Angus and I spent most of Monday and Tuesday bringing down Christmas boxes from the attic for Half Pint and Matilda. By Thursday night the whole house was lit up for Christmas.

I was sitting on the front porch when I saw Jake drive up the drive way. I knew that Half Pint had enjoyed her date with him on Tuesday, so I wondered what bull boy wanted tonight?

He stepped out of his truck and walked up to the porch, “Good evening Sir.” I nodded, “May I talk to you a minute?”

I pointed to the chair in front of the swing I was on, “Sure, sit. What’s on your mind?”

“Um…. well I really like your sister and would like to see her more.” He stopped talking and looked down, “I’d like to drive her to Fort Worth tomorrow if you don’t mind.”

“So, you like my sister do ya’ son.” I smiled as I thought about the Rodney Atkins song not about a sister but a daughter, but Patty was more like a daughter to me. “You know she is something special right.”

He looked up at me then and I saw a hint of a smile in his eyes, he knew the song too, “Yes sir I do, and I would really like to see if we have anything together.”

“Okay, tell me about yourself.” I’d already run a back-ground check on him, so I would know if he was lying to me. I also knew he’d had a very hard life.

“Well sir, I am from Burkburnett. I just made it out of there with my skin attached to my bones.  My dad is in Huntsville for killing my mom.” He stopped for a minute before he continued with his story. “He would’ve killed me too if my mom hadn’t sent me on an errand that night to pick up her meds at the pharmacy.”

When he was silent for a while I let him off the hook so to speak, “Jake it’s okay, I know what happened and you don’t need to relive it, but,” I waited for him to look at me, “someday if you and Patty get serious she needs to know.”

He nodded his head, “Yes sir, I know.”

I laughed, “Call me Mac, and my sister likes you so relax.”

He sighed, “I’m 21 years old, I didn’t get to graduate from high school, but I do have my GED, I work for the Flying J, and riding bulls is just a past time for now.”

“Tell me what you do for Randolph?”

“Um… I work with the horses.” He blushed just slightly before going on, “it would seem that I have a way with the ones who have trust issues.”

“Well, that’s good to hear. Working with a horse that has trust issues is a good trait in a person. It shows you care about how others feel.” I looked to the door and smiled, I knew she’d been there most of the time we’d been talking, “Half Pint, you can come out now.”

Jake stood to his feet as soon as I said her nickname. The door opened, and she walked out, “Come sit with me for just a minute.” I moved over to make room on the swing for her.

My heart hurt as Half Pint sat next to me. Dad should be the one giving his permission to date his daughter. I sighed, “Half Pint,” She rolled her eyes at me, “Sorry, Patty, Jake has come tonight to ask me if he can date you.”

Her smile lit up the whole of the darkening outside. “He would like to start by taking you to Fort Worth tomorrow for the rodeo.”

I looked from Half Pint to Jake, “You two sit out here and talk, or come into the front room. I’ll be back to let you know my answer.”

Walking into the kitchen I saw Matilda pouring a cup of coffee, “Will you pour me one too, please.” I sat down at the old oak table, rubbing my eyes.

The cup of coffee smelled good, “So tell me what’s eating at ya’ boss.”

I took a big gulp of the hot, steaming, black gold, “There’s a boy here asking to date Half Pint.” The coffee burned going down and it felt good.

“Ah, well it’s not like you didn’t go through the same thing with Anna.” Matilda watched me as she drank her coffee.

I sighed and sat back, “I know Matilda, but Dad should be the one here not me. It’s been 11 years since they’ve been gone. I feel like a worn-out old man and I’m only 29 years old.”

Matilda took my hand in hers, “Mac, your mom and dad would be very proud of the way you’ve kept the ranch going and raised your siblings up to be good people.” She squeezed my hand, “Now that Patty is almost out of high school, I hope you’ll have some time to think about you for a change.”

I smiled, Matilda has always been there for me, “Thanks Matilda I don’t know what I’d do without you!”

Just them the front door opened, “Mac! Mac!”

I sighed, “In the kitchen Half Pint.”

Not long after Patty came walking in holding Jake’s hand. I could tell by their lips they’d been kissing, Allie always had that same look when we’d been making out.

“Did you need me for something Half Pint?”

She stood in front of me still holding his hand, he looked like he was ready to bolt out the door like a scared rabbit, but Patty looked me straight in the eyes with a ‘As if you don’t know’ look on her face. It was all I could do not to laugh.

“Mac, please let Jake and I date.”

I laughed, “Sit and let’s talk for a minute.” Matilda made to stand up, “No, Matilda stay please.”

She smiled at me ‘Sure, would either of you like some coffee?”

“Um… Yes, Ma’am if it’s not too much trouble.” Jake was scared shitless.

“No trouble at all young man. This is a working ranch and the coffees on 24/7.” She turned to the counter, took another cup and filled it for Jake, then refilled mine and hers. “Patty girl you want something?”

“No thanks, Matilda. I’ve had my limit of coke and coffee for the day so I’m good.” Patty looked at me.

I took a deep breath and started talking, “Okay here’s how this is going to work,” I looked at Matilda, then Half Pint, and lastly Jake, “Half Pint school is first, if your grades start to slip then you two will have to cool it.” I looked at Half Pint, “You have a full ride scholarship to your life long dreams coming true, keep that in mind.”

I looked at Jake, “When she has to stay home to work on a project for school, your response is one of two things. One, how can I help you. Or two, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Jake nodded his head, “Yes, sir. I agree. School should be first.” He looked down, “I can’t help with the school work, but I’ll keep the food and liquids coming to help her work.”

I smiled inwardly at his words, “I’m glad to hear that Jake, and call me Mac please.” I smiled at him, “I hear tell that my bark is a lot worse than my bite, but don’t think for a minute that I’ll not bite if I need too.”

The room was silent for a minute, “So can I date Jake?” Half Pint was batting her eyes at me.

“Yes, you can, a few rules though, NO alcohol, none, no exceptions. Home before midnight.” Half Pint opened her mouth to protest, I held up my hand, “I know you think that’s too early and that others you may encounter get to stay out after midnight, but I want you home.”

I looked from Half Pint to Jake, “Can you live with the rules?”

“Yes sir, um… Mac, good rules.” Jake looked me in the eyes and never blinked.

“Well alright then, the two of you can ride to Fort Worth together tomorrow, but Half Pint you’re responsible for getting Paint there and getting signed in.”

She was up and out of her chair and giving me a big hug, “Thank you Mac, I love you so much.”

“I love you too Half Pint, more than you’ll ever know.” I kissed her forehead, “Now you help Matilda clean the kitchen. Jake needs to have a look at the trailer to make sure he can handle it tomorrow.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and escorted him out to the barn. When we got to the barn I let him go, “My rig is just a regular fifth wheel son so if you have one on your truck you’ll be good to go.”

I walked down the aisle of horses, “Jake,” I turned back to him, “if you get my sister pregnant, I’ll castrate you just like I would a stallion or a bull I’m not going to breed.” I turned to the stall that held Paint. I was rubbing his ears giving Jake time to process what I’d told him, and he found his voice again.

“Yes, Mac I understand. I like my balls just the way they are, so I’ll take precautions should the occasion arise in the future.” He met my eyes, “I’ll keep her safe.”

“Just so we understand each other.” I started walking to the barn door, “Angus will help you with the rig tomorrow.” I walked out with him on my heals.

“Another brother?” He sighed.

“Yep, fourth in line, third brother.” I stopped, “Have Patty at the penthouse suite of the Stockyards Hotel no later than midnight.”

“You have a penthouse at the Stockyards Hotel.”

I chuckled, “Yep. 1001. Don’t be late.”

When I walked into the kitchen I was facing a little hell cat, “Where’s he at, what’d you do?”

I wrapped her in my arms, “He’s fine waiting for you in the yard.” I kissed her forehead, “I’m going to bed. Since you have a ride tomorrow I think I’ll head in to Fort Worth a little early tomorrow, See you tomorrow night.”

I let her go, she walked out the back door and I sighed. I walked to the west wing stairs and went to my lonely suite.

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