(With thanks to my beta, Terri Derr)
(Words: 1,080. Date: 26 July, 2015)
“Another couple and that should do us.” Scott clutched his wrists, arms around the back of his neck, and stretched the cramp out from between his shoulder blades. God, it was hot. He could see trickles of sweat running down Johnny’s back as his brother reached for the next fence post. The scar across his abdomen was already tanning and hard to see.
“Remind me how we got this job.” Johnny passed the heavy post up to Scott on the back of the wagon.
“I bet Jelly he couldn’t teach Katie how to ride astride in one lesson, and you told Murdoch to stop treating you like an invalid. As I recall, you said you were fit for anything.”
“We should learn to keep our mouths shut.” Using his thigh for support, Johnny angled the barrel of nails on its edge and rolled it from where it stood by the tool shed wall. Bending at the knees, he grunted as he lifted it up. Scott took the top and together they got it into the box. Rolling it into position behind the wire, Scott wedged it between the side board and the fence posts.
He jumped down from the wagon. “Your muscles protesting a bit, brother?”
“Just a bit.” Straightening, Johnny winced and rubbed his gloved hand across his middle. “Not too bad.”
Scott fastened the tail gate and looked over towards the barn. “The girls are back from their ride.” Katie and Emily stood in the shade by the door. “I wonder how long they’ve been back. I didn’t see them come in.”
Katie was wearing her new riding outfit; the skirt was shorter and fuller so she could sit on an ordinary saddle. High boots hid her legs from view. He’d caught a glimpse of close-fitting trousers beneath the skirt when he’d helped her mount for her riding lesson, but he was glad she’d kept the over-skirt. Even though it wasn’t quite as breath-taking as the riding habit she wore when she rode side saddle, it still moulded to her hips and swayed as she walked like no pair of trousers could ever do. He was getting hotter just thinking about it.
But his Boston up-bringing prevailed. The girls were looking their way. He threw Johnny his shirt and pulled his back on. After tucking in the tail, he rolled up his sleeves and waved.
Katie and Emily waved back; then huddled together in conversation before walking towards the hacienda. They stopped halfway across the yard and looked towards the wagon again. Scott and Johnny both waved, but this time the girls just turned and hurried into the shadows of the portico.
“Strange.” Johnny got up into the driver’s seat.
Scott shrugged. He stripped his gloves off. Tossing them in the back with the timber and barbed wire, he moved to get up next to Johnny. One foot on the axle, he stopped. “Damn, I’ve left the new cutters in the house. I won’t be a minute.”
He jogged across the yard. As he entered the coolness of the portico he heard Katie’s voice from just inside. “I don’t know how you stood living here all the time.”
“It wasn’t easy some days. Cold water helps.” Emily laughed.
“Helps what?” Scott came into the hallway. He picked up the wire cutters from the side table, and paused for their answer.
Katie went bright red. “We thought you were gone.”
“I forgot these. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong, but if you’ll excuse us we’ve got things to do.” Katie grabbed Emily by the arm and the two of them hurried away.
Scott made his way back to the wagon.
“What’s up?” Johnny watched as Scott scratched his head, trying to work it out.
“I don’t understand women.”
“No—now there’s a surprise.”
“When I went inside, Katie and Emily were still in the hall. Katie was asking how Emily could stand living here all the time. I know guns and a few other things about country life still bother her, but I thought she liked it at the ranch.” Maybe he’d got it wrong. “As soon as I walked in, Katie blushed and made an excuse to rush off.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes and thought for a second. “What did Emily say?”
“Something about cold water helping. What does that mean?”
Johnny grinned. “Well, I know why I’m seeing more of cold water lately. Maybe it’s the same for women.”
“No. Do you think so?” Scott brightened. That was a much better idea.
When he and Katie had talked about what happened in Green River, she’d said his view of her was far too genteel. “My mother campaigns for women’s rights and my father is a doctor. I hope my days are filled with something more productive than just taking tea, dancing and sharing gossip. I’ve never swooned, and I know about the birds and the bees… There are limits, Scott, but I’m not made of porcelain— you may touch me if you like.” Oh God…then they’d…no, that was not the moment to think about now.
“We did have our shirts off.”
“And they were definitely watching us. Little brother, I believe you could be right.” Feeling happier, Scott dropped the cutters in with the other stuff and climbed up next to Johnny.
“Does it bother you?”
“I think I’m kind of flattered. You?”
“Hmmm.” Johnny leaned back and covered his eyes with his hat. “You drive. I’m just going to rest here awhile and imagine what it could mean for my wedding night.”
A picture appeared in Scott’s head: Katie dressed in a sheer nightgown, her hair flowing over her shoulders and down... He looked up at the sky and grimaced. “Did you have to say that?”
“Sorry, brother, you’re right. I definitely need to learn to keep my mouth shut.” Johnny straightened up and wriggled uncomfortably on the driver’s seat. “Do you think we’ve got time to stop by the lake before we take this gear to Murdoch and the men?”
“It’s worth the risk.”
“They must be nearly out of fence posts by now.”
“It’s still worth the risk.” Scott couldn’t see any other way around it.
“Yeah? Not like you to play hooky.”
“Perhaps not, but...” Scott looked down and then over at Johnny. Damn it, they’d have to stop by the lake. Their father and the ranch hands would have a field day if they didn’t. “…the evidence suggests we should make the time.”