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In order to help her father's modest ranch survive the drought, Leah was trying her best, but without the assistance of their neighbour, everything looked inconceivable. Gathering her true grit to ask him for help, Leah quickly learned that his terms were impossible. The choice was either become her neighbour's mistress or destroy her father by allowing hem to go bankrupt. Perhaps the decision would have been easier if he wasn't so damn attractive!
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Leah cursed to herself as she saw the break in the fence. Usually she kept a good eye on the fences for her father but somehow she missed this one and a few of their herd escaped into the neighbour"s land. Cursing wasn"t like her, but unfortunately she had heard stories about the new owner of the Lazy 'C' and knew he was about as unforgiving as the old one. So she"d better get their cattle back as soon as possible before her father had to deal with an angry neighbour. He had enough problems at the moment.
It wasn"t often that she put any faith in rumour, but they couldn"t take that chance because what little money they had went to the ranch, and they couldn"t risk damage to another rancher"s property and risk losing their own spread through a lawsuit. Fortunately, she knew it couldn"t have been too many of their cattle, because the majority of the herd was down at the dry river bed that she"d just come from.
Nudging her horse through the opening she urged him to a trot hoping she could recover the cattle before the new owner was aware of them.
There wasn"t a cloud in the sky and the sun seemed especially bright today. She wished this hot spell would end and some rain would definitely be a blessing. One thing their ranch didn"t have right now was access to water. She prayed every night for it to rain before she went to bed because she knew her father couldn"t take much more stress. She worried about him. More than he knew.
Her father and their only ranch hand had been spending all day everyday for the last month hauling water because the river had gone dry, so it was one of her jobs to manage the fence line. Yet when cattle grew thirsty they"d go through anything to get to it. Today was no exception.
It was hot. Really hot. Hotter than usual it seemed.
She couldn"t imagine what the cattle were going through with their furry hides.
She reined up to reach down and pulled her shirt out of the waistband of her cut-offs and tie it in a knot above her belly button. Then she undid the top two buttons after glancing around. She was quite modest usually, but she was too hot to care right now and besides, there wasn"t another soul in sight. She usually didn"t wear cut off jeans on horseback either because the leather of the saddle chafed the skin of her inner thighs, but the heat was awful. She grinned to herself thinking that she"d be better off riding horseback naked if she wasn"t afraid of being seen. Then there were other things she had to worry about being chafed. She laughed a little at that. She felt daring in a way because there was no other possibility of ever being as bold in public.
She was a tomboy. Her best friend reminded her constantly about it, but she didn"t mind and took the teasing well. Of course it didn"t help that Kimmy was runway model material, and even though there had been offers she preferred an education instead. Leah was proud of her because of it. Unfortunately Leah couldn"t get one. They had no money or relief for her to go. She was hoping for this fall because her father was insisting on her going to college, but she knew that was not going to happen. The river may be filled with fresh mountain water again, but like the last two years it would run dry and she"d have to drop out in the middle of a semester.
Lord it was hot.
Lifting her straw hat, she reached up to swipe her brow with the back of her arm silently wishing again that the heat wave would end. When she dropped her arm, she suddenly noticed a lone rider come over the crest of a dry, sunburnt hill about a quarter mile off on a buckskin. With him were several cattle.
Three to be exact. Forgetting how she looked, she replaced her hat and stood up in the stirrups and shaded her eyes to watch him. The man definitely knew how to herd cattle and his horse seemed specially trained to anticipate every move they made. Even in the distance she could see the strength and size of his physique. He sat in the saddle with a notable confidence, looking totally relaxed and completely attuned to his horse letting her know that he was no stranger to the saddle.
Instantly she found herself admiring his skill. Not many people rode like that anymore except for the most seasoned ranch hands and, she grinned again, her father.
Already she knew that those were her escapees that he was herding back toward her and wondered if the new owner already was aware of them on his land. Hopefully this cowboy just decided to lead them back and not say anything. Sometimes they understood each other more than the wealthy owners and because of it would remain a little more loyal to their own kind.
As he drew closer she realized he was ruggedly handsome too. His Stetson was pulled low on his brow so it was difficult for her to see his eyes, but she didn"t miss the strong jaw with a day"s worth of dark stubble and the tan that showed he was no greenhorn on the range.
When he reined up next to her, he reached up lazily and tilted his Stetson back to reveal incredibly light hazel eyes loaded with intelligence as they dipped over her body with a calm arrogance almost as if she was unwelcome, but was still worth a look. A corner of his mouth pulled up a little in an arrogant well- what-have-we-here look. He leaned forward resting his forearms on the saddle horn looking completely relaxed as he raised his eyes back to hers.
Unexpectedly she felt her stomach flip as he centered them on her. She had met many ranch hands in her life, but there was something different about him. Despite that, she couldn't take.