When Jessica and Warner had driven through Cedar Ridge to get a feel for the local amenities, they’d seen the Rusty Spur’s tarnished sign hanging askew, swinging in the wind on an ironic, nearly rusted-through chain. Now, as Jessica stepped inside, she saw the dim interior matched her expectations. Most of the floor was littered with round high-top tables, though there were some square standard-height tables and a collection of mismatched chairs clustered around the dancefloor. A few guys were setting up instruments on a platform nearby.
Taking her by the elbow, Jared guided Jessica past a long bar, making for the tables. His friend, Billy Cobb, trailed close behind them.
After she’d left the bank and found the real estate office closed, Jessica had rushed to the shops for a hurried buying spree (who knew she’d find unobjectionable clothes at a place called “The Feed and Seed”?) before returning to meet up with Jared. She found him leaning against his Ford having a friendly chat with a stockier, slightly shorter man who was wearing a dust-colored cowboy hat and a down vest with a silver star pinned to it. Jared had introduced him as “Deputy Cobb.”
“But you can call me Billy,” he’d insisted, his green eyes twinkling. “All my friends do.”
They’d informed her they were headed over to the “Spur” to grab a burger and a beer and invited her along. Since she’d been running late, Jessica accepted. Jared had been right where he said he’d be and didn’t seem put out at all that she’d kept him waiting. Still, her instinct was to avoid rocking the boat. Lord knew she’d pay a price if she kept Warner waiting. So, she’d allowed Jared to stow her purchases in the truck and resolved to make the best of it.
In the bar, Jared led their little group to a table near a rusted steel post, pulled out a seat, and started to sit as Jessica eyed the stools. As short as she was, they hit just above her waist. Could she manage taking a seat without falling on her ass? Jared and Billy both rushed to her aid at the same time. Between Billy maneuvering the stool and Jared lifting her onto the padded vinyl seat, it was more of a production than if she’d just scrambled up the rungs, clinging to the post to help hoist herself into place.
Thankfully, at that point, a pretty brunette with a sweet smile and her hair clipped up in a messy twist approached the table. “Hey there Jared. Hey, Billy,” she said, dealing out coasters to the three of them. “Not just the boys tonight, huh?” Her soft brown eyes radiated warmth as she took Jessica in with a curious smile.
“Laney, this is Jessie.” Jared made the introductions. “Jess, this is Laney Redford.”
Jessica held out a hand but didn’t get a chance to tell Laney to call her “Jessica.”
“It’s about time Jared brought you in!” Laney gushed, giving Jessica’s hand an enthusiastic shake. Then her face took on a pained look and she dropped her voice to stage whisper, “I heard from Louisa what happened, and I just gotta say, I’m so glad you landed with Faith and Jared.”
The skin on Jessica’s scalp went tight and heat flooded her face, emotion winding up tight inside her. Was it nervousness? Mortification? Anger? Probably all three. Clearing her throat, she said, “Yes. Well. I’m glad, too.”
Behind her, Jared’s hand touched her lower back. “We’re all glad,” he said, taking charge of the situation. “But we’re also thirsty, and we might be a little hungry, too.” He gave Laney a winning smile.
“What’ll it be then?”
“A cold Corona would hit the spot,” Jared said, looking at Billy who held up two fingers, then popped up a third as he cut questioning eyes to Jessica.
“A beer? No.” Jessica wrinkled her nose and gave her head a small shake. “Could I see a wine list?”
Jared and Billy both snickered, but Laney responded kindly. “We don’t have a list. Only red, white, and rosé.” When Jessica looked unsure, she went on, “We’ve got great margaritas. Top shelf tequila, and they’re on special tonight, half-price.”
Jessica bit her lip, considering whether to take her chances on the house wine in a place called the Rusty Spur. In the end, she agreed to try a margarita, asking for Patron tequila and ordering it on the rocks.
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