Miss Murray on the Cattle Trail

Excerpt from Miss Murray on the cattle Trail
by Lynna Banning
Harlequin Historicals, March 2018


            Zach stuffed his thumbs in his front pockets and watched Miss Newspaper Reporter trip down the porch steps ready to go cattle driving.  She looked so bright and shiny it made his head hurt.  And, Lord love little chickens, what her butt did to a pair of jeans was indecent.

            “Good morning!” she sang.

            Mornin’,” he growled.  “Got a lot of miles to cover today.  Sure hope you can ride.”

            “Why, certainly I can ride.”  She rested her hands on her shiny new belt buckle.

            “Yeah?  Where’ve you ridden?”

            “In the city park,” she said, her voice frosty.  “On the bridle path.”

            Zach resisted a snort, looked her up and down, and unhooked his thumbs.  “You won’t last half an hour in those fancy city leather boots.  Brand new and probably too tight.”  He spit off to one side.

            For a moment, Miss Newspaper Reporter looked like she was going to argue, but he stared her down.  Hell’s bells, she was a greenhorn.  A ladyfied greenhorn, and one with a mouth on her.  He expelled a long breath and tipped his head toward the corral.  “Okay, Miss Fancy-Pants, saddle up.”

            “Oh, yes, sir, Mister Trail Boss.”

            His jaw tightened.  Gonna be a damn long day.

Alex snapped open her leather-bound notebook and jotted half a line before the chuck wagon rolled into position at the head of the muddle of cows and horses and riders.  Her horse jolted forward.  She stuffed her pencil in her shirt pocket and grabbed the reins, but the horse danced a few paces to the left before it settled down.  She’d never before ridden anything but old, gentle, city-trained mares, and this horse was neither old nor gentle.  Or a mare, she’d been told.  In fact, she’d never been this close to a horse that had been . . . well, gelded.

            At least forty horses milled around in a whinnying clump, and she counter seven, no, eight scruffy-looking cowboys, not including the horse wrangler and His Highness the Trail Boss.

            And hundreds and hundreds of cows.  Steers, Uncle Charlie said.  Surely they couldn’t all be steers, because some of them had calves tagging along behind.

            She flexed her toes in her new boots.  They felt awfully tight.  She was glad she was riding and not walking the four hundred miles that stretched ahead of her.

            The chuck wagon, a bulky-looking top-heavy box on wheels, rattled and clanked its way on ahead of the roiling mass of animals and men on horseback.  She watched Roberto, the driver, stash his whip under the bench, put two fingers to his lips, and give a sharp whistle.  Right away she decided she liked the white-haired old man.  The wagon lumbered off down the trail, drawn by two horses.

            Bellowing cattle, yipping men on horseback, and the thunder of horses’ hooves added to the hubbub.  It was deafening.  She clapped both hands over her ears and lost control of her mount.  A rider swung in close, grabbed her reins and settled the horse.  Juan, Roberto’s soft-spoken nephew, she remembered.  He laid the leather straps in her gloved hands, touched his hat brim, and reined his horse away.

            Dust rose in thick clouds.  She had just kneed her horse off to one side when Juan dropped back and shouted something.  She couldn’t hear over the noise, so she tried to read his lips.  “Senorita.”  He mouthed something else, but she had no idea what it was.

            She shook her head.  He pointed at the bandanna covering his mouth and nose.  Oh!  Of course.  But she didn’t have a bandanna.  Oh, well.  She smiled at Juan, lifted her chin, and spurred her mount forward.

            She was on her way! 

Just imagine!  Right before her eyes were thousands and thousands of thick juicy steaks on the hoof.   She patted the notepad and pencil in her breast pocket.   Her readers back East would be avid for these sights and sounds.