Kevin strolled into the barn whistling a casual tune. Cass’s stallion was not in his stall as Kevin ambled past it. The saddle was there, sitting on the sawhorse. “That’s odd,” he remarked as he lead the mare to her stall.
The mare pranced sideways as Kevin unsaddled her, “Easy sweetheart.” Brushing her slowly they both jumped and the mare nickered when they heard a thump and then another. Kevin walked down towards the noise. Glancing over the stall door, he laughed. “Hey A.J., I see Cass found you.”
Leaning on the stall door, Kevin was busting a gut laughing so hard. Swinging open the door, he crouched down to A.J. who sat hopelessly bound and gagged in the hay. Pulling the sweatband from his mouth, Kevin swiped his fingers down his pant leg, not wanting A.J.’s spit on his hands.
“What the hell did you say to her?” A.J. yelled as loud as he could.
“Chill out man,” Kevin tried to undo the knot that tightened every time he pulled on the end.
“Ouch!” A.J. sat Indian style on the floor of the stall.
“What happened?” Kevin tested the ropes trying to guess which one would set A.J. free.
“I was just standing in here with Annie, she was showing me some rope tricks. She’s good,” A.J. tried to move but couldn’t.
“Damn these are tight,” Kevin tried another end.
“No shit! Anyway, Cass came riding in here like the devil. She jumped off that damn hay-burner and she punched me!” A.J. turned sideways to see if Kevin was listening.
“And?” Kevin shook his head. The knots were good, nothing like he had ever seen.
“She cussed me out in front of the kid, then she knocked me down.” A.J. was still offended over it; a woman had beaten him up. Cass of all people, his friend. “She’s really pissed, she tied me up, and then they left me.”
A whiney sound at the end of the barn let them know that someone was coming. “It’s them,” Kevin sighed. He stood up and waited for her. Cass lead the horse into the barn, with Annie holding her hand.
Annie saw Kevin and ran to him, she laughed as she signed rapidly, “Mom had tied A.J. up for fun.”
Cass coughed knowing that neither Kevin nor A.J. would catch every word from those flying fingers.
“Game over,” Cass walked into the stall, she tugged one knot and the entire mess fell to the floor. “Next time you stick your nose in my business Alexander James I will leave you in the bull pen like this.” Cass made it a point that Annie heard the first part but not the second.
“Sorry Cass, I thought I was doing the right thing,” A.J. dropped his head.
“Apology accepted. Now, I want everyone out of here tomorrow.” Cass walked away as A.J.’s mouth fell open.
“Cass,” A.J. followed her. Kevin shot him a speculative look. Staying in the barn while A.J. whined wouldn’t help.
“Cass, maybe Aje could stay.” Kevin spoke as he walked by. He didn’t want him too but Cass didn’t know that.
“No, I want everyone gone but him. We need to work some things out.” Cass watched the door for Kevin to leave. She hadn’t needed to ask him to take Annie with him. Annie had latched onto his pinky finger and followed along. She waited.
“Are you sure?” A.J. helped her with the saddle.
“Not really but let’s face it, I don’t have a choice.” Cass dropped herself onto a tack box. “I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. I hate him most days but she needs him, especially right now.” A loud sigh escaped her as her eyes focused on the floor, not really sure now if her thinking was correct.
Two hands cupped her face, a sweet kiss on her lips. It was a nice kiss, but it was chaste compared to the one that had taken place just a short time ago. “We’ll never be lovers, so I had to get that out of my system.”
She gave him a smile; he gave her a hug. “We can be best friends and I make a great referee, just ask the guys.”
“You can’t stay A.J., he’s agreed and I believe him when he says won’t take her from me. Besides you would tell me wouldn’t you?” Cass was pleading with her eyes. She wanted A.J. to fortify that what she was doing was the right thing.
“Yeah I would and I’m only going because you asked me too,” A.J. put his shades back on. “Too think I was tied up by a woman, it wasn’t voluntary, and I didn’t even get laid.”
A loud laugh that sounded like music came from behind him. The sound gave him the sign that they were ‘okay’ again. A.J. turned and buzzed back into the barn, “I got an idea.”
He danced around her while she worked. “Let’s go to dinner, you and me. I can go make all the arrangements for us to leave tomorrow. That way they don’t give you a hard time. Pops can baby-sit. What do ya think?”
“Oh A.J. I don’t know,” Cass had serious doubts on this idea.
“Come on, we can go put the feedbag on, do a two-step. Just you and me, we’ll leave the assholes here. Come on please... I’m leaving tomorrow, you’ll be gone all day, I won’t be able to say good-bye.”
“Do you think he would tell her who he is?” Cass arched her brow. Going out seemed like a great idea right now. A chance to get some space, get something to eat, have a few beers. She knew A.J. wouldn’t drink but she could and not offend him.
“Honestly, no,” A.J. was serious and he was also convinced that Kevin wouldn’t do this to Cass or Annie. He could never imagine Kevin telling Annie without Cass there for support.
“This is crazy but if you think that he would be okay, then I say yes,” she gave him hug. “You have phone calls to make and I have to find something to wear.”
“I bid you adieu’ fair lady,” he grinned as he gave you a deep bow, swiping his baseball cap almost over the floor.
“You’re crazy,” she grinned.
“Yes I am, this comes from many years of being cooped up with Mr. Responsibility, Mr. Negotiator, Mr. Christian, and....”
“Can’t think of one for Nick?” Cass giggled.
“No, I can’t,” he turned and walked out of the barn, leaving Cass in a fit of hysterics.
A.J. danced into the house, grabbing his cell phone he punched in his travel agent. “I need four, first class tickets to Orlando for tomorrow.” He listened to the babbling on the other end. “Yes, I said tomorrow. Look I know there aren’t too many flights out of here; just hook us up something to get us home, Brian needs to go to Atlanta, Nick to the Keys.”
Patiently he waited as he danced around the kitchen. Kevin and Annie came to stand at the door, the commotion getting their attentions. A.J. gave them the thumbs up. “Wow that much, not a problem, here charge it to this card.” A.J. rattled off the number, Kevin’s brow creased and then creased some more.
A.J.’s smiled, “Careful your face may freeze that way, it would scare little kids.”
Annie laughed, Kevin stewed, A.J. had just booked tickets out of town, on short notice, first class, on his credit card. Kevin walked around the room; A.J. had a sparkle in his eyes. Kevin was pissed.
“Ease up old man, kids are watching,” A.J. cackled as Kevin stalked him around the table.
“Not funny A.J.,” Kevin immediately stopped when Cass walked in the backdoor.
Cass walked directly to Kevin; he put his hands out in defense. She stopped in front of him. “Would you baby-sit Annie for me tonight?”
“Umm, yeah. Why?” Kevin’s eyes bounced around the room from Annie, who was wildly excited, to A.J. who was just as excited and back to Cass.
“I’m going out to dinner and dancing. I’m giving you a chance, don’t blow it,” Cass uttered as she walked out of the room.
Kevin was wearing a soured expression; Annie tugged on his sleeve. “You don’t want to watch me?” her face had heart-broken written all over it.
“Oh no, Annie I want to stay with you,” Kevin smiled.
Annie was puzzled he needed to clear this up and quickly. “I was just surprised, I didn’t think you’re mom went out much, that’s all.”
“She goes but only with Chase,” Annie garbled.
“Chase Jackson?” Kevin prompted.
Annie nodded a yes.
“Really. Do they go out a lot?”
“Not in a long time,” Annie offered.
“Oh,” Kevin smiled contented with the answer.
“Yeah oh,” A.J. snickered as he left the room. “Don’t pump the kid, it’s rude.”
Kevin began digging through the refrigerator trying to make a meal, then the rest of the troops landed back at the ranch. Annie and Kevin played in the kitchen as everyone took a backseat to see how he would do with it.
Annie spilled the milk; they both cleaned it up. She struggled to get something out of a high cupboard; he helped her get it. Annie broke a dish and Nick winced, he waited for the lecture to start. It didn’t, Kevin reached down and plucked the little girl from the floor. He set her on the counter and told her sternly not to move shaking his finger in her face.
The noise of a collective exhale filled the room. “Really, she’s just a kid,” Kevin admonished them as he swept up the mess.
“I was a kid too,” Nick pouted.
Kevin closed his eyes, “And some days Kaos, you still are.”
Cass laughed as she stood in the doorway to the kitchen. A low whistle came from Howie, “Look at you.”
“Thank you,” she twirled once.
“Where are you going?” Brian smiled with interest.
“On a date,” she grinned.
“With A.J.,” Kevin interpreted but with not as much merriment as Cass had shown.
“Hello beautiful, let’s go!” A.J. grabbed around the waist and spun her around. “Don’t wait up boys. Oh and we’re leaving tomorrow morning at ten,” A.J. two stepped her out the backdoor.
“Moron,” Kevin grumbled.
The room filled with laughter.
“Jealous much?” Nick chortled only to be backhanded in the head.
“Shut up,” Kevin watched from the kitchen window.
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