*** Arnie, Rachel's father, and Rosella play cupid - Logan and Rachel don't stand a chance....
*** Someone from Arnie's past vows vengeance...
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~ Ornery is a man named Arnie ~
"Miss Rachel, Mr. Arnie is rather persistent to see you. And you, too, Mr. Logan," Rosella said as she approached them.
"Okay, we're coming, Rosella," said Rachel.
Logan followed her as they quickly took off toward the house.
As soon as the three reached the porch, Logan opened the door for the women to enter but caught Rachel by the arm. "I'm sorry about what happened at the corral just now - I was completely out of line."
"I believe that I'm more to blame than you are, Logan. Please, we must go to Daddy."
When Logan and Rachel walked into her father's bedroom, Rosella fussed with his blankets "Mr. Arnie, you must calm down."
"Daddy, I'm here," said Rachel her brow crinkled with worry. "Why are you so upset?"
"I want to see Logan, too," Arnie said as he struggled to sit up. Rosella helped him. "Confound it. This is good enough, ole girl." He took a deep breath and leaned against the propped pillows.
Logan came to stand beside Rachel, his body tense, and his voice full of anxiety. "I'm right here. What's on your mind, old man?"
"I want you to promise me something, boy."
"No problem. What do you need?"
"Rachel, come here and take my hand."
"Of course, Daddy," she said and complied. "What is it? Logan has everything under control with the men. I have the books up to scratch. And, I agree with you both about hiring on more help. So, all you have to do is listen to Doc and Rosella, and before you know it you'll be telling us all what to do again."
"I'm not worried about the ranch, little one." Arnie patted his daughter's hand. He gave Logan a man-to-man look, his brow arched and voice resolute. "Remember, you just said this wouldn't be a problem for you."
"I did," reaffirmed Logan.
"I guess I don't need to tell you it don't matter to a hill of beans you aren't my blood. I raised you. You're my boy in the only way that matters."
Arnie's words touched a chord in Logan. "There is no denying I have always looked to you and Maddie as my folks."
"Then I want you to listen up, boy, and mind your promise." Arnie cleared his throat. "I want you to marry Rachel and take over the Dangling W."
Rachel gasped in surprise.
Logan choked. "What's wrong with you, embarrassing Rachel like that, old man?"
"When you're on your way out like I am," said Arnie, "you see a lot of things in perspective, boy, and what I read in your eyes for my daughter is exactly what I felt for my Maddie - love - plain and simple."
"You are infuriating, Dad -"
Arnie interrupted his daughter and pointed his shaky finger at her, "I see the both of you mooning over each other. I'm just the one pointing out what needs saying. I know, hell, we all know I don't have many more wagers left on this side of no return."
"But Daddy that is not true. You are better."
"No, but Daddy, me, I'm calling it as I see it."
"Mr. Arnie," said Rosella, "here is your remedy. You must calm down."
Logan and Rachel stepped back. As Rosella approached with the remedy, a small amount of brandy, they could not see the wink Arnie gave her.
He whispered, "How am I doing, partner in crime?"
She smiled and winked. "I believe you have these children flummoxed with your carrying on, Mr. Arnie. Here, now, take your remedy and calm down." She handed it to him and moved away.
"Well, Logan." Arnie's voice boomed after swallowing the brandy.
"Hell's fire, old man, Rosella is right. You've left me speechless, and for damned sure Rachel is embarrassed to no end!"
"Balderdash, there isn't a man or a woman alive in love that hasn't been embarrassed at some time or another!"
"But Daddy, Logan was Daniel's best friend, how-"
"Here we go again with, but Daddy. I'm telling you, Rachel, Daniel would want you to get on with your life. And you for damn sure know it, too! Besides, there's no better man he would consider good enough for you - but Logan."
"Oh Daddy!" Rachel said shaking her head. Her body trembled from disbelief or shock, she couldn't decide. She looked at Logan standing at the end of the bed and tried to read his expression. What she saw was the two of them moments ago, and still the electricity between them very much hanging in the air. Rachel had to escape the craziness, so she fled from her father's room. She walked out the front door and straight to the gazebo, to her childhood safe-haven where she could regain her sense of composure.
"Well, are you waiting for an invitation, boy? Go after her and make things right."
"Old man, somebody should have strung you up when you were still a pup," Logan retorted, though he in truth wanted to laugh along with the old matchmaker whom he could see stifling a chuckle. Logan shook his head, pivoted on his heel and left the room with the kiss he and Rachel shared heavy on his mind. He could still taste her.
"Well, Rosella," chuckled Arnie, "do you think we stirred up the pot?"
"Mr. Arnie," she laughed, "the pot is stirred up so much that we could have us some hot tamales very soon."
Even though the Arizona night air had a chill, Rachel felt nothing, her frustration with her father superseding. How could Daddy have embarrassed Logan and me as he did?
"A penny for your thoughts," said Logan, his voice husky.
"I'll wager a wagon full of pennies couldn't sort out my confused head," Rachel bemoaned. "You'd think I'd be used to Daddy and his schemes by now." She was glad for the seclusion the gazebo offered. She didn't have to hide her weary tears. "I'm sorry for the way Daddy embarrassed you - us."
"No need to apologize to me about Arnie. He's been the devil since I came here to live, and I don't suppose that will change at this point." He stood on the middle step of the gazebo with his hands tucked into his front pockets. "Don't say anything until I'm finished, okay?"
She held her breath. "Okay."
Logan cleared his throat. "Truth be told, considering what passed between us earlier, and what the old man just said, I'm not so sure I want to fight what I feel for you anymore. And, just so there's no misunderstanding, I want to set the record straight. Everything I am is because of the Dangling W. Regardless of what may or may not happen between us, Rachel. I meant what I said to you about not leaving."
Logan turned to leave, and then stopped. "I'll not force myself on you. Having said that, I give you fair warning, if you decide to explore your feelings toward me, I'll not hold back." He hesitated. "Just so you know Arnie was right. I have fallen in love with you. And that woman and children you thought I needed has your name written all over it, honey." Without another word, he left her standing alone.
"Oh, Logan," she whispered into the night. "Could I be falling in love with you? I'm afraid it's too late to think of you as my dead husband's best friend, or my brother. After tonight, all I see is the man I crave - but is it enough?"
The next few days found Rachel woolgathering as she looked out the window more often than not. Completing her work became a chore. In fact, if she really thought about it, she decided that her father and his little outburst might have made the inevitable happen sooner.
It seemed all she could think about was Logan's words to her in the gazebo. Since she felt his lips on hers her nights were spent craving his kisses, his caress. She shook her head, propped her elbows on the desk with her chin on her clasped hands.
She had forgone her nightly walks because she didn't want to appear eager to see him until she was positive about her feelings. She knew the man far too well, and when he said he would pursue her; he would. Who was she kidding? She was indeed in for the ride of her life - she loved Logan Burke!
Logan tried his best to give Rachel her space. He deliberately stayed away from the corral during the evening to avoid accidental meetings. He didn't want to push her into anything she wasn't ready for, though his good intentions had him climbing the walls. On top on which, immersing his body in the cold pond was proving less effective!
His temper with the hands had become short too. In turn, they had teased him that he should go into town and visit Molly at the Golden Garter. He groaned. There would be no Molly's for him. Just the thought of such business made him sick to his stomach.
The Golden Garter was a dreary saloon, lacking in decor. It had not changed much over the twenty-seven years Reggie had been away. And, lucky for him, the soiled doves were all new, so no chance they would recognize him. The only threat to his person would be the owner, Jeb Stover. However, he had gotten on in years and rarely frequented the saloon, leaving his son-in-law, Hank Danton to run things. Reggie's changed appearance helped to hide his identity too. His hair was longer, he grew a beard, and the knife gash over his right eye and cheek did wonders to change his appearance. And the slight limp he had from a stab wound to his left thigh in a barroom brawl added to his mystery.
Reggie sat at table in the back of the saloon drinking from a bottle of whiskey while waiting for Max, a good friend since he saved his arse after a bar fight. There wasn't anything Max wouldn't do for him, and that's the way Reggie liked it. With what he had in mind, he needed a devoted ally. As luck would have it, his plan for revenge could begin since Max got a job at the Dangling W when the ranch advertised for help. A devious sneer covered his face. Reggie could feel the juices pumping. His retribution against Arnie Wesley would come slow, with great pain, and be so rewarding!
"Hey, my friend," said Max. The men shook hands as the noise in the saloon began to pick up.
"Max, I believe we need to make some plans for our first run on Arnie."
"You may be right. Especially now that old man Wesley's daughter is trying to run the ranch. And that love struck Logan can't see two feet in front of him for mooning over her. I think the next couple of weeks ought to give me the time I need to cast doubt on some of the hands at the Dangling W. Spread enough doubt, and then when things start happening, the old fart won't know where to cast blame when we make our first move."
"Two weeks it is then," said a greedy Reggie. I intend to make Arnie Wesley pay for interfering in my life, the dirty bastard!"