A/N: Another Wonderful Past Story…Which Means It Sucks...But Tell Me What You Think Anyways? Pretty Please? I'm Going Through And Reviewing It…Adding Things To Enrich The Story And To Give It What I Think Is A Better Plot Than My Original Idea So Many Years Ago.

Oh Yes…The Way I've Developed My Writing Is Through Many People's Perspectives, That's Why You May Have To Pay Close Attention To Who Exactly The Thoughts Are Coming From. I Think POV Bars Interrupt The Story…So I Don't Use Them.

I WAS Going To Change Jo's Name Because I'd Unintentionally Used The Name Jocelyn Somewhere Else. Also, Jack's Name Was Changed As Well Because Savage's Name Was Originally Jack . So I'm Just Getting Myself All Confused. Thanks Mackenzie Rose For Pointing That Out To Me, And You're Right….I Like Jocelyn Better Too…I'm Changing It Back. Oh! Also I Changed The Name Of The Ranch…I've Been Reading More And The Name Didn't Suit With The Ranch...So Yeah

Thanks To Ruben For Editing The Things I Overlooked .

Here You Are The First Re-Revised Chapter...Others Will Follow

Have Patience.

7-10-2004

Chapter One:

Texas.

Everything there was just a little bit bigger and more extravagant then anywhere else, or so they said. Over the flat horizon the sun gleamed, lashing out with it's wicked tendrils of warmth that scorched the hard soil. There hadn't been any water in months, the soil had already started to crack, just like a spider reaching it's long dark arms across the suntanned land. Overrun by the sound of calling cattle, huddled in the few shady spots among the dappled landscape, taking all the moisture the troughs gave. Stars would fill the sky soon, already the sun gradually revealed the bright treasures. Soon the crickets would make their voices heard.

The masses of ebon Angus would soon huddle together, the nights giving them rest as the lazy days of summer wound down. In a few months most would be moved hundreds of miles South to be marketed off. Such was the life of cows bred for beef, they were the consumed, and the people who spent a pretty penny for their tender flesh the consumers. More spirit than parody they knew not of their fate, instead thrived day by day with nothing on their minds but their individual quests for nourishment and water.

Moved back into the holding pen, where they'd been herded from earlier in the day, before the sun had proved it's masterful prowess. The troughs had been filled to the brim to keep them happy as the ranch hands moved among them giving each minerals and vitamins to make the long haul in October. No meat was real anymore, the USFDA had become tougher in what the American public bought, and ranchers had no choice but to agree.

Hormones were common, to boost up the meat on each individual cow. The effects were higher market price, but lower quality. It was rare to find a ranch that didn't use them, the one's who didn't often paid dearly for their choices to remain organic.

As the numbers of cows in need of supplement dwindled and the sun fell lower in the sky, the other ranch-hands moved onto other tasks involved in keeping the ranch running. They would work the fences, making sure there weren't any holes or broken posts. When the day had efficiently come to a close they took their trucks and went home, those who had homes. A handful stayed behind, the ranch the only place they would ever know.

All that was left now was a single figure injecting the last few flanks with the mineral supplement needed before the cattle went to Mexico for butchering.

Gloved hands, with thick leather across the fingertips and palms pulled the gun quickly and effectively, a tenacious activity rather dull in most respects. There were always a few cows that tended to lack appreciation of the time and effort it took to make sure each one had it's share.

Jade green eyes peered at the last Angus from under the shadow created by the large brimmed hat across the dark brow. The last bull was the ranch's stud, his thick hide tough and wiry, his wit more so than most. They'd called him Demon's Fire, and a few times they'd joked about the similarities of the bull to the Ranch's owner in jest. No longer laughing, man and bull stood at ready. The bull's dark brown eyes narrowed as if primal, almost intelligently as it pawed the ground impatiently, tossing its head as a display of imposed power. The man's stance widened to be quick on his feet, the full gun ready as a pistol cocked in the holster; a picture almost of something out of an old western.

He slid the latch from the gate slowly, stepping further to the side to allow a path, already catching the bull's uneasiness. The gate swung open tauntingly, an invitation to freedom, to the rest of the herd. Demon's Fire wanted freedom, knew that the needle caused discomfort, and yet, by nature remained stubborn.



Without slightest warning, he made a break for the gate, his flanks pounding machines, a single hoof could shatter a femur, and the man had seen it done. Still, an animal, any animal, wouldn't intimidate him; it had cost him too dearly before. As the Angus moved past the shape, long and lanky, the figure had already made its decision. For all the wit the bull possessed, there wasn't question to who the more evolved species was, and logic would always win over strength.

The cowboy knew exactly where to grab, where to dodge and were to fire the dose of immunization. The leather bound hand grabbed to the bulls back and gripped, arm yanking, as his weight slacked. Swinging one leg over the bull he slammed the gun into its rump. Demon's Fire gave a wrathful snort and bucked at the searing prick to its hindquarters. As fast as the man mounted the beast he dismounted it, his free hand lashing to the fence post hoisting him with a said grace away from the infuriated bull. With the steel toes of his boots firmly on the wood of the pen, the bull could only gruff.

Beaten…again.

The deep red handkerchief around the man's face was soaked with sweat. Having worked all day under the sun, perspiration wasn't an uncommon scent. It covered his nose and mouth, helping with the bouts stinging dust, and burning sun. He raised his arm, the sleeve of his wrist length flannel rolled to impressive biceps, wiping free, his forehead of sweat. With all of the cattle done and Demon's Fire off in the pasture he kicked the gate closed with his foot and hopped off the fence, both gracefully and naturally. The empty injection gun limp in his hand, dropped it down on a lone haystack and with it set a boot to it.

There was no rest on a ranch, especially not one as large as Circle A. There was a clang of iron on iron repeatedly, the supper bell, the calling that the day was over until tomorrow for those who had yet to return home. Tomorrow the work picked up where it was left off, a never-ending cycle that demanded mental and physical strength constantly. He raised his head his chin tilted enough so the dying sun caught the features not hidden by the scarf, intense eyes, a mossy, almost bottle green, dark tendrils of hair plastered to his forehead.

Scooping up the gun, he made the journey up towards the estate sitting on fourteen hundred acres of Texas soil. It was a large sized house, then again everything was bigger in Texas. It had more than enough room to house the stragglers that stayed behind, and chairs masked the deck that surrounded it, the moat to the castle.

At the moment it was occupied by a woman, a large bulky figure with sizzling red hair cut in short, neat curls covering her head. Nora Allen had been Circle A's cook, maid, and more importantly, mother to all the lost souls who called this place home for seven good years. She had always worn the flowered apron that was tied around her waist, stained forever with the essence of meals past cooked and previously devoured. Her eyes were a soft golden color, with splashes of brown near the iris; those eyes could be thoughtful, or downright evil.

She could have passed for anyone's mother, smiles that would brighten your day, or provoke the strongest of guilt. But most people hadn't seen the good nurtured soul because of a sad twist of fate that would have her self-conscious for the rest of her life. Burn scars covered the left side of her face, thick and a paled pink that disappeared into the collar of her blouse. She'd been spared her sight, as well as her hands, that remained as effective and loving than ever before.

" Jo? How do you expect to eat the chili if its cold as ice?" The tilt to her voice hinted deeper south, almost elegant in nature

The figure addressed as Jo stepped onto the oak deck, tugging at the hem of the handkerchief around the lower part of his face. It slid around the neck like a horseshoe ringing around a pole. Had it not been for Nora seeing this face for every day in the better part of a decade she should have been surprised to see it fit so well with the attire that was attached with it. She had a sharp almost hawk like face, no hint of frailties in the high cheekbones, the small almost aristocratic nose.

Good blood, most would have called it, one hell of a gene pool if Nora had an opinion.

"It's nearly 90 out that chili isn't gonna get any colder in Hell...Pardon" She knew better than to swear in front of her old friend. "Besides I have to jump in the shower first." The words that came from the lush coral colored lips wasn't deep, didn't rumble, and didn't shake. It was smoky, drawled, and enticing, the type of voice that most didn't argue with too often. The voice didn't belong to a man; lacking the laden Texan sway with words, the features were distinctly female.



"I'd say so. You smell like you've been rolling in fertilizer," Nora's lip curled in sarcasm, blatantly grinning at the younger woman.

"I'd be right glad to share." Jo's lips twitched into a smile as she launched her arms around Nora. Nora made a muffled shriek of distress, as Jo pulled back and grinned sliding into the door of the house before Nora could make her revenge.

Droplets of water beaded along a stretch of flesh, copper from heritage as well as days under the beating of the stubborn Southwest sun. Golden by design, burnished by the blood that flowed through her veins, often frowned upon. The water rolled along the curve of her narrow waist and over a silky hip, hitting the tiled floor; eventually being sucked into the twister formed by the silver drain, danced upon lightly by bare feet. Shoving soapsuds over darkened flesh, a trailing hand skimming along the surface like the hands of a lover, forming over every delectable curve.

The intense steam of the shower condensed on the glass door of the stall, only the outline of a woman bathing visible. The thick, heavy, mist filled the room and with a deep contented breath filled the lungs with the sweet aroma of the Jasmine scented soap mixed with something purely feminine.

Jo set her forehead against the tile for just a moment, weary about the amount of water she was using. As a rancher she had to look out most for the needs of her cattle, she came second. Yet it had been another long day that pushed her both physically and mentally. In her mind there wasn't anything better.

Slowly the shower knobs squeaked and the demanding stream of the showerhead diminished, eventually becoming little more than a spittle of moisture.

The door slid open on its silver framed mount in contrast with the rest of the bathroom decked in pale beige and dark green. Sliding smoothly on its tract, a long slim pair of legs stepped onto the dampened mat of the shower rug. A white terry cloth slid around a slim, well shaped woman, tucked firmly around her chest.

Turning to the small oval mirror hanging just above the sink, a gentle hand reached up to wipe the foggy complexion from the glass.

The bright eyes of Jocelyn Armstrong stared back into green pits of the same. The disdain was always there, exhaustion marked something haunted behind the gaze, with so much wear for being only a few months past twenty eight. She'd seen hard times, she'd seen good, and somehow held it all together in a web entangled around her.

She'd never played by the rules.

When they told her to walk, she'd gladly ran the extra mile no matter the sweat it cost her.

When she was forced to jump, by God she'd be dammed if she didn't at least try and fly.

No one told her she couldn't, she'd had too many people tell her at such an early age that she couldn't. Shouldn't.

Never again.

Running a hand over a finely arched brow Jo sighed in displeasure, she had never been vain. She'd always hated the way she looked, hated that she'd been so different from the only family besides her grandparents that she'd known.

Her hair was darker than midnight, a star-less sky, unruly and in tumultuous waves that reached halfway down her back. No matter how many times she had threatened, even wanted to cut it shorter, she never had. Perhaps, because she needed something on a daily basis to remind her just how female she always would be.

The brim of her nose was masked with a light dabbing of freckles most faded with the dark hue of her skin. Her cheeks always had a blushed look, as if her skin was briefly swept with the petals of a rose. In frustration she pulled her bottom lip between two rows of less than perfect teeth, who needed to be flawless anyway? She shook her head sending water spraying and grabbing a towel to dry it.

After slipping on a pair of clean Wrangler's and a small dark gray T-shirt she wandered out to the dining room the table stocked with food. Around it sat a handful of men, Nora in the kitchen finishing up whatever it was she did in there. "Bout time, Jo we was hoping the food didn't get cold." Cameron Tyler sat at the end of the table, his hat discarded revealing a messy thatch of dark brown hair. His chin indented ever so slightly, was already covered with a five o'clock shadow.

"I didn't see you out there with the damn stick gun, you better damn well wait for me," she flashed an almost to sweet smile to the man who she regarded highly, above the rest.

"It's not like you'll let any of us handle the gun," the second man was the elder of the table, his hair, or the little he had left of it, was as gray as a stormy day, the wrinkles on his face told of life and experience Todd Savage had lived. To his right sat the almost opposite, Jack Blackstone. Though it wasn't his real name, he hadn't spoken a single word again it, or against anything for that matter.

At almost 6'9" and all muscle, he was from Colombia, skin as dark as Jo's, eyes like pools of oil. He had an overwhelming presence that would have intimidated the most egotistical of bastards, and he carried twice the load most men could.

He had come to Circle A about four years ago with a huge dust storm that wrecked havoc over the prairies and just never left. He'd taken Savage as his better of friends and didn't seem to mind letting him talk for him. Savage, who not a year before made his way to Jo's family after his well had run dry, and it had been beyond physical capability run his own ranch any more. He had sold the 120 acres on the west bank of the creek to Jo, and she'd allowed him to stay, knowing men's pride well enough continued to let him work the best he could.

Along the edge of the weighty table sat George MacKay, a volatile Scot who preferred "Mac" because it sounded more Scottish than his given name. Jared Mullins, and Clay Griffin were the last two to fill the table, each as lanky as the rest of them. Fashioned by God almost to serve the land with blood, muscle, and spirit. Though there wasn't more than a handful of years between them they kept up with the rest in their own youth.

"True enough," Jo swung her chair out, swiveling the legs on the wood of the floor and sat down, "So how about that cornbread Savage?" There wasn't a single person at that table who could deny that Jo was their rock, their tether to the world around them. To them, she was staple.

Her ranch…life.

Cameron smirked at her, watching quietly through the rumble of conversation before dinner was completely served. While they all depended on her it was good to know he would always be her own connection to the rest of humanity. He was the closest to her of all of them, of everyone else in the world. He'd had the fortune to meet her at sixteen, she'd been a few years younger, and new at the foster home they'd been lucky to share.

She'd barely spoken English, couldn't read, wouldn't write. And though it had been hormones that advanced his offer to show her, to befriend her at first something deeper would eventually warm his affection towards her. They had grown up side by side, and become closer than any other brother and sister could have been. They had depended on each other for the love and companionship that they were robbed of due to their unfortunate backgrounds. He had taught her to read, and she had taught him to care again.

Nora stepped into the room carrying the last basket of biscuits. She slipped into the seat beside Cameron, her place already made among the rest of them "Jo, I believe it's your turn."

Jo tossed her damp, ebony locks over her shoulder, eyes flashing discord. No choice but to be obedient she crossed her hands, bowing her head. The others followed in suit, each afraid in their own way going against Nora. She was fiercely religious, didn't care to impose it on others but would be satisfied in her own keepings of the Lord's ways. Satisfied, Nora interlocked her fingers and set her head down in praise. "Thank you Lord for this food we're about to receive, may it nourish our bodies as well as our souls." Jo opened an eye to make sure Nora wouldn't point out that she left anything out. "Atchawa tia Hotsa." She added snatching a piece of cornbread. The rich flow of Apache on her tongue easier than the harsh jut of English.

The others at the table dug in to the meal prepared, Nora giving an appreciative nod as she spread her napkin out over her lap. Dishes clattered, being passed around as the heaping servings of potatoes and chili was distributed. It was more like a ritual, a dance for them, a routine none went very long without.

"We've had a few dozen missing in the past three weeks this keeps up and there's no way we can make three not in the least five thousand heads for the Hears this October." Cameron said over the dish crowded table, taking a swig of beer to dampen the cornbread, like honeyed pleasure to his taste buds.

"Again? What in hell's name…" She quickly apologized for the word to Nora. " Why is it we can't catch whoever's been doing this? You said yourself there can't be many of them because they aren't stealing a good amount at a time."

It wasn't Jo, but Savage who had the next bit to say. Nearly slamming the glass bottle on the table, "Can't we just take the shot guns out there and scare em off?"

"It's not that easy Sav…" she was interrupted again, men saying as they would.

"If your damn dogs would do their jobs and not hound the porch for scraps every night we wouldn't have a problem." Cameron muttered.

"You leave my dogs out of this Cam," Jo warned. All of them knew her deepest affections were for her two Mastiffs who did have a habit of begging table scraps, and were fed them.

"And if I have to be the one to take care of it I will, I'll stay out in the barn tonight and wait for them if that'll stop your bickering." She stated with a shake of her head, eyeing Nora tuck a tongue into her cheek.

"Stop fighting, it's supper now, argue after if you would." Nora shot a wry look at Cameron who murmured a 'yes ma'am' eyes looking away and down cast as the meal continued more quietly then usual. They needed the supplement for their muscles and minds for the work each had done all day.

Switching the subject quickly for peace, "I found another gash on Demon's Fire's rump," she edged on the lines of mistreatment, the last thing she could stand was the mistreatment of animals, as a rancher her life was the welfare of her herds. She'd do herself bodily harm if it meant protecting her living, her only passion

"That's because we've been catching that white Hereford in the west field with them heifers again." Savage picked up his bottle tilting his head back to take a hearty swig.

"He break the fence?" her voice teetered on the verge disbelief.

"Yup, strong son of a bitch that one is, don't you think Jack?" he nudged the rather disdained looking man three times his size with a jab to the ribs.

"I say we shoot the beast." Cameron slipped another spoonful of raging chili into his mouth scorching his tongue.

"That's Russell's stud, you shoot him dead and we ain't ever getting another head out of here." Griffin muttered, knowingly.

"He's right the last thing I need is Quinn Russell breathing down my neck." She shot Cameron an almost apologetic look at the fact she wasn't siding with him, though he knew she'd never shoot it. "If you see it again tranq it and I'd be happy to give him his stud back," Jo smirked offering almost a wicked twinge to her smile.

Quinn Russell, though Jo had never seen the man was nobody to tango with…he had connections in high places she could only dream about.

His own ranch, along the Gulf of Mexico, was one of the largest in the Southwest, he owned more than one, had them scattered clear to Nebraska. Just Jo's luck that this one at 1,900 acres, bordered her own for a good amount of them. "Besides we've got five thousand dollars to worry about making, we've got to get that new well dug." she said with a daunting reality.

The rest of the table shared her harsh look, "Don't matter we always make deadlines, the herd's will be off soon anyway" She assured them.

"We still need the money to hire a crew to get them down past the boarder, not counting the money for the well." Mullins added, already adding the figures up. They needed the well almost desperately. After adding Savage's ranch to Jo's lands meant more cattle. More cattle meant more water, and the well they had now was already in danger of drying up.

"Ya'll are worrying about a lot of nothing, I'll have it taken care of." Somehow… Jo added in her mind poking at her supper. She needed at least five thousand, but where could she get it in advance?

"You could always go to Del Rio and ride for it, the Devil knows you're good enough." Mac slid a slab of butter onto his cornbread melting at the touch of the heated surface. Jo sent him an icy look, one that made a shiver run down his back.

"I'm not riding again, I don't care what I've got to do for it, but it wont be that I'd strip for a living before…" Jo couldn't stop herself before the words stumbled from her lips. She recognized her mistake when the men, well, with the exception of Jack who only had slight amusement in his eyes, threw back their heads and roared in laughter.

Even Nora found her lips twitching.

Bull riding was a touchy subject for Jo, rarely had her temper been tested with the mention. It had been three years since she'd done it last, she'd gotten on to the back of the mighty Caesar's Pride. They'd said was impossible to ride, and most men didn't have it in them to try. White as ivory, and she knew he had sired the animal that made visits into her lands.

She'd almost lost her right arm, caught in the restraints as the bull had thrashed. At times she still felt the wound that had inflicted her mind now more than her physical form. Her left leg had been dragged trying to free herself, thankfully snapping instead of shattering the femur in two places.

It hadn't just been the physical pain, the tendons of her elbow having been wrenched to breaking point. Eventually what hurt and frustrated her the most had been all the time spent learning to grip a spoon. She'd spent hours, days, and months training her hand to support a simple text book for more than a few seconds without wavering. She'd had to teach her leg to walk again, the bar in it would always remain.

It would have been over because of the risk, her Ranch in its beginning stages would have crumbled, and worst of all her life could have been ended under the sharp hooves. She'd taken a sharp blow to her pride, her spirit, and it'd come close to breaking. But it hadn't. And she'd be damned if she'd give up after working this hard.

It wasn't that she was scared of the animals, in fact she tested them daily, but she'd never let anyone of them have the control over her as Caesar's Pride had. The bull had proven its power, taken her under in it.

Never again.

But stripping…now that was a horse of a different color.

Jo would never be a woman, at least not in her head, not to definition. She had never worn make up in her life, never even thought of trading her jeans in for a skirt. the truth was she was just as likely to ever act feminine as cattle were to fly…or so she thought. The men around her were highly aware that Jo had been born Jocelyn, and no matter how much she argued she couldn't hide the flare of her hips, the fullness of breast, nor the way she walked with her whole body swaying like a cats tail.

To Savage though, she was like the daughter he had never had. Jack, was her protector, and in his silence would never have see a hair on her head harmed. Mac had an appreciation for the female form, but his age made him an unlikely viewer of anything past admiration for Jo

It was Cameron and the other young ranch hands who really noticed that she could never hide her feminine characteristics. Her mouth was far to full, and any man would say desperately kissable, it was made to relish. Her eyes were another subject. They burned solely with a pride and determination Cameron had only seen once on the verge of breaking; when she'd slipped from the back of 4,000 pounds of pure fury and muscle.

Jo frowned deeply trying her damnedest not to let the blood rush to her cheeks, snatching up her bowl. She offered a cruel look of irk and stormed out of the house slamming the front door as loud as she could to make her point.

Nora's small smirk washed off completely, replaced with a drawl frown. Savage's laughter faded but hadn't drawn to a close yet, "Cut it out!" Cameron snapped to Savage and the other three who were red faced with laughing.

He slipped from the room and found her on the porch. She held her bowl in one hand her booted foot propped on a chair leaning against the banister. Her eyes stayed focused on the horizon that the sun was all but absent from. Her hand rested on the head of one of her babies scuffing the head that reached past her waist. The dog brought its head up only briefly eyeing Cameron with a murmur of satisfaction.

Cameron almost tripped over the other laying lazily on the porch, it gruffed a bit but rather than that stayed half asleep. "We were just funning you Jo, you know we didn't mean nothing by it." he walked towards her tossing his hand up in a gesture of peace and surrender.

"It's not even that, I've got other things on my mind," she shook her head setting her bowl on the edge.

"Involving?" he led off scuffing the deck with his boot.

"Involving Russell." She turned her back for a second and Radley, the female of her pair of Mastiffs was going for Jo's food. "Rad! No." she shooed at her nose but she toppled it. The bowl crashed onto the deck which sent Rad and her companion Griffin towards the scattered remains of her sup. She made a sound of forgotten protest, and turned back to the sunset.

"Cause of the bull?" Cameron tilted his head sliding his thumbs into the front loops of his jeans.

"No. Because my ranch boarders the damn near largest Texas has ever seen. It's hard to sell anything local. Then we wouldn't have to make the trip…and we'd have water." She confessed with a heartfelt sigh her lips forming a thin line of distaste. "I'm babbling now." She stopped with a shake of her head.

"Our cattle's just as good—"

"No, his are better because people would rather buy from a man flashing millions, than a woman barely scraping by." She shook her head running her tongue over her teeth.

Cameron stepped to her, "What makes us different is that we ain't ever giving up."

Jo raised those bottle green eyes to him and offered a half smile, "Yeah, I guess not." She turned back to the horizon, shadows of the reminisce of daylight.

Cameron tried his damnedest not to flush, truth was he harbored feeling for her…he'd been in love with the damned woman since she'd broken his nose with a good strong punch once when he'd stolen her bra and hung it on the tractor.

They'd grown together, partners in crime, and even when Jo had blossomed into more than a child, she had already been in his sight lines.

He'd never acted on those feelings, even if he had tried she probably would have laughed in his face. He had faced that he might never get further with her than the brother like compassion she held for him.

A/N: It's fixed. You're welcome to erm…bug me if I screwed anything else up. That's the glory of this site \m/ ^_^