"This has to be a mistake. You're Taylor?" I looked at the man standing in front of me, gawking at me like I shouldn't exist.
"That is my name, Mr. Simmons. Taylor Lundsen."
"But you're a woman!" I laughed a little, looking at the ground for a moment before looking back up at the man.
"You're very observant," I teased in a light tone.
He gave a chuckle and reached up to rub his neck in a nervous gesture, while his other one held the contract I had signed and sent in to them, for the position of a ranch hand.
He sighed and dropped his arms to his side saying, "Well I guess you better follow me. I'll need to talk with Mr. Bailey about this problem."
"Am I a problem, Mr. Simmons?" He gave another laugh and smirked at me for a second.
"Ranch hands are men only around these parts and especially here on Bridlewood Ranch."
"I can carry my own, Mr. Simmons, I assure you," I tried to reassure him.
A slight grimmace crossed his face as he looked at me and rubbed his neck again.
"It's less about that and more about the facilities Ms. Lundsen. The bunk house isn't set up for men and women. It's just complicated and the culture around this ranch has been men only for so long, other than the cook, that you may find it a bit," he groaned out a labored sigh and finished, "Crass."
I smiled at the handsome man who stood before me. He had cropped brown hair and green eyes that seemed like they were usually full of humor, handsome features and a general sense of good naturedness about him. If I had to guess, I'd say he was close to me in age, though perhaps a few years older.
"Well, first things first, Mr. Simmons, let's go talk with the boss and see what he wants to do about it. My understanding was that the contract was already signed and binding?" His eyebrows went up and he sighed as he nodded his head as if to say, 'yup, there's that.'
"Well, come on then," he said, motioning for me to follow him.
I dropped my duffle bag at the edge of the stairs leading up to the wrap-around porch of the ranch house, and followed him up and into the front door. We walked through a parlor and he knocked on a door that had a plaque that read, 'Zeke Bailey' on it.
"Enter," a man answered. Mr. Simmons opened the door and moved into the room far enough to allow me to step inside.
"Mr. Bailey, Taylor Lundsen has arrived to start." Mr. Bailey was facing away from us and didn't seem very interested in looking away from the papers in his hand.
"That's fine. Show him to the bunk house and give him a tour before you get him started on his duties."
"Mr. Bailey, there's been a bit of a misunderstanding," Mr. Simmons said, trying to get the man's attention.
He still didn't look up from his papers as he answered, "What kind of misunderstanding?"
I laughed and answered for him, "The kind that complicates your bunkhouse, apparently."
Mr. Bailey's face shot up toward me instantly and he stood up straight, turning to face me. He had short blonde hair and hazel eyes and was wearing an expensive tailored suit, cut in a Western style, that would look very nice with the Stetson I noticed hanging on a peg, on the wall across from me.
He set the papers he had been reading down on his desk, staring at me.
I laughed again and said, "I'm not sure why everyone keeps doubting that but yes. I'm Taylor Lundsen, your new ranch hand."
Mr. Bailey's eyes traveled down the length of me slowly, taking in the red flannel shirt and worn jeans I wore with my cowboy boots. His eyes came back up to my face and he looked over at Mr. Simmons.
"Well that's interesting," was his only comment.
I chuckled in response and a smirk captured my features. He got a good-humored smile on his face as he took in my smirk and he turned to Mr. Simmons.
"Well Brant, I guess you better go get her settled."
"You're ok with this?"
Mr. Bailey laughed and answered, "It doesn't matter at this point. The contract is solid and signed so you'd better go get her settled."
"In the bunkhouse with the rest of the guys?" Mr. Bailey's eyes searched Brant's face for a moment before they turned back to look at me.
"No, I suppose not. There is the apartment above the stables. Put her there. Introduce her to the other guys and give her a tour of the place before Marney rings for dinner."
Brant gave our boss a nod and turned to head out of the office when Mr. Bailey called out to him saying, "And Brant."
"Make sure you lay down the law with the guys concerning Ms. Lundsen."
Mr. Bailey's eyes turned on me and he said, "Welcome to Bridlewood Ranch, Taylor." I smiled and gave him a nod, before I turned to follow Brant out of the office.
We walked out of the house and Brant picked up my gunny sack on his way down the steps, heading toward the huge barn across the way. I followed him without comment as we entered the barn and headed into the stables. I looked around me at the very well kept and fancy stables, catching sight of prize-winning horses in the stalls, as we walked past them towards the back.
In the back corner of the stables was a wrought iron spiral staircase leading up. Brant started up them and stood on the landing to unlock the door with a key on his massive key ring; he was the manager here at Bridlewood Ranch.
We entered and he walked over to set my bag down on the bed there. I looked around me at the very nice studio apartment in amazement. It was well beyond my expectations of accomodation; I had expected the bunkhouse with the guys.
"Here's a copy of the key for you. I'm the only other one that will have a copy, so if you get locked out for some reason, you'll need to find me. The guys here are all decent guys but they can get a little rowdy on the weekends or when drinking's involved, so I would still lock your door at night. Bathroom is that door there and the rest should be self explanatory."
"Thanks and sorry for the trouble. This is really nice, much more than I expected," I said with a smile.
"Taylor, can I ask what made you want to apply to work as a ranch hand, alongside a bunch of guys?" I looked at him and laughed a little. A small smile came to his face, like my laughter had pulled it out of him, but his green eyes were intense as they looked at me.
"I have experience with this setting and I'm needing work for the summer and when college starts back up. Like my contract says, I'm full time through the summer with room and board and then I switch to part-time, paying rent when I start school up again. I'd rather work here, than be a barista or something," I shrugged.
"You sure you know what you're doing here?" He asked me again, obviously concerned about me.
"Mr. Simmons, I've always preferred the company of men, so it doesn't bother me," I said. His eyebrows shot up at my statement.
I laughed when I realized my statement could be taken multiple ways. "I'm sorry. What I meant was I've always preferred male friendships over female ones." He laughed at my clarification, and I found myself smiling at his gentle teasing of my words.
"That always been true of you?" he asked. I nodded, adding, "Yes, I was a tomboy growing up and never really did that pink phase thing. I prefer guys because it's more simple. Guys aren't covered in drama and they don't backstab you like women do; if you've got a problem, it's dealt with up front and then it's over." He gave me a half smile of appreciation at my words and I smiled back.
"Well it sounds like you might fit in around here better than I first thought," he offered up with a kind smile that reached his green eyes, even if he was still lightly teasing me. I gave him a smirk back.
"Thanks, Mr. Simmons," I said.
"And you can call me Brant, Taylor."
"Alright. Thanks, Brant," I said.
"You ready for a quick tour, or would you like to unpack first and come find me after?"
"We can go now. I'll unpack after dinner and get settled then," I said.
He gave me a small smile and headed toward the door to head down the spiral staircase. I shut and locked the door and slipped the key into my jeans, before I headed down the staircase.
He started the tour right where we stood in the stables and we continued into the rest of the barn including the tack and feed rooms, cattle pens, the bull pen and chutes. He explained the various pastures that were part of the ranch, as we walked out of the barn.
He showed me the farm house where Zeke lived and behind it was the mess hall where we would be eating our meals; the cook lived in an apartment off the back of it. The bunkhouse for the guys was on the other side of the barn.
We walked around looking at the different out buildings and facilities, including the hanger and airstrip for Zeke's plane, that was used to count cattle and scouting.
There were other facilities for processing cattle and other outbuildings for animals and things. The place was massive and in top condition, reeking of money. Another garage held the ranch's vehicles, including many different trucks, trailers and ATV's.
Thank god for that; I was worried they'd make me get up on a horse. Just the thought made my heart start pounding and my palms to start sweating.
"So what will I be doing mostly?" I asked him.
He smiled at me with a regretful look and said, "Mostly mucking stalls out and fixing fence, I'm afraid. You're lowest on the totem pole around here, so the less desired jobs fall to you, until another greenie shows up."
"I'm ok with that, Brant, don't worry about it," I said with a smile for him. I saw the look of surprise and then an appreciative smile flashed on his face for me.
"You really aren't like other girls, like you said. You're gonna make me eat my words earlier aren't you?" He smirked at me.
"You mean where you called me a mistake? Or the part where you called me a problem?"
He gave a guilty laugh, saying, "Well, you're still a woman, I see. Memory better than a file cabinet."
I gave him an almost wicked smile and teased him, "Yeah, well I'll try to not hold it against you, too much."
He laughed back and gave me a gentle clap on the back of my shoulder. I smiled at him in comradery and realized I really enjoyed Brant's company. He was easy to get along with and could take a joke; even dish it himself, in a manner that made you comfortable and laid-back. We were going to get along just fine, him and I.
He flashed me an attractive half smile and asked, "So where are you from?"
"I'm from the area, though a little more south than here, so I'm familiar with it."
"Ahh a true Northwest woman, hugh?" I laughed at him and slugged him back with a smile. "Only the best stock comes from here!"
He smirked at me retorting, "Agreed but they can be a little hard to handle sometimes." I laughed and smiled at him, as we walked toward the mess hall. I heard an iron triangle being rung to signal dinner across the whole ranch.
"Come on, Taylor, I'll introduce you to the guys. Boy are they going to be surprised when they lay eyes on you!" He was laughing to himself, shaking his head at the ground as we walked. "You packing, by the way?" My eyes wandered down his form to where he had a pistol on his belt. He was wearing a cowboy hat, white T-shirt, faded wranglers with a belt and cowboy boots.
"Not at the moment but I've got one in my duffle," I said.
"Alright, well when you're out fixing fence, make sure you wear it and you should always take one of the rifles with you. You know how to shoot, right?" I laughed at him again, like he had said something ridiculous; which he had.
"Northwest born and raised," I winked at him. He got an appreciative grin on his face and nudged me with his shoulder.
"Alright, well I'll give you the combo for the safe, that has the ranch hand rifles in them." I nodded at him, as we entered the mess hall smiling and chuckling at each other's teasing.
Inside was a rowdy group of men heckling each other, bustling about as they waited for the window to open, for their meal. Brant walked through the door first and the men turned to glance at him, about to turn back to their antics, when I walked in behind him, coming into view.
Every single guy turned and went absolutely still, as they saw me; a total hush falling over the mess hall. There were suddenly twenty-some pairs of eyes fixated on me and you could hear a pin drop.