Drover's Soul

Drover's Soul

K. L Melvany

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In this western romance of the range, when footloose gunman Hiram Richards meets Juanita Gundersen, daughter of a successful rancher, the two fall in love at first sight. But, everything stands in the way, from the difference in their social class to revenge-seeking killers from his past. Before they have passed through the fire, Juanita will grow from a girl to a woman, and Hiram will discover his lust for killing has vanished. Here is a true-to-life story of the untamable passions of the men and women who settled the west. Fresh from the triumph of the romantic suspense thriller Good-by, Maggie!, K. L. Melvany takes a whole new approach to the romance novel, going deep inside her hero's soul, to show what kind of man it took to make a women of the West lose her heart and fall in love. As Dee Gentle says, the romances of K. L. Melvany are "emotionally intense and edgy [with] a diverse cast of characters [who have] depth and personality [are a] well-written, satisfying read."

 
PUBLISHED BY: Renaissance E Books
ISBN:
PUBLICATION DATE:
WORD COUNT: 40000
SEXUAL CONTENT RATING: 1
EBOOK READER RATING:
CATEGORIES: Romantic Fiction, Historical, Western/Cowboys
KEYWORDS: cowboy, gunfighter, cowgirl, the old west, western, ranch
 

EBOOKS BY Renaissance E Books

EBOOKS BY K. L Melvany

 
EXCERPT
COPYRIGHT K. L Melvany/

Juanita, or Nita as she's called, arrived the next day, Gundersen and Ybarra having been gone five days with the buckboard and a team to fetch her down from Ancona. They spent one night in town at the Grandee, a false-fronted ruin passing as a hotel. It was quite an expedition. First Tolus noticed the dust coming around the base of the mesa miles away. Then, from the corral, we could see Mrs. G. come out to the gate. She was mixing something in a bowl, and she did it there, standing and watching the little dust cloud approaching ever so slowly, which is the way a team and wagon move on a trail it'd take a mighty discerning city fellow even to recognize.
Everything dear to her was in that rig: her husband, her child, and her eldest brother, Eusebio Ybarra, a thin morose man who knew how to cure a horse, a cow, or a sheep of most anything, provided it was curable. The wagon had left, carrying only two small bags, a tent, two wanigans of food and kitchen stuff, a water cask, and the two men. Now, as it pulled up to the house under the two oaks that shaded the entry, it looked heaped up. Eusebio was in the back with all they'd set out with plus another small bag, fancy leather with lots of pockets and brass fittings, a large leather bag with straps, a cylindrical hat box of lacquered veneer that must have cost as much as a saddle, and a full-sized, honest-to-God steamer trunk.
Tolus, who was standing next to me – we were all sort of lined up, watching the day's main event – said, "Looks to me like Miss Nita done buy up half of Boston." Gundersen was on the seat, holding the reins, and next to him sat what might at a distance have looked like a Mexican lad, what with the sombrero and all, but when she stood to step out on the wheel, and jump down, which she did with lithe grace, you'd have to have been a purblind idiot not to see she was all woman.
She was maybe eighteen at most, and as God is my witness, she was wearing trousers! The way they fit her close, they weren't store bought neither. She had on a white silk blouse with loose sleeves gathered at the cuff. She whipped off her hat, releasing a thick mane of dark hair, and sailed it towards Preacher, who snagged it out of the air. Her heavy tresses weren't black like her mother's, but almost: dark with reddish highlights. At a glance you could tell there must have been plenty of cussing at the Grandee about the tubs of hot water going upstairs. She threw herself into her mother's arms, and they hugged fiercely, laughing, crying, and jabbering in Spanish all together.
She let her ma dry her face with a corner of her apron, and then ran over to us. I could see both parents in her, but it wasn't your common, run-of-the-mill result. She may have been innocent, but that wasn't the quality she brought to mind, nor simplicity neither.
She was taller than most frontier girls, didn't dress like any I'd ever seen, and had an air – I didn't rightly have the word – a kind of feral splendor surprising in someone I had supposed to be citified. It was partly her wide mouth and straight, white teeth. That smile should be on stage. You'd be able to see it from the back of the house, but it was the genuine article. She was way better than any of the girls kicking high behind the footlights in the fanciest theater in St. Louis. She was surely the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen!
First she hugged and kissed Preacher on both cheeks, after which he kind of coughed and looked down to watch his boots scuffle in the dust. She did likewise with Woody, Diego, Gus, and even Tolus. I'd never seen a white woman and a darkie to kiss, but it appeared folks didn't expect any different, or she didn't count as white, or didn't care. Anyway, I reckon 'tween the railroad and the steamship the whole world'll eventuate in one happy family. Well, I'm certain about the family; maybe happy's too much to hope for.
When she was finished embarrassing him, she asked him, "And who is our handsome newcomer, pray?" There was nary a trace of Spanish in her speech. I could feel myself coloring mightily.
"He be Hiram Richards, Miss Nita."
"Now, Tolus, don't be calling me 'Miss,' or I'll take to calling you 'Mr. Jefferson.'"
"Yes, ma'am, Miss Nita. I just keeps forgetting. He done hire on some weeks past. He can talk Spanish."
"And is everyone pleased with him?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am, Miss-."
"Ah-ah-ah, Tolus."
"Juanita. I just don't feel right leaving it off, ma'am."
"Well, then, you must learn, Tolus." She turned and came right up to me, fixing on my face her large, hazel eyes. They were laughing. "Good afternoon, Hiram." She proffered a soft hand, and dropped a curtsy. We shook. Her nails weren't long, but clean, flawlessly filed, and buffed to a luster. "Do you like it here?"
I had to find my voice. "Oh, yes, ma'am. I surely do!"
Now the rest of her laughed, too. She had lips the color and texture of rose petals. Her laugh smelled sort of like apple cider laced with cloves.
"I can see that," she said. "Good. It makes me happy because I love this place from the bottom of my heart, and if you didn't like it, I would have to consider you peculiar, and I shouldn't like that at all. I want to speak Spanish with you." With that she grabbed my shoulders, and standing on tiptoe, kissed me on both cheeks. "Welcome to the G-Bar!"
I'd have bet Sally Oats, all my gear, and a month's pay if it didn't beat getting a medal from a French general, and I don't even know what that's like. I don't think it's in the cards for me. Anyway, she was the first woman I'd been close to in a long time that didn't smell like a fish, a horse, or a loaf of bread. I nearly fell over. I felt the blood rush to my face and other places. Her hair smelled of the sweet straw of her sombrero and of violets. I wanted to bury my face in it. I don't remember her moving on to Manolo, who was a cousin of hers, and to Maury, or the rest of us drudges shambling back towards the big corral we were enlarging. I felt shivered worse than kindling. My boots shuffled along, but my thoughts were rooted like a deep-set gatepost. Young Miss Gundersen had arrived, and my wits had departed. Still, I reckoned I had the better of the swap.
My preoccupation with her must have showed on my face, and I took a lot of ribbing from the boys as I sort of blundered about my chores. I didn't see her that much, but we had a couple of chats that helped liquefy my Spanish, and I found out she was studying music, rhetoric, and history. She helped her ma around the house, or sometimes you could hear her at the piano; it sounded to me she knew lots of complicated pieces. Mostly she had her exquisite little nose in a book. She had books! Books I'd never read! She must have brought back six or eight of them! It was wonderful!
Then Diego and I had to ride out Pozo Hondo way to check on a tank. It wasn't but a bunch of rocks across a little arroyo to hold runoff so there'd be water for the stock, but we were gone the better part of two days, adding rocks and plastering up the cracks with a waterproof mortar mixed from a powder. It didn't feel that way, but it was probably good for me not to see her for a couple of days. My adoration muscles whatever parts of my anatomy they were were all tuckered out, and the boys must have been pretty sick of me as well.
When we got back, if not delirious with hunger, at least fantasizing pretty furiously about a real meal, we were in luck. Gundersen was fixing to kill a steer, and as that was something that didn't happen every day, it was an event, and Juanita was there. She was perched on the top rail of the little corral with her wonderful hair in two braids that hung down from under her sombrero. For all her cultivated ways and elegant elocution you could see she was no city girl: she'd chosen the upwind side of the corral so as not be in the dust which was churned up from under the desperate hooves of a steer going round and round. It was a great seat for what was turning into a real Chinese bucket brigade. I was somewhat surprised to see her there, given the deadly intention of the activity, and warned her it might offend her sensibilities.
"Oh, no, Hi," she said. "I thrive on excitement, the causes for which occur so seldom hereabouts, don't you agree?"
"I'm not clear on that, what with poor DeSmet and then the line shack business." She'd already heard about those, so I tried to tell her about the blood and guts.
"Come now, Hi. This is not the first animal I've seen slaughtered. Besides, I intend to take my leave before it gets gruesome. I've had my bovine anatomy lessons, rustic as they may have been. For me, death is the climax of the action. It should be clean. Then it has a beautiful finality. Have you never seen a corrida?"
I'd never seen a bullfight, but, being more interested in the eating than the killing, it seemed to me a cruel waste of time. Making sport or even an art of killing was professional like a gunslinger. I knew all about that, and wasn't proud of it. I was trying to forget. I could appreciate a fast draw all right, but never could work up much admiration for the art or its practitioners. I had not handled a revolver in many months, not even in practice.
Gundersen had a notion about the right way to kill the beast: you bash it over the head with a mallet and then slit its throat. He claimed that's how it's done back east in a proper slaughterhouse, which may be so, and we might have been able to do it that way if we'd had a chute like the ones by the railroad, but it's right hard to creep up on a frightened animal that's running round and round the corral with its eyes rolling, alternately showing its muzzle dripping foam and snot, or its shit smeared buttocks, particularly if, when you accomplish that impossibility, you've then got to get in one hell of a good two handed swipe with the mallet.
We'd pretty nearly all of us tried our hands at it without inflicting anything but nervous strain on the steer, or even swinging the mallet, when the dogs commenced barking and running down towards the bunkhouse. That's when we came to notice a rider approaching. He wore a pale buckskin jacket with the longest fringe I ever saw to help draw off the rain. Excepting that and his pearly felt hat, he appeared to be a cowboy, the way he was dressed, but he had sure as hell been some cavalry officer, the upright way he sat his big dappled gray. When he came closer I could see he was yellow haired with a thick moustache to match and there was no horn to his saddle. It was a military saddle, a McClellan. Though you couldn't rope from it, it was a good saddle. A hopeless general, but a good saddle. Anyway, he rode right up to the corral. He had no gear with him so he couldn't have come far. He was a few years older than I and, I thought from the way Juanita was looking at him, a little too handsome. When he dismounted, dropping the reins to ground hitch his horse, I saw his Colts.
 

 
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