The Lone Rancher

The Lone Rancher by Carol Finch

Book: The Lone Rancher by Carol Finch Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carol Finch
spreading gossip.”
    Otha removed his hat to rake his blunt-tipped fingers through the tuft of wiry red hair. “I reckon you’re right, boss. Half the boys blame the lady rancher and the others think the curse is at work again.”
    Quin shot the bowlegged cowboy—who was five years his junior—a withering glance.
    â€œWell, boss, you gotta admit that the thieving, butchering and fence cutting has picked up again. It was pretty bad before and after your folks died, God resttheir souls. Then it tapered off awhile. Now it’s cranking up.”
    Yes, it was, thought Quin. It had begun with Boston’s arrival. However, it wasn’t as if other ranchers in the area hadn’t suffered similar problems. Just not to the extent the 4C had. Then again, 4C covered more territory and pastured considerably more cattle and horses than the other spreads.
    â€œUh, boss, I was wondering about taking some time off this weekend for that city-wide celebration those foreigners are planning for Rosa and her ex–Ranger husband.”
    Quin frowned pensively when Otha referred to Boston and her entourage as foreigners .
    Otha shifted awkwardly in the saddle, then crammed his stained hat back on his red head. “Ya see, I met this real nice girl and—”
    â€œSure, you deserve a break after riding with me each time I’ve sorted calves,” Quin cut in, and then watched the cowboy’s freckled face turn a deeper shade of red. “Is this real nice girl anyone I know?”
    His blush deepened. “Her daddy’s a tracklayer and she works at Monty’s Dance Hall. Don’t think she rightly belongs in that place but she says money is hard to come by so she smiles and dances with cowboys and soldiers for a fee.”
    Quin hoped the woman in question wasn’t feeding Otha the same line she fed other customers. The cowboy didn’t need his heart broken. Of course, Quin wasn’t sure what that felt like because the 4C had consumed his life for as long as he could remember. His liaisons wereinfrequent and impersonal. The occasional scratching of an itch, so to speak.
    He knew his brother Bowie had had his heart broken once by Clea North. Quin grimaced, remembering his snide comment about Bowie’s rejection. Salt to a wound, he mused regretfully. Quin had struck out when Bowie had landed on a sensitive nerve about his delay in arriving home to help his parents tend to the business of signing contracts with the railroad.
    â€œI’m thinking about asking Zoe Daniels to marry me,” Otha commented as he reined toward 4C headquarters. “There’s that cabin up north that once belonged to the previous English owners of the property you bought last year.” Otha stared hopefully at Quin. “I wondered if we might rent the place. I could keep a watchful eye on your northern pastures since I’d be riding home in that direction every night.”
    Quin nodded. “It might be nice to have a full-time hand keeping up with those far-removed pastures. But the place needs some repair, Otha.”
    The cowboy beamed excitedly. “I know ’cause I looked it over pretty good the last time we rode through there. But I can make the repairs myself.”
    Quin leaned out to shake Otha’s hand. “Then we have a deal. I’ll pay for the materials for repair if you do the work in your spare time. I hope things work out for you and Zoe.”
    Otha smiled so widely he nearly split a lip as Quin turned his attention back to the butchered calf. Someone was preying on 4C and other spreads in the area and Quin would dearly like to know who was behind the rustling, butchering and rebranding of his cattle.
    Exhausted from long days of hard work and extensive hours in the saddle, Quin glanced south. He was anxious for a soaking bath and one of Elda Quickel’s gourmet meals. Not that the chuckwagon cook didn’t do his best, but the older man’s

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