Read Cowboys Know Best Online

Authors: Breanna Hayse

Tags: #cookie429, #Kat, #Extratorrents

Cowboys Know Best (8 page)

BOOK: Cowboys Know Best
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“I hate you!” Perl screamed, running out of the room crying.

Hank winced as her bedroom door slammed. With a shake of his head, he finished tidying the kitchen and then slowly ventured upstairs. He tapped on her door with the back of his knuckles.

“Perl? May I come in? Hon, I’m sorry. I was too harsh.” Swallowing a piece of humble pie this large needed to be washed down with a splash of humility.

“Go away!”

“No, I’m staying right here. Unlock the door, please.” He forced his voice to soften as he leaned against the wall. When she did not respond, he sighed. “Perlita, baby… I know this is hard for you. It’s never easy when you hear the truth about someone you care for.”

“And how would you know how it feels, Mr. High and Mighty?!” she retorted through her sobbing.

“My pa was lynched when I was eight for stealing a cow.” Hank winced as the words escaped his mouth. It was a well-kept family secret that only his closest friend knew. “Please let me in and I’ll tell you what happened.”

Slowly the door opened and he looked upon her beautiful, but sad face. Even wet with tears, the girl was stunning to look at. Hank took her hand and sat her on the bed.

“My family lived up in Pennsylvania, right near where you met Nana. I’m the youngest of six, plus all my cousins, aunts, and uncles. Nana used to say you could tell how cold a winter was by the size of the family,” he chuckled, thinking back. “Things were tough back then and many farms depended on their own livestock to feed their families. Someone started stealing cattle off family farms and the locals were getting restless, accusing everyone they could think of to settle their anxiety. Pa didn’t have the best reputation in the community. In fact, he was a gambler and his debts brought constant shame to Nana. She and Gramps finally told him that they wouldn’t bail him out any longer and that he needed to find his own way. One day, he just up and left. Nana made Ma and all of us kids move in with her and Gramps.”

“Oh, Hank, that’s terrible,” Perl said, stroking his hand.

“It confused me, but I was the only boy with five older sisters and a huge family that loved me. I barely even remember my pa, except him coming home liquored up. He got busted trying to sell a neighbor’s cow to a butcher and the community took the law into their own hands. The sheriff came and informed Nana and Gramps of the lynching two days later, and promised to get to the root of it.”

“Did he?”

“Yes, and the perpetrators were all put in jail. The sheriff took pity on me being around all those hens and raised me up like his own. He got me interested in the law and the proper way to manage crime. He pushed me through school and got me into Harvard law school.”

“How did you end up here?” Perl asked, leaning against his chest.

Hank kissed the side of her head. “Dennis had family in these parts and had been offered a position as sheriff. He invited me to come stay with him during the summer break and I fell in love with Texas and the way of living. It fit me well.”

“Dennis? The sheriff who’s coming over tonight?”

“The one and only. I owe everything I’ve become to that man and Nana.”

“So you came here after college?”

“Nana lent me money to buy up this ranch and build a house. I moved my Ma down here with me and she and Dennis hooked up. We lost her five years ago.”

“I’m sorry,” Perl said softly, her heart aching for the man.

“Nah, don’t be. She was loved and lived happy. She and Dennis had a lot of good years together.”

“Was this her room?”

“Yeah.” Hank smiled, looking around. “Nana made this quilt for her when she was a little girl. Ma loved the color blue because it reminded her of a bright new day.” He stroked the quilt with his hand.

“Hank? Can I ask you a question?”

“You just did,” he teased.

“Why aren’t you married?”

He stiffened, pulling away from her as he stood. “I think it’s time to get ready for our guest. Get yourself prettied up and come back down. I don’t know how to make that pasta stuff.”

Perl just nodded, watching him quickly leave the room. She had unknowingly hit a sore spot. Well, she’d get answers in due time. She thought about what Hank had shared about his past. She also knew, in her heart, that what he had said about Don Moretti was true. She just wasn’t ready for her father’s memory to be colored in such a dark light yet.

She freshened up and slipped into a breezy yellow dress. Having only the worn boots, she decided to be guided by comfort and go barefoot. She pulled her long, black hair over her left shoulder and braided it tightly, then pinched her cheeks to bring a rosy color to the surface. Satisfied with her appearance, she walked downstairs and into the parlor where she heard male voices.

The two men stood as she entered. Hank made quick introductions and stood back with amusement as his friend kissed the back of Perl’s hand, tickling it with his long mustache.


Piacere di conoscerti, signorina Perlita
.”

“Why, I am pleased to meet you as well, Sheriff Wilson. Where did you learn Italian?” Perl sounded surprised.

Dennis chuckled. “I’m afraid you have just experienced my complete knowledge of the language, ma’am. You are absolutely lovely. Why are you hanging about an ugly thing like old Hank?”

“I’m afraid my choices were very slim at the time. He had a gun and that horrid hat, so he was the best selection.”

“Hey, don’t disrespect the hat,” Hank grumbled.

“Slim pickings, for sure. Oh, get that ornery look off your mug, Hank. No one’s touching the dang-on hat.”

Hank grunted, eyeing Perl with uncomfortable fondness. His mind was also starting to drift places that just weren’t right! Perl, feeling his gaze upon her, blushed.

“I should probably finish dinner up. Hank? If you could go pick me some more vegetables, I’ll make a salad.”

“Guess she’s making us work for our dinner, old boy. Come on,” Hank said to his friend, leading him outside. “So? What do you think?”

“She seems delightful, but very young. I get a hint of stubbornness, too. But you know how to handle that,” Dennis teased as they walked to the garden.

Hank chuckled, shooing Millie the possum out of the way. ”There’s more than a hint. And she does have a nice rump to spank.”

“What more could you ask for then? Oh, what are you hissing at?” Dennis asked the angry possum. It plopped on its side, pretending to be dead. “God could not have made a dumber animal. Hey, you know that Goldie’s about to drop a litter. Do you think Perl might like a pup?”

“I’ve been bothering you for years to give me one of Goldie’s whelps and you want to give one to a girl you just met?” Hank scoffed half-heartedly as he headed back to the house. In truth, the gesture pleased him immensely, because it meant his friend approved of the young woman.

“You asked me for a pup last year and they were all spoken for. Besides, Perl is a hell of lot prettier than you will ever be.”

“Nice to know who my friends are,” Hank commented, walking back into the kitchen with the vegetables. He stopped in his tracks, halting Dennis. He put his fingers to his lips. Perl was singing.

“Good Lord, she has the voice of an angel,” Dennis whispered, eyes wide. “What’s she saying?”

“It’s Italian opera. Puccini, I think” Hank whispered back, mesmerized by the sweet lilting of the young woman’s voice. “Laura took me to the opera several times when I was in school.”

“The folks in town would love to hear this. Do you think she might sing for them? Maybe bring a little culture into Great Price?”

“Let’s ask her. Perl, honey? That was beautiful!” Hank praised, startling her. Perl blushed wildly.

“I’ve never heard a meadow bird sound so sweet, Miss Perl. You brought tears to these old eyes,” Dennis proclaimed. “Please, sing some more.”

“Um, thank you… maybe after dinner. Go wash up,” Perl ordered, trying to change the subject. Her family used to have her sing for them at Mass and at family gatherings, but she hadn’t expected these work-hardened cowboys to appreciate the fine art of soprano aria. It pleased her, though. She had found something she could do well after all, and the men seemed to really appreciate her gift!

She was doubly surprised, and tremendously pleased, by the disappearance of the food. The two men gobbled down the pasta and sauce like they hadn’t eaten for days. Dennis offered to clean up dinner if she would grace them with another song. She readily agreed.

Hank wrapped his arm around her shoulders as Dennis drove off in his truck. He squeezed her gently then dropped his hand to takes hers. “Food was the best I’ve had in a long time. Thank you for dinner. Why don’t you slip your boots on and we can take a walk,” he suggested. Perl raced to obey.

He held her hand possessively as he led her towards a copse of willows. “Your voice is definitely the prettiest I’ve ever heard. Would you consider sharing it with the town?”

“I’m not a performer, Hank.”

“What if ‘Papa’ wanted you to do it, as a favor? It would make be so proud of my little Perl.”

“Well… if you put it that way. I’ll think about it. You really liked dinner?” Perl asked, pleased with his praise, and amused that he had found a way to soften her using the parental terms of endearment.

“I’m not going to lie to you. I could eat that every night, except it would make me fatter than Millie.” Hank laughed, watching the possum scurry in front of them.

“That is one very well fed possum,” Perl agreed, clutching his arm as the ugly creature stared at them in the moonlight before disappearing behind the barn. “Where are we going?”

“I’m going to take you to my special place. Keep quiet though,” he whispered, squeezing her hand and leading her silently through the dense portion of trees. He held his fingers to his lips and pointed. A doe and a fawn were drinking from a small, clear pool as the moonlight reflected on the still water. Perl held her free hand over her mouth, tightly clutching Hank in excitement. Her eyes were wide with wonder as she watched the graceful animals drink peacefully. A twig snapped and the doe lifted her head before bolting away with the fawn on her heels.

“That was… amazing,” Perl choked out, still holding his large, strong hand in hers.

He pressed his fingers into hers, nodding. “I love coming here at night, especially when it’s so warm out. Take off your boots. The water’s nice and cold. Spring fed.”

They sat next to each other in the moonlight, dangling their feet in the icy water. Perl buried her toes into the soft soil at the bottom of the pool and sighed as she looked up at the stars.

“I never thought a place could be so pretty. We don’t see these types of things back home.”

“Perl, this is your home now. Please try to understand that I can’t let you go back to that type of life. I… I care about you too much.”

“I can’t stay here forever. It’s not… me.”

“Give it a chance. With your voice, you could make a good living if you didn’t want to stay here. With me…” Hank said uncomfortably.

She looked at him, confused. “As what? Your pseudo-daughter? Housekeeper? Cook?”

“Well… as my friend right now. Plus those things.”

“What if I don’t want to be your friend?” Perl asked. “What if I want something more?”

“Miss Perl, it’s not proper or decent for a young lady to be so forward. I’m not comfortable with it.” Hank moved a short distance from her, trying to ignore the hardening of his manhood as he thought of how wonderful she would feel in his arms and underneath his body, her voice whispering his name as he made love to her.

Perl blushed, lowering her eyes to look down at her feet. On an impulse, she kicked water at him, soaking his jeans. Hank, startled, lifted his eyebrow.

“You did not just go there, little girl!”

“Oh yes I did!” Perl answered back, soaking him again and sticking out her tongue. She jumped up and ran to the other edge of the pool and kicked more water in his direction. Hank slowly stood up, wiping the water off his face. His shirt was now soaked and clung to his body. Perl’s eyes widened as he removed it. His skin was wet and the sharp outline of his work-hardened muscles and broad, lightly furred chest glimmered in the bright moonlight. He was… beautiful!

“You will pay for this, my dear child. Getting Papa wet like this was not wise.”

Perl giggled, keeping the pond between them. He started around and she raced to the opposite side, kicking more water at him. She didn’t see the log sticking out of the mud and she tumbled over it, landing face first on the wet ground.

“Ooof,” she grunted, and Hank fled to her side, helping her up and brushing her off.

“Are you okay?” he asked worriedly, looking at her for cuts and bruises.

“Yeah. Just a little damage to my pride. I wasn’t very graceful.”

“Or respectful. Now that I caught you… in you go!” Perl screeched as he tossed her into the spring, watching her bob to the surface, teeth chattering. He squatted at the edge, a sardonic smile spreading across his handsome face. “Cold?”

“That… was… MEAN. I’m freezing.”

“It’s one way to cool off that temper of yours. Come on out. It’s time to get some shut-eye.”

He yanked her out of the water and, in a brief instant, stared into her eyes. The urge to take her sweet, soft lips into his mouth was strong. But he resisted. It was just not proper. Perl stared at him, wanting to drive her mouth lustfully against his. Was he really going to resist her? Well, if that was his plan, she intended to make it as difficult for him as she could!

 

Chapter Six

 

 

Try as she may, Perl hated her chores. They all involved dirt, stench, or both and left her sweating and feeling quite wilted. By day four, she threw in the towel and decided to go on strike. Knowing that Hank always performed a two or three hour long fence check of the entire property every morning, she approached Butch and begged for help with a promise to pay for whatever assistance he could offer. Of course, the man refused the money and quickly came to her aide. This little ruse worked well for about three weeks before Hank discovered her ploy.

“Butch? What are you doing milking Hannah? That’s Perl’s job.”

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