When Eleanor suggested they have coffee with her friends, Mallory had no idea one of those friends would be Tyler Gates’ sister. "I feel horrible about punching your brother in the nose," she admitted.
"Don't," Violet said with an entertained expression plastered across her face. She handed Mallory a plate of macadamia nut cookies across the counter and used a knuckle to shove her straight-browed glasses to a more comfortable spot on her nose. “In fact, consider this a small token of my appreciation.”
Mallory carried the plate to a corner table where Louisa, Sage, and Eleanor where sitting. "I should apologize."
“No, you shouldn’t,” Louisa said, reaching for a cookie. “Ty can be a cocky little turd. It’s about time a woman put him in his place.”
"I'll second that." Violet hurried around the counter and locked the front doors. "And can I suggest that we start addressing Logan as Big Turd?"
“Oh,” Sage said, cutting Violet a harsh frown. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have brothers like Logan and Ty.”
Violet flipped the counter lights off and turned the Open sign to Closed. "You can have mine. Just show me where to sign, and they're all yours."
“Brothers can be a pain in the ass,” Mallory said, trying to soothe Violet’s frustration because she understood how overbearing brothers could be. There’d been times when she wanted to scream at Aiden for being so overprotective. “I’m surprised mine didn’t wrap me in bubble wrap.”
“Bubble wrap was acceptable when I was five,” Violet said, sighing. “But I’m a grown woman with needs.”
“Aren’t we all,” Sage mumbled under her breath.
“Y’all don’t understand the gravity of my situation.” Violet sat down and plucked a cookie from the plate. “Last night, Logan met Bobby Grander at the door with a shotgun.”
A chorus of groans sprang up from around the table.
“Yeah.” Violet rested her elbow on the table and propped her head up with a fist. “That’s the second date in a month he’s ruined for me.”
“Sorry. I can’t offer you advice on brothers,” Sage said with a sympathetic frown.
“Me neither.” Eleanor motioned towards Mallory and Louisa. “But you two might.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Louisa said, a besmirching scowl on her face. “Don’t get me started on McCrea and Jess.”
“Enough with the bitchiness,” Sage scolded. “Offer the poor woman something.”
Shooting Sage an exasperated roll of her eyes, Louisa gave in. “You want advice? I’ll give you advice. Find Logan and Tyler a woman.”
Violet waved her hand, shooting down that suggestion. “Logan says he’s too busy for dating and Ty… well, you know how he is.”
“All I know is, once McCrea and Jess had their own relationship problems to deal with, they didn’t give a damn about mine.”
The dull edge to Louisa’s voice brought a hush to the table and an intense exchange of looks from the other three women.
Eleanor cleared her throat. “Your turn, Mallory.”
“Well…” She thought for a moment. “For my twenty-first birthday, a few of my friends from the art gallery took me to a bar in Monterey. It was a quiet little out of the way spot and nothing extreme happened. But Aiden was furious. Thank God, his fiancée was there to talk some sense into him.”
Violet used her tongue to dislodge a piece of cookie from her back tooth, all while looking less than excited. “I don’t handle alcohol well.”
“She’s not telling you to get falling-down drunk,” Sage went on to say. “Start small and work your way up.”
“I’d rather start big,” Violet said, her eyes glued to the blue Chevy truck that had just pulled up across the street at Nash’s Saddle Shop. “With something that takes to the saddle and spur but has a gentle hand on the reigns.”
The truck door opened, and a large boot emerged. After stepping out, Brody turned, slammed the door, and walked to the bed. He reached in and pulled up a saddle, causing his hard biceps to ripple under the weight.
“Damn, that is big,” Sage said, sinking her teeth into a cookie with the voraciousness of a starving woman.
“Get a grip, Sage,” Eleanor whispered, glancing cautiously at Louisa.
“Sorry, Louisa. I lost myself there for a moment.” Blushing, Sage turned her head away from the window. “I’m a divorced mom who hasn’t ridden a bike in so long I don’t know if I’d remember how to peddle.”
Failing an indifferent guise, Louisa made a piff sound. “The man is nothing to me. Peddle away.”
“Jumpin’ Jim Bowie on a wounded horse,” Violet said, snorting after the words. “We all know you’ve been sleeping with Brody. Why hide it from us?”
"I have not!" Louisa shouted.
“Such colorful cursing.” Sage fabricated a smile. “Maybe Lily and I were lucky not to have brothers.”
"I'm not the least bit interested in Brody Vance," Louisa argued, tearing into another cookie. "And I'm sure as hell not climbing under the covers with a cowboy."
"Uh-huh," Violet said grinning. "So, if I go over there and plant a big ol’ wet kiss on Brody's lips, you wouldn't think a thing about it?"
Louisa shrugged a shoulder. “Go right ahead.”
Violet rolled her eyes and stuffed a chunk of the cookie into her mouth. "You're so full of crap, Louisa."
It was evident from the patchy shade of pink dusting Louisa's cheeks that she and Brody weren't as involved as everyone thought.
Sage gave Mallory a wink. “Louisa has sworn off cowboys.”
“Damn, right, I have,” she concurred, firmly. “Something always gets broken when they’re around.”
Mallory wasn’t going to argue with that. Thinking Jess might be with Brandi was breaking her heart in two.
“Whoa,” Violet said, sitting up straighter in her chair as the sheriff’s cruiser pulled up behind Brody’s truck. “Forget Brody Vance. If I cross the street to kiss a cowboy, it’ll be that roughneck with the badge on his chest.”
Sage puckered her lips with a deep, “Noooo…”
Eleanor gave Violet a wince. "I have to side with Sage on this one. Finn is too close to family for kissing."
"He's Tyler's brother, not mine," Violet informed her. "That makes him fair game for a mutiny."
Mallory wanted to know what that was all about but wasn’t going to ask questions about the Gates family tree when she barely knew Violet.
“You wouldn’t?” Louisa asked, shocked by the mention of a rebellion involving the sheriff.
“Oh, I would,” Violet answered, watching Finn with a keen eye. “In a heartbeat. Logan was pissed at me for weeks after I bid on Finn at the bachelor auction last year. Something must be done to show my brothers that I’m not a kid anymore.”
“Having a fling with Finn Durant would prove that,” Eleanor said, with a quick raise of her brows.
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Sage murmured into her cup.
“Imagine that.” Louisa gently elbowed Violet in the ribs while grinning nefariously. “Our sweet little Vi sexing it up with the sheriff.”
Everyone, including Violet, burst into laughter and more teasing and talk followed.
Mallory sipped her latte and watched the lighthearted antics between the friends. The comradely and playful ribbing was refreshing and kept her mind on something other than her problems.
They were strong, independent women who embraced each other’s flaws and fears with love and support.
They undoubtedly knew why Mallory had come to Santa Camino and why she was staying at the Rescue. But they had greeted her without judgment or questions, accepted her and made her feel welcome among the sisterhood.
The Fallen Cowboy
Coldiron Cowboy: Book 2