouble for something! You two used to stick up for each other to a fault by denying everything without ever saying a word!” She wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her chef’s jacket, still laughing.The twins exchanged weary looks.Sure, Emily was referring to a time when life was simpler.It was one thing to have the run of the ranch as kids, getting into regular childhood mischief and learning the ropes before taking on more serious roles.Now, though, the day to day operations fell to them, even though their father did what he could from time to time.It wasn’t nearly as exciting, but somehow it was still as exhausting.Instead of being the good kind of tired that came from the physical work of being a cowboy, it was the mental exhaustion that came from not knowing if there were enough hours in the day to get everything done.Casey and Carey managed a smile for Emily as she pulled herself up from the sofa and headed back to the kitchen.Carey put his pen down and slid his keyboard away from him, letting his head fall to the desktop for a moment.He spoke without looking up, the empty echo of his voice sounding from underneath his crossed arms, matching the way his heart felt.“This drive can’t come soon enough,” he said, his head still down and his voice still muffled.“I need to get away from this desk and see what the sun feels like against my forehead again.I sure do miss it.”“You and me both, little brother.I just feel like we’re not ready this year, like we’re forgetting something.We’ve been doing this since we were those little kids Emily just talked about, but I don’t know why this time it feels different.Maybe we should have Dad come in and take a look, just to be sure we’re not missing something.He’s done this forever, he’ll probably catch it right away.”“I don’t know, I hate to bother him with this.We’re supposed to be taking this from him, giving him his time to just enjoy all the fruits of his labors.If we even hint that we need him to look things over, you know how he’ll take it.He’ll think we’re taking this project and shoving it back in his lap, like we can’t handle it.”“Maybe we can’t handle it,” Casey scoffed.“I mean, we’ve done this for years, several times a year.But something just doesn’t sit right with me this time.I can’t put my finger on it.”“We’ll be fine.And I can have a talk with him after dinner if you want, you know, bring it up kind of in a roundabout way without making it sound like we need him to come fix our mess.But it’s not right to put him in this position.We don’t have any right dragging him back into this office when he’s finally learned to let go and just enjoy the ranch.”“I know,” Casey said with a defeated sigh.“You’re right.We’ll go through all the checklists again and see if we can find any holes in the plans.Then we can call him for help if we still need it.”Chapter FourThe drive from the airport and out into the Texas countryside meant hours of watching the landscape roll by, flat and empty, while the fifteen passenger van full of chatty guests prattled on.The headache Laney had had since first taking off hadn’t eased up any, and the chipper voices of her fellow passengers only made it worse.Instead of inspiring thoughts of the possibilities such untouched land could provide, Laney saw nothing but barren and boring grasslands dotted once in a while with a few dark cows.Even when the sight of several ranchers on horseback surprised her into sitting up taller in her seat, it was short-lived and fleeting.There was nothing about this trip that was going to make her happy, eager, or even remotely interested.She simply refused.So Laney was as surprised as anyone when her curiosity was piqued by the tall guy who unfolded himself from the back row of seats at the first stop rest stop.His three-day scruff made his already dark features seem even more ominous, and matched his aloof air.When they piled back in the van to finish the trek to the ranch, she was sure she could feel his eyes boring into the back of her head, despite not having even exchanged a look with him.“It’s so wonderful that your whole family is making this trip, dear,” an older woman said, leaning too close to Laney for her liking.“Such a wholesome family activity.”Laney rolled her eyes, not even bothering to hide her annoyance for the sake of good manners [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]