Here we go! This section in Sand and Amanda’s story is meant to build tension and drama. We’re about two thirds to the end of the story. Enjoy!
Amanda left him at the door to Sky’s House, saying she had girl things to do until supper. He watched her go up the stairs with sadness. He wanted to spend all his time with her. With a sigh, he turned to go to the kitchen.
Paint was standing in the kitchen door. “There you are!” he said. “I could use another hand with the lawn.”
Sand followed willingly. Two of Sky’s men he didn’t know well worked on the lawn in the front of the house while he and Paint worked on the back lawn. He rolled the push mower over the grass, wondering why anyone needed to cut grass. All that did was make it fall in untidy heaps that Paint had to rake into piles and load onto a wagon to be taken away. The scent of freshly cut grass was so strong in his nostrils Sand couldn’t smell anything else.
They took a break on a low stone wall to eat the sandwiches Denise brought out for them. “Why are you still here?” Sand asked. “Aren’t you going home?”
Paint shrugged, swallowing half a sandwich whole. “I guess I’ll leave pretty soon. Snow wanted a few days to play tourist.”
“And you didn’t want to leave Sky short-handed. Where is Snow, anyway?”
One of Paint’s rare smiles flitted over his face. “Riding the bus, I bet. He’s fascinated with it.”
Sand made a face. He remembered the loud, smelly vehicle with distaste. “I wouldn’t ride that thing if you paid me.”
“Amanda likes to ride it.”
Gentle warmth curled around his heart. He had first seen his mate when she mounted the bus. “If Amanda asked me to, I’d ride the bus with her.”
Paint adjusted the patch over his missing eye. “How is your courtship going?”
“I don’t know.” Sand looked down at his sandwich. “I think it’s going okay. She hasn’t accepted my mate claim, but she says I’m still in the running. She wants me to give her something before she’ll be my mate.”
“I don’t know.” He spread his hands. “She wouldn’t tell me what it is, only that without it she won’t marry anyone. She said I had to figure it out myself.”
“Hm. That’s not fair. Maybe you could ask Sky. He’s learned a lot about women since he came here.”
“Yeah,” Sand agreed. “I’ll ask him.”
After they finished the lawn work, Sand went back into the house in search of Sky and found him in his office seated behind his desk. He wasn’t alone. A slender man in a black suit was in the plush visitor chair. Sand thought he looked familiar.
“Sand,” said Sky. “Just the man we needed to see. Peter, this is my cousin Sand Wolfe. Sand, Peter Vann, Vice Mayor of Omaha.”
Since the little man stuck his hand out, Sand shook it before folding his arms over his chest. Maybe he should have some said one of those polite, meaningless phrases that townsmen used when meeting a stranger, but Sand didn’t see the point in wasting words. He waited, saying nothing.
He didn’t have to wait long. Vann spoke in a quiet finicky voice, fussing with the cuffs of his suit rather than looking at Sand. “A complaint has been lodged against Sky and his House.”
Sand almost spat on the floor. “Askup,” he growled.
“Yes, indeed.” Vann did look up now, face cool. “Normally, the Mayor’s office wouldn’t concern itself. Sky has proven himself a savvy and supportive businessman. However, a formal complaint can’t be dismissed out of hand. An investigation must take place.”
Sky lounged in his chair, looking supremely relaxed. Sand wondered if the Vice Mayor knew how false that appearance was. Even with the scent of cut grass lingering in his nose Sand could smell Sky’s rage. Sky inclined his head with a lazy smile. “Of course.”
“Excellent.” Vann got to his feet and stretched a hand to Sky, who rose to shake it. “We will see both of you in the Mayor’s office at nine tomorrow morning.”
“Certainly,” Sky agreed. “Let me show you out. Sand, wait here for me, will you?”
It wasn’t a request. Sand watched Sky walk out of the office with the Vice Mayor, then took the visitor chair to wait for Sky to return. He should have done what he’d wanted last night and kicked Askup down the stairs instead of just taking him down them with one hand hooked under his arm.
Sky came back and closed the door so they were private. He slumped down on the corner of his desk and dropped his head into his hands. “Oh, lord, what a mess.”
“Askup already harassed me and Amanda in the garden this morning. The City Guard dismissed his complaint. Is this something else?”
Sky looked up. “Yeah. Looks like Askup doesn’t like to hear no. Did Amanda tell you she refused his marriage proposal?”
Sand nodded. “She said she refused him in two seconds.”
“I’ll bet he thought he could still get her to say yes. He was willing to keep trying. But she’s considering you, so that makes his chances of winning her darned slim.” He stood straight with a growl. “You have to stop hurting our clients.”
“I didn’t hurt that weasel! I was polite. I told him his appointment was cancelled, and when he tried to push past me to go to Amanda’s room I tried to be nice. All I did was block his way. Even when he tried to punch me, I only lifted him by his arm and walked downstairs with him. I could have thrown him down the steps.”
Sky rubbed a hand through his thick hair, dragging the locks that fell over his forehead back. “I can’t fault you. That seems reasonable enough. Normally, this kind of a complaint would blow over with no harm down. But Askup is one of the mayor’s best friends. This isn’t going to blow over.”
Sand lifted his lip in a derisive snarl. “What can they do about it?”
“At best, we’ll be let off with a fine.” Sky looked at Sand soberly. “At worst, we could both be condemned to death.”
Sand choked on horror. “What? I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“I know that.” Sky’s voice was grim. “The mayor will know it too, but Askup is one of his cronies, and one of his most generous supporters.” An ironic smile quirked the corner of his mouth. “Justice in Omaha is different than in Kearney.”
“Justice is justice,” Sand protested with a scowl.
“At the den, sure. Taye decides for us at the den, and he doesn’t play favorites. Even Mayor Madison in Kearney is hard but fair. But here, the mayor decides.”
Disgust climbed up Sand’s spine.“And he has favorites?”
His cousin nodded. “And guess who his top favorite is?”
“That’s right.” Sky strode to the door, pausing to glance back. “You’re a little thinner, but one of my suits will fit you well enough. I’ll have it sent to the bunkhouse for you.”
A suit? He had to wear a suit? “I’ll be with my mate.”
Sky nodded slowly. “Alright, I’ll send it to her room. Be ready to leave tomorrow morning by 8:00.”