His Christmas Cowgirl(14)

By: Alissa Callen

Kendall and Brent finished their coffees and all too soon it was time to head to the historic saloon. As everyone drove away, Peta remained acutely conscious her truck was the only vehicle to have an empty passenger seat. But come tomorrow she’d have her faithful border collie, Tank, by her side and her truck cabin wouldn’t feel so lonely.

She found a parking spot outside Marietta Western Ware. As she climbed from the driver’s seat a familiar truck pulled up alongside. Trinity and Zane joined her on the sidewalk. Trinity wore a pretty white and green dress that matched her eyes while Zane was dressed in jeans and his best pink shirt. Rancher Zane hadn’t bought a new shirt in a decade until he’d met the stylish speech pathologist.

Peta greeted them both with a hug.

“Welcome home,” Zane said, in his deep and low tone. Zane might be a man of few words but Peta always appreciated his quiet strength and the way nothing was ever too much trouble.

“Thanks, it’s great to be back.”

“Love your lipstick,” Trinity said, with a wink. The color had been her suggestion when Peta had texted from a London department store feeling overwhelmed with so many lipstick choices.

“I hope you do because I bought you one, too. You said you’d always wanted that particular shade.”

Zane groaned but his reaction was softened with a tender smile toward Trinity. “I’m not sure what takes up the most room in the ranch house. Trin’s makeup or Finn’s Legos.”

An icy wind barreled by stealing their laughter. They all turned to head for the saloon.

“How’s Finn?” Peta asked. Zane had become an instant father to the insect-obsessed six-year-old almost a year ago. “I’ve bought him some bug books from England but won’t be able to pop out until after roundup.”

“He’s good.” Affection deepened Zane’s voice. “He’ll look forward to seeing you once your cattle are down from the mountains. Do you need a hand with anything while Hal’s in the hospital? I met Garrett in town last week. He knows what he’s talking about and everything sounds under control.”

“Thanks. To be honest I haven’t had the chance to talk to Garrett about the roundup, but I’ll give you a call if I do need anything.”

Zane nodded as he held open the batwing saloon doors for Peta and Trinity.

Peta stepped inside and scanned the tables and the secluded booths. Amongst the busy Saturday-night crowd, she couldn’t identify Garrett’s dark head and broad-shoulders. Reassured she’d have time to pull herself together before he arrived, she smiled and waved to the almost identical cowboys, Cordell and Ethan, who stood over near the bar with Brent.

As similar as the twins appeared it was the subtle difference of their clothes and the way they carried themselves that marked Ethan as the serious and sensible one and Cordell as the act-now-talk-later brother. Zane broke away from Trinity’s side and headed to join Ethan, Cordell and Brent.

Trinity laughed softly. “Some things never change. The boys are over at the bar while we girls are at the tables.”

The sound of a pool ball being hit was followed by over-loud laughter. Peta glanced across to where a group of cowboys surrounded the pool table. From the way they moved and their noise level they’d already been drinking for a while. To her surprise, they all looked her way.

She frowned. She’d be surprised if half of them could even shave yet. “You’re right. Some things never change. All the action happens around the pool table.”

Trinity led the way over to where Kendall sat in a far corner beside two cowgirls who were admiring her ring. Peta followed, nodding and smiling at people she knew. Apart from curious, and sometimes lingering, glances it was only the smirks on the faces of the cowboys playing pool that reminded her she wasn’t in her usual cowgirl clothes.

She slid into the seat beside blue-eyed Bridie whose grin left no doubt she was Zane’s half-sister.

“Welcome home,” Bridie said in her Australian accent as she hugged Peta. “I’ve missed our rides and chats.”

“I have, too.”

Bridie grew up on a cattle farm in the outback and they’d quickly bonded over a mutual love of the outdoors. Bridie now lived at Larkspur Ridge Ranch with Ethan. This spring would see the first calves of their new Black Angus stud being born.

The pretty brunette beside Bridie stood to hug Peta. “I’m only going to say this once… you look… fabulous.”

Her cheeks warmed. “Thanks, Payton. Tomorrow its back to wearing ranch clothes.” She glanced at the Beargrass Hills cowgirl’s short and unvarnished nails. “I can’t wait.”