He led them to a great room just off the kitchen. It was filled with four long tables, three parallel and one perpendicular across the top. There were already people sitting down and talking. Jim, who was starving, could smell each and every item on the menu and had to expend great effort not to drool. Bob grinned at him and indicated a pair of seats at the top table. "You two sit there, near Scott and Marian."

The couple waved to them as they approached, with Bob close behind, to sit on their other side. Blair blinked at the arrangement.

"Oh, man. Scott, you could be the lord of the manor."

Scott grinned. "It does look that way, doesn't it? But *these* 'serfs' are here of their own free will, can leave if they find something better and have a decent benefit package. Right, Bob?"
"Yes, my lord. Anything you say, my lord." To Jim's surprise, Bob kept a straight face. On the other hand, Marian and Scott were hysterical.

People began to stream out of the kitchen carrying enormous bowls of salad and pitchers and carafes of dressing. They placed these all along the tables and took their own places with everyone else.

"We grow most of our own produce. There is no way you could get a fresher salad." Scott piled his plate high and doused it with dressing.

While Blair happily demolished several platesful, Jim and Scott spent as much time reminiscing as they did eating. Several times, they managed to get both Blair and Marian laughing. Bob remained taciturn, as did others at the "high" table.

When the bowls and pitchers were empty, the servers jumped up and cleared things away. Almost immediately, some returned with big dishes of cooked vegetables and baskets of breads. Others conducted a poll to find out how people wanted their steaks. When one got to the head table, Scott and Marian both opted for well-done, but Jim asked for blood rare and Blair for medium rare. The server looked surprised at this, but nodded anyway.

The steak, when it arrived, was perfect - seared on the outside and almost cold on the inside. He ignored the looks of disgust from either side and dug in.

"This is incredible, Scott!"

"You should try it cooked some day, Jim. This is from our herds, of course. We have free range beef cattle and buffalo out there, and it turns a nice profit."

Jim continued to chat with their host and hostess as he wolfed down as much good, hearty ranch cooking as he could between words. Blair, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically silent. He played with his vegetables and ate about half his steak before pushing it away. Even when the parade of servers brought on dessert - several choices of pies and cakes, plus homecranked ice cream - Blair barely touched it.

Part of it had to be the stares they were getting. Despite his own hopes for the evening, Jim was seriously considered telling Scott the truth and getting Blair his own room. The problem was, he and Blair both knew that that wouldn't stop the talk.

The other part...was Blair worried about this night? He had no reason to be, but the human mind is a strange thing, and the Sandburg one was stranger than most.

"Jim, is something wrong with your...friend?" Marian peered over both Scott and Jim to look at Blair.

"It was a difficult trip and a longish day. Everything was just wonderful, Marian. Should I compliment your chef?"

Scott grinned. "Cookie'll be pleased to hear it. I'll pass it along to him. Why don't you get...him to bed? Breakfast is at s