A/N: Yeah, I'm probably a little nuts for attempting another story after closing out one a week ago. However, this one has appeared on another site, but I do prefer the FP format, so I'm re-working it a little and posting it here. If you reviewed it on the other site, feel free to cut and paste that review here. LOL. If not, hope you enjoy it.

It's worth mentioning that, since this takes place in 1880, views on many things, including race, were different. I will not use extremely pejorative terms, obviously, but I'm striving for some authenticity at the same time. It's another slow burn, mostly because of the times and the circumstances, so bear with me. It's a different sort of style, but it's also been fun to write, and I have the majority of it done. So I'll post fairly regularly for a while. And now, read, enjoy and REVIEW!

Chapter 1: Cowboy Meets Saloon Girl

Denver, Colorado
June, 1880

She drew on her black lace mitts and straightened her stockings. Her black buttoned shoes were polished to a twinkle.

"C'mon, Flo! Downstairs in five!" yelled Delilah from across the hall.

"Be there shortly!" she answered. She looked in the mirror. Flo stared back at her - or in another life, Elinor Kathleen Matthews. But that was a lifetime ago, and she'd never be that sweet, sheltered, over-educated girl again. Now the cowhands called her Flo, and the genteel ladies of Denver pulled their skirts aside and whispered, "Cheap slut" when she walked past, not realizing the woman they scorned had once been very much like themselves. Flo was only a persona, though - a costume she wore. She didn't know who Elinor was, anymore. She wasn't the girl, and she wasn't the saloon girl. She was in limbo, but she had three meals a day and a safe place to sleep. The owner of The Eagle's Nest was Gertie Brown, and nobody messed with her girls. You were clean and you were respectful to them, or she and her Sharps .50 shotgun would escort you out of the place.

Finally, Flo descended the stairs into the main barroom. It was first of the month, and the place would be crowded with cowhands, looking to spend their paychecks. She hoped she could sell a lot of whiskey tonight. There were other, prettier girls, like Delilah, who were much more popular. Flo didn't make as much money as they did, but she could support herself, which was the important thing.

"Looks like a good crowd tonight," Delilah said. "That first of the month money. Ooh. Looks like the boys from the Lazy J are here tonight. They always raise the roof."

Flo rather envied the beautiful black-haired saloon girl her easy ways and seeming unconcern about the life she led. Delilah could take a cowhand's whole paycheck without him seeming to mind. In fact, she often received lovely gifts from her admirers.

Still, the job called, and she flipped her long brown hair back over her shoulder and smiled at the men in the bar. One motioned to her and she went to him. "What can I get you?"

"What will this buy?" He handed her a silver dollar. Now, those were rare.

"Any drink in the bar," she answered.

"Shot of your best bourbon. I mean, the good stuff."

"Coming right up." For a silver dollar, she'd get the bonded bourbon they kept out of sight under the bar because it was so hard to come by. She poured a generous measure and took it to the cowhand. "One shot, best bourbon. Fifty cents."

"Keep the change." Flo smiled and pocketed the two quarters. She turned to go when the man caught her hand. "What's your hurry?"

"We're busy tonight. Lots of thirsty customers," she said pleasantly. Although, looking at this man was no hardship. He obviously shaved and bathed before he got to town, which put him miles ahead of many of their customers. He wore a mustache and his light brown hair was longish, but nicely brushed. His face was strong and square-jawed, and his eyes were deep-set. She thought they were blue. His baby-faced friend was equally neat and clean. Even their shirts looked new.

"Would another dollar get a few minutes of your time?" he asked.

Money could buy drinks, conversation or a dance at The Eagle's Nest. "Of course," she said, and he handed her the coin. She sat at their table. "How are you gentlemen getting along this evening?"

The one with the bourbon sipped his drink and nodded. "Very well. This is the good stuff."

"Straight from Kentucky, bonded and the best your silver dollar can buy in Denver," Flo replied.

He laughed. "I'm sold. Do you have a name, ma'am?"

"They call me Flo. What about you?"

"Glenn. My friend is James – or Jimmy for short."

"Pleased to meet you, Glenn, and you as well, Jimmy."

The boyish cowhand blushed scarlet to the tips of his ears. "Thank you, ma'am."

"He's a top hand with cows, but not necessarily with the fairer sex," Glenn said with a grin.

"Not to worry. I think I can help." She motioned to a sweet-faced girl who had a knack for putting cowboys at their ease.

"What's going on, Flo?" the blonde asked.

"This is Glenn, and that's Jimmy." She whispered in the girl's ear, "Jimmy's as tongue-tied as a goose with the ladies." She nodded in understanding.

"Evening, gents. I'm Louisa." She sat down beside Jimmy. She was hardly five feet tall, and might have weighed 90 pounds, soaking wet. "What's your outfit?" she asked him.

"Um, the Lazy J, ma'am."

"Louisa, please, Jimmy. And how long have you been a hand for them?"

He turned red again. "About six months, ma- Miss Louisa."

"And do you like working for them?"

"I do. They're real good to me," he answered with the first hint of a smile Flo had seen on his face.

Glenn looked impressed and turned to Flo. "She's good. Now, could I persuade you to dance with me?"

"Certainly. Is there a song you'd like to hear?" She gestured to the piano.

"Lady's choice," he answered as he stood and gave her a hand up from her chair. She spoke to the piano player and he nodded. She returned to Glenn, and he bowed, just as a gentleman would at a ball. She curtsied, he took her hand and led her to the dance floor. As the plaintive strains of "Shenandoah" came over the air, Glenn drew Flo into his arms and they danced together.

As they danced, Flo had the idea that Glenn was born a gentleman, just as she was born a lady. He danced with ease and grace. His hand was light on the dark blue satin waist of her dress and he turned her across the floor effortlessly. He sang the sad words and her eyes widened at his sweet, melodic tenor. "What an excellent voice you have," she said.

"Thank you. It's helpful when you've got the late watch and the cows get restless."

"I'm sure. What do the cows like to hear?"

He chuckled. "Oh, anything. The main thing is they need to hear your voice. Seems to soothe them."

Flo could well imagine Glenn's voice soothing any critter, bovine or otherwise. She almost missed a step at the thought and Glenn caught her, a question on his face. "I must have tripped on an uneven floorboard."

The dance ended, and Glenn bowed to her again. "It was a pure pleasure dancing with you, Miss Flo."

"And with you, Glenn."

"Mercenary as it sounds, how much would Shotgun Gertie accept for your company until closing time?"

Flo snickered at the nickname for her boss. It was well-deserved. "Ten dollars would cover it, with all the whiskey you can drink, and as many dances as you like."

Glenn nodded. He reached into his pocket and handed her a ten-dollar Liberty coin. Flo looked at it. They were even more uncommon than a silver dollar. She smiled at him.

"Why thank you! I'm flattered you'd like my company for the evening."

"You're welcome. And this is just for you." And he gave her a five-dollar coin.

Flo eyed him, a little suspiciously. "Thank you again, but you know this doesn't get you anything extra."

He took her meaning that she wasn't a prostitute. "I know it. If I'd wanted a line girl, I'd have looked elsewhere."

Glenn was an educated man. His speech marked him so. But in the West, you didn't ask too many questions about a man's past. But Flo would bet the fifteen dollars he handed her that he was college-educated, and probably from a good family. He'd learned manners and social graces.

Flo nodded. "In that case, can I get you another bourbon?"

"One more. And that's it for me."

Flo brought him the drink, and saw Jimmy and Louisa deep in conversation at a corner table. Glenn had never seen the young cowboy talk so easily to a female, and said so to Flo.

"Louisa's good at drawing people out," she replied, as they sat at a table.

"Apparently. I saw in The Journal that cattle prices are going up."

He was a reader. Flo wasn't surprised. "Good news for cattlemen, surely," she answered.

"Indeed. Do you read, Miss Flo?"

She looked at him like he lost his mind, so unexpected was his question. "I do. I've enjoyed Mr. Twain's work, and the English authors Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens."

"Dickens? I've read his 'Christmas Carol' and liked it. I haven't run across Miss Bronte. What did she write?"

"A novel called 'Jane Eyre'. Very moody and atmospheric. I liked it a great deal."

"I'll ask Mr. Martin at the bookshop about it. Have you been to Martin's?"

She nodded. "I have. I love bookshops." Suddenly, they were talking about books, literature, art and music, and Flo felt at home again.

"Tell me, Miss Flo. How does a saloon girl in Denver know so much about the arts?"

"How does a cowhand in Denver know so much?" she countered.

Glenn raised an eyebrow. "Fair point. Michigan was not - kind - to me."

"Nor Mississippi to me."

Glenn took Flo's hand. "Two desperadoes, are we?"

"Seems so."

"You don't look like the other girls. Your dress. It's not…." his voice trailed off.

Flo chuckled. "I don't have the shape or the beauty to carry off a costume that shows so much of me. For Delilah," and she indicated the woman, "it's perfect. Not for me." Her dress had a modest portrait neckline and actual sleeves.

"You haven't looked in a mirror lately, have you?" Glenn's tone was admiring.

"I have, in fact. That's how I know."

"I'll have to beg to disagree with you." He took her hand and kissed the back. His sapphire eyes locked to hers. "Now then, no one's paying us any mind. Flo is what you go by. What's your name? You know mine."

She stared hard at him. "Why do you want to know?"

"Because when I send a letter to you, I don't want to write 'Dear Flo'. It doesn't suit you."

Her eyes widened. "Why would you want to send a letter to me?"

"I can't ride into town every day. Or even once a week. Once a month is about the best I can do. But Cookie comes in at least every two weeks for supplies and he can bring a letter to you," he explained.

"But why?" she persisted.

He kissed her hand again. "Because I find myself very taken with you. I'd like to write you."

"I'm just a saloon girl, Glenn. Men pay for my time and my conversation." She tried to pull her hand away, but he clasped it gently in both of his.

"So you were talking about these things you love with me because I paid for your time?" His eyes dared her to lie.

She looked away. "I did enjoy talking with you."

"Would you also enjoy writing to me, and receiving my letters?"

She looked down sheepishly. "I believe I would."

"Then… your name?"

In a low voice, she said, "Elinor."

He grinned and was suddenly handsome. "Elinor. What a lovely name. That suits you. Ellie. Sweet Ellie."

Elinor blushed. "Thank you."

"I think I can find plenty to write to Ellie. I'll address the envelope to Flo, but the letter will be for Elinor. Now, I'll be in town overnight and I'll ride back tomorrow afternoon. It's nearly closing time." He looked around. The place was beginning to empty. Jimmy was standing on the sidewalk outside, earnestly talking to Louisa. "Can you meet me at 12:30 tomorrow at the Charpiot Hotel for dinner?"

"The Charpiot? That's one of the nicest places in Denver! They have a real French chef!"

Glenn nodded and grinned. "I know. Meet me?"

"I will."

"Then I'll say good evening," and he dropped his voice. "Sweet Ellie."

She smiled like a young girl. "Good evening, Glenn." She walked him to the door. "Come back to see us at The Eagle's Nest. If you don't see me, ask for Flo. We want to see you when you're back in town."

Once again, he kissed her hand. "Count on it. Good night." He went outside. "Come on, Jimmy. We need to hit the hay. Long ride tomorrow."

"I'm comin', Glenn." He turned back to Louisa. "Miss Louisa, it was a pleasure meeting you -and - and I'd admire to see you again next time we're in town."

"Just ask for me, Jimmy. I'll save the evening just for you."

"Yes Ma'am," he stammered and said good night.

He and Glenn met up with the rest of their outfit as they walked to their hotel.

"Old Romeo strikes again," Micah said. "And look at Jimmy! Little pink cheeks found himself a girl!" Micah was the foreman for the Lazy J. He lived to pick at his cowhands.

"At least I still have part of my paycheck left," Glenn said. "Flo didn't get it all. You got the money to pay your hotel bill?"

"I got enough," he growled, much to the amusement of the other Lazy J riders.

"That's good, 'cause last month, I had to grub stake you because Delilah got you down to your last nickel. She'd have had your gunbelt and britches if she'd taken the notion. And you'd have ridden back in your shirt and drawers." This got an even bigger laugh - mostly because every man knew it was true. Micah had a serious weakness for the black-haired beauty.

"You're so full of shit, you can't walk straight," Micah retorted.

"Could be, but I'll have money left when we ride home."

"And what were you talking to Flo about all night? You never showed an interest before."

Glenn grinned at Jimmy. "I never saw her before." He kept walking.

Micah elbowed a very drunk Leroy. "Probably talking about art and shit like that." Leroy chuckled.

The other member of the group, Andrew – Drew, shook his head. Micah was by no means illiterate, but there was no question that Drew and Glenn were the educated ones. Drew was what many in the West called a Breed. His mother was pure-blood Cherokee and his father a planter. Like Glenn, he was educated in the Northeast, although he went to Princeton, while Glenn was at Harvard. But Drew was from Virginia, and while so many of his friends and brothers fought and died for the Confederacy, he was in college. He came west as soon as it was safe to travel. He was considered a traitor and so joined the US Army as a scout. Glenn's story was still something of a mystery. And it might remain that way. Glenn didn't talk of home or family. Drew suspected something dark, but never inquired further.

"Well you drew the royal flush tonight, Flo!" Delilah crowed. "That handsome devil usually gets one drink and he's gone. But he spent all evening with you."

"And you'd better have the cash for his time, girlie," Gertie said. She put her shotgun on the bar and opened the strongbox where she kept the night's profits before going to the bank the next day.

"I've got it, Gertie," Elinor said, and drew the Liberty coin from her pocket. "Ten dollars in gold. Doesn't get much more bona-fide than that." She slid it across the parquet wood.

Gertie's eyes widened. "Well, I'll be… How often do you see those?" Even cowhands with a full paycheck had it in bills or small coins, generally. "What did he drink?"

"Best bourbon. One of those silver dollars was his." Elinor indicated the coins.

"That cowhand must be livin' right," Gertie said.

Elinor shrugged. "Guess so," she said and went upstairs to her room. Delilah caught her.

"So what did you two talk about?" she asked.

"Art. Music. And did you fleece Micah out of his last penny like you did last time?"

"I let him keep enough to get home on. He's so easy. Art and music, huh? Well, just goes to show, you never know." Many Western people were well educated, and you couldn't tell by their clothes if they couldn't spell "cat" or had been a college professor back East.

"Louisa, you sure made Jimmy's trip to town a memorable one," Elinor said as the blonde came up the stairs.

"He's a sweet boy. I don't mind spending time with him. He's nice to me." Although most of the men were respectful, when the girls said a man was nice, it meant a little more.

"That's good. You deserve a nice man," Elinor replied. Louisa was half-starved and a mass of bruises when Gertie took her in. She never talked about her past, either. "Good night, girls," Elinor said, and went into her room.

She undressed, took off all her paint and brushed her hair. Ellie. That's what Glenn called her. She braided her long brown hair. She couldn't dye it, like some of the girls did. She tried and it started falling out. She had to wear a mantilla for six months to camouflage her short crop.

She went to her bureau, took out a nightdress and donned it. As she always did, she picked up the old miniature portrait of a couple. "Good night Mama and Pa," she said and kissed the picture. Her father had been conscripted to fight and was captured in Virginia. He died at Fort Delaware of dysentery. The doctor's note had been kind and compassionate, but Elinor still hated the Yankees for the conditions in the prison, and the Confederate patrollers who captured him. He was 45, and hardly fit for combat. But that didn't matter.

Her mother was film-flammed by a rich Carpetbagger who needed a wife. She needed some source of income to feed four children. It was a match made in hell. But Elinor did receive a fine education from the Savannah Female Academy in Tennessee, which survived the war, so that was something, she supposed. The carpetbagger - she refused to even think his name - had her in mind for his insane son. The lunatic forced himself on her one night and she left the next day to stay with her aunt in Corinth. At least she didn't get pregnant. From there, she answered an advertisement for a mail-order bride in Denver, but quickly decided the prospective groom was no better than the lunatic. Fortunately, her aunt had paid her fare to Denver, so she was free to leave.

She heard Gertie Brown was hiring at The Eagle's Nest and here she was. Her first six months were spent in cast-off costumes until she made enough money to order her own goods from back East, although she had a dressmaker in Denver make them up for her. So it was she had two nice walking dresses that bore no resemblance to her saloon finery. With her face free of paint, and her hair its natural color, in one of those dresses, she looked no different from any of the Denver ladies.

Since it was early summer, Elinor laid out the pink lawn dress. It wasn't as structured as the dresses back East, but it was fashionable and looked pretty on. She'd hire a cab. The Eagle's Nest had its own carriage, but it would never do to arrive at The Charpiot in a saloon carriage.

Elinor's heart beat in triple time as she descended from the carriage at the hotel at exactly 12:30. She picked her skirts up to keep them out of the dust. Her straw poke bonnet with its pink ribbon and lining was perfect with her dress. She went into the hotel and glanced around the lobby. Glenn was sitting on one of the leather sofas, reading a newspaper. And oh my, didn't he take her breath clean away! His black suit and string tie were perfect. His light brown hair gleamed in the sun and as he stood to greet her, his smile nearly made her faint.

It was Ellie! Glenn thought as the lady in pink came toward him. The saloon girl was mighty cute, but this Southern belle was … altogether different. Her figure was all curves and her hair was braided and coiled on top of her head. His sharp eyes detected just a hint of rouge on her cheeks and a dab of coralline salve on her lips, but no one would have noticed, and many ladies wore the salve to protect their lips from the harsh prairie air.

Her white kid gloves had pink buttons and Glenn grinned at the idea. He bowed and took her hand. "Miss Elinor, if you'll just walk into the dining room with me."

"Of course, Mr…" she paused and Glenn snickered.


"Mr. Barton." He seated her at their table and then himself. She looked around. The hotel was opulent. Never anywhere she'd stayed, for certain. "My goodness," she said. "Lavish."

"It is," he agreed.

A waiter brought menus and ice water in crystal glasses.

The menu was in French, but Elinor wasn't caught out. She learned French from the Carpetbagger's Canadian maid and from the Savannah Female Academy. She was conversant.

"I can translate," Glenn said.

Elinor looked at him over her menu. "No need." His raised eyebrow showed his surprise.

When the waiter returned, he looked at Glenn, since gentlemen routinely ordered for their ladies, but he gestured to Elinor with a wicked look.

"Oui. Je veux un poulet rôti, a la herbes de Provence, et asperges al la sauce hollandaise, et pommes de terre lyonnaise, s'il vous plait." Her French was soft and precise and Glenn hid a chuckle.

"Bien, Mademoiselle. And for Monsieur?"

"Je veux un steak aux pommes frites, et salade - and a bottle of your best Chardonnay." One normally drank red wine with steak, he knew, but Ellie was having chicken.

"Of course, Monsieur. Right away." He took their menus and Elinor sat looking at Glenn, her brown eyes dancing with mischief.

"Sweet Ellie, you're laughing at me. And looking self-satisfied," he said with a smile.

"You didn't think I could read that menu. But I could. And I could order from it."

"Indeed you could. You're a batch of surprises, all wrapped up in a fetching pink dress and bonnet," he said, with an answering twinkle in his blue eyes.

Elinor looked him up and down. "Yet somehow I doubt a cowhand from the Lazy J brought his best suit to town with him."

Glenn laughed out loud at that. "Miss Ellie, you have a saucy way about you. No, I got up with the chickens and went over to see the Chinaman who can cut and tailor a new suit in about two hours. For five dollars, a brand-new suit, appropriate for funerals or other occasions."

Elinor snickered at that. "Two hours for a suit? I'd heard of them doing that."

Glenn nodded. "He has three sons, two daughters, and a wife, and they all run sewing machines. You'd swear they had steam engines they run so fast."

"They'd have to, if they wanted to make a suit that quickly."

"So, Miss Ellie. How long have you - been in Denver?" He didn't mention her job, since many people thought all the saloon girls were whores and they might be asked to leave if someone overheard.

"About three years. I found my current situation soon after I came."

"Are you happy?"

Elinor thought about that. "I'm safe. Moreover, I have a roof over my head and decent food. Being happy isn't a necessity."

Glenn's eyes clouded. "But being safe is." Elinor nodded. He wasn't surprised. Many women had sad stories to tell. Apparently, Ellie was no exception. He touched her hand. "Then I want you to be safe. Always. And I'll endeavor to keep you that way."

Something in his tone made her wonder what he had done in his past. Their food arrived about that time and forestalled any questions she might have asked. The waiter poured their wine and Elinor's eyes widened at the sight of her plate. "My goodness. This looks delicious!" she said, low, as she took off her gloves so she could eat and placed her napkin in her lap.

Glenn smiled. "Enjoy it."

"I will." Zelda, the cook at The Eagle's Nest, wasn't bad at all, but she never made roast chicken taste this good. Eating off china and using linen napkins were parts of the world Elinor left behind, and she found she missed these small niceties. "So, Mr. Barton, how is it that you speak and read French?"

"I picked it up here and there," he answered.

Elinor shook her head. "I know you're an educated man. I won't pry, but I know you are. And you were raised in a good family."

He grinned. "So you work for the Pinkertons in your spare time, do you? And what makes you think I'm either educated or from a decent family?"

She rolled her eyes. "Really, Glenn. Your speech alone marks you as being educated. And your manners mean, at some point, you were taught how to behave in polite society. You're respectful to ladies, no matter their station. That means, at the heart of you sir, you're a gentleman."

"Am I so easy to read?" His tone indicated he wasn't sure whether to be pleased about her assessment or not.

"Not intentionally, for certain. But I do have a gift for judging character. And I'm entirely too educated for the comfort of most women - or men, for that matter. But it does come in handy now and again. So how long have you ridden for the Lazy J?"

She was a deft hand at changing the subject, Glenn thought. "Four years. It's a good outfit. The owner, Jack Grissom, is tough, but he's fair. He wants results, but he's willing to pay a decent wage to get them. Doesn't ask any of us to do what he's not willing to do, himself."

"All hallmarks of a good boss in any profession," Ellie replied. "And that foreman? Micah? Quite the character."

Glenn laughed. "You could say that. He's left a good portion of his paycheck behind in some interesting places."

"I'm aware," Elinor answered with a soft laugh. "And Jimmy?"

Glenn's face softened. "Jimmy's a good kid. Top hand. He's something of an innocent, which makes no sense considering how hard he had it coming up."

"There's a sweetness about him. I'd hate to see that corrupted."

"So would I. We're all kind of protective of him. In fact, I - well, Drew and I - are teaching him to read."

"Is that so?" Her face broke into a pleased smile. Glenn would tell her anything in the world to have that smile directed at him regularly. "How wonderful!"

"We don't want him to get cheated or anything like that. If he can read, that makes it a lot harder."

"Very true. And Drew? Which one is he? I've seen several of the Lazy J riders."

"Drew has the long dark hair. Wears it pulled back all the time. He's half Cherokee. Leroy's the drunk blond. God love him, he can't stay sober on a Friday night to save his life. Give you the shirt off his back, but…" Glenn shook his head.

"I've met Leroy and I've seen Drew. And this is the most delicious meal I can remember eating in ages!" she said.

Glenn smiled. "I'm glad." He motioned to the waiter and whispered something. The man nodded and smiled as he left.

"What was that about?" Elinor asked.

"You'll see."

In a few minutes, the waiter returned, bearing a silver coffee pot. He poured a cup for each of them, and another server appeared with the most delectable eclair on a saucer and placed it before Elinor. Her mouth dropped open. Glenn sipped his coffee and looked smug.

"This is really too much," she said.

"Eat it."

"You're going to turn my head, Mr. Barton."

He leaned across the table and said low, "Maybe that's my goal, Sweet Ellie."

Elinor turned three shades of pink and sampled the eclair, which had a chocolate icing. "It's custard filled. It's decadent!"

Glenn's tomcat grin widened when she said that, and later when she licked a smear of icing from her finger. She saw he caught her and she hid her hand in her lap and finished her coffee. Glenn laughed silently as he paid the check. As they stood on the hotel steps, he said, "Cookie's always in town overnight, so he can bring you my letter and you can send your reply the next day."

"All right. Thank you for dinner. It's been a long time."

He nodded. "I understand. For me, too. I look forward to seeing you again." He kissed her hand softly. He wanted to take her in his arms, but that wasn't done in public. It might get back to Gertie and would certainly cost Ellie her job.

"As do I. And to your letters. Travel safely. Vaya con dios."

"Always. Farewell, my Sweet Ellie." He handed her into the hired carriage and watched as she drove away.

"You too dry to sing something, Glenn?" That was Leroy as they rode back to the Lazy J.

"Like what?"

"Anything," Leroy replied.

"All right," he answered and started the first verse of "Buffalo Gals."

"Oh, you Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight? Oh you Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon?"

Drew joined in on the second verse, and Micah picked up on the third, so they were singing as they rode. It passed the time.

By the time they reached the ranch, they were singing a raucous version of "Yellow Rose of Texas" and laughing. The other hands heard them coming and Ben yelled from the remuda, "You boys hush that caterwauling! You'll sour the milk with that yowling!"

"Aww, you're just jealous because you don't sing like Glenn," Micah said as they dismounted in the yard near the bunkhouse.

"And I'm damn grateful I don't sing like the rest of you!" Ben shot back. Although, to be truthful, the boys sounded pretty good together. And he knew Glenn and his sweet voice had probably saved their bacon more than once when the cows got restless during a roundup. Drew could sing, too. Ben remembered the last drive in from Texas. It was hot and still, which always seemed to spook the herd. Drew and Glenn were riding the late watch, and something got the old mossy-horn lead steer riled up. Things were getting dicey until Glenn started singing "Lorena" and Drew joined in. Those blasted cows settled right down, and by the time they finished the song, all was quiet again. Ben had never seen anything like it.

"Tell him about Flo," Micah said.

"Flo?" Ben walked over. "Who's Flo? One of the girls at The Eagle's Nest?"

Glenn looked at Micah and his expression was like a thundercloud.

Ben got the message immediately. "I bet she's a real nice girl, Glenn. Hey Micah, did Delilah get all your money this time?" He knew better than to press Glenn.

"Shut up," Micah snapped. "You boys gossip like old women, about stuff that don't concern you," he harrumphed as he unsaddled his horse and led the gelding to the water trough.

"Yeah, when everybody knows ranch foremen are the worst gossips in the world," Ben said low to Glenn, and got a grin for his comment.

Glenn was glad Ben got the hint. He didn't want to be teased about Ellie. He wanted to think about their time together - and when he could see her again.

Well? How's this for a start? Let me know what you think by leaving a review!