Authors Note: Okay I know I tend to focus on supernatural things but lately I've been having this idea and thought I'd give it a go. We all know I love kick-ass heroines who can take care of themselves and I have carried on with that tradition. But just because this isn't a supernatural vampire or werewolf story, doesn't mean it has any less action, adventure or love. I've worked hard on this plot and I hope you like it. Enjoy reading ~*~
The sun was beating down hot in the sky and the red earth was nearly baked dry to the very core. The horse trough had never looked so inviting before with its glistening water. I didn't pause to think as I took my hat off and dived my head in, allowing the water to cool my sun kissed skin, before flicking my head back out so my wet hair slicked back and the droplets trickled down my face.
I grinned as Diablo, my brown stallion watched me with a straight horse face, no pun intended. His tail flicked and I laughed reaching over to stroke his snout. "I know boy, I'm more animal than you at times. But who cares? Not me."
With a tail swish he lowered his head to drink demurely from the trough I'd nearly dived into. But after five days of riding in a hard saddle and droving five hundred a head of cattle to market for a nice pay check, I needed it.
I wiped the gathering droplets from my brow and glanced around the street. The earth was as dry as dust, I half expected to see some tumbleweed roll by. But all I saw were people, in jeans and shirts walking by with their daily lives.
"Hey, Meg, there's a problem at the loadings, Coopers refusing to pay up the money." My right hand Bryce called as he walked up, rubbing his dust covered hands over his leather chaps.
I narrowed my eyes and slapped my hat back on my head, walking across the road to follow the fence that marked off the cattle pen. The five hundred cattle I had recently herded in were still worked up and making loud groaning noises. I walked down to the wharf where the loading dock of the ship was. Cooper stood by the fence and shook his head at one of my ranch hands.
"Hey what's the problem here Cooper?" I demanded and invaded his space.
Famous for my quick temper he fidgeted trying to get out of range. "The cattle, they're not fat enough. I aint paying you for that." he gestured vaguely at the herd.
I ground my teeth together. "Listen here mate, you either pay us the twelve hundred dollars or I start beating you so hard you pay me that to stop. You got it?"
Cooper's face pinched and he straightened his blue business suit as he stepped closer. "You threatening me Meg?"
"Hell yeah." Obviously my agreement hadn't been the answer he expected. "Because I just drove that herd four hundred miles for your fucking company to make them into burgers, so either you stop picking holes and trying to wrangle yourself some free livestock, or I start shooting. Which is it?" I asked, emphasizing my warning by placing a hand on the Colt strapped in my holster at the hip.
He sighed and waved his hands. "Fine, I'll pay you the damn money, maybe you can spend a little on finally dolling up like a real lady." He snapped as he fished the cheque out of his pocket.
I snagged the cheque with my fingers and relaxed as I grinned. "Pleasure doing business with you. Bryce, Cody, how about we go grab a drink, on me?"
Bryce laughed as he slung an arm over my shoulder, his cocoa coloring making my tan nearly look pale in comparison. "Ah Meg Brooks does it again. How many have tried to steal away your pay checks now?"
Cody walked along side us, his tall build and brown hair slicked back, that matched the few days stumble on his chin making him look rough and rugged. "Too many to count. They never learn."
I glanced around the pen and frowned. "Where's the rest of the men guys? They better not be working, they need a break. That was a hard drove."
Bryce tipped his hat back so it hung down his back by the rope around his neck. "They're already inside the Stable, celebrating."
I smiled pleased and turned for The Stable. It was the only pub in town so it was the most popular, I always seemed to end up here after a hard day's work. Mostly because it was where my workmates ended up too. I walked through the doors and grinned hearing the honky-tonk piano music playing. The Stable was a throwback to the old days, back when there were gunslingers and gun drawn duels. It was lit up by lightings that were shaped like candles and in the back people played cards. I knew where I was heading after a stiff drink.
At the bar I smiled at Mike, at fifty with a nice trimmed beard and a temperament that always amazed me. He was like my second father.
"Hey Mike, a pint will do me if ya will."
He pulled the pint and slid it across the top of the bar so that it stopped just in front of me. He grinned wiping his hands on a towel as I took a deep gulp from the ice cold glass.
"Hard at work I see."
I smiled at Mike. "Did the ride here from the ranch in only three days. That's a record in my book considering how many problems occurred."
"Ah, well in that case, kiddo you deserve to relax. The drinks on me. Bryce leave Anna alone before I break out the shotgun." Mike's voice boomed throughout the pub and everyone laughed, apart from Bryce who pulled away from Anna, blushing slightly under his dark skin. Poor Anna blushed even more and ducked her head to hide her swollen kissed lips.
"Piss off Mike. Come on Anna, I aint putting on a show for 'em all." he said grabbing her hand and walking out the door with her.
I shook my head. "Mike did you have to do that? You embarrassed my best worker."
Mike laughed. "Yes, in fact I did Meg. You see Bryce is too much of a nice guy, he needs to wake up, smell the coffee and whisk Anna off on her feet before she gets tired of waiting."
I frowned as I sipped at my drink. "Bryce is a good guy, that's why she should wait. He cares for her, he's just waiting so he can save enough to buy a nice place for them. He's a hard worker, I should now."
Mike winked. "Getting defensive over your man eh?"
I glared again. "He's not my man Mike, I don't need, want or have a man. But he is my best friend, has been since I was eight and I knocked him out with a bat."
Mike laughed even harder, "Really, no man in your life huh? Well I've heard around town somebody has their eye on you."
"I don't have a clue what you're on about." I lied. Getting up with my drink in hand I headed over to the back tables, trying to ignore Mike's knowing grin.
I eyed one table that a group of men sat dealing cards. "Hey is this an open table?" I asked as Luis looked up, his blonde hair and blue eyes twinkling.
"Course it is Meg, room if ya wana join."
I sat next to him and he started dealing out from the shuffled deck. I handed some money over and he gave me some chips in turn. I tipped my chair back on its legs and drank my drink as the other players peeked at their cards. Chris grinned and tossed in a few chips. One by one we went around the table and raised the bid, in ten minutes only three of us remained.
"I raise you five." Chris said moving some chips forth.
I smirked and tossed in ten red chips. "I raise you ten, blind."
Chris fidgeted. "Blind? You haven't even checked your cards." I nodded and grinned. It was all about the bluff.
Jake shook his head and placed his cards to the side. "Screw this man, I'm out. I've heard about Meg, she's a shark with the cards."
Chris fidgeted and I was about to check my cards when a commotion of greetings drew my attention to the front doors. My face froze as I saw a six foot, muscle sculpted, tan skinned, broad shouldered, brown haired, golden eyed, drool worthy god. Dustin Howlers was one of the most gorgeous guys I had ever met. He made me melt with one look in my cowboy boots. And he annoyed the hell out of me. Yeah, Mike knew exactly what he was on about. And I suddenly knew I needed to bolt out of here.
"I fold." I said standing up.
I downed the last of my pint and slammed the glass down, moving through the crowd. Behind me I heard Chris move, flipping my cards up to look at them and cursing.
"Bloody hell, she had a pair of aces and a jack high. I was screwed five ways to Tuesday, why'd she fold?"
Luis chuckled darkly, I wanted to turn and whack him on the head but the need to get out of there was more important than anything right now.
"Because lads, trouble just walked into the bar. You've heard the rumors."
I seriously wanted to know what rumors had been circulating in town, I really needed to pay more attention to the local gossip.
I grinned as I made it to the side door, score one for me. I could totally avoid Dustin and the sucker wouldn't even know I'd been there till I was miles away.
My victory was short lived as an arm snaked out to stop me from walking through the doorway. I closed my eyes and tried to count to ten and calm down. Or maybe when I opened them the arm would vanish. When I opened them it was still there, I was still pissed off. I spun and glared up, into those lush gold eyes that made me want to wrap myself around the hard body before me.
"Dustin, why aren't I surprised."
He didn't even smile or glare, he never showed any expression. That was one of the most annoying things about him, but not the only thing.
"Megan, we need to talk."
"Great, just what I don't want to do with you." His brow furrowed and I blinked. Oops, seemed I'd spoken aloud rather than in my head. I did that a lot. I really needed to get that checked at; it tended to land me in trouble. Like now.