THE RANCHER AND THE LADY
A rancher hellbent on maintaining the status quo.
A lady who detests the elite.
Wild and wanton, opposites attract.
Long, hot days, working my ass off—just waiting for the cool nights to come—so I can kick back and enjoy the starry night. That’s what I do and who I am. Letting go of the passionate and determined lady seems unimaginable. With fire and heat, she can’t be tamed. She belongs elsewhere. It’s a truth I have to accept.
Debutante, elite, aristocrat—they’re all words that mean nothing. I need more. I need power, passion, adventure, and danger. Being a part of Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the only answer, my only dream, to end this nightmare of boredom. But walking away from him, the rugged and rough rancher who stole my heart, is more terrifying than anything. Can a lady have a bit of both worlds without everything crumbling down?
“Hey, Pa,” I said, answering my father’s call and knowing the first thing he’d do would be to laugh.
“Hello, son. I wish there were some equally cowpoke-type phrase I could greet you with.”
“Boy. That works.”
My father, known to most—including me—as Z, laughed again.
“Not that I don’t love talking to you, but to what do I owe the honor of this particular call?”
“How’s your sister?”
I sighed. Seven months ago, Wren had shown up back on the ranch saying she was taking a leave of absence from her job with the NGA—the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency—a branch of the United State’s National Security Agency.
She hadn’t offered up any details, and I hadn’t asked. I sensed there was more to it than a simple leave of absence, but I had no idea what.
“She puts one foot in front of the other,” I finally said.
“I was afraid of that.”
Wren rode out with me every day, helping with whatever chores needed to be done, just like she had as a teenager. However, there was no light in her green eyes.
“I have a favor to ask,” said my father.
“You are familiar with the Whittaker family?”
“There’s a daughter who finds herself a bit out of sorts. She came to me looking for your sister, actually.”
“And?” I could guess where this conversation was headed, but I’d rather have Z spell it out for me.
“I’d like to offer Darrow respite on the ranch for a time.”
“You said you were asking a favor, but this ranch is as much yours as it is mine.”
“I don’t live there, Quint. You do. And for the time being, so does your sister. I don’t want to inundate or inconvenience you.”
I chuckled. “With over a hundred thousand acres, I think I’ll be able to find somewhere to disappear for a while if the added estrogen overwhelms me.”
“Thank you, Quint.”
“No need to thank me, Pa, but I appreciate the heads-up. When is she due to arrive?”
“Two days from now, and I’ll be escorting her. There’s one more thing, Quint. I’d like to keep this visit a surprise for Wren.”
I laughed out loud. “You mean to say, you don’t want her to know this woman is on the way.”
“Your sister was…involved with one of Darrow’s older brothers.”
That explained a great deal although, like before, I had no intention of asking Wren about it. “She doesn’t like secrets, Z.”
“That’s why I’m coming with Darrow. Now that I’m assured you have no issues with the visit, you can forget this conversation took place.”
“Roger that,” I answered, shaking my head and smiling. “See you soon, Pa.”
I could hear my father’s laughter as I ended the call.
I walked over and looked out the kitchen window. I loved my simple life here on the ranch, free from the drama that had led my sister, and now this other woman, here.
Sure, it got lonely from time to time, and was maybe a little too remote, but a night in either Austin or San Antonio usually assuaged my yearning for companionship enough that I couldn’t wait to get back home.
This time of year, though, there was no reason to visit the big city. The ranch’s manager, Decker, three other hands, and myself competed in ranch rodeos all over the region.
Every weekend there were several team roping events to choose from. Since we weren’t in it for the money, we always picked the ranch rodeos over any other. It was more about the competition and the fun we had after the day’s events were over and the participants and spectators stayed to play.
“Good morning, Quint,” said Wren, joining me in the kitchen. “Who were you talking to?”
Wren didn’t ask why our father had called. Instead, she walked over and poured herself a cup of coffee. “What’s on the board today?” she asked, standing next to me as I looked out at our land.
“Movin’ cattle out to the southwest pastures.”
“Good,” she answered, washing her cup.
“You should eat somethin’ before you head out.”
My sister nodded and walked out of the house. It wasn’t different than any other day since she’d shown up on the ranch. She looked like she’d dropped twenty pounds, on a frame that didn’t have that much to lose. I could encourage her to eat more, but she was a grown-ass woman; it wasn’t up to me to make sure she didn’t waste away to nothing. She was my little sister, though, and I couldn’t help but look out for her.
Instead of making my usual two-sandwich lunch, I made three, threw them in my day pack, and walked out of the house like she had.
It was hotter than hell this time of year in Texas. I was already sweating and I hadn’t gotten all the way back to the barn after my morning break. I wiped my brow with a handkerchief and approached the stall where my horse, Gunsmoke, stood at the ready.
This morning I’d taken PeeWee out just to get the giant of a horse some exercise before it got too hot. The fifteen-hundred-pound American quarter horse stood at almost sixteen hands and was approaching his thirtieth birthday. I figured the big old boy had at least five good years left in him, but that didn’t mean I’d push him, especially in this heat.
My Paint, Gunsmoke, on the other hand, was a fifteen-hand, six-year-old gelding. The horse was happiest out, working the land and could go all day. I doubted he was over a thousand pounds, and if he was, it was all muscle. There were five other horses in the string I rode day-in, day-out throughout the year, but there was no question that Gunsmoke was my favorite.
“C’mon, boy.” As I led the horse out of the stall, something caught my eye. I tied off Gunsmoke and walked over to take a look.
Wren’s back was to me, and her cheek rested against her horse, Spark. I could tell by the rise and fall of her shoulders that she was crying. Instead of confronting her, I backed away, walked over to Gunsmoke, and led him out of the barn.
I hoped our father knew what he was doing, allowing this woman to visit the ranch. My sister was private; I’d be surprised if she felt comfortable confiding in a woman whose brother was the likely reason for her tears.