Chapter 1 ~ Cedar Ranch
“Good evening, my name is Mr Charles Winston, from Winston lawyers. Am I speaking with Cora Braelynn?”
I remember the day the call came…
I remember every word spoken…
I remember everything so clearly…
I remember, because that call changed my life.
“Yes, this is she,” my heart began to pump fiercely in my throat. Why would a lawyer’s office be calling me? Unless my arsehole ex-husband was at it again.
Not only had he been caught with his face between his secretary’s legs, but he had raped me of everything we had accumulated together. I should have known better than to shack up with a greasy, good for nothing, sweet talking, prenup fudging, shady lawyer, the thought of him makes my blood boil, and all common sense fall’s out the window.
“Miss Braelynn, I’m sorry to inform you but your father, Gregory Austin, has passed away. As the executor of his estate, it is my duty to notify you of the assets left behind in his country home and have you sign off on the paperwork to allow you full control over his Ranch and stock he left…”
“Whoa - I’m sorry, but I barely knew the man, are you telling me he lived in the middle of bum fuck nowhere with cows and shit?” My mind was reeling, I hadn’t heard squat from this arsewipe since my year 12 prom at 17 years old. Now that I remember that night, he’d shown up out the front of our hotel, drunk and trying to ‘reconnect’ with his only child.
Mr Charles Winston had the audacity to laugh over the phone that was attached to my ear. “Yes, Miss Braelynn and might I say, you definitely resemble your father and his colourful use of the English language.”
This motherfucker. The one thing I’d learnt in my 27 years on this planet, is to call a spade, a spade and you don’t deal with bullshit, but then, you also don’t accumulate a lot of friends either, just a few solid true ones. “Yeah, well, I don’t know what you want from me?”
“We’d like you to travel to Cedar Ranch, your father’s property and we can sign over the deeds to you, along with other things.”
So here am I, taking six weeks off work in the city and heading for the middle of bum fuck nowhere, Flake Wood Falls, population of 1223 people and a total of 12 hours and 17 minutes’ drive from my home - according to the GPS.
With all that had happened over the last few days, I had, one - refused to tell my mother what I was up to… her hate for my father was something she could never keep hidden. And two - I had not cried. I had not shed one single tear over his passing. I mean, how could I? As I said, I barely knew the man, he’d shown up randomly at different stages in my life, and that was about it. My mother had remarried my stepfather, Mathew and he had been my substitute.
I was into the last hour of my journey, my tank was getting dangerously low, and I had not seen any form of life for the past three hours, just mainly dirt with grassy patches. I began conjuring up a scenario in which Mr Charles Winston had lured me out under false pretences and was about to murder my well curvy arse. Not even the smooth sounds of my’ road trip’ playlist - which mainly consisted of songs I pretended were my own voice - could soothe my anxiety.
Finally, after driving for what seemed like forever, my eyes spotted the sign I was looking for.
My midnight black, XR6 Turbo Ute, enjoying the long drive, pulls off the road and down into a long dusty driveway. Who I presumed, was Mr Winston, stood against his fancy Chrysler looking suspiciously like he should be nowhere near the outdoors, with folders in his hand.
I pull up eying the rather tall, grey-haired man, who’s steel gaze was fixed on me. “Miss Braelynn, I presume?” He stepped forward with his hand outstretched.
“Your presumption is correct,” I casually replied.
“Yes, well, if you would like to accompany me inside? We can get the proceedings underway.” I followed his footsteps up the front of the small, modest, three bedroom wood cabin.
It was quaint, not overstated or too masculine, which I actually thought I’d be faced with several beheaded animals hanging on the walls, but I wasn’t. The inside was modern, large comfortable looking, white sofa’s, brown and white cow skin rugs littered the floor, the view from the windows was breathtaking, but the biggest surprise was two border collies that sat at the glass sliding back door.
“Who are they?” I nodded towards them.
“Oh, they are your new dogs, Miss Braelynn, Cain and Dell, though, they have barely moved since your father passed, I guess they miss him.” The dogs tilted their heads in my direction to see what was happening, but when they realised I wasn’t their owner, they curled back into each other.
“You gotta be shittin’ me?” My mouth opened, and the words tumbled out before I could think.
“I understand this may take some getting used too, but your father has left specific instructions on how to take care of his legacy...”
“Legacy?” I flabbergasted, “is that what we are calling it these days?”
“Miss Braelynn, you are required to stay here for a period of twelve months. After one full year here, with no extended periods of absence, you will legally own everything outright and are entitled to sell or keep. However, the rules state that I am to visit every few weeks until the year has been completed, to see if you are following through with taking care of the Ranch.”
His words annoyed the Jesus hellfire out of me. How can he really expect me to look after this place for twelve months? I knew nothing about cattle, farming or horses, in fact, this was the closest I’d ever been to an animal other than Mr Puss, I owned when I was little. I was sure that cat hated me, half because I called it a Mr when the fluffy feline was a girl and half because it wasn’t a cuddly cat, and I’d force her to be my dolly.
“Outright? As in?”
“Your father paid all his debts well before he found out he was sick. There is no mortgage or any loans against these assets, in fact, this allows you to be an exceedingly wealthy woman.”
After I was read the will in its entirety, it began to whey on me just how much I was being forced to sacrifice, and I couldn’t figure out why? I didn’t care for the man or particularly know him - I had inherited his sparkling dark green eyes and his charcoal coloured hair, but beyond that, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you anything about this man. His favourite food or beer? All a mystery, other than of course, he got scared when mum told him she was pregnant and he ran away like a terrified little bitch - her words not mine. I’ve always suspected she still loved him, you can’t hate someone that much without love, I find it impossible.
So now, I was looking down the barrel of a twelve month shotgun with bullets in the form of cattle, horses, sheep, chickens and two highly depressed working dogs named Cain and Dell.
I said my goodbyes to Mr Charles Winston - who insisted he be called by his full title and not be subjected to the shorter version Mr Winston. Lord, give me strength when dealing with this pompous, arrogant, son of a monkey’s uncle.
I watched him as he drove out of the long, dirt driveway while I pulled my bag from the car. This was going to be a weird couple of weeks, stuck in the middle of country hick hell.
The lawyer had mentioned something about my father’s property being bordered by green barbed wire fences, and so, the only logical thing to do was to explore. What I didn’t count on was how extensive his acreage is and how severely unfit city life and divorce had left me. Divorce… I internally groaned, why had I even married that rotten son of a bitch in the first place? Our relationship breakdown had left me somewhat - full of hatred for men in general and having had a father I didn’t know, just die and rope me into being here for twelve months - left more than a bitter taste in my mouth.
What is it with men in my life? Mathew, my stepfather, had become the only constant and reliable masculine figure, but he wasn’t my father and boy did his kids remind me just how much he was not my relation. Thank god, I had successfully avoided those wankers the older I got. My mother, unfortunately, wore the brunt of their mother’s hatred and so, you can see just how normally fucked up my upbringing was, but she and Mathew at least loved each other and weathered the shit storm together.
“Well howdy, Cora… isn’t it? Your Greg’s daughter aren’t you?” A middle-aged woman with brown and grey hair, light brown eyes on a grey and splotchy white horse, stood in front of me.
“Yes, have we met?” I puffed out.
“No,” she laughed, “you just look like him. I’ve seen photos of when you were younger, ain’t you just the spittin’ image.”
“Photos?” My curiosity piqued.
“Yes, ma’am, the ones in his bedroom,” she slid down from her horse.
“Bedroom?” I voiced in surprise, “were you fucking my Dad?”
This time the woman almost keeled over in hysterics. “No way girly, just a mate - we were only ever friends.”
“Is there something I can help you with?” I raised a dissatisfactory eyebrow at her amused behaviour.
“Nah, not really, you don’t hold back on the punches. Just thought I’d introduce myself since Greg had me work the stables for him. Speaking of which, why are you bloody walking? A steed will get yer round quicker.”
“I can’t ride, walking’s fine. So, who are you? How much does he pay you?” I pushed the point forward, always one for not fucking around.
“Oh, hell, girl, you are ya fathers daughter. I’m Ronnie, Ronnie Afram, I live a couple of ranches down, I’m here six days a week, and he’s paid me enough to keep me going for the next twelve months, so ya don’t need to worry,” she nodded her head with a smile.
“Did you know I was coming?”
“We expected as much. When your Daddy got sick, he began to tie up loose ends, Hael took over the cattle, so you wouldn’t need to worry about it, he’s been paid out too, will teach you from scratch, for at least the next twelve months. Geoff has been paid to shear your sheep herds…”
“Let me guess?” I interrupted, “for the next twelve months.”
She smirked, “at least ye catch on quick city slicker. Anyway, thought you’d be here earlier - to send off ya old man?”
“He is nothing to me, I literally didn’t even know the bastard,” I flippantly replied.
“Well, now that’s a shame. Greg had such a… warm personality,” the way she said that made me frown.
“So he was a bastard then?” I threw at her.
“Hard, not a bastard, just a pain in the ass with a heart of gold,” she chuckled to herself, “much like you, I suspect.” The strange woman mounted the horse again, “well lass, you ever wanna learn to ride? Just come on over to the stables,” and with a cluck of her tongue and a heel to the horse’s side, Ronnie trotted off.
It was quickly becoming clear the old coot had pre-planned this all. Did he want to eventually lure me here to the Ranch in some grand plan of igniting a father/daughter relationship long since burned out? I couldn’t tell you, I was just as lost and overwhelmed. What I needed was a good stiff drink and a long, long, very extremely long nap - after all, driving through the night had taken its toll on me.
I looked around once more and sighed, this was absolutely beautiful, a life out in this much land? How could anyone want for anymore?
Giving up on my exploration escapade, I headed back to the house to find two border collies still wrapped up in each other, desperately seeking comfort.
I opened and closed every single cupboard in the house, but there was no liquor to be found. Jesus, for a drunk you’d think he’d have a secret stash somewhere? I remembered seeing a sign for ‘Dusk Bar’ a little ways back. Looks like tonight, I was going to meet some locals and find out just what a population of 1223, do in a town with only one main street?
After my attempted investigation of my late father’s ranch, I had decided I was sufficiently in over my head, and a drink could most definitely bring things back into perspective. But really, it was a childish move at fooling myself into thinking everything could be solved drunk. Just like how my singing and pool skills improved, when in a state of liquored goggles.
Ronnie had mentioned that the major things were taken care of for the next twelve months, but could I stay that long? I had six weeks to sort out in my head, whatever I needed to. There was most definitely the option of a twelve month sabbatical from my job though, I had thought I would use that time and head somewhere tropical and amazing, losing myself in a flurry of dark muscles and giant cocks. Lord knows it’s been far too long since I had one of those buried deep inside me. Quite frankly, I think my blue bunny vibrator is about to pack up and move on without me at the rate I was powering through batteries.
At least my bunny could make me cum, unlike my useless ex-husband who listened to my’ faking it’ sounds repetitively, just so he’d finish and get the fuck off me. I hated that man with every fibre in me, but could I blame him entirely for our break up? No. As much as would like too, our situation ended the way it did because I had become complacent and uninterested, choosing to focus more on my job at the magazine, then on him. But still, that arsehole cheated so fuck him!
I pulled up to the only service station in town that just happened to be attached to, what I’m presuming is - the only pub in town ‘Dusk Bar’. The neon sign glowed, lighting up the bull’s horns, either side of the words in the middle.
I would have preferred a bottle shop, but this would have to suffice for now, it appeared run down, like all the other businesses in this godforsaken place. I took one last glance at my reflection, releasing my hair from its tie and allowing it fall across my shoulders and down my back, before fluffing my black singlet that stretched across my full and heavy chest. Turning to the side, I huffed at my rather plump denim-clad derriere. I had never been a typical skinny type, my size 14 curves had seen to that, but I wasn’t obese and despite my regular lazy habits, having the hour-glass shaped body I did, always drew some form of unwanted attention.
Convincing myself that after 12 hours and 17 minutes of driving and 4 hours at trying to wrap my head around this whole thing, I was not going to look much better, I jerked my green orbs from the car reflection and headed towards the entrance.
Pushing the wooden door, I chuckled internally, noting the entrance way doors seemed more as though they belonged in a western saloon country movie than here in the middle of bum fuck nowhere - I froze.
There have been only a handful of times in my life when my body washed with insecurities, and this day would go down as one of them. All eyes were on me, me… the bar was filled to the brim with jean wearing, plaid-shirted, cowboy’s, adorning hat’s and boots - most were drool-worthy, panty soaking, muscular, ‘I have done a hard days labour’ kind of men, and I had just walked in causing complete and utter deafening, awkward silence.
I whipped my head left and right, breathing ‘fuck me’ through my parted natural lips. I took a couple of steps back to the door, poking my head out to see if I could spot a sign that said men only… Damn it, no sign… I peered back in, only to be faced with everyone’s eyes on me again, and my stomach dropped like it was about to fall out my butt. I could hear the distinct sound of the country music twang echoing in the background of an otherwise wholly silenced room.
Gazing around again at the room filled with cowboys, a very audible, ‘fuck it’ came flying out, and I trudged straight to the bar, the wolf whistles started the moment I moved. Guess these hill billy hicks have not seen a lady in a while. I frowned disapprovingly at their reaction to my presence, I needed a drink - even more so now.
“Well, we don’t get many visitors around these parts. What can I get ya, little lass?” The barkeep appeared to be friendly enough, he was a shorter man with a rounded belly, looking more as if he were seven months pregnant than expanding from beer drinking. The man was balding on top but thankfully adorned kind, curious blue eyes.
I politely flashed a tight-lipped smile, keeping my head tilted down. “Tattoo please.”
“Sorry lass, ain’t no tattoo parlour in these parts, this here is what you call a bar,” he snickered as I rolled my eyes in irritation.
“It’s a drink,” I bit abrasively.
“Never heard of it,” he chuckled back.
“Well, what do you have that isn’t beer?”
“Rum, whiskey and vodka… unless you, little lass, would rather enjoy a fire engine?”
“Mmmm, red cordial and lemonade, actually, that doesn’t sound so bad, better than beer. Throw some vodka into it, and you got a deal,” the barman laughed heartily. Damn inbreeds could pick on me all they liked, beer tastes like urine, and I am not pretending to like it for no bugger.
“No worries lass… $7.50 and I’ll even throw in an umbrella just for you, city slicker.” He got to work as I slid onto the stool at the side of the bar, all surrounding eyes scrutinising me, I felt more like a sideshow attraction than a woman. I wonder if it has been a good few years since these men have even seen a vagina?
The barkeep handed me my drink and collected the cash; going back to the old guys throwing darts. A quiet murmur swept over the pub as I extracted out my phone, cursing the lack of reception in this shit hole, realising old fashioned texting was now the only way of contacting my crazy ass friends.
Consumed by the fact, I had to use my phone for something other than social media and the deplorable inability to update my status too… stuck in Hicksville, send rescue… I was interrupted by a tall and solid man with blonde curly hair and brown eyes. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a decent fuck as much as the next girl, but I just couldn’t get past the body odour wafting from him. You’d think someone who wore tiny khaki shorts, steel capped boots and a navy wife beater, would at least throw on some deodorant?
“Hey there sweet thang,” I glared up at the neanderthal, then turned around, hoping he was talking to someone behind me, only to discover that he was indeed attempting to engage with me and not the table of cowboy’s focused in on us. Cursing under my breath, I closed my eyes, sucked in sharply and turned to face him.
My greens glowering at Mr khaki, with an unimpressed and scrunched stare of danger.
“You don’t talk much… bet I could make you squeal?” I rolled my eyes at his blatantly foul suggestion.
“What do you want?” I snapped harshly.
“Isn’t it obvious love?” He ran his dirty fingers down my arm, naturally contorting my face in disgust.
Shaking his putrid hand off with a deadly fire blazing across my features, I threatened. “Touch me again, and I’ll break the stool over your head.”
“You one of them carpet munchers? I like a challenge,” he smirked.
“Back off, Dodger.” The barman who’d mixed my drink, came to my aid, placing a Louisville slugger on the timber bench in front of him.
“C’ mon Reg, I just wanted to find out the sheila’s name?” He defended but stepped back.
I sat there uncomfortably and tensely watching their exchange. “I said back off,” the guy, whose name I knew now was Reg, warned him again. This time in a low, harsh tone that said ‘don’t fuck with me.’
He threw up his hands in surrender, “we’ll chat again soon, sweet thang.” Khaki winked before heading back to his table, causing the room to explode with laughter.
“You okay lass?” Reg leaned forward, keeping his voice hushed.
“Yes, thank you,” I mumbled.
“You, Greg’s girl?” He whispered with an arched brow.
I paused for a good few seconds, “yep,” popping the ‘P’ for emphasis.
“You look like him, same eyes, same hair… Cora, isn’t it?”
I couldn’t believe it, how did these hill billy’s know who I was? “It is,” I eyed him suspiciously.
“Your old man was my best friend, I’m sorry for your loss lass. My names Reg, if there is anything you need, let me know, okay?” He collected the bat and put it back under the bar before returning to the darts. ‘Sorry for your loss lass’ replayed in my head - his best friend had died, and he was sorry for my loss?
I continued with texting and finished my drink. Reg made me up another two before I decided I’d had enough of sitting there being gawked at and got up.
“Yeah, lass?” He replied, making his way over.
“Where do I get groceries and stuff like that from?”
“Hey, Fields?” He hollered over to another guy, “this here is Greg’s daughter Cora, she needs some stuff for her kitchen.” I swear I heard all ears perk up at the unveiling of who I was. Great, now everyone will be talking.
The tall man with thinning hair and a crooked nose shot out his hand for me to shake, which I did. “Ma’am, we do things a little different in my store...” he sat on the stool beside me, “... you phone in your order, we pick it and deliver it, and you transfer the money.”
“Oh,” I smiled at how country that sounded. “How long does it take to get things?”
“You just arrive?” He queried.
“I did, well, a few hours ago but there’s nothing at the house.”
“The shops a few doors down, how about we head there now, grab yer some basics and then you can phone the rest in tomorrow?” I was blown away. Clearly, he had finished for the day and yet, he was willing to open up for me? Country hospitality at its best.
“I can see you’re finished, I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“No trouble ma’am, I think Greg would haunt us if we didn’t take care of his little girl.” My brows furrowed, everyone I had met here so far, really seemed to like my father - everyone except me.
“Thank you, I would really appreciate that.”
“No worries, let me just chug down me brew, and I’ll meet yer at the doors.” Fields knocked his knuckles against the timber before striding back to his table.
“Did everyone know my father?”
“Of course lass, he saved the town.”
Before I could ask for the story, I was interrupted, “Cora… you coming?”
“Thanks, Reg,” I blew out and headed for the exit just as a load of feral looking women sauntered in. One of the bottle blondes clicked her tongue and squared in on me.
“Check it out, ladies… we got ourselves a barbie doll.” I had been called a lot of things in my life but never that. Once again I turned, praying it wasn’t me, but alas, it was. “You stay away from our men, you hear?”
“Our men, keep your hoity-toity hands off of them.”
“Look, lady, I don’t know who your man is but you can have him...”
“They are all ours.”
“The whole lot?” I couldn’t help but screw up my face in disgust all over again.
“That’s right, they are ours, so stay away,” she threatened.
“You can have em all,” I replied in disbelief.
“Oh what, so now they aren’t good enough for you? Miss, I shower every day.” This ludicrous bitch.
“There’s a whole lot of wrong in everything you just said that I really can’t deal with right now.”
“You think a city slicker can take what we got?”
“No, no,” I shook my head, “I wouldn’t want to catch anything after they’ve been near your old, crusty, hairy cunt.” Very loud laughs, echoed through the pub as I spun on my heels and left.
I couldn’t believe that woman was whoring herself around, I was guessing it was the entire group that pimped themselves out. Maybe, if I were younger and weren’t tainted by men, I would have whored myself too. There were some good looking men there, but’ ewwww’ if they touched that thing?
“See you’re making friends,” Fields chuckled, “Greg had a feisty mouth too.”
I followed him into his tiny shop, no wonder they did phone orders, the entire space was filled to the brim with stock.
“Did you know my father well?”
“He mostly kept to himself but spoke of you - mainly when he’d had a few drinks. Greg’d say, you were the one thing he’d done right in his life.”
My cheeks flamed. This was a man I barely knew, yet, the whole damn town knew exactly who I was, I felt anger rise within my heart. Why had he not tried harder to find me or spend time with me if he loved me so much?
Guess, I would never find out the answer to that question.
A few days later, I decided to take Ronnie up on her offer, but before I could, I needed a shower. Jumping under the hot water, soothed my aching muscles and helped relax my worried mind, feeling overwhelmed had become my familiar friend and I was desperate for a reprieve, knowing I was up to my elbows in animal shit.
Through all of my fragmented thoughts, I realised I hadn’t brought in my towel, and there was none stashed away in the bathroom. Confidently, I strode straight out, after all, who was going to see?
The depressed dogs?
I searched the hall cupboard… dammit, nothing. I continued to the spare room, something just didn’t sit right about sleeping in a dead stranger’s master bedroom, so the spare is where I had taken up residence. Maybe if I redecorated it would feel less foreign? But I had only opened the door once, just for a curious peek, since I’d arrived, those four walls were a space I just couldn’t seem to face yet.
“WHAT THE FUCK?” A curse flew out along with a hard thump to the floor, “where’s ya damn clothes?” It berated me.
“Who the fuck are you walking around my house?” My right arm covered my nipples as my left hand cupped my snatch in between my legs.
“Arghhhh, I think I hit my dang head,” it moaned. This stranger’s deep husky tone caused my core to clench involuntarily.
“Not what I asked,” I growled.
“Hell, not that I’m really complaining... I mean…”
“Stop, just stop,” my cheeks flamed red.
“Fuck… I mean… I’m sorry… I just…”
“Who are you?”
“My names Hael, Hael Gunners. I’m here about the cattle, I knocked, but no one answered,” he replied, still lying on the floor.
“So you just walk in?” I horrifyingly squealed.
“I didn’t think, I always just walked in with your old man,” he admitted.
“GET OUT!” I screamed in a high pitched voice.
“Done.” The man leapt up off the floor like a damn skittish cat, not even sneaking a glance in my direction. He tripped over the foot poof, but just as fast as he fell, he was on his feet again with his eyes shut tight and heading straight for the exit - knocking his head on the door frame as he launched his escape.
When he was out of view, I couldn’t help but snicker at how mortified and flabbergasted he appeared. Poor guy nearly knocked himself out twice in a matter of five minutes. God, he looked like a cute, clumsy fool - wait, where the bloody hell did that come from?
I turned into my room and grabbed the towel, deciding on denim shorts, Converse sneakers and a white singlet. Gingerly making my way outside and towards the stables, attentively seeking the man named Hael, that had found his way into the living room.
“Ronnie?” I called out, only to find her rubbing the back of the man who’d just discovered me naked.
“Jesus, I’m so sorry,” he snapped toward me with a fear-stricken face. Hael jumped up from his position, kicking the bucket at his feet accidentally and as both, Ronnie and he went to pick it up, his head tilted in her direction and the cute clumsy oaf head-butted her square in the nose. “Shit Ron, I’m sorry,” he fumbled, snagging his red plaid shirt on a stray hook and was pulled back.
“Fuck, Hael, ya klutz,” Ronnie scorned, “you almost knocked my head off.”
“Ron, I’m so sorry.” The handsome, 6ft tall man scrambled to his feet, tearing a hole in his shirt.
“Forget it, just get out of me stable,” she growled.
His panicked bright sky blues fell on me, and he stiffened, just like a soldier. Am I really that scary?
“You okay, Ronnie?” I asked, desperately holding back the chuckle that was creeping up from inside my chest. Of all the inappropriate times to get the giggles?
That was it, my bottom lip quivered beyond control, and tears gathered in the corners of my eyes. I couldn’t hold it… I tried but just couldn’t… I burst into laughter, liquid springing freely - the tears of sweet torturous laughter rolled down my face.
“It’s not funny Cora,” Ronnie ground out through gritted teeth.
“It is,” I breathed out in an attempt to curb my amusement. Ronnie strode off, right out of the stables, leaving me with the clumsiest man I’d ever encountered. His Levi’s clung to his thick thighs and tucked in under his cowboy boots. Hael’s Stetson hat hung low as his sky blues fell to his feet upon hearing my laughter. “Ronnie?” I managed to call after her, but she did not reply.
I stayed there for a bit, just watching him curiously before he spoke, “we aren’t all theirs, ya know?”
“What?” I blurted back.
“Vicki, the other night at the pub, she said we were all hers - we’re not. I’ve never touched any of them.”
“Oh, the loose, accommodating broad,” it sounded like a question, but it was more recognition.
When he finally graced me with his eyes, it nearly knocked the wind out of my lungs, Hael Gunners was gorgeous. “Anyway, I just came to introduce myself and say when you’re ready, I will teach you all you need to know about your cattle.”
“Cora, Cora Braelynn.” I stepped forward with my hand, outstretched, “I believe you’ve seen me naked.”
His cheeks tinged red with a soft blush, “pleasure ma’am.” Hael’s dazzling white smile could have blown virgins panties straight off.
“Hael and I’m not always that clumsy I promise, and I’m sorry f…”
“Stop,” I interjected, “let’s just start fresh?” I offered before he set the stables on fire.
“I’d appreciate that,” his country twang definitely tickled my privates in the most alluring way.
“You mentioned the cattle, I have some questions… do you have time now?”
He nodded, “sure, but I’m paid up till the end of the year. You sure you wanna jump in on your first week here?”
“Wow, news does travel fast in small towns.”
“Folks love to gossip, keeps them from going crazy with boredom.”
“Well, Hael Gunners, no time like the present, hey?”
He motioned for me to follow him, I listened vehemently, drawn to the husky rasp when he spoke, that set against his country undertones was music to my ears. I bet this cowboy can sing.
He showed me the animals and told me all about how they would need to rotate the livestock to new pastures soon, to continue their grazing. I learnt all about how heifers needed the largest bull when impregnating and why when the time came, because of the fact that they are beef cattle, they would end up at the slaughterhouse. His last statement caused my stomach to flip in a queasy unease about sending them to die.
For the most part, he was very knowledgeable, I found myself trusting his every word. “You seem to know what you’re doing?” I commented.
“Fourth generation ranchers. For now, your herd is mixed with mine… it’s easier to keep track of rather than having two separate, but if you want them back I could get it done by the end of next week?”
“That’s okay, Hael, I’m not ready to take over after a few hours lesson,” he nodded in understanding, “you hungry?”
“Yeah… but I go home for lunch.”
“You can come have lunch with me?” I offered hopefully.
“Sure, sounds good.”
After simple sandwiches and a lot of apologies, that sexy cowboy left.
The following day brought about a horrendous noise, I rushed out of the back door only to find Ronnie already at the offender. There, on the ground, lying on its side, was a cow with blood and fluid gushing out from under its tale.
“Cora, go get Hael,” she ordered and pointed towards the hills, “take a horse.”
“I don’t know how to ride one,” I shrieked.
“Then take the quad bike, keys are in it, find his farmhouse.”
“Right, take the quad bike you’ve never driven, heading somewhere over there in that direction,” I mumbled to myself sarcastically, thinking about how ridiculous it was to send a city girl off traipsing through the countryside in search of something she’s never seen.
The quad roared to life, and I was off, very slowly and unsteady at first - Nah, who am I kidding? It was most of the way until a cabin came into view. I bounced off and banged fervently upon the door, but there was no answer. Thankfully, my ears zeroed in on noise in the shed.
I rushed in there, “Hael?” I screamed, “Hael, it’s Cora.”
The blonde haired khaki wanker from the pub poked his head up, “hey sweet thang.”
I groaned at his appearance, “I need Hael, is this his farm?”
“Ranch and well, what do you want with Hael?”
“Does it really matter?”
“It does if you wanna find him.”
“Can it Dodger,” a small petite young, curly, blonde woman came out from behind the hay bales. She wore tight denim pants and a blue plaid flannel shirt with tan brown boots and a hat. “What do you want with Hael?”
“Do you know where he is?” I rushed.
“Yep… and you are?” I was taken aback by her feisty snip.
“Cora,” I drawled out.
“And that would be?...”
“Ellie shut it.” Hael seemingly appeared from nowhere, jumping down from the haystack, wearing boots, Levi’s and a white singlet, his muscular arms on full display for my feasting pleasure and as delicious as that sight was, I couldn’t afford to get distracted by this country Adonis. “Cora, I’m kinda busy at the mo…” his words knocked me back from my perverted stare.
“Ronnie sent me, there’s a cow and blood gushing from its ass, and it’s…”
Before I could finish my sentence, he launched past me, collecting a bag that was hanging on the wall, mounted on a mud brown coloured horse, and galloped away. Hmm, that was quick.
“Don’t think I missed that eye rape of Hael just then, I’m warning you city slicker… stay away!” Her bright sky blues offered familiarity, but I couldn’t place them.
“Bree-elle...” Dodger tutted and she stormed off, definitely pissed by my presence.
I sighed and stomped sullenly towards the quad bike.
“Leaving so soon?” Dodger called out, to which I ignored, “next time then?”
“Not bloody likely,” I murmured under my breath, then climbed atop the 4-wheeled bike, and maneuvered my way back to Cedar Ranch.
On arrival, Hael had his arm inside the cow’s arse and was shaking his head.
“I’m sorry lass, go inside, we’ll deal with this.”
“Ronnie, what’s happened?” I was in a whole world of confusion.
“Sometimes these things happen and…” growing irritated I snapped.
“Looks like the heifer suffered toxaemia, both mother and calf didn’t make it,” Hael provided with an apologetic look with his explanation.
“What?” I gasped.
“The cow was… I’ll explain after, go inside, you look a little shocked,” Ronnie motioned. My feet moved of their own accord, the truth, I was in shock. Was this the country life from nightmares?
I’d never seen an animal die, let alone dealt with the repercussions. I felt… guilt and sadness… for these innocent, unprotected creatures. How could this happen? Did I over or under feed? I didn’t know it was pregnant, should the vet know? Or maybe my coming here is responsible for the Mum and calf’s death? Yes, that’s probably it.
Hours later, Hael finally came through the glass doors and flicked on the light. He was covered in blood and gunk and noted me huddled in the corner of the table, knees to my chest, arms wrapped around them tightly.
“Why are you sitting in the dark?”
I slowly and numbly, turned toward him, “huh?”
“Why are you sitting in the dark?” He repeated, a little slower this time, leaning over the sink and washing the putrid remnants from off his arms.
“Oh, I hadn’t noticed it was night.” I began to blink rapidly and refocused, dropping my feet to the floor, hands grasping the seat edges underneath me.
“Hey… are you okay Cora?” Hael crouched in front of me.
“Is it my fault?”
“Why would you think that?”
“Hael, is it my fault?”
“No,” he shook his head, “but we need to keep a close eye on the rest of the herd.”
“It could happen again, I’m praying it was an isolated case.”
“Okay.” My ashamed eyes fell to my toes, planted on the floor as I raked my lip through my teeth.
“You want me to stay for a bit, I’ll make us some coffee?”
I shook my head, “no, you should go back to your wife, thank you, though.”
“WIFE?” He screeched in surprise, “ELLIE?”
“Yes. She warned me to stay away from you, I’m sorry, you’re probably going to cop an earful when you get home.”
“Cora, Bree-elle’s my sister… not my wife.”
~THAT DANG PUB~
It was wrong of me, I knew it was but when he said she was his sister and not his wife, to say I was elated, would be a substantial understatement, to what I felt inside and that, was definitely cause for panic. I enjoyed talking to said, sexy cowboy, far too much, and after the departure of my ex-husband, I had sworn off of men altogether.
But, I couldn’t help the way my body responded to this delicious and tantalising man. I had to stay focused, my stay here had consisted of numerous failed attempts to ride a horse, two depressed dogs that never moved, chickens that liked to bite and chase, a clumsy encounter with the object of my desire, a roll of the quad bike, suffering a very bruised hip and a dead mum and calf. So far, my success at ranching had been zero percent and apart from discovering I liked the veggie patch, how comfortable cowboy boots were, just how much I loved online shopping and how much, animal shit you could be drowned in, all in one day - I was well and truly out of my league.
I needed a drink.
And there was only one way to buy this thing... The PUB.
I had successfully avoided the place, but now, I needed to walk into the lion’s den, and being a Saturday night, I knew it would be packed.
After showering, I dressed in a red button-down shirt rolled at the sleeves, some black ripped skinny leg jeans and red high wedges. I couldn’t help it, shoes were my weakness, and this had been my first chance to wear them since the order arrived.
I applied a small amount of makeup, natural and soft, not wanting to draw any more attention. My charcoal coloured hair, straightened and flowing freely over my shoulders and down my back - the thought of it spending another day tied up in a messy bun already gave me a headache.
Grabbing my keys from the hook, patting the sad dog’s goodbye - I hope I can get them to move tomorrow - I jumped in my Ute and headed for the Dusk Bar with the sinking feeling I was going to regret this decision.
Pushing open the saloon style doors from outside, you could hear the rambunctious frolicking, but the moment I stepped in, you could hear a pin drop. Thank god, there was more woman than just the feral bicycles I had previously encountered. Everyone’s eyes were on me - I straightened my back, rolled my shoulders and lifted my chin - I would not be intimidated.
As I made my way to the bar, Reg was standing there smiling, “Cora lass, same again?”
“Hi Reg, thank you,” I nodded and slid onto the empty stool at the side of the bar.
“Here ya go lass, you’re the only one I’ve ever met that likes these,” he teased, putting down my vodka fire engine and collecting the cash.
“Hey, Reg?” I questioned before he could leave, “you mentioned my father saved the town... how?” I was more than a little curious to find out about my parentage.
“Listen, lass, Saturdays are busy, if you’re still here later, I’ll tell yer the story, it’s a goodie. Otherwise, we’ll have to leave it for another time.” I nodded and murmured an apology to which he just winked.
Once again, I was left alone with my old-fashioned, texting my friends, the life my father lived must have been a lonely one. All I had done since my arrival was work and if it wasn’t the outside, it was inside the house. People here must have been crazy fit because I hadn’t had even the slightest chance to zone out and lose myself in crappy T.V.
“Cora lass, nice to see you coming out of hibernation,” a familiar friendly voice reverberated through my mind.
“Hey, Ronnie,” I smiled politely.
“You look fresh out of a magazine tonight, you got a date girl?” She lent on the bar beside me.
“What?” I looked down at my outfit, “no, these are just clothes,” I remarked.
She smiled back at me, “why don’t you come on over to the table? I’ll introduce you to some of the folks around here.” In truth, that was the last thing I wanted, but she was extending an olive branch of friendship, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, the community appeared tight-knit, and it would be better to be in, rather than out.
“Sure, lead the way.” I grasped my drink and followed her to the other side of the pub.
“This is Rhonda and Earl, their back paddocks border yours,” I just nodded politely. “Nicholas and Rita, their son Dawson will be taking over the Ranch soon.”
Ronnie kept talking as we made our way through the crowd, my eye’s immediately rested on Hael, looking rather heated in his gaze as it trailed over my body, was I imagining his lustful reaction? God, I hope I wasn’t. A pleasurable shiver ran up my spine.
“Cora,” he nodded, licking his lips, I couldn’t string words together, so I just smiled.
“Cora lass, how are you?” Fields stood, hand outstretched. I swallowed the lump, currently blocking my throat and shook the dirty thoughts from my brain.
“Mr Fields, it’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“Cora, this fellow is Geoff, he’s in charge of your sheep shearing for the next twelve months,” she tapped a rather large, very tanned man on the shoulders. He stood with his hand out, ready to shake, I happened to take in his appearance. He was probably in his late fifties but handsome for his age, a full head of brown strands and light green eyes.
“Ma’am, when would you like to get together and learn about ya herd?” His deep voice bellowed from within his sturdy chest.
“Oh, um... maybe in a bit, I’m still learning to ride a horse properly.”
Geoff laughed heartedly, “you having trouble?”
“Let’s just say, animals can sense how inadequate I am,” I rolled my dark greens.
“You didn’t grow up round em?”
“No. I owned a cat once, but I think she hated me.” Everyone listening in on our conversation snickered at my admission, it’s kind of unnerving when you speak to one person and the crowd chuckles in reply.
“Well, the country is in ya blood lass, just like ya father’s, you’ll get there.” He clasped my shoulder and squeezed, sitting back down as Hael pulled a seat over for me to relax.
“Thank you,” I blushed. “Actually, I don’t have that much time left. I have to decide what to do because I’m due back at work in three weeks.”
“What do you do?” Ronnie asked, downing the rest of her beer.
“I am a writer, originally but, to make a living, I work for The Times publication, mainly fluff pieces to fill the pages.”
“And you like that?” Hael enquires.
“I love it, I mean sure, it wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing at this age, I thought by now, I would be an award-winning author.” I smile to myself, “But our readers seem to really respond to my articles.”
“What do you write about?” Geoff asks.
“Umm...” my face flushes a beet red. Should have kept my damn mouth shut, how do you inform a bunch of strangers that you write about sex? And all things associated.
“Hey there, sweet thang,” I felt my body recoil in disgust, despite being secretly thankful for the interruption. “You miss me?”
“No, no, I didn’t,” I deadpanned.
“So, I think we should dance,” he wiggled his bushy eyebrows, leaning in.
“Oh that... that’s a shame... I seem to have broken my leg.”
“Which one?” He moved to gaze down at my legs.
“Both of them,” Hael chuckled at me, “excuse me.” I stood and walked to the bar, hearing Ronnie explain my sudden departure to Dodger.
“That Dodge, is a solid rejection,” the table laughed at him.
The rest of the night went pretty well, considering the stares. Hael and I ended up playing pool and then darts, we talked about everything under the sun. I loved how easily the conversation flowed between us - as though I had always known him.
“What do you write about?” Damn, I thought he’d forgotten.
“Umm...” I was thinking about how to approach this.
“C’mon Cora, gimmie something? I told you all about my secret passion for shower singing.”
“Excuse you?” His quick confusion of ‘did I hear you right?’ made me laugh.
“Sex Hael, I write about sex..., and everything associated with it, toys, dating, personal care,” his brilliant white smile graced his handsome face.
“Now that, I was not expecting,” he replied with a slight red tint to his cheeks, man was his blush alluring. I was rather enjoying myself - that was, up until Ellie walks in with a couple of friends.
Seeing us laughing and carrying on, she strode straight over, “I thought I made myself clear?” Her sky blues narrowing in on me.
“Cut it out, Ellie,” Hael warned.
“No fucken way, Hael,” she stepped around him, “you think that you can come in here and disrupt everything? My brother’s been awfully distracted since you showed up. Isn’t it enough that he has your workload to take care of as well as ours? He’s exhausted, and it’s all because of you.”
“I-I...” I stumbled, what do you say to that?
“Bree-elle, you need to shut your trap now, you know nothing,” Hael snapped.
“No, she needs to know just how much pressure you’re under, I won’t let this happen again.”
I knew it was a bad idea coming here tonight and this was it, just as the stares had started to dissipate, now they were back in full force.
“I’m sorry,” I barely whispered before slipping around the pair of them and heading for the door.
My cheeks were burning crimson, I guess my inability to learn anything, did put a lot of pressure on those around me, I hadn’t thought about it really, I just presumed they had their money, and I had time. These are folks that had their own ranches to run and were stopping their workload, to take care of mine.
An uneasy feeling dropped into the pit of my stomach, and as I pulled up to the front of my father’s ranch - I had finally decided I would let everything go. Yes, I would be saying goodbye to millions of dollars, but I didn’t have it before, and I don’t need it now.
Opening the door to my Ute, I stepped out.
“So, you shouldn’t listen to her.” I fell back into my car, frightened by his husky tone that drifted out from the darkness.
“Holy shit Hael,” I hummed through ragged breaths, “how did you get here so fast?”
“Horse.” Oh, like that was the obvious answer? “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
“Look Hael, she’s right, I don’t fit in here. I’m so out of my depth, I can’t ride a horse, and I’m slow at everything, it’s time I went back to where I belong.”
“You belong here, I can see it,” his words were comforting, but he was wrong, I didn’t belong here.
I slid open the door and kicked off my wedges, “Hael...” but before I could finish, he spun me around and pushed me up against the glass, capturing my lips with his own. I was frozen at first, shocked by his sudden bold and daring move, but when his tongue swiped across my upper lip, I opened, almost creaming on the spot with arousal.
Snaking my hands up and around his broad, muscular shoulders, enlacing them into the ends of his hair, and gently stroking his tongue with my own. Hael slid his large calloused hands down my body, grasping my ass and pulling my legs up to wrap around his waist as he pushed me harder into the door. I could feel his rising manhood through our clothing as he ground it against my soaking wet core, but then he pulled back, leaving our noses slightly touching as we panted heavily for air.
“Don’t leave Cora, things were just starting to get really good,” he whispered into my still open mouth, planting one last chaste kiss upon my lips. Just as fast and heated as it began, it was over, and he dropped me back down to my feet. I just watched him as he walked back to his horse and mounted it. “I will teach you how to ride,” Hael called back before he turned his steed and headed out into the darkness.
I had a giddy feeling his last statement had a double meaning, and now, erotic visions of riding a certain cowboy graced my deviant mind.
I stayed awake that night, obsessing over what had happened. Hael had kissed me, and not just any kiss either, it just so happened to be the most exquisite kiss I had ever experienced in my life. The kind of kiss you receive when you’re in your teenage years, and it leaves you with butterflies in your stomach and vagina.
But, I couldn’t get his sisters words out of my head, she hated me, that much was obvious, I just couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong in the first place to get her so offside? I had to avoid Hael at all costs, his everything clouded my judgement, and I needed to stay focused, so plan, ‘avoid the sexy cowboy’ was formed and ready for operation, first thing in the morning.
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