Wyoming Tough

By: Diana Palmer


EDITH DANIELLE MORENA BRANNT was not impressed with her new boss. The head honcho of the Rancho Real, or Royal Ranch in Spanish, near Catelow, Wyoming, was big and domineering and had a formidable bad attitude that he shared with all his hired hands.

Morie, as she was known to her friends, had a hard time holding back her fiery temper when Mallory Dawson Kirk raised his voice. He was impatient and hot-tempered and opinionated. Just like Morie’s father, who’d opposed her decision to become a working cowgirl. Her dad opposed everything. She’d just told him she was going to find a job, packed her bags and left. She was twenty-three. He couldn’t really stop her legally. Her mother, Shelby, had tried gentle reason. Her brother, Cort, had tried, too, with even less luck. She loved her family, but she was tired of being chased for who she was related to instead of who she was inside. Being a stranger on somebody else’s property was an enchanting proposition. Even with Mallory’s temper, she was happy being accepted for a poor, struggling female on her own in the harsh world. Besides that, she wanted to learn ranch work and her father refused to let her so much as lift a rope on his ranch. He didn’t want her near his cattle.

“And another thing,” Mallory said harshly, turning to Morie with a cold glare, “there’s a place to hang keys when you’re through with them. You never take a key out of the stable and leave it in your pocket. Is that clear?”

Morie, who’d actually transported the key to the main tack room off the property in her pocket at a time it was desperately needed, flushed. “Sorry, sir,” she said stiffly. “Won’t happen again.”

“It won’t if you expect to keep working here,” he assured her.

“My fault,” the foreman, old Darby Hanes, chimed in, smiling. “I forgot to tell her.”

Mallory considered that and nodded finally. “That’s what I always liked most about you, Darb, you’re honest.” He turned to Morie. “An example I’ll expect you to follow, as our newest hire, by the way.”

Her face reddened. “Sir, I’ve never taken anything that didn’t belong to me.”

He looked at her cheap clothes, the ragged hem of her jeans, her worn boots. But he didn’t judge. He just nodded.

He had thick black hair, parted on one side and a little shaggy around the ears. He had big ears and a big nose, deep-set brown eyes under a jutting brow, thick eyebrows and a mouth so sensuous that Morie hadn’t been able to take her eyes off it at first. That mouth made up for his lack of conventional good looks. He had big, well-manicured hands and a voice like deep velvet, as well as big feet, in old, rugged, dirt-caked boots. He was the boss, and nobody ever forgot it, but he got down in the mud and blood with his men and worked as if he was just an employee himself.

In fact, all three Kirk brothers were like that. Mallory was the oldest, at thirty-six. The second brother, Cane—a coincidence if there ever was one, considering Morie’s mother’s maiden name, even if hers was spelled with a K—was thirty-four, a veteran of the Second Gulf War, and he was missing an arm from being in the front lines in combat. He was confronting a drinking problem and undergoing therapy, which his brothers were trying to address.

The youngest brother, at thirty-one, was Dalton. He was a former border agent with the department of immigration, and his nickname was, for some odd reason, Tank. He’d been confronted by a gang of narco-smugglers on the Arizona border, all alone. He was shot to pieces and hospitalized for weeks, during which most of the physicians had given him up for dead because of the extent of his injuries. He confounded them all by living. Nevertheless, he quit the job and came home to the family ranch in Wyoming. He never spoke of the experience. But once Morie had seen him react to the backfire of an old ranch truck by diving to the ground. She’d laughed, but old Darby Hanes had silenced her and told her about Dalton’s past as a border agent. She’d never laughed at his odd behaviors again. She supposed that both he and Cane had mental and emotional scars, as well as physical ones, from their past experiences. She’d never been shot at, or had anything happen to her. She’d been as sheltered as a hothouse orchid, both by her parents and her brother. This was her first taste of real life. She wasn’t certain yet if she was going to like it.