A bit more from Abiding Echoes this week. If you want to read more of the McGee family, check out Lifeline Echoes and Elusive Echoes available now wherever e-books are sold and at AstraeaPress.com.————-click me———->
As they pulled into the yard, Justin caught the glance Beth slid in his direction and tried to ignore the little stab in his chest at the wariness in her eyes. She had every right to be cautious. He hadn’t been the epitome of friendliness on the way back to the ranch. His heart had crowded a sackload of emotion up into his throat at her announcement that she planned to see the world. Not only had actual speech been difficult but finding the words—any words—to hold a conversation just hadn’t been possible.
Things like that happened when a guy went and let his heart get in front of his brain.
Beth opened the door and slid to the ground before Justin could get there to help her…which was just as well.
“I want to check on the puppies.” She sent him a smile over her shoulder as she almost skipped to the barn.
“Go ahead. I’ll catch up.” Justin rested a hand on the open door of his pickup and watched her taking bouncy steps away from him. She’d be doing that for good soon.
At the barn, Gus met her in the doorway. Justin was too far away to hear what he said but the tinkle of Beth’s delighted laughter echoed across the stable yard and he suddenly wished he’d walked with her, that he was part of what was going on…that he’d been the one to make her laugh.
Beth caught his eye and gestured for him to come over. “Hurry up, pokey!” she called with a laugh. “Gus has a surprise!”
Justin slammed the door to the pickup with a little more force than it required and stomped across the yard, taking care to ease the glower he knew was etched across his face before he reached the barn.
“So…a surprise, huh?” Justin looked between the pair as he approached.
“After Doc Douglas looked at ’em, we left the pups in one of the stalls here and checked on a couple of the girls that’re gettin’ close to deliverin’.” Gus shifted from foot to foot. “After Doc left, I came back and the one with the bum leg was the only one here.”
Alarm sprinted through Justin leaving little footprints of dread in its wake. But from the grin splitting Beth’s face, she already knew what had happened to the pups…and it wasn’t anything bad. He concentrated on drawing his next breath, knowing Gus would get to the rest of the story in his own time.
“I didn’t see no blood or anything so I didn’t think a wild critter’d gotten in.” Gus took off his hat and scratched his head. “As I stood there trying to figure out what’d happened to ’em, one-a the old barn cats came slinking into the stall from the tack room. Then the durndest thing happened. The old biddy grabbed the lil’ pup before I could stop her and dragged it off.”
Justin shook his head, mystified, and wishing Gus would just spit it out. “So what did she do with them?”
With a smirk, Gus indicated they should follow him as he sauntered into the barn. It took a second for Justin’s eyes to adjust to the dim light, but he could walk the barn in the dead of night if he had to. He captured Beth’s hand as Gus led them to the tack room at the back of the building.
He heard them instantly, squealing and mewling from a hole in the wall behind the workbench. Gus handed him a flashlight and he crouched to look into the makeshift den. “Well, I’ll be,” he murmured at the sight of the four pups curled up next to a litter of three gray tabby kittens all suckling on a matching mother cat. He motioned for Beth to join him and shined the light through the crack in the wood.
She caught her breath and then made a crooning sound in the back of her throat that instantly gave Justin a few inappropriate thoughts. “Well aren’t you just a natural mama?” she asked the cat.
The mostly feral barn cat mewed in response instead of hissing or growling, and Justin’s jaw dropped. When Beth reached through the hole, though, the new mama covered all the babies with her scrawny body and edged back from the opening.
Beth turned her head and caught Justin’s gaze. “What are we going to do with them?”
He jerked, startled by the question. “Do with who?”
Beth tilted her head and threw him one of her killer smiles. He didn’t even know what she was about to ask of him but he knew he’d do it. “What will we do with the new family?” she asked.
“Uh, leave ’em where they are?” He sighed and glanced around the tack room for a box to carry the babies in.
Next to him, Gus chortled and Justin sent him a glare. Really? All the scrapes the man had helped him through and this time he was leaving him hang?
Beth’s face clouded. “But what if Mama takes them away somewhere? Or puts them in a nest that’s too high and they fall? What if they get kicked by a cow?”
Justin opened his mouth but no words came out. How could he tell her that crap like that sometimes happened on a ranch—it was just one of the things ranchers got used to?
She regarded him with an unblinking green stare while she worried at her bottom lip with her perfect white teeth. Oh, man, if his mom and dad came home to find their home had been turned upside down and a barn cat welcomed inside, they’d flip out.
Gus cleared his throat. “You know that mother cat’s raised probably six…seven litters. Half the cats out here are hers.” He shrugged. “She’s a good mama. But she won’t take well to losin’ her freedom, not bein’ able to do her job.”
Beth’s tilted her head sideways and knit her brow. “Her job?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Gus nodded. “She’s in charge of rodent control. She won’t know what to do with herself in the house.”
“But if she raises the puppies…will they…will they hunt barn mice, too?”
Bending his head, Justin scratched his jaw to hide a smile. Only his Daffodil Gal would worry about a litter of pups identifying with the wrong species.
Whoa! My gal? His heart thumped hard against his chest as though to answer in the affirmative.
Beth returned her attention to the mother cat. “You take care of those babies and I’ll visit every day.” She bent closer and whispered. “I’ll bring you all kinds of treats.”
She could have offered to give the darn cat the run of the pantry for all Justin cared. His brain stopped processing anything past “visit every day.” Which meant she maybe planned to stick around for a while…
Thanks for reading! Return to Saturday Samples for more sweetness! And have a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day!