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Authors: Kathie DeNosky

The Rough and Ready Rancher

BOOK: The Rough and Ready Rancher
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She'd Bet Her Best Pair Of Dress Boots That He Could Charm Any Woman Right Out Of Her Garters.

The rancher's wide, muscular shoulders, narrow hips and long, sinewy legs attested to the fact that he kept himself in excellent physical condition. When he'd hauled her out of the corral, he'd moved with the effortless power of a race horse, and she had no doubt about the identity of the “thoroughbred” glaring down at her. His authoritative presence, arrogant stance and dark scowl could only mean one thing. This was none other than Flint McCray, the lord and master of the Rocking M Ranch—her new employer.

And at the moment he looked mad enough to spit nails. It seemed that the handsome cowboy hadn't expected his new horseman to be a filly.

Jenna's smile widened. Time for a showdown!

The Rough and Ready Rancher
KATHIE D
E
NOSKY

Books by Kathie DeNosky

Silhouette Desire

Did You Say Married?!
#1296

The Rough and Ready Rancher
#1355

KATHIE D
E
NOSKY

lives in deep Southern Illinois and enjoys dining out, factory outlet malls, traveling through the southern and southwestern states and collecting Native American pottery. After reading and enjoying Silhouette Desires for many years, she is ecstatic about being able to share her stories with others as a Silhouette author. She often starts her day at 2:00 a.m. so she can write without interruption, before the rest of the family is up and about.

Kathie and her husband, Charlie, have three children. Two are in college and the other is working with special needs children. You may write to Kathie at P.O. Box 2064, Herrin, Il 62948-5264.

To Kathie Brush, who was there when the dream began. To Bonnie and Huntley for encouraging the dream. And to Tina Colombo and Joan Marlow Golan for making the dream come true.

And to Wes Bennett, Braden Rathert and Forrest the Intern Boy. Thanks for the laughter, the encouragement and playing the music that inspires me to write.

One

F
lint McCray stopped thumbing through the papers on his desk to glare at his ranch foreman. “If Adams doesn't show up within the next hour, he's out of a job.”

“Simmer down, Flint.” Brad Henson lowered his lanky frame into a soft, leather armchair. “Cal Reynolds assured me J. J. Adams is the best horse trainer he's ever seen step into a round pen. You know if the guy has Cal's stamp of approval, he should be worth the wait.”

Flint considered Brad's words. Reynolds was one of the most respected quarter horse ranchers in the state of Texas. His word should set Flint's mind at ease, but gut instinct told him something didn't ring true about the whole situation. “If Adams is so good, why haven't I heard of him before now?”

“Let's face it, since you got custody of Ryan you've had more important things on your mind than finding a trainer for that son of a sidewinder you insist on calling a horse.”

Pride and a sense of awe filled Flint at the mention of his son. “Now that I have Ryan, Black Satin's training should be all I have to worry about for a while.”

His expression grave, Brad shook his head. “I don't think so. We got hit again last night.”

“The herd up on Widow's Ridge?” At Brad's tight nod, Flint slammed his ink pen on the desk. “How many this time?”

“Near as I can figure about fifteen head.” Brad hesitated, then squarely met Flint's furious gaze. “You haven't heard the worst. Rocket became one hell of an expensive steer overnight.”

“On Widow's Ridge?”

Brad nodded. “He had help getting there, too. Either that or he's learned to open and close locked gates.”

“Damn!”

“Looks to me like somebody's trying to even a score, Flint.”

“Castrating a twenty-five-thousand dollar bull? No question about it.” Flint leaned back from his desk to rub the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger. “But I'll be damned if I can figure out who it would be or why.”

“Flint, you'd better get down to the barn,” Jed Summers shouted, rushing into the room. “Some kid's shinnied the fence and is standin' smack-dab in the middle of Satin's corral.”

Flint grabbed the wide brim of his black Resistol, jammed it on his head and bolted from the chair. With both men hot on his heels, he covered the distance to the horse barns on the far side of the ranch compound where several of his men had gathered in horrified fascination.

For Flint time stood deathly still, and the air became smothering as the stallion bore down on the slender form inside the corral. Dust swirled where the stallion churned up dirt with his hooves, the beast's intent clear. But to
Flint's amazement, the boy showed no sign of fear and sidestepped the charge at the last possible moment.

Black Satin's blue-black coat gleaming, Flint watched the horse paw the ground and shake his head, preparing to make another pass. Flint felt a moment of hope when the unconcerned youth began a litany of unintelligible words the stallion seemed to consider, appeared to understand. But a muttered curse from one of the men broke the spell, and the horse reared on powerful hind legs, his hooves slashing the air as he screamed his rage.

Besides having a death wish, Flint couldn't imagine what the kid was up to, but he'd seen enough. “Brad, ease around and open the gate,” he ordered, his voice a low monotone. “Jim, you and Tom get your ropes ready. If Satin doesn't go for the pasture when that gate opens, I want a loop on him from each side.” Readying himself, he placed a booted foot on the bottom rail of the fence. “Hold him in a cross-tie long enough for me to get that damned kid out of there.”

When the horse failed to take the freedom the opened gate offered, Flint vaulted the fence and hit the ground running. His arms closed around the slight body at the same moment two ropes settled over the stallion's neck. Tossing the youth over his shoulder, he hauled the kid from the corral.

“What the hell were you doing in there?” he demanded, setting the boy on his feet.

“My job.”

Flint started to berate the kid for pulling such a dangerous stunt, but his voice lodged somewhere between his vocal chords and open mouth when the brim of the lowered hat rose and twinkling, gray eyes locked with his startled gaze. Her unquestionably female lips forming a smile, the woman removed the battered Stetson, and a thick cascade of dark-blond hair fell to her shoulders.

“I'm J. J. Adams,” she said, extending her hand.

Flint felt as if a mule had kicked him right between the eyes. Ignoring the gesture, he allowed his gaze to slide the length of her. The curves disguised by her loose denim jacket suddenly became quite apparent. Firm, round breasts rose and fell with her labored breathing, and her jeans, worn white in certain tantalizing areas, were filled out to perfection.

He shook his head, and his gaze traveled back to her face. Lightly tanned, her cheeks glowed with a naturally rosy blush, making them appear to have been kissed by the sun. The effect was one makeup couldn't achieve—no matter how expensive.

Her soft features and small-boned frame only confirmed what Flint's brain tried to deny: she was a woman all right, and a damned good-looking one.

Jenna clamped her lips tight against a startled gasp at the man's rugged features. He for darned sure wasn't the type to suffer from the lack of female attention. He had a tiny, white scar at the corner of his right eye and a day-old growth of beard shadowed his lean cheeks. A muscle ticked along his firm jaw, but the dark-brown hair hanging low on his forehead seemed to soften his otherwise unhappy demeanor.

She swallowed hard. She would bet her best pair of dress boots that if he ever smiled he could charm a prudish old maid right out of her garters.

His wide, muscular shoulders, narrow hips and long, sinewy legs attested to the fact he kept himself in excellent physical condition. An amused grin played at her lips. When he'd hauled her out of the corral, he'd moved with the effortless power of a racehorse, and she had no doubt about the identity of the “Thoroughbred” glaring down at her. His authoritative presence, arrogant stance and dark scowl could only mean one thing. This was none other than
Flint McCray, the lord and master of the Rocking M Ranch—her new employer. And at the moment he looked mad enough to spit nails.

Jenna's smile widened. Time for the showdown. “I'm your new horse trainer. Sorry I'm late, but Daisy broke down just this side of San Antonio, and the mechanic had a hard time finding a universal joint for a truck of her considerable years.”

He shook his head. “I don't know what kind of scam you're running here, lady, but I'm not buying it.”

When one of the men coughed in an obvious effort to stifle a bout of laughter, her new boss took hold of her elbow and started for the house. “The show's over, boys. Get back to work. I want that herd up on Widow's Ridge moved back down here by headquarters. Brad,
you
come with me.”

Several minutes later they walked into McCray's study. It resembled any number of others she'd had the “privilege” to enter over the past few years. Leather and wood dominated the masculine domain and, without looking, she knew the shelves behind the desk housed books on the cattle industry, horse ranching and animal husbandry. Her gaze drifted to the opposite side of the room where, like most Texas ranches, a leather map of the property with the ranch brand burned into one corner graced the wall above the fireplace.

Nothing out of the ordinary, she decided, frowning in thought. On the mantel, beside the antique clock, sat a glass dome; the diamond necklace inside twinkled from the shaft of late-afternoon sun streaming through the window.

She sat in the empty chair beside the ranch foreman and tried to shrug it off. McCray's life was none of her concern, and his choice of decorations of little or no importance. If he wanted to park a pile of cow patties on his fireplace, it
was his business. But still, she found the delicate jewelry out of place in the otherwise masculine room.

Flint hung his hat on the hook beside the door, then lowered himself into the chair behind his desk. He eyed the woman seated across from him. He was having a devil of a time coming to grips with what had happened when he'd escorted her to the house. On contact, a jolt of electricity as powerful as if he'd grabbed hold of a 220-volt wire had run the length of his arm and exploded in his gut. If he had that kind of reaction just touching her elbow through the layers of her clothing, he wondered, what would happen if his hands roamed the silkiness of her soft skin?

He mentally cursed himself as nine kinds of a fool. The woman was running a scam and, distracted by her looks, he'd almost swallowed the bait.

“Before your face freezes in that awful frown, let me explain,” she said. “I use my initials for business purposes. My full name is Jenna Jo Adams.”

Her serene attitude grated on his nerves. “I'm sure you'll understand I'd like to see some form of identification.”

Her smile accommodating, she took her driver's license from the breast pocket of her jacket and handed it to him.

Examining her ID, Flint shook his head and gave it back. “You couldn't possibly be Adams. He's one of the top trainers in the business. That takes more years of skill than you are old.”

Her smile faded. “I've been working with horses most of my twenty-six years. And I'm good.” She shook her head. “No. I'm not just good. I'm
damned
good.” Raising one perfect brow, she added, “But age isn't the issue here, is it?”

“No.” Flint had to give her credit. She had her share of pluck. But he didn't need a gutsy female with an inflated opinion of herself around. He glanced at the glass dome on the mantel. He'd had enough of that type of woman to last
him a lifetime. No, he needed a horse trainer. “I'd like to thank you for your time and trouble, but after careful consideration, I don't think you'd be suitable for the job.”

Her expression calm, she smiled. “Why don't you just come out and say it, McCray? J. J. Adams isn't a man.”

Glaring back at her, Flint said nothing.

“When I spoke with Mr. Henson a few months ago, my gender didn't seem to be a problem.”

Flint turned his attention to Brad. “You knew my expert trainer was female?”

“No.” Brad's face mirrored his astonishment. “When I talked to Cal, he transferred me to his secretary and she—”

“Mr. Henson, you talked to
me,
and not once did I say I was Cal's secretary.” Her eyes lit with amusement. “When Cal turned the phone over to me, I told you if there were no objections to the fee and requirements listed, you were to have Mr. McCray sign the contract and mail it back in care of the Lazy R.” Turning to Flint, she smiled. “Which you did.”

Flint picked up his copy of the document. “I signed this under the assumption I'd be dealing with a seasoned trainer. You couldn't possibly have the experience it'll take to turn a stallion like Black Satin into a reining horse champion, not to mention the strength to control him.”

“I'm not up to dancing this afternoon, McCray, so let's stop two-stepping around what you're really trying to say. You don't want me training your horse—not for lack of experience or strength which, by the way, I have more than enough of. You're having a problem with the fact that I'm a woman.”

Flint felt his control of the situation slip another notch. “You misrepresented yourself,” he said, waving the contract at her. “I won't deal with anyone who uses deception to get a job.”

“I believe if you'll take another look, you'll find I
haven't deceived you in any way. My fee and what you may expect from my services have been spelled out in great detail.”

“Do part of your
services
include getting yourself killed?” Flint pointed his finger at her. “That stunt you pulled out there was one of the most harebrained I've ever seen.”

“I'll admit my methods are unorthodox, but let me assure you—they work.” She shrugged. “Satin and I were getting along just fine, until you and your men got him excited.”

Jenna could tell her composure grated on the man's nerves. Every point he brought up, she'd been able to shoot down with amazing ease. He was mad as a hornet and itching for a fight, but she refused to take the bait. Flint McCray would just have to get used to the fact that the best man for this job was a woman. Besides, she couldn't afford to start canceling contracts if she ever intended to reach her goal. And she was close. Very close.

“I don't want you training my horse,” McCray said tightly. “Satin is out of championship bloodlines and should have a great future. But after meeting you, I find you could be detrimental to my goals.”

Anger, swift and hot, raced through Jenna. If there was one thing she knew, it was how to turn a high-spirited animal into a top show horse. After all, she'd been a trainer for six years and around horses all her life. “Last year I had a second-place winner at the National Reining Horse Association Futurity, two that took first in similar competitions, and three of this year's top contenders are horses I've trained.”

“You were highly recommended by Cal, Miss Adams. But—”

“But nothing.” She stood, braced her hands on his desk, then leaned forward. “If you had a valid reason for wanting
to cancel the contract, I'd be the first one to rip it up. But you don't. The fact that I'm a woman outside of a round pen or an arena is immaterial. When I step inside, I'm generic. I'm neither man nor woman. I'm a horse trainer. And
that
is all you should be concerned with.”

He rose from his chair to take a similar position on the opposite side of the desk, bringing them nose to nose. “I'm canceling the contract, Miss Adams.”

“The name's Jenna, and you can't. It's ironclad, unless both parties agree on its nullification. And believe me, before I relent, chickens will start giving milk.” Walking to the door, she turned to smile at her enraged employer. “Check with your lawyer,
boss.
I think you'll find I've covered all the bases. Either I get paid for training your horse, or I get paid for doing nothing. Period. It's your choice. But let me remind you, my waiting list has the majority of your competition on it. The only reason I agreed to train your horse exclusively and put you ahead of my other clients was as a personal favor to Cal. Otherwise, a year from now, you'd still be sitting here with an untrained stallion.”

BOOK: The Rough and Ready Rancher
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