Love Along the Cattle Trail (Preview)


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Chapter One

May, 1889


From the top of the hill, the ranch looked so small. It was odd how some of the acres, which were just grass and trees, didn’t look lived in at all except for the cattle that dotted the green landscape. 

Sierra Cassidy drew in a deep breath and sat up straighter in her saddle. It would be months before she saw her home again. 

“Are you okay?” her father, Lonnie, asked. He peered at her from under his broad-brimmed hat with concern in his eyes. 

She smiled back at him. “I’m fine,” she said. “I was just wondering if Lucile and Hector will be okay on their own with the rest of the herd.” 

Her father laughed. “They’ve been working the ranch since before you were born. Hector is my oldest cowboy, so don’t underestimate him. Just because the arthritis has his knees all locked up and his doting wife won’t let him ride doesn’t mean he can’t keep a herd of cattle safe and cared for.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Sierra said. “We’ve never left them alone before.” 

“Would you like to go back and help them?” he asked. 

Sierra shook her head vehemently. She had walked right into that one. “No! I need to learn the rest of the business, so I’m coming with you.” 

Her father nodded. “Go see what’s taking Nate so long with the cattle. They should have come past us by now. If he’s lollygagging—” 

“I’ll go see,” Sierra said. She urged her horse into a canter and rode back along the track she and her father had just come down. Around a clump of trees that lined that road, she found Nate. At least she found his horse. 

“Nate?” she wondered aloud. “Where are you?” 

The cowboy was nowhere to be seen, but his horse was on the side of the road near a gully. 

“Nate!” she called louder. 

Her father’s second most experienced cowboy’s head popped up from the gully. “Oh, Sierra, it’s you. Come and give me a hand.” 

“With what?” she asked. 

“This heifer went and got herself stuck,” Nate said.

“What’s she doing in the gully?” Sierra asked as she dismounted close to the gully and then pushed her way through the milling cows. 

“Gee, I don’t know, maybe we should ask her,” Nate said with an impatient shake of his head the sarcasm ringing in his voice. 

“You don’t have to be sharp with me,” Sierra said as she came to the edge of the gully. It was a steep drop but not too far down, only about four feet. She slid down, with one hand on the top of the gully wall. 

It was muddy down there, and she soon saw the problem. The cow has slipped into the gully and gotten her leg caught up in a root. It had somehow managed to get tangled around her leg, and she was fretting and pulling at it, making it tighter and tighter. 

“We’ll have to cut the root,” Sierra said. 

“Sure, and how do we do that without cutting her leg?” Nate asked. 

Sierra thought a moment. “I’ve got it. Give me a moment.” She hurried to the side, hauled herself out of the gully, and went to her horse. Digging in her saddlebags, she soon found what she was looking for. Her sewing scissors. 

She hurried back and slid into the gully again. She held up the scissors for Nate to see. 

“Keep her calm, Nate,” she said. 

Nate nodded. “Good thinking fetching those scissors.” 

Sierra beamed. Nate was like a big brother to her, since he’d been working on the ranch for at least ten years now. To have him say something like that meant a lot. 

With great care not to hurt the animal, Sierra managed to get the little embroidery scissors in between the beast’s leg and the root. With a quick snip, the root came loose, and the cow was free. 

Nate led the cow to a place where the gully wasn’t as deep and helped her to climb out. 

Sierra wiped her hands on the green grass and then on her trousers and then mounted her horse again. She spent a couple of minutes helping Nate to round up the rest of the herd which had taken to cropping the green grass. Then they set off again. 

When she reached her father, he raised a brow. “That took you two quite a long time.” 

“Cow got stuck in a gully,” Nate said with a wry smile. “Sierra thought to use her sewing scissors to cut the cow’s leg free.” 

“Did you really?” her father asked looking both surprised and pleased. Then he rearranged his features and became stern again. “Don’t let it go to your head.” 

“I won’t,” Sierra assured him. 

“Okay, then go ride up to Cody in the front and tell him what the delay was,” her father said. 

Sierra nodded, and off she went. 

Cody was younger than Nate and the last of her father’s employees heading out on the cattle drive. He had stopped with the cattle in a wide-open field. He must have known something was wrong when the column began to thin out and drove the beasts off the road and into pasture. 

“What’s going on?” Cody asked. 

“It’s okay. There was a problem with a cow, but we sorted it out. We should be able to start back up again,” Sierra said. 

Cody nodded glumly. “Sure thing. Help me get them rounded up and going again.”

Sierra was happy to help. Cody and Nate had helped her father to teach her everything about roping and riding, to caring for cattle. It was fun to be out in the sunshine, riding with people she considered family, whether they shared blood or not. 

It calmed some of Sierra’s nerves. She was quite worried about this cattle drive, it being her first. She didn’t want to make even one mistake. Mistakes cost lives and livestock, and neither were acceptable losses. That was something her father had drilled into her head. She meant to make him proud on this run. 

Once the cattle were moving again, Sierra went back to her post, riding beside her father. He liked to be in the middle of the column so that he could respond to issues either up or down the line. It was his style of driving cattle, and it seemed to serve him well. 

“Where will we meet the others?” Sierra asked as they rode, their eyes always on the brown backs of the cattle. 

“Just outside Morrisburg,” her father said. It was the closest town to the ranch. “It’s the most convenient.” 

“Who all is coming with us this time?” she asked. 

“Ethan Westwood, Abe Monroe, and Benjamin Rawlins,” her father said. “That’s all I know of. Maybe some of the others will come along, too. There’s safety in numbers, remember that.” 

“I will,” she said. Although Sierra was under no illusions about why she was being allowed on this journey. It wasn’t because anyone thought she would do it again in the future. She was quite certain that everyone would prefer her to stay home like the other women, but she had convinced her father that it was the only way to really understand a cattle run. She would never be as great a rancher as he was if she didn’t understand the business from top to bottom, from birth to sale. She needed just this one run under her belt for the experience it would give her, and that was the honest truth. 

“You’ll just have to remember to behave,” her father said, breaking the short silence that had grown between them. “And you know they’re going to expect you to make the coffee every day. They might ask you to cook, too.” 

Sierra nodded. “I figured it would come to something like that. I am a woman, even if I’m wearing trousers.” 

Her father smiled. “Don’t rock the boat, okay? I know how you feel about things, but just remember what we’re trying to achieve here.” 

“Yes, Lonnie,” Sierra said with a wry naughty smile. 

“Don’t call me Lonnie,” I’m Pa,” her father said, rolling his eyes in mock exasperation. 

Sierra had gone through a phase not long ago when she had called her father by his given name, Lonnie. It had driven him crazy. She liked to do it from time to time just to see him grind his teeth and roll his eyes at her. 

“So, Pa,” Sierra said after a little pause. “Why did you and the other ranchers decide to drive your cattle together? Was it just for safety in numbers?” 

“Kind of,” her father said with a nod. “Hey! That bull is stepping out of line.” 

Sierra had taken her eyes off the cattle for a moment, and one was thinking of making a break for greener pastures. 

Kicking her heels into her steed’s sides, she raced out down the line and swiftly changed the bull’s mind by cutting off his path of escape. He was a young bull and not that aggressive, and he turned from the galloping horse without fuss. 

When she returned, Sierra asked her father to continue the story. 

“Well,” he said, resting his hands on his saddle’s pommel. “It was back when your grandfather ran the ranch, and I was learning. We were five ranches that were near each other, and our fathers all played cards some evenings together. There had been some raids on the cattle runs, and your grandfather suggested that we all band together. Safety in numbers. He meant in the number of guns that could be carried. There were more men to protect the cattle that way, and it just made good sense. So, since then, we’ve been doing it that way.” 

“You said there were five?” Sierra asked. “So, there’s you, Ben Rawlins, Abe Munroe, and Ethan Westwood. Who was number five?” 

Her father’s expression grew dark like a thunderhead. “We don’t talk about number five.” 

“Why not?” Sierra asked. “Don’t I need to know? Couldn’t whatever happened happen again? I’d need to know how you handled it, so that I can do the same.” 

“Sierra, it’s not like that!” her father said, snapping out each word. “What happened to number five was a fluke. It won’t happen again. Now drop it!” 

He was really angry. 

Sierra nodded. “Sorry, Pa.” 

Her father took a deep breath. “It’s okay, honey. I’m sorry. There are some things that are just better left in the past, buried in the dirt where they belong.” 

That sounded ominous, and Sierra decided to leave it alone. She rode on in silence with her father, her eyes constantly on the cattle. 

They drove the cattle down into a large green valley and then up the other side. By late afternoon ,they reached an open field outside the town of Morrisburg. 

“We’ll set up camp here,” her father said. 

Sierra got out of her saddle stiffly and spent a moment rubbing her behind. 

“It gets you right in the kidneys, doesn’t it?” Nate asked as he, too, dismounted and stretched his legs. He bent over forwards, letting his top half hang with his legs straight. “Oh, that is much better.” 

“Really? Does that work?” Sierra asked. 

“It makes me feel better,” Nate said. 

She copied him, and soon the aching in her lower back released, and she felt so much better. 

Cody dismounted, too, and soon, he was also stretching out his sore muscles. “I can’t wait until my backside goes numb. It’ll happen in a couple of days, Sierra, and you’ll see. It’ll be much better. Then you won’t notice all the hours and hours in the saddle.” 

“At least at the ranch, we get to walk around a bit, too,” Nate said, now twisting from side to side. 

“All right, come on! Enough of that!” Sierra’s father called. “Camp isn’t going to set itself up, you know.” 

Sierra, Nate, and Cody nodded, and each went to work. Nate and Cody began to set up tents, one for Sierra and one for her father. The men would share one. Sierra went looking for firewood in the nearby copse of trees. While they were busy, her father stayed in his saddle and kept watch over the cattle. 

The camp soon began to take shape. Soon, three tents were pitched around a little campfire that Sierra had built out of the first lot of wood she’d collected. She set stones around it to keep it from jumping out and burning everything in sight. She filled the kettle and put it on the stones to boil. Then she went to fetch more wood. 

When she came back, Cody was filling the coffee pot with grounds and pouring the hot water in. It would steep a while and then be just right. 

Sierra set to work caring for her horse, rubbing her down, cleaning her hooves, and making sure she was comfortable. Dusty was a good horse, and she needed to be cared for. When she was done, Sierra returned to the fire to find that Cody was making a second pot of coffee. 

“Hey, didn’t you save me some?” she asked, taking in the empty mugs. 

“Did you want some?” Nate asked. “I didn’t hear her saying anything about coffee.” 

“Now, boys, play nice with Sierra,” her father said, sipping his coffee. “Cody, would you be so gentlemanly as to give my daughter her coffee?” 

A mug was pulled from a stone close to the fire. 

“We kept it warm for you,” Cody said, handing it to her. 

Sierra balked. “Sorry. Thanks for this.” She sipped it and took a seat by the fire. It felt wonderful to rest. 


“Ah, is that coffee I smell?” a voice said. 

“Ethan!” Lonnie said, standing as the big man, a head taller than he was, came around one of the tents and over to the fire. 

“Lonnie, good to see you and the boys,” Ethan Westwood said. 

Sierra knew him on sight and stood to greet him. He and her father had been friends, then friendly rivals, for a long time. There was an element of mutual respect there, and they seemed to get along every time she saw them together. 

“Mr. Westwood,” Sierra said, holding out her hand to him. “It’s good to see you.” 

He stared at her as though she was something alien. 

“Sierra, what are you doing here? Are you spending a last night here with your Pa before we leave Morrisburg?” Ethan asked. He frowned at her, making his bushy brows knit in the middle of his forehead. 

She shook her head. “No, sir, I’m riding along on the drive.”

Ethan looked from her to her father. “Is that a fact?” he asked. The way he spoke, she could read his disapproval in his tone. He clearly thought this was a terrible idea. “Is it a good idea?” This last he said to Lonnie. 

To his credit, Sierra’s father didn’t blink. “She’s going to inherit the ranch, Ethan,” Lonnie said, the resignation of the fact ringing in his voice. “If she doesn’t go on at least one drive, how will she know what allowances to make? She’s a fine rider and knows how to work with cattle. She won’t be a burden.” 

Ethan nodded. He smiled at Sierra then, and putting an arm around her father’s shoulders, he turned to her. “Say, would you pour us each a coffee?” he asked. “I know I could do with a cup while my boys set up our camp.” 

“Of course,” Sierra said. It was what she was expecting. She poured the coffees and handed them out. 

Ethan’s men thanked her, as did he, and all was well. 

As the evening progressed, more of the ranchers arrived, and Sierra and her father had various versions of the same conversation each time. Should she be there? Was she going to hold them up and cause trouble? And so on and so on. 

Her father put up a good fight and by the time he was done, there wasn’t a man in the camp who would dare speak up against her. 

And that was that. 

Of course, some of the attention was taken from her when Ben Rawlins arrived with two Cherokee in tow. They were soon the talk of the camp. 

Sierra handed out coffee mugs and was glad she was no longer the talk of the camp. 

Now, was that all of them? Had everyone had their welcome coffee? She counted, watching the men moving around the camp, which had grown as each group arrived. 

“Excuse me,” a man said. 

Sierra stopped her count and turned to find a stranger standing in front of her. He was quite a handsome stranger, and she was momentarily derailed. 

“So very blue,” she said, staring at the man’s eyes. 

“Pardon?” he asked. 

Sierra hurriedly got herself under control. “Can I help you?” 

“I was wondering if we could just help ourselves to coffee,” he said. 

Sierra looked from him to the coffee pot and back again. Then she hastily picked up a mug and poured the coffee spilling a good amount. She handed it to him. 

“If you want more you can help yourself,” she said and hurried off to her tent where she meant to hide for a while. 

What a day she was having. 

Chapter Two

Jason regarded Sierra as he set up his sleeping area. She had hurried to a tent after handing him his coffee, and it had taken her a few minutes to reemerge. Now, at the campfire talking to some other men, Jason wondered what she was doing there. 

It was a brief consideration, though, as he had to get himself sorted out. He would be sleeping, as most of the men would be, under the stars with a blanket to keep off the chill. A warm hotel room with a soft bed and a cooked breakfast in the morning that didn’t consist of beans on bread would be preferable, but in Jason’s line of work, he seemed to spend more time roughing it than sleeping in comfort. 

With his bedroll down and ready, he turned his attention to the fire again. The woman could prove to be a problem. They always did.

He had heard the men talking, and despite the protestations to the contrary, that she was capable and good on a horse, she was female and would get in the way if the manure hit the windmill. And Jason was counting on it hitting said windmill. 

He had heard that this party of ranchers had fought off a lot of bandits in their time. It seemed to be a safe bet that if there was going to be some action, it would be here, with these folks. 

At least that was what people were saying. And Jason listened to stories told around the campfires of the region because when you were looking for an outlaw, the best way to find them was through the tales told. Stories had a habit of leading him to paydays and he really liked those. 

“Why are you staring at Sierra?” Tyler Mitchell asked as he spread out his blanket, too. “You know you can get yourself into big trouble doing that.” 

“For looking?” Jason asked. 

“Since you’re new around here and you haven’t been riding with Abe Monroe long, I’ll give you some advice,” Tyler said, sagely leaning close to Jason. “Sierra is Lonnie’s only child and heir. She’s been hanging around for years. Just pretend she’s one of the guys, okay?” 

“Got it,” Jason said.”

“I was just thinking that this is no place for a woman. Am I wrong?” 

Tyler sighed. He rubbed his stubbled chin. “You’re not wrong,” he said. “But then she’s not really all that much of a woman. I heard she can’t sew or keep a house. Old Lonnie over there didn’t get a woman in to teach her how to do that stuff when her mama died. So, Sierra was raised like a boy. She’s this strange mixture of a creature.” He looked around furtively. “Listen, don’t go rocking the boat. It’s real easy to get fired, and all the old men, they like Sierra. Plus, she has a mean boot on her.” 

“She does?” Jason asked. 

“Yeah,” Tyler said. “Eli said something to her one time that she didn’t like. He was walking funny for three days.” 

“It was two, and all I said to her was that she should be in the kitchen baking or something, and she kicked me in the cajónes,” Eli said. 

“For that?” Jason asked. 

“No, I made a pass at her, too,” Eli said with a broad grin. He chuckled. “Come on, you can’t blame me. She’s pretty enough to look at. I mean those green eyes and that flaming hair. I thought maybe she’d be open to exploring our feelings.” He cleared his throat and lay back on his bedroll. “She wasn’t.” 

Maybe she wouldn’t get in the way after all. 

“Can she shoot?” Jason asked. 

Both Tyler and Eli exchanged looks and then nodded. 

“The fleas off a dog at thirty paces,” Tyler said, a note of both awe and disdain in his voice. 

Jason nodded. “Right, so definitely not to be messed with.” 

“Definitely,” Tyler said. 

“And her old man loves her more than his cattle,” Eli said. “So, don’t go getting on her bad side, or daddy might step in. And then you’ll have a world of trouble.” 

Jason considered that. “I guess she’s coming along.” 

“Ain’t no stopping her,” Tyler said. He also lay down and closed his eyes. “You’d better get some shut-eye. We’ve got the graveyard shift.” 

Jason sighed. “Great.” 

The graveyard shift was the worst. It was from around two in the morning and made the next day very long because when everyone rose, feeling fresh, those on the last watch were starting to want to drift off. Especially if they hadn’t slept before the early rise. 

With a stomach full of stew, Jason lay down. He really hoped that his information was correct, that Pike would strike this convoy, these ranchers, and that Jason would be able to catch him doing it. 

“Hey, you fellows hear of any bandits in the area?” Jason asked. It couldn’t hurt to hear what his fellow cowboys had heard on the matter if anything. “Any cattle rustlers around?” 

Tyler snorted. “As though we’d know.” 

“It’s not like they advertise,” Eli said. “They don’t take out an advertisement in the paper saying something like, ‘Want your cattle stolen? Contact Bob at the Winding Creek.’” 

He and Tyler laughed. 

“True,” Jason said as he settled back. 

“Why do you ask?” Tyler asked after a moment’s silence. 

“Oh, I was just wondering why we had to have such strict watches,” Jason said. “I mean, we’re practically right on top of your local town. Surely, we’re safe enough here.” 

Tyler shrugged, and Eli shook his head. 

“Well, Abe always says that surprises are only surprises because you didn’t see ‘em comin’,” Eli said. 

It was practically the definition of a surprise—something one didn’t see coming. Still, it made a kind of sense when considering that cattle rustlers were fond of picking off cattle during the night. Leading the trusting beasts away from their owners and changing the brand on their skin quickly was a common practice that left most law officers with not much to go on. 

Hence the wealth of bounties for those men. Pike was a particularly smart rustler. Where possible, Jason had heard all kinds of stories of how he seemed to have preternatural knowledge about the goings on in the rancher’s camp. That meant that he had eyes on the camps he targeted. What Jason had to work out was how he did it. Did he track them over miles and miles of terrain that was often open with no cover? 

It was a mystery, and one that Jason meant to solve. 


He was shaken awake and sat up with his pistol in his hand before he came to his senses. A vague dream of skating with a girl on a lake lingered in his mind but was quickly replaced by Eli’s grinning face. 

“Come on, Jace,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “You’re pretty enough.” 

“What?” Jason asked, and he sniffed and spat onto the grass. “What are you talking about?” 

“You don’t need more sleep,” Tyler said. “Eli, it’s too early, and we need coffee before you start with your ridiculous jokes.” 

Eli grinned. He had a very round head, like a ball. Jason felt a fleeting urge to kick it. The dream had been part memory, part fantasy, and he couldn’t quite shake it or recall it fully. It hovered over his brow like a light morning mist. 

He stood, hearing his joints pop, especially his neck, and then he was ready. He drank some water from his skin and rolled up his bed roll. Then he followed Eli and Tyler, both clutching coffee mugs, out into the field. 

The world was bathed in the light of a full moon that had risen after Jason went to sleep and was still hovering in the sky. He liked the look of the world by moonlight. It was eerie and somehow far more peaceful than the harsh, bright light of day. Day showed all the blemishes on the soul, while night, with its gentle moonlight, was so much kinder. 

Ben’s two Cherokee men came walking by them. The younger of the two smiled, his white teeth gleaming in the light. 

“There’s a coyote out there,” he said. “He’s been calling, but so far, his pack hasn’t answered.” 

Jason nodded. “We’ll keep an eye out.” 

The boy nodded. His brother said something to him, and Jason, who knew a smattering of their language, caught a word or two. It was something about not talking too much. Ah, so Wohali was more jaded. Well, it happened. Age brought a certain amount of wisdom with it, and keeping one’s mouth shut was always good advice. Although the comment about the lone coyote was innocuous enough and possibly something helpful. 

Jason considered Wohali’s response as he followed Eli and Tyler out to the cattle. 

Jason took up his station on a handy stump. It was about waist high, and from the top of it, he could see well enough around them. The cattle were roped off in an area between four trees that allowed them some movement but not much. There were a good two hundred there. 

Abe had brought about eighty beasts with him. So, if the other two ranchers had done roughly the same, then there were about two hundred beasts here. That was a lot of money on the hoof. Was it enough to lure Pike out, though? 

There were no guarantees. 

Jason had rolled the dice by joining the convoy officially as a hired gun. He had thrown in his lot, figuring it would be easier to watch for Pike from the inside than the outside. Also, folks got a mite jittery about other folks following them all the way from Oklahoma to Kansas. Especially with this much money at stake. 

Playing this role, Jason could be in the thick of things and only have to break cover when Pike reared his head. Assuming that he did, and he wasn’t off in Texas or Montana or somewhere robbing folks blind there. 

Time passed slowly. The coyote called and called but no one replied, and he gave up somewhere around dawn. Nothing happened except that Jason got stiff and cold and bored. Tyler walked by from time to time and stopped for a chat, but other than that, it was dull. 

The cattle slept .and nothing disturbed them. 

By six o’clock, the camp was being dismantled, breakfast eaten quickly, and horses were being saddled. They would be heading out soon. 

Relieved from his tedious watch, Jason went to get a mug of coffee from the fire before everything was packed up. 

There was Sierra again, handing out mugs of coffee. 

“Morning,” Jason said, with a polite nod as he accepted a mug. 

She eyed him coldly. Clearly, his misstep from the night before hadn’t been forgiven and forgotten. “Morning.” 

“Thanks for the coffee,” he said. 

She nodded. “You came just in time. I was about to pack it all up.” 

“Well, I’m a lucky man,” Jason said with a grin. 

She didn’t so much as blink. 

He drank the tepid coffee quickly, more for the kick it would give him to get him to stop feeling like he hadn’t slept all night than the enjoyment, and he handed the cup back to her. She took it and turned from him. 

“I can’t help but think we got off on the wrong foot,” Jason said. 

“You got that right,” Sierra said, packing up her things. 

“Can we start over?” Jason asked. 

She turned back to face him. Her expression was stern. She was every bit as pretty as Eli and Tyler said, and her green eyes were like chips of jade. Her red hair held hints of fire in it. 

“Look,” she said, “I’m not here to make friends, or find myself a husband, or any of that nonsense. I’m here to drive the cattle to Kansas, and that’s it. So, whether we’re friends or not, I really don’t care. It’s not important to me. Only getting the cattle to market matters.” 

Jason nodded. “Got it,” he said and turned to leave. A moment later, he turned back to her. “You didn’t say that you were averse to getting new colleagues. So, let’s be that. Then we can at least converse in a cordial manner without glaring at each other.” 

She considered this and nodded. “Colleagues it is.” She held out her hand. “But only once you apologize for assuming things.” 

Jason considered her words and then nodded. “I apologize for assuming that you’re nothing but a useless woman.” He grasped her hand and found that she held his firmly without flinching or going limp as so many did. Her frank and open gaze garnered a smidgeon of respect from him. She wasn’t one to back down. That was good. 

“Accepted,” she said. “Now you’d better go and pack. Abe looks ready to ride. 

Jason turned and saw that his employer was already in his saddle and looking eager to get going. He smiled and hurried off. 

The camp was dismantled, and everyone was in their saddles quickly, and the day’s ride began. It was slow going with the cattle. Jason soon found that the beasts were prone to wandering off, stopping and chewing grass for ages, and generally never doing what anyone wanted them to do when they wanted the beasts to do it. 

Despite their slow pace, the convoy soon left the town of Morrisburg behind and set off across the open plains.

Jason and the other cowboys had to ride at different sections of the herd, keeping the beasts in line. 

They were split up into partners, and just his luck, he was partnered with Sierra. She rode beside him, silent and watchful from under the brim of her hat. 

She had an easy seat on her horse that made Jason think she’d been riding for longer than she’d been walking. 

“Stop staring at me,” she said flatly. “I can feel your eyes digging into my back. If you have something to say, then please, just say it.” 

Jason blinked. “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was staring.” 

She turned to look at him, a frown crinkling her brow. “You’re supposed to be watching the cattle, but you didn’t realize that you were looking at me instead? What are you doing here if you’re not going to do your job?” 

“My job,” Jason said, feeling the hours of lost sleep fogging his brain, “is to shoot anyone who tries to steal the cattle. That’s what a hired gun does. So, all this riding and watching cattle business is kind of new to me.” 

Sierra considered this. “And you think I would steal the cattle? You do know that a third of them are technically mine.” 

“No, I know your father owns a third of them,” he said. “I was just wondering if what the men said about you is true.” 

Sierra’s cool expression was instantly replaced with one of bristling curiosity. “What did they say?” 

Jason considered what he should tell her and decided that Eli’s story was probably the right one. “Only that you made sure Eli didn’t walk properly for three days.” 

Sierra chuckled. “He’s been a lot more respectful since then.” 

“So, it’s true?” Jason asked. “And the shooting? Can you really shoot the fleas off a dog at thirty paces?” 

She chuckled again. “Sure. And you? As a hired gun, I should imagine you’re quite impressive with a pistol.” 

Jason nodded. “I’ve been known to hit a target or two.” 

She eyed him. “Maybe we should have a competition sometime.” 

Shrugging, Jason considered the advisability of that. She was the boss’s daughter, and it was never wise to defecate where one ate, so to speak. 

She was waiting with those hard green eyes digging into his soul. She had a way of looking at Jason that seemed to fillet him and lay him bare in front of her. It was as though her eyes were hard shards of jade, and they cut him just by looking in his direction. 

He nodded. “Sure. Anytime.” 

She sighed. “Won’t be for a while, though. We can’t risk spooking the cattle.” 

“As you say,” he said. 

She shook her head. “Are you always this superior and aloof?” 

Was he? Jason shrugged. “I wasn’t trying to be.” 

For a while they said nothing, and he was careful to only look at the cattle and the surrounding area. She was touchy for a tough woman out to make her mark. But perhaps that was the point. She was a woman in a situation that was traditionally ruled by men. It couldn’t be easy. 

A cry rang in the air. 

Jason looked up towards the front of the column where the cry had originated. He couldn’t see what the problem was, but his pulse instantly sped up. Was it Pike, so soon? If it was, he needed to be out there, in the thick of things. 

“I’ll go and take a look,” he said and was about to urge his horse on when the news came back to them, passed from mouth to ear.

“It’s the river,” Travis Bennet, one of Ben’s men, said. 

“What about it?” Sierra demanded. 

“The bridge is gone,” Travis said. “Looks like we won’t be crossing here.” 

Sierra groaned. “That’s an extra day.” 

Travis nodded. “Seems so. Pass it on.” 

She turned in her seat and yelled the information back to Mohe and Wyatt behind them. And so, the information was passed on. 

Jason eased up. His hand had strayed instantly to his holster on his hip. He took it off his gun slowly. 

“Jumpy, are we?” Sierra asked, looking from his eyes to his hand. 

Jason didn’t respond. He was jumpy, and she would be too if she knew who was out there. She would be very jumpy indeed. 

Chapter Three

The bridge at Fordsburg was out. It had been an old, rickety thing made of wood and held together with a promise, so no one should have been surprised; still, it was a surprise that it was gone. 

While her father and the other ranchers had a meeting to discuss what to do next, the cowboys, cattle and Sierra took the opportunity to have a rest. 

It was good to be out of the saddle for a while. Sierra’s rump was a little sore and her legs stiff after the morning ride and she was quite glad to have the opportunity to stretch them. As she did, she went to find Nate and Cody. 

They had been riding up front and might have more of an idea of what was going on than she had. 

She found Nate first. He’d been paired with Wohali and seemed to be somewhat out of sorts. 

“Are you okay, Nate?” Sierra asked, letting her horse drink from the river beside Nate’s. 

“Sure,” he said. “Just enjoying the endless silence with my partner.” 

“I’ll swap you,” Sierra said. “I could do with some silence.” 

Nate looked over at Jason, who was eating a chunk of bread and laughing at something Eli said. “Chatty, is he?” 

“A bit,” she said. “What happened to the bridge?” 

“Don’t know. Ben is sending Peter to find out,” he said. “Not that it makes much difference. If we want to cross, we’ll have to head to where the river is shallower, and the cattle can swim or walk across.” 

“That’s miles out of the way, isn’t it?” she asked. 

Nate nodded. “Add at least another day to the ride.” He eyed her. “How’s the posterior holding up?” 

She chuckled. “I’m getting a little stiff.” 

He chuckled, too. “Nothing beats spending your life in the saddle.” 

“I have,” she protested. 

“Not like this,” Nate said. “This is long days of sitting on your horse and watching cattle do nothing interesting. You might find that being left at home is better.” 

“Then at least I’ll know it for myself,” Sierra said a little hotly. “You wouldn’t like it if it was you that everyone kept trying to convince to stay behind, would you?” 

He shook his head and sighed. “Why don’t you go and talk to your father and find out what he wants us to do? We can always set up camp here. It’s not a bad spot. There’s enough grazing for the herd, and we can head whichever way in the morning.” 

“It’s just gone lunchtime,” Sierra protested. “If we make camp now, it will set a terrible precedent.” 

Eyeing her, Nate sighed. “You are absolutely your father’s daughter.” 

Sierra knew he meant it as a compliment and a slight mixed into a complicated chimera, but she didn’t take offense. Nate was too much like family to get upset with him about something stupid like that. 

Leaving him with her horse, she walked to where the ranchers were having their meeting. They were in the shade of a couple of trees, sitting on stumps and rocks, talking. Her father looked up as she approached and smiled. 

“How are the men?” he asked. 

“Fine,” she said. “Wondering what the plan is.” 

“We head south,” Abe said. “There is a ford not far. We can cross there where the banks are low, and the current is a lot lazier than here.” 

“But then we’re heading in the wrong direction,” Ben said with a huff. “We’ll have to add on a day or two to the journey. We can go north and cross—” 

“Where?” Abe demanded. “If we head north we have to go east for a day as well before reaching your crossing. I know it well, and it will add two days. Heading south is the only option.” 

“But that way isn’t without its dangers,” her father said pointedly. 

“Nothing we can’t handle,” Abe said. “We have enough guns.”

“Can you ever have enough in that situation?” Ben asked. “It’s safer to head north and then east and then catch up with the trail again. It might be a little longer, but so what? We have food, and there’s water the whole way. Let’s rather play it safe and head that way.” 

Sierra hovered, wondering if she should be there to hear them disagreeing. No one had told her to leave, though, and so she stayed. 

“Look,” her father said, “shouldn’t we wait for Peter to come back? He’ll find out what happened to the bridge, and that might impact our choice. I think we should set up camp and let things lie until we know what we are dealing with.” 

“Always the voice of extreme reason,” Abe said to Lonnie with a wry smile. “How do you keep such a level head?” 

Lonnie shrugged. “I try not to let desire run away with me.” 

Abe laughed. “You’ll have to teach me that trick.” 

“Me too,” Ben said. He eyed Sierra. “Would you do us a favor, my dear?” 

She nodded, ignoring the “my dear” and letting it slide. “Of course, Uncle Ben.” 

He smiled. “Please go and spread the word to the men that we’re setting up camp. The horses and cattle can no doubt do with the rest. For the remainder of the journey, we will have to try to make up some time, so they’d better enjoy the leisure time while they have it.” 

Sierra nodded. “I’ll set up a watch.” 

“Good, but my men aren’t on the graveyard today,” Abe said. “Keeping a man on that shift is enough to make anyone grumble.” 

She gave a curt nod and left them. As she walked away, she heard Ben say, “At least she’s agreeable and obedient. It almost makes up for her being female.” 

“Ben!” her father cautioned. He said nothing else, and neither did Ben. 

Sierra hurried off to get the camp set up. She had thought she was prepared for the comments and the looks she was getting, but she hadn’t been. It was tough. She felt like she was a child playing at being an adult, and the men were humoring her. Were they going to let her play at this for a while before sending her home? 

She didn’t think her father would do that, but there was no saying if he could withstand the pressure from the others. And there would be pressure. When things really started to get tough, then having her around would seem to be more like having a millstone around their necks than an extra gun in their pocket, if she let it be that way. However, Sierra hadn’t come into this drive blind, and she had no intention of letting anyone accuse her of being anything but useful and professional. 

With that desire burning in her chest, she strode over to where most of the cowboys were gathered. Only two or three were needed to keep an eye on the cattle when they weren’t on the move. 

“Fellas!” she said, waiting until they stopped talking amongst themselves. “I’ve been talking with my father and the other ranchers, and they want us to make camp here.” 

“What for?” Travis Bennet asked. “There’s plenty of light. We should head north and then east to the next crossing.” 

“They want us to set up camp while Peter finds out what happened to the bridge,” Sierra said. She was starting to feel a bit like a child standing in front of adults, trying to tell them something that they just weren’t going to listen to. “They need to know what happened to the bridge.” 

“Why?” Travis asked. “The bridge is gone. Knowing how won’t bring it back. This is silly.” Others nodded. 

“We have orders,” Sierra said. 

“And we’re not soldiers,” Travis said hotly. “I’m going to speak to Ben. This is ridiculous.” He marched by her, brushing her shoulder with his. 

Sierra took a step to the side to cover the fact that he had knocked her off balance. She didn’t like that at all. What was his problem? 

Nate and Cody walked over to her. 

“There’s a good spot for a camp over here,” Cody said with a kind smile. “Come on, we’ll at least get set up.” 

“We’ll join you,” Tyler said, waving Eli and Jason over. “We were on the graveyard shift, and I could do with a nap.” He yawned. 

Jason nodded at Sierra but said nothing. 

They took their gear from their saddles and went to the spot that Cody had found. It was close to a copse of trees and the river for easy access to water. It was a good spot. 

They set up the tents and started a fire. As Sierra was setting up her tent, Jason came over to her and offered to help. 

“You look like you could use a hand,” he said. 

She eyed him. She couldn’t decide if she liked him or not. He was so…what was the word? She couldn’t think of it, but it wasn’t entirely complimentary. She knew that. 

“I’m fine, thanks,” she said dismissively. 

Jason gave her a look as though she didn’t know what she was talking about and then proceeded to help her anyway. 

“Stop!” she snapped. “I can set up my tent by myself.” 

“Maybe when you’re actually concentrating on it,” he said. “But right now, you’ve got the poles in the wrong way, and the flap is on the bottom. But good luck with that.” He turned to walk away. 

Sierra took stock of what she’d been doing and saw that he was, in fact, correct, and while she was pondering things, she had messed up. That rankled. She swore quietly under her breath. She might have been raised as a man, but she still didn’t like to cuss like one. 

“Do you need some help?” 

It was Mohe. 

Sierra smiled warmly. “Yes,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention, and I seem to have made a mess of setting up my tent.” 

Mohe smiled broadly. “I can help.” 

Somehow, him offering to help her was so much less condescending than the way Jason had. Mohe seemed too eager, as though it was a delight to help her. Jason had been smirking at her, and that wasn’t okay with Sierra. She didn’t want him to think that she couldn’t handle herself. 

Mohe helped Sierra to untangle the mess she’d made, and he did so with a lighthearted manner that had them both chuckling and talking quite freely. 

“What made you join Ben’s crew?” she asked. 

Mohe looked thoughtful and then shrugged. “Work is work, you know?” 

She nodded. Sure, she understood. Work was work, and a body had to take it where it could be found. She was just lucky that her father owned a ranch, and she didn’t have to marry or look for some sort of work. 

They finished with her tent, and Mohe went to find his brother. 

Nate came over then and cocked his head to one side at her. “You like him.” 

“So?” she asked. 

“A little young, isn’t he?” Nate asked. 

“Gosh! Not like that, Nate!” she said, thumping him on the arm. “What is with you? He’s a sweet kid.” 

“Does he know you think of him as a kid?” Nate asked. 

“I’m sure he does,” she said dismissively, hoping that was true. 


It wasn’t long before Peter Holmby returned from Fordsburg with news. It went around the camp like wildfire. In the heavy rains of the previous week, the river had flooded badly and washed the bridge and a whole lot of debris and dirt downstream. 

“There’s no good crossing for cattle for at least ten miles to the south,” Peter said. 

“And to the north?” Ben asked, hope ringing in his voice. 

Peter sighed. “Fifteen miles that way. Sorry, Boss.” 

“Well, south it is then,” Lonnie said with a resigned sigh. “Let’s leave at first light. Round up the cattle and cordon them off. Then everyone had better get some rest. I have a feeling this drive is going to be full of surprises.” 

Sierra was glad that their camp was all set up, and she decided to go for a little walk along the river. It being broad daylight and the cattle being hemmed in by the camp and a ridge on two sides and the river behind them, there was no need to have everyone watching them. 

As she walked along the bank of the river, she could see where the flood water had come up and burst the river’s banks. There were waterweeds, driftwood, and bits of what looked like the wooden bridge, littered all over the place along the bank. And the mud and rocks had a soaked, newly excavated look to them. 

It must have been quite the storm. And to think that only a half day’s ride away was her home, and they hadn’t even had a drop of rain a week ago. Funny how the weather worked. She felt that, at times, it was possible for the clouds to rain on one side of the town and not the other. It was very odd. 

“Should you be out here walking by yourself?” Jason asked. He stepped out of the copse of trees and smiled at her. 

“Why are you following me?” she demanded. 

“I’m not,” he said flatly. “You just happen to be heading the same way I was. I wanted to see for myself what the flood did.” He looked up and down the banks. “It seems it did quite a lot.” 

“Well, it was a flood,” Sierra said. Should she carry on, or should she turn back so that she didn’t have to spend time with Jason? It was bad enough that she had been forced to be with him all morning. But now he was ruining her quiet time. 

“Would you like some company on your walk?” he asked. 

Did she? She shrugged. “It’s a free country. You can walk this way if you want to.” 

He smiled, and she thought he looked quite handsome with that expression on his face. It made him seem more approachable, more likable. 

“It’s okay,” he said. “I can see that you’re enjoying your walk on your own. I’ll go the other way, give you your privacy.” 

“Thanks,” she said. Had she been rude? Should she have let him walk with her? It was only a walk, after all. 

“Well, enjoy your walk,” he said. Turning, he set off the other way. 

Sierra stared at him, all the horrible things she had wanted to call him dying on her lips. He didn’t actually care about her enough to be upset that she didn’t like him. And why should he care? Why did she care that he didn’t care? What was wrong with her? 

She bit her lip, confused and uncertain. How should she deal with this? She should turn and walk away. That was how she should deal with it. She should go back to camp and forget about Jason. He was just another cowboy. 

Granted, he was the best-looking cowboy she’d seen in a long time, but he wasn’t interested in her in any way. And she didn’t want him to be interested in her. She was happy on her own. Like she had told herself a million times, she wasn’t looking for a husband. 

He had stopped walking and turned to look at her. 

“Are you all right?” Jason asked. 

Sierra nodded. 

“Would you like to walk with me?” he asked, and his smile wasn’t snide or mocking this time. 

“Sure,” she said. “There is safety in numbers.” 

He raised his brows. “Is there? Well, I suppose that depends entirely on the numbers, doesn’t it?” 

“What do you mean?” she asked as she reached him. 

“Well, if the number is two, then there isn’t much safety if we were faced with say, ten armed men,” Jason said matter-of-factly. “If it was twenty of us and two of them, well then, that puts things in a different light altogether. So, context matters, don’t you think?” 

She nodded. “You’re not a typical gun for hire, are you?” 

He shrugged. “I suppose not. I was probably educated better than some, but worse than others. Anyway, it doesn’t take a genius to pull a trigger, only nerve and good aim.” 

“Speaking of which,” she said. “We still have a competition to see who is better.” 

He sighed. “And I suppose you would like the challenge now?” 

“Well, who knows when we’ll both be free again,” she said. 

What was she doing? This was insane. 

“All right, let’s go in here, and we can shoot at trees,” Jason said, indicating the copse of trees. They were far away enough from the cattle for the gunshots not to cause alarm, Sierra guessed, and happily followed him into the trees. 

They agreed on which tree they would be aiming for. It was about sixty paces from them and had a knot about halfway up the trunk, unobstructed by branches. It was perfect. They drew their guns and took aim. 

Sierra was about to pull the trigger when Jason put his hand on the gun and forced the barrel down to point at the ground. 

“What are you doing?” she asked with annoyance. 

He put his gun’s barrel to his lips in a gesture for quiet and pointed with his other hand off into the trees. 

Sierra squinted. Had he spotted a deer or something? It wasn’t a deer that Jason had seen. It was a man.

“Love Along the Cattle Trail” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Deep into the Oklahoma frontier, Sierra Cassidy is a force to be reckoned with. Raised to be more cowboy than debutante, with fiery red hair and a spirit as wild as the open prairies, Sierra joins her father on a perilous cattle drive, defying societal norms and her father’s protective instincts. Yet when she crosses paths with the enigmatic gunslinger Jasper, her world is turned upside down, sparking a clash of wills that kindles an unexpected attraction.

Will Sierra find room in her heart for love amidst the trials she must face along the journey?

Jasper Billings, a seasoned gunslinger with a mysterious past, roams the frontier in pursuit of justice and redemption. Tasked with protecting a cattle drive, he finds himself at odds with Sierra, a spirited rancher’s daughter whose stubbornness rivals his own. Despite his initial reluctance to form connections, he grapples with his growing admiration for this woman, whose courage and tenacity ignite a spark within him.

But can he reconcile his dark past with the possibility of a future filled with love and hope?

When captured by Native American rustlers and thrust into a dangerous situation, Sierra and Jasper must set aside their differences and rely on each other to survive. As they confront their captors and unravel the mystery behind their captivity, their fiery exchanges give way to an undeniable chemistry that defies the odds. Will their growing bond and mutual resilience be enough to see them safely through the trials of the frontier? Or will they be doomed along with their blooming romance?

“Love Along the Cattle Trail” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!


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One thought on “Love Along the Cattle Trail (Preview)”

  1. Hello my dears, I hope you were intrigued by the preview of this inspiring love story and you cannot wait to read the rest! Let me know your thoughts here. Thank you kindly! ✨♥️

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