She winked and removed all doubt. Otherwise her face was a stone.
“Mr. McKee, will you be joining us?”
“Well, ma’am, I’m not one to impose. Or to insult a lady’s invitation, either.”
“How gallant of you,” said Annelise.
Everyone looked at her. She looked back at each in turn and finally blinked, and Huck realized that despite the steady coolness in her eyes, she really didn’t know quite what to do in the moment, either. She pushed her sleeve back to check the time, a gesture he took more as a cover for nerves than anything else.
He saw the watch on her wrist.
“Son of a—” he blurted, and caught himself in the nick of time. “—gun.” His hand shot in the same instant to his pocket, and Mother’s grip tightened on his arm. Reflex unto reflex. “That is one . . . big ol’ watch.”
“Speaking of guns,” said Roy mildly, “I see you’ve given ol’ Juno the once-over.”
McKee seemed to have momentarily forgotten the fourteen-pound howitzer balanced on the toe of his boot. He regarded it with fresh eyes. “Why, yes. I think I may be in love, in fact. Never have actually seen one before.”
“You can dance with her,” Pop said, “but she’s true to me.”
“You’re a lucky man. Get her off some old buffalo rounder or something?”
Mother still had Huck’s arm like a clamp. His hand still gripped the watch through the cloth of his trousers. Jump.
Stall. His eye caught the open manual on the desk. He needed to get her out of the shop altogether. Annelise stepped for the door as though she could read his mind.
“Son, that big Sharps belonged to my daddy, and I reckon he did some damage with it the way all them old boys done. I rode with it across my saddle clear from Texas when I was ten years old. Been in Montana ever since. Me and Miss Juno both.”
“Clear from Texas,” said McKee. He ran his hand over the concave dish in the fore-end, worn into the wood by the sway of a horse, mile after mile, state after state. “Now that is sure enough something. Reckon I’d like to hear that story one of these days.”
Roy winked at Annelise, still with her hand at the door. The big Longines had once again vanished into her sleeve. “Set a plate for him, Mother,” he said. “Reckon I might as well tell it.”
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