The evening was just setting in when the Chris rode into the McGrover ranch. The ranch seemed busy for the first time since he had been here last. All the ranch hands were working and he found Joshua with Eric walking towards the back of the house. On one side of the house, he saw a lad standing in overalls with a baseball cap looking at him. He didn’t remember seeing the lad before. As he rode further in he saw Donna, Barbara’s niece planting some herbs. The entire scene seemed out of ordinary for a ranch which was supposed to be in neglect. He had come to see his father immediately after his return from business to give him the good news.
Joshua approached him as Chris got off his horse.
“Hello Chris, how was the trip?”
“Fruitful. Where is pa?”
“Left? Left Where?” asked Chris tying his horse to a post.
“California. He said he wanted to visit there for long time.”
Talking Chris and Joshua walked towards the back of the house where Eric was working on the plan for the outside lunch room. Joshua explained what they were building and Chris liked the idea very much. He wasn’t sure where his father was going to get money to build it, but he was also surprised to find the ranch in better shape than what it was before. He had expected most of the ranch hands to quit but he found everyone working except Jacob and the small boy Sam. Sitting down with Joshua and Eric looking at the plans and giving his input he asked “Where are Jacob and Sam? I rode circling around the ranch but didn’t find them near the herd.”
“Sam is back in school again and it turns out Jacob has been steeling our unbranded cattle and herding them into O’Cauly’s ranch.”
“Steeling cattle? Why didn’t pa do anything about it?”
“Sam said your pa knew about Jacob taking the cattle to O’Cauly’s ranch.”
Chris was silent for a long time trying to come up with a plausible explanation for what had been going on in his absence. He was now regretting his decision of buying his own land and moving away when his father needed him the most. Absent mindedly he asked Joshua “Who is the lad with Donna tending to garden?”
“What lad?” asked Joshua looking up from the designs he and Eric were working on.
“The lad over there in baseball cap and blue overalls” said Chris pointing in the direction of herb garden.
Eric and Joshua started laughing loudly. “That’s not lad, that’s..” before Eric could finish his sentence Joshua hit his arm playfully to stop talking and said “That’s Burns. The new boss.”
“What the hell do you mean Joshua?” said Chris standing up
“Well John sold the ranch to Burns and left for California.”
“He wouldn’t do that. He would never sell the ranch without telling me or Sean” Said Chris aghast at his father’s decision.
“He did. It seems he made sure the new boss is capable before he signed the papers. That Burns is something alright. Past week since arrival Burns has kept every ranch hand busy and confronted O’Cauly.”
“How can a lad confront O’Cauly? O’Cauly would eat that kid alive. What was the confrontation about?” said Chris amazed and confused at what he was hearing.
“Burns found out about Jacob pilfering cattle from you father and how he also illegally occupied the land across the north pastures along the stream. Burns stopped at O’Cauly’s yesterday and we haven’t seen or heard anything from him yet.”
“You tell me, in past few weeks I was out-of-town my pa sold this ranch to a lad and that wee lad has confronted O’Cauly and came back unscathed.”
“Yep, that’s what I am telling you.”
“I gotta meet this lad and whip some sense into him.”
“Oh you should that. It would be interesting to watch you put this lad in his place.” Saying Joshua smiled and walked with Chris towards the house.
Reaching the back door of the house they found Barbara talking to Donna. Chris approached them along with Joshua and Eric who were grinning at the events that might unfold.
“Christopher, when did you return?” said Barbara walking down the steps.
“Hello Barbara. I returned today afternoon and came straight here.” giving her a hug.
“Come inside dear and have some ice tea. I was just about to take glass for Ra..”
“Hey Barbara” cut Joshua in between and said “Chris here wanted to know about the lad who was helping Donna” Winking at Barbara.
“What lad?” asked Barbara looking at Joshua and Eric.
Hoping their prank will not fall before it is put into action Joshua put his hand around Barbara’s shoulder and said “The same lad who is the boss of this ranch and Chris says he saw the lad when he rode in and wants to meet the lad.”
Catching on Barbara smiled and said “oh my, forgive my poor old brain. I really seem to be getting old. Yes the lad. Why he is in the office. He said he needed to meet someone in an hour and needed to get ready. Come in Chris. Let me check if the lad is ready.”
Chris was confused at everyone’s behavior. He sensed something was absolutely wrong and everyone in room was plotting something. It was very evident with their smiles hidden behind an apron or a hand or a cough. Thinking he will deal with them later, he decided to meet with this lad and offer him to buy back his father’s ranch.
Upon spotting the rider Rachael had walked back into the house assuming the man who rode in must be the business associate of John who was yet to deliver the three mares he had asked for. She walked in planning to question him for sloppiness in delivering the order. Washing up she changed into a black pencil skirt reaching just below her knees paired with a blue blouse and high heels. She walked down into the office and could hear people talking in the kitchen. Picking up the folder mentioning the deal she leafed through when her office door opened and Barbara stuck her head in to ask if she had time for visitors. When asked who was visiting Barbara smiled and said a stuck up cowboy wants to meet the lad in overalls he saw outside. Rachael was dumbfounded when she heard that and she composed herself in time to find the tall dark handsome rider walk in.
“Hello there, Barbara said Mr. Burns was in here. Are you his secretary?”
“That’s very presumptuous of you mister.”
“What do you mean mam?” asked Chris his anger rising slowly at the woman who was looking down at him.
“I am Rachael Burns. Owner of this ranch.” Said Rachael extending her hand
Chris looked at Rachael and turned to find snickering faces of Joshua and Barbara who turned away from the door immediately once he directed his stare at them. Barbara called “Good luck boy” closing the door behind her. He turned to find Rachael sitting in his father’s chair. An unknown surge of anger went through him but controlling himself he said “There must be a mistake Ms. Bruns, my father would never sell this ranch without consulting me and especially to a woman who is more comfortable in New York fifth avenue than in the muddy pen with cattle and horses.”
“Like I said before Mr.McGrover, you are presumptuous.”
“Pardon?” asked Chris
“You are right about one thing Mr. McGrover. I am actually very comfortable at Fifth Avenue any day, but I am very much at home on this ranch because you see it is my home now and my work place. Why John didn’t tell you about selling this ranch is not my concern. And how I work or what I do on my ranch is not something you need to concern yourself with as it is none of your business. Now you should see yourself out as I am expecting company.”
For the first time in his life a woman had put him down in his place and hurt his pride. But when this slip of a girl all dressed up as if she was sitting in stock market office in her business suit, all he wanted to do was watch her talk passionately about the ranch and what plans she had. At the same it also felt was like punch to his ego that this girl was throwing him out of his own home.
“I will leave for now Ms. Burns, but know this I will be back soon. You see I don’t believe my father sold this ranch and I will find out how you stole it from him.”
“You can dig as much as you want, but I am not the one who is thief. You and your father have been letting the thief have a free run around this ranch but not me. Now please leave” Said Rachael her anger rising slowly.
Fuming Chris walked away promising he would be back and get his ranch back from the Barbie doll who was traipsing through his property. As he walked out the back door and untied his horse, he heard O’Cauly shouting out for Ms. Burns with Barbara and Joshua. Wanting to know what had put a burr on his back he watched from far.
Christopher McGrover had been Rachael’s crush since the time she could remember. She still remembers the first time she saw him. The summer when she was fifteen, Rachael had come home to visit and her housekeeper’s daughter Amy had dragged her to the rodeo events in Owl Creek. It was at bronc riding she saw Christopher the first time. He was dressed in jeans and black shirt paired with black Stetson and leather chaps. He was darling of the crowd. From the minute he sat at the monstrous bucking horse to the minute he got off safely Rachael couldn’t take her eyes off him. Once the events finished Amy and Rachael went around the stalls to get something to eat when they came face to face with Christopher. He smiled at the girls walking away with few girls dressed in cowgirl gear. Disappointed he hadn’t noticed her, Rachael returned home.
As Rachael was remembering the past, she heard a commotion and looked out her office window to find O’Cauly and a short man making a ruckus at her front door. Knowing well what O’Cauly might have up his sleeve, Rachael prepped herself and went out to meet them.
Rachael opened the door to find Joshua holding off O’Cauly from storming into the house. Spotting her O’Cauly stopped struggling and adjusted his coat and talked in hush tone to the man next to him.
“Hello Ms. Burns. I am Martin Smith, from bureau of land management” Said the small man
“How do you do Mr. Smith? What brings you to my ranch” Said Rachael shaking hands with Smith.
“Ms. Burns, I am here to look at the land deed on request of Mr. O’Cauly.”
“And why do you think I should show it on his request. The deed is in order. My agent and lawyers have verified it.”
“I am sorry Ms. Burns, no disrespect. Mr. O’Cauly said he was given part of the ranch by Mr. John McGrover around the northern pastures.”
“Yes, I heard about it from O’Cauly there, but I have the official deed here and it doesn’t mention anything he claims.”
“Mam, Mr. O’Cauly and Mr. McGrover shook on it. So it should be his.”
Smiling Rachael walked down the few steps and stood before Smith and said “What century are we in Mr. Smith?”
“Pardon me.” Said Smith confused.
“You see Mr. Smith I live in 21 century and shaking your hand on land is not something my cup of tea. You want to prove that land belongs to O’Cauly, show me legal proof. But you see he doesn’t have it, because it never was his so I suggest you tell him to stop claiming what is not his.”
“You better listen to me little missy. This land is mine and I will have it.” Said O’Cauly charging towards Rachael with his fists raised to strike. Seeing this Chris jumped forward to stop O’Cauly but before he could reach Rachael stepped aside and O’Cauly fell flat on his face. Thoroughly insulted O’Cauly left fuming saying he will ruin Rachael.
Chris looked at Rachael and smiled “You are a tough girl Ms. Burns.”