I stood on the ground at the bottom of three steps leading to the long, wide veranda of the main ranch house and called, "Hallo, the house!"
I had noted the run-down condition of the house as well as the buildings around back... a barn and a lean-to that probably served as a bunkhouse. Either this was a poor hardscrabble rancher or he didn't care how his place looked. Either way, I figured there wasn't much chance of getting a job but I was getting kind of desperate now. I still had some money but if I didn't find a job for the winter, the money wouldn't last long.
Since I had finished the cattle drive at the railhead in Dodge, I had ridden into eastern Colorado, then into the foothills of the mountains, hoping to find work for the winter. And, who knows, maybe something more permanent than a drover of cattle for a living. But now, I had been stopping at every ranch house for the last four days and everybody already had a full crew. I just knew that somewhere somebody had to need another hand.
When a woman appeared at the open door, I swept my hat off my head and looked down. I knew I was not a sight to behold. It had been three days since I crossed a stream where I could take a bath and by now my clothes were dusty and I probably smelled of horse sweat and worse.
"Hello," she said in a sweet tone. The last female voice I had heard was the raspy cough of a two-bit whore in a brothel in Dodge. That was not exactly a lyrical tone either.
"Good afternoon, ma'am. I was wondering if I could speak to the man of the house."
"No, sorry, he's not here right now. Can I help?"
"Well... I was wondering if you needed a hand... ?"
"I don't... well, maybe. Are you a hard worker?"
"Yes, ma'am, I am. I'm good with fences, moving cattle, mending things around the buildings. I know I don't look like much 'cause I just rode in from Dodge after a cattle drive but I can do anything you need done."
"Well, you might not like everything that's going on around here. Are you any good with that Colt?"
My hand automatically went to the revolver in the holster on my right hip. "Yes, ma'am, I know how to use it."
"Well, there are some people around here who want to push us off this land. They don't mind cutting our cows or pulling down our fences or shooting our hands. So you probably don't want to stay here."
"Ma'am, if you've got work, I'd like the job. I'm loyal and if that means fighting for my boss's rights, then so be it."
"Oh, yes? Hmm, well, we don't have much to pay but, if you're willing to work, we'll give you a chance."
"Thank you, ma'am. I'll do my best to see that you don't regret it. My name's Dancer... Allan Dancer."
"Well, Mr. Dancer, you can move into the bunk house out back. There's nobody else in there right now so it will need some cleaning. My daughter and I will be out in just a few minutes to take care of it. My name is Mrs. Thompson... Lottie Thompson... and my daughter is Nettie. I've got a son who's out back right now. His name is Jackson but we all call him Jack. You'll eat dinner with us at 6 o'clock. Welcome, Mr. Dancer."
She turned back into the house, the conversation over. I picked up my horse's reins and headed around back, grateful for a place to hang my hat for a while.
The bunkhouse was very dusty, indicating that it hadn't had much use for quite a while. I picked up a broom right inside the door and started sweeping but I had just gotten started when Mrs. Thompson knocked on the door.
"Come in," I called. She was followed by a flaxen-haired young woman that I would have considered being a beauty in any setting, let alone out here in this sparsely settled land. I found out later that she was 19 but I would have guessed that she was at least in her twenties.
"Here, let me have that," Mrs. Thompson said, taking the broom from my hands. Nettie... at least I assumed it was her daughter... had brought cloths for dusting and they fell to work while I took a look at the broken-down bunks. At Mrs. Thompson's direction, I went to the barn and found a hammer and nails and soon had the bunks back in usable shape. They had turned the corn-shuck mattress and smoothed it out, then covered it with some blankets for padding and covers. It wasn't much but it would be a lot better than camping out on the wind-blown prairie.
After the women had returned to the house with my thanks, I checked out the pot-bellied stove in the middle of the room. I wouldn't need it for heat for a few more weeks but I would use it for making coffee.
I didn't meet Jack until dinner. He was a very active, tow-headed twelve-year-old with a great sense of humor and an equal respect for his mother. I noted that Mr. Thompson still had not returned and, over a hot peach cobbler, I asked when she expected him to be back.
"I think he'll be home any day now, Mr. Dancer. He's been gone a little longer than he expected."
I noticed that both kids ducked their heads and wondered about it. I said, "I was thinking that tomorrow I should start riding the fences and see what the condition of the cattle is. Would that be a reasonable plan?"
"That would be a good plan, Mr. Dancer. How many days do you expect to be gone?"
"Well, from what you told me about the boundaries, I would guess three days if the fences are not too bad. If there are a lot of breaks, it will probably take longer."
"Okay. I'll have a pack of food and coffee for you in the morning."
"Thank you. Goodnight, ma'am... Nettie... Jack."
I turned in, knowing my internal clock would get me up before dawn tomorrow.
It didn't take me long to pack what I needed: a bedroll, coffee pot and utensils in one saddlebag and, as promised, the food that Mrs. Thompson brought out to me as I was loading up. It went in the other saddlebag. I packed a tow sack with a coil of wire, wire cutters, and a wire stretcher and tied it over my saddle horn before mounting up.
Tipping my hat to the lady, I said, "I'll see you in three or four days, I 'spect, ma'am."
"Take care, Mr. Dance. And do be careful, please. We want you to come back safely."
"I will, ma'am," I replied, kneeing my horse out into the breaking light.
Three hours of riding along the eastern edge of the ranch brought me to the first break. It looked like a single post had been roped and pulled to the ground, leaving an opening about 20 feet wide. Checking for tracks, I found those of a single horse, probably not more than two days old, but no recent cattle tracks so maybe no harm was done.
I got the post set back in the ground and tamped down, spliced the three strands of barbed wire with the patching wire I had brought and then headed on down the line. Again in mid-afternoon, I found another break where the fence had been cut and two posts pulled down. There were tracks indicating that six or seven cows had been driven through the break and then left to scatter.
I rode through the break and after a half-hour had rounded up six cows with the Running-T brand. I herded them back through the break and then mended the fence. I still had an hour of daylight left so I rode on before making camp just after sundown.
The next day was about the same. I mended three breaks but found no missing cattle. Then on the third day about mid-morning, I came across a huge break and the tracks looked like 30 or 40 head of cattle had been driven through the gap. I pulled my rifle out of the scabbard and lay it across the saddle in front of me, then rode through the gap looking for the cows. There were quite a few carrying the R-Bar-S brand and the Running T cows had been interspersed with them.
I started cutting out the Thompson's cows, heading them back toward the break, when a cowboy rode up. He shouted, "Hey! You don't belong here. Get off this ranch. Leave our cows alone."
I turned to face him. "Some of these cows are Thompson's. I'm taking 'em. You wanna stop me, have a try. Otherwise, leave me alone."
I don't think he liked the look of my hand near my Colt. He reined around and headed back the way he'd come and I went back to cutting cattle. I found 37 head of Running T's and got them back on home grass, then set about mending the long break. It was growing dark by the time I had finished.
The fourth day I found only one small break and no missing cattle so I wound up riding back into the ranch yard just before sundown. Jack came busting out of the back door to greet me and talked a mile-a-minute while I hung my tack and curried my horse, then fed him a scoop of oats for doing a good job.
By the time I had washed up, the family had long finished dinner but the missus had warmed up plenty of leftovers for me and it was scrumptious, since I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast that morning. She asked me to give a report of the conditions I'd found so I told her about the breaks and getting them repaired and pushing the cattle back onto their property.
I asked if she'd heard from Mr. Thompson and she dropped her head.
"Mr. Dancer, I'm afraid I've misled you. Mr. Thompson left three years ago last spring. He was always very punctual so... not having heard from him in more than three years, I seriously doubt if he's coming home. We'll probably never know what happened to him but... I know if he could, he would contact us. So... I'm quite sure he must be dead. Unfortunately that means that I'm left with all the work around here and I'm not all that good at some of it." She stopped and ducked her head. After a few moments, she looked at me and continued, but with tears in her eyes. "I know I hired you under false pretenses, Mr. Dancer, and if you want to leave, I'll pay you for your time and you can go."
"Why, ma'am, why would I want to leave? It don't matter to me if I have a man or a woman boss, just so long as it's an honest job. And you got work that needs to be done. No, I'll stay, thank you, ma'am."
The next day, I got directions to the three watering holes on the ranch and rode out to check on them. The first was kept pretty clean by a running stream but the second and third were shallow wells dug my Mr. Thompson and fed by hand-built windmills. First the troughs needed to be cleaned out so I took care of that, then climbed up on the windmills and greased the moving parts so they would work better... and silence their infernal squeaking.
Back at the barn, I checked the supply of hay for winter feed and found it woefully low. For the next several days, I hitched a team to the mower and cut a number of acres of tall grass, raking it into windrows for drying. I had been surprised to find that Mr. Thompson had one of the new-fangled bailers that mashed the hay into rectangular cubes and tied it up with twine. I didn't have any experience running such a contraption but figured I could learn.
At the dinner table, although we still used proper names, it began to feel like I was part of the family. They seemed eager to include me in their conversations and I talked to them about the work I was doing and had planned for the near future. Jack was especially eager and spent a lot of time near me when I was around the ranch yard. I was amused with his sense of humor and even his agreeableness for taking on small jobs if I gave them to him.
Nettie was very friendly and even sometimes came out to the barn when I was working there. She'd stand around watching or sometimes struck up a conversation, although I had a bit of a problem putting words into intelligent thoughts when a pretty girl was involved. I guess no small part of my reticence was caused by occasional glimpses I got of her shapely figure or its shadow when the sun's rays from behind her almost made her dress seem to disappear. Those were times when I frequently had to change my tasks to work in a stall or behind a pile of hay to keep from showing my true feelings for her.
Miz Thompson always made it a practice to bring me lunch if I was anywhere near the house. I told her that she didn't need to go to so much trouble but she brushed my protests aside and continued to bring me hot lunches and a pot of fresh coffee. Some days she joined me by drinking a cup of coffee and every day she came out, she would sit and talk with me until I was finished. It was obvious that she was lonesome with Mr. Thompson gone.
I would have liked to comfort her somehow but didn't know how. She was, like her daughter a beautiful woman, in some ways even more so because of her maturity, although the stress of holding her family together and keeping the ranch going showed up in little lines by her eyes. I suspected she had cried herself to sleep many nights.
While the hay was drying, Miz Thompson asked if I would mind making a trip to town to buy some supplies we'd need for the winter. She told me that the town of Salida was about 22 miles to the west, not an easy trip since there were no roads until the last 6 miles or so. I'd have to ford the Arkansas River and a couple of smaller creeks but at this time of the year, none of them should be major problems.
Before dawn, I hitched a team to the old wagon (I had applied a large helping of axle grease to each of the hubs the day before), picked up the list from Mrs. Thompson right after breakfast, and headed for town. The list wasn't long, just things that they could not produce on the ranch, like flour and spices for canning. Miz Thompson and the kids had plowed a sizeable garden and worked together to can a lot of food for the winter... I had been down to the big root cellar under the main house and was amazed at the number of jars full of food.
It was late afternoon when I arrived and I went directly to the general store and began collecting items on Miz Thompson's list. Two hundred-pound sacks of flour, a sack of sugar, a small package of salt, and a hundred-pound bag of coffee beans. I brought in two five-gallon cans and filled them with coal oil... I noticed they'd started calling it kerosene... for lamp use. Miz Thompson asked for a bolt of cloth to do some sewing so the owner picked out a pretty blue material for me. Out of my own money, I had the store owner put together a bag with 4 bits worth of penny candy.
By the time I finished, it was too late to start back home so I turned out the horses in the livery stable's lot after parking the buckboard. I walked to a café and had a nice meal. Although I didn't drink a lot, I thought a nice after-dinner drink would be a good way to wind down the evening so I picked from among the several saloons and bellied up to the end of the bar.
The bartender poured me a sample of what was probably his worst whiskey and I just shook my head. He laughed, dumped it back in the bottle, and poured me a shot of a better brand. As I sipped, I checked out the other patrons, mostly cowpunchers like me but with a few who were dressed a little nicer, either townies or ranch owners probably.
Normally I don't eavesdrop on others' conversation but I heard snatches of a chat at a table near my side. I heard, "... somebody from Thompson's, don't know... busted fences been mended and... don't see how she kin stay... "
Hm. These must be part of the group causing Miz Thompson so much grief. I walked outside and checked the horses along the hitching post and sure enough there were a passel of them with the R-Bar-S brand. Well, I was beginning to build a rogues' gallery in my mind.
I was thinking about getting a room at the hotel when I spotted a sign at an emporium called Mama's Tubs with another sign that advertised hot baths. It had been so long since I'd had a hot bath I decided to partake of one.
I guess I should have suspected it but the place was a brothel that just happened to sell baths. When I saw all those sweet ladies, I realized how many months it had been since I'd spent any intimate time with a woman. The way it worked, I picked a lady to fix my bath, paid the madam 4 bits for the bath, a dollar for the room and anything else I wanted later, I could deal with the lady.
I picked a pretty brunette who appeared to be a bit older than me... I'm not good at judging ages but would guess she was about 40... because she had a ready smile, good legs and what appeared to be a very full bosom. She led me up the stairs to the room at the end of the hall.
Inside was a bed pushed against the side wall and a big brass bathtub sitting in the open space. The woman said, "Get comfortable and get your clothes off while I get the water."
She went just outside the door where I'd seen a stove with a couple of five-gallon cans of water were heating. I was in the middle of undressing when she came back with the first bucket and dumped it into the tub. By the time she'd poured enough cold water in to bring the temperature down to where I could stand it, I was naked and holding my hat over my privates.
As she knelt by the tub and swished a bar of soap in the still steaming water, she said, "Honey, you might as well put that hat on the bed. Sooner or later, I'm gonna see what you got there anyway."
Bashfully, I tossed the hat on the bed and stepped into the tub. I was a little surprised when she took off her two-piece top, letting her very large breasts into the steaming aura around the tub. But then she leaned in, grabbed the bar of soap and began scrubbing my back. She worked down my left arm and along the left side of my chest, worked her way down my left leg all the way to my foot. Then she moved around to the other side of the tub, her pendulous breasts swinging with each step, and settled down to repeat the process on my right side.
When she had finished with my foot, she moved back to the middle and began rubbing the soap around my balls, finally concentrating on my cock. It was just a bath but, man, I had never had a bath so good.
The lady finally asked if I'd like any other services and I asked about what it would cost for her night's companionship. She thought a while, asked me how much activity I thought I might be up for and she settled on two dollars. I told her it was a deal and asked her to join me before the water got cold. She dropped her fluffy pants and climbed in, easing herself down around my raging, throbbing cock.
Since she was going to stay all night, we weren't in a hurry. She leaned forward and I captured her swinging titties, bringing first one and then the other to my mouth, sucking her hard nipples forever. I finally pulled her down to lie on my chest and simply hugged her to myself, luxuriating in the feeling of a soft, curvy woman against my hard, scarred body.
When the water began to get cool, we got out and she dried me off... the first time in my memory that someone had done that. Laughing, I helped her dry off, probably more of a hindrance than anything else. Then we got in bed and she began working on my cock and balls with her mouth and talented fingers. I blew my load into her mouth and was surprised that she sucked down every drop of my cum.
It wasn't long before she had me stiff and ready again and I rolled on top of her, swimming slow strokes in her pussy while my mouth devoured her big tasty titties and toyed with her mouth. In the next few hours we kept the bed rocking most of the time as we fucked in just about every position I could think of and some new ones that she taught me. She even let me fuck her tight ass hole, which was a first time for me... a really mind-blowing experience.
Without a minute's sleep, I got up with the first light of dawn out of the east, paid the lady her two dollars plus a three-dollar tip... which earned me another fifteen minutes of kissing and hugging and sucking on my now-limp dick.
I stopped in at the café for a quick breakfast of sausage, eggs, and flapjacks, then went to the livery and hooked up my team. I was on the road home just after sun-up and rolled into the yard by mid-afternoon. I knew immediately that something was wrong because the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Something about the place was too quiet.
I drove the buckboard to the back door of the house but before it came to a stop, I spotted the fresh splinters of bullet holes around the door frame and a shattered pane of glass in the one window. I went flying off the wagon seat and hit the back door rolling and calling, "Miz Thompson? Nettie? Jack?"
All was quiet for a few seconds and then the cellar door opened and the three of them walked in tentatively. I noted the old buffalo rifle in Miz Thompson's hands and the look of determination in her eyes and knew that she had every intention of using it to save her family and home. What really surprised me though was that all three of them hurried over and hugged me, talking at once about what had happened and how glad they were that I was back home.
Hm. I realized that... it did feel... like home.
We sat down around the kitchen table and Miz Thompson poured coffee for us while Nettie fixed hot chocolate for Jack and herself. Miz Thompson said, "There hasn't been a shot in probably an hour or more but right after noon a bullet broke the window and sent us diving for cover. We heard somebody shout that this was R-Bar-S land and we'd better be gone in three days. While they were yelling, we all crawled into the cellar. As soon as they quit talking, they started shooting. There must have been two or three rifles, maybe four. I suspect they weren't aiming to kill us or they'd have caught us outside. But it was pretty scary anyway."
After I drank my coffee, I told the family to go back to the cellar while I scouted around. I figured the shots had come from a grove of trees out beyond the barn and sure enough, there were tracks of three horses and three booted men. Two of the horses would not be difficult to identify because of unusual hoof trimming. However they were long gone... didn't even bother picking up their shell casings.
I went back to the house and sounded the all clear, then began to unload the buckboard. The two five-gallon cans of kerosene went into the barn for storage and while I was there, I found an old bottle that I filled with some of the fuel and left near the door along with a couple of extra ropes. A plan was beginning to develop in my mind.
After dinner, I told the missus that I'd be riding out early in the morning to check on things and planned to be back by sundown. She had no problem with that. I headed for the bunkhouse to turn in.
I was still puttering around with plans for the next day when there came a light knock on the door. I called, "Come in" but was still surprised to see Miz Thompson come in, a shawl wrapped around her shoulders against the cool night air. I jumped up but she bade me sit back on the mattress so I did.
For a few minutes she stood just inside the door staring at me, a musing sort of look on her face. It made me a bit uncomfortable. "Can I help you with anything, Miz Thompson?"
Finally she walked over and sat on the bunk with me, making me really nervous. When she put her hand on my knee, I almost jumped out of my skin. Very softly, she said, "You can start by calling me Lottie, Mr. Dancer. I would like that."
I looked up to see the most lovely pair of clear blue eyes I'd ever seen. I started to speak but the words got caught in my throat. I cleared it and started again, rather huskily. "Would you call me Allan, ma'am?"
"I'd like that, Allan. But you've already forgotten."
"Oh, no, ma'am... uh, I mean, Lottie. It would be my privilege."
Again silence reigned and I turned my attention to the piggin strings I was preparing, acutely aware of her hand still resting on my knee, although my imagination made me believe that her grip was tightening.
"You're going after them, aren't you?"
"You're planning to go after those men who shot at the house, aren't you?"
"Well, I... uh, yes, ma'am."
"Lottie, Allan. Don't forget." I looked at her and she shook her head, "I don't want you to go, Allan."
"Ma'am? Lottie, excuse me?"
"I don't want you to get hurt, Allan. I don't want you to go."
"I'm sorry, ma'am... uh, Lottie. This is something I've just gotta do. If I don't do it now, they'll eventually kill us all. I can't let them kill my family."
Her arms snaked around my neck and she leaned against my shoulders. I'd said something wrong, I knew, because the tears were flooding down her face, soaking into my shirt. Awkwardly I put my arms around her and hugged her to me. She just seemed to melt into my body. For a long time she cried, her body shuddering against my own. Try as I might, I couldn't help but be aware of the soft curves, especially with her large breasts pressed into my chest. My jeans began to be uncomfortable as my erection pushed out the front of them.
Finally the quaking stopped and she gradually composed herself. Leaning back, but not removing her arms, she said, "I'm so sorry, Allan. I didn't mean to throw myself at you. But... well, I know my husband's dead and it has been sooo long since a man cared enough about me to do what you're going to do. Allan, will you hold me tonight?"
"Yes, m... Lottie. Anyway you want."
She stood and turned in front of me, letting the shawl drop to the floor. Slowly she began unfastening buttons on her dress. As I watched the top leisurely opened, revealing creamy skin above the mounds still covered with another, smaller garment. However, the buttons kept opening, down to her waist and then lower, to the hem and then she shrugged out of the dress, letting it fall to the floor.
I licked my lips. Less than 24 hours earlier, I had bedded another woman and yet this was so much different. This was a woman I knew... and respected... and lusted after, although not openly, until now.
She reached behind her and unfastened the upper garment, letting it join the others on the floor, letting two huge soft, smooth globes sink slightly, a concession to the force of gravity. Her nipples were taut, a pair of dark red pebbles in a sea of crimson bumps. I couldn't help but lick my lips. Then she eased the bloomers down her legs and uncovered her lower region and I was beside myself with anticipation.
"Are you going to take off your clothes?" she asked.
Hastily I stood and shucked everything, not caring where it went but just sent it flying. When I turned, she was lying naked on top of my blankets, moved over far enough that I could lay beside her.
I lay facing her, carefully working an arm under her head to hug her to me. Our lips met in such a sweet kiss I felt my body and spirit floating along on a puffy white cloud. I ran my top hand down her side and around to the small of her back and gently pulled her to me. I mumbled an apology for poking her in the stomach with my cock but she simply pushed her hips closer to me and shot her tongue further into my mouth. Her sweet fragrance caused my senses to overload.
My mind was inflamed with the pressure of her enormous tits on my chest and the curve of her hip down to the roundness of her bottom. When my fingers slipped between her legs, she was soaking wet and whispered in my ear, "Make love to me, Allan, please make love to me."
Oh, but I wanted this to last, not be over in a few hasty minutes like I knew it would be if I climbed on top of her like she expected. I broke our embrace and began kissing my way down her neck and shoulders to her tits. I licked all around her huge mounds, nipping and lapping at the stiff little nipple, sucking hard when Lottie begged me to. Once she shivered so hard I lost contact with her tit.
She was moaning loudly when I licked down to her navel and all around her stomach. I soon continued down into the heavy thatch of curly, reddish brown hair. She seemed surprised when my tongue dipped into her crease, a little reluctant to spread her legs but, with my tongue running up and down the outer lips of her pussy, she must have decided it was okay and her legs slowly spread apart.
Her pussy was shaped kind of like an upside-down heart, all lacy flesh that stood up from the surrounding area. It was swollen and the color of angry red blood but she was both sweet and tart to the taste. As my tongue sank into her opening and searched for her clitty, her legs started swinging wildly back and forth behind my head. Her moaning had gotten louder and louder until I was afraid the kids would come from the house to see if I was hurting their mother.
But it wasn't hurt that she was expressing. It was the pent-up sexual frustration of being without her lover for more than three years. I sank my tongue deep into her opening and nearly drowned in a rush of cum pouring from within.
Lottie went limp with exhaustion. I crawled up her form, my cock leaving a wet trail of pre-cum on her thigh every time it touched her. She had the strangest look on her face, sort of a cross between too tired to care and the cat that ate the canary. I paused over her with my still throbbing hard-on poised at her entrance.
She whispered, "Yes, Allan, do it, please. I need to feel you inside of me. Please."
I eased forward but met no resistance. There was heat, plenty of heat and lots of slick juices. Her pussy was tight from disuse but otherwise very accepting of my offering. I supported my weight above her but with my hands under her head I held our mouths together for long minutes at a time as my hips slowly worked my implement in and out of her storage shed. It was an incredible experience.
Before I could go no further without shooting my sperm into her warm and inviting body, she shuddered several times, seemingly achieving a certain satisfaction from our coupling. Finally, spent and my flaccid member having plopped softly out of her pussy, I rolled over beside her. She turned to face me, her arms going around my neck and pulling our mouths back together.
Lottie whispered, "Allan, we need you. Please be careful. No matter what else happens, remember that we need you to come back home whenever you can."
I kissed her again, nodded and then drifted off to sleep with Lottie in my arms.
At midnight with only a few hours' sleep, my internal clock woke me. I carefully disengaged from Lottie and got dressed. I had already packed my saddle bags the night before so all I had to do was saddle up, tie the bags behind the saddle, load my rifles and hang the other gear from the saddle horn. I walked my horse out of the yard and, when we reached the soft grass that would muffle his steps, lifted him to a mile-eating canter.
I figured there was still more than an hour of darkness before first light when I arrived at the headquarters of the R-Bar-S. I tied my horse in a grove of trees a ways from the house and took stock. There didn't seem to be any activity although the cook might be moving any time now.
Taking my extra ropes and can of fuel, I hurried quietly down to the yard. With only one door into the bunkhouse, I tied the door securely closed with the ropes going all the way around the shotgun style building. There was dried grass all around the building except for the path that led to the door so I poured a steady stream of kerosene right next to the base of the building, all the way around, dropping a few soaked handfuls of grass at the doorway. Quickly I retreated to a low spot up the gently sloping hill... probably an old buffalo wallow... trailing a thin line of kerosene all the way.
It was near first light and I knew the cook had to be stirring somewhere so I settled down, arranged my two rifles at the ready and waited.
I didn't have to wait long. A light appeared in a back window of the main house. I picked up my Sharps Buffalo gun and sighted on the light, just as a shadow appeared in the window. I waited until the shadow had moved on and slowly squeezed the trigger.
The explosion was extremely loud in the still of the night, especially in my own ears. The lamp went out immediately but in seconds the light was coming from a different source as the fuel spilled over the kitchen and the fire ignited it. I could hear yells of three or four voices from the main house and a whole cacophony of voices from the bunkhouse.
The streaks of light from the east let me see the bunkhouse door shake as the cowboys tried to boil out of the room. I shifted the Sharps and aimed at the top of the door. The big bullet took a piece out of the plank and sent it sailing inside, a vicious weapon if it found flesh inside. Instantly the shaking of the door ceased and so did the riot of voices.
I struck a sulphur match and dropped it on the tiny trail of kerosene and watched it progress like a ghost down the hill, into the yard and up to the bunkhouse, where it divided and spread around both sides of the tinder dry building. The flames devoured the grass quickly but it would take a few minutes to catch the old building on fire, I hoped. And by then, I wanted to be on my horse heading home.
I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and turned back to the main house. They had been able to put out the fire apparently and now three men appeared, one with a hand gun that would be totally ineffectual but a bigger, older man with a rifle. I'm sure they spotted the lingering smoke from the kerosene wick and looked up to where I was.
The old man shook a fist in my direction and yelled, "You coward! Come down here and fight like a man."
I stood up, Sharps in hand, and shouted back, "If you want a piece of the Running-T, you have to come through me. Only cowards fight women and children."
He brought the rifle up and tried to center on me. At the same time, I brought the Sharps up, steadied it, and squeezed off the trigger... just after I spotted a puff of smoke from the rifle. But he missed. I didn't.
I had the satisfaction of seeing the rifle fly up, heard a 'ping' sound, and watched him jumping around shaking his hand which had been stung sharply when the heavy bullet contacted the metal of the rifle. Bet he couldn't fire that one again.
I picked up my can and the Winchester, which I thankfully hadn't had to use yet, and sauntered toward my horse just as someone cut the rope around the bunkhouse and the men began boiling out. Some had guns but one of the guys from the ranch must have told them to put them away and form a water brigade to save the bunkhouse. I got back home by lunch time and pulled the bailer out.
I was hitching up a team when the whole family came boiling out of the house and threw themselves at me. The weight of them, Lottie in one arm, Nettie in the other, and Jack holding onto my legs, almost pushed us all into a heap on the barn floor. They were laughing and crying and all talking at once so that I couldn't make sense of what they were saying. Finally they slowed down enough so I could understand that they were happy to see me back.
To my surprise, both Lottie and Nettie kissed me... on the lips... more than once. Jack got tired and ran off to play somewhere but the women kept hugging me, pressing their bodies into mine. The kisses kept coming and I didn't tear myself away from them. I didn't want to tear myself away from them.
Finally Lottie ordered me to come inside and tell them what had happened over a hot lunch. When I sat down at the table, both women brought on a whole feast of hot dishes, more than any man should eat when he has work to be done. But I tried my best to do justice to it, while both women hovered over me and devoured my every word.
I gave them a short version of what happened but Lottie saw through me, I guess, and demanded to know the details about my whole trip. So I told her as much as I could remember. The end of the tale brought more hugs from both Lottie and Nettie.
When I finished eating, I hurried back to the barn, hooked up a team to the bailer and headed out. It turned out that the bailer was pretty simple to operate, although it got clogged a few times and had to be cleared. However, it sure beat trying to fork that hay onto a wagon and transfer it to an unkempt pile in the barn.
Lottie came to my bed that night after the family had retired and we fucked until we both were exhausted and fell asleep together. When I woke up in the morning, she was gone. She greeted me at the breakfast table as if she had not seen me since dinner the night before. She still referred to me as Mr. Dancer and of course I called her Miz Thompson.
I worked at bailing hay for the next week before running out of the cut and dried stuff. Every night Lottie came to me and we made passionate love together before falling asleep. Unfailingly she was gone when I woke up and we kept up the appearances of being the boss lady and cow puncher employee.
I took another patrol around the fences the next three days and didn't find any new breaks. The cattle seemed to be doing as well as could be expected. I, on the other hand, really missed my nightly sessions with Lottie.
Back at the house, I began to gather the hay into the barn. Lottie insisted that it would go faster if she drove the wagon and I stacked the bales on it and it did make it go faster. Jack and Nettie wanted to help but the bales were too heavy for them either to toss about so the two of them worked as a team to stack the bales in the barn after I tossed them up to their level. I could see that, while we had a goodly amount put up, it wouldn't be enough to get us through the winter so I went back to cutting and raking some more meadows
Every night except during her 'time, ' Lottie came to my bed when the kids were asleep. We would make passionate love and go to sleep, but without fail she would be gone before I got up. I began to wonder about her capacity. I'd never heard of a woman who wanted so much sex... not that it bothered me. I figured I was the luckiest man alive, since it looked like Mr. Thompson was dead!
The nights began to turn cooler and I had to make several forays to the groves of trees around the ranch, cutting downed trees and selecting certain living ones to harvest for firewood. It figured to be a long, cold winter in this part of the country. This was a task that Jack and Nettie set to with a vengeance. It gave me a number of opportunities to get to know the shy Nettie better.
One evening I came in from the fields and noticed a strange horse out front. I dropped my reins and went in the back of the house and through to the front. An older man was standing at the top step talking to Lottie.
I heard him say, "Ma'am, this is the best offer yore gonna get. And there ain't no way you kin make this place profitable. You can't keep no hands, your husband's gone and you and the kids can't run it by yourselves."
Lottie said hotly, "We'll make do, Mr. Riker, just as long as you don't shoot us down in cold blood. I'm not accepting this offer or any other offer you come up with, Mr. Riker. Now I'd thank you to get off my property."