Miranda and the ranch hand (domestic discipline romance)

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Miranda and the Ranch Hand

 

By

 

Coleen Singer

 

 

©2010, 2015 by Blushing Books® and Coleen Singer

 

 

 

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Singer, Coleen

Miranda and the Ranch Hand

eBook ISBN: 978-1-60968-169-2

 

 

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Table of Contents:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

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Chapter One

Dylan Wrightman sent his telegram letting his boss know he’d arrived in Austin and was headed out to the Double-R. Since he had no idea yet whom he could trust, it was carefully worded—addressed to “Uncle Tyler,” with no mention of the Texas Rangers. As he mounted his horse, there was no sign of a badge. He was trying to look like just any another ranch hand, but he couldn’t help that he cut a striking figure in a saddle—tall, dark and dangerous.

Silently, he took stock of Austin as he rode slowly through town. It was a quaint town—not nearly as big as Houston, but still thriving and busy. People looked his way—some even nodded a welcome. He imagined that this town was still small enough that people noticed strangers and wondered about them. Especially with the trouble the ranchers were having, a stranger was probably noticed even more now. No doubt he’d be hearing from the local sheriff soon, just a friendly ‘hello and what are doing you in town’ conversation. Unfortunately, he couldn’t even let the sheriff know why he was here—at least not until he had a better idea of who was stealing and killing cattle and horses at the local ranches.

Dylan’s eyes were drawn to Miranda Rollins instantly as she stomped out of the newspaper office. And stomped was definitely the word for it. She was madder than a wet polecat in winter. The fury in her face matched the wild auburn hair that flowed down her back under her wide-brimmed riding hat. She wore a western riding skirt and vest that outlined her tall, shapely figure. This was no delicate Texas rose. She was beautiful, but in a completely natural way, like she was part of this wild, but dangerous landscape. He watched as she balled up a piece of paper in her fist, cursing someone under her breath while she paced back and forth—unsure what to do next, and too angry to make a decision.

Suddenly, she turned and headed out across the road, still completely preoccupied with her anger. Dylan saw the danger she was oblivious to and urged his horse into a run. He scooped up the startled woman onto his horse just seconds before she was trampled by the wagon coming around the corner that never could have stopped in time.

“Put me down, damn it! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Miranda kicked and yelled, but couldn’t get free of Dylan’s vise grip. Dylan’s jaw clenched and his face turned from concern to anger that matched hers.

“I was saving your crazy neck, Miss. Next time, you might want to watch where you’re going, so you don’t end up trampled.” Dylan unceremoniously dropped Miranda to the ground by her horse. Miranda’s biting retort was cut off when John Townsend came running up and grabbed her and swung her around.

“Jeez, Mandy, are you all right? My God, I didn’t even see you. If this man hadn’t whisked you off the road, we would have run right over you.” John was the son of the owner of a neighboring ranch, Towns End. As he turned to thank Dylan, Miranda started to realize the danger she’d been in. She looked over to John’s wagon pulled by the two huge workhorses and the color drained from her face.

Dylan saw her reaction, ignored John for the moment and jumped off his horse. He took her by the arms and forced her to look up at him, “Are you all right?” he asked softly.

Miranda looked up into the deepest blue eyes she’d ever seen and was lost for a moment. His softer touch sent strange shivers through her body, but she attributed it to the shock of realizing she’d almost been killed.

“I… I’m fine,” she whispered, but even she didn’t recognize the weak voice that said it. She broke her gaze at Dylan, shook her head and said in a much firmer voice, “Please, let me go. I’m fine.”

Dylan looked skeptical, but released her. He remained close until he was sure she was steady on her feet. “That was a pretty foolish thing to do—not even looking before you stomped into the road.”

The remark and his patronizing tone brought the color back to Miranda’s cheeks and a flash in her eyes. She stiffly turned her back on Dylan and faced John. “John, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you coming.”

“Hey, I’m just glad you’re all right. Those brothers of yours would have my hide if anything happened to you.” John’s brilliant smile lit up his whole face. “Plus, where am I going to find another date for the barbeque Saturday.”

Miranda smiled back. “John, you’re a gem. Do me a favor, though. Don’t mention this to Marcus or David. You know how they make a fuss over everything—I’ll be explaining myself for a week!” And she thought, probably not sitting comfortably for just as long.

“No problem, I don’t relish the idea of telling your brothers I almost ran over their little sister, anyway. I’ll see you Saturday at the ranch. And Mandy— it’s great to have you back.” John winked at Miranda and turned back to Dylan. “I’m John Townsend, and I’d like to thank you properly for your rescue. If you need work, come out to Towns End ranch, and we’ll find a place for you.”

Dylan took John’s proffered hand. “Dylan Wrightman, and thanks for the offer, but actually I’ve already signed on at one of the ranches around here. The Double-R. Maybe you could direct me there?”

John laughed. “Oh, that’s sweet! Actually, you could just follow Mandy out—” But as they both turned to Miranda, all they saw was the dust kicked up by her stallion. She had mounted and taken off.

“If that brat were my sister, she wouldn’t sit so easily on that horse. She needs a good taste of someone’s hand across her backside,” Dylan said through clenched teeth.

John laughed again. “Wait till you meet her brothers. At least when she was growing up, she was always ending up with a sore behind for some misadventure. And it doesn’t appear that her years back East did much to tame her. By the way, you never got formally introduced. That was Miranda Rollins—youngest of the ‘Double-R’ Rollins. Her older brothers, Marcus and David, run the place. Our ranches border each other.”

Dylan turned back sharply to stare at John—his surprised look gave way to a slight grin. This could be interesting. “Tell me more.”

John was happy to oblige. “Marcus and David have been running the ranch for more than ten years, since their parents were killed trying to save their horses from a barn fire. All three kids were over at our place at the time, and the brothers still feel some guilt over their parents’ deaths. Miranda was only eleven when they passed—she’s almost ten years younger than her brothers. Their aunt wanted her to come out East to upstate New York almost immediately, but they insisted she stay on the ranch where she belonged, and they raised her. She can ride, rope and shoot with the best of them, but you’d never guess it, as protective as they are about her.

“She’s also got an incredible way with the animals, especially the horses. When an animal is hurt, she’s got this sixth sense about what it needs. That’s why, when she turned eighteen, Marcus insisted she go back East to some brand new New York women’s college for culture and training at being a lady. She defied him and somehow managed to become one of the first students at Cornell University’s new vet school. From what she told me—they didn’t even realize they’d admitted a woman till Miss Rollins showed up for class! I guess her aunt tried to turn her into a debutante, but Mandy was just too strong-willed.” John gave a hearty chuckle. “Marcus expected he’d get a ‘lady’ back that he could find a husband for. But Mandy’s still the same wildcat she was when she left... only a little older, and definitely a looker.” John had a wistful look on his face as he made that last comment.

Dylan looked incredulous. “Veterinarians are as scarce as hen’s teeth and you’re telling me that brat is a trained vet? Now I’ve heard it all.”

“Wait till you see her in action—you’ll change your tune. She may never be able to convince the ranchers around here to treat her as their animal doctor, but they still respect her ability. Before she left, she’d trail around after our doc, and somehow she always knew what was ailing almost any critter. She’s been back about a month. The problem is now that she’s got that fancy piece of paper, she wants to be treated like a real vet—and that’s not going to be easy out here. The ranchers just won’t accept a woman that way. And of course we’ve had a lot of trouble lately with cattle and horses being stolen and then mutilated and killed. It’s eating her up that even her own brothers won’t let her near the scenes of the animal killings to help investigate.”

The mention of the animal killings brought Dylan sharply back to reality and his reason for being in Austin. He couldn’t get distracted by Miranda Rollins or anything else. “Thanks for the info, John. I guess I’m going to head out to the ranch now and get to work.”

“Well, even though it would help you out with Marcus and David, if it were me, I wouldn’t mention today’s little rescue. Keep it in your back pocket as something to help keep Mandy in line. It’ll drive her nuts wondering when you’re going to tell her brothers. She knows they have zero tolerance for her putting herself in danger.”

Dylan climbed back up on his horse with a look of bemusement. “Thanks for the advice—I may just do that.”

 

* * *

Miranda came flying back onto the ranch, as if the devil himself were chasing her. She let her stallion, Windfire, run wide open. She loved the wind against her face and the feeling of true freedom a flat out gallop gave her. As she approached the ranch house, she reined the magnificent animal to a canter and headed to the stables. She let him cool down with a walk around the corral, and then unsaddled him and rubbed him down.

As she vigorously brushed down the horse, he nudged her, as if sensing her confused emotions. She looked the horse in the eye and started speaking softly, almost crooning to the huge animal. “Sorry, boy, if I was a little rough… just trying work off some of this nervous energy... or anger... or I don’t know...”

And she didn’t really know what she was feeling. She was still angry that Mr. Jennings at the newspaper wouldn’t take her advertisement. Men were so infuriating! “I’m not going to take your money little lady,” he had said. “No one round here’s going to hire a woman to tend to their animals. Now, Mandy, why don’t you just find yourself a nice husband and settle down—you wait much longer and you’re going to be an old maid!”

She could have wrung the man’s neck right there. She was good with animals, damn it, and she had worked her butt off at Cornell. She always had to prove herself to her male professors and fellow students. There were only five of them in the third class for Cornell’s veterinary medicine program—and they all did everything possible to make her quit. She really thought it would be different when she got home. These people knew her—they knew how good she was with the animals. Hell, they’d asked her for help many times before she went away. Well, she was opening her clinic in the back barn no matter what—they’d come around sooner or later.

Settle down indeed! She wanted nothing to do with a husband, or any man for that matter. She’d had enough of that kind of hurt at school. She was never going to let another guy into her heart again—especially not one who couldn’t respect who and what she was.

Even as those thoughts passed through her mind, she thought of the stranger who had scooped her up in town. Then she felt a whole range of new emotions—anger at his arrogance and the way he dressed her down mixed with a strange thrill at his touch and concern. She sighed. She knew she had been rude leaving like that without even thanking him—but he was so presumptuous and dominating. Hell and damnation! She’d probably have bruises all around her ribcage where he had grabbed her and held her so tight she could hardly breathe. But she also knew she could have been seriously hurt if he hadn’t come along just when he did.

She was brought abruptly out of her reverie by a sharp smack to her backside. “Hey! That hurt!” Rubbing the slight sting out of her butt, she turned to see David grinning.

“Sorry, sis, I couldn’t resist such a tempting target. Besides, you’re going to wear the hide right off that horse if you don’t let up a little with the brush.”

Miranda looked back at Windfire a little sheepishly and realized she was still taking out her emotions on the animal.

“So what’s got you so fired up? I saw you ride in here like you had bandits on your tail.”

“Oh, it’s men. I’d like to get rid of them all!” Miranda spouted, angry all over again.

“Brothers included?” David gave her a smirk.

Miranda laughed at that. “Sometimes! But not today. Today I’m targeting newspapermen, stubborn ranchers and arrogant strangers! Can you believe Mr. Jennings refused to take my ad for the clinic, saying no rancher around here would ever hire a female vet? ‘Go settle down’ he says. Hah!”

Now David was straining to hold back the laughter. He could just imagine how his sister reacted to that. But he knew if he laughed now, there’d be hell to pay. Miranda could tell he was about to burst out laughing—she punched him lightly on the arm. “Oh, so you think it’s funny.” But she was smiling too.

“Come on, sis, lighten up. They’ll come around when they see what miracles you work around here.”

“Yeah, if Marcus ever lets me take full charge of tending to our animals. I think he’s still pissed about vet school.”

“Mandy, he got over that four years ago. He’s as proud of your accomplishment as I am. But, if you don’t watch your language, young lady, the only thing you’re going to get from our big brother is a good spanking.”

“Oh for crying out loud, David, I’m 22-years old. Don’t you think I’m a little old to still be spanked?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re never to old to end up over my knee, Miranda Rollins, and don’t you forget it!”

They whirled around to see Marcus standing in the stables. Miranda looked a little nervous, wondering how long he’d been standing there, but the grin on his face took some of the sting out of his stern tone.

David came to the rescue with a quick change of topic. “Mandy was just telling me Jennings wouldn’t take her ad for the clinic.”

Marcus looked at her with a frown. “Why not?”

“Because a woman belongs barefoot and pregnant out here, not tending to ranchers’ animals,” she responded sarcastically.

“Well, we’re just going to have to change that opinion. Open the clinic out here Mandy, and start with our animals. Word will get around. People know you here—they know your way with animals. They’ll get over their prejudices.”

Mandy threw her arms around her big brother. “Thank you, Marcus! I needed to hear that.”

“Hey, what am I? Chopped liver? Isn’t that basically what I said, too?” David said in mock protest at being ignored. Mandy embraced them both, and they all walked up to the house arm-in-arm. It really was good to be back home on the ranch she loved with the brothers who adored her.

But her jovial mood abruptly ended when she saw Dylan leaning casually against the porch rail with his bedroll at his feet. Mandy groaned inwardly when Marcus said, “Oh, that must be the new ranch hand. Howie says he’s good with horses.” Howie Winger was the ranch foreman and did most of the hiring.

Marcus walked ahead and greeted Dylan. When David and Miranda caught up, he introduced them. “Mandy, David, this is Dylan Wrightman. Dylan, my sister Miranda, and brother David. Mandy also has a special way with the horses, and she’s our own vet. David and I tend to stick to the cattle.”

Mandy figured she’d try to bluff her way through the introduction, “Pleased to meet you Mr. Wrightman, and welcome to the Double-R. I look forward to working with you,” she said in her sweetest possible voice.

Dylan could tell she was seething under all that sweetness, and he was enjoying every minute of it. He gave her a meaningful look, but all he said was, “The pleasure’s mine, Miss Rollins.” Then he brought her hand to his lips for a brief kiss. Miranda practically snatched it away as she felt a bolt of electricity charge up her arm when his lips touched her.

David laughed at the look on her face. “A man who knows how to handle horses and women. This could be interesting. Welcome to our home, Dylan. Come on, I’ll show you to the bunkhouse and stables, and you can get settled in.”

Miranda could feel the blush on her face. “I think I’ll… umm… go check on dinner.” And she rushed into the house. She couldn’t imagine what was the matter with her! She leaned back against the door, annoyed that she was acting like a silly schoolgirl around the new ranch hand. She was completely flustered. Then she shook it off. Maybe she was just afraid that he’d tell her brothers about the near accident in town.

Of all the ranches around Austin, why did he have to end up here? Then she remembered he was going to work the horses. Great, now she’d have to see him everyday. So much for enjoying breaking in the new crop of colts, and the wild Mustangs they had brought down from the canyon!

 

* * *

 

Mandy was up just after the sunrise the next morning, even though she hadn’t slept well. Her dreams had been plagued with visions of deep blue eyes, strong arms and soft words. She was definitely not ready to deal with Dylan. But she knew she’d have to talk to him today. As much as it galled her, she owed him an apology for running off without so much as a thank you. She had acted like a spoiled brat, and she had a feeling Dylan didn’t have much tolerance for that. Truthfully, neither did she, and normally she didn’t act like one, although her brothers might disagree. For some reason, he had brought out the worst in her yesterday. Not to mention her physical reaction to him—somewhere between being struck by lightning and run over by a stampede. That had to stop.

She dressed in the boys’ Levis and shirt she got away with wearing around the ranch. They were practical for ranch work, but she would create a scandal if she ever wore them in town! Pulling on her old boots, she grabbed her hat and headed to the stables. Miranda was determined to figure out exactly what to say to Dylan during her morning ride.

It was the thing she missed most about the ranch while she was back East—riding to the outer boundaries of their land, going as fast as Windfire could take her across the wide-open fields. She loved the early morning, still fresh with the kiss of dew, before the fog lifted and the ranch came to life. This was her time, and she relished every minute of it.

Miranda got to the stables and went to get her saddle and gear from the tack room. She turned around, heading back to Windfire’s stall and ran smack into Dylan, standing like a solid wall in the middle of the stables. She was no slouch, but he towered over her, just like her brothers, and he was all muscle. He reached out to grab her elbow so she didn’t stumble backward, and then went to take her saddle.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you over my gear. I… uh... am usually the only one here at this hour.” There was that flustered voice again! She stepped back, managing to loosen his hold and keep her hold on her saddle. “It’s all right, I can get it. We sort of have a rule around here... ‘You ride ’em—you saddle and groom ’em.”

Dylan threw up his hands in mock surrender. “Never let it be said, I don’t play by the rules. Do you usually ride this early, and by yourself?”

“Of course,” she said, bristling at the implication that she shouldn’t ride alone. “I’ve been riding this ranch since I was four. There’s not a square inch I don’t know.”

“Good, then you can show me around.” With his typical look of bemusement, he headed to get his own saddle before she had a chance to reply.

“Damn!” How could she say no to that—she already owed him one apology for being rude. So much for getting the day off to a good start. She grumbled as she saddled up Windfire. She even considered mounting up and taking off, but immediately dismissed the idea, remembering that she was trying to dispel her brat image. So she walked Windfire out and mounted outside the stable.

She didn’t have to wait long. Dylan was mounted and right behind her minutes later. “We’ll head up to the north pasture.”

“Lead the way.”

Dylan had hoped to explore on his own this morning. He wanted to check out the sites where the dead animals from Rollins Ranch had been found. But he definitely didn’t like the idea of Miranda riding alone this early, with everything that was going on. And he was probably better off with someone who knew the ranch the first few times he went out. He noted Miranda’s stiff seat on her horse and figured she probably wasn’t quite ready to face him alone yet. That made him smile. He also noted the dark shadows under her eyes. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who’d had a restless night.

With both riders preoccupied with their own thoughts, the canter along the trail to the north pasture was quiet. By the time she got to the open pasture, Miranda had relaxed and was ready for a run. She had pretty much forgotten that Dylan was even behind her, and she let Windfire have his head. The great stallion took off like a shot, almost daring Dylan’s mighty beast to follow. Dylan was caught off guard, but his horse accepted the challenge.

Miranda had a good head start, and Windfire was born to run. Dylan urged Black Lightning to give him more speed, but he wasn’t going to catch up. He could hear Miranda’s laughter as she flew across the field, and mistakenly assumed she was laughing at him. By the time he reached the stream where she finally slowed down, he was ready to let her have it. Then she turned and he saw her face.

She looked incredible—like a child at a birthday party. Her eyes sparkled, her smile was brighter than the morning sun and her face was flushed with the excitement of the run. She hadn’t been running away—she’d just been running. It was just her and the horse gobbling up the ground.

She confirmed his assessment with a laugh. “Oops, Dylan, I’m sorry. You were so quiet back there, and I’m used to being alone in the morning. Windfire and I just did what comes naturally when we hit an open field. I forget how fast he is.”

“I hope you don’t ride like that often—you’re likely to break your fool neck!”

Instantly her exhilaration was tempered. “You know, you’re worse than my big brothers. Why is it men always assume I’m helpless just because I’m a woman. Believe it or not, I can take care of myself.”

“Yeah, like yesterday…”

“Listen, about yesterday, I’m actually glad you brought it up.”

“I’ll bet!”

“Dylan, seriously, I shouldn’t have ridden off without at least thanking you for your rescue.”

“No, you shouldn’t have.”

She bristled, but took a deep breath and turned back to look at him. “You’re not going to make this easy, are you?”

“Why should I? You’re the one who acted like a spoiled brat.”

“Fine. I’m sorry I didn’t grovel at your feet in gratitude!” She turned on her heel and marched back to her horse.

“Oh, no, you don’t!” He grabbed her arm and brought her back to him. He had one arm around her waist pulling her to his broad chest. He tipped her chin up with the other. She couldn’t breathe at the closeness, the smell of him, his touch. She knew she should fight his embrace, but she had no will to do it.

“What I should do is blister your butt for being so reckless.”

“You wouldn’t dare—my brothers would kill you.”

“Really? Is that why you were so anxious for your friend Johnnotto tell them what happened? My guess is that’s exactly what they’d do if they found out.”

Miranda knew her blush would give her away, but she couldn’t control the heat in her body, especially at the thought of his threat.

“I thought so. Well, you can relax, I won’t tell them. But let me tell you this, Miranda. If I ever catch you putting yourself in that kind of danger again, I’ll make sure you won’t be able to ride off—in fact you won’t sit a horse for a week!” Then before she knew what was happening he swung her around and delivered three hard smacks to her backside and let her go.

“You… you!” Miranda was so furious, she could barely speak. “You will regret that, Dylan Wrightman!” She practically spit the words at him, and then stalked off to her horse, rubbing her smarting behind. She mounted Windfire with a slight wince and took off.

Dylan chuckled as he leisurely got back on his horse and headed off to check out the scenes of the animal deaths. That brat was going to end up over his knee before this case was over, just as sure as the sun rose and set each day. But he also was disturbed by the fact he wanted to kiss her, almost as much as he wanted to spank her.

 

 

Howie just shook his old head as he watched Miranda and Windfire come flying back toward the stables. He couldn’t help but cringe as she jumped the horse over the fence into the corral. No one was ever going to tame that filly, he thought. He’d been ranch foreman since her parents ran the place, and he’d watched her and her brothers grow up. He breathed a sigh of relief as she finally slowed down and walked Windfire into the stables. She and that horse were made for each other, but they still gave him gray hair.

From twenty feet away he could see the fire in her eyes. It was pretty rare for someone or something to rile up her temper this early. Maybe he’d just wait a while to tell her the news Marcus had given him last night. Somehow he had a feeling she wasn’t going to like answering to someone else on breaking in the new Mustangs.

Miranda unsaddled Windfire and got him feed and water, but she went through the tasks like a raging hornet. Now she knew what people meant when they said they were so angry they saw red. The nerve of that man! Just who did he think he was? And who worked for whom around here! If he manhandled her one more time... she’d shoot him—that’s exactly what she’d do. Miranda stopped at that thought and laughed at herself.

All right, maybe she wouldn’t shoot him, but what was she going to do? She was so confused by her feelings. She was furious that he treated her like a child, but these were no childlike sensations she felt whenever he touched her. She absently rubbed her backside again, wondering how she could feel anything other than fury at this stranger who felt so free to take her in hand.

Normally after her morning ride, Miranda took care of Windfire and then headed to the main house for breakfast with her brothers. But this morning she wanted to avoid their perceptive eyes, not to mention their meddling but lovable housekeeper, Jenna. She needed to focus right now. She needed to work with the horses.

After Windfire was settled, she went down to Greybell’s stall. The mare was with foal and could go into labor anytime. But the foal had not yet turned, and as Miranda laid her gentle hands on the animal, she could tell nothing had changed. “We need to get this little one of yours turned around pretty quick, old girl. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long birthing for both of us.” She spoke softly and soothingly to the horse. Her voice was part of her way, and people who had heard her just an hour ago with Dylan, wouldn’t have believed it was the same voice.

She saw Mickey, Howie’s nephew and one of the horse boys, come in. “Mickey, let’s start with that spooky little red colt this morning. It’s time that one took on a rider’s weight. Bring her out to the corral with the light saddle and bridle. I’ll do her up, but give me a nice long lead to work with.”

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