“Right.” Tanna relaxed and kept hold of his hand. “So, what’s different about these Aussie sheepherders?”
“It’s two separate operations. They lamb twice a year, with two separate flocks.”
“Smart. Continual income. Not all the ranchers in Texas calve in the spring. A lot of them calve late fall. Or spring and fall.”
“These guys are brothers, who married sisters. They ran big sheep ranches Down Under and each had their own way of doin’ things. So Harland, the older brother, lambs late fall. And Kirk, the younger one, lambs early spring. Which means it’s time to preg test Kirk’s ewes.”
She smiled so widely his damn breath caught in his throat. “That’s what you’re goin’ to do?”
“What we’re gonna do. So I don’t wanna see you off frolicking with Harland’s little lambs when we’re on the clock.”
“Wait. Will I be sticking my hand . . . ?”
Fletch shook his head. “That’s the other way the Ludlows are different. We’ll use ultrasound on the ewes. Ewes are more prone to twins, or even triplets, and they can keep a better eye on those mamas needing extra feed, et cetera, if they know ahead of time about the multiples. Not many sheep ranchers utilize the service.”
“I didn’t think sheep were part of a large animal practice.”
“They aren’t. But the Ludlows had an emergency right after I opened my practice and I was the only vet who’d take their call. They’ve stayed loyal to me. It’s a nice change from working with mostly cows and horses. Keeps me on my toes.”
“What else about them? You’ve got that sexy little smirk on your lips.”
He shot her a grin. “You are picking up on some of my quirks already and I don’t know whether to be happy about that or nervous. Anyway, Harland and Kirk help out and provide sheep for the mutton bustin’ event at the Mountain Springs Indian Rodeo. At first no one wanted to supply stock and take it to the rez because of all the sovereign nation issues. The Ludlow brothers had no qualms. That earned my respect and gratitude.”
Tanna frowned. “Sovereign nation issues? What’s that mean?”
“To some it means anything you take to a reservation can be confiscated at any time by the tribe. So you can understand why few rodeo contractors want to take their prize horses and bulls to the rez.”
“Does that happen often? The tribe just taking over someone else’s property?”
“More often than you think, sadly. It’s better now than it used to be. The last couple years Renner has brought his best stock to the little rodeo. Before that . . . the rough stock wasn’t a challenge.”
“How’s the barrel racing competition?”
Fletch wondered if she’d ask. “Honestly? Dismal. One year there wasn’t a single entrant. The cowboys can just show up with their tack and climb on a bronc or a bull provided by the stock contractor. But given most Indians on the reservation live at poverty level, few of them have horses. If they do, they’re ranch horses, not specialized barrel racing horses.” He slowed and hung a left on a blacktop driveway that stretched into the distance. “Here we are.”
“Wow. Successful sheep ranchers.”
“Very. And two of the nicest families you’ll ever meet.” Fletch honked twice when he reached the two houses before he headed uphill to the chutes. In the rearview he saw kids and dogs chasing after his truck. He grinned. Guaranteed Miss Ellie would be put out that he’d brought Tanna as his helper.
“God. Fletch. I don’t . . .”
The panic in Tanna’s voice ripped him out of his thoughts. “What’s wrong?”
“I have no clue what I’m supposed to do to help you.”
“I’ll tell you everything you need to know, okay?”
She nodded, less than confidently, and bit her lip.
Fletch wanted nothing more than to lean over and kiss her. But that would fluster her, given they had an audience. “Let’s go. Meet me in the back and we’ll get supplies.”
Soon as he exited the truck, he heard, “Doc Fletch!”
“Heya, Harland Jr. What’s up?”
“One of my rabbits had bunnies and that stupid mama fox got all of ’em but one to feed to her kits.”
Better the fox was eating the rabbits than the lambs—not that Fletch could say that.
“But me’n Dad are building a fox-proof cage,” he boasted.
“Smart thinking.” He unlocked the back doors to his mobile medical office. Then Tanna was right there. “In that bag on the floor is everything we’ll need. But if you’d hop up and make sure there are enough gloves for both of us and syringes in case we need ’em, I’d appreciate it.”
Fletch usually kept this particular ultrasound machine at the office, but he’d loaded it first thing today. He set it on the ground and waited for Tanna to move before he locked up again. “Harland Jr. will lead the way to the chutes.”
Tanna fell in step beside him. He explained the process and what she’d be doing. She nodded, asked a couple of questions and that was it.
Harland Sr. and Kirk waved, leaving Fletch to his own devices. These ranchers didn’t hover or suggest or distract. They knew Fletch did his job efficiently if he wasn’t dealing with their constant interruptions. So he had to laugh when Kirk’s wife Betsy whistled shrilly and all the kids scattered.