Home > Take the Reins (A Cowboy's Promise Book 2)

Take the Reins (A Cowboy's Promise Book 2)
Author: Megan Squires







“I gotta warn you, buddy, some of them are real worse for wear.”

Seth Ford squinted into the bleak field, a hand lifted to his brow even though the generous brim of his Stetson did its best to shield the sun. Too bad it couldn’t knock off a few degrees from the sweltering fall weather. It was hot for this late in the year, even by Northern California’s standards. He hadn’t been prepared for the gallon of sweat that had already soaked his flannel and sapped his energy like an old, drained battery.

“Can’t be worse than the herd you seized from the Hanford place back in the spring,” Seth said to Sheriff Barry Paulson as he lifted his hat to mop his face with the bandana permanently stowed in his back pocket. His statement had the tone of a challenge. He couldn’t fathom a horse looking any shoddier than the ones apprehended from that particularly neglected string. Ribs poked out through sunburned hides like the ridges on a washboard and hooves had gone so long without trims that the idea they could support a full-grown horse seemed like pure fiction.

“Oh, it’s worse, cousin,” the sheriff said with a wary swivel of his head. “Much worse. I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but you should prepare yourself. And I hope Bridgette is also prepared for this group. She’s going to have her work cut out for her. I think some of these horses have never even known human touch. They’re downright feral.”

Of all the favors his cousin called in, this was the sort Seth dreaded. But he understood it. He had a twenty-eight-foot stock trailer at the ready that he drove like an expert trucker, a good horse who knew how to round up anything with legs, and a soft spot for animals who got the short end of the stick when it came to responsible owners. He blamed that sensitivity on his ex, Bridgette, who ran The Least of These Animal Sanctuary, the only sort of rescue within a hundred-mile radius of Riverburn.

“How do you want to do this?” Seth propped an elbow on the round fence post and scanned the property. Apparently, horses weren’t all that had been put out to pasture. The doublewide settled a dozen feet from the pock-marked road looked as though it had been dumped decades ago and never inhabited. The mountain of fresh trash shoved up against the siding was the only real indicator that some living, breathing thing resided within the dilapidated structure. It was a wasteland, and his cousin’s warning to anticipate the worst took firm root as Seth looked around.

“I’ve got Cutter and Riggs on their way as we speak. I figure the three of you should be able to funnel the herd along that east fence line and into the trailer with relatively little trouble. We’ve already set up a bunch of cattle panels to help guide them, and I’ve got my guys in place to assist wherever they can.”

That was welcome news. Grady Cutter and Riggs Montgomery were the best riders in the area, with horses that had been exposed to all sorts of stimuli. Arena lights. Thundering cheers. Rank bulls and crazy bucking broncos. They would keep their cool in any scenario thrown their way. That was the sort Seth wanted on his team when dealing with these kinds of uncertain scenarios.

“I’ll unload Scout and meet you in five.”

At the mention of his name, Seth’s buckskin gelding sputtered a nicker of delight from within the trailer, like a child squealing at the promise of adventure. That horse sure loved having a job to do, always eager to be put to work no matter the day or hour. He was the best cow horse Seth had ever come by, and as a fourth-generation cattle rancher, Seth had owned his share of decent horses.

As promised, Cutter and Riggs arrived minutes later and the three mounted men circled up around Sheriff Paulson as he filled them in on the plan of action for the seizure.

“I already gave Seth a heads up, but these horses are in bad shape. Underfed and under-handled, so I’m not exactly sure what we should expect in terms of cooperation. The safety of you and your horses is our biggest concern, so if at any time you feel like you’re in danger, let us know and we’ll regroup.”

Spurring his horse forward, Riggs let out a dry laugh. “Cutter and I know a little something about expecting the unexpected. Don’t worry about us, Sheriff. We’ll be fine.”

Barry nodded in understanding. “There are five horses total. Two mares, a stallion, and two colts. The stallion’s likely to give us the biggest run for our money, but I believe the mares might go a little mama bear on us.”

“I’ve got a mother-in-law,” Riggs quipped, nudging his head to his partner. “Not much scares me.”

Seth dropped his chin and chuckled, grateful for the levity Riggs offered. Seth figured his cousin had built up the situation in an effort to prepare the men, but life as a cowboy had afforded him ample opportunity for that desensitization. He’d stumbled into many precarious situations out on the ranch involving hormone-incensed bulls and gored or fence-caught cattle. He’d even been involved in a riding accident or two that left more than just a nasty scar in its wake. The metal plate in his collarbone and hitch in his step were nagging reminders that things could go sideways quickly. But even that reality didn’t scare him. It just prepared him.

Still, even with that preparedness, once they eventually rode out and Seth caught sight of the five horses grouped near a barn that looked about as sturdy as a toothpick model, he couldn’t stave off the dryness that tightened his throat. The small herd huddled as one bony mass, mere skeletons with weather-beaten skin and saggy, dead eyes. Whatever fight his cousin had warned them to expect had left those horses long, long ago. They’d given up just about everything but breath, and even that came out in staggered, labored pants.

Riggs muttered a low curse.

“My thoughts exactly,” Seth said, biting back the string of similar words that wanted to fly out like a round of bullets.

How someone could neglect an animal to the point of impending death was beyond him. It almost made him wish for the punching bag his mother had made him get rid of back in his high school days. He craved some sort of release for the sudden anger that welled up within him.

“Letting go of your frustrations through your heart is much more productive than through your fists,” she’d said to him, almost as a mantra.

Seth had never grasped the meaning of that until he’d started dating Bridgette a couple years back. It was then that he realized stewing over someone else’s mistakes was just about the least productive thing to do. The animals that came through her sanctuary didn’t need someone to be angry about their situation. They just needed someone to love them back to health.

Kicking Scout’s flank into gear, Seth spun around and sidled up to the herd from the left, Cutter and Riggs fanning out to cut off any would-be escapees. But that strategy proved unnecessary as the horses cooperatively moseyed through the makeshift tunnel toward Seth’s waiting trailer with not so much as a whinny of defiance. Sure, fear flashed through their sunken eyes, quick and sharp like lightning. But it didn’t keep them from moving up and away from the pressure Seth and the others placed as they trotted closer. Within a span of ten minutes, all five rescues were clustered at the trailer door. Getting them into that metal box was a bigger hurdle, but once the stallion made up his mind that the trailer was a safer option than the desolate and decrepit ranch behind him, the others followed suit and scampered into the rig.

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