“Didja get it?”
“You’re a good shot.”
“Comes from lots of practice, on all sorts of guns, with all sorts of prey.”
Edgard muttered, “Remind me not to piss you off.”
Holding the rifle across her lap, she popped the emergency brake and slammed the truck into gear.
“What do you do with it if it’s dead?”
“Nothin’. Leave it as crow bait.”
“You don’t skin it?”
She shook her head.
“Why not? Isn’t there money in skins?”
“The hide and tail should be worth cash, but you’ll see why the majority of coyotes around here are worthless.”
After Chassie crested the rise, she slowed, seeing the form lying on the grayish-white snow. Once they were within ten feet of the carcass, she stopped the truck.
They both hopped out and met at the hood.
“Holy shit that’s nasty,” Edgard said.
The male coyote was scrawny, emaciated to the point each rib showed. The front and back legs were stick-thin and covered in oozing sores. The animal’s fur was matted in places; bald spots dotted the rest of the skeletal body. Only four teeth were visible from the slackened jaw.
“What is it?”
“Scabies. It’s an epidemic. It doesn’t matter, young, old, male, female, the disease thrives in the dens. Lucky thing this one is out of the gene pool before mating season starts.”
“Yeah. He looks like he’s had some good luck all right.”
Chassie couldn’t resist teasing, “Hey, there’s a hacksaw under the seat. We could chop off the paws and convince folks that coyote feet are much luckier than rabbit feet.
Bet we could make a pile of cash.”
“You have a seriously sick sense of humor.”
She smacked a kiss on his baby smooth cheek. “You’re so sweet. You ready for lunch?”
Edgard gave a mock shudder. “I take it back. You are plain evil.”
Since they were already out and about, Chassie took Edgard on an extended tour of the ranch. She pointed out the river valley and the summer grazing lands beyond it.
“You really love this chunk of earth, don’t you?”
Chassie’s cheeks flamed. “Sorry. I’m a little enthusiastic even after twenty-five years.”
“You’ve never lived anywhere else?”
“Never wanted to.”
He seemed to consider that. “So are you just content to stay here carrying on the family tradition, living on land, doing the same types of agricultural things that haven’t changed for three generations?”
“I didn’t say that. There’s been a few changes since Trevor and I took over. Things my dad wouldn’t consider but were necessary. There are lots of new avenues I’d like to try.”
“I’d like to raise goats.”
“No. I’m serious.”
“Does Trevor know?”
“Nope. I’d never convince him it’s an animal we need. So it’s pointless to ask him for a llama too.” She smiled. “I miss the old dairy cow we had before my mom got sick, so it’d be fun to have goats to milk. Heck, I’d even try my hand at makin’ goat cheese.”
He chuckled again. “Chassie the goat-herder. There’s a fantasy worth visiting. I’m getting an image of you wearing a skimpy X-rated Little Bo-Peep type costume with black vinyl f**k-me boots and a leather whip instead of a staff.”
“Kinky. You sound exactly like Trevor.” And why did the idea that Edgard found her fantasy material please her so much?
They chatted easily, as if they’d been friends for years, which was odd, considering Edgard and Trevor were the ones who supposedly had the long-term friendship. Odder yet was the fact Chassie hadn’t seen any sign of that close friendship.
By the time they returned to the ranch, a couple of hours had passed, during which they’d discovered a mutual love of horror flicks, card games, and 1970s soul music.
But if Trevor’s angry expression was any indication of his mood, she doubted he’d be thrilled to learn of the interests she and Edgard shared. The second she’d parked the truck, he stalked over and threw open the door. “Where the hell have you guys been?”
“It doesn’t take three f**kin’ hours to feed the cows.”
“We had extra time so I took Ed on a tour of the ranch.”
“Durin’ this private tour with Ed, did it occur to you that you hadn’t taken your goddamn cell phone along? And maybe I worried that you’d gotten stuck or something?”
Stung by his sharp tone, she retorted, “If you were so worried you could’ve tracked me down on one of the four-wheelers.”
Sugar worked better than vinegar with her grumpy—jealous?—husband. Chassie jumped into his arms and he staggered backward. Before he started another diatribe, she peppered his scowling face with kisses. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to give you more gray hairs, darlin’. Let me make it up to you. However you want.”
“I like the sound of that.” Trevor whacked her ass twice before setting her down.
Edgard stopped in front of the truck. Trevor took a step back from Chassie and from Edgard and they didn’t so much as look at each other.
Weird. “You guys hungry?”
“It’s at least an hour until lunchtime,” Trevor pointed out.
“We on a shed-jewel now?”
Her snooty pronunciation of schedule always amused him. He gave her his dazzling cowboy grin and her stomach flipped. Lord, she loved being married to this man.
Trevor bent down and kissed her. “Lunch later. I wancha to look at something in the barn first.”
Edgard said, “I’ll leave you to it. I’m going up to the house for a bit.”
Chassie followed Trevor into the metal barn. Stalls covered half of one side. Tractor parts littered the walking space on the other side. She stepped over the makeshift partition and saw Trevor stopping in front of the farthest stall.
She sidled up beside him, needing to stand on the lowest rung of the gate to see over the top. Meridian, the beautiful quarter horse they’d purchased the first month they’d married, stared back. “Is it time already?” Chassie asked Trevor.
“Either that or there’s a big storm comin’ ’cause she is mighty restless. She don’t wanna eat, neither.”