Friends, do you need a break from Halloween preparations and political adds? If so, here’s a little treat from me to you, the first scene from Dearest Druid. Look for the next scene on Tuesday, and a third on Wednesday. Enjoy!
Bosque County, Texas; February 1876
Rose Devlin stood outside the corral fence, watching her brother Tye struggle to stay on the angry brown stallion he was attempting to tame. Horse breaking, he called it, but man breaking seemed more like it. A few moments ago, the infuriated animal had bucked Tye off, causing Rose to cry out in alarm. To her amazement, he’d hit the ground rolling to avoid the horse’s hooves and had risen nimbly to his feet.
Brushing himself off, Tye had cornered the horse with help from a ranch hand named Micah Johnson, recently hired to help out around the homestead while the other hands were occupied with the upcoming roundup. Mr. Johnson had lost the use of his left arm in the war, but he’d deftly thrown his lasso over the horse’s head with his good right arm. While he control the animal, Tye had climbed back into the saddle.
Crossing herself in fear for him as she watched the renewed battle between man and beast, Rose gave a start when a strange man walked up beside her. She stared at him as he folded his arms along the top rail of the fence. He was almost a head taller than her, with copper colored skin and long black hair topped by a wide-brimmed dark hat. A black-tipped white feather jutted from the leather hatband.
“Howdy, Miss Devlin,” he said, casually glancing at her.
“Ye . . . ye know who I am, sir?” she asked, wondering who he was and where he’d come from. She thought she’d met all the Double C hands over the past three months.
He looked at her again, dark eyes studying her closely this time. “Everybody on the place knows you’re Tye’s little sister.”
She broke eye contact with him, embarrassed by his inspection, but her curiosity got the better of her. “Who are ye?” she blurted. Then, instantly regretting her boldness, she stammered, “I-I mean I’ve n-never seen ye before. Are ye new here?” Darting a sidelong glance at him, she was relieved to see he’d stopped eyeing her in favor of Tye and the bucking, snorting horse.
“Depends how you look at it,” he replied. “I just rode in yesterday. That’s why we haven’t crossed paths before. I return about this time every year to help out with the roundup and the drive north.”
“Oh, I see.” Rose knew he referred to the yearly cattle drive to Kansas. She’d heard plans for it discussed numerous times in the past month or so. Herding thousands of cattle over such a long distance sounded like a daunting task to her.
“I heard you fixed your brother’s eyes,” the stranger remarked. “How’d you do it?”
Rose licked her lips and clasped the small gold cross at her throat, seeking an answer that wouldn’t require mentioning her unusual ability. Before she could find words, the horse Tye was on emitted an enraged shriek and ran straight at the fence where Rose and her companion were standing.
“Look out!” Tye shouted.
Frozen in terror, Rose stared at the charging animal. She gasped when two arms closed around her from behind and whirled her aside just as the crazed horse reared and slammed its front hooves down on the top rail of the fence. The wood split with a loud crack, accompanied by a pain filled neigh from the horse. A hiss of pain also came from the man whose hard chest pressed to Rose’s back, his broad shoulders hunched around her. Had the horse struck him while he shielded her from harm? Or perhaps a piece of the broken fence rail?
With the danger past, he released her and stepped back. Turning to face him, she gazed wordlessly into his dark, fathomless eyes. They showed no emotion and not a hint of pain, yet they unsettled her. Quickly looking away, she saw Tye dismount and watched the troublesome stallion stagger along the fence, limping on his right foreleg.
“Stupid beast!” Tye shouted, shaking a fist at the horse. Leaving him for Micah Johnson to catch, he spun around, concern on his face. “Rosie, are ye all right?” he questioned, rushing toward her.
“Aye, I’m fine,” she replied a bit unsteadily. “But Mr. . . .” She looked askance at her protector, who’d moved a step closer.
“Call me Jack, Miss,” he said with a barely noticeable crook of his lips.
“J-Jack, I’m thinking you’re hurt. When the rail split I heard ye . . . .” She stepped behind him and blurted, “Oh, dear!” There was a tear in his shirt several inches long, and blood plastered the fabric to his back.
“It’s nothin’, just a scratch,” he said.
“A scratch! ’Tis far more than that.”
“Let’s have a look,” Tye said gruffly, stepping over the damaged fence. He joined Rose, scowling as he took in the other man’s injury. “She’s right. Ye need tending. Go on up to the house with Rosie. She’s got the healing touch.”
Jack pivoted to face them. Eyeing Rose, he nodded. “What they say is true, then. You have magic.”
“Nay, nay! There’s no magic. ’Tis merely a skill I’ve picked up.” It was a lie, but she dared not admit the truth.