Southern Comfort(2)

By: Ciana Stone


"Naw. She'll be by when she wants it."

"That girl's something. She's gotta whole lotta you in her, Wild Bill." Back in the day, Billy Sweet had quite a bit of wild in his blood. It was Stella Mae who'd settled him down, and probably saved him from himself.

Billy laughed. "Don't she just?" He sobered. "I tend to worry some about her."

"Some people don't take hurt well, Billy. When she's ready to let it go, she will."

"It's been three years since that boy done her wrong. And not once has she ever mentioned his name."

"He broke her heart."

Billy turned his head toward Riley. "She talked to you about it, didn't she?"

"Not much."

"You'd tell if she was in a bad way, wouldn't you?"

It wasn't hard to see the concern on Billy's face. Riley knew that Billy would do anything for his family and when one of them was hurting, it worried him a lot. "You know I would. She'll be okay, Billy. You know your daughter. Cody doesn't give her heart easy and if someone steps on it, well, it's gonna take her a while to trust anyone with it again. But she will. Just let her do it in her own way."

"Don't see as I have much choice. And speaking of Cody, I'm supposed to ask you if you're headed to the bar this weekend. Fred, Jimmy and Otis said something about playing and she said it's time you dragged your tired old ass in and made some music.."

"She did, did she? Well then I reckon I better. When?"

"Saturday? Putting a good- size pig on Friday night so there's liable to be a crowd."

"Yeah, I'll be there."

A 'ping' noise had Billy looking in Riley's direction. "That you?"

Riley fished his phone out of his shirt pocket, looked at it and then laid it on the porch rail.

"Anything important?"

"Naw, just a friend."

The phone pinged again but Riley ignored it. He hadn't told Billy about Analise and he didn't know that he would. This seemed like a good time to change the subject.

"I hear you've been talking to those windmill folks."

Billy grunted and shifted to pluck another fritter from the bag. "Yeah. Cody's doing a fine job on the ranch, but it ain't making a lot of money. And we – Stella Mae and me – we're okay but we've been talking about slowing down a bit."

"And how does leasing your daddy's land for a windmill farm tie in with that?"

"Good old US greenbacks, buddy. There's a tidy sum involved. Good yearly income. With what they're willing to give, we could pay off the house in town."

"Okay, but again where does the slowing down part come in?"

Riley's phone pinged again. Billy gave it a sideways glance and took a bite of fritter. When Riley didn't touch the phone, he responded. "I been thinking of giving the bar to the girls. Hannah spends as much time there as she does at her mama's bakery, and Cody – well if she didn't have the bar she'd just be sittin' out there at the ranch by herself all the durn time."

"You'd walk away from the bar?"

"Well, no. I'd still be around. I just think it's time to give my girls a stake in something."

"And spend more time with Stella?"

"Yep."

"Doing what?"

"Dang if I know."

Riley's phone gave another ping and Billy gave it another look. "Sounds like that friend again."

Riley polished off the last of his fritter and washed it down with coffee. He knew that look in Billy's eye. Like a dog worrying a bone, the questions would keep coming and truth be told, he didn't know why he was keeping it a secret. It wasn't like he was having sexting with some woman or thinking he was in love. "All right, it's like this. About a year ago I – I went on Facebook."

"That computer thing where people tweep?"

"Tweet. And no, that's something else. Anyway, this lady, Ana Lise, who writes romance books, sent me a message asking questions about ranching. I answered and over time we got to be friends."

"So what does ranching have to do with romance books?"

"Apparently she writes about ranchers and cowboys."

"That right? She live round about these parts?"

"No. New York City. Manhattan."

Billy burst out laughing. "A New York woman writing about ranching? Kinda like Eskimos writing about surfing, ain't it? I sure hope she's asking the right questions."

"Well, she asks a lot of them."

"So you taken with this gal?"

"Billy, I haven't ever met her. We just send messages."

"Well, that being the case, now might be a good time for me to mention that Stella Mae said that Clara Jean Tilton's sister – you know, the widow woman? Anyways, she's thinking right strong about moving back to Cotton Creek. And according to Clara, she's quite a looker and –"

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