© Copyright 2011 Leah Braemel
Danged devil’s rope.” Jackson Kellar checked the stallion’s withers where the barbed wire had nicked it. “It ain’t too bad though, Nate. Shouldn’t be a problem for the trip back home, less it festers.”
“Good. McLeod was right about this fellow being high-spirited. It should be a treat to ride him.” Nate ran a hand down the horse’s neck and crooned softly until it gentled. Nate had mighty talented hands when it came to soothing the beasts. Or any other animals he came across.
Jackson included himself on that list.
Aware of the McLeod field hands watching them, Jackson positioned himself between the horse and the hands to check his six-shooter. Something about the look of some of those men left him uneasy. Once assured the gun was loaded, he surveyed the ranch. Long strands of the barbed wire outlined the fields and pastures, where a decade before this valley had been open. Not that it stopped the cattle rustlers from tearing down the silver barriers. Rumors he’d heard in town questioned just which side of the McLeod fence the rustled cattle were herded.
A flash of pale blue hurtling at Nate had Jackson whirling on his heel. He cocked and aimed the Colt until he realized Nate’s attacker was a shovel-wielding woman.
He holstered his weapon and watched the she-devil swing the shovel at Nate with an admirable ferocity. From the way he was deflecting the blows instead of landing his own, Nate must have figured out she was of the female persuasion. If the woman was as pretty from the front as she was from the back, Jackson couldn’t blame him.
“Need some help there, Nate?”
“Nope, I got it.” A grinning Nate dodged the shovel, and again when it returned for a yet another go-round. She’d put so much oomph into it, she lost her balance. Seizing the opportunity, Nate snatched the shovel and tossed it to Jackson, who caught it one-handed.
Danged if the she-devil didn’t ball her hand into a fist and catch Nate with a right hook that snapped his head back.
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“You sure you don’t want some help?”
“Naw, I got it.” Nate caught the fist as it whizzed past his face a second time, pulling the hellion against him. “Now, see, ain’t this more cozy, darlin’?”
“I’m not your darlin’.” She jammed her knee into a part of Nate’s anatomy that no knee had a right being anywhere near.
The color drained from Nate’s face, and he dropped to the ground with a croaking sound that had Jackson wincing in sympathy.
With a growl, Jackson caught Nate’s attacker from behind. He banded his arms around her, trapping her arms at her side. It didn’t stop her from hauling her foot back to continue the assault.
“That’s enough of that. He ain’t goin’ nowhere for a while.” He swung her out of the way before she kicked Nate into a patch of prickly pears.
She struggled against him, her behind rubbing his cock. From the way she was cursing him six ways from Sunday, he doubted she was aware of how the danged thing was rising up to salute her efforts.
“Your mama know you use language like that?” Jackson asked, keeping an eye on Nate, who was turning a disturbing shade of green.
“My mama died last spring.” She stilled, her voice dropping to a whisper.
“Well now, I’m right sorry about that. But you can’t just go around attacking folks for no reason.”
“No reason?” The hellcat started struggling again. “You’re on my land, stealing my horse. If I’d had my gun handy, I could have shot you and no one would have stopped me.”
Her land? Was this Josiah McLeod’s chit? That explained why the ranch hands weren’t lending a hand to the fight. “Now haul in your horns for a second there. We weren’t stealin’ this here horse. Nate bought him fair and square.”
Still on his hands and knees, Nate shook his head like a dog that had just crawled out of a pond. “You can check with your pa if you don’t believe me.”
All the piss and vinegar she’d had before disappeared, and she sagged in his arms. “He sold Bandit?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The bay in question watched them as he paced the fence line on the other side of the pasture.
Jackson took a chance and released her, but he didn’t relax his guard, staying ready to grab her again just in case she decided to take another shot at Nate. He introduced himself then gestured with his chin toward Nate. “The fellow you just tried to castrate is Nate Campbell.”
“I’m Sarah McLeod and Bandit’s my horse. I’ve trained him since he was born.”
“Well, Miss Sarah, Nate here just bought Bandit and a couple of mares from your pa. Deal was done fair and square.”
“A couple of mares…” Sarah’s eyes narrowed.
Right pretty eyes she had too. Dark like coal over high cheekbones. Looked like the rumors about Josiah’s wife taking up with an Indian fellow were true. Especially with those full lips that a man could lose himself in for a week. Lips that would look mighty fine tight around a man’s cock. In her struggles, her bonnet had fallen to the ground, and strands of long black hair feathered along a strong jaw. Pity she’d pulled her hair back into that god-awful bun, but it probably was easier to care for that way rather than letting it get tangled up in the wind when she was riding. Like her horse, she had a strong and wild air, so different from some of the frail young misses coming west these days.
Her blue calico skirts highlighted a nicely rounded behind when she bent over and picked up the shovel he’d dropped on the ground. Out the corner of his eye he saw Nate flinch, but Sarah simply hefted it and headed back toward the house.
“You all right?” he asked when Nate staggered to stand beside him.
“Yup. She caught me unawares, is all.” Nate adjusted himself with a grimace, but he didn’t take his eyes from watching Sarah’s behind swing as her long legs ate up the dirt between them and the family home. “She’s something, ain’t she?”
Nate’s sigh had Jackson’s head turning toward him. Had he lost him to a woman? Considering the way his own cock had reacted to her, he couldn’t fault Nate’s taste.
Ah, well, he knew it was too good to last. Besides, it was probably better if Nate did take a wife. Their relationship was downright dangerous. A woman in the house would put any rumors to rest. Of course, he’d have to find somewhere else to live if Nate wedded.
Jackson admired the bruise starting to form on Nate’s jaw. “She’s got a good right cross, I’ll give her that.”
Color tinged Nate’s cheeks. “Guess we better follow her. Maybe we won’t be leaving with that stallion after all.”
They caught up to Sarah just as she reached the barnyard, where her father was talking with his son Walt and another man. Though Josiah’s hair was red and Walt’s hair white blond, there was no mistaking the protruding family chin and freckled complexion, so different from Sarah’s jet black hair and golden skin.
Who the third man was, Jackson had no clue. Ranch hand, he guessed at first from the lariat the man carried, but revised his estimation when he drew closer and noticed the expensive tooling on his chaps and fancy silver belt buckle. Neighbor, perhaps? Another buyer of one of the horses?
Both McLeods frowned at Sarah’s approach, while the third man openly leered.
She positioned herself in front of her father so Walt was between her and the third man. “Did you sell Bandit?”
For some reason he couldn’t explain, it annoyed Jackson to no end that neither of her kin seemed to be bothered by the man’s lecherous expression.
“Yup, sure did.” Josiah McLeod’s frown deepened, especially once he caught sight of Jackson and Nate leaning on the fence, watching.
“But I’ve had him since he was a colt. Mama raised him and trained him. How could you sell him without telling me?”
“Listen here, girl, that horse is mine. Just like everything else on this land is mine. Including all those animals who are eatin’ my feed and filling stalls that I could fill with animals that’ll pull their weight more than you or that damned horse. So don’t you go getting all high and mighty because I sold a half dozen of my own stock without seekin’ your approval.”
“I ain’t sayin’ another word on the subject, girl. You live here on my good graces, so don’t push your luck if you know what’s good for you. Now you go get dinner ready.” McLeod tilted his head Jackson and Nate’s way. “We’ve got two extra guests, as well as Jed sitting down at the table tonight. You make sure the grub’s good, ya hear?” He headed to the barn, leaving her staring at him, her shoulders slumped in defeat.
As Walt sauntered past, he spit onto the ground in front of Sarah’s feet so it splattered across the tips of her boots and muttered, “Lazy squaw.”
Jed strolled up to her and whispered something so low Jackson couldn’t hear, but whatever it was, Sarah’s eyes widened and she took a step back. He was about to jump over the fence to intervene when in front of his eyes, the hellcat regained her confidence. Two seconds later, Jed was curled in a ball on the ground, gasping for breath and clutching his balls as Sarah stalked into the house.
“Damn, she’s somethin’, ain’t she?” Nate breathed, admiration filling his voice. Guess Nate had either forgotten his own experience with Sarah’s knee, or he’d decided it was admirable when used on someone else.
Still moaning, Jed hauled himself to his knees, then his feet. “Fuckin’ squaw needs a good beatin’ to teach her her place.” He spat in the direction of the house. “If I was McLeod, I’da dropped both her and her ma off at the nearest reservation as soon as I’d realized my wife had fucked a goddamned Indian. If I’d let ’em live in the first place.”
With a pointed look at Jackson, he resettled his hat and headed for the side of the house, where a flashy thoroughbred had been tethered.
Jackson grabbed Nate before he vaulted the split rail and went after the stranger. “Don’t. He ain’t worth it.”
“Someone should set him straight, stand up to him.” Nate shrugged him off. “How come you ain’t going after him?”
“You mean considerin’ I’ve got Indian blood in me?” Jackson shook his head. “He wouldn’t learn nothing from it. Besides I’d probably end up with a bullet in my back or a rope around my neck for attackin’ him. As I said, he ain’t worth it.”
“She’s worth it.” Jackson almost missed Nate’s whispered, “So are you.”
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