Sunlight streamed through the sheer curtains as I threw off the soft, lush bedcovers and reluctantly rolled out of bed. I hated to leave those sheets. They had to have a thread count of at least a thousand and I wondered again who’d decorated Shade’s house. Bachelors aren’t known for sumptuous linens.
Shades’s lovely cedar and rock home made a beautiful bed and breakfast for one ─ me. I’d read myself to sleep in one of the guest rooms upstairs but this time Shade wasn’t beside me to turn off the light. His bedroom, the master suite, was downstairs and my body was fully aware of all eighteen stair steps between us.
Out my window I could see a green pasture, spotted with large oaks and stretching towards the horizon. I started to turn away when movement at the small house off to the right caught my attention. An older man stomped across the porch, his face twisted in anger. Toni chased after him, obviously pleading her case about something.
Abruptly he stopped, turned, and pointed back at the house. I couldn’t hear what he said, but it was clear he wanted her inside. Dejectedly she went, slamming the door in frustration.
Poor Toni, I thought as I went downstairs in my pajamas to look for Shade.
Today was plotting day for the Runt dilemma but I had questions of my own for Shade. My conversation with Toni during our wild ride made me realize I didn’t know much about the adult Shade.
He was standing at the kitchen counter when I came through the doorway.
“You don’t believe in using furniture much, do you?” I said. That wasn’t one of my questions. It was just a freebee I’d thrown in to get me started.
“I like it to be there when I want it, though. Cute jammies,” he said, running his finger down my arm. “Sleep good without me, Stripper?”
“Like I’ve been doing it all my life,” I said, as I looked around the kitchen for something to munch on. Sadly, nothing was in sight. The kitchen was remarkably clean. Actually spotless.
“That could change,” he said. Again the Shade-grin. I’ve seen that many times. Who was I kidding? I was wondering about the next level ─ the Shade kiss.
“Shade, I’ve got to know. How can you afford all this? Don’t you make saddles?”
“Yeah, I make saddles. I also have lines of chaps, purses, luggage, cowboy hats, and clothing. But one thing I’m running low on is my supply of vehicles these days. Jeez, I can’t believe that girl. Her daddy’s gonna lock her in a back room.”
“Maybe, but I think he’s heading towards a cooling off mode. I saw them from my window. Neither looked too happy about the situation.” I assumed he was talking about Toni but I had picked up on another word.
“What do you mean lines?” I asked.
“You know. Lines. Ever hear of Fergus Leather Company, Incorporated?” Shade asked, stretching out the last word.
“Well, yeah. Who hasn’t? Is that what you want to be like?”
“Pokerface, that’s what I am. I’m Fergus of Fergus Leather.”
Ca-rap. That bombshell jogged my memory. When we were in grade school, some bigger kids were teasing him about his name being Fergus. They’s called him Fergus Fartguts and he’d leaped into the kids, kicking, clawing, and punching. Shade had been Shade for so long I never thought of him as Fartguts …I mean Fergus, anymore.
“Then all this is really yours?”
“Yep, really, really mine. I employ several craftsmen from South America and give them the option of living on the ranch as well as working here. That’s why there’re several little houses around.
“Eats are catch as catch can, I’m afraid,” Shade continued, changing the subject. “I don’t have a cook and only have a cleaning lady once a week so you’ll have to make your own bed.”
“Just like home.”
“Could be home.”
Again the tease. Or was he casting about, trying to figure out how I felt about him.
“Careful or someday I’m going to take you up on that teasing, Shade, and make you follow through on those words.” I put my hands on the counter and leaned backwards.
“Who’s teasing? I told you I could make you my life’s work.” Shade took a step towards me, closing the gap between us slightly.
What was with all the innuendos, I wondered, but instead of saying it out loud, I said “I bet you say that to all the women who spend the night.”
“Well, usually only to the women who spend the night in my bed.”
“You didn’t ask me to share your bed,” I snipped, not real sure where the conversation was going or why I was getting my hackles up.
“You didn’t offer to share my bed,” he replied.
He took another step closer. I started feeling the affects of that sun again.
“Well, maybe we should discuss the arrangements for tonight right now,” I said as Shade reached out and ran a finger down the runway of my nose.
“Sorry, Pokerface. Your loss. I won’t be here tonight.”
“What?” I said as I scooted sideways. “Then what’s up with all the word games?”
“Don’t you even want to know where I’ll be?”
“I think you do. I think you want to know where I’m going just as badly as you want into my bed.”
That did it. Who was he to assume I wanted into his bed? After all, I was just teasing about making arrangements for tonight. I’m sure I was just teasing.
“You stinking butthead! Get over yourself,” I snapped.
“Is that a step up from a plain butthead or a step down? Never mind. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. But I’ll tell you where I’ll be anyway. San Antonio. Clyde, the computer wiz for my company, lives there and I’m going to talk to him about Runt’s biometric problem.”
Oh. That changed everything. “I’m going with you.”
“Gosh, you want into my bed worse than I thought, Stripper.” I wrinkled my nose at him but he kept talking. “Clyde says IBM’s made some advances in biometrics that should interest Runt. He knows someone who works at Sirlo’s so he’s trying to find out which method of distortion Sirlo uses. With his know-how he can help Runt straighten this mess out.”
“Why didn’t you tell me all this earlier?” I asked. “Why am I only just now hearing about it?”
“You were sleeping. You night people tend to do that during the day, don’t ya? For your information, it isn’t breakfast you’re hunting. It’s lunch. And a late lunch at that, which is why I have to get on the road now.”
The phone rang as Shade was talking. He leaned over my right shoulder to answer it, spooning his body against mine as he spoke. He felt good. He smelled good. I felt heat in the chocha area.
“Yo, Clyde…Hey that’s great. You caught me just in time. I was getting ready to leave…Sure. Glad to have you. I’ve got a bedroom waiting for you…See you then.” He hung up the phone and looked down at me, our faces barely an inch apart.
“Trip’s off,” Shade said, as he kissed me on the tip of my nose. “Clyde’s coming here. I have to get ahold of Runt.” He turned and sauntered away. I couldn’t believe he just walked away like that. “You might get lucky tonight after all, Stripper,” he remarked over his shoulder.
“If I do, it’ll be with Clyde!” I spit out the words like they tasted bad and stomped upstairs to my book.
As I paused at the top of the stair, I heard Shade say, “Runt, This is Shade. Call T.R. or me on one of our cells.” Then the front door slammed.
I stretched out on my bed ─ cripes, listen to me calling it my bed. I needed to concentrate on Runt’s problem and get my mind off of Shade. Something was stirring between him and me and it definitely was getting in my way. So instead of focusing on the love/hate chemistry, I zeroed in on Runt’s analogy of fun house mirrors for biometrics. I tried to think of someone ─ anyone ─ at Sirlo’s we could trust but I soon realized I needed another point of view for this problem.
I had brought Casey up to date on Shade and me, for what that was worth, which was nothing. And Toni and me, still not worth much. But I needed to tell her and Weeba about Runt and biometrics. I also needed a sit down talk with Runt. And I definitely needed a plan. So far I had let Shade take the lead in family business and that had to stop.
I tried calling Weeba at the dry cleaners but they said she wasn’t in so I called her at home. She answered on the first ring but she sounded awful.
“What’s up with you? You sick?” I asked. “You sound awful.”
“Sick,” Weeba answered. “Can’t keep anything on my stomach. Very sick.”
“OK, girlfriend. Go back to bed. I’ll check in on you later.” I heard her say “sick” one more time before she hung up.
So much for Weeba’s help. I called Casey and left a message, “Urgent. Call T.R.!”
Four pages into my book, she called.
“What’s up, girlfriend?”
“Hey, you busy?”
“No, I just got off work and I’m headed home.”
“Can you arrange a girl’s night out tonight?”
“Probably. A movie? Dinner? You know I can’t go to a poker room.”
“None of the above. Have you ever seen Shade’s place?”
“Would you like to?”
“Yes!” She leaped at the chance.
“Well, I’m stuck here at Shade’s and my car’s at Porter’s Automotive. If you could pick it up and come get me, I’ll give you a tour before we head out for an interesting time. I’ll call Pete Porter with my credit card number.”
“Girl, you’re on. I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
“You know where he lives?”
“Of course. I know everything. I’m the hub of information in this town.”
“Well, then, do you know Weeba’s sick?”
“Yeah. She needs to see the doctor again. This flu is hanging on way too long.”
“Damn, I wish she felt better. It’s just you and me then. See you in a few.”
It didn’t take Casey long to get to Shade’s with a home tour hanging like a margarita on a string in front of her face. By the time I’d showered and dressed, she was rapping the steer-shaped knocker on the carved front door.
I showed her in and she oohed and aahed her way through the front hall and around the great room. She gawked at the huge stuffed longhorn steer head glaring out from above the river rock fireplace. “Those horns have to be at least six feet across, tip to tip,” she exclaimed. “Yet the whole thing looks small in this room. And look at those balusters on the stairway. Are those real guns?”
“I don’t think so. Probably replicas but don’t they look fine? And don’t you love the Indian rugs just thrown all over the floor?”
Casey didn’t answer. She was busy testing out the red, deep-cushioned sofa. She transferred her butt to each of the hair-on leather chairs around the room. “I love the color of the floor, all that red, green and rust stained into the cement,” she said. “This home is straight out of an architectural magazine. It makes our places look…look…well, so small and messy.”
“Thanks a lot, Casey. I appreciate the support.” My place is little and cramped. Cottage-like, really. Furnishings are shabby chic secondhand or more, garnered from my parents and garage sales. The house is clean but cluttered to the point of messy due to a lazy owner ─ me ─ and lack of storage space. Her house wasn’t any better.
“Do you think Shade decorated this place on his own?” I asked Casey.
She didn’t respond. She was busy looking and lusting. “The kitchen,” she said, “I have to see the kitchen!”
I laughed at her as I led the way. We bypassed the hallway that led to Shade’s bedroom. I hadn’t seen it myself and I wasn’t about to offer her a look-see. The whole place was a contradiction to who and what I thought Shade was and I knew his bedroom wouldn’t disappoint.
“Fergus Leather must be doing all right!” she commented.
“How come I didn’t know about Fergus Leather?” I asked.
“You probably heard about it when he first started out. When he was poor. You weren’t exactly open to conversation about Shade after the two of you stopped dating in college so why would I bring it up?”
“True dat,” I said, using an overused poker room saying. “Tour’s over. We got to go!” I said, kicking myself for being stubborn enough to miss out on seeing this house before. Right now I had bigger game to hunt than even the mounted longhorn over the fireplace. We needed to get out of there before Shade came back and tied me to a gun baluster.
I’d written Shade a note while I waited for Casey. It just said I was with her, nothing more. Of course I really didn’t have anything else to tell him yet. I grabbed my purse and cell and we hustled out the door. A laborer working on the lawn spotted us and hurried away towards some out buildings.
Yeah, hurry, you spy. Go find your boss so you can rat on me. For a minute there the situation took me back to my childhood with Runt blabbing my every move to parental authorities. I had no reason to believe the gardener was rushing to find Shade. Damn, was I feeling paranoid? For all I knew that worker had a hot date waiting behind the shed.
I pointed the Mustang towards The Barely Legal. Shade had left a voice mail for Runt with no results. I had emailed Runt while waiting for Casey but hadn’t gotten a response. I could think of only one other way to contact him...
...the web cams on his ranch.
To be continued Thursday.