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Authors: Kari Trumbo

To Honor and Cherish

BOOK: To Honor and Cherish
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To Honor and Cherish

Western Vows: Book 1

 

 

Kari Trumbo

 

© 2015 Kari Trumbo

 

Published by Editor’s Note Publishing

www.theeditorsnote.com

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, without the prior written consent of the author. It may not be resold or given away, please purchase an additional copy for others. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible

 

Author’s note: This is a work of fiction. All locations, characters, names, and actions are a product of the author’s overactive imagination. Any resemblance, however subtle, to living persons or actual places and events are coincidental.

Dedication

To the Lord who gave me the desire and

also to my family who are my greatest fans.

I love you more than I can express.

Little Springs, Kansas 1900

 

Chapter
One

 

Jax sat at his favorite poker table. It was situated in the front alcove of the saloon, created by a recessed door. Nice and private. Chancing a glance outside, he watched as a man he’d hoped to never see again lumbered down the opposite street.

Groaning involuntarily, he pulled his hat down low over his eyes. Old habits were hard to break, even knowing he couldn’t be seen. Jax squinted to see better as Lars Larson, with three of his burliest friends, cut a path down the other side of the street sending all manner of humanity running.

The fearsome crew ducked into the Whitte House. It was a small boarding house, but the only accommodations in the tiny Kansas town. Jax had been staying at the very same house and now he wouldn’t be able to go back there. He pursed his lips and shook his head. He couldn’t go back, he’d have to replace everything he owned, yet again.

Jax growled at Mac, his friend and dealer of the hand they were playing. “You didn’t tell me Larson was back in town.” Tossing two cards on the table, he waited for Mac to hand him replacements.

“You didn’t ask,” Mac replied, poker face firm, placing the two cards on the table. “But if I were you, and I’m glad I’m not, I’d find somewhere to hide where you won’t keep getting caught.”

Jax looked at his hand with a blank face and laid down two pair. Mac folded the house’s hand.

“He keeps finding me. I’ve been to every town in the area and a lot of towns outside the area. Hiding somewhere Larson won’t look has proven impossible. I thought coming back to Little Springs would throw him off, but it seems that’s not the case.” He waited for Mac to deal again, drumming his fingers on the table.

Mac shuffled the bent and worn deck. “Saw an ad in the paper. Looking for cowhands and a foreman. About an hour outta town at that ranch that was hit by the twister. He’d never think you were actually workin’.” Mac gave a hearty guffaw while he tossed ten cards between the two of them.

“Working with cattle again.” Jax’s glance raced skyward. “Not really what I wanted to be doing, Mac. Long hours, and it doesn’t matter how much you’re paid because there’s no time to enjoy it anyway. And, if I’m working in one place that makes me an easy target.” His gaze darted back outside. People were just returning to what they had been doing.

“Better than gettin’ shot, Jax. That ranch is pretty remote. Lars wouldn’t be able to track you like he can if you’re moving from town to town.” Mac handed him a newspaper from under his seat. “I was reading this before you came over. Was thinking of looking at the job myself.”

Jax took the paper without looking at it, set the paper to the side, and sighed. The weight of the world on his shoulders, they slumped under the pressure. It was late into the evening, and he would be out of light soon. He’d need somewhere to stay tonight, and a foreman job meant he would have lodging.

He needed enough money to get far, far away from Lars Larson and a foreman job would pay well. Running had made him tired and bitter. It was uncanny how easily he’d been found in every little town. Maybe the people he thought were his friends, really weren’t.

He took a long drink of his beer and pulled his old hat off his head, hitting it against his thigh before putting it back on. He took his glass to the barkeeper, squared up his tab, asking him to use the little-known back exit of the parlor. The locals called it Wayward’s Way because it was frequently used by those who had a need to escape some wayward choice which was about to catch up with them.

He kept his head down and tried to blend in as much as possible. Finding his horse at the city livery, he left his rent with the liveryman, who was as honorable as they come and would make sure the boarding house got what Jax owed. Then he turned his horse and high tailed it out of town.

Reading the ad in the fading light, he thought the directions to the ranch seemed easy. Hoping they would tolerate someone showing up after dark to enquire about the job, he directed his horse along the well-worn road. It occurred to him someone else may have already taken it, and he’d just have to ride on. He wouldn’t be a simple farm hand. If that was the only option left, he’d ride to the next town. Cow hands worked too hard for too little and Jax wasn’t interested in doing that job at this stage of his life.

He approached the first house he saw, but it was small and there was no way they needed a foreman for anything. He rode on at a walking pace and about five minutes later he came to a large ranch house. This was more of what he’d expected: a two-story log house with a huge porch all along the front.

Down at the far end he could see what was left of a large barn, and fence as far as the eye could see. He came all the way around the front of the house and saw no one. The house was completely dark. It was early for everyone to be in bed, even on a ranch.

Riding a bit further, he saw a woman sitting out on the side porch. She didn’t appear to see him, bathed in the light of a small kerosene lamp and engrossed in a newspaper, as she was. He had difficulty seeing anything else in the twilight with the dark colored clothing she wore. She looked like a specter, a small white head floating in the darkness.

Jax rode a little closer. The woman was oblivious to him, lost in her reading. As he rode nearer to the house, the faint light of the nearby lamp shed enough of a glow to see she was small and frail. She had pretty features, but her face held great sadness and longing. A face like that could get a man in trouble, but would it be more trouble than what he already ran from?

 

Chapter
Two

 

Meg read the ad over again. Too soon. It was too soon after Chase’s death to think about hiring a foreman and hands. Her hands shook. The ranch had to stay hers, foreman or not. She couldn’t let her sister have this place, it meant too much to her and nothing at all to Lizzy.

As soon as the cattle were gone Meg had a plan to make this ranch into something she could enjoy again. She’d never liked the stinky, huge cows anyway, and had not shared in the work of the ranch in that way. Chase had always done the bulk of the cattle work. That would change. Never again would she be left to the whim of nature. Instead of the ranch it had always been, she’d raise horses. She knew horses better than anything else. Her hand clenched the newspaper, crumpling the edge, as she let fear of all the decisions wash over her.

She needed to know the internal workings of every part of the ranch so she would never again have to rely on a husband or anyone else for her livelihood ever again. For the last five years, Chase had decided everything and provided well for her. The Lord took him from her, and now she had to convince her father to let her keep the ranch, his will must be changed.

Meg caught movement out of the corner of her eye and her head shot up. Before her, a man sat on horseback, barely visible in the waning light. She jumped up, grabbing for the shotgun behind her. People who wanted to make social calls didn’t do it after dark.

“Whoa there, young lady.” The man held up his hand. “I’m not here to make any trouble. I’m here about the ad in the paper.” He lifted both hands up, letting her know in an age-old way he wasn’t holding a weapon. “Your man around?”

“No, he isn’t.” She refused to give an inch even though she knew what he wanted. It bothered her to have been found lost in her thoughts. It felt like an invasion.

“Will he be back? I’d like to ask him about the foreman job.”

“Why don’t you come back at a respectable hour?” she growled, pulling the shotgun to her cheek.

“Mighty protective of your man, aren’t you?”

“What’s your name, cowboy? If you don’t move on, they’ll need it for the headstone.”

“Don’t see that it matters what my name is. If the owner ain’t here to talk to, I might as well go.” He turned his horse to leave.

“It just so happens,” she said as she straightened to her full height, letting the gun drop just a few inches, “you’ve been talking to the owner and it does matter. I need to know you aren’t one of those guys with his face on a poster in town.”

The cowboy turned his horse back around to face her. “You going to put that gun down, or just run me in without a trial? Maybe you have a gallows right in your front yard I didn’t see? It is dark…”

She set the shotgun down, but didn’t move away from it, wanting it to remain within reach.

“Name’s Jax, just Jax.” He growled low in his throat. The sound sent a shiver up her back; it wasn’t quite fear, but she couldn’t name what it was.

“Well, Just Jax, what makes you so sure I’d want to hire you? Why don’t you come over to the light? I can’t see you way over there.”

“Why? Is this a beauty contest? Do I get the job if I pass the look test?” Jax flicked his reins against his thigh. “Why do I want the job? Because I know cattle and I know men. What else do you want me to know about, boss-lady? Perhaps we should sit and discuss the work over tea? If you’re that worried about me, here.” He dismounted and shoved the paper at her, but she didn’t move. “The one and only wanted picture is on the back page. It ain’t me.”

“Tea?” she asked, in a deceptively quiet, honey-sweet voice. “Why, Just Jax, I can tell from right here you’d never do for tea.” Meg crossed her arms across her chest. “The job is for serious cowboys only. The first job will be taking my cattle to the stockyard down south. With this many head, it’ll take a long time. I can tell from right here
you
aren’t up for it. Why don’t you just get back on your horse and ride away now.” She shooed him off.

“It’s Jax, and if I didn’t think I could handle the job, I wouldn’t have ridden all the way out here in the dark. Do you need the job done or not?”

His raised voice made her take a half-step back toward her gun.

“Lower your tone.” Her chin stuck out defiantly. He didn’t need to know there was no one else to hear his tone but her.

Jax took three slow, careful steps toward her, only enough to seem deferent. He looked travel worn, like life had been a little too hard on him. Meg squinted at his face but couldn’t tell his age; she guessed maybe mid-thirties, older than her. He had strong, broad shoulders and carried himself well, even after sitting a saddle for the hour ride from town.

He swiped off his hat in a practiced motion and she saw that his face was handsome. He had sandy brown hair, with streaks of blonde from the sun. It was just long enough that he should’ve had a trim. Her hair was brown too, but where she thought her own to be mousy, his was attractive. Despite their shaky introduction, her eyes were drawn to his face. There was no anger there, just fatigue and something else, maybe sorrow but it was hard to tell. Before she had her mind made up, he swiped the hat right back into place on his head and she was instantly agitated at the hat’s intrusion.

“Here, put your mind at ease.” He closed the gap between them. With a gruff look, he put the paper in her hands, stepping into the light, close enough to make her heart hammer in her chest.

Meg pretended to look down at the back page, but something in her head told her this was the man for the job. She couldn’t say why, exactly.

“I don’t have room for you tonight. The bunk house isn’t done,” she said. It frustrated her to feel as if she needed to make an excuse.

“So this was a beauty contest.” He laughed, taking one step closer, too close to her for comfort. “This house is huge.” Jax’s arm swept the wide veranda. “I’m sure you and your husband could spare one tiny corner for a guy who you’ll trust with your livelihood. I have nowhere else to bed down tonight. If I don’t have the job, I’m moving on…tonight.”

Meg gulped. Someone better could come along for the job, but she knew from experience it was easy to find cowboys, harder to find ones who wanted the responsibility of being a foreman. It was one of the reasons Chase had avoided using any other hired help. That, and it would’ve cost more money than he’d been willing to spend.

“All right.” Jax sighed. “I can see you aren’t ready. I hope someone else comes along.” He mounted his horse and turned it around to ride away.

“Fine,” she whispered so quietly she wasn’t sure if he’d hear. “I can find you a room for a day or two. The bunkhouse should be done by then.”

“Good.” He took the paper back she handed him. “Where can I put my horse?” He motioned to where the barn used to be, one half of it was gone, the only hint it was ever there the compacted ground. The other half was there in spirit if not in form. It had caved in on itself without the support of its other half.

“There’s a spot next to my horses near the barn if you like him tied. Otherwise, the corral is out front. The barn isn’t of much use right now. It’ll be replaced after they finish the bunkhouse.” She turned with a flourish and went back in before he could argue with her.

BOOK: To Honor and Cherish
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