Idaho Fairytale Bride (Rocky Mountain Romances Book 2), page 8
All this happened before Moriah could do a thing about it. Then she saw he was running hellbent for leather toward the Dillons’ building site where two walls were propped up. The men had quit for the noon hour, and planned to build the remaining two walls in the afternoon. But first, what they’d accomplished so far was in dire peril.
“Tex!” She called. She ran around back to where the men had gathered to wash up in the tub she’d filled earlier. Most of the men were shirtless including Tex. Her breath caught and she almost forgot what she’d come to say. What a sight he was with his strong shoulders and chest with just enough hair on it to run her fingers through.
But the horse! She couldn’t dawdle.
“Tex, the colt got out and he’s running toward your house.”
Tex dropped the towel, grabbed his shirt, and ran to Dancer. In about five seconds flat he tightened the cinch, swung onto the horse, and took off. The buckskin had no rider and a quarter of a mile head start. All Moriah could see was two clouds of dust one kicked up by the mustang and one from Dancer.
Next thing she knew, there was a third cloud of dust where the colt had ran right through the construction and knocked the walls over.
The other men cursed and ran for their horses. She considered saddling Compass but they would all be long gone by the time she was ready to ride.
“Stay here, men,” Morgan hollered. “The more men chasing that wild horse, the faster he’ll go. Best let Tex take care of the horse and we get to work on the house. We have twice as much to do now.”
Daisy came up beside her. “Am I to assume the box social is off for the day?”
“It’s a safe bet.”
“There’s a box canyon four or five miles straight ahead of the colt. Maybe I can help Tex herd him in there and we can catch him again,” Moriah said.
“Good idea. Besides, he’ll need food and water.” Daisy winked at Morgan, then turned back to Moriah. “You better take it to him.”
“Yep,” Morgan said, buttoning his shirt. “That’d be a big help.”
“Let’s go in the house and get you into some better clothes. I’ll have Cole saddle your horse.”
“Have him use Papa’s saddle.”
“You riding astride?”
“Yes, I can go faster that way.”
Moriah dashed into the bedroom. “Sorry, Lily. I won’t be but a minute,” she said while pulling off her bodice and tossing it on the bed. She undressed as quickly as possible, with Edith helping unlace the corset. Moriah pulled on the pants and shirt that she used for mucking stalls when no one was around. By the time she dashed out of the house, Cole had her horse saddled.
“You better hurry,” Daisy said. “I’ve filled two canteens and tied two bags of food along with a bedroll on the back of the saddle.”
“Thanks.” Moriah swung onto the saddle and took off at a trot before she even got her right foot in the stirrup, not wanting to go faster until Compass had warmed up a little. Dancer had already been ridden, but Compass had been meandering around in the corral all morning.
The mare was as impatient as Moriah was, though, and fought the bit to go faster. Finally, Moriah let her have her head. Compass knew the land—where to avoid rocks or ground squirrels—so Moriah didn’t use the reins at all other than to hold them. She could still see dust but it was a long way ahead.
She didn’t want Compass to overtax herself but reckoned once the horse tired she’d slow down on her own. And, Moriah had to admit, it felt good to ride like the wind. She hadn’t had a good hard ride since she’d taken the Oreana teaching job, for schoolteachers had to adhere to the rules of propriety. And that meant riding at a leisurely pace on a sidesaddle. How utterly boring.
But not today. She didn’t understand why she had to help Tex catch that horse, but it seemed like the right thing to do. And anyway, the man did need to eat, right?
After quite a while, and she didn’t have any idea how long, Compass slowed to a trot, but she kept on going as if she knew where the mustang was headed. Maybe she did. Moriah also knew that there was a stream up ahead and Compass could use some water. In fact, they both could use a drink. She didn’t want to drink the water in the canteen, for those who lived in the desert knew that saved water was a saved life.
More time passed, likely half an hour, and they came by the stream. Moriah dismounted. Her legs felt a bit wobbly when she hit the ground so she held onto the saddlehorn for a moment until she got herself steadied. She led Compass to the stream and they both drank. The horse was wet with sweat and Moriah didn’t want her to stiffen up so she led Compass along the coolness of the stream before she let the mare rest completely.
Then Moriah had second thoughts. Maybe she should go back home. Then again, she’d already ridden astride and everyone had seen her mount up and ride out, so she might as well continue on. She couldn’t undo what she had already done nor did she regret it. Maybe they’d dock her pay, she didn’t know. Tex could be gone all day, maybe even overnight, and she had food and water for him.
She led Compass to a grassy spot by the creek. “This looks like a good spot. I’ll sit on it, and you graze,” she said to Compass. “How about it?”
“I don’t cotton to grazing.” She nearly jumped out of her skin at Tex’s voice. He stood across the creek holding Dancer’s reins.
“What are you doing here?” She got up and brushed off her backside, embarrassed that he saw her in britches. When she’d left, her only thought was that britches would be more practical for riding astride—she hadn’t thought about being seen. Tex seeing her, most especially. “The colt’s getting away.”
Tex, holding Dancer’s reins, waded across the creek. “I’d really like to have that colt—he’ll make a fine mount in a year so—but he’s not worth running Dancer into the ground. The old boy is in his prime, maybe a little past it, and he’s served me well. So I serve him well.”
She was glad to hear that he cared so much for his loyal horse. For some reason, his thoughtfulness endeared him to her, although she knew she had to fight to keep him out of her heart.
He took a step closer—too close—but she didn’t back away. “You look right nice in britches.”
“Thank you,” she murmured. Even though he was by far the handsomest man in the county, his character seemed strong. Stalwart in his principles, like her father. Maybe he really was Prince Charming from the fairytales. Or maybe not.
She licked her lips and cleared her throat to get a hold of her thoughts, for they had a mustang to catch. “If you’re on his trail, the colt looks to be headed for a box canyon where Papa and I used to round up stray cows. Once our horses get rested we should go there and see if we can find him.”
“Box canyon? I didn’t see one when I took a tour of the place.”
“You wouldn’t have. It’s several miles past our place. Um, your place, I mean. But of course the colt could go any direction.”
“I haven’t had any trouble tracking him and he’s on a straight course ahead. I do feel a little guilty leaving Pa with building the house. He can build better houses than most of the people in the country, so it’s not that, it’s just that he’s getting a little older and sometimes he needs to rest more than he used to. I try to make sure he doesn’t overdo it.”
“When I left he looked like king of the mountain, hollering orders and being a good general. He’s a very capable man. You must be very proud of him.”
“I am. And I feel lucky to still have my parents. Most of my friends have lost one or both by now.”
She felt a tear come to her I when she remembered her dear papa. The two most important men in her life had left her high and dry—Papa and William.
“I’m sad that I lost my father but I am very grateful for Mama even if she does boss me around.” She smiled so Tex wouldn’t know the depth of her sadness. “You think the animals have rested up enough? I’m ready to ride.”
“All right, let’s go.” He tightened Dancer’s cinch. “I’ve
“I have some food if you’re hungry.”
“I can wait.” He gazed at her until she thought she’d melt. “For food.”
Tex bent his knee and put the back of his hand on it, making a step for Moriah to climb on so she could get on her horse more easily.
She waved him off. “How do you think I got on her in the first place?” She mounted up with grace—a natural horsewoman. He admired her form and the way the saddle cradled her bottom. Lucky saddle.
But he couldn’t dwell on her, or make overtures, for she’d have no part of it. And anyway, he had a mustang to catch. Tex swung onto his horse with a little more flair than necessary. Dancer seemed to understand the situation and arched his neck, then pawed the ground like a warhorse from medieval times.
“I have to pick up the trail,” he told Moriah. “I know he came down here to the creek to drink, so now all I have to do is find out which way he left.”
“Maybe he left the way he came.”
“Good thinking, but I already checked that. With no rain and wind, I should be able to find a trail without much trouble.”
She stared at the ground. “Are there any particular shapes I should be looking for?”
“Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, his hooves are nigh onto perfect. That makes them a little hard to spot when he’s with other horses, but I don’t think he is right now. Just keep an eye out for fresh hoof prints and that’ll likely be him.”
“Do you think he’s headed for his old band?”
“Could be—it’s in the back of my mind. Only thing is, the lead stallion doesn’t want him in the band so he’ll just run the buckskin off again. I spotted a few bachelor herds and he might take up with them if he finds them soon enough.”
She pointed to the bag tied to her saddle. “Besides food and canteens, I brought a rope and an extra halter in case his halter is gone or damaged.”
“Good thinking on Cole’s part. The food and water were good thinking on Daisy’s part. In fact, I’m not sure why I even came, but she practically ushered me out the door.”
“I’m not sorry you did.” He noticed some broken twigs and reined his horse toward them. Sure enough, he found hoof prints. “Over here. Looks like he’s headed up that slope.”
“He must know this territory, for there’s good grass just beyond the next hill. My papa used to graze his breeding stock there.”
“If there’s good grass, there must be water nearby, too.”
“Yes, this same creek winds around the hill we’re on now but it comes from up there.” She pointed in the direction he’d already thought they should go.
“We can pick up the pace then.” Tex pressed his heels into Dancer’s sides and the gelding sped to a trot.
Tex and Moriah rode for another hour or more. By then it was late afternoon and Tex’s stomach growled.
“Think we could stop and imbibe in some of that grub?”
Moriah smiled. “Breakfast was a long time ago, wasn’t it?”
He hoped she’d keep smiling for it warmed his heart. “I might be able to shoot a jackrabbit and we can roast it.”
“If you see one, you might as well. I don’t know what all Daisy put in the food bag. She is generally quite resourceful. I hope someone else cooked it, though.”
“My mother likely tossed in a few groceries, too. She thinks if she doesn’t throw in a little extra something for me that I’ll starve to death.”
“You don’t look starved to me.” Moriah blushed and looked away.
Tex took that as a compliment. “I guess she did a good job. I never appreciated her until I left home and went on the cattle drive. Along about two weeks in, I would’ve given my right arm for one of her home-cooked meals.”
“Most of us don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.”
Since they were riding uphill, Tex slowed Dancer so as not to wind him even though the slope was gentle. Compass seemed to be doing well—her younger years and lighter load gave her more stamina.
The tracks led them to the pasture, exactly where Moriah thought the mustang would go. But the colt wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Tex dismounted by the small stream that ran through the middle of that grassy area. “I do believe it’s time for a picnic.”
He ground-tied Dancer and strode to Moriah, grasped her by the waist, and then lifted her down. “I’ll unsaddle the horses. You can see what we have in the way of food.”
She didn’t seem at all put off that he’d helped her get off her horse, and without saying a word, untied the bag from her back saddle strings. “Coffee! But no pot.”
“Cups?” Tex asked.
“Yes, two nested tin cups.”
“I’ll make a fire—we can figure out how to make coffee—there’s always a way.”
Tex enjoyed being around Moriah, doing the mundane things life required, even clearing out the shed. He could get used to living with her, although if she gave him the opportunity to do so, he would never take her for granted. His first wife had been sweet and kind, but she expected him to make all of the decisions including what to have for supper. The only firm decision she had ever made was for him to take Arthur with him and leave her in Tyler to die.
No doubt about it, Moriah was never short on opinions and decisions. He kind of liked that—not that he wanted it be bossed around by a woman, but neither did he want a woman who couldn’t take charge if need be. His mother did what needed to be done to keep the family happy, clean, and fed, which freed up his pa to do whatever he needed to do to make a living. They had a true partnership. If Ma was tired, Pa would help with the dishes. And Ma even helped Pa pound nails now and again. Tex wanted that, also. And he wanted it with Moriah.
Only thing is, she didn’t seem to want it with him or any other man.
* * *
Moriah was beginning to question her resolve. William had been candy on the outside and horse apples on the inside. Her humiliation had run deep. But that was in the past and wounds do heal. Maybe hearts could heal, too.
Tex, on the other hand, seemed to be a man of good character—more like her father and other men she admired—Cyrus Gardner, Jonas Howard.
Then there was Cole Richards. Daisy took him for the marshal when really he’d been on the run for a bank robbery he thought his best friend had committed. Except his friend hadn’t robbed the bank—Cole just didn’t know it. And it turned out that Cole was a man of strong character. Any man who could put up with Daisy had to be. She chuckled at her own thoughts.
By the time Tex had the fire blazing, Moriah had unpacked the food bag. “We have rolls—they’re a little smashed but edible—cheese, some sliced roast beef, and some carrots.” She spotted another bag and opened it. “And some pancake mix. The note says all we have to do is add water. But we don’t have a frying pan.”
“I’m sure they were all in a snit to pack up everything in a hurry, and anyway, they could only get so much in those two bags. But if we find a flat rock we can heat it and use it for a skillet.”
“That’s clever. Where did you learn that?”
“I learned a lot of things during my days on the trail.”
“What else did you learn?”
“Mostly I learned that I like being at home. I reckon all boys, likely girls, too, have a powerful case of the wanderlust—I know Jeff does—and the best cure is wandering until you’re sick and tired of it.” He poured some water from the canteen into one of the cups. “Hand me the Arbuckles’, please.”
She did and then said, “If you were so tired of the trail, then why didn’t you quit and go home? Your father certainly could’ve always used help in the shop, it sounded like.”
“He wanted me to come home, but I guess I wasn’t ready to go back yet, I don’t know. Didn’t you ever have a d
Her dream of marrying a handsome man and living in a beautiful house? Yes, she’d had a dream, and William had crushed it with his boot heel. But she’d never confess her childish foolishness or her humiliation to Tex. She reckoned the townfolks would tell him soon enough—the population was too small for everyone not to know, even though the dirty deed was done in Silver City. Most everyone had relatives or at least knew someone who lived in Silver.
“No, no dreams. Others did. Daisy told me she’d wanted to be a detective and I know her sister was a banker for a few years in Silver City. I guess I’ve always just done what ladies are expected to do. So I’m a schoolteacher.”
“But you have a passion for what you do and you’re a good teacher.”
“My students are precious to me even when they’re ornery.” And she did her best by them for they were the only children she’d ever have.
Tex set the coffee cup on a rock in the middle of the fire. “When that boils, the coffee will be strong enough to melt a horseshoe, so I’ll pour a little in the other cup and fill it with water. Then we can both drink out of that cup.”
Put her lips where his had been? It seemed so…intimate. Moriah wondered what it’d be like to kiss him. Oh my! Her insides buzzed. Such an inconvenient feeling had to be quashed. She stood. “I should go groom Compass while you’re fiddling around with that.”
Truth was, she needed to get away from him—not because of anything he did or said, but because she didn’t trust herself not to let on that she found him attractive. Not just his looks, either. He seemed to be genuine and honest—a caring father and son, and ever so patient with children and animals.
“Go ahead,” he said. “Consider me the trail cook this trip.”
“I’ll brush both horses then, if Dancer doesn’t mind.”
“Dancer will love you forever if you spend five minutes rubbing him down. He’s easy that way.” Tex flashed a smile at her. “Coffee will be ready before you’re done, more than likely. I’ll bring it to you.”