By: Diana Palmer

“I could eat a cow,” she murmured with twinkling eyes. “Even a Santa Gert!”

“Barbarian,” he chuckled. “Come on.”

He was driving one of his standard ranch pickup trucks. They were nice, but not top-of-the-line. He cut costs where he could. The grumbling cattleman and his companion climbed into a luxury car and roared off. It was a nice car. But it wasn’t in the same league as Jason’s big Jaguar.

“I hope we don’t run into that fancy rancher who was in front of us,” she muttered. “He’s got a major attitude problem.”

“He’ll get it fixed soon enough,” Jason said easily.

“Nice of him to come over here and show us how real cattlemen dress for a sale,” Gracie remarked as she climbed up into the pickup and belted herself in. She gave him a speaking glance. “You’re disgracing us, dressing like that for a fancy auction!”

“Speak for yourself,” he shot back as he put the truck in gear. “You’re not exactly the belle of the ball.”

“I’m comfortable,” she said. “You said not to dress up.”

His dark eyes cut around to hers and he gave her a look that made her feel warm all over. “You’d look good in a flour sack, honey,” he told her solemnly. “But I like the pigtails.”

She laughed nervously, tugging at one. “They’re too young for me, I guess, but I couldn’t get my hair up this morning.”

“I like it.”

He pulled out onto the road and drove to a nearby steak restaurant that he favored, parking on the side. He and Gracie walked up onto the porch just as the luxury car pulled into the front parking lot.

Jason gave her an amused grin. “Well, he does have good taste in food.”

“I’ll bet somebody had to tell him it was a nice place to eat,” she shot back.

The waitress showed them to a table about the time the cattleman and his companion got to the line.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” Cy Parks drawled as Jason and Gracie were seated at a booth across from his table.

“Look who’s talking, Parks,” Jason shot back.

“How’s Lisa?” Gracie asked.

Cy’s eyebrows levered up and down. “Pregnant,” he said with an ear-to-ear grin. “We’re over the moon.”

“Wow,” Gracie said softly. “Congratulations.”

“Our son needs a playmate,” he explained. He looked up as J. D. Langley and Harley Fowler, who was Cy’s foreman, and Leo Hart came walking back to his table with full salad plates. He gave them a snarly look. “Salad! Good God, I never thought I’d see the day when ranchers would sit down to plates of rabbit food!”

“We’re joining the green lobby,” Leo chuckled. “Hi, Jason. Gracie. Been to the sale?”

“Yes,” Jason replied. “We didn’t see you there.”

“We were on the other side of the barn,” J.D. muttered, glancing toward where the grumbly cattleman and his companion were just about to be seated. “Avoiding the plague in designer suits.”

“Who is he?” Gracie asked.

Harley Fowler grinned at her. “You ought to know.”

“Me?” she exclaimed, fuddled. “I know him?”

“Well, Mr. Pendleton ought to know him, anyway,” Harley added.

Jason gave Harley a scowl. “Mr. Pendleton was my father.”

Harley flushed a little. “Sorry.”

“He’s not big on ceremony,” Gracie told the younger man, smiling. “We don’t play that sort of game.”

“The hell we don’t,” Jason said, and his eyes kindled as the visiting cattleman came toward them. His big body tensed.

“Jason,” Gracie warned softly. She didn’t fancy a brawl in here, and Jason had a low boiling point. That designer rancher had already made him mad.

“If it isn’t the Jacobsville lobby,” the visitor said with a sarcastic smile. “The cattle-petting cattlemen, in person.”

Jason leaned back in the booth, stretching out his long legs. “Nothing wrong with treating cattle decently,” he said deliberately.

The man gave him a faintly contemptuous look. “Excuse me, but I don’t remember asking for your opinion. You may work cattle, son, but I’m sure you don’t own any. Now why don’t you mind your own business and let cattlemen talk cattle?”