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Give the Lady a Ride: a Circle Bar Ranch novel (1)

By Linda W. Yezak

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“Company’s coming!” Chance Davis’s voice rang over the stomping hooves of bawling calves in the holding pen at the Circle Bar Ranch.

Talon Carlson pulled open the head gate and freed a freshly vaccinated steer to allow in another bull calf. He looked where Chance pointed to a white dust cloud rising from the caliche ranch road.

Ears perked and tongues flapping, the border collies tore out of the pens, scattering the calves, and streaked toward a silver Mercedes pulling up the drive. The car slowed to a stop in front of the main house, and two classy-looking women climbed out, a tall brunette and a short blonde. In their high heels and dressy slacks, neither looked suited for a ranch.

Chance rode his bay closer to Talon and tipped back his Co-op Feed cap. “Reckon they’re lost?”

“Don’t know, but I guess I’d better find out.” He dusted off his jeans and strode toward the pipe-rail gate. He called back to Chance in the pen. “Soon as y’all are done here, get the guys to throw some hay in with the culls. Tide ’em over ’til the auction.”

Talon made his way through the maze of fencing and headed toward the ranch house, where the dogs jumped on the ladies as if greeting long lost friends. The two ritzy women pushed at them, shouting "Down!" and "Get off of me!" while they brushed off their fancy britches and scurried onto the front porch.

Nothing like having to shoo away enthusiastic face-lickers to shatter a woman’s snobby appearance.

Talon snapped his fingers at the dogs. “Settle down.”

Oz and Sally dashed back to his side, and he clicked their collars onto dog chains near the fence gate. After a quick pat on the head for each, he strode toward the women who watched him from the porch. They didn’t act lost, but as dressed up as they were, surely they'd landed in the wrong place. The blonde stepped to the edge of the porch as he approached.

“Excuse me, ma’am.” He took off his hat, letting it dangle from his fingers beside his leg. “Something I can help you with?”

The tall brunette twirled her sunglasses and eyed him from head to boots. “He’s a honey.”

The blonde tsked at her friend and extended a manicured hand. “I’m Patricia Talbert, the new owner. And it isn’t necessary to call me ma’am.”

Talon gritted his teeth to keep his mouth from hanging open wider than a dog’s yawn. Jake McAllister–his mentor and surrogate father–had willed the ranch to a stranger? Talon had known to expect a new owner, but he hadn’t expected this. She was no bigger than a new-born heifer and had an accent that reeked of Yankee. No way she could know which was the working end of a cow, much less how to run a ranch.

He reached to shake her hand, then stood back. “Forgive me for asking, ma’am, but do you have proof of ownership?”

She jingled her keyring. “I have the key to the house.”

Talon bowed his head and rubbed the back of his neck, peering up at her from beneath his brows. “Yes, ma’am. So do I. That don’t make me the owner.”

A spark lit her eyes. Tipping up her nose, she moved down to the second step, level with him. “It does make me the owner.”

She glowered at him with sage green eyes and he glared back, tapping his hat brim against his thigh. He didn’t want to back down from this staring contest, but if she really was his new boss, he’d better act accordingly. His lips twisted into the grin he’d practiced in front of the mirror as a kid. The ol’ “aw shucks, ma’am” grin that had conned Jake’s wife, Loretta, out of more than one slice of pie.

“Okay. I’d rather see some papers, but I’ll take your word for it. For now.”
She propped her fists on her hips and narrowed her eyes. “I’ll have the papers to you tomorrow. This afternoon if you insist.”

Stepping up until he was taller than her again, he looked down at her. “Tell ya what. I’ll show you around the place now, and you can bring the papers this afternoon.”

She opened her mouth, then snapped it shut again. When she did speak, her words were civilized. “That’s fair.”

Patricia Talbert liked the outside of the house with its white rock and red cedar facade. The veranda hugged the exterior and invited weary visitors to sit in its shade. From the cedar-planked corner where she stood, she could see the rocking chairs in the front and the big porch swing in the back. Hanging baskets of bougainvillea dripped red and pink flowers from the rafters every few feet. She could see herself wrapped in their sweet scent, holding a glass of lemonade, and rocking on the porch while the sun kissed the earth goodnight.

Once inside the front door though, she cringed. Wallpaper with massive globs of olive green leaves and dusty pink flowers buckled and peeled from the walls. The white linoleum floor had faded to a dull yellow everywhere it wasn’t scuffed bare. Room after room of drab, functional furniture. Plaid draperies parted over grimy windows. Western art of questionable quality adorned the walls. The entire house begged for an interior decorator.

“It’s not too bad.” Marie Lambeau, her best friend and roommate, eyed the kitchen’s gold appliances and stained countertops.

“It’s a bit rough,” Patricia whispered. The cowboy stood at the door behind them like a sentry guarding the palace jewels.

“Well, it’s not like you’re going to use it. You can’t even boil water.” Marie glanced over her shoulder. “Though if you hook up with that dark, handsome novelty over there, you’ll have to learn.”

Patricia leveled a gaze at her friend. “Don’t get ideas about matching me with him. I’m putting this place on the market first thing Monday morning, and he’s not likely to find that endearing.”

Marie held up hands of innocence. “I wouldn’t try to fix you up with anyone.”

“Sure you would.” Patricia laughed. “You can’t help it. It’s what you do.”

At the far end of the narrow kitchen, a door led to a stocked pantry, and another to the laundry room. Back home, Melba had always done the cooking and laundry when Patricia was growing up, and although she’d watched occasionally, domestic chores remained a mystery she didn’t care to solve. If any cooking was done in the apartment they shared in New York, Marie had the honors. A maid cleaned the place once a week, and as for the dirty laundry–that was why cleaners were invented.

She turned to the cowboy. “I’ve seen enough of the house now. Could you show me the books, Mister . . . I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”

Before he could speak, a screen door slammed and a masculine voice shouted,
“Talon! You in here?”

“Kitchen!” he yelled over his shoulder, then delivered a tight-lipped nod to Patricia. “Talon Carlson, ma’am, foreman of the Circle Bar. And I’d like to see your papers before I show you the finances.”

She tilted her head, taking in the thrum of the pulse in his left temple, the angry crease in his brow bisecting the tanline made by his hat. Just who did he think he was? Did he know who she was? She could give him a swift lesson, but then, how impressive would a New York senator’s daughter be in Texas? Judging from the steel in those dark brown eyes, the President of the United States wouldn’t impress him.

The other man entered the room and jerked his cap off his sandy blond head the moment he saw her.

“Excuse me, ma’am, sorry for the interruption.” He locked eyes with Marie, and his neck reddened to his ears.

“What do you need, Chance?” Talon growled.

“Uh . . .” Chance dragged his gaze away from Marie. “Yeah, uh, Bodine’s out again.”

“Good grief.” Talon about-faced and strode out of the kitchen. Chance flashed them a smile then followed, jamming his cap back on his head.

“Who’s Bodine?” Patricia asked Marie.

Marie craned her neck to watch the men exit the house. “Who’s Chance?”


Talon quick-stepped across the gravel drive to the gate in front of the horse barn. Behind the barn, his ancient Quarter horse hobbled around the paddock. The buckskin was supposed to remain confined to his stall until the wound on his left foreleg healed. “How’d he get out this time?”

“Same way he always does. He just opened his stall and left before any of us noticed.” Chance followed Talon through the gate and matched stride with him as they headed for the barn. “Who are those women?”

Talon grabbed a halter from the tack room and a handful of sugar cubes from the coffee stand, then marched out the back. His head still reeled from Jake’s betrayal. He had given the ranch to a total stranger. A woman. A Yankee woman, with polished nails and soft hands.

“You gonna tell me?”

“The blonde’s Patricia Talbert. I didn’t catch the other’s name.”

“Okay. But who are they?”

“Ms. Talbert says she’s the new owner.” The words almost choked him.

Chance halted. “Did I hear you right?”

Talon nodded, not daring to speak. They were closer to the horse now. If Bodine heard anger in Talon’s voice, he’d shy away. Maybe hurt himself worse.
Talon sucked in a breath of spring hay and horsehide and forced his temper down. He had no reason to be angry. He knew this was coming, had known since Jake died a month ago that things were going to change.

He softened his voice for the sake of his horse. “Easy, boy. Out for an afternoon stroll?”

Bodine nickered and shook his dark mane. He limped toward them, stretching his neck to sniff the sugar in Talon’s palm. Talon eased closer and opened his fingers so his old mount could lip up the snack, then slipped the halter over the horse’s ears and rubbed his neck.

Chance held the lead rope as Talon slid his hand down the bandaged foreleg. Bodine’s withers flinched. How he had managed to come out this far was a mystery, but it couldn’t happen again. Not if that leg was to heal. Talon straightened and led the horse on a slow trek to the barn.

Chance joined him, with Bodine between them bobbing his head to the beat of their footsteps. “So, Ms. Talbert inherited the place?”

“I guess. I’d like some proof though before I turn her loose with the finances.” But he shouldn’t have been so rude to her when she’d asked. Lord, please forgive him. He knew better than to act like that.

“How did she know the McAllisters?”

“I don’t know, we didn’t get that far. Maybe she’s the kinfolk Jake’s lawyer mentioned. I just wish he’d mentioned she was female. I wouldn’t have been so surprised.” He stopped near the barn’s back entry and tied Bodine’s rope on a rail near a grassy patch. “Guess I was more surprised to learn Jake and Loretta had any living kinfolk.”

“Yeah, me too. I’d just always assumed you’d get the ranch.”

Talon’s lips pursed. He’d also presumed he’d inherit the ranch. Or maybe he’d just dreamed it so hard, he’d lost sense of reality. Jake had always treated him like a son; Talon had always loved and respected the man as a father. When Jake had made him foreman, the dreams began to root.

But the pain of a shattered dream had eased a bit. That Jake would want to give the ranch to a blood relative made sense. Even to a woman who wouldn’t know how to run it. Talon snorted. “We can always hope she’ll be an absentee owner.”

“That’d work.” Chance grinned over Bodine’s back. “Reckon she’ll keep you as boss?”

Talon stared at the grass. Losing his job wasn’t something he’d considered. If he kept spurring the bad side of the new owner, that just might be his fate. He really needed to work on his temper.


As Patricia turned the Mercedes onto the county road, Marie peered out the windshield at the acres of red and brown cattle with their noses deep in the fresh grass and purple vetch. “Where are you going to find a fax machine in this barren country?”

“In town. It isn’t as backward as you think. They have a great little café that makes the best pies in the world. Meringue this high.” Patricia spread her thumb and forefinger four inches apart. She turned left at a blinking light and headed down the blacktop. “But the town has changed a lot since I was here as a kid. It’s livelier.”

Marie lowered her Gucci shades and gawked at her over the rims. “You call this lively? Wake up, woman! You’re from New York!”

“Yeah, I am.” Patricia leaned her left elbow against the car door. “Do you know what dawned on me at the Circle Bar? I’m anonymous in Texas. Even the senator has little influence here.”

Marie shot her a skeptical look. “And this is a good thing?”

“Well, it would be nice to have actual friends and not a just bunch of political junkies wanting to meet my father.” She rolled her eyes over to Marie. “Present company excepted, that is.”

“Oh, c’mon. What makes you think you don’t have actual friends?”

“I have evidence.”

Marie’s eyes narrowed. “Ever since Kent told you he’d married you to get to your father, you’ve questioned every friendship. He really rattled you.”

“Don’t go there.” Patricia bristled at the mention of her late husband–a man who would’ve been her ex-husband if not for a fatal accident five years ago. “I don’t want to talk about him.”

“But he’s the reason you’ve lost faith in yourself, in your ability to judge character.” Marie straightened and twisted in the seat to face her. “Every time you meet new people, his words spring out of nowhere like they just popped out of his mouth yesterday. And they still have the power to slap you down.”

“I said I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Fine.” Marie settled back, but kept her eyes on Patricia. “The point is, you have actual friends. Not everyone you hang out with is involved in politics. Most of them don’t care who your father is.”

“Oh, please! Just last week, Lisa wanted to know if Dad could fix a ticket. Martin wanted me to present an idea for energy conservation. And Vince!” Her left hand shot toward the roof. “He’s aiming to be a state senator and wants Dad’s endorsement.”

Marie’s lips parted in surprise. “When did he decide he wanted to be a senator?”

“Get this. He’s been thinking about it for 'years.' Which makes me wonder if that’s not why Tracie introduced him to me. She wasn’t fixing me up on a blind date. She was fixing him up for a trip to Albany.” She glared out the window. “Sometimes I just want to get away from all of them. I want to hide somewhere. Just say goodbye to New York and start over somewhere else.”

“Where would you go? Here? Do you want to move here?”

“Sure, why not? Cattle are far less complicated creatures to deal with. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.” She turned the car down the town’s short main drag, with its dusty streets and Wild West storefronts.

“Maybe you should move to Texas.” Marie spread her arms wide at the rustic scene beyond the windshield. “Who would want to leave all this?”

Patricia tossed her a dry smile and maneuvered the car past a construction site where one of the stores was getting a facelift, then parked in front of the Chamber of Commerce. “If they don’t have a fax machine here, maybe they can tell us where we can find one.”

They parked the car and approached the chamber’s double doors. Colorful posters on the glass advertised an upcoming Texas Steak Cook-Off. Judging by the snapshots from last year, the annual event was a major one for the small town.

“That might be fun.” Marie bent for a closer look at one of the pictures.

“We won’t be here.”

“I thought you said you might want to stay.”

“I wasn’t serious.” Patricia’s gaze wandered to a rodeo poster on the bottom left panel. The three-day event would start tonight and continue through the weekend. She rapped a knuckle against the glass. “I know we’ll be here for this. Let’s go tonight. It’ll be fun.”

Marie wrinkled her nose. “You must be kidding.”


Talon leaned against a cedar post on the bunkhouse porch with his boots crossed and his thumbs hooked in his front pockets. The faces of the five cowhands in the yard drooped worse than bloodhounds’ muzzles, and he could tell they hadn’t liked what they’d heard so far about the new owner. The two younger men, Jack Billings and Randy Sweeney, studied the ground near Talon’s feet. Frank Simmons stared into the distance and stroked his shaggy, iron-gray mustache. Buster Milligan’s lighter gray brows knit together like two caterpillars dancing the hula.

“I don’t know anything else right now. She was gone by the time I got back from the barn. But let me tell you this . . .” Talon pushed away from the post, set his legs wide, and folded his arms. “You work for this ranch, this brand, regardless of who the owner is. I don’t know where she’s from, but she ain’t from here. She won’t know beans about ranching. And she’d have a hard time replacing this crew. So unless you simply can’t stomach working for a woman, do your job. Just swallow hard and get ’er done.”

“Reckon that’s all we can do.” Buster slid his hat off and wiped his balding head with a blue paisley kerchief. “Not like we have any place to go.”

“Won’t be so bad having a pretty boss for a change.” Frank’s eyes shifted back to Talon from whatever he’d stared at before. “Besides, she may be a plus in our favor. As long as she owns the ranch, she’ll need us. If the Circle Bar’d gone to another rancher with his own crew, might be we’d all lose our jobs. ’Course, if she sells, we might still be out of our jobs.”

Talon hadn’t thought of that, and the realization kicked him like rodeo bronc. He couldn’t imagine working anywhere else, didn’t want to work anywhere else. The Circle Bar was all he’d ever wanted, and the idea she’d sell it out from under them churned in his stomach hotter than jalapeños.

Chance shrugged. “But, like you said, as long as she owns it, she’ll need us. What’ll she know about running a ranch?”


“Nothing. I know absolutely nothing about cattle.” Patricia turned onto the highway and drove back to the Circle Bar. The facsimile of the property deed was folded neatly in her purse, ready for round two with the cowboy. “What was Uncle Jake thinking? I can’t run a ranch.”

“How hard can it be?” Marie waved a dismissive hand. “It’s the same as running any other business.”

“But I don’t run a business. I’m Dad’s social coordinator. There isn’t much in common between the two.”

“Okay, look at it this way. You have a bunch o’ hunks out there that do know how to run a ranch. Just kick back and let them do it.”

“But I’d have to live in Texas. I’d hate living in Texas.”

“Uh-huh. Not one hour ago you were singing the praises of anonymity.”

“Yeah, and not one hour ago, you were making fun of how small the town is. And you’re right. Few restaurants, no clubs, no concert halls–not even a movie theater!”

“And yet you’ve found nothing to complain about other than the ranch house. You have become so indecisive, I barely recognize you.”

Marie had a point. Indecisiveness was another effect of Patricia's failed marriage. The one she didn’t want to think about. “Okay, how’s this? I am going to sell the ranch. Dad needs me for his campaign. I must get back.”


At the sound of gravel pinging against a back fender, Talon rose from the porch rocker at the main house and looked toward the car speeding down the white caliche road.

So they were back. Proof of ownership in hand, no doubt. He hadn’t realized he’d been hanging on to the hope that it was all a big mistake. He remembered his words to the men earlier: Swallow hard. Time for a change in his attitude. He needed to keep his aw-shucks grin handy and his thoughts to himself.

According to the Timex on his wrist, it was four o’clock. She’d barely left him any time this afternoon to move his mind in the direction of his bull ride in tonight’s competition. He wanted his shot at the silver buckle and the thousand dollar purse.

At one time, the prize would’ve been added to the seed money Talon had been saving to bring his plans for this ranch into reality. Things like getting a computer. He’d seen ranch management software that would simplify the record keeping, and he wanted it. But Jake had resisted computers and twenty-first century technology in general. If it hadn’t come equipped with a steering wheel, Jake hadn’t wanted it. His only exceptions had been the phone and TV. Whipping the Circle Bar into the new century had been Talon’s goal–until he realized he would never own the ranch.

The Yankee in that gravel-kicking Mercedes owned it.

The car crunched to a stop in the drive, and the women emerged from it with refined grace. The sun caught Ms. Talbert’s hair, causing it to shine and Talon’s mood to lighten. Ms. Talbert was a cute little thing, trim and petite in her blue slacks and flowered pull-over. Her blonde hair blew in the breeze as soft as the willows by the creek. Frank was right. Maybe it would be good to have a pretty boss for a change. As long as she let him be the foreman.

He slid his grin into place. “Welcome back.”

“Thank you.” Her smile was stiff and reserved, all business. She took her work seriously. He could respect that.

Her friend, a good four inches taller, glanced back at the men in the corral before she marched up the steps and shoved out her hand.

“I didn’t introduce myself earlier. I’m Marie Lambeau.” She marched up the steps and shoved out her hand. “I don’t have a thing to do with this business, I’m just happy to be here.”

He had to smile at her enthusiasm, although she was undoubtedly more interested in meeting Chance than anything else. He’d seen the way she looked at him earlier. Maybe she wanted Talon to hook them up. A little adolescent, but charming just the same.

“I have the deed right here.” Ms. Talbert pulled the papers from her purse. “If it passes your inspection, perhaps you can show me the books now.”

He took the slick folded sheets and opened them. Sure enough. In big, bold, smeared letters. The lady owned the ranch. “Well, good for you, ma’am. The Circle Bar’s a great spread.”

“Thank you. And please don’t call me ma’am.” She climbed the steps and took the deed from him. “Now, the books?”

He held the screen door open, then followed them into the house.

“I’ll be glad to show you the financial side of the business today, but tomorrow would be better. I’ll have a little more time.” At Ms. Talbert’s questioning gaze, he added, “I have to ride tonight, ma’am. I need to be getting myself ready.”

“Ride?” Marie’s warm brown eyes lit up.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m in the rodeo this weekend.”

She stole another peek at the men outside. “Is, um, is anyone else from the ranch riding?”

He swallowed his chuckle at her barely hidden message. “Just Chance and me, ma’am.”

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