Kayla and the Rancher
When Men Were Men and Bottoms Were Warm!
As the driver had promised, they arrived in Copper Creek well before sunset that evening. Like so many of the other towns where the stage had stopped, Copper Creek was small, with one main road running through the center of it. Of course, there was the requisite saloon, general store, telegraph office, and sheriff, but since she was more interested in the people than the town, Kayla took little notice of more than that as she stood in front of the stagecoach office.
Kayla noticed several dark-haired men, regarding her with interest, but none of them came over to her immediately. One of the men, however, was looking at her with more interest than the others and after a moment, he approached her.
Kayla said nothing right away. This was Cord Holderness? Tall and well-built, with dark hair, warm brown eyes, and the faint hint of a beard along his square jaw, he was absolutely one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen. And dressed in denims, a shirt that he’d left unbuttoned at the neck, a hat and well-worn boots, he looked every inch the cowboy.
“Abigail?” he asked, looking at her curiously. His voice was soft, almost sensuous.
Kayla opened her mouth, all set to ask him for a monetary award in exchange for her information regarding Abigail, but all she could seem to manage to say was, “Cord?”
He grinned, flashing white teeth at her, and Kayla just about melted on the spot. Putting his arms around her, he bent his head and kissed her cheek. “I’m so glad you’re finally here.” Lifting his head, he gazed down at her, his brown eyes soft. “You’re even more beautiful than you led me to believe."
Kayla blinked. She was rarely, if ever, at a loss for words, but with him standing so near, she couldn’t seem to formulate a complete thought. He thought she was Abigail, she realized. She opened her mouth to explain, but Cord continued before she could speak.
“As you can see, most of the town came out to meet you,” he said, gesturing to the people who had gathered nearby. Leaning close, he spoke conspiratorially in her ear. “Don’t worry. I told them they had to wait until you settled in.
Once again, Kayla opened her mouth to tell him that he had made a mistake, only to close it again as an idea occurred to her. Maybe she could go along with this, let Cord think that she was his mail-order bride. From what Abigail had said, he was probably rich, which meant he was certain to have money lying around his home that she could “borrow.” He might even give her an allowance, and she could certainly use a little bit of extra money to get herself started in San Francisco. Cord was attractive, so pretending to be his fiancé certainly wouldn’t be distasteful. She had a momentary twinge of guilt at the notion of deceiving him, but it disappeared quickly when she thought about how easy it would be to start in San Francisco if she had a little bit of money.
Kayla looked around to see groups of people clustered along the street. Some were looking at her with open curiosity, but most, judging from their smiling faces, looked genuinely happy for Cord. That just gave her added justification. After all, how could she tell him about Abigail’s decision not to marry him in front of all these people?
“Is this the only bag you have?”
Kayla saw that Cord had picked up her small suitcase. “Yes,” she said, then gave him a pretty little pout. “Everything else I brought with me fell off that stupid stagecoach. My trunk opened and everything inside was ruined, of course. The driver said that the stage wasn’t responsible for such things, but...”
Her voice trailed off helplessly, and he gave her one of those dazzling smiles of his. “Don’t worry, Abigail. I’ll buy you whatever you need. Copper Creek’s small, but the general store has some good mail order catalogs you can get things from.”
This was even better than she had hoped. Bilking him out of his money would be as easy as pie. She would have no problem wrapping this big, strapping man around her finger. Smiling up at him, she took his arm and let him lead her to the waiting wagon. As they walked, she couldn’t help but notice that his forearm was strongly muscled beneath her fingers. When he offered his hand to help her up into the wagon, she smiled and thanked him. Then, before she knew it, he’d climbed in beside her and took up the reins, sending the wagon in motion.
“You must be tired after your journey,” he said, giving her a sidelong glance.
“A little,” she admitted. “Stagecoaches aren’t the most comfortable form of transportation.”
“Or the safest,” he added, glancing at her. “I was concerned about you traveling alone, especially since you said that you’ve never been out of Boston.” When she said nothing, he continued. “It must be a big culture shock for you, not just leaving Boston, but coming all the way out here on your own.” He gave her a lopsided grin. “And it certainly doesn’t help that we’ve never met before. But I just want to let you know that I’m not going to rush anything. We can take our time getting to know each other. There’s no pressure, Abigail, so you can just relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.”
Once again, Kayla was rendered speechless by this man. Cord Holderness was so nice; deceiving him just didn’t seem right. She should tell him the truth. But then again, she reasoned, he did order a bride through a catalog, so how nice could he really be?
Well, just because she felt badly about deceiving him that didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate the surrounding mountainous landscape of the Wyoming Territory. The sun was just beginning to set, and she didn’t think she’d ever seen a more vivid display of colors. “I would never have thought it would be this beautiful,” she said, almost to herself.
Beside her, Cord laughed. “So, my letters didn’t do it justice, then? And here I thought I sounded poetic."
She looked at him in confusion. “What?” Then she remembered. Cord and Abigail had probably corresponded for weeks, months maybe, before the girl had begun the trek out here. Kayla laughed nervously. “Oh...of course...I didn’t mean to imply...”
Cord reached out and covered her hand with his own. “I was teasing you, Abigail,” he said, turning his head to look at her. “You’re right. It is beautiful. But not nearly as beautiful as you.”
Kayla caught her breath. His hand on hers was doing funny little things to her pulse, and once again, she couldn’t seem to think clearly. Blushing, she looked away. “Th...thank you,” she stammered, and then gave herself a mental shake. She had to keep focused on her goal with this man, or she was going to find herself grinning at him like a lovesick schoolgirl all the time.
They arrived at his home a little while later. It was a big, two-story house with a porch that went around the entire outside. Several hundred feet from the house was an immense barn with several other smaller buildings around it, and Kayla could see horses in the adjoining paddock. Cord brought the wagon to a stop outside the house and offered his hand to Kayla, helping her down. Taking up her small suitcase, he led her up the steps and into the house.
Inside, it was simply but comfortably furnished. Though she could see why he needed a woman out here. There was nothing soft or feminine about the place. No pictures, no curtains, no rugs, not even a throw pillow. Directly opposite the front door was a staircase that led to the second floor. Though Cord said there was dinner waiting for them on the stove, he gave her a quick tour of the house before they ate. Off the entryway, there was a living room to one side and a dining room on the other. Beyond that was the kitchen, where Cord set out hearty bowls of stew and a plate of biscuits. Though the food was quite good, Kayla had to concentrate so hard on what she was saying that she hardly tasted any of it. Pretending to be Abigail was going to be more difficult than she had thought.
She was relieved when the kitchen door opened. Kayla turned her head to see a tall, dark-haired man entering the kitchen. He was older than Cord by several years, and from his clothing, she assumed he must be one of the ranch hands.
The man’s blue gaze went from Kayla to Cord. “Sorry, Cord. I didn’t mean to interrupt,” he said. “I’ll come back later.”
Cord shook his head and got to his feet. “No, stay. Lucas, this is Abigail Murray.” He looked at Kayla. “Abigail, this is my foreman, Lucas Johnson. He’s been my right-hand man around here for years, so if I’m out and there’s anything you need, he’ll take care of it for you.”
Kayla smiled and held out her hand, which Lucas took in his work-worn one. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said.
Lucas dipped his head. “Pleased to meet you, Ma’am.” He looked at Cord. “I have some things to talk to you about, but it’ll keep ‘til morning.”
Relieved at the interruption, Kayla pushed back her chair and got to her feet. “You two talk,” she told Cord. “I’m so exhausted from the trip that I’m half asleep at the table. It was nice meeting you, Lucas.” She smiled at Cord. “Good night, Cord.”
“Abigail,” was all he said, but she could feel his eyes on her as she left the kitchen. As she made her way up the stairs, the men’s voices carried to where she stood, and though she’d been taught never to eavesdrop, she paused a moment to listen to their conversation.
“She’ll make a very attractive wife,” Lucas said. “It’s difficult to believe that she’s not already spoken for.”
“I couldn’t agree more. The men in Boston must be crazy to have let her go.”
Kayla felt her pulse skip a beat at his words and for a moment, she wondered why her father couldn’t have found a man like this for her to marry instead of that yes-man, Delmont.
There was a pause before Cord spoke. “So, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“McCauley sold his ranch to Dalton Jeffries this afternoon,” Lucas said.
“Damn,” Cord muttered.
“Someone cut his fences and made off with almost half his herd last night. His son was watching over them and got pretty beaten up. That was the last straw for him,” Lucas said. “A man can only take so much, you know.”
Their conversation about the other rancher continued and since it sounded like Cord was going to be a while, Kayla decided it was the perfect opportunity to snoop around. Thinking that the most likely place Cord would keep money would be his bedroom, she went there first. She wouldn’t take anything right now, of course. She just thought that it would be good to know where the valuables were kept.
His bedroom was right across the hall from hers. She had gotten a quick look at it when Cord had showed her around before. Taking the lantern from the table just inside the door, she used a match to light it, and then closed the door behind her.
Like the other room in the house, Cord’s bedroom was simply furnished. Besides the big four-poster bed and nightstands, there was a washstand with a mirror, a low dresser, and a wardrobe, but it was the chest at the foot of the bed that caught her attention.
Placing the lantern on one of the nightstands, she knelt down beside the chest and lifted the lid. Thinking that there had to be something of value inside, she was surprised to find only some blankets, an oily jacket, and two pistols with boxes and boxes of bullets.
Her brow furrowing, she sat back on her heels and looked around the room. That was when she saw the metal box underneath the bed. Now, there had to be something valuable in there. Lifting the edge of the quilt, she reached underneath the bed to pull it out. It was heavier than it looked, though, and she needed two hands to do so. With her bottom in the air, she scooted her head and shoulders as far as she could under the bed.
Which was exactly how Cord found her when he walked into his bedroom.
Unaware that she had an audience, Kayla grabbed hold of the latches on either side of the heavy box and yanked. It scraped along the floor, but didn’t budge much, and she tightened her grip, ready to pull on it again.
“Just what do you thing you’re doing?”
At the sound of Cord’s voice, Kayla jumped, thumping her head on the underside of the bed. Muttering something unladylike, she reflexively touched her fingers to the back of her head. Darn, she had thought Cord would be busy with his foreman at least long enough for her to get a look around. Knowing she couldn’t very well stay in this position while he was still standing there, she wiggled out from under the bed
Smoothing a stray piece of silky auburn hair back from her face, she met Cord’s accusing gaze with one of complete innocence. “Cord!”
“Abigail,” was all he said.
She glanced at the bed, and then back at him, nervously smoothing her hair back again. “I...I was just looking for one of my hair pins.”
“Really?” He folded his arms across his chest. “It looked more like you were snooping to me.”
She flushed. “Snooping! I most certainly wasn’t snooping. I can’t believe you would even imply such a thing,” she said, trying to sound as indignant as she could.
He lifted a brow, but said nothing.
She bit her lip and looked away. “Well...maybe I was snooping a little,” she admitted softly. He’d caught her red-handed, so she would have to try and wiggle out of this using her charm, a tactic that had worked many times before on the men in New York, especially her father. She turned big green eyes on him. “But I was just trying to find out more about you.”
He scowled. “By crawling around under my bed.”
Kayla managed to look suitably embarrassed. “I realize that it must look bad, but I hope you understand that I’m just trying to ensure you are the wonderful man that you described to me in your letters. After all, I’m taking quite a risk being out here all alone without my family back in Boston and all.” She put on a sad face as she spoke. She’d used this same expression often on her father with great results.
Cord regarded her in silence for a moment, but he didn’t appear to be swayed. “Well, I don’t know how they do things in Boston, Abigail, but out in the west, we respect other people’s private property. It’s a guiding principal out here that you’ll have to come to learn.”
She flushed again and lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry, Cord,” she said quietly, hoping she sounded suitably chastised. “I won’t do it again.”
His mouth quirked. “Oh, I intend to make sure of that.”
As he spoke, he reached out to take her arm and led her over to the bed.
Kayla hung back. “Wh-what...what are you doing?”
But Cord ignored her question. Instead, he sat down on the bed and in one swift motion, pulled her over his knee. Kayla simply lay there for a moment, too surprised to do more than that. He wouldn’t, she thought in disbelief, then let out a startled “Oh!” as his hand slapped her upturned bottom. Outraged, she struggled, trying to push herself upright, but a strong hand on her back held her in place while he spanked her again. Another smack followed, and then another, each slap harder than the previous one.
The spanks stung even through the thick material of her dress. But more than that, it was the embarrassment of being held down across this handsome man’s strong thighs with her bottom in the air that made her struggle to free herself.
“Let me go!” she ordered indignantly, trying to push against him again.
“Not until you learn some manners,” he replied, lifting his hand to spank her again.
“What would a hick cowboy like you know about manners, anyway?” she demanded, craning her neck to look at him over her shoulder.
The insult earned her an even harder spank and she cried out in protest. “Obviously more than a spoiled city girl like you,” he retorted, bringing his hand down again and again on her poor bottom.
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