The blond woman sipped her glass of wine and ran her fingernail down the arm of the man next to her. Letting him kiss her hard, she smiled as her hand continued its wandering, “What did you find out, Eric?”
Opening a folder, Eric spread the contents on the table and spoke quietly. “She lives in Stockton, California and is engaged to one of California’s wealthiest bachelors.”
“Hmmmm.” Placing her hand on his thigh, she leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Tell me about my stepdaughter’s soon to be new family.”
Two months later, the sun was shining down on the lone rider making her way across the range. The arrival to her destination delayed by her mother-in-law’s request to go over some fabrics to reupholster the sofa in the room she shared with her husband.
She had elected to leave most of her furniture at the main house on her ranch that Jack and Charity were now occupying. Pedro and Maria, had returned from town one day a married couple, and were occupying the second smaller house on the ranch. After the shock of the unexpected marriage, Jack and Sue had discussed the switch of residences and both agreed it made sense. Jose, who had respected and liked Pedro, had readily accepted him as his stepfather and everyone could see the love Pedro had for the teenager and his mother.
Smiling, her thoughts turned to her husband, Nick Barkley. The happy couple had returned from the honeymoon two weeks prior. The secluded beach house had been the perfect location for the over loving couple to stay. The smell of the ocean enhanced by the warm gentle breezes through the open windows had seemed to increase their desires for one another. Relishing the secluded location, they indulged themselves in walks down the beach and lovemaking under the moonlight sky.
Returning to Stockton, they settled into the Barkley mansion surrounded by the family. Each weekday morning, Sue had breakfast with Heath and Nick. After breakfast, they headed to the barn and saddled their horses, going their separate ways for the day and meeting up at night.
Sue was heading to the north fence line where Jose and the new hand, Brad Mason were scheduled to be working. Mason had been hired on two days after Curly had moved to Nevada to care for his father who had taken ill. His mother passed away years before and Curly was his closest child. The other children had moved to the east coast and were not anxious to change the comfortable lives they had built there. Jack understood and ensured the man he could have his job back at any time.
Thinking of the new hand, Sue frowned, she felt unsure of the type of person he portrayed himself to be. Unable to explain her feelings, she had supported Jack in his decision to hire him. In speaking discreetly to the others on the crew, they had no complaints about him and stated he usually stayed to himself. His face flashed before her and she thought back on the day she had met him.
“Brad Mason, this is Suzanne Weston-Barkley. Sue owns the ranch.” said Jack.
Holding out her hand to the stocky man who was only an inch taller than her, Mason had hesitated before taking it, “Mrs. Barkley.”
“Mr. Mason, Jack and I are partners in the ranch, actually. Hope you don’t have a problem with two bosses?” replied Sue staring into his gray eyes.
“No problem.” said Mason, “I gotta get to work.”
“You cold?” asked Jack seeing her shiver.
“No. He seems familiar to me.” said Sue softly watching Mason spur his horse and take off, “Where’s he from?”
“He didn’t say specifically, but he did mention he grew up in Louisiana.”
Looking at Jack, she shook her head, “How did he wind up here?”
Shrugging, Jack tightened his cinch, “Said he followed the gold strikes, was unlucky and decided to go back to being a ranch hand. Sue, he’s a good worker and he hasn’t caused any problems.”
Climbing on Satan, Sue apologized, “Sorry for the third degree. It must be from hanging around that lawyer brother-in-law of mine.”
Laughing, Jack winked, “I don’t mind as long as you don’t start quoting citations by chapter and verse from the book of law.”
Hearing a horse, Jose saw the woman riding over and groaned, dreading the conversation he knew would be forthcoming.
Jumping off Satan, Sue left his reins trailing and walked over to Jose. “Morning, Jose.”
“Morning, boss.” replied Jose, his attention on the job before him.
Sue watched Jose concentrate on the fence post with his undivided attention and asked quietly, “Where’s Mason?”
“Uh, I’m not sure boss.” said Jose quietly, keeping his head down and not meeting her eyes.
“He’s supposed to be working with ya’.”
Shrugging, Jose said, “He had to go somewhere.”
Sue lifted his face and stared in shock at the bruise on his swollen cheek, “Who hit you?”
“I tripped over a post.” stammered Jose frightened by the fury in her eyes.
“That’s from a hand.” stated Sue.
“No, boss!” replied Jose quickly. “I tripped and fell on the post!”
Holding him by his shaking shoulders, Sue looked into the nervous dark eyes and said firmly, “You and I have never lied to each other, Jose. I’m not blind. You either tell me now or you can tell Pedro and your mama when we get back to the ranch. “
Closing his eyes in resignation, Jose said quietly, “Mr. Mason did it. I don’t want no trouble, Miss Sue.”
“Look at me.” insisted Sue waiting for him to look at her. “Tell me how this happened.”
“He’s always asking all kinds of questions.”
“What kind of questions?” inquired Sue.
“Questions about where you lived in Texas, your family and other things. I told him if he wanted to know anything, he should ask you or your husband. He got mad and said no greaser pup was gonna smart mouth him. Then he rode off.”
“Towards town. It’s no big deal, boss.” stated Jose softly.
Putting her arm over his trembling shoulders, Sue walked him to his horse and said firmly, “It’s a big deal to me, Jose. You don’t deserve to be hit. A real man wouldn’t hit a boy. I want you to head back to the house and have your mama take care of that.”
“Miss Sue, please don’t go after him.” pleaded Jose.
Mounting Satan, Sue smiled, “I’ll be fine, Jose. Do as you’re told now.”
Nodding, he galloped towards the ranch house hoping he would see one of the other men as Sue headed towards Stockton with fire flowing through her veins.
Jack and Pedro heading back from Stockton watched Sue riding towards them at a full gallop. Reining the stallion to a stop, they saw the fury on her face.
“Jack, I’m firing Mason.” snapped Sue. “I want him off the ranch today!”
“Mind telling my why, Sue?” asked Jack patiently.
“He hit Jose.”
“What!” shouted Pedro and Jack.
“There’s a bruise on his cheek. I sent him back to the house to have Maria look at it.” explained Sue. “Jose said he rode towards town, did you see him?”
Pedro shook his head and said through clenched teeth, “He’s not in town, boss. I’ll find him. Nobody touches my son.”
“Let’s see if he’s at the ranch.” said Jack. “If he’s not, we’ll find him and deal with him.”
“If he’s there, he’ll know the feel of a man hitting back, not a boy.” snarled Pedro.
Wondering about Mason’s familiar face, Sue said, “I’ve gotta go see Jarrod. You and Pedro go to the ranch.”
Frowning, Jack said quietly, “Sue, if you see Mason, remember you’re a married woman now.”
Pedro snickered when Sue rolled her eyes in disgust, “Married or not Jack, that won’t stop me from dealing with a skunk like him!”
“Come on.” said Jack watching Sue riding into town and glanced at Pedro. “I hope that bastard’s at the ranch.”
His mouth set in a grim line, Pedro nodded in agreement and headed towards the ranch. Reaching the ranch house, Pedro and Jack searched for Mason in the bunkhouse.
“His gear’s gone.” stated Pedro. “Next time I see him, he’ll pay.”
Putting his hand on the outraged hand’s shoulder, Jack nodded, “He better not see any of us. Let’s go check on Jose.”
“Come in.” called Jarrod at the knock on his office door.
Looking up, he smiled widely and greeted his sister-in-law with a kiss on the cheek, “Sue, what a delightful interruption.”
“Sorry to bother ya’ Jarrod.” smiled Sue.
“It’s no bother.” grinned Jarrod waving to a chair and sitting behind his desk. “Have a seat!”
Remaining on her feet, Sue asked quietly, “Jarrod, do you know anyone at the Pinkerton agency?”
Surprised, Jarrod nodded, “I have some contacts, why?”
Sighing, Sue leaned on the desk, “I don’t know any Pinkertons. Can you request an investigation for me? Jarrod, I want it kept a secret.”
“Okay, I’d be happy to help with anything I can. Who is it?”
Puzzled, Jarrod asked, “Isn’t that one of your hands?”
“Yeah. He’s the new one Jack hired. We’re firing him today, but I have this feeling he’s real familiar.” replied Sue. “When I look in his eyes..”
Sue shivered as the ghost of a feeling tickled her spine.
Looking into the concerned blue eyes, she said softly, “I feel like someone’s stepping on my grave.”
Shocked at her words, Jarrod stared into the emerald eyes, “I’m sure it’s nothing like that, Sue. You could have met him briefly somewhere or someone who is similar to him.”
“We’ll have attorney client privilege, right?” said Sue quietly.
“Yes, we will. So I can assume you’re not going to tell Nick?” inquired Jarrod.
“Are you crazy?” chuckled Sue dryly. “He’d never let me out of his sight. Besides, you’re probably right and it’s nothing.”
Standing, Jarrod nodded, “Do you want to walk with me to send the wire and have lunch afterwards?”
“Thanks for the offer, but I have to get back to the ranch.” smiled Sue walking out with her brother-in-law and described Mason to him. Stopping on the boardwalk, she said softly, “Thanks again, Jarrod.”
“I’ll let you know as soon as I receive word.” smiled Jarrod.
Climbing on Satan, Sue looked down and said, “He may have grown up in Louisiana.”
Nodding, Jarrod replied, “That’ll give them a starting point. See you at home tonight.”
Sue rode down the street, stopping to briefly speak with the sheriff before continuing to the ranch. Riding across the range, her thoughts centered on the man who’d been asking questions. Frowning, she searched her memory for an occasion when she may have ran into him in the past or anyone similar. None came to her mind.
‘Why’s he asking questions?’ ‘What did he hope to find out?’ Too many questions and not enough answers. Hopefully, the Pinkertons would be able to provide some hint as to the feelings she had every time she thought of Mason.
Leaving the frightened boy behind him, Mason headed towards town and then retraced his steps back to the ranch. Gathering his gear, he stowed it in his saddlebags. Walking into the barn, he smiled at the chestnut standing in the stall. Two minutes later, he left and headed towards the small town of Manteco.
Jack and Pedro were working on the north fence when Sue rode up. The two men reassured Jose was okay went to complete the job started that morning. The three worked together to replace the fence until the sun started to set in the sky. Calling it a day, they discussed Mason’s actions and sudden departure as they rode. Jack would inform the others tonight at supper so they could be on the lookout for the despicable man. Sue waved goodbye and headed to the Barkley ranch.
Unaware she was being watched, Sue dismounted and led Satan into the barn. Unsaddling Satan, she groomed him thoroughly while talking to him softly.
“How come you never sweet talk me?” complained Nick with a grin.
Smiling widely, Sue put the curry comb away and closed the stall behind her. Walking up to her husband, she frowned, “I’m sorry, darling, I thought you liked action better than words. Guess we can just talk from now on.”
Laughing he pulled her into his arms and kissed her gently, “Second thought, forget I asked, honey.”
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she whispered, “I missed ya’ today.” Brushing her lips across his, they joined in a lingering kiss.
Heath cleared his throat and teased, “You two are scaring the horses!”
“Very funny, little brother.” grinned Nick kissing his smiling wife again.
Walking to the house together, Sue told the brothers of Brad Mason hitting Jose and his departure from the ranch. Entering, they took off their gun belts and put them on the table with their hats.
“MOTHER!” shouted Nick startling Sue. Heath laughed when she jumped and ducked the hand she swung at him in response.
“Sue, hit your own husband.” stated Sonja greeting her favorite cowboy with a hug and a long kiss.
Looking at Nick, Sue retorted, “And they complain about us!”
Chuckling, Nick winked and pulled his wife up the stairs to help clean the day’s dust off each other. Having drinks before dinner, Victoria smiled at the pool game between the two couples. Jarrod and Audra watched with amusement.
“Come on honey, you can do it.” urged Nick softly. “Just take good aim now. You can do it.”
Straightening up, Sue glared at Nick, “Will you stop jabbering at me?”
“I’m just trying to encourage you is all.” explained Nick.
Pointing at him with the cue stick, Sue snarled, “Knock it off! You’re disturbing my concentration.”
Heath snickered and whispered loudly to his bride for all to hear, “They’re turning against each other. We’re gonna be twenty dollars richer, darlin’.”
Nick rolled his eyes while the rest of the family enjoyed a chuckle. Sue took aim and moved the cue stick forward hitting the white ball. Watching the cue ball hit the eight ball and follow it towards the pocket, Nick held his breath and let out a loud sigh when the eight ball went into the pocket and the white ball stopped on the very edge of the felt.
“GOOD SHOT, HONEY!” yelled Nick as he kissed her and swung her around in a circle. “I NEVER DOUBTED YOU FOR A MOMENT!”
“Sure, Barkley.” teased Sue. She grabbed the money from Heath’s hand, stuck her tongue out at the other couple and handed a beaming Nick half of the winnings with the family laughing at their antics.
Entering the room, Silas said quietly, “Miss Sue, Mr. Jack’s here for you.”
Smiling, Sue nodded, “Thanks Silas. I’ll be right back.”
Sue left the study and greeted her partner as she walked towards him. “Jack, what are you doing here?”
Fumbling with his hat, Jack said sadly, “I’m sorry, Sue. We found Rio in his stall. He was shot in the head.”
Nick and the family came running as a cry of anger and dismay was heard from the foyer.
Jack caught her as she stumbled to her knees, the cry of despair leaving her lips. His heart in his throat, Nick fell to the floor beside his pale wife.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” asked Nick holding her tightly, feeling her shake and looked at Jack with concern in his hazel eyes.
Jack said quietly, “Someone killed Rio.”
“Honey, I’m so sorry.” whispered Nick squeezing the trembling woman tighter.
Gasps of disbelief and curses of anger could be heard from the rest of the family. All the family knew of Sue’s love for animals, especially Rio and Satan. Rio had been the last gift given to her by her father before his death.
Taking a shaky breath, Sue pushed Nick away and climbed slowly to her feet. Putting on her hat, Nick asked, “Sue, where are you going?”
“To the ranch.” she said quietly trying to buckle her gunbelt with fingers that shook uncontrollably.
“I’m coming, too.” replied Nick putting his hat and belt on.
“Dammit!” she exclaimed in frustration at the futile efforts her shaking fingers caused, resigned herself to carrying the belt and walked out the door to the barn.
“Sorry, Mother.” said Nick before following his shaken wife.
Heath looked at his friend and asked softly, “Mason?”
“I don’t know.” replied Jack, “That would be my guess, but we can’t prove it. No one was at the ranch this afternoon. Sorry for disturbing your evening, Mrs. Barkley.”
Jack left and looking at Heath, Victoria asked, “Isn’t Mason one of her hands?”
Heath nodded and explained what had occurred that day. The family members were outraged at the brutality of the man who could hit a boy and who could perhaps be responsible for the dead horse.
Jarrod frowned, remembering how Sue explained the feeling when she looked in Mason’s eyes. Victoria glancing at Jarrod caught the expression and made a mental note to ask him about it later.
Walking to the barn door, Jack listened to Nick speaking quietly to Sue as she leaned against Satan, unable to find the strength to saddle him. “If you wanna go, we will. But there’s nothing we can do tonight. Please, honey, let Jack and the men take care of Rio.”
Sniffling, Sue whispered, “Some people would say he’s just a horse. He wasn’t just an animal to me, Nick. He was a friend, a companion, a..”
Her voice faltering, he opened the stall and picked her up as she hung onto him unable to keep the tears at bay. Jack closed the stall behind Nick, receiving a nod of thanks. Taking a moment to update Duke on what happened, he mounted and rode back to the ranch.
The family watched a grim faced Nick carry his grieving wife up the stairs and into their room. Laying her on the bed, she curled up and sobbed uncontrollably. Taking off her boots, he lay next to her and held her in his arms.
For three long years, Ramona Bouvier had planned her revenge. Her long days in confinement for the forging of a legal document, further lengthened by the constant threat of Big Sally.
Big Sally, the woman Suzanne Weston had written a letter to. Sally had always thought of Zane Weston in a loving manner. He was one man who had treated her fairly and kindly. Sally had been enraged when she received the letter from his daughter. When Ramona had arrived at the prison, Sally carried out the solemn vow she had made the day the letter arrived. Whenever an opportunity arose, she ensured Ramona was left with a new bruise or bruises.
Fortunately for Ramona, Sally’s heart was pumping on borrowed time and had finally given out. Free of the constant threat, she had worked on securing an early release from the dank prison she had been sentenced to.
Seeking out Eric Fletcher from one of her past lives, she had him find out where her wayward stepdaughter lived and what type of life she was living. Her half-brother, Brad Mason, had readily agreed to helping Ramona in her quest for revenge. He and Ramona shared the same father, both bonded by the darkness in their soul, as his was.
Knowing the way to hurt Zane’s daughter was through those things she cared about and loved, they had started the plan in motion. They enjoyed the chance to cause someone pain, but they also realized the potential wealth that was within their grasp compliments of the Barkley and Weston fortunes.
Ramona sat at the table sipping coffee and watching the deliciously handsome man in the bed sleep. His brown hair laying against the crisp white pillow case. His face blessed by a strong chin and high cheekbones accented his ruggedly good looks. With that face, he could fool anyone into thinking he was as pure as a choir boy. His lean muscular body caused an ache of need inside her, but she knew his heart was as dark and loathsome as hers.
She would use him just as she used the other men in her life. Once she had what she wanted, she would discard him and move on. Even though she only used men as a means to an end, she selfishly took great strides to ensure her desires and needs were met while spending time with the opposite sex.
Putting her cup down, she jumped on him. Eric Fletcher startled out of a sound sleep grabbed the naked body landing on him and flung it over.
“You scared the daylights out of me!” snapped Eric at the laughing woman he had pinned to the bed.
“I thought you liked it rough, darling.” she asked sweetly accenting her question with a bite on his chest and digging her fingernails into his bare back.
Her hunger matching his in the brutal sex they gave each other, taking what they wanted from each other when the need arose in any manner they chose. Their sweat soaked bodies lay beside each other in the aftermath of the frenzy they created in each other. Not touching, but both feeling satisfied from the spent energy.
Eric watched her out of the corner of his eye. He was no fool. She thought she controlled him with her voluptuous body and beautiful looks. He would take what she was willing to give and walk away a richer man because of the association. He had no dreams of love, only dreams of wealth. She was good this woman, her plans wickedly evil and well thought out.
Closing his eyes, he remembered the faces peering out from the photos he had obtained and smiled at the arousal he knew would occur. He would help Ramona and then he would satisfy himself with the woman she wanted to destroy and her blond haired sister-in-law before moving on.
He grabbed two handfuls of her hair, positioned himself between her legs and took her again with such force her eyes welled slightly with tears from the pain of the unexpected action. Ramona let him do what he would with her body, believing she controlled his every whim and desire, until he collapsed on top of her expelled of all energy.
“Hmmm, delightfully rough.” murmured Ramona nibbling his ear with her legs still wrapped around the muscular body. Grinning, she savored the moans she caused by moving against him and whispered. “Sorry, but playtime’s over for now.”
Pushing him off to the side, she wrapped a robe around her and headed to the water closet to bath. Refreshed and wearing clean clothes, the couple sat at the table revisiting their plan. Hearing a knock at the door, Ramona stared in surprise at the man on the other side.
Ushering him into the room, she exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”
Shrugging, Brad Mason grinned, “Sis, I had to leave there was a little trouble.”
Eric watched as the half siblings regarded each other. Ramona taking in the grin of her brother, asked excitedly, “One or both?”
“Only one. Rio.” smirked Mason. “And she’s supposed to be bringing the cattle down from the mountain range today. The trip should take roughly two days if they don’t have any problems.”
Ramona beamed with happiness, taking his arm and led him to a chair. “Now, tell me all the juicy details. Then we can discuss how bad things can happen to good people when they’re away from home.”
Waking earlier than usual, Sue moved Nick’s arm over and lightly kissed his lips, his face reflecting complete relaxation in his state of sleep. Sitting on the edge of the bed, her angry thoughts centered on the previous night events, rose and took some clothes from the bureau. Opening the door, she went to the water closet, bathed and dressed for the day.
Carrying her boots and saddlebags, she walked down the back stairs to the kitchen, put some water on for coffee and sat at the table waiting for it to boil. Hearing the sounds of someone moving around in the kitchen, Silas dressed and entered the room.
“Miss Sue, ya’s up awful early tis morning.” drawled Silas quietly.
Sue said, “I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m getting an early start, me and the boys have cattle to move. You can go back to sleep, Silas.”
Shaking his head, he said, ”Now, Miss Sue. Ya’ knows I can’t do it. Sit down ta the table. Ole Silas will fix ya’ some eats.”
Setting a cup of coffee on the table, Silas smiled compassionately at the red rimmed eyes, “I’s sorry bout Rio, Miss Sue. He been a fine horse and friend ta ya’”
“Thanks, Silas.” replied Sue quietly.
“Whoever did it is gonna pay.” mumbled Sue, reining in the anger and sitting in the chair watching the kind old man working.
“Miss Sue, how’s the boy, Jose?” asked Silas with concern.
“He’s fine, he was just shaken and frightened.” replied Sue and adding with a smirk, “Silas, you know everything that goes on in this house. If you hear what Nick is getting me for my birthday next month, maybe you’d have a little bird tell me?”
With his back turned and hiding his smile, Silas shook his head, “I ne’er hear ev’rything, Miss Sue. Just some things.”
“Silas, did I ever tell ya’ how my father caught Rio for my birthday?”
“Ya’s daddy caught him?” asked Silas curiously fixing a quick breakfast and placing it in front of her. “Can’t rightly say ya’ve told that story ta me afore.”
In between sips of coffee and bites of food, Sue spoke quietly and relayed the story to the gentle man sitting across from her. Her eyes lighting up with laughter and pride when she spoke of the adventure her father had trying to catch Rio.
Shaking her head, she leaned over and whispered, “Silas, ya’ should’ve heard the cussing that day!”
Feigning shock, Silas scolded her gently, “Miss Sue, ya’s don’t need ta tell me them words!”
Snickering, Sue squeezed the hand on the table. Rising, she walked over and kissed the weathered cheek, “Thanks, Silas, you’re a wonderful listener and a good friend. Tell Mr. Nick I went to the ranch.”
Silas frowned, “Maybes ya’ should wait ta tell ‘em. He sure ain’t gonna be happy, Miss Sue, ya’ ridin’ by yaself.”
“That’s why I’m letting you tell him, Silas.” chuckled Sue at the grimace on the old man’s face. “Don’t worry, his bark’s worse than his bite, or so I’ve heard.”
Sue was crossing onto Weston range as the sun was just contemplating rising and an anxious cowboy missing her in his arms, made his way down to the kitchen to join his woman like every other morning.
The remaining Barkley family members were awoken early that morning by the howl that rang through the still house, “FOR PETE’S SAKE, THAT WOMAN’S STUBBORN!!”
Heath, enjoying the warmth of his wife’s arms for a little longer than usual this morning, was heading towards the kitchen and shook his head as the slamming of the front door accentuated the angry words.
Reaching the ranch, Sue tied Satan to the fence and walked into the barn. Leaning on the door, she stared into the stall where all signs of the foul deed had been removed. Closing her eyes, remembering Rio when she rode him last.
Hank put a giant hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. “Sorry, boss.”
Sue wiped the tears from her eyes and turned around to see the downtrodden faces of some of her family. “Thanks boys for, uh, taking care of him. I appreciate it.”
Nodding their understanding of her simple words, the twins, Harold and Bill followed her out of the barn and mounted. Riding together, they headed out to mountains to move the herd down closer to the ranch before the snow fell in the higher elevations. Jack, Pedro, Davey and Jose would stay behind to ensure all was in order when the cattle arrived.
Nick arrived at the Weston ranch and Jack was in the yard to meet him when he dismounted.
“Morning. Is Sue here?” asked Nick. “She left early this morning and I didn’t get a chance to talk to her.”
Nodding, Jack smiled, “She left about an hour ago. She and some of the men are moving the herd down from the mountain grazing. Sue’s gonna be gone a couple of days. Didn’t she tell you, Nick?”
“That’s right, guess I forgot with what happened last night.” admitted Nick with a sigh remembering the conversation while they were cleaning up. “I just wanted to make sure she didn’t run into any trouble on the way here.”
“No, she got here fine. The boys will keep a close eye on her.” reassured Jack.
Clapping Jack on the back, Nick grinned, “I know that Jack! I’m surprised they even let me court her and marry her.”
“Sometimes, we’re still not sure if that was a good idea, the way you two fight.” teased Jack.
“Jack, as you know, the best part is the making up.” winked Nick mounting Coco. “Sometimes I argue with her just so I can give in later.”
Laughing, Jack waved at the grinning man and walked into the house. Charity looked at her husband and asked, “Was that Nick?”
“Yep. He’s just looking for the boss.” replied Jack pouring a cup of coffee.
“Jack, how many times has Suzanne told you not to call her that?”
“Bout a thousand. I do it just to bother her.” smiled Jack wrapping his arms around her. Kissing her gently, he whispered, “How ya’ feeling?”
“I’m fine.” smiled Charity widely when his hand felt her stomach and the wonder reflected in his eyes.
“The boss is gonna be so surprised!” grinned Jack as Charity swatted his arm and playfully pushed him out the door.
The sun rose and slowly took the chill of the fall morning with it as the riders made their way to their destination. Laughing, Sue shook her head at the stories the men were regaling each other with, trying to outdo the others. She smiled grateful for their efforts to keep her thoughts away from yesterday.
“Horace, you ain’t ever been to New York!” exclaimed Harold “I think you’re losing those marbles rolling around in your head!”
Ace, sporting a bewildered look, replied “Harry, I do believe you just called me a liar!”
Rolling his eyes, Harold snorted, “When were you ever in the state of New York visiting New York City?”
“Well, I’ve never been there, Harry.” admitted Ace with a wink at the boss and his twin. “I’m talking about New York, Nevada.”
“Ah, for pete’s sake!” groaned Harold realizing Ace had drawn him in hook, line and sinker again.
Sue and the others enjoyed the laugh the two created at the expense of each other. Those two were always snipping, teasing and griping at each other. Their deep friendship between the two forged on the battlefields of war. Reaching the stream at the foot of the mountains, the group dismounted to let the horses drink and rest while they grabbed a quick lunch.
Looking over at the boss and winking at the three men, Ace said innocently, “Boss, I’m surprised Nick let you come with us. I didn’t think he’d let his wife ride out with other men.”
Hank, Bill and Harry hid their smiles and hung their head, listening for the explosion they knew would be forthcoming each time Ace would start a ‘discussion’ with their boss. He had become a master at pushing her buttons and getting a response.
“Ace, you can keep trying but I’M NOT BITING!” smirked Sue.
“What do you mean, boss?” inquired Horace with an innocent look.
“Uh huh, I’m not getting into one of those discussions with you again.” replied Sue.
Shrugging his shoulder, Ace looked at the others, “Guess they must’ve had a row this morning about it. It’s just like I said, he’s trying to clip her wings.”
Rolling her eyes, she stood up and walked over to the giant. Poking him in the chest with her finger and pushing him back with each poke, Sue retorted, “Pick on one of the others and leave me out of it!”
Watching the woman pushing the mountain around, the others burst out laughing. Hank walked to his horse and grinned at his frustrated twin, “Looks like the boss is the winner this time, brother.”
Ace climbed up and snorted, “Dang, I thought I could get her good. I have to think on this some.”
“Don’t hurt yourself, Horace!” replied Sue riding by him while the others laughed at the blush on his face and followed their boss.
Riding up the trails, the group arrived at the meadows and sat watching the cattle grazing, two hours later.
“Okay, boys. We might as well start moving them down off this mountain. We can get down to the lower plateau by nightfall.” stated Sue unlashing the rope on her saddle.
The group of riders rode around the cattle on two different sides and started them moving forward. An old cow with trail experience decided it was up to her to take the lead and started moving in the right direction. With a little bit of encouragement from the horse mounted humans, others of the herd followed, rising the dust with their hooves.
Working steadily, they pushed the cattle down using whoops, hollers and an occasional taste of a coiled rope. Their horses worked endlessly chasing down the unwilling participants of the herd. Riding the back of the herd and seeing a cow break for the trees through the dust, Sue rode after him. Satan wise in the movements of cattle, went after him cutting off his escape attempt at every avenue.
Horace glanced over and grinned at the dodging game occurring across the meadow between a horse and a walking steak. Seeing an attempted escape on his side, he went after the wayward animal and stopped as a single shot rang out. Jumping off his horse, he took out his gun trying to pinpoint where the shot came from. No others followed and waving to the others who were looking around, he galloped towards the last spot he had seen the dodging game taking place.
Satan in a full gallop went after another escapee, stumbled and threw his rider over his head when his steps faltered from the hot piercing lead that entered his muscular body. After the impact with the hard ground under the soft meadow grasses, neither he nor his rider were aware as the dust settled on them in the warm afternoon sun.
Watching from the slope of the hill, Mason held his breath and squeezed the trigger. His shot found its mark and he looked through the scope of the rifle watching the ranch hands stop their work when they heard the report of the rifle.
“I told you to not shoot until she was stopped.” whispered his sister furiously “You’d better pray you didn’t kill her.”
Looking through the scope, Mason whispered back, “Did you see her fly through the air, sis?”
Chuckling, Ramona smiled, “Yeah it was pretty funny. But still, she better be alive, the best part of this will be when she knows why these things are happening.”
The siblings sat back to enjoy the spectacle as the other riders headed to the far side of the meadow.