When I pulled into Winterlight for the very first time, I saw a loose cow coming straight at me down a long drive. I turned off my tired truck and got out, thinking I could show how helpful I am right off the bat. My dog, Noire, hopped down from the truck seat as well.
Mr. Malcolm, a short, bow-legged guy swathed in denim, shook a stick at the cow to keep it moving, and Mrs. Malcolm, who was a freaking Amazon in a plaid skirt, shouted something I couldn’t hear. Jesus. Was I in the Midwest, or what? Noire barked at the cow, who considered, head lowered. I shouted my dog back and stepped toward the beast. She grunted, I lobbed a clod of dried horse manure at her, and she tossed her head up, thought better of whatever was passing through her pathetic little brain, then shuffled through the opening to join her herd mates. I shut the gate.
“Hope that’s where you wanted her,” I said as the Malcolms came up. On closer inspection, I saw the person I thought was Mrs. Malcolm was a man in a plaid skirt.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he yelled at me.
This was a bad start. I swallowed my sarcastic tone and said, “Helping?”
The little guy looked away quick to hide a smile. He had a face like a tattered linen shirt left too long balled up in the bottom of a drawer, but the grin ironed the wrinkles from his cheeks. The big guy’s skin tightened like my old trainer’s face used to when I didn’t ride the way he liked. His light-brown hair picked up the last traces of sunlight in golden sparks.
“Do all Easterners think they walk on water, or do you know something about bulls we don’t?”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small crowd gathered in front of the barn—five riders and a sixth person I assumed was their instructor. An audience. Was it too late to crawl into my truck and slither away?
The man in the skirt didn’t control the sarcasm in his voice, so I really had to breathe deeply to keep from saying something I shouldn’t. Did he say bull?
“Did you say bull?”
“Christ,” he muttered. He slapped one hand up to his big, square jaw—he needed a shave—fingers on one cheek, thumb on the other, and drew his hand down his face in obvious frustration. He addressed his companion who so far had said nothing. “My new manager doesn’t know the difference between a heifer and a bull.”
I glanced from one to the other. Obviously, the big guy was Mr. Malcolm. I leaned back to get a better look at him, skirt and all. It was a kilt, actually. I knew that much. A well-worn one. Great legs. Never thought I’d find a man in a skirt attractive, but this guy would look good in a tutu—Pen’s third rule came to mind: Don’t get involved with the boss.
I stuck out my hand to shake. “Mr. Malcolm?”
He regarded me critically, the way I’d done him, then took my hand. I squeezed hard—my hands are strong—and before he could say anything else, I added, nice as could be, “You hired me to take care of your horses, not your cows.”
In the short run, Malcolm and I made each other cranky. Long term…oh, I probably still make him cranky. Something that doesn’t make me cranky? Kilted yoga.
Join me tomorrow for L is for Limp.
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