tagRomancePalomino Ch. 07

Palomino Ch. 07


Lacey was trying to not think about anything except the task at hand. She had a job that was screaming at her to get back, and responsibilities that needed her attention. No, she hadn't made a final decision as to what she was going to do when she got back to New York, but she had to return. There was no getting around that. Steeling her jaw, she moved to the closet to take down the last of her things, carrying them to the bed and slowly began to take them from the hangers and roll them to place into her suitcase.

Caroline stopped at the open door and knocked softly, a coffee cup in her hand. "Lacey, honey? Need any help?"

Lacey glanced up to see Caroline standing there and shook her head as she continued to roll the garments and place them into her suitcase. "No, I'm just about done actually. I could use the company, tho?" she added with a small wistful smile. She was going to miss Caroline.

Caroline beamed a bright smile and stepped into the guest room, offering Lacey the coffee she brought up. "Thought you might like to enjoy some real coffee before you suffer that watered down stuff they do on the plane."

Lacey laughed softly, placing the last rolled garment into the suitcase before reaching for the coffee cup and took a small sip, her fingers wrapping around the warm cup as she sank down on the edge of the bed. "Mmm ... you always did make the most delicious coffee," she said, glancing up to her with a small smile.

Caroline pulled the stool out from the vanity and sat, watching her a moment. "Y'know... it was good for the men here to work with a woman for awhile."

Lacey glanced at Caroline over the rim of her cup, having a feeling she had more on her mind than just to comment that Lacey had worked well with the men. Taking a slow sip, she lowered the cup some as she commented, "I actually enjoyed it. I'm just glad I didn't get in the way."

Silence ensued for a little while before Caroline took a deep breath then began in again. "I've been the only woman on this ranch for three years, y'know.... once in awhile Lance or the other boys will bring one in for a bit. Gets pretty lonesome."

Lacey felt her jaw tighten in unison with her chest at Caroline's words and looked down into her cup as they both sat quietly. "I have to go back," she whispered quietly in explanation, not sure if she was trying to convince Caroline, or herself. "I can't just up and leave without a word or an explanation to anyone. I have a townhouse, a job, responsibilities ..." she trailed off as her thoughts turned to Wesley. They hadn't really had a chance to talk since yesterday morning and quite honestly, she had avoided seeing him this morning because she wasn't sure she could handle seeing him, knowing she had to go.

Carol sighed and looked out the window. The boys were out throwing hay. "Ever since your daddy died, things have all become routine. Then you come into our lives for two weeks, and everything changes. The boys seem more alive. You make me smile every time I see you in that silly get-up you jog in every morning. And just seeing you again just warms my heart. Whether you remember or not, you were my little girl. I don't care what anybody says."

Lacey's fingers tightened on the coffee mug as unshed tears stung her eyes and she set the cup aside before moving off the bed and knelt on the floor before Caroline, slipping her arms around the older woman's waist as she hugged her. Her cheek was pressed against the woman's bosom, much like a little girl would hug her mother, and she couldn't stifle the soft sob that erupted from her throat. "What am I supposed to do, Carol?"

Carol smiled and ran her fingers through Lacey's hair gently. "Love that boy with all you've got," she said gently. Carol was a natural bossy busy body, usually, but the woman had a sixth sense when it came to her "children", and all of them were hers, whether they liked it or not. "Your daddy always wanted you happy. That's why he sent you off with your momma. He didn't want you stuck here as a rancher's daughter with nothin' and nobody. Now it all depends on what you want, 'cause, there's still nothin' here, but there is somebody."

Lacey felt something break inside of her at Caroline's words. She sobbed, tightening her arms around the older woman as her slender form trembled uncontrollably. It was all about Wesley, and this undeniable connection she had with him. It had only been a week, but she knew that she was falling head over heels in love with him, and with life here on the ranch. "I ... I love him, Carol but I'm not sure he's ready, and it would kill me if he can't move on. I'd be better off in New York City."

Carol kissed the top of her head gently and held her close as she cried and rocked her quietly. The girl was arguing with herself. That much was clear. "Then I'll help you pack your things, honey. It's alright. He'll be alright. Forgive yourself." She hated to see something that could be so good for both of them die simply because one was a rancher, and one definitely wasn't. But, that's the way things would be. Routine would become the normality again.


Lance pitched another bale of hay half-heartedly, glancing over to Wesley. The man was throwing himself in to the job and had been working his ass all morning and not said a damn word. Everyone knew what today was, and it was like someone had died, and a death toll was settling on the ranch. Lacey was leaving. It was killing him to watch it, too. Shoving his pitchfork down into the dirt, he leaned against it some and just looked at his best friend, somewhat of a glare on his face.

Wesley grunted as he hefted one of the thrown bales from up top of the barn, re-stacking it lower at the bottom for better access where they'd been tearing a cave into the mountain throughout the winter. They were now filling the cave before the top gave in. He'd been distant all morning. He'd hardly eaten his breakfast, and he was working harder than he really needed to at the rather simple tasks. Wesley bent down again, easing his gloved fingers beneath the twine to heft the bale up and throw it up on the tier he was building.

When Wes didn't even notice that Lance had stopped working, he pulled the pitchfork back out of the dirt and turned it so that he was holding the fork side in his hands. Stepping closer to Wesley, he drew back and then pulled the blunt end forward to smack Wesley smartly across his ass.

With a shout Wesley turned to grab the stick that'd struck him, glaring heatedly at Lance. "What the livin' hell was that for?" He tossed the stick back, making Lance take a step back before he turned back to his work, righting the bale up top.

Lance stumbled back a bit and then took up the pitchfork again, stepping forward and smacked his best friend across his ass again, this time harder. "What the fuck are you doing?!" he shouted, rather matter-of-factly.

Wesley exploded when he was hit again and he grabbed the pitchfork and yanked it out of Lance's hands before his right fist swung around to hit him square in the jaw to knock him back. "Stop fuckin' hittin' me! Damn it!" he growled and flexed his fist, breathing hard. Work had come to a complete standstill in the barn. The other hands pretended to work to keep from irking Wesley anymore but were more watching than anything.

Lance stumbled back from the blow, but he had expected it. Wesley needed to let it out. Rubbing his jaw, he quickly came up at his best friend, his own right fist connecting with Wesley's jaw, sending him stumbling back, then bent over some to catch his breath. If it took fighting his best friend to knock some sense into him, then so be it. "Answer my god-damned question! What the fuck are you doing?!" he growled back, up righting himself to prepare for the second attack he knew was coming.

Wesley snarled, hurling the pitchfork into the hay as he reached up to wipe blood from his lip. Instead of answering, he launched himself at Lance, grabbing his shirt to yank him down. Wesley usually wasn't a fighting man, but when he got really worked up about something, he was quick to blow the fuse and simply explode. Again his fist connected with Lance's jaw, then Lance's kidney, rolling violently with him on the floor of the barn as they fought it out.

All that Lance could really do was try to keep Wesley from doing too much damage as the enraged man's fists kept connecting, but Lance managed to block most of them and wrestle the bigger man off. The two men rolled on the floor of the barn as the other hands gathered around to watch. This kind of thing NEVER happened on the ranch, especially involving their foreman. Loud grunts, panting breath and curse words continued to fly from both men as the grappled in the barn, boots flashing and hats long gone.

Finally Wesley managed to best Lance, pinning him on his back with his neck twisted and face pressed to the dirt. He snarled and panted, then got up to dust himself off and let Lance up. "I ain't gonna fight you no more, Lance. I'm doin' my fuckin' job. Leave me the fuck be." He turned and limped to the side to grab his hat and dusted it off to put it back on his head and wiped blood from his nose and mouth.

Lance sputtered, rolling half onto his belly as he fought the urge to throw up and then pushed himself up, staggering a bit as he glared at his best friend. He reached up to wipe blood away from his nose and mouth before spitting a wad of it onto the barn floor. "I ain't leavin' you be, until you fuckin' git off yer stubborn ass and do something about her leavin'! What the fuck is wrong with you?!"

Wesley stopped half-way out the barn and turned to look at Lance again. "She belongs in the city. She said so. Let it go." He tipped his hat pointedly to the other men watching who instantly turned back to their "work" as Wesley walked away toward the stables.

Lance swore loudly, swiftly kicking his hat across the barn floor before using the back of his arm to wipe off the blood running from his nose. "God damn, stubborn sonofabitch," he mumbled before stalking off in the opposite direction.

Lance bent over the water faucet outside the house, coughing blood. Wesley wasn't usually a violent man, but he'd managed to do some damage. He growled at himself and splashed cold water on his face, trying to calm his nerves. "Goddamn sonofabitch... if a rattlesnake fuckin' bit him he wouldn't budge." He tested to see if his nose was still bleeding, seeing it had at least slowed.

Lacey was in between trips, taking her luggage to the car, having refused to let Caroline help. She wasn't due to leave for the airport just yet, so she had a bit of time to kill. She refused to follow her heart and go in search of Wesley. It wouldn't change the fact that she still had to leave. His dogs had somehow managed to get away from him, though, and were now following her around the corner of the house. "Come on Tick," she said softly, patting her thigh and then the dog's head as he caught up with her, wagging his tail happily until he saw Lance. Barking, the dog bounded ahead to jump up on Lance as he bent over the faucet.

Lance grunted as the dog jumped on him and stepped back, scratching the dog's head with a wet hand. "Hey Tick..." he said rather huskily. Then he looked up to see Lacey and his eyes widened. God what a sight he would be. Blood was all over his shirt and his face probably wasn't much better.

Lacey gasped and bolted to where Lance was, her arm going around him and she stared at his face. "Oh my god ... Lance! What happened?" she cried, gingerly reaching to move his face so she could get a better look.

If he was about to fall over before she got there, he nearly did as she caught him around the middle. He protested a bit, reaching up to remove her hands from him. "I'm fine... honest, I'm fine." He pulled his head out of her grasp and stepped back. "A filly threw me." THAT was an all-out lie if he'd ever heard one, and it probably wasn't too convincing either.

Lacey's eyebrow shot up as he outright blatantly lied to him. "What's going on?" she asked, grasping his chin again to turn his head and get a good look at the damage. "I supposed she kicked you right in the eye too, huh?"

"Ow... ow. Hey! Easy." He reached up to loosen her grasp on his chin. He hurt everywhere. If Wesley had intended to make him sore until next week, he sure managed it. His ribs and kidneys were flaring in agony too. "There... there was a fight. Back in the barn. I'm fine."

Lacey's brows furrowed together in concern as she started to walk and help him to the back porch. He needed to sit down and she needed to get Caroline. He was hurt more than he was letting on. "A fight about what? Who all was involved?" she asked, forcing him to come with her or else hurting him in the process.

He grunted when she first pulled against his ribs and he moved reluctantly toward the steps and sank down. The woman was as stubborn as Wesley was. He wiped blood from his nose and lip again, looking up at her. "I started it... was jus' me 'n Wes."

Lacey blinked as she carefully helped him sink down onto the porch. "Wh-what? You started a fight with Wesley? ...But why?" Lacey felt dread sink into the pit of her stomach as she reached for the roll of paper towels that stayed on the back porch, pulling them from the wall to lick at one corner and lift it to wipe some blood from his eyebrow.

He winced and reached up to take it from her but when she shoved his hand down, he growled and glared at her. This was why he never settled down. All of 'em were too much hassle and too stubborn to handle. "He's lettin' you leave."

Lacey stopped mid-movement as she dabbed at the cut on his lip, blue eyes meeting his as the dreadful feeling took hold of her hard. Sighing heavily, she continued to wipe at the blood as she blinked back the tears she could feel welling up in her chest. "Lance... please don't. Don't fight him because of me. It's my decision. I have to go home."

Lance looked down sadly. Though he was a well-grown man, he seemed like only a boy at the moment. A boy who's best friend was closing off to something that could be real good for him. "I haven't seen Wes so happy in years. I mean it. Years. The last time I saw him smile like that was.... well... was when he heard the news that Anne was pregnant."

Lacey's chin trembled as she drew back her hand from his cut and swollen lip and simply stared at the bloody paper towel in her hand. "I ... I don't know what to do, Lance. I've got to go back. Even if I decided to stay, I'd have to go back and tie up loose ends. Who knows how long that would take. What the hell am I supposed to do with a ranch? I don't know anything about it. I'm not a cowgirl. I don't know how to rodeo. I'm used to getting my nails done every week, and the hardest work I do is in the office, typing." She reached up to wipe the tears formed in her eyes and turned her face away from him so he couldn't see just how painful this was for her. "Besides, can you honestly say Wesley is ready to move on?" She sniffed before turning her head back to the best friend of the man she had fallen in love with, her eyes filled with large tears.

"He could be. If you helped him. But seems both of ya are runnin' scared. Have a safe trip, Ma'am." The last sentence came out rougher than he intended. He stood from the porch. It took him a moment to gain his balance from the sudden rush of blood to his head, but he managed to hold back the nauseous feeling and walked across the yard back toward the barn.

Lacey watched him stagger off, the tears running down her cheeks before she reached up to cover her face with trembling hands and sobbed. This wasn't fair. It just wasn't. "Oh Daddy, why did you do this to me?" she cried out softly. "Why am I here?"

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