“So it’s mutual?”
“I would say very much so.”
“Good,” Melissa said and remained quiet for several minutes, then said, “I’ll be heading to Amarillo for a couple of days to look over some stock. I asked Mary Leah if she wanted to join me, but she decided to stay here near you.”
“Is that going to be a problem?”
“No, not at all, Coal, but—” She hesitated.
“But what, Melissa?” she asked.
Melissa looked her directly in the eyes. “Back in Oklahoma we have an expression.”
Coal looked at her curiously and waited.
“Cowgirl up or sell the horse,” Melissa said. “It’s kind of an Okie version of shit or get off the pot. It’s time for you to cowgirl up, Coal, if you are truly interested in Mary Leah. Just keep in mind she doesn’t need another heartache after what Judy put her through.”
She nodded as she let Melissa’s words sink in.
“I will be gone for two nights,” Melissa said as she climbed down from the fence. “Make good use of them,” she said and left Coal sitting on the fence to ponder her words.
Harley stubbed out his cigar as he watched Melissa walk back to the house. He stood and stretched and walked inside to drop into his bunk for the night. Coal lifted the flute back to her lips and began to play.
She couldn’t help but smile at the comments Melissa had shared with her. Yes, it was time, and Melissa’s absence would give them some privacy to get to know each other better. There was a heightened lightness to her music as she played for another half hour before climbing down to head to her bed.
Both Melissa and Mary Leah had opened their windows to listen to the music Coal was playing. Mary Leah felt her face smiling as she heard the back door open and Coal’s soft steps as she crept down the hall to her bedroom. Callie whimpered softly and jumped down from the bed and trotted from the room.
Coal kicked off her shoes and climbed into the bed, the weariness sinking deep into her bones. She heard the clicking of claws on the hardwood floors then felt Callie’s cold nose in the palm of her hand.
“Hey, girl,” Coal said as she leaned over to pet the dog.
Callie licked her hand and then turned to leave the room.
“Thanks for checking in on me,” she said with a chuckle and pulled the covers over her body.
The next morning Melissa and Mary Leah were finishing their coffee on the front porch when they saw a sheriff’s department cruiser coming down the drive. “I wonder what this is about,” Melissa said as she turned to look at Mary Leah.
Bobby Poole, the deputy who had sent Billy Ray home after his second altercation with Coal, pulled his cruiser to a stop. He slipped on his hat as he stepped out of his car and walked toward the porch. “Morning, ladies,” he said with a warm smile.
“Good morning, Bobby, what brings you out this way so early?” Melissa asked.
“I wish it was a social call for a cup of coffee, but I’m afraid I’m on official business.”
“No reason not to have that cup of coffee,” Mary Leah said. “How do you take it?”
“Just black please, Mary Leah.”
Mary Leah slipped inside the house to get a cup of coffee for the deputy. As the screen door closed behind her she heard Bobby clear his throat. “Do you still have a woman by the name of Coal Bryan working for you?”
Mary Leah’s heart stopped at the mention of Coal’s name. What could Bobby possibly want of her?
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Why?”
“I need to talk to her as soon as possible,” Bobby said. “Official business,” he added.
“I’ll go get her from the bunkhouse while Mary Leah gets your coffee. I’ll be right back.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Conway,” Bobby said.
“Please just call me Melissa like everyone else. I’m not that much older than you.”
Bobby blushed furiously. “Yes, ma’am,” he said as he took a seat in one of the porch chairs and pulled out a pen and writing tablet from his