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Courtesy Call

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Cady wasn’t expecting anyone, was honestly just planning on riding out the storm with a blanket and whatever was on cable, but her doorbell rang just as she was slipping into fleece sweatpants and settling in. Of course it did.

She figured she would see her dad standing on the other side of the door, but couldn’t help breaking into a smile when she instead saw Branch’s ridiculous white hat through the glass. It didn’t matter that her slacks were lying on her bedroom floor where she had dropped them. She opened the door to the cold, thin air, and raised her eyebrows.

“Is there a problem, Deputy?” she asked.

“Just a courtesy call, ma’am,” Branch said, playing along with a straight face. “First big snowstorm of the year, you need to make sure people have taken all the necessary precautions. Like nonperishables,” and Cady saw he was carrying a pack of Rainier, which he held up, “and of course a secondary source of heat, in case the power goes out.” His composure broke at the last minute, and he grinned at her as she grabbed his arm.

“Get in here before somebody sees you,” she directed. This was still new enough that she wasn’t going to tell her father and deal with the fallout of that conversation - not just yet, anyway. Maybe when it turned into something more. Branch grinned at her.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said goodnaturedly. Because he was goodnatured, at least around her, and that was one of the things Cady liked about him. She took the beer and leaned down to set it on the floor, feeling Branch’s chin bump the top of her head as she ducked. He’d leaned in to kiss her and missed.

“Let’ try that again,” she suggested, before Branch could get that look in his eyes like he wasn’t sure this was such a good idea after all. It worked a lot better that time around. His lips were soft, but more than a little cold from standing on her doorstep. It must have just been the temperature, but Cady could have sworn she tingled. It was a good feeling.

“I’m glad you came by,” she said as they broke apart. “Come on, let’s go into the living room.”

If she wanted to seduce Branch Connally, Cady mused, flicking through the music channels on her cable, she would probably go for a selection like “Smooth Jazz.” Something sophisticated and a little suggestive. She skipped by it to put on 70s and 80s pop. The hits from their childhood, cheesy and dated and sure to make Branch cringe.

“Oh my god, do you remember this one?” she asked, watching Branch try to look like he didn’t. “How old were we when this was out? I feel like I saw you ride the rodeo when it was on.”

“Long time ago,” Branch answered, looking like he didn’t quite know where to look, or what to do with his hands.

“You were such a cocky asshole,” Cady told him, laughing, “and every girl in school had the biggest crush on you.”

“And now look where I am,” Branch said ruefully.

Cady walked over to where he sat on the sofa, taking a good long look as she went. “I’m looking, and I kind of like what I see,” she said.

“You’re interested in retired cowboys?” Branch asked, like he didn’t believe her.

“I’m interested in Eagle Scouts who are going to be the next Sheriff of Absaroka County,” Cady said, “and walk around thinking they can pull off some touristy white hat. Know anybody like that?”

“Might have run into a fellow like that once or twice,” Branch allowed. “Could have booked someone at the station.”

Cady lifted the hat from his head and set it on her coffee table. She was tempted to toss it across the room, but she wasn’t quite sure Branch’s playfulness extended to getting any dirt on that hat.

“So I know you brought some beer,” she said, “but you know what my first snow tradition is?”

“What’s that?” Branch asked.

“Hot chocolate, of course!” Cady said. “Wouldn’t be the same without it. Sweet,” she leaned in closer to Branch, putting her mouth to his ear, “and warm,” she continued, with one hand running in his hair, “and you can feel it going all the way down.” She let her left hand run down the front of his shirt as she spoke.

Branch nodded his head. “That, ah, might be a pretty good substitute,” he agreed.

“Perfect,” Cady said, straightening back up. She was more than a little pleased to notice the effect she was having on Deputy Connally. She gestured to the front closet. “I’ve got some cards and poker chips somewhere in there if you want to dig them out while I make the drinks.”

“What kind of poker are we playing?” Branch called after her, and she knew the answer he was looking for.

She didn’t give it to him. “Texas Hold’Em, of course!” she hollered back. “Only kind there is!” Branch was fun to play with just in conversation. This promised to be that much better.

The hot chocolate was just the cheap kind from a packet, with dehydrated mini marshmallows to add a little something. Cady usually decided to add even more, putting extra whipped cream and sometimes a splash of whiskey in, and tonight was no time to make boring hot chocolate. She was just getting the whipped cream from the fridge when Branch called out to her again.

“I’m pretty sure there’s no cards or chips in here!”

“Oh, shit, they must be at Dad’s,” Cady answered. She entertained the briefest thought of calling her dad and asking him to bring them over, or better still, showing up at the cabin with Branch in tow to all ride out the storm together. She didn’t even want to think about the look on her dad’s face. It wasn’t that he disliked Branch, so much as that no one was ever going to be good enough for her in his eyes. Least of all one of his deputies. Besides, it was all just a little too soon after Mom.

“So what are we supposed to do?” Branch asked, clearly enjoying himself. “Play Spin The Bottle? Truth or Dare?”

“What are you, fourteen?” Cady retorted. “There’s got to be something else in there. Scrabble? Monopoly?” She picked up the two mugs, holding them gingerly by the warm handles, and headed back to find Branch having spread all of her Christmas wrapping supplies on the floor in his search.

“I can clean it up,” he started, but she shook her head and shooed him out of the way.

“You are not going to be able to get that paper rolled up the way it was,” she said. “Ah ha, here we go.” She pulled a game of Monopoly from the closet floor. Its edges were crumpled and she was pretty sure it was missing at least the thimble and one railroad, but she was also pretty sure that wouldn’t matter once they got into it.

“Are you sure we can’t do Spin The Bottle?” Branch asked skeptically, and Cady shoved him.

“We’re playing Monopoly, and I’m the dog,” she said. “That’s final. Now drink your hot chocolate.”

Branch looked like he wasn’t sure whether or not he wanted to argue, but in the end he set the board down right on the rug, grabbed the battleship, and appointed himself banker.

“You’re going to cheat the whole way, aren’t you?” Cady asked. “I’m going to be watching you.”

“You watch all you like, but you’re not gonna catch me,” Branch said smugly.

“Oh, it’s on,” Cady said. “It is so on. Oh, and by the way, anyone gets caught cheating, or anyone gets sent to jail, they lose an article of clothing.” She had turned up the heat in anticipation of the storm, so the temperature should provide a nice contrast, and an incentive to win.

“Now you’re talking,” Branch said. He picked up his hat from where she’d left it on the table, to give himself an edge, she guessed, then snatched the dice up out of her hands. “Guests go first!”

“No, you roll to see who goes first!” Cady protested, lunging and trying to grab them back, but it was useless. Branch held them out of her reach above his head, with his other arm keeping her back.

“Now, Cady Longmire, didn’t your daddy ever teach you how to treat a guest?” he asked.

“Fine, but it’s not going to help you,” Cady threatened, sitting back on her heels. “You’re going down, I’m a lawyer and I am sending your ass to jail.”

“Oh, you mean to work there and give you speeding tickets?” Branch asked. He rolled an eleven. The game was on.

Cady and Branch were both cutthroat players, and even the clothing penalties couldn’t hold their interest for long in the battle for properties. Cady was pretty sure Branch was flagrantly embezzling from the bank, but she could never catch him in the act. Cady herself might have slipped the Pennsylvania Avenue card under the couch and claimed it was lost to prevent Branch from completing his set, and then pronounced that it didn’t count as a full property set because one card was gone.

Finally, wearing nothing above the waist or below the ankle, Branch snatched Atlantic Avenue out from under her nose, and between that and his early seizure of Park Place and Boardwalk, Cady’s dog had been effectively sunk by his battleship.

She was still dressed in everything but her sweatpants, having avoided the extensive time Branch had spent in jail, but she still shuddered as she surveyed her options and decided continuing the game was a lose-lose scenario.

“So, Connally, what do you say we start losing the clothes in a more organized fashion?” she asked, letting her gaze linger somewhere south of his collarbone.

“Oh, is that a forfeit?” Branch asked, with an absolutely wicked glee.

“In your dreams,” Cady said, denying the obvious. “But if you don’t want to take this into the bedroom…”

“I don’t know,” Branch said, clearly torn between the prospect of warming up in the bedroom and his current position of power. “The way I see it, it looks like you’re going to keep losing clothes either way…”

“Mmm, but I think you’d have more fun if you kept losing them too,” Cady said. She smiled broadly, watching Branch’s resolve crumble.

“Works for me,” he said, rising to his feet. Cady was careful to nudge the board with her toe as she stood as well, sending two dozen hotels skittering out of place. Branch could never prove he had beaten her.

She left the empty mugs on the living room floor, telling herself one night couldn’t hurt. The volume was turned down low enough on the television that she could just make out the wind outside. She left that on too, sidling into the bedroom and kicking her slacks into a corner.

“I’m glad you came over,” she murmured into Branch’s ear, as his fingers reached around to unhook her bra.

“Best idea I’ve had all week,” Branch agreed, and Cady got busy with his zipper.