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Josh Kenyon pulled his truck off the road and stepped out of the cab to look at the small spread in the valley below him. He hoped to find some kind of job there. It had been a long haul from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Sacramento, California. He was tired, a mite cranky and his neck was stiff from sleeping in his truck for three nights.
Heâ€™d stopped in the small town of Denton, outside Sacramento. In the general store there heâ€™d got himself a soda and a burger, and just by chance had noticed the small postcard pinned to a bulletin board.
'General help needed on small horse ranch. Experience good, but will train if necessary. Housing provided. Call Brett at 916-555-2525.'
Heâ€™d written down the number and called as soon as heâ€™d finished scarfing down his burger. The guy, Brett, had answered, sounding friendly and, if Josh wasnâ€™t mistaken, kind of anxious to find some help fast. After getting directions to the ranch from Denton, Josh had told the rancher he could be there in about twenty minutes.
He wondered if the friendliness in Brettâ€™s voice would fade when Josh informed him of his past. Heâ€™d come this far in the hope of escaping his tainted reputation that had branded him as undesirableâ€”and unhireable. Well, this would be the first test of whether heâ€™d made the right decision to come all the way to California.
Looking down on the ranch, Josh could see one man, followed by a tail-wagging dog, walking towards a large outbuilding. Looks so peaceful, Josh thought, scanning the perimeter to see where the other men were working. Surely he canâ€™t be alone down there? Josh didnâ€™t know a whole lot about ranching, but he was willing to learn. He could ride a horse, back in the day, and the ad had said â€˜will train if necessaryâ€™.
"So, letâ€™s go," he said aloud, climbing back into his truck. "Letâ€™s see if Josh Kenyonâ€™s luck can ever change for the better." With a determined set to his jaw, he started the engine and pulled back onto the narrow road that led to the ranch gatesâ€”and maybe, just maybe, if he could fit in here, something to live for.
His heart lifted as he read the name inscribed over the arch he passed underâ€”Hope Ranch.
Brett Langley straightened his aching back, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and took a break from mucking out the stables. The horses would be bedded down shortly and they needed fresh straw. He glanced at his watch. That Josh guy had called about ten minutes ago, so if he hadnâ€™t got lost he should be here any time now. He hoped the man was someone who would work out this time.
He had owned Hope Ranch since his dad died a year agoâ€”a year that had seen its heartaches, headaches and was still on the â€˜iffyâ€™ side financially. Two of his hands had left him recently. One heâ€™d been glad to see the back of, but the other, Al, heâ€™d had high hopes for as foreman. Al had worked the ranch for two years then left to go to college. Brett couldnâ€™t blame him for that, but suddenly he was without a young and willing worker, saddled instead with a string of guys who just couldnâ€™t hack the long hours and less than competitive pay. Not that he could blame them either, but he really needed someone to help pick up the slackâ€”slack thatâ€™s getting bigger and harder to deal with every day.
Chuckling at that last thought, he couldnâ€™t deny he liked big and hard, just not the kind heâ€™d been faced with for months now. He wondered what Josh would be like. Nice voice, kinda deep and mellow. Older maybe? He glanced at his watch again. Better get on with itâ€¦ He raked the combination of old straw and manure to a pile outside the stables, then began pushing it all towards the compost heap heâ€™d built well away from the house.
"That should do it," he said, turning to look at Jaz, his border collie, as if for approval. Jazâ€™s tail was working even harder than usual at wagging as the dog stared past Brett at something in the yard behind him.
"Hi, there." The deep voice startled him. He hadnâ€™t heard the guy drive up. "Can I help you with that?"
"Oh, hiâ€¦" Brett threw the pitchfork to one side and walked towards the man. "Josh?"
"Iâ€™d offer to shake hands," Brett said, "but Iâ€™m kinda dirty right now." He grinned at Josh, at the same time taking in his rugged good looks, the broad-shouldered physique and the blue eyes gazing at him steadily from under dark, feathered brows. The voice definitely matched the man. "I just have to lay down the fresh straw and Iâ€™ll be right with you."
"Well, like I saidâ€¦" Josh tipped his hat back, revealing dark curly hair. "Can I help you with that?"