The hero does have a scheme in mind and has just talked Zed into step 1.
Zed, though, has one of his own: ensuring the future of the ranch and the happiness of his only daughter.
Before dawn, Stormy panics when she doesn't find Zed in bed. She needs to tell him she's taught Blade everything she knows about fencing, and he has team with someone else now.
Zed sat at the dining table with Blade, Brownie and Running Bear. He looked fit as a fiddle. As she approached, he slapped the table gleefully, something she hadn’t seen him do in months. “I think it’s a fine idea, son,” he said.
“What’s a fine idea?” she asked.
Blade looked down and fussed with his coffee cup. Brownie picked at a scab on one knuckle. Running Bear got up and walked into the kitchen.
Zed blinked several times before he answered. “Drawing a detailed map of the ranch.”
“We have to finish the fence,” she said. “We don’t have time to draw.”
“A schematic that includes the new section would be useful,” he said calmly.
“Useful for what?” she demanded. “We know the lay of the land.”
She wanted to shout, ‘So?’ but she could count. Four against one were bad odds. Biting her tongue, she marched into the kitchen. As she dished hash for her breakfast, she heard more whispering and then the scrape of chair legs. Certain now that the men were up to something, she sidled to the doorway and peeked out.
Running Bear walked out the front door. Zed, Brownie and Blade stood in front of the big bookshelf. Zed pulled his box of carved chess pieces from a shelf and opened it.
Blade plucked out a rook. “I’m not very good, but I’d love to play.”
Zed’s eyes glinted. “This evening?”
“All right, sir. It’s a deal.”
“Time to giddy-yup!” Running Bear’s voice rolled through the house like a rumble of far-off thunder.
Blade and Brownie scooped up their hats and gloves and hightailed out the front door.
Stormy dropped her plate of food onto the dining table and pushed past Zed. This was not the plan they’d agreed upon last night.
The angry shout rising to her lips fizzled to a soft sigh as she watched Blade stride across the yard. From the heel of his boots to the crown of his Stetson, he moved with the grace of a dancer and the sureness of a hunter. He mounted his mare in one smooth motion and looked back at her.
His gaze heated her body, lighting fires in places she didn’t know could burn. Just when she was sure she could not endure any more, he touched the brim of his hat, reached for Belinda’s reins and rode out between Brownie and Running Bear.
Her fluttering heart gradually regained a normal beat.
Two more weeks. He’d leave, and everything would return to normal.
She walked back inside. “Why isn’t Blade going for posts?”
“Because you are.” Zed opened the corner wardrobe, where they stored their special occasion clothes.
Her day turned from bad to worse. She could avoid Vance, but as soon as townspeople saw her, they’d remember how she’d slapped Blade in front of the Land & Loan. “No, I’m not.”
Zed pulled a button from the pocket of his Sunday jacket. “I need you to stop at Mrs. Rosenbaum’s. Find a button to match this one or buy thirteen new ones. I’ll sew them on this afternoon.”
Stormy tried to think of an excuse. The clothing emporium sold frilly dresses and breath-robbing corsets. Shoes with ribbon ties. Useless white gloves.
Suddenly, a truly awful image stabbed through her mind: Zed laid out in a pine box wearing this black jacket.
She forgot about the clothing emporium, and how surreal she felt whenever Blade was near. Maybe Zed was feeling poorly and wanted to get everyone else out of the house so he could talk to her alone. “Are you dizzy? Any pain in your left arm?”
“I feel fine.” He thumped his chest like a jungle ape. “Good enough to go dancing.”
Skeptical, she lifted his hands and examined the tips of his fingers. To her relief, they were pink and warm. “No dancing,” she said sternly. “Doctor’s orders. Remember?”Zed smiled like a Cheshire cat. “Your breakfast is getting cold."