DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

He had tried to talk to her a couple of times. He always ended up stuttering. He saw her off in the pasture and he tipped his hat to her, which always gained him the blessing of curved soft lips and sometimes a little wave. He didn’t know why exactly she tied his tongue in knots. He didn’t have a problem talking to someone like Katherine. Marcie seemed more refined somehow. Which made no sense to him. She did dress like a boy for Chrissake. He reasoned it was due to her being Joel Malone’s sister. Malone was an intimidating fellow. Which was a whole nuther puzzle, because Malone seemed pretty gentle and laid back compared to someone like Jace, and yet he could cut a look at him that made him feel guilty just by being there.

After seeing Lonny and John jawing at her he worked up his nerve to give her a handful of daffodils in his hand. She turned on him, her eyes flashing green and gold light.

“Good morning, Tyree.”

“Um, hi, I mean good morning, Miss Mal – Marcie – I mean, how are you?”

She looked down at the flowers in his hands and raised an eyebrow. “My goodness.” He followed her eyes to the mangled flowers. His face flashed fire.

“I don’t think water will save them.” She made a sound that was a lot like a snicker as she walked away from him. He was too embarrassed to say anything else.

The next morning he finished saddling the horses and walked out back to roll himself a smoke.

“Tyree. You got another one of those?”

He jumped at the sound of her voice and looked around to find her sitting in the grass in a patch of morning sun, surrounded by lily of the valley.

“What?”

“Cigarette,” she said.

He handed her the one he was rolling and lit it for her. Her hair was all spilled down around her shoulders. Her face tilted up at him. He didn’t think he’d ever seen anything so pretty.

“Real ladylike, I know,” she said.

He rolled himself one. He didn’t have a clear idea of what a lady was so, he wasn’t particularly feeling judgmental. He avoided that conversation, feeling there might be a trap in it somewhere.

“I saw you working your horse, she’s a beauty. Your brother says all those Arabians belong to you.”

She tilted her soft face to him, and his heart tripped at the warmth in her face.

“My brother says you’re an Indian. Is that true?”

“Nah, I ain’t.” he dropped his head, feeling two inches high. “I did live with them a few years.”

“How did that happen? Did they kidnap you?”

“I dunno. I was told they found me when I was three or four.”

“Found you where?”

“In a town. I’m not sure which.”

“They found you and just took you like you were a stray puppy?”

Tyree looked away from her. “I dunno. Why’s that matter?”

“I was just curious. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to offend you.”

“I cain’t tell you what I don’t know.”

“Where’s your real family? Your parents?”

“I dunno. Prolly dead,” Tyree told her. “What are you doing besides sneakin a smoke?”

“I want to take my mare for a ride, but Joel says not alone. He says there might be rustlers out there. Someone cut some fences. He told me to stay put till he or Tulsa can ride with me.”

“I’d go with you but… “

“I know Joel would rip your arms off and beat you with them,” she chuckled. “He won’t let Mark take me either.”

Tyree contemplated that. “He might. But a better reason is because he’s right. Rustlers might shoot you and steal your horse.”

“You think they’d shoot a girl?”

He looked at the breeches she was wearing, and the cotton shirt.

“No,” he said quietly. “Close up, they probably wouldn’t shoot you. They might do worse.”

Her face went all serious. “I don’t dress like a lady. Is that what you’re saying?”

“No, no, that ain’t what I meant. I jus…” He started, his face heated up for the hundredth time.

“And I have a rifle. I could shoot back.”

“Look, I got to go check these horses coming in.”

“I’ll help,” she said.

It was obvious she was comfortable around the horses. She ran her hand down their legs, checked their shoes, and walked each one around a minute before brushing it down. He found it easier to listen than to try finding the right thing to say to her. He wanted to talk to her, drawn to her beauty, and yet he was uncomfortable with her. She seemed so sure of herself as she worked around the horses.

“You need to wrap a strap around his lower jaw,” she told him when she pointed out that his buckskin was cribbing.

“What?”

“Get a piece of leather strap, like a belt, and wrap it on his lower jaw. Keep him from cribbing.” she advised. There were other things she told him about horses. He was astounded at how much.

“How do you know all this?”

“Most of it I learned from Joel. Since I was little, he’s been teaching me.”

She didn’t mind helping him sort through tack either. She sat down on a nail keg and soaped a saddle while he worked around her. The longer she talked, the more relaxed he was. She wasn’t being all flirty and giggly either. She wanted to talk about horses. She knew a lot about them. She led him out to the pasture and brought in one of her mares.

“You know how to judge whether they have good conformation?”

“I guess so.” He pointed out the points from withers to flank and explained it to her.

“But,” she said, it depends on what the horse’s job is.”

He let her talk, not realizing how much more experience she had.

“Your horse, for example.”

“He’s just a mustang.” Tyree said.

“Just? A mustang has a great blood line Tyree. There is no just about it. Sure there are broom tails, and some of them are worthless, but your horse has nearly perfect conformation. He’s got a wide chest, short barrel and sturdy legs. This horse was made for traveling great distances, it is built for endurance. Pit him against one of these thoroughbreds, he’d walk it to a standstill in a day. Race him against a thoroughbred he will lose, of course, but don’t ever think, he’s just a mustang.”

He marveled that she appreciated so many aspects of horse breeding.

“Where’d you learn all that?”

“My brother. He has a great respect for different breeds.”

“Even people?” He asked seriously. She gave him a curious look.

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Nothing. I was just joking. Not very good at that.”

Before lunch the fence riders came in, and she left him to his work as each rider dismounted. Lonny slid from his horse, and cut a hateful look at Tyree.

“Stay away from my girl, Injun. She ain’t no squaw,” he murmured just loud enough for him to hear. Tyree watched him saunter off to the bunkhouse, waving to Marcie before he ducked inside.

“Worm infested little sumbitch.” Tyree growled.

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