Seriously f**ked and in a panic because he had no clue what he was doing.
Helping out his buddies once in a while didn’t come close to understanding what it took to run a ranch on a day-to-day basis.
He and Celia had gotten up at the crack of dawn and knocked back a pot of coffee in near silence. Then they’d tracked down outerwear—coveralls, coats, gloves, hats—and trudged to the stock tank, which was completely frozen. Celia checked the outer metal rim and found a box with two switches. She flipped the top one and a hissing started. “I’ll be damned. Marshall set this up to heat the tank with the same woodstove that heats the house.”
Kyle wondered how long it would’ve taken him to figure that out on his own.
Then they headed down the hill to Josh’s place.
Josh was outside, pulling tack out of a horse trailer. Four horses stared over the fence in what looked like anticipation.
Celia shouted, “Morning, Josh.”
He turned around. “That it is. Nice balmy six degrees, ain’t it?”
“Better than six below.” Celia pointed to the horses. “So, which one of those beauties is mine?”
“Bugsy. She’s the roan on the far left. She’s a little feisty, but I reckon you’ll handle her. I figured Kyle could have Marshall’s horse, Capone. Wasn’t sure how much experience you had with horses, Kyle.”
“Been on them and around them most my life, but I’ve never owned one.”
“Now you own four of ’em. So how you wanna do this?”
Kyle wasn’t the least bit upset that Josh was addressing Celia.
“We talked about it last night. I have experience sorting, so he’ll handle the penning. Then we’re hoping you can direct us through the right gates so we can get them into our closest pasture.”
“No problem. I don’t mind helping you guys out, but I’m gonna suggest you study the paperwork that gives the outlay of which property is yours. I know where the land boundaries are on my end that borders yours, but I’m not sure on the other side.”
Celia picked up a halter and walked to the corral. Kyle studied the way she approached the horse, talking to it, offering reassuring pats. When the horse shied away, she didn’t chase it, merely waited for it to come back. As soon as Bugsy got close enough, Celia slipped the halter on and led her through the gate.
Kyle grabbed a halter. His horse, Capone, didn’t move at all; he just stood there and allowed Kyle to slip the halter on. No problem saddling him either, for which Kyle was grateful.
After they were through the gate, Josh handed Kyle a riding crop. “This’ll put some of them unruly cows back in their place.”
“Or maybe it won’t. I swear some of them act up just because they like to feel the sting of the crop.” Celia shot him a smirk.
Kyle reined closer to her. “Speaking from personal experience, kitten?”
She laughed. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” and kicked her stirrups, galloping away from him.
Oh, little wife of mine, I fully intend to find out when you stop running from me and accept this.
The herd wasn’t too far away from Josh’s place. But the cows became agitated quickly when three riders started driving them away from their feed. The sluggish animals moved at a snail’s pace in the frigid air. When a couple of alpha cows finally took off at a brisk trot, the whole herd followed. Except for a half dozen cows that decided to break away, prompting Celia to chase them down.
Kyle had watched Celia racing around barrels for the last four years. Her style on the dirt was balls-to-the-wall. Not a particularly pretty riding style, but efficient. Whereas out here, in the middle of a herd? Celia was utter poetry. Complete perfection as she showcased the skills that were second nature to her. He would guess she wasn’t aware of the power and grace in her movements. Of how regal and right she looked on a horse, cutting through cattle, pushing forward, reining in on a dime. She was born to do this. And the exhilaration on her face told him exactly how much she’d missed it.
That was when he knew he’d fallen hard for her and realized he would do everything he could to make this marriage real. And he knew exactly how to make sure she felt the same. He would give her back a part of herself that’d been missing for the past four years and the ranch of her own that she’d dreamt of.
Besides, even after half a day in the saddle herding cattle, he knew he’d never make it as a cattleman if he didn’t have her by his side. And wouldn’t that be the best life? Running this ranch together—as husband and wife?
“Kyle, quit goddamn daydreamin’ and pay attention!” his lovely bride yelled at him.
He grinned and saluted.
Once they reached the first gate between fences, Kyle dismounted and tied off his horse. Since he’d never sorted cows except during branding, he’d suspected Celia had given him the hardest job. But his job was a piece of cake compared to hers. She had to check the brand on every cow and separate it from the herd, which for animals with a herd mentality was easier said than done. Cows liked to be clumped together, especially when the temperature dipped into single digits.
After a few false starts, Celia pushed the first cow toward him and it trotted into the pen. She shouted, “Look at the marking on the right hip, and make sure the ones goin’ through have our brand.”
“Will do.” He liked that she’d referred to it as our brand.
The noise increased the longer they were in the midst of the herd. Celia cut one cow to him with the wrong brand and he almost let it pass. He had to grab the tail to get the cow’s attention and it spun so fast it knocked Kyle in the muck. He swatted it with the riding crop and could have sworn he heard Celia laughing at him.