Girls may be made of sugar, spice, and everything nice, but Charley Collins was brought up to be a slightly different kind of lady. Working on her family’s cattle ranch, she’s used to taking care of herself. But when her brother is laid up with a broken leg, she finds she needs a little bit of help to get by. She just doesn’t expect that help to be in the form of a mysterious stranger who’s appealing in more ways than one.
Shad Russell never puts down roots. Roaming from place to place, taking work where he can get it, he’s the kind of man who prefers to be on his own and as unconnected as possible. He knows getting close to Charley can only mean trouble for them both. But that doesn’t mean he can control his attraction to her—or keep them both from losing their hearts somewhere down the road.
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The Traveling Kind
The Americana Series: Idaho
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1979 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
THE SUN-WARMED air blowing in through the opened windows of the pickup truck was fragrant with the resiny scent of pines. Charley Collins was too preoccupied with her thoughts to notice the pine fragrance of the breeze in more than a passing way. It showed in the long, unsmiling set of her mouth, lips pressed together in a concentrating line. A tiny crease in her forehead marred the smooth suntanned features, and the hazel green of her eyes was clouded with many thoughts.
Her attention was abstractly centered on the highway she traveled, her gaze rarely lifting from the concrete road to the Idaho mountains. She drove the truck with a competence born of long experience, an experience that came from learning to drive almost before her legs were long enough to reach the floor pedals. It had been the same with horses, learning to ride before her feet reached the stirrups.
The winding stretch of forest-flanked road was broken by the appearance of a building that housed a combination service station-café-general store with living quarters in the rear. Charley slowed the truck as she approached her destination. Swinging off the highway, the pickup rolled past the gasoline pumps to stop in front of the wooden building.
With the gear shifted to park, Charley switched off the ignition key and opened the door. The riding heel of her western boot dug into the gravel as she stepped from the cab. The faded blue denim of her snug-fitting Levi's had been worn soft, a comfortable second skin stretched over her slim hips and long legs. The long sleeves of her plaid blouse were rolled up, revealing tanned forearms, and the pearl snaps of the Western blouse were unfastened at the throat to hint at more suntanned skin.
There was a supple grace in the looseness of her stride as she walked to the entrance door of the station office-café-store. A tortoiseshell clasp held her thick, sandy hair together at the back of her neck, its heavy length swaying as she walked.
The bell above the door jingled to announce her entrance into the building. She was greeted by the tantalizing aroma of homemade doughnuts and freshly brewed coffee from the café section, marked by a horseshoe-shaped counter. As she paused to close the door her glance touched the outfit propped against the wall. It consisted of a rolled duffel bag, an A-fork saddle that was well made and showed use, and a wool saddle pad and blanket along with an assortment of other gear that bore the earmarks of quality. The tools of his trade said a lot about a cowboy. Normally Charley's curiosity would have prompted her to study his outfit, but she had other things on her mind.
Her searching glance briefly noted the cowboy slouching indolently at the counter on a high stool. Since he was the only customer, he was also the likely owner of the outfit by the door. A noise from the kitchen drew her attention and a smile widened her mouth as a stocky man in a bibbed white apron appeared.
"Hello, Frank." Long graceful strides ate up the short distance to the counter to greet the owner. "How've you been?"
"As I live and breathe! Charley Collins!" He came forward to glad-hand her, his lined face wreathing into a smile, a salting of gray in his brown hair. "I haven't seen hide nor hair of you since spring."
"I've been keeping busy." Which was an understatement.
His expression immediately became regretful. "How's Gary? We were all sorry to hear about the accident." Then he motioned toward the stool she was standing beside. "Sit down. I'll pour you a cup of coffee on the house."
"No, thank you, but—" She tried to protest but he'd already set a cup on the counter and was filling it from the glass pot. She sat one hip on the stool, keeping a foot on the floor while the other rested on the footrail around the counter. "Gary is doing much better, although he's fit to be tied."
"I can imagine." Frank Doyle laughed, the laughter fading into a compassionate smile. "With Gary not able to get around, it really must put a heavy burden on you."
"Actually that's why I'm here." Charley took the opening she'd been given. "Gary is going to be in that cast for another six weeks. I was hoping I could hire Lonnie to help me out on the ranch for the rest of the summer." Lonnie Doyle was Frank's teenage son. He'd worked part-time for them before when they'd needed an extra hand. Charley knew he was a good worker and dependable.
"Sorry. Lonnie has a full-time job as a laborer on a road crew this summer. I know he'd help you out on the weekends if it would help."
Charley blew out a tired sigh and slanted her lips into a smiling grimace. "We need someone every day. Between taking care of Gary and the ranch work, I have my hands full. It's more than I can handle alone," she admitted. "But I may have to settle for someone part-time. So far, everyone I've asked already has a job."
"What about Andy Hollister?" Frank suggested.
"He's drinking again. I can't depend on him." The shake of her head decisively dismissed that possibility.
As she started to lift the steaming mug of black coffee to her mouth a third voice intruded on the conversation with a soft, interested drawl.
"Excuse me, Miss, but did I hear you say you're looking for someone to do ranch work?"
Charley angled her chin in the direction of the cowboy seated at the top of the horseshoe counter and lifted her gaze to inspect him. A sweat-stained, brown Stetson was pushed to the back of his head, revealing heavy black hair. Long hours in the sun had burned layers of tan into the skin stretched across the angular planes of his face. Its teak color combined with crow-black hair to contrast with the glittering blue eyes that returned her study. He was sitting loosely, all muscles relaxed. His large-knuckled hands were folded around the coffee cup, nursing it, his browned fingers showing the roughness of callouses. A smiling knowledge lurked around him, a touch of irony that said he wasn't easily fooled. In his mid-thirties, he was a prime specimen of manhood, handsome in the craggy way of a man of the West.
It was impossible to judge his height, but she could guess at the corded muscles beneath the faded blue-and-gold plaid of his shirt. There was another quality about him that Charley recognized—the restless streak of a drifter. She had seen it before and experienced a twinge of regret that it should be a trait of his.
When her keen assessment of him was finished, she responded to his inquiry. "Yes, we are looking for help at the ranch."
"I could use the job," he stated in that same lazy drawl of interest. His slow indifference was deceptive, his gaze alive to her, sweeping over her with a returning assessment.
Charley felt the earthy sensuality that was within his look; nothing offensive, just an honest male admiration for a member of the opposite sex. It created a vague disturbance warning Charley of her susceptibility.
Her glance darted to the outfit propped against the wall near the door, aware that it spoke for his competence. This stranger was her first applicant for the job. Although she would have preferred hiring someone locally, the situation was too desperate. She couldn't afford to be too choosy.
But common sense insisted that she make an inquiry about his experience. "Where have you worked before?"
"I worked for Cord Harris on the Circle H in Texas, Kincaid's spread in Oklahoma. Most recently for the Triple C in Montana."
"We have a small two-man operation, nothing close to the size of the ranches you've mentioned," Charley explained, impressed by the list. "There's a lot of work that will have to be done afoot." And there were some hard-line cowboys who turned up their nose at any task that couldn't be done on horseback.
He glanced down at his large work-roughened hands, then lifted his gaze, sharply blue and glinting. "I've done physical labor before ... and survived."
"We can't pay much," Charley warned. "You'd get a salary, plus room and board." She named a sum she and Gary had agreed upon.
"Sounds fair to me." He shrugged his acceptance and uncurled his hands from around the coffee cup, flattening them on the counter. He used them to push off the stool, dismounting almost as if it was a horse. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out some change and laid it on the counter to pay for his coffee, then moved around the corner to Charley, extending a hand. "The name is Shad Russell."
"Mr. Russell." She acknowledged the introduction as her hand was engulfed in the hugeness of his. Again she felt that vague disturbance flutter along her nerve ends, warning her to be careful around him.
He was taller than she had expected, easily six foot. Charley slid off the stool to negate some of the difference in their height. There was a lean and hungry look about him as he stood before her with loose-limbed ease. He was a man with a big appetite for many things—excitement, life, women and adventure. She watched with reluctant fascination as lines broke from the corners of his eyes over his cheekbones when he smiled lazily at her.
"Make that Shad. I'm not much for formality," he said.
"All right, Shad." Her mouth curved into a smile that was deliberately casual because Charley realized she wasn't indifferent to his particular brand of potent charm. "If you want to collect your gear, we'll head out to the ranch now." She turned to Frank Doyle who had been silently observing the exchange. "Thanks for the coffee. We'll see you again."
"Don't make it so long between visits," he stated and added as Charley started to move away from the counter, "Give my regards to Gary."
"Will do," she promised and tried not to notice how effortlessly Shad Russell swung the heavy saddle onto the back of his shoulder with one hand. His free hand reached down to pick up his duffel bag. "My truck is parked outside," she informed him. "Do you want to follow me or are you on foot?" She didn't recall seeing any other vehicles parked out front.
"On foot. I was riding my thumb," he stated and waited for her to walk out the door ahead of him.
Outside, Charley waved a hand in the general direction of the truck's rear bed. "You can put your gear in back," she instructed and walked around the cab to the driver's side while he swung his belongings over the side of the truck's bed. When he had sprawled his lank frame in the passenger seat beside her, she started the motor.
As she turned the truck onto the highway her glance flickered to him. The stained brown hat was pulled low on his forehead, half shielding his features. "What prompted you to leave your last job?" she asked.
His arm was draped along the back of the seat, not far from her shoulder. "I got tired of the flatlands and decided I wanted to see some mountains for a change." It sounded like a facetious answer, but Charley didn't doubt his reason could be as flimsy. Drifters often needed no more motivation than that.
"Where were you headed?"
"Bitterroot country." Then he asked a question. "How did your husband get hurt?"
Her glance ran to him with a startled expression, then changed to one of amusement before refocusing on the highway. "Gary is my older brother, not my husband. The horse he was riding lost its footing on some mud, fell and rolled on him before Gary could kick free. He ended up with a compound fracture of the upper leg bone. He is in a cast up to his hip ... and will be for another six weeks."
That was an understatement in Charley's opinion. It pulled a sighing laugh from her throat. "He isn't adjusting to the restrictions of a broken leg too well. He lumbers around the house like a bear with its paw in a trap, growling and snapping at everything, so be prepared. He acts more like a rebellious teenager than a man of thirty."
"How old are you?"
She turned to find him studying her through heavy-lidded eyes, so blue and sharp with male interest. She fought down the sudden acceleration of her pulse. "Twenty-six. Why?" She managed a smooth response and countered with a question.
She wanted to tell him that his questions were becoming too personal, but on second thought she decided against it. A certain frankness seemed to be in order so a relationship could be established and maintained for the rest of the summer ... if Shad Russell stayed that long.
"Never been married," she admitted to her single status, using an indifferent tone.
"No fiancé in the wings, either?" His sidelong glance was taking in the maturity of her figure and the cleanness of her profile.
"None." Her reply was cheerful, if a little defiant.
"For a woman of twenty-six, that usually means she was jilted somewhere down the line and hasn't recovered from a broken heart," Shad observed. "Especially when you're talking about an attractive woman like you."
The last comment was designed to have an effect on her and it did, but Charley didn't let it show, except to laugh it off. "Sorry. There is nothing so melodramatic in my past."
"Then how have you managed to stay single?" His curiosity was aroused. She could hear it in the inflection of his voice.
"Actually it was easy." She cast him a bland glance. "Around here, if you don't marry your high-school steady or go on to college to check out that marriage market, you don't find much husband material. The men are either already married or too young or too old—or like you."
"Like me?" Her remark caused him to lift a dark eyebrow and give her a penetrating look that was both curious arid amused.
"Yes. You are the traveling kind—just passing through on your way to some other place, never content to stay anywhere too long." She had recognized his type right from the beginning, which didn't lessen his attraction. Men who were rogues always held a fatal fascination for women. She wasn't an exception, but at least she knew the danger signals.
"Is that a bad way to live?" Shad Russell sounded amused, mocking almost.
"Not for you, maybe," Charley conceded. "But it can be bad for the girl who is foolish enough to think she can change you."
"And you aren't a fool." It came out soft, a borderline challenge.
"No, I'm not a fool." She smiled without humor and continued to look at the road ahead. She was nearing the turnoff to the ranch and slowed the truck to edge off the pavement onto the dirt lane. "This is Seven Bar land. The ranch house sits a couple of miles back from the highway."
Although he didn't change his relaxed position, Charley was conscious that he became more alert to his surroundings, the sharpness of his gaze taking mental notes on the abundance of graze, the condition of the cattle and fences—things a cowboy needed to know to do his job. She didn't question his ability. The one flaw Charley could see in his character was that broad streak of wanderlust. It would never do to rely on him too much. The thought saddened her, but she didn't examine too closely the reason why it depressed her.
The mountain lane wound along the slope and opened into a meadow where the ranch headquarters was situated with a panoramic vista of the surrounding peaks. Besides the two-story white wood house, there was a log barn and shed and a set of corrals of rough-cut timber. It was a small operation by modern standards but its clean, well-kept appearance was a source of pride for Charley. A half-used stack of last summer's hay stood near the barn, with the summer's yet to be cut. The horses in the corral whickered a greeting and rushed to the front rail as she slowed the pickup to a stop in front of the house.
"Our facilities don't stretch to include a bunkhouse," she explained to Shad Russell. "There is a spare bedroom in the house you can use."
A mongrel cow dog trotted out from the shade of the house to greet her. The sight of the stranger climbing out of the cab of the truck changed the dog's pace to a stiff-legged walk. The mongrel sniffed suspiciously at his legs but a low word from Shad started its tail wagging and a panting grin opened its mouth. Charley observed the dog's acceptance of the new hired hand without comment and waited at the porch steps for him to join her.
Leaving the saddle in the back of the truck for the time being, Shad lifted out his duffel bag and started toward the house. There was no hurry in his long stride as his gaze made a slow study of the ranch and its buildings. When his eyes stopped on her they held the glint of approval. The curve of her mouth softened under its light.
"It looks like you and your brother have a sound, well-run operation here," he observed.
False modesty didn't come naturally to her so she admitted, "We like to think so." She turned to climb the steps. "Come in and meet my brother and I'll show you where to put your things."
Excerpted from The Traveling Kind by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1979 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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