Eastern Colorado , 1879
Old Chester Franks, stomping one foot against the wagon bed as he drew the bow across the strings of his fiddle, filled Grady Campbell’s barn with a tune that had folks tapping toes and clapping hands.
Garret McCoy tipped back the brim of his hat, taking in the women dressed in ruffles and bows and men in suit coats and string ties. He had on a string tie, too, though he’d rather not have. He’d have much preferred to be home, spending the evening in the bunkhouse listening to Art and Sam reminisce about the old days and playing cards.
Being the dutiful son didn’t allow such luxuries. Ma needed him, so he’d sent his younger brothers, Toby and Jeb, to drive the herd to the rail station in Dodge. He’d be here until the wee hours of the morning, when he’d pull out the wagon being used as a stage, clean up the party debris and help Grady get his critters back in their stalls.
There was no sense regretting it, but he sure didn’t have to enjoy it.
Garret turned toward the speaker in no rush. Craig DeLong always had something to say, and most of it wasn’t worth listening to.
“You want in on the bet?” DeLong asked.
Letting the question settle as his gaze wandered the inside of the barn again, Garret pushed off the frame of the open doorway and meandered his way toward the hay bundles someone had fashioned into a table and benches—complete with a red-checkered tablecloth to keep the cards from getting stuck in the hay—beside the barn. “What’s the game?” he asked, nodding toward Ray Ray Jepson.
Shuffling the deck as if he was on one of the paddleboats he bragged about gambling on before losing one eye when a game got out of hand, Jepson said, “We ain’t started playing cards yet. We’re betting on who can get Rory Boyle on the dance floor.”
Garret did his best to hide the sudden chill that stabbed his spine like a sharpened spur. “Why?”
“Uh?” DeLong looked utterly confused, as did several others sitting on the bundles.
“Why would anyone want to get Rory Boyle on the dance floor?” Garret asked.
“‘Cause she’s the prettiest gal at the dance,” DeLong answered. “Mayhap, the county.”
“All that yellow hair and those blue eyes—I’ve only seen a few prettier in all my years of riverboat gambling,” Ray Ray said, nodding as if that bit of information was of high importance.
It wasn’t. What was important, to Garret, was the fact Rory Boyle was the reason he was at Grady Campbell’s barn dance instead of on a profit-making cattle drive. She’d convinced his mother he should be the one to stay home this time. That Toby and Jeb needed to learn to handle the drives by themselves. His brothers could handle the drives, all right; there wasn’t a McCoy who couldn’t handle anything thrown at them, and it wasn’t Rory Boyle’s place to stick her nose in and say boo about any of it. Every day that went by, she got more uppity, waiting on Jim Houston to return. Half the town had figured out it wasn’t going to happen—Jim coming back, that is. He’d always been a scalawag, a blowhard not worth the time of day.
The thought of another girl waiting for her beau to return filtered into the back of Garret’s mind, but he slammed that door shut. He was not Jim Houston, and Emily Rosengren was not Rory Boyle.
“You all turning suicidal?” Garret asked the group. “Rory Boyle is none too fond of men.”
“We know that,” Ray Ray said. “That’s what makes it a challenge. You in?”
Garret tried to tell himself he wasn’t the least bit interested, but damn if he wasn’t. He’d be at this blasted party until it ended, and entering the bet would give him something to do. Irritate Rory. The opportunity to bend that snooty little nose out of shape may not come up again. “How much is the ante?” he asked, digging in his pocket.
“Ten dollars,” DeLong said.
“Ten dollars?” Garret repeated. “That’s
Eileen Wilks, Karen Chance, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu
Jillian Hart, Janet Tronstad