Black Hills - Page 32

The way he saw it there was more money now-his-and more need-his grandparents’. After he fixed up the bunkhouse, it might be time to consider refiguring the tack room in the barn and making it into quarters for a permanent farmhand.

He’d have to take that kind of change slowly, Coop knew. One step at a time.

He went inside the old bunkhouse. Nearly as cold in as out, he thought, and wondered when the potbellied stove had last been fired up. There were a couple of bunks, an old table, a few chairs. The kitchen would serve for frying up a meal and little else.

The floors were scarred, the walls rough. There was a lingering scent of grease and possibly sweat in the air.

A far cry from his apartment in New York, he thought. But then, he was done with that. He’d have to see what could be done to make this habitable.

It could work, and with enough room for a small office. He’d need one here, as well as the one in town. He didn’t want to have to go over to the house and share his grandparents’ office every time he had something to do.

Bedroom, bathroom-and that needed serious updating-galley kitchen, office. That would do. It wasn’t as if he’d be doing any entertaining.

By the time he’d finished poking around, outlining basic plans, he began to think about the pie. He hoped his grandmother had cooled off by now.

He walked over, stomped his boots, and went in.

And there was Lil, Goddamn it, eating pie at the kitchen table. His grandmother gave him the beady eye but rose to get a plate. “Go on and sit. Might as well spoil your supper. Your grandfather’s up taking a nap, seeing as he’s worn out from riding the range. Lil had to make do with me, and she came all the way out to see Sam.”

“Well,” was all Coop said. He took off his coat and hat.

“You keep Lil company. I need to go up and check on him.” She slapped the pie and a mug of coffee down, then flounced out.

“Shit.”

“She’s not as mad as she’s acting.” Lil forked up some pie. “She told me the ride did Sam a world of good, but she’s pissed the two of you went off without telling her. Anyway, it’s good pie.”

He sat, took the first

bite. “Yeah.”

“She looks tired.”

“She won’t stop; she won’t even slow down. If she’s got ten minutes to sit down, she finds something else to do. They bicker day and night like a couple of ten-year-olds. Then…” He caught himself, caught himself talking to her as he might have done years before.

Before it ended.

He jerked a shoulder, forked up more pie. “Sorry.”

“It’s all right. I care about them, too. So you’re going to fix up the bunkhouse.”

“Word travels fast, since I only decided on that a couple hours ago.”

“I’ve been here nearly a half hour. Long enough to catch up on current events. You really mean to stay, then?”

“That’s right. Is that a problem?”

She lifted her brows. “Why would it be?”

He shrugged, went back to his pie.

“Not looking to be sheriff of Deadwood, are you?”

He glanced up, met her eyes. “No.”

“We were surprised when you quit the police force.” She waited a moment, but he didn’t respond. “I guess being a private investigator’s more exciting, and pays better than police work.”

“Pays better. Most of the time.”

She nudged the pie plate away to pick up her coffee. Settling in, he knew, to talk. Her lips curved, just a little. He knew the taste of them-exactly-the feel of them on his.

And the knowing was next to unbearable.

“It must’ve been interesting. The work.”

“It had moments.”

“So is it like it is on TV?”

“No.”

“You know, Cooper, you used to be able to actually hold a conversation.”

“I moved here,” he said shortly. “I’m helping run the farm and the horse business. That’s it.”

“If you want me to mind my own business, just say so.”

“Mind your own business.”

“Fine.” She slapped her coffee down and rose. “We used to be friends. I figured we could get back there. Apparently not.”

“I’m not looking to get back to

anything.”

“Clear enough. Tell Lucy I said thanks for the pie, and I’ll be around to see Sam when I can. I’ll try to make sure I stay out of your way when I do.”

When she stomped out, he scooped up another bite of pie, glad to be alone again.

8

It took little time for Lil to swing back into routine. She had everything she wanted-her place, her work, like-minded people to work with, the animals. She caught up with the mail and phone calls best dealt with personally, spent time working on proposals for grants.

There was never enough money.

She needed time to get to know the new crop of interns who’d come on while she’d been in the Andes, and to look over the reports of animals they’d treated and released-the injured wild brought to them.

She fed animals, cleaned them and their enclosures, assisted Matt in treating them. Days filled to bursting with the sheer physical demands. Evenings she reserved for writing-articles, papers, grant proposals, the bits of behind-the-scenes color that could influence a browser on the website to click on Donations.

Every night, alone, she checked the scope for Baby’s siblings, and other cats and wildlife they’d tagged over the years.

They’d lost some, to hunting season, to other animals, or just to age or accident. But she currently had six cougars who had originated in the Black Hills, tagged by her or one of the staff. One, a young male when tagged, had traveled to Iowa, another had ranged into Minnesota. The female from Baby’s litter had localized in the southwest of the Black Hills, occasionally roaming over into Wyoming during mating season.

She plotted locations, calculated dispersal distances, and speculated on behavior and choice of territory.

She thought it was time to buy a new horse, and go tracking. She had time before the spring season to capture and evaluate, tag and release.

In any case, she wanted some time in her own territory.

“You should take one of the interns with you,” Tansy insisted.

She should, she should. Education and training were essential arms of the refuge. But…