Here to Stay
“This is the closest house. I was hoping I might use the phone to call Triple A.”
    “You don’t got a cell phone?” He sounded skeptical, and she didn’t blame him. Most people had them nowadays.
    “No,” Mandy replied, and it wasn’t a lie. “I can’t afford one.”
    With the headlights outlining him in brightness, the older man resembled a sidekick character in an old black-and-white Western. The battered brim of his hat hung limply from the misshapen crown. His shoulder-length gray hair bushed out from under it like tufts of bedraggled moss. The cropped legs of his jeans skimmed the tops of worn, dusty riding boots.
    “Well, hell. I got me a cell phone, but it’s low on juice, and the charger is up in my apartment.” He rubbed his jaw, squinting at Mandy through the gloom. “Boss won’t like it if I let you in, but he’ll like it even less if I leave you stranded out here. Gonna get colder than a well digger’s ass tonight.”
    Mandy climbed down off the gate and jumped with a start when the old fellow wrested the flashlight from her hand. He directed the beam at the ground and snorted with disgust. “I’m good with engines, but I won’t be able to see under your hood with this sorry excuse.” He gestured toward his truck. “Hop in. I’ll take you up to the house. The boss has flashlights. Maybe I can have a look at your engine and figure out what’s wrong while you warm up over a cup of coffee.”
    “Oh, thank you .” Mandy wanted to do a victory dance. If this picturesque old ruffian was taking her to the boss’s home, she stood a good chance of being introduced to Zach Harrigan. And over a cup of coffee, she might have time to convince him to let her have first dibs on Rosebud when her training period ended. “It is cold out here, and I didn’t wear a heavy jacket because I planned to be mostly in the car.” Mandy failed to add that she’d dressed up to impress the man’s boss. “I’d freeze if I had to wait for a passerby to stop. There’s not much traffic out here.”
    As she circled the front fender of the gigantic truck, she heard her rescuer mutter, “ Car? More like a tin can on wheels if you ask me.”
    Mandy didn’t care what the old guy thought about her vehicle. She was far more concerned about how she meant to get inside his truck. There were no running boards, and the floorboard was as high as her hip. After a bit of groping, she found a hand grip, grabbed hold, and, by wedging one foot on the edge of the door opening, was able to swing up onto the passenger seat.
    Her chauffeur didn’t bother to fasten his seat belt, which made the warning bell chime after the doors were closed. He thumbed a remote attached to his visor to make the gate swing open. “Boss’s name is Zach Harrigan,” he told her. “He may be gnarly when he first sees you. Some horses was poisoned a while back at his sister’s place, so the whole family has gone nuts with security. Don’t cotton to folks comin’ around without an invite. Once he understands you’ve got car trouble, he’ll mellow out.”
    After a rough ride over a rutted road, the old man pulled up in front of a huge house. In the fast wash of headlights, Mandy took in the cedar siding, the steep front steps, and the impressive roof angles, which told her one room in that place was probably as large as her entire home. She refused to let that intimidate her. As a kid, she’d experienced opulent living, and she knew for a fact that riches didn’t make the man.
    When the ignition was turned off, the diesel truck coughed, sputtered, and lurched as its engine died. “My name’s Cookie,” the old fellow told her. “I’m the foreman on this spread.” He pushed open the driver’s door. “And you are?”
    “Oh!” Mandy was so nervous about her real reason for being there that her manners had abandoned her. “Miranda Pajeck.”
    “What’re you doin’ out here in the back of beyond after dark?” he asked.
    Mandy hated to

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