Hang tough, p.31
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       Hang Tough, p.31

         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  “I hear ya. Glad this ain’t a foreclosure. Those are the freakin’ worst.” He passed Tobin the clipboard.

  This time Tobin took his time flipping through the pages. Everything was laid out, exactly how it should be packed.

  Nothing from the barn was on the list.

  Nor the garage.

  He reached the last page.

  The signature and the date on the last page.

  If he’d eaten anything he might be sick.

  The moving van, the packing, everything had been set in motion . . . the day after Jade had arrived in Wyoming. The date? TBD. To be determined.

  Miz G never had a chance.

  But he knew Jade didn’t have a damn thing to do with any of it.

  Not only would she be upset for her grandmother, she’d have to deal with the fact her father had lied to her from the start. And in the end . . . he’d betrayed both his mother and his daughter.

  Jade will need you more than ever.

  Tobin’s boots felt encased in cement as he crossed back over to her.

  She scrambled to her feet. “What did you find?”

  He wrapped his arms around her. “I love you. I am here for you today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and the next decade. Please tell me you believe in us. That we’ll get through this and not only be together, but be stronger together.”

  “I promise. I love you. Now tell me.”

  And he did.

  Her tears were so silent he feared she’d stopped breathing.

  He just held her.

  Later, when they were sitting on the ground, Jade curled against his chest and lost in thought, the side doors on the moving van clanged shut. The ramps were loaded up in the back.

  The driver ambled over. “We’re done.”

  Tobin and Jade got to their feet.

  “You don’t need to sign nothin’. We gotta git so we can unload before dark.”

  Tobin almost asked where the stuff was being stored, but did it really matter?

  They held hands as they walked into the house. It was hard not to stop and stare in shock at the bareness of the rooms in front of them that had been so full of stuff. Full of life.

  Living room: empty of furniture.

  Dining room: no table, no china cabinet.

  Tobin clutched Jade’s hand as they entered the kitchen together.

  She made a soft gasp.

  Not a dish. Not a towel. Not a knickknack. Not a cookbook.

  Just the appliances.

  And one lone jar of strawberry champagne preserves on the counter.

  “Is this some kind of sick joke?” she demanded hoarsely.

  Tobin kissed her forehead. “Let’s get out of here. Go grab something to eat and figure out what to do next, okay?”

  She nodded.

  As they were walking out of the kitchen, the screen door slammed.

  Miz G stormed in.

  The three of them stood in the empty living room, staring at one another.

  Then Miz G noticed Tobin had his arm around Jade. Her eyes narrowed. “Who can explain what in tarnation is goin’ on here?”

  Jade had wondered all day what she’d say to GG.

  But now, standing in front of her, Jade’s mind blanked, her vocal cords shorted out and she couldn’t move away from Tobin’s side.

  He didn’t miss a beat. He kissed Jade’s forehead, knowing full well that GG watched. “We’re wondering the same thing. The day started like any other, then the next thing we knew, a moving van showed up. Me’n Jade both looked at the paperwork, but there wasn’t a damn thing we could do but stand outside and watch as they loaded everything. We tried calling your son, since it was his goddamned signature—”

  GG held up her hand, stopping Tobin’s flow of words before she turned away, toward the front door.

  Jade could see she’d put her hand over her mouth. Probably to keep herself from crying.

  Then GG slowly walked the width of the room and the length, down along the wall to the staircase, keeping her back to them the entire time. The floor squeaked more loudly in the empty space. Her footfalls faded as she headed into the sitting room. And then down the hallway. The doors to the bedrooms and closets were opened and closed.

  Through it all, Tobin kept Jade wrapped in his arms. His big hands in constant motion as he tried to soothe her.

  The footsteps returned and Jade’s heart jumped into her throat. The saloon doors clattered—angrily?—as GG entered the kitchen.

  Tobin kissed the top of Jade’s head. “Come on, tiger. Let’s face it head-on. Together.”

  “Okay.” Clasping Tobin’s hand, Jade led him into the kitchen.

  GG had her hands on her hips as she stood in the spot where the small table and chairs used to be.

  “GG?”

  “Dadgummit. They were supposed to leave the table and chairs here.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “Shoot. It’s probably too late for them to bring ’em back.”

  She was babbling. Probably from shock. “Grandma. Can we talk about this?”

  “Yep, because the time is finally right.” GG faced them. Her eyes were wet and her chin trembled.

  Tobin’s hands tightened on Jade’s shoulders.

  GG noticed. Then her enormous smile nearly swallowed her entire face. Tears still fell freely as she clapped her hands and cackled. “I knew it!” Then she bounced up and down as she repeated, “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!”

  “Miz G, you need to calm down.”

  “I will not. I’ve been waiting for this moment for . . .” She tapped her chin. “Seems like it’s been years, but it’s prolly only been a couple of months. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I was right.”

  “About?”

  “About you two being perfect for each other.”

  Jade hadn’t moved but she still went completely motionless.

  As did Tobin.

  “You’re in love, aren’t you? The crazy, hot, ‘I’m wild for you, I can’t live without you’ kinda love. You’re both there, aren’t you?”

  He cleared his throat. “Speaking for myself? Yep. That’s exactly where I’m at.”

  “And you, girlie-girl?” GG prompted.

  “I’m right there too.”

  GG dusted off her hands. “Then my work here is done.” She started to walk out of the kitchen.

  “Whoa, whoa, whoa, there. We’re not done here—bein’s that me and Jade have no freakin’ clue about what’s goin’ on and it sounds like there’s a lot.”

  “And we want to hear every single detail of your planning and scheming, GG,” Jade said firmly. “We can sit in here on the floor or there’s still furniture on the porch. Choose.”

  But GG’s focus was on Tobin’s hand cupped on the ball of Jade’s shoulder. She sent them both a soft smile. “He’s sweet, isn’t he? Always gotta be touchin’ you I’ll bet. Partially because he loves you and wants to show you, but also because he is thankful for you. That he’s finally got a woman he can love on anytime he wants.” Her chin wobbled again. “That’s all I ever wanted for you two.”

  Neither Jade nor Tobin knew what to say after that, so GG jumped right in again.

  “My old bones can’t take sitting on the floor. I’ll meet you on the porch.” She patted Tobin’s hand on Jade’s shoulder as she shuffled past them and out the door.

  Jade immediately started after her, but Tobin spun her around and said, “Hang on. Let’s take a moment to talk this through.”

  “Talk what through? How she manipulated both of us . . . for our own good?”

  Tobin groaned, but he wore a resigned smile. “She’s gonna be cocky about this forever, you know that, right?”

  “She’s entitled. Nothing she tells us about her stealthy matchmaking skills will change the happy fact that it worked.” She shot a quick look over her shoulder. “But we are entitled to know every tiny detail so we have to keep her on task.”

  “Agree
d.” Tobin gave her a smacking kiss on the mouth. “The suspense is killing me. We’re both smart and we should’ve seen this coming a mile away.”

  She laughed. “I’m pretty sure she counted on us not looking at anything besides each other.”

  Outside on the porch, they settled side by side on the love seat. Tobin had nestled his arm behind Jade’s shoulders. GG was right about one thing; Tobin always had to be touching her. It was still new and sweet and thrilling and she hoped the day never came where she took it for granted.

  “All right, Miz G. Talk. Don’t leave nothin’ out.”

  Garnet folded her arms on the table and looked at Tobin. “Of all the guys around here, Tobin, you’re my favorite. You always have been. Everyone knows it. I’m gonna get into all the embarrassing particulars about why so you’ll just hush up and listen. I liked that you just showed up to check on me—winter and summer—or to watch one of my TV shows with me. You’ve fixed stuff around here. You’ve kept me from getting too out of hand a few times. You never told me to act my age. You never judged me. You’re a hard worker. You’re loyal to your friends. You have a kind heart and a great sense of humor. You’re exactly the kind of man I wanted for my granddaughter.”

  Jade turned her head and kissed Tobin’s knuckles.

  “But I knew I couldn’t force it. Heck, if I would’ve introduced you two to each other, you really would’ve rejected my attempt at matchmaking.”

  “Too true.”

  “And it wasn’t like I thought ‘these two are perfect for each other’ from the start. It never crossed my mind, to be honest. But that changed when I watched you getting more and more discouraged, Tobin. Your life wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t the life you wanted.”

  GG looked at Jade. “Same with you, sweetheart. You never ventured far from your life in the city. I started to think it was just a habit, easier to stay than go. It’s pained me knowing you were working yourself damn near to exhaustion as you struggled to find your own place in the world. You weren’t to the miserable stage yet, but that’s where you were heading.”

  “GG, how did you know all of that?” She squirmed under her grandmother’s increased scrutiny. “I’m not trying to be contrary, but we see each other less than half a dozen times a year. We talk on the phone every couple of weeks. So that doesn’t seem like enough contact or context to fill in the blanks about the level of happiness in someone’s life.”

  She nodded. “You’re right. But your dad and mom have always kept me in the loop when it comes to you. Sometimes they even asked for parenting advice.”

  Jade’s jaw dropped. “They did?”

  “Uh-huh, and I’ll be gol-durned if they didn’t even take it a couple of times! Anyway. Your daddy’s been a lot more worried about you since you had that breakdown.”

  For once, she didn’t even bother to correct her and claim it was the flu. “How often do you and my dad talk?”

  GG tapped her fingers on her arm as if she was counting. “Oh, at least twice a week. Sometimes more.”

  “Then he knew you’d be fine living by yourself! So his ‘I won’t make a decision until I hear from you’ promise was a lie. He signed those papers for the moving van the day after I arrived in Wyoming. So regardless of what he said, he—”

  “Now, just a dadgum minute, girlie. Don’t you be blaming nothin’ on your daddy.”

  Tobin squeezed Jade’s shoulder to keep her from lashing out.

  “But he signed the papers. We saw it, Grandma.”

  “Nope. You saw G. Evans’ signature and assumed it was his, when it was mine.” She smirked. “Neat trick, huh?”

  “You wouldn’t say that if you saw how upset Jade got over this today,” Tobin said sharply. “And I was plenty upset myself, Miz G.”

  “Oh pooh. Lemme finish and then you can throw rotten tomatoes at me.” She shook her finger at them. “Some of those are past canning stage and I don’t gotta ask what the two of you have been doin’ instead of putting up my tomatoes.”

  When Jade felt Tobin’s abdominals shaking she elbowed him.

  “So where was I?” GG closed her eyes and mumbled to herself before she said, “Aha! Now I remember. So Jade is unhappy. Tobin is unhappy. I knew you’d be happy together, but I couldn’t force it so I had to . . . resort to tomfoolery.”

  Tobin snorted.

  “It started months back. I got a drunk and disorderly charge on purpose. Pearl made sure that happened.”

  Jade noticed the hard set to Tobin’s jaw. He’d been there the next morning to take her home. He’d told Jade that in retrospect, he felt he’d failed Garnet by not keeping a better eye on her.

  “You know, I wondered at the time why you weren’t more embarrassed about that, Miz G.”

  “I don’t know what I was so gol-durn afraid of. I had my own cell. And those jumpsuits are pretty comfy. I thought about getting some purple plaid material and having Tilda make me a couple of pairs to wear around the house.”

  “Getting offtrack again,” Tobin said. “Back to it.”

  She sighed. “Anyway. Pearl called Garwood and told him about the arrest. She’s been feeding him stuff, mostly baloney, ever since.” GG looked at Tobin. “Then you gave notice at the Split Rock. We had to think fast. So the next part is kind of a blur for reals.”

  “Was my dad in on this?” Jade asked.

  “Not really. After Pearl tattled to him about the pistol-firing incident, Gar did call me. I told him I had a friend staying with me. A male friend. A young male friend.” She slapped the table. “That put the starch in his spine. I told him if he didn’t like it maybe he oughta send Jade out here and she could make sure he wasn’t fleecing me. Then everything just fell into place from there.”

  “Your son never threatened to lock you away in Cheyenne, did he?”

  “No. I kinda feel . . . bad about him bein’ the patsy on that.”

  “You didn’t consider me the patsy?” Tobin said tightly. “Because I was more than a little nasty to Jade about it.”

  “And I didn’t trust him and his charming ways from the start,” Jade inserted.

  “Because he wasn’t using his charms on you, girlie. He was being himself—not the Boy Scout or the ‘nice kid’ everyone’s made him out to be.”

  Jade sensed Tobin’s surprise—and maybe his relief—that GG had picked up on that.

  “So the whole . . . ‘you two can’t be in the same room together’ rule?” Tobin asked.

  “It worked, didn’t it?” A smug expression settled on GG’s face. “Lordy, was it ever entertaining watching you two try and get around that rule every gol-durn time I had my back turned! If I would’ve insisted you buck up and figure out a way to get along . . . you would’ve resisted. But insisting you keep away from each other at all times. Pretty smart idea, if I do say so myself.”

  Tobin laughed. “I will grant you that one, Miz G. It drove me crazy that every time I had this gorgeous woman to myself, you interrupted.”

  GG buffed her nails on her shirt.

  “I will say the lie detector test went over the top, though.”

  GG blinked at Tobin. “What lie detector test?”

  Jade elbowed him again. “Just some fun and games that backfired on me. Trust me; you don’t want to know the details.” Evidently not all of the Mud Lilies were part of this matchmaking operation. No wonder they grilled her about GG’s plans. They believed everything she’d been telling them.

  “This next part? Let’s keep it PG, kiddos. You two hitting the sheets was inevitable. The last thing you lovebirds needed was an old woman around all the time cooling your ardor.”

  Jade grinned at the lovely phrasing—so different than Tobin’s self-declared “sex-fest.”

  “Pretty amazing that you became this”—she gestured between them—“in such a short amount of time. I’m plumb tickled. And maybe feelin’ like a hotshot because I was right. You both love me, and I love both of you, so how can you not love each other?”

  “You d
o have a point.” Tobin looked at Jade. “I don’t care how this came about. I only care that we’re together from here on out.”

 
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