Excerpt from a work-in-progress

Hiya, kids! Hope this week has not kicked yer butt and that you have enough energy to have yourselves a faboo weekend.

Some of you may remember that I posted Chapter 1 of a work-in-progress here last month.

HERE IS THE DIRECT LINK TO CHAPTER 1 OF THAT EXCERPT.

In case you didn’t read it. There. No room to make a mistake about that, yeah?

All right. So here’s Chapter 2. And yes, it is totally work safe. 🙂

Hope you dig it/hope it doesn’t suck for you.

Happy Friday, happy weekend!


COPYRIGHT 2010, Andi Marquette
WORK IN PROGRESS

Chapter 2

“Mighty pleased you’re fixing up the Engstrom place.”

Kit took her credit card back from the clerk and looked at the man who’d addressed her. He tipped his battered brown cowboy hat at her. Older rancher fellow, she categorized. Gray hair, face seamed by wind and weather, slight pot belly hanging over a worn leather belt that stubbornly continued to hold his faded Wranglers up, gravity be damned. She smiled, the neighborly thing to do and in a town this size, everybody was your neighbor. “Glad to hear that, mister. . .” she waited for him to fill in the blank.

“Hal Dupree. But folks ’round here call me Teak.”

“I’m Kate Finley. Some folks call me Kit.” She shook his hand. “Stop on by, Mister Dupree. I’d be glad for the company and the story of your nickname.”

“Ah, honey, he’s got a different story for every day of the week, ain’tcha, Teak?” The clerk winked at him. “Girl, don’t let him tell you any of his crazy tales. It’s TK, for Texarkana. That’s where he’s from, originally, and over the years, it got kinda condensed down to Teak.”

“Y’all take the fun out of a man, Miss Betty,” Teak said to her, a grin on his lips and a little twinkle in his eyes. He had been handsome in his younger days, and with those blue eyes, Kit had no doubt he’d charmed many a young woman into his good graces. She glanced at his hands, saw a wedding band on his left. And one, at least, had stuck around.

“You know that ain’t possible,” she ribbed him back. “Don’t let him fill your head with stories,” Betty said to Kit. “Teak’s the town joker.” She handed Kit a receipt and Kit put it in her wallet and reached for the two cans of paint, but Teak beat her to it. Kit started to protest but remembered that it was part of his DNA, a man like him in a town like this, to do that for a lady. She swallowed her feminism and let him. He was just trying to be nice.

“Thanks,” she said instead.

“My pleasure, helping out a neighbor.” He waited for her to precede him through the sliding doors out to the small parking lot in front of the Ace hardware store. She led him to her pickup, a dark gray Toyota Tacoma she’d bought used a couple years back. It worked just fine, got the job done, and even in Brush, she’d found a mechanic to work on it.

“Just put them here, behind the seat.” Kit opened the driver’s side and moved the seat forward so he could place the cans where she directed, in the extra space that came with this particular pickup model. “Thanks again.”

Teak straightened and pushed the brim of his hat back a bit. “Don’t know how much you know about the folks in Brush, yet, since I know you’ve been busy with the house n’ all, but I run cattle and a lot of the businesses in these parts carry my beef.” He stopped, waiting to see if she caught his meaning.

“Of course,” she said, remembering the signs she’d seen in the few restaurants in town. “Dupree Beef. I didn’t make the connection right off. And yes, actually, I’m interested in using local products in my business. I’d like to talk to you more about that, see if there’s something we can work out. I don’t need a lot, and I know you prefer to sell large quantities—”

“’Scuse me,” he said apologetically as he interrupted her “But that’s not completely true. I like helping out a fellow businessman or woman, and I’m willing to work out whatever we can.” He unsnapped the left-hand pocket of his shirt and pulled a business card out. “That’s got my main number and my cell on there. Give me a call and let me know when you’d like to come out and see my operation.”

She took the card. “Not to be in a hurry or anything, but how about tomorrow?”

He grinned at her. “I like a woman who knows her own mind. Ten o’ clock? Take nineteen north a little bit and turn left at two seventy-five. You’ll see a sign for Dupree Beef on the left.”

“Done. And I like a man who likes a woman like that.” She grinned back at him. “Good to meet you, Mister Dupree, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Just Teak, ma’am. And it’s my pleasure.” He tipped his hat at her again and went across the parking lot toward a big maroon pickup that Kit pegged as an older Ford. He walked with a slight limp, favoring his right leg. She settled herself into her driver’s seat and it occurred to her that he hadn’t bought anything in the store. Had he seen her go in and decided to follow her and hook her up? Shrewd old cowboy. She put her key in the ignition and glanced over at him again. He was in the passenger seat of the pickup, the door open to catch a breeze. Ah, that explained it. He’d come with someone else who was shopping. Maybe his wife. Kit buckled her seatbelt and started the engine then checked the rearview mirror before she backed up.

The doors to the hardware store slid open and a woman emerged, a full plastic bag in each hand. She headed toward Teak’s truck and put the bags in the back. Kit watched her, thinking she hadn’t seen her around town yet. Too young to be Teak’s wife. Daughter, probably. Pretty, from what she could tell, in a country song kind of way. Long brown hair under her straw cowboy hat and at least her cowboy boots looked like she used them. She climbed into the driver’s seat and Kit backed out of her own space and drove slowly through the parking lot past Teak’s truck to the exit. She waved at him and he waved back and she glanced at the driver, who was looking at her. Very pretty, Kit decided, as she pulled out of the parking lot. But these days, her life was a litany of plumbing, pipes, and preparation. No room for pretty in there.

Kit checked the clock on the radio. The guys would be back from lunch by now, so she headed home. Nope. No room for pretty. But it did leave a nice feeling.

#

“Kate,” Tracy said. “But I found out she goes by Kit.” She put the beer bottle to her lips and took a swig.

Jessie didn’t say anything to that. She already knew that about the newbie in town. She’d gotten a good look at her today, at the hardware store, before she drove her uncle Teak home. And because of Teak’s constant proselytizing for his cattle, she’d meet Kate/Kit tomorrow. But she chose to keep that fact to herself because if she said anything, Tracy would pester her to death about it. As close a friend as Jessie considered her, some things she kept under her hat.

“Kit. That’s kind of cute.” Donna picked at her coaster. Tracy’s comment had pulled her attention from the dance floor back to the table.

“I heard she might’ve been a cop.” Tracy looked first at Jessie than at Donna.

Jessie picked up her beer bottle. That could be interesting.

“I heard that, too,” Donna said. “Why do you think a cop comes to some out-of-the-way town to take over a bed and breakfast?”

Jessie smiled and took a sip before she replied. “Maybe she was tired of being a cop. If she was one. And listen to you two, already gossiping.” She took Donna’s cocktail napkin and wiped the condensation off the bottle’s surface. “Give her at least another month.”

Tracy threw a piece of popcorn at her from the bowl in the center of the table. “It’s a small town. What else are we going to do?”

“Give her a break, maybe,” Jessie retorted, not unkindly. If anyone wanted to know anything about anybody in this part of east Texas, they went to Tracy or Donna. “Don’t ruin her try at this bed and breakfast before she even gets it off the ground.” She wiped her bottle off again, dropped the napkin onto the table, and rubbed her damp hand on her thigh. “Where’d you hear she was a cop?”

Tracy looked at her, triumphant. “Lila Jenkins.”

Jessie sighed. “Don’t tell me. Lila was getting her hair done last week at Pearl’s and heard from Edie in the next chair who heard from Zeke over at the repair shop who saw Cody peeking in the windows of the Engstrom place—”

Tracy snorted. “Fine, Ms. Knows Everything. I won’t say another word.” She glanced over at the dance floor and let out a disgusted noise. “Slut,” she muttered.

Jessie and Donna both looked up to be treated to the sight of a leggy redhead in a black leather miniskirt and black cowboy boots grinding her pelvis against a beefy guy in a white straw cowboy hat. “Hey, c’mon,” Jessie said, quick to offer support. “If that’s what he’s into, you’re better off without him. I mean, what kind of dumb-ass dumps you for that? Wait—what kind of dumb-ass dumps you for anybody else?” Jessie pointed at Tracy with her bottle. “I’ll tell you what kind. A major league dumb-ass. You deserve way better.” Jessie almost wanted to kick Jimmy’s ass, but it would’ve been a waste of time. He wasn’t worth Tracy’s attention.

Donna nodded emphatically in agreement.

“So don’t even look at ’em. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Here—” Jessie turned herself in her chair so she faced the bar instead of the dance floor. Donna did the same and Tracy laughed, though it was half-hearted.

“Okay, for making me feel better, I’ll tell you.” Tracy leaned in toward Jessie. “Lila was the realtor.”

Jessie looked at her with new interest. So Lila had sold the Engstrom place to the newbie. “Did she tell Lila she had been a cop?”

“No.” Tracy finished her beer and set the empty in the middle of the table, but she snuck another look at the beefy cowboy. She obviously regretted it, because she scowled and before Jessie could call another bit of gossip into question, Tracy said, “She saw a photo.”

“Where?” Jessie asked, skeptical, though she wouldn’t put it past Lila Jenkins to sneak a peek at someone’s personal belongings.

“Kit carries a wallet, and when she took it out of her pocket to get her driver’s license out, Lila saw a photo of a couple of cops, and one was a woman.”

“So? What if it wasn’t her? Maybe she’s got cops for friends. Or a sister who’s a cop.”

Tracy got up, ignoring Jessie’s challenge. “I need another beer.” She flashed another look at the dance floor. “Anybody else?”

“Yeah,” Donna said.

Tracy looked at Jessie, who shook her head. “Nah. I’m not done with this one.” Tracy took the money Donna offered and went to the bar.

“Look at that,” Jessie said to Donna as she gestured at Tracy’s back. “How in the hell Jimmy picked Sal over that I’ll never know. Tracy’s got a way better ass and she’s cuter.” And it was true. Tracy’s ass filled her Wranglers perfectly. Nice, round woman’s  ass. Slim waist. Nice shoulders. Wavy blond hair and soft brown eyes. Tracy was cute. That’s all there was to it. And if Tracy weren’t straight, Jessie might’ve let herself be attracted to her. But this was Brush, Tracy was her childhood friend and fellow high school rabble rouser, and that flight of fancy was not on the table. Tracy was more a sister than a crush, but sometimes, Jessie got a little lonely.

“Sal puts out.” Donna shrugged with her statement.

“You mean she puts out for anybody and everybody. Tracy has standards, by god,” she said in imitation of Teak and Donna laughed. Jessie glanced at Sal, who looked like a country Barbie. Tracy definitely had standards and if she wasn’t ready to hop into the hay with Jimmy, then she wouldn’t. Tracy didn’t give it up for just anybody. But why she was so broken up over that dumb cowboy, Jessie didn’t know. Fuckin’ hormones, she thought. They screw everything up, like when she had that fling last year in Denver at that Cattleman’s Association trade show. Sure, it’d been nice and sexy and fun, and lasted a few weeks past the show, but as soon as Becky started wanting to come visit, Jessie had broken it off. Brush was too small and Jessie too private for that sort of thing. Plus, Becky made her feel kind of stifled. Jessie needed a woman who just let her be.

“Tell Tracy that,” Donna was saying. “She’s been a little down about this.”

“Why? Jimmy’s a dick. She can do much better.” Jessie looked toward the bar with a twinge of guilt. She’d been busy the past week running errands for Teak and she’d had to go to Dallas a couple of times. Tracy was a good friend. She should’ve checked in.

“Oh, please, Jessie. It’s a small town.”

“So go to another small town.”

“And get stuck with some other small-town jerk?” Donna looked pointedly at her and Jessie winced.

“Okay, okay. Good point.” Emory had definitely been one of those.

Donna dropped that subject, thankfully. “Maybe that Kit has a brother somewhere. I saw her buying groceries at Huck’s. She’s pretty good-looking for a woman. I’ll bet if she’s got brothers, they’re all hunky.”

Jessie took another sip of beer. She’d caught a few glimpses of the new Brush resident prior to today, and couldn’t have gauged Donna’s statement based on those sightings. Today, however. . .yep. Kit was definitely a good-looking woman. “Maybe, maybe not. Some people aren’t blessed with sexy siblings. Maybe she got the looks in the family and they have to hide the guys in the basement.”

Donna laughed. “Speaking of hiding guys, anything on the horizon?”

“Besides tumbleweeds?”

“C’mon,” Donna egged. “You haven’t dated since January.”

Jessie shrugged. “Yeah, and we saw how well that worked out. I’ve got standards too, by god. And I sure as hell am not giving it up to just anybody.” And she sure as hell wasn’t going to give it up to a guy again. But she hadn’t decided how—or even whether—to tell either Tracy or Donna that. It bothered her, that she hadn’t yet. Especially Tracy. They’d known each other since first grade, after all.

“Who’s got standards?” Tracy asked as she handed a fresh bottle of Bud Light to Donna.

“You do,” Jessie said, commandeering the conversation. “I told Donna you have a way better ass than Sal and you’re way cuter than her so Jimmy is, as I suspected, a total dumb-ass.”

Tracy sat down, a faint smile on her lips.

“Jessie says she has standards, too,” Donna added. “And that’s why she’s not dating.”

“What’s the point?” Jessie tried to steer the conversation again. “I’m too busy. Teak’s got me practically running the ranch.”

“Which makes you a woman with valuable property,” Donna said with a giggle. “Some cowboy’s gonna try for you, just wait and see.”

Jessie laughed. “I’ll see if I can pencil him in sometime in the next five years. Or ten.” But no matter how many cowboys asked her out, Jessie was done with that path. She should’ve seen the writing on the wall in college. Should’ve accepted that the relationships—as brief as most were–she’d had with women turned her crank in a way she definitely liked better than the ones she’d had with men. She reached for the popcorn. “So let’s hear more about this ex-cop living right here in our midst. Where’s she from?”

“Dallas.” Tracy brushed a strand of hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. “That’s what Lila said.”

“How come Lila didn’t ask her about the photo?” Jessie ate a few pieces of popcorn, finished her beer, and placed the bottle with the two other empties in the center of the table.

“You know how Lila is. She won’t ask things like that point-blank.”

“Oh, right. Because conjecture is so much better for getting information.” Jessie took another handful of popcorn. “And who cares if she was a cop? I hope she’s super successful with the b n’ b. After all, she might bring more tourists in and maybe Tracy will get herself a decent guy.” Jessie made kissing noises at Tracy. “Somebody from Chicago, maybe, who’ll take you to the big city and buy you your own penthouse.”

Tracy threw another piece of popcorn at Jessie, who dodged it and threw a couple of pieces back.

“Cops are totally hot,” Donna announced.

Both Jessie and Tracy stopped their mini food fight and looked at her.

“You know I’m right,” Donna said, defensive under their scrutiny. “Guy or girl. Doesn’t matter. They’re hot.” She took a drink. “I like uniforms.”

“I do, too,” Tracy said. “But I think I’m still about the cowboy butt in the cowboy jeans.”

“And there’s your problem.” Jessie stood. “Branch out. Try a cop, maybe.” She put a couple of dollars on the table. “And on that note, gotta go. Catch you later. Trace, I’ll call you tomorrow and offer some therapy. Or beer. Whichever makes you feel better.”

“Both. I miss you. You’re too busy running the ranch. Famous businesswoman and all.”

Jessie grinned, then glanced at Donna and gestured with her head at the dance floor. “Make sure Tracy gets home without a bar fight.”

Tracy pretended to reach for the popcorn and Jessie skipped backward, laughing. “Later.” She waved and headed for the door, nodding at people she knew. Which was everyone here tonight. Small town, after all. Which could be a good thing. Or bad. And tonight, Jessie decided when she saw a familiar figure approaching from the other side of the parking lot, it was bad. She’d know that loping stride anywhere, even in a dark bar parking lot.

“Hey, darlin’,” Emory said, his words slurring around the plug of snuff tucked in his lower lip. Skoal, if Jessie remembered correctly. Mint-flavored, mixed with however many beers he’d already had. Emory must’ve started early that evening.

She ignored him on the way to her truck.

“C’mon, Jessie. Let me buy you a drink.” He reached for her arm and she dodged it. As rangy as he was, Emory was strong, and she wasn’t going to let him get his hands on her again.

“Sure,” she said. “On the tenth of never.” She continued to her truck. Why did that asshole have to come around here again?

“Jessie, c’mon. You’re not still mad—”

“Go to hell,” she called in a sing-song voice, hoping she didn’t sound scared.

“C’mon,” he said, but he didn’t follow her. “I just wanted a kiss that night. You’re so damn pretty. And besides, maybe you oughta apologize to me. Let me buy you a drink and I’ll forgive you.” He sounded like he was teasing, but not really.

She clamped her mouth shut, forcing herself not to tell him to fuck off. Instead, she ignored him and got into her truck. He watched her as she backed out of the space, and it gave her the creeps. Thank god he never got past the kiss. Thank god for fast reflexes and kneecaps. Jessie kept her speed down until the city limit sign and then she accelerated, pissed that men like Emory existed, and that “no” from a woman meant nothing to them.

And then she was pissed all over again that she’d even gone on a date with that asshole. Why not, she’d thought at the time. He wasn’t a bad-looking guy. He had been funny and almost charming when he’d been coming around last fall. She knew what he was up to, and she figured she could do worse in a town this size. And she hadn’t planned to do anything with him. Just go out and be seen around, which would put a stop to rumors about her. Emory would’ve been an okay rumor-killer.

She gripped the steering wheel and gritted her teeth. One date. And he told her at the end of the night that since he’d paid for dinner, she owed him something and he’d grabbed her arms, effectively pinning her, and covered her mouth with his before her brain had time to process what was happening. But her knee figured it out right quick, and she’d left him slumped over in the parking lot of the steakhouse, groaning and holding his crotch. But it shook her up a bit, that a guy she knew from years past—from a neighboring high school—would turn out like that.

“He’s not from Brush,” Teak had said, and Jessie and Tracy—thank god for Tracy, coming to pick her up–had to spend an hour keeping him from going out to look for Emory and teach him one of his lessons. “That’s the problem,” Teak finally said. “He wouldn’t a’ tried that if he was from here.” And if he comes around here again, Teak added in a voice as cold as winter up north, “I’ll shoot his balls off, god willin’.”

Jessie smiled and turned down the driveway. She was pretty sure god would be willin’ for that to happen if Emory bothered her again. And if not Teak pulling the trigger, it would be her. Which made her think about Brush’s latest resident. If Kit really had been a cop, then she was probably good with a gun. Maybe tomorrow Jessie would find out about that, and offer to take the ex-cop shooting, get her back in practice or something.

She turned onto the driveway to Dupree Ranch and within a few seconds, she was parking in front of the main house. Hell, maybe she needed to brush up on her shooting skills. Especially if Emory was going to be coming around town this summer, too. Maybe if Kit really had been a cop, she could teach Jessie some self-defense moves, too. Then if Emory or some asshole like him tried anything, he’d get more than a knee in the crotch. Why she ever thought dating a guy after college was a good idea—or even something she really wanted—she didn’t know. She’d pretty much come to terms with the fact that she was a big ol’ lezzie. Which was fine by her. She’d never cared much for the opinions of others. Except insofar as they could affect Teak and the family business. She frowned. That’s why she gave Emory the time of day in January. To deflect the damn rumors about her and keep Teak safe from town gossip. Well, it hadn’t worked out and ended up being a really bad decision.

I’m as big a dumb-ass as Jimmy. With that thought, she headed to her own little house on the property.

end of Chapter 2

7 comments

  1. Okay, it took me a while to start the first excerpt (and, consequently, the second excerpt), but now that I’ve read them…I love them! I want to see where these characters go. They’ve been hurt and/or isolated and they need each other. And I get the ominous feeling that a certain person is going to cause some big trouble for these two. Can’t wait to read more, Andi. Thanks for sharing these with us.

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  2. I like where this story is going. You’ve got some very colorful characters and a nice set-up for adventure. The small town Texas feel is palpable and I sense romance in the air…
    More Please!

    jeanne

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