Excerpt: Three Sheep to the Wind
Rich’s eye twitched as he noticed something out of place among his flock. When the miscreant creature was younger, it had just been a little ball of white fluff, easier to hide among the cloud of milling ewes. Now its height made it glaringly obvious. The darn thing thought Carrie, Rich’s white-muzzled Border Collie, was its mum. With silky black fur, a tuft of white on her chest and a sprinkle of white on her tail, Carrie was a beaut. She had lost one of her litter last month and seemed to take in the invader as an adopted pup. Rich didn’t want to break them up, as with a soft whimper and a slow easing of her wagging tail, Carrie would listen.
No way, no how; he wasn’t going to play the villain again. This was the Banner brothers’ fault, and they should have to suffer under those soulful blue puppy eyes. He grimaced just thinking about it and rested his hip against the railing of the porch.
Ever since the Banner brothers moved in next door, life had been a series of mishaps. They never caught him at a good time, and he’d taken to glaring. The alternative was worse, much worse. A genetic curse meant he’d grown up with an easy blush. He recalled all too vividly his childhood years of being called Baby Tomato and Richie Rooster. God, and then when a Red Lobster opened up in town: it wasn’t funny. Neither was Princess Ruby. The story behind that shame didn’t bear thinking on—still too fresh.
Since then, he’d discovered a safety mechanism in which a good hard squint canceled out the heat.
It was that or commit murder.
His sister said it was just plain glaring. Clint Eastwood would be proud. With the Banner brothers as protective as they were of each other, Rich’s persistent glaring during their repeated encounters had led to less than friendly relations between their farms. Unfortunately, their lands shared a border, and that still left them neighbors. He’d call them and take care of this fence-jumping business… just… after he finished his morning coffee.
It wasn’t avoidance.
He was just giving Carrie a few extra minutes with the crazy piece of fluff. The memory of his first meeting with the Banners drifted in his mind, as hazy as the fogged horizon with dawn just beginning to clear the cobwebs…
Rich smiled as a mixture of success and pride suffused all the way to his fingertips. It had been a great day. Faribault Farm’s ram was champion of the Cairn Show, largest show this side of the Miss-suh-sip, and with six sons, Champion George would make sweeps at any auctions for the year. He went ahead and let his fingers express his exuberance, tapping out a random happy jig on the steering wheel. The landmarks indicated he was fifteen minutes from home-sweet-home and a hot shower. Champion or no, every contender’s quarters basically consisted of a cubicle of hay and a blanket to bed down on, so Rich was looking to pick out the hay and clean off the smell of wool and oxide.
The scent of bacon fat and cast-iron corn bread saturated the air. His smile got even wider. Rosie had been ranch-sitting. He got a full lungful of the enticing home-cooked goodness once he climbed out of the truck, urging him to hustle inside already. Mouth watering and mind wandering, Rich climbed the steps and reached to open the door, not hearing the chuffing breaths fast approaching.
An alarmed “Daisy!” preceded his turning around. His vision filled with white fur.
Rich’s breath whooshed out as he slammed against the door. Not built to withstand a combined three hundred and thirty pounds of man and dog, it cracked and they both fell through.
Rosie yelped. A cascade of ice and tea rained down on him.
The offending dog, Daisy, had her paws on his chest, pinning him in place, and was having a grand time licking up the tea. Rich didn’t blame her. Once he’d caught his breath, his tongue confirmed it was Rosie’s sun-sweetened ice tea. He could drink a whole pitcher of it straight, though this time his clothes had done that for him.
Having heard the truck, Rosie had likely been coming out with a pitcher of the tea. She stood to his right with the empty pitcher hugged to her chest as her other hand covered her mouth. Mirth danced in her eyes. Rich tried to give her his most menacing stare but couldn’t muster up any real ire. If it had been her, he’d probably be in stitches.
Rich sat up with Daisy happily occupying his lap and promptly felt like falling back over. He seemed to be seeing double. Four apologetic eyes, two sets of teeth biting into lush bottom lips, except one seemed to be gnawing in general worry and the other in preamble to laughter.
His glare came out full force.
“We’re so sorry,” one of the men, the more worried looking one, breathed out, breaking the frozen tableau. “Daisy’s always been a lap puppy. She’s really a great herder. An Akbash. From Turkey! Well, Daisy’s not from Turkey, just a breeder back home. We were just taking a walk round the borders—we’re moving in next door—and she’s always been real friendly. And she gets excited whenever she smells…” With no outward change in Rich’s reaction, his volume had been steadily decreasing, while the other man’s humor was quickly sinking to a frown. He meekly eked out the last word, “…corn.”
During the rambling explanation, Daisy had moved off of Rich’s lap to place a paw on her owner’s calf, responding to his distress.
Things would have only deteriorated. Luckily, Rosie stepped in. “It’s no problem! The door’s been inflating with the rain, so we shoulda replaced it ages ago.”
“Please, let us take care of that. It’s the least we could do”
Frown-face kept his eyes on Rich. Rich didn’t dare relent.
“No, you’ve just moved in. You’ve probably got tons to set up. Rich has got a screen door he was gonna install for the girls. Extra door on top of that’s no problem.”
“Please, I insist. We’ll get the door and we’ll do the installing. Ma’am, we must.”
“Well, if you insist. And it’s Missus or Rosie, none of that ma’am business”
“Holt and Hyland Banner, ma- Missus. It’ll be Twisted Creek Llama Ranch next door.”
“That there on the floor is Richard. Welcome to Faribault Farms.”