tagRomancePalomino Ch. 02

Palomino Ch. 02


The next morning, Lacey was up at her regular time, dressed in running shorts and a tank top, blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail as she headed out for her daily morning run. The sun was just barely peeking over the horizon. She was intent on seeing at least part of the ranch, following the trails she remembered from her childhood days, arriving back at the main house, hands on her hips as she slowly approached the front porch, breathing heavily and wiping her forehead. Caroline met her out front. "Good morning!"

Wesley slipped behind Caroline, the storm door clacking lazily closed behind him. He slid his hat onto his head as he stepped down off the porch. He was clean looking for now; newly washed shirt, clean jeans. That wouldn't last long, though, with the day's coming work. He glanced to Lacey and half-smiled. It was a rather crooked smile, like part of his lips didn't want to complete the gesture. He tipped his hat to her "Mornin' Ma'am. Thank ye fer breakfast, Carol. Mighty fine." he said as headed off for the barn.

Lacey flushed as Wesley walked by and then offered him a smile. "Morning," she called back before catching a glimpse of Caroline who was jerking her head toward the barn and the retreating form of Wesley, giving Lacey a look like she should follow. Lacey just shook her head quickly in disagreement, thinking she needed a shower, not another attempt to go where she wasn't welcome.

Carol's eyes darkened at the girl's stubbornness and put her hands on her hips. "Ye stubborn thing, you. Go change and git yer pretty little behind to the barn. He was just sayin' this mornin' he was short-handed."

Lacey sighed heavily as she mounted the steps and stopped beside the older woman and watched the retreating form of Wesley, placing both hands on her hips as her breathing finally regulated. "If he wanted me to help, he'd ask ... besides, what if I just get in the way?"

"No... he won't ask. Just the way he is. And ye wouldn't be in the way. Ain't hard to check calves."

Lacey warred with herself, but finally resolution took over her beautiful features and she hurriedly ran into the house and bound up the stairs to her bedroom where she donned worn jeans and a pair of boots she had brought for riding, shrugging a long-sleeved shirt on. She washed her face hurriedly and shoved some lip balm into her pocket. She applied a bit of deodorant and a small amount of mascara before dashing back down the stairs, checking her watch to see how much time she had. She could hear Caroline chuckling in the kitchen.

This was crazy ... he'd probably be furious that she showed up, but she couldn't help the natural curiosity she had of the ranch, her burning desire to ride again, and if she were honest with herself, she had to see him again.

Wesley and three of the hands were saddling up their horses. Two were cutting horses, the other two were just plain work horses. Wes was saddling up a nice tri-colored paint mare. He brushed through her mane and fed her a couple sugar cubes as a treat. When he heard footsteps behind him he turned to look over his shoulder, smiling when he saw Lacey. "Was wonderin' if you'd show up."

Lacey smiled genuinely as she stopped beside him and turned her attention the mare, letting her sniff her hand before gently rubbing her forehead and smoothing her forelock. "I figured you wouldn't be happy about me just showing up."

Wesley handed her the reigns to the mare's bridle. "'ere. Get on." Had she looked around, she would have noticed five horses had been saddled. He'd saddled one for her too, as if he knew she'd come along regardless of what he said. "She's an old pack mare... Bill used 'er for hunting trips. She'll fall right in behind the herd."

Lacey frowned as he handed her the reins and looked at the mare. She could ride better than just an old pack mare, even though it had been a while. But instead of arguing, she rubbed on the mare a bit more before moving to her side and mounted effortlessly as if she had just done this yesterday, settling into the saddle as the other hands looked on curiously.

She looked pretty natural in the saddle for a city-slicker, Wesley mused. He pulled her boot from the stirrup and lifted the skirt to adjust the length for her. He'd guessed her size pretty well, but they were still slightly long. "Ye get ridin' lessons in the city 'er what?"

Lacey tucked her leg back, giving him room to work as she rubbed the base of the mare's mane just above the withers, giving it an affectionate shake before gazing down at him. "No ... I haven't ridden in years but I used to know every inch of this ranch like the back of my hand," Then added with a soft smile, "from the back of a horse, believe it or not."

He chuckled and rounded to the other side, adjusting the stirrup for her and patted her boot. Then he lifted the hem of her jeans and ran his thumb across the lacings and looked up at her. "What are these?" He grinned teasingly

Lacey couldn't help but smile down at him as he teased her. Okay, so her boots were in style, but they were still boots, all the same, and her feet were used to them. She knew better than to show up with brand new boots and then not be able to walk the next day. "I thought we had work to do?" she teased back, taking some of the attention off her as she glanced up, seeing the men's stares as they talked quietly amongst themselves and she had no doubt, she was the topic of their conversations.

Wesley chuckled and let her be. He turned to his own mount, a beautiful buckskin quarter horse. He pulled himself into the saddle effortlessly and sat lightly in the saddle. The gelding threw his head with a snort. Clearly he wanted to get going, bouncing from one foot to another. He had the saddle on... it was time for work, according to him! Wesley took the reigns and pulled him in a bit. The other hands filed out of the barn, headed for the main pasture. As they rode, Wesley kept back to ride beside Lacey. This irritated his mount. He wanted to be up front. That was his place. He stamped and snorted the whole way, but Wesley kept a firm hand on him to keep him in line.

Lacey watched Wesley and the beautiful horse that he was riding out of the corner of her eye as she urged her mare to follow along, her legs gently squeezing before immediately releasing when the mare responded. As they rode, she couldn't stop the smile that stayed on her face. As much as she claimed to be a city girl, it was apparent that she was a natural on horseback. The only thing she regretted was not having a more spirited mount and the ability to just ... go. It had been too long since she had ridden like the wind, carefree and as one with her horse.

He rode quietly, until he decided the silence was too much. The hands ahead were chattering to one another and were glancing over their shoulders back at Wes and Lacey. "So... didja drive all the way from New York?"

Lacey glanced over at him and smiled gently as their mounts seemed to move together once his settled down some. "No, actually. I flew in and then rented the car. I don't like to drive THAT much." She saw the looks the men were giving her and Wesley and she hoped she wasn't inconveniencing him too much by coming along. "How long have you worked on the ranch?" she asked gently, the question giving her a good excuse to look at him again, her eyes never tiring of seeing the rugged handsome features.

"Been nearly seven years now. Started workin' as a hand... then I took the Foreman position when it opened up."

Lacey's thoughts turned to her father for a moment, a wistful sigh escaping her lips. It had been years since she had seen him, even though they had kept in touch over the phone. Her mother had conveniently forgotten to tell her about the funeral until it had passed. Reaching up, she brushed back a loose strand of blonde hair that had worked free from her ponytail and then glanced at him again before speaking. "I really have no idea how to run a ranch, Wesley. But my father loved this place and he wanted me to have it. I need you to keep doing whatever it is that you are doing and be patient with me."

Wesley chuckled and reigned in his mount again, the animal getting a bit frisky and taking leisure where he found loopholes to boss his rider around. Wes just kept a firm hand on him to be sure he knew who was really boss. "I've practically run this ranch the six years I've been Foreman, Miss King. I ain't gonna let it slip through the cracks just 'cause you come truckin' back into town. Don't you worry."

Lacey laughed and nodded, wanting to ride ... to really ride, but she had a feeling that even if she had urged the horse beneath her with everything she had, the mare probably wouldn't do more than trot. The mountains in the background made everything picturesque and much like a postcard. Just like she remembered as a girl. She truly enjoyed being on the ranch again, but knew that eventually, she would have to go back to New York. She absently wondered if the man riding beside her would even notice when she was gone.

The herd was in sight now. There was a sharp whistle from up ahead and the two herders moved to fan out to either side. The dogs that ran alongside the group burst into action and fanned wider to the sides to bring in the strays and group them together.

Lacey's head snapped back forward as she felt her mare move with the others and she allowed the mare to do what it was that she knew to do, blue eyes looking to Wesley as he pulled away from her to do his job. She chastised herself for even imagining that he would be thinking about her when he had so much to do here on the ranch. Instead of letting her thoughts get away with her regarding the handsome foreman, she instead, threw herself into trying to at least be help instead of a hindrance.

The hands didn't hesitate putting Lacey to work. They called to her, telling her what she needed to do. They proceeded, one by one, to cut the half-sized calves from their mothers to check them, to make sure the rings had held and done their job on the little bulls, that the ear tags were clean, and they weren't sick. The mamas didn't seem to care for this much. They argued and tried to bully the cutters into leaving the babies alone, but the men worked with precision and unyielding stubbornness.

Lacey worked hard, throwing herself into the task and the beauty of being outdoors and back on the ranch, temporarily forgetting the fascination she felt for the foreman. By mid-day, she had gained the men's respect for her persistence.

When they stopped for a short lunch brought to by the ranch cook on the back of a 4-Wheeler, one of Wesley's top hands plopped down next to him lazily. "I was just thinking how much Miss Lacey resembles a palomino ... beautiful AND hard working."

Wesley looked at Lance out the corner of his eyes and chuckled. He'd been watching Lacey as she flirted incessantly with the other men, and they persistently flirted back just to keep her going. "Yeah... she's pretty tough fer a city-slicker, ain't she?"

Lance chuckled, eyeing her as she sat among the other men and chatted with them. "Not bad to look at in a pair of jeans, neither," he grinned, slapping his friend on the back.

Wesley grinned. The same thought had crossed his mind several times. "If only they were a bit tighter and she wore a rodeo shirt and hat, eh?" He winked at Lance and licked mustard from his fingers that had oozed from his sandwich.

Lance nodded before adding with a cocky grin, "Or just the boots and the hat maybe." He took a bite of his sandwich and then swept his hat off to smooth back his hair before replacing it. Actually, he wouldn't mind seeing her in a little less, but he knew better than to voice those opinions out loud.

Wesley just laughed. If any of them was a charmer, it was Lance. He was the classic cowboy from head to toe. A ladies' man and smooth as butter. "When's yer next rodeo, Lance? Ain't it in Casper?"

"Yeah ... this weekend. There's a sweet prize purse that's got my name written all over it."

Wes downed his iced tea and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Ya need help gettin' yer cuttin' horse down there, or you doin' calf ropin' this time?"

Lance's eyes followed Lacey as she rose and started picking up trash, bending over in her jeans to pick up the remnants the other men had left behind. His eyes ran shamelessly over her beautiful curves as he replied, "Ropin' ... but you're coming, aint ya?" He tore his gaze from the beautiful girl to look at his close buddy and boss.

Wes couldn't help but watch the woman as she bent over. "Yea... yeah, I'm comin'. Just know you had trouble with 'er last time. Threw 'er head at the barrier, didn't she?"

"Yeah," Lance murmured as they both watched the natural sway to Lacey's hips as she moved to the 4-wheeler, depositing trash, a boyish smile plastered across his face as he adjusted himself through his jeans and shook his head. "Damn Wes ... she's sticking around, I hope."

Wes chuckled as his friend shifted, noting the deft adjustment and shook his head. "I dunno. She's a city-slicker, Lance. Editor, CEO, top-cookie sumthin' fer some magazine er another."

"Well I'll say this for her. She is MUCH better looking that her old man. I'll ride with her any day of the week!"

Wesley's face took on an odd expression. "She came to my doorstep last night... brought supper to me. Carol and I had another fuss. As per usual."

Lance shot his friend an incredulous look. "She showed up on your doorstep last night?! You lucky bastard ... I'd give my right arm for her to show up at my door at night! What got Caroline going this time?"

"Wanted me to bring Miss King along today. Was adamant about it. You know how I am with Carol bossin' me around. I don't stand fer it well."

Lance furrowed his brows as he glanced to the woman and then to his friend. "Okay, yeah but ... uhmm, she's here. Looks like Caroline won that argument ... again." He couldn't help but grin good-naturedly as Wesley frowned.

Wesley, stood up, dusting himself off and lifted his hat to smooth his hair back before replacing it again. "Does she ever lose?"

Lance looked at Lacey again, giving her another once-over. Realization hit him square between the eyes. "She's trying to set you two up."

Wesley rocked back on the heels of his boots as if fighting a gust of Wyoming wind and coughed, rubbing his forehead beneath the band of his hat. "No she ain't. She knows better."

Lance laughed, standing up himself and hitched his jeans up some, adjusting the worn Wranglers before adjusting himself again, mostly out of habit, thumping the rodeo belt buckle proudly, one that he had won just a couple of weeks ago. He grinned at Wesley, seeing that his friend's gaze was following the girl once again appreciatively. "It wouldn't hurt, ya know. Why don't you let Caroline work her magic?"

Wesley took his gaze from the girl to glare at his friend and shook his head no. He adjusted his hat and pulled the brim down a bit. "I ain't never gonna settle down again, Lance. I've told ya that."

Lance rolled his eyes some, hearing the same old excuse come out of his friend's mouth. "Y'er pitiful and blind if you pass up a chance to get to know that woman." He looked at his friend seriously for a long moment. "Caroline might just know what she's doing." Then with another slap to his friend's shoulder, he moved to check on his mount before they continued their work day.

Wesley sighed as he felt the slap, the words sinking in a little, despite the walls he'd thrown up. The pain still ran deep after all these years. It'd taken him three years alone to remove the wedding band he'd worn since she'd died. It was only recently in the last year or so that he'd made a habit to go with Lance to his rodeos, to go out with the guys for a couple beers now and then, to cut loose and go to church picnics and barn dances and that kind of thing.

To even look at a woman was a huge step for him. Lance was right... Lacey was a mighty fine one to look at ... pretty all the way around, and cute as hell in some good jeans. She'd look cuter if they graduated her to a hat... but if she was leaving, he doubted she'd want to spend that kind of money on a good one that would sit in a closet back at home in NYC. He grabbed the reigns of his mount and threw them up over the back of the horse's neck. The gelding side-stepped and danced around, nickering playfully. Wes snorted and swatted him at the withers. "You stay still, you." He grinned and patted him then mounted up.

Lacey glanced up as the men started to mount and followed suit, starting to feel the ache of being in and out of a saddle all day but she was not about to start to complain. The men had not only accepted her, but were downright friendly and even flirting with her. Of course, the one she wanted to flirt had barely spoken to her since the ride up here. Reaching down to pat her mare's neck, she adjusted her sore bottom in the saddle and gently urged her mare to join the others as they rode away from the lunch campsite. Glancing to Wesley, she couldn't help but smile before Lance pulled up next to her with a grin and a tip of his hat.

Lance took a long moment to look Lacey over closer. He drew his horse right next to her to where their knees were almost touching. He spoke loud enough to be heard, but low enough that nobody else would hear at the same time. "So... how long ya plannin' on stayin' here?"

Lacey glanced over at the blonde-haired cowboy and smiled, shrugging her shoulders a bit as they rode side by side. "I don't really know ... my initial plan was to be here a couple of days and head back, but now that I'm here ..." She let her voice fade off, not really sure what her answer was. Being back on the ranch had brought out a longing in her that she hadn't felt since the time after she had been forced to leave with her mother. She loved it here. She loved being on horseback, and even though her ass and thighs screamed out in opposition, she loved working outside and , as much as she didn't want to admit it, being near the rugged man riding ahead of her.

Lance pressed on. "Well... there's a rodeo up in Casper this weekend. Wes and I and a couple of the others are headed out Thursday afternoon if you'd like to come along. You can bypass gate fees by bein' a part of the work team."

Lacey's blue eyes seemed to twinkle and she nodded in agreement, "I would love to go. It's been ages since I've been to a rodeo!"

A grin splattered Lance's face. "A'ight then... I'll add you to our plans. Wes does calf ropin'. Won't make a big fuss over it, but he's damned good at it." He added the shameless plug on his friend's behalf. He'd noticed the two hadn't been able to keep their eyes off one another and he wasn't about to step in on something that might blossom for his buddy.

She felt an odd excitement well up inside of her at the thought of cheering on Wesley as he rode and shook her head some to stop from looking and acting like some love-struck schoolgirl. Glancing back at Lance she smiled gently and asked, "What do you do?"

Lance grinned some. He'd hoped he'd be able to shine his own buckle for the lady, but he didn't want to seem too upfront about it. "Usually depends on what I've got the entry fee for. Calf ropin's my specialty. Wes and I used to do team ropin' together... back in the day. Bronc ridin'... you name it. Tried my hand at bulls, once... didn't care for it much."

Lacey caught Lance's enthusiasm to brag about a sport he obviously loved. "You said that you and Wesley 'used' to team rope together ... you don't anymore?"

"Naw. He don't compete no more to speak of. Just rides along for the fun of it. Takes care of the stock and watches, mostly."

She nodded in understanding. "How long have you two known each other?"

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