Authors: Breanna Hayse
Tags: #cookie429, #Kat, #Extratorrents
“Where are we?” she asked, following him out without invitation.
Hank glowered at her. “This is my grandmother’s house. You best be respectful of her and keep that mouth of yours quiet. She doesn’t need to know the kind of mess you’re in, got it? She will just worry and then try to interfere. The woman does not know how to mind her own beeswax and it always brings about a headache for me.”
Perlita simply nodded as she followed him inside the quaintly decorated old house. He walked into the sitting room and kissed the old lady who sat bundled in a rocking chair.
“I’m back, Nana. Got the rest of the supplies you needed.”
“Thank you, Henry darling. Oh? Company? Let me make some tea.”
“No, ma’am. You sit there. I’ll put a kettle on. This is Miss Perlita Moretti. Miss Perl, this is Nana Gretchen.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Gretchen, ma’am,” Perlita said respectfully.
Nana beckoned to her, putting her spectacles on. “Call me Nana, everyone does. My, my, you are a pretty little thing. So exotic. Italian? Where did you find her, Henry?”
“Making trouble for the diner. She’s from the city,” Hank’s low voice was heard from the kitchen. “I’m just dropping her off on the way home.”
“Dear girl, don’t you mind him. He’s a grouchy one, just like his grandpapa. Henry? Bring her some food!”
“I’m not hungry, Nana, I just ate. But thank you. Do you mind if I, well… I need to freshen up a bit.”
“Henry! Get the child something to wear and show her where she can bathe! Where are your manners?”
Hank looked frustrated as he appeared from the other room. “Nana, I just got here ten minutes ago and I was making your tea, I…”
“No excuses, boy. Take care of your guest. Snap to it! Show some of that Texas hospitality you always boast about,” the old lady commanded. Perlita suppressed her smile as she saw the big, burly man become flustered.
“Just where am I to get clothes that’ll fit her? Nana…”
“Do you need to cut a switch to get you to mind me? Off with you now!”
Grumbling, Hank disappeared, leaving the two ladies alone. Nana turned to Perlita with a grin and a wink. “Gotta let them boys know who really runs the house, honey. Give him time, and you’ll grow to love him. He’s a good boy, my favorite in fact, but I just can’t get him to leave me once he comes by. He worries too much. Also gets underfoot. I like my independence. Been pestering me forever to come down south and live with him.”
Perl felt a kindred spirit in this old woman, liking her immensely. “I don’t plan on being around that long. I have to get to Las Vegas.”
“Now, why would a pretty thing like you go to such a sinful place? Are you one of them dancing showgirls?” Nana looked at her suspiciously.
“No, ma’am. I have… family there waiting for me. Do you live here alone?” Perlita asked, eager to change the subject.
“My, no! I’ve got Bessie and her beau, but she is getting on in years and can’t be hauling the heavy supplies down to the cellar. My Henry comes here every few months to stock me up and pay me the honor of his grumpy company. Like I said, once he’s here, I can’t get him to leave. He’s as stubborn as an old mule.”
“I would think a mule would be a better conversationalist than that man,” Perlita mumbled under her breath, glancing in the direction the man had gone.
“My hearing is quite good, my dear. That’s how I always knew when my young ‘uns were into something they shouldn’t be. So, what has that boy done to raise your ire? Never mind, you don’t have to tell me. He’s a growler, that’s enough. Watch this and learn well… I’ll have him ready to go back home by the end of today and have him happy to take you wherever you need to go,” the old lady chuckled. “Henry! Where is my tea?”
“Nana, you sent him to find me clothes,” Perlita reminded her.
Nana loudly tapped her cane on the wooden floor, ignoring Perlita. “HENRY!”
“I was upstairs, Nana. What do you need?” Hank looked even more frustrated as he handed Perlita a bundle of clothes. “I found some old things of Becky’s…”
“Why are you rummaging through Becky’s drawers, boy? Where’s my tea?”
Growling under his breath, Hank stomped into the kitchen. Nana tapped Perlita with the tip of her cane, winking. “One good thing about getting old, honey. I can send that boy up a tree and he won’t say a word against me. Thinks I’m befuddled in the head.”
“You… oh, I
remember that trick,” Perlita giggled.
“It only works when you get old or are with child. You can get them running hard then. Keeps them in line. HENRY!”
“Here, Nana. Just how you like it. With fresh cream.”
“What’s this?” the old woman scowled, poking at the cup and fighting to hide the grin when she saw her beloved grandson’s confusion.
“It’s your tea. You…”
“I told you to get this girl comfortable. Why are you standing around making tea like an old woman. Henry, I worry about you, boy! Take her upstairs and show her the tub. Stop your dawdling!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hank groaned, leading the way. Perlita turned to look at the old lady with a smile and received a wink. Yes, she must remember that trick!
Perlita rejoined Nana in the sitting room after cleaning up and dressing in tight fitting denim trousers, an oversized flannel shirt, and some boots which fit remarkably well. She had pulled her long black hair back into a loose ponytail and wiped off any remnants of rouge and lip tint from her face. Her cross still adorned her neck and she fiddled with it nervously. Hank’s eyebrows rose as she rejoined them, suddenly noticing how attractive the young woman was. Nor did his eyes miss the ease with which her plump bottom filled out Becky’s old trousers. Perlita grinned as Nana cracked him on the shin with her cane.
“Stop staring and stand up when a lady enters the room, young man. You were taught better manners than that. What is wrong with you?”
“I would if I saw a lady,” Hank mumbled. “OW!”
The old woman held out her solid cane to prepare to rap him on the head a second time. “My hearing is still working, boy. And you are to keep a civil tongue in your mouth and act the gentleman while in my home. Apologize to our guest this instant.”
“I apologize, Miss Perl” Hank growled, eyes narrowed as the girl sat comfortably next to his grandmother and promptly ignored him.
Nana cracked him again on the leg with her cane. “I thought I told you to make me some tea?”
“I did! Nana…”
“You just keep him jumping, don’t you? Thank you for the shower and the clothes. I can pay you…” Perl giggled as the irritated man stomped away.
“Must I whollup you with this cane too? Those clothes were his cousin Becky’s. She left them here when she got herself a man. Henry!!! My tea!!! This makes him leave sooner,” Nana whispered with a snicker. “He’s been here nearly a month now and is wearing out his welcome.”
“I’m coming. Nana, I need to unload the truck and then I gotta get going. When are Bessie and William due in?” Hank scowled.
“By supper. Thank you. Did you get some for Miss Perl?”
“Would you like some tea, Miss Perl?” Hank asked with a sneer, even more anxious to leave for the peace and quiet of his ranch, maybe even do some hunting on the way down instead of being bothered by more people.
“No thank you. Would you like some help unloading the truck?”
“Nonsense, child. You stay and keep me company. It’s nice to have someone to talk to who doesn’t snarl at me like an old bear with a splinter in its paw…” Nana called out after Hank as he marched off, once again grumbling under his breath. “He’s gone. What type of trouble are you in, girl, and how can I help you?”
Slowly, Perlita explained her predicament, including Hank’s continued disbelief of her father’s involvement with the mob, in spite of what he had witnessed. Tears threatened to fall from the girl’s eyes as she shared the horror of seeing her father being gunned down, the murder of the household servants and the final goodbye of her cherished ‘
’. She began to weep as she expressed her fear and inability to function in a world which she had never been prepared to live in. Nana tapped her chin thoughtfully and held out her arms for the sobbing girl.
“Come to Nana, child. You poor thing,” the old woman said, patting Perl on the back and stroking her hair, “You’re not alone anymore. The Good Lord placed you in Henry’s path to protect you. He’s got a good, kind heart under that grumpy frown. It just needs an opportunity for someone to help bring it out. Now, if you don’t mind me saying so, those men will follow you to where your father did his business. Go with Henry to the ranch. He and the hands will keep you safe.”
“Nana, your grandson wants nothing to do with me. He’s made it very clear. And, with all due respect, the man is an absolute bore. I’d DIE if I had to spend that much time around him,” Perlita sighed, shaking her head as she sipped her tea. Mmmm, at least that was something about him that was worth enjoying. He knew how to brew a cup!
“Now see here, little Miss Perl. I raised me five girls and three boys. My young’uns learned early that their mama had a good brain in her noggin and it didn’t take long for them to learn to mind me. That boy,” she pointed to the door, “is the only one who still gives me a fight. You need his help. And he needs yours.”
“What do mean? My money? I…”
“Foolish girl! Henry is too proud to take money, even if he needed it. Nah, you need to help him with…”
“Nana? Everything’s unloaded and I fixed your pantry door,” Hank interrupted loudly, overhearing the last sentences. “I love you, but you really need to stop meddling in my business. Miss Perl, are you ready? I’m thinking I can take you to a train depot to get you…”
“And I’m thinking,” she interrupted as she rested her gaze on the old lady before turning to face him, “I will go with you to your ranch.”
“What?!” Hank roared, his face reddening.
Perlita nodded calmly, strengthened by the smile on Nana’s face. “Yes, I’ve decided that I will be coming with you. Nana was right—I would be much safer away from my father’s businesses. I would be able to hide at your place long enough to get them to blow off the rest of the search. My mind is made up, Mr. Billings. You will have a house guest for a short while.”
“Nana… this is your doing, isn’t it?!” Hank shouted.
“Lower your voice and stop that grouching, Henry Joseph Billings, right this second! Hear me, boy?! You will take this child with you and watch out for her. Don’t you even think of making me come after you! You know darn well that I will. And when I do…”
Perlita suppressed a snicker as the tall, solid man bent to the will of the tiny, bent old woman. She winced as Nana cracked him again in the shin—right over the area where she, herself, had kicked him earlier.
“Yes’m,” Hank snarled again, shoving his hands in his pockets so she wouldn’t see him clenching his fists with annoyance.
Nana pointed to him. “Watch that tone there, mister. Now, you take this sweet young thing and get outta here. Grab her some more clothes while you’re upstairs getting the quilts for your trip. Honey child? You be careful,” she ordered, kissing Perlita’s cheek.
“I will, Nana. Thank you for your hospitality. And for lending me your cranky grandson.”
“Just get him outta here ‘fore I blow my stack. His attitude needs some serious adjusting,” the old woman commented as Hank re-entered the room and dropped an armful of quilts on Perlita’s lap.
“Bye, Nana. I’ll see you in about three or four months,” Hank said, leaning down to kiss the old woman’s cheeks, his arms full of clothing. “I’ll be expecting you to come south with me before the weather gets bad. It’s too cold here for you.”
“I will consider it. I’d rather take a train than ride with you, though. You be careful my boy,” the woman whispered in his ear, “and watch out for the girl. She’s in danger and needs you. I’m not telling you to marry her, just keep her safe.”
“Only because you insist. She’s a load of trouble, that one is, so don’t you play the matchmaker. Please be careful. I’ll miss you,” the man said affectionately. “Send Miss Bessie and William my regards.”
Nana kissed him one more time and, with a twinkle in her eye, shooed him off.
Perlita watched the old farm house disappear behind her as they drove away. She smiled prettily at Hank. “Thank you so much, Mr. Billings. I promise that you’ll hardly know I’m there. Does your housekeeper know how to dress hair? If not, I’ll need to get someone in my employ…”
“Miss Perl, let’s get one thing straight. You’re here because my grandmother is a conniving, manipulative, and sneaky old lady. She will just as soon meddle in my personal affairs as run me ragged when she thinks it’s time for me to go back home. She also knows I would never directly disobey her, out of respect. But we need to get some things straight. I do not intend on making this a holiday for you to enjoy. I do not have a housekeeper, cook, or bottle washer. You will help on the ranch just like everyone else does and you’ll learn how to take care of yourself. My hands will protect you from threats, but that’s it. There is no coddling of women where I live.”
“Do you just hate
, or is it women in general?” Perlita snapped.
“Women who aren’t able or willing to lend a hand beyond pointing at things to be done have no business being around me. Your daddy didn’t do you any favors by handing everything to you on a silver platter. You’re gonna learn how to work for a living.”
“Just who the hell do you think you are, Mr. Billings? You know nothing about me or the life I’ve led!”
“Miss Perl, I would greatly appreciate it if you would not use profanity around me. I don’t permit cursing from my ranch hands nor will I allow it coming from the mouth of a young lady,” Hank scolded.
Perlita’s face reddened with anger as she spouted off several curses at him in Italian. He eyed her warningly, causing her to blush furiously before tightly crossing her arms and staring straight at the road ahead of them.
The countryside was mountainous with the winding roads disappearing around curves. Hank drove slowly and carefully, adding to Perlita’s frustration and general lack of patience. After an hour’s silence, she verbalized her opinion regarding the man’s driving and over-caution. He glared at her, choosing to remain silent. Another vehicle in front of them slowly crawled along the road and a very annoyed Perlita reached over and began to pound loudly on Hank’s horn.