Rustler's Blues

**This story takes place immediately after "Skin Deep"**

CHAPTER 1

"Matt, did you lose your phone again?" CJ had walked down from the house to the barn where Matt was stacking bales of hay in the loft with the help of his two ranch hands, Bo and Lamar. "Uh, well…" There was a pause. "I guess so." Matt stuck his head out of the hayloft door. "Why?"

"Rusty Banakee has been trying to get you for the last three hours." She shaded her eyes from the Saturday noonday sun as she looked up at her husband of just over six months. "Rusty? Good Lord, I haven't heard from him in a coon's age. Is he on the house phone?" Matt grabbed the rope that was attached to the main rafter, swung out, wrapped his legs around it, and slid down. "Here." CJ handed him her cell phone and went back in the house to get Matt another phone. He lost or destroyed them so often that they now bought them in bulk.

"Rusty? How ya doin', bud, I haven't talked to you in, what? Four or five years at least." He walked over and leaned against the hay wagon.

"Hey, Houston, you're a hard son of a gun to get hold of! I'm doing pretty good, or at least I was until about two weeks ago."

"What's the matter?"

"Well, we've been having trouble with rustlers, if you can believe it. I mean, it ain't uncommon for someone to steal a cow or two, but we're talking about anywhere from sixty to seventy a night – pretty much an eighteen wheeler load."

"Not good. What can I do for you?"

"Well, I know you're Mr. Fancy Private Eye." Rusty broke out laughing.

"Yeah, well Mr. Fancy Private Eye has been hauling hay since 5am." He laughed as well. "So do you need a little help up that way?"

"I would sure appreciate it, Houston. You know Daddy can't get out and tend to things anymore like he used to, and he is sure torn up about this."

"How's he doin' these days? Last I heard he was having heart surgery."

"Yeah, that was a couple of years ago. He's better, but he just can't hold out to work nowadays."

"Well, tell him that we'll see him tomorrow, if that's okay." Matt was thinking back to when his dad, Bill, had heart surgery, but he only lived a couple of days afterward.

"We, huh? You got some help?"

"Yep, best there is; my wife."

"You mean to tell me that you tied the knot? Who is the poor girl?"

"CJ. We finally pulled our heads out of our butts and fessed up to the fact that we loved each other. Been married about six months now. That's who you were talking to before."

"Dang! Well it's about damn time! Everybody knew you two were sweet on each other! I didn't even recognize her voice. Well, I'll be. Wait till I tell Daddy! Hee hee! That'll sure make his day."

"Well, we're happy and that's all that matters. We'll head out tomorrow morning, sound alright to you?"

"You bet, Houston. I sure appreciate it. Oh, and by the way, congratulations!"

"Thanks, Rusty. See ya tomorrow. 'Bye." He hung up the phone and walked up to the house.

Bo and Lamar were looking down from the loft door. "Oh, ain't that just peachy! He's goin' on a trip!" Bo took off his hat and wiped his sweaty forehead with a bandana. Lamar poked him in the ribs. "He can do that – he is the boss, ya know. Now get back to work!" He swatted Bo with his hat and the two men went back to stacking hay.

Matt walked into the kitchen looking for CJ. "Hey, where'd you get off to?"

CJ piped up from close by. "I'm in the laundry room getting you another phone."

He turned right and went to her. "Feel like taking a trip tomorrow?" Matt walked up behind his wife and put his arms around her waist and began nuzzling her neck.

"Where are we going?" CJ turned around to face him and the pair kissed.

Matt started running his fingers through her hair, then pulled her closer to him. After a couple of minutes they came up for air.

"You didn't answer my question, Mr. Houston." CJ rubbed the whiskers on his face. Matt had been busy working in the hayfields since Thursday and hadn't shaved.

"Huh? What question?" He had completely forgotten why he had come into the house.

"You asked me about taking a trip? And I said where to?" She ran her fingers through his curly hair.

"Oh, yeah. To go help Rusty. He's got some rustlers stealing a truck load a night up there."

"Well I would definitely say that's a problem." She picked up the phone that she had pulled out of the cabinet and tried to move past him to go activate it, but he had other ideas. "Oh, Mr. Houston, you need another phone, remember?"

"Uh huh, but right now I need something else." He picked her up and carried her back to their bedroom.