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It wasn't like Lonny to let a woman rattle him, but Joy Fuller certainly had. This wasn't the first time, either.
He had plenty of cause to dislike her. Two years ago, when she'd moved to Red Springs to take a teaching job, he'd gone out of his way to make her feel welcome in the community. And how had she responded to his overtures of friendship? She'd thumbed her nose at him! He figured he was well rid of her. They'd argued -- he couldn't even remember why -- and he hadn't spoken to her since. Until today. Friend of Letty's or not, he wasn't about to let Joy Fuller escape the consequences of what she'd done.
What bothered him most was the complete disrespect Joy had shown him and his vehicle. Why, his truck was in prime condition, his pride and -- No, under the circumstances, he couldn't call it his pride and joy. But he treasured that Ford almost as much as he did his horse.
"What's gotten into you?" Letty asked, completely unruffled by his actions.
"Of all the crazy women in the world, why did it have to be her?"
"And who would that be?" his sister asked mildly.
"Your your teacher friend. She -- " Lonny struggled to find the words. "I'm telling you right now, I'm not letting her get away with this."
Letty's expressive eyes widened and she gave a deep sigh. "For heaven's sake, Lonny, settle down and tell me what happened."
"Look!" he shouted, motioning toward the front of his ten-year-old pickup so his sister could see for herself.
Letty scanned the bumper, but apparently didn't find anything amiss. "What?"
"Here." He pointed, directing her attention to the most recent dent.
"Where?" Letty asked, bending over to examine it more carefully, squinting hard.
"There." If she assumed that being obtuse was amusing him, she was wrong. He stabbed his finger at it again, and then for emphasis ran his hand over it. All right, he'd admit that the truck had its share of nicks and dents. No working rancher drove a vehicle for as many years as he had without collecting a few battle scars. The pickup could use a new front fender, and a paint job wouldn't be a bad idea, but in no way did that minimize what Joy had done.
"This truck is on its last legs, Lonny, or tires, as the case might be."
"You're joking, aren't you? There's another ten years left in the engine." He should've known better than to discuss this with his sister. Women always stuck together.
"You don't mean that tiny dent, do you?" she asked, poking it with her finger.
"Tiny dent!" he repeated, shocked that she didn't see this for what it was. "That tiny dent nearly cost me a whole year off my life!"
"Settle down," Letty said again, "and just tell me what happened." She shook her head. "I don't understand why you're so upset."
To say he was upset was an understatement. He was fit to be tied, and it was Joy Fuller's fault. Lonny liked to think of himself as an easygoing guy. Very rarely did a woman, any woman, rile him the way Joy had. Not only that, she seemed to enjoy it.
"Joy Fuller ran a stop sign," he explained. "She claimed she didn't see it. What kind of idiot misses a stop sign?" Lonny demanded.
"Joy crashed into you?"
"Almost. By the grace of God, I was able to avoid a collision, but in the process I hit the pole."
He wondered if his sister was doing it on purpose. "The one holding up the stop sign, of course."
Letty just shrugged, which was not the response he was looking for.
Lonny jerked the Stetson off his head, and thrust his fingers through his hair hard enough to pull out several strands. Wincing, he went on with his story. "Then, ever so sweetly, Joy climbs out of her car, tells me she's sorry and asks if there's any damage."
"Gee, I hope you slugged her for that," Letty murmured, rolling her eyes.
Lonny decided to ignore the sarcasm. "Right away, I could see the dent, so I pointed it out to her. But that's not the worst of it," he said, not even trying to keep the indignation out of his voice. "She took one look at my truck and said there were so many dents she couldn't possibly know which one our 'minor incident' had caused." His voice rose as his agitation grew. "That's what she called it -- a minor incident."
"What did you say next?" Letty asked.
Kicking the dirt with the toe of his boot, Lonny avoided her gaze. "We exchanged a few words," he admitted reluctantly. That was Joy's fault, too. She seemed to expect him to tell her that all was forgiven. Well, he wasn't forgiving her anything, least of all the damage she'd caused.
When he hadn't fallen under her spell as she'd obviously expected, their argument had quickly heated up. Within moments her true nature was revealed. "She said my truck was a pile of junk." Even now the statement outraged him. Lonny walked around his Ford, muttering, "That's no way for a lady to talk. Not only did Joy insult my vehicle, she insulted me."
This schoolteacher, this city slicker, had no appreciation of country life. That was what you got when the town hired someone like Joy Fuller.You could take the woman out of the city but there was plenty of city left in her.
"Whatever happened, I'm sure Joy's insurance will take care of it," Letty said in that soothing way of hers.
Lonny scowled. Joy had a lot to atone for as far as he was concerned. He slapped his hat back on his head. "You know what else she did? She tried to buy me off!" Even now, the suggestion offended him. "Right there in the middle of the street, in broad daylight. I ask you, do I look like the kind of guy who can be bribed?"
At Letty's raised eyebrows, Lonny continued. "She offered me fifty bucks."
His sister's mouth quivered, and if he didn't know better, Lonny would've thought she was laughing. "I take it you refused," she murmured.
"You bet I refused," he told her. "There's two or three hundred dollars' damage here. Maybe more."
Letty bent over to examine the bumper a second time. "I hate to say this, but it looks more like a fifty-dollar dent to me."
"No way!" Lonny protested, nearly shocked into silence. He could hardly believe that his own flesh and blood didn't recognize the seriousness of this affront to him and his vehicle.
"It seems to me you're protesting far too loud and long over a silly dent. Joy's managed to get your attention -- again. Hasn't she?"
Lonny decided to ignore that comment, which he considered unworthy of his sister. All right, he had some history with Joy Fuller, most of it unpleasant. But the past was the past and had nothing to do with the here and now. "I wrote down her license plate number." He yanked a small piece of paper from his shirt pocket and gingerly unfolded it. "She'll be lucky if I don't report her to the police."
"You most certainly will not!" Letty snatched the paper out of his hand. "Joy is one of my best friends and I won't let you treat her so rudely."
"This isn't the woman you know." His sister hadn't seen the same side of the schoolteacher that he had. "This one's tall with eyes that spit nails. There's an evil look about her -- I suspect she normally travels by broomstick."
His sister didn't appreciate his attempt at humor. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Joy plays the organ at church on Sundays. You know her as well as I do, so don't try to pretend that you don't."
"I don't know this woman," he announced flatly.
"You have unfinished business with Joy, and that's the reason you're blowing this incident out of all proportion."
Lonny thought it best to ignore that comment, too. He'd finished with Joy a long time ago -- and she with him -- which suited him just fine. "From the look she gave me, I'd say she's one scary woman. Mean as a rattlesnake." He gave an exaggerated shiver. "Probably shrinks heads as a hobby."
Letty had the grace to smile. "Would you stop it? Joy's probably the sweetest person I've ever met."
"Sweet?" Lonny hadn't seen any evidence of a gentle disposition. "Do the people of Red Springs realize the kind of woman they're exposing their children to? Someone should tell the school board."
Hands on her hips, Letty shook her head sadly. "I think you've been standing in the sun too long. Come inside and have some iced tea."
"I'm too mad to drink something nonalcoholic. You go on without me." With that, he stalked off toward the barn. Joy Fuller was his sister's friend. One of her best friends. That meant he had to seriously question Letty's taste -- and good sense. Years ago, when he was young and foolish, Lonny had ridden broncos and bulls and been known as The Wyoming Kid. He darn near got himself killed a time or two. But he'd rather sit on one of those beasts again than tangle with the likes of Joy Fuller.