"I'm not wearing a costume," Boone Mitchell said, staring at his sister and the Dalton Gang member she'd tamed. Boone was the last of the hell-raising trio still standing, and he had no plans to fall—especially if falling meant wearing O Brother Where Art Thou black-and-white prison stripes the way Casper Jayne was doing now.
"It's a costume party," Faith said. "Of course you are." Her own getup consisted of boots, hat, a cropped denim vest and matching miniskirt, both with leather tassels and brass hardware. She also had a silver star pinned to what fabric there was covering her chest. And what looked like a real gun hanging from a belt at her hip.
"I'm not wearing a costume," he repeated, glancing from one of the ridiculously garbed two to the other. Calf nuts on a cracker. If this is what relationships did to men…
"Sorry, dude," Casper said, his arms out as he tested the length of plastic chain between the matching black shackles binding his wrists. "The woman's the boss."
"Not on my ranch," Boone grumbled, leaning against the sink in the kitchen of the house Casper and Faith shared—a kitchen that would easily hold four of the one Boone cooked in for no one but himself since Casper, and Dax Campbell, had both abandoned him. The fact that they'd done so for women…
"It's an old west theme so just go as a cowboy," Faith was saying as she crossed to where he was trying to stay out of the way. She had a length of black fabric in her hands and a look in her eyes that bode no good. She reached up to tie it around his head, catching his hair in the knot and swatting away his hand when he tried to free it. "I'm not finished."
As far as he was concerned, she was. He had no idea why he'd agreed to stop by the house on his way from Lasko Ranch Supply back to the ranch when he'd known this would be the outcome. Faith had been reminding him of the charity masquerade party for weeks. She'd bought him one of the pricey tickets when she'd bought hers and Casper's, even though he'd told her she was wasting the cash.
"There," she said, stepping back with her hands at her hips to take him in. "Perfect. Or it will be as soon as you put your hat back on."
He slapped his hat against his thigh, raising a cloud of dust that had his sister waving her hands. "What? I've been working."
Faith scrunched up her nose. "Maybe you should shower first, change clothes."
"Clean clothes means a trip to the ranch. And if I go home, I'm staying."
"You could wear something of Casper's."
"Uh-uh," Casper was quick to put in. "I don't have enough shirts that I can afford losing any to his shoulders."
"You would if you'd let me buy them," Faith said, then turned to Boone. "You'll have to go dirty then."
"Or I could just not go."
"You're going." She tapped a finger to her chin and considered him. "But you need…spurs or chaps or something."
"The spurs and the chaps are at home, and if I go home—"
"Yeah, yeah. You're not coming back. I guess this will have to do."
"You want me to go as a cowboy, this is what you get."
"Wait. I've got an idea," Casper said, turning to bound up the stairs, the plastic ball and chain fastened around his ankle thumping behind him.
Boone looked from the man he was having a hard time recognizing to his sister who he'd never seen so happy. "Ball and chain, huh?"
"It's a good life. You should find someone to tie you up. At least once in a while."
"I've got once in a while covered. And she doesn't make me run around wearing zebra p.j.'s."
Faith huffed. "I'm not making Casper do anything. I just told him if he wore that, then I'd wear this."
"Are Mom and Dad going to be there? Because you wearing that" —he gave her a quick once-over because she was his sister and he preferred not to linger— "is going to have Mom gathering napkins from the tables to make you a serape."
"Momma and Daddy are in Houston for the weekend. Texans football, I think they said." She tugged on the bottom of her vest that left her midriff bare. "Besides, if you think my outfit's going to raise eyebrows, you should see what Arwen's wearing. Dax is going to be shooting eye daggers at anyone who looks at her wrong. Assuming he lets her out of the house."
Now the Dax part of that equation would be worth seeing. But Boone wouldn't be looking at Arwen just like he didn't look at Faith. She belonged to his partner, making her family and off-limits. "Doubt he'll have much choice, the party being at the Hellcat Saloon and Arwen being hostess."
"Well, he'll have to get over it. Having her place chosen to host the library's fundraiser is a huge coup. Kendall was afraid the committee would vote down the suggestion and we'd end up at the country club where everything would cost twice as much."
"Kendall Sheppard. She owns the bookstore? You danced with her at the folks' anniversary party? She's on the library board."
"Right." One of the few eligible single women in Crow Hill, and a friend of his sister's. Meaning he crossed paths with her often enough to make Faith's matchmaking obvious. "I guess that means she'll be there tonight."
"She will. As will Everly Grant and Lizzie Nathan and Nina Summerlin. You'll have a great time."
Before he could tell her his idea of a great time would have all four women in his bed, not on a dance floor, Casper clattered his way back into the kitchen. "Here," he said, handing Boone a leather gun belt. And a gun. "Buckle this on, and with the Zorro mask you're set."
Boone spun the cylinder looking for bullets, happy to find he wouldn't accidentally be shooting anyone, or his own foot. "Like two eye holes in a black scarf is going to fool anyone?"
"The point isn't to fool anyone," Faith said, tying on her own mask that was a lacy-looking metal cut-out and didn't hide much of her face at all. "The point is to have fun. To dance and drink and flirt and pretend for a few hours that you're someone else."
"I like who I am. I don't want to pretend I'm someone else."
"Then don't. Just dance and drink and flirt."
"I don't want to—"
"Just drink. Jesus, Boone. You can do that, can't you?"
"Sure he can. Especially with all that drinking going toward a good cause." Casper pulled a long strip of drink tickets out of Faith's top, tore off half of them and gave them to Boone. "Sheriff here's made of money. She can buy more."
Boone folded the tickets and stuffed them into his pocket while Casper stuffed his back between Faith's breasts. She slapped at his hand, took care of the tickets herself, then handed him a plain black mask that Boone supposed was prison issue to go with the stripes. Casper snapped it into place, rolling his eyes as Faith lifted his hair to hide the elastic, yelping when she pulled too hard.
Seeing the two together had Boone smiling. And after all the years he'd spent enforcing the Dalton Gang's no-sisters rule to keep them apart. Still, the time had needed to be right, and the sixteen years he, Casper and Dax had spent away from Crow Hill before returning to take on the ranch they'd inherited had given both Faith and Casper a chance to get their act together. It had been a lot of years, but it had been worth it.
"Wow, y'all look great," came a voice from the doorway into the house's main hall.
"Hey, Clay," Boone said to the fourteen year old boy Casper was in the process of adopting. "You and Kevin up to holding down the fort? Because say the word and I'll grab a pizza and we can hang out and watch all the Bruce Willis movies you want."
"Kevin and I got it covered," Clay said, reaching down to pat his scruffy mutt that was the size of a few of the calves Boone had moved from the Braff pasture this morning. "And I think tonight's going to be Star Wars. We did most of Die Hard last weekend."
"See?" Faith waved Boone and Casper toward the door where Clay was standing. "Clay and Kevin have it covered. Let's go."
Boone jammed his hat on and followed the sheriff and her prisoner to the front of the house where his truck was parked on Mulberry Street. He'd drink up the tickets Casper had given him, doing his part for literacy, and hope like hell he didn't end up the night wearing prison stripes. Or worse.
Dragging home his own ball and chain.