This story was originally written several years ago and was a great deal of fun to write at first. It was a collaborative project between myself and Kanzen ne Tsuki and then later Cat Foxglove. After much prodding by the latter I decided to re-read this story and revamp it. After Tsuki-san left the project I had lost a great deal of my motivation, coupled with being in my last year of graduate school, and the story didn't end in a satisfactory way. So, the first thirteen chapters have been edited and from 14 on completely re-written. Many asked for a sequel due to the abrupt ending, instead of that I'm giving you more story to flesh out this lovely cowboy tale. You have the determined nature of Cat Foxglove to thank for this much BETTER edition. (February 2010)
Disclaimer: I own not Rurouni Kenshin, nor the characters within the series. This plot is my own though, enjoy!
Summary: Siblings Kaoru and Sano are desperate to pay off their father's debt, desperate enough to work for woman hating Saitou. Mystery cowboy Ru impresses the rancher. What happens when he finds out his prized pupil is really the woman he can't stand?
Life at Saitou's Ranch
Kaoru sighed again as her older step-brother continued his drive to the ranch where he acquired a job at as foreman. Times were rough and with the death of their father, and a huge debt to pay there was no choice but to drop everything and find work immediately. Even if that work meant leaving the comforts of Virginia for New Mexico.
"What do you know about this Saitou man?" Kaoru inquired of her step-brother as the acres and acres of the man's ranch came into view. They hadn't seen another vehicle in many miles. "He sure does live far away from the rest of civilization," she remarked dryly.
Sanosuke shrugged as he shifted the gears of his trusty Bronco. "I know he's insanely rich, a bastard to get along with, and meaner than the devil." He shrugged and cast his little sister an apologetic look. "I'm sorry Kao, but I can't find any other sorts of jobs. It sure would have helped if you knew how to cook."
Her arms crossed her chest defensively at the barb at her cooking. "At least I try!" She defended in annoyance.
"I know, Missy, but the fact that Dad taught both of us everything he knew about horses will definitely help. I mean, you're practically a man with your ability to help in round up!" Sano exclaimed in his usual non-thinking way.
Sapphire eyes narrowed at the spiky haired cowboy with the unruly hair. "I am very much a woman," Kaoru informed him with a sharp edge to her voice.
Jovial chuckling was her answer as Sano's chocolate eyes twinkled at her in a teasing manner. "Of course you are missy, it's just hard for most people to tell with those clothes you wear."
"That's not true!" Kaoru leaned over her seat to glare at him. "I wear dresses!"
Sano shrugged. "Sure, when you go to church and when you aren't riding horses." He smirked at his little step-sister. "But you usually dress like a cowboy in those loose clothes with your hair tucked up in your hat."
"You know why," Kaoru explained softly as dreadful memories came back to her of a terrible run in with a man she wished to forget. She shuddered as she recalled the horrible event.
Sano cast her a concerned look and squeezed her shoulder quickly for reassurance. "Sorry, Missy, I forget how fresh that is on your memory."
"Let's not talk about it," Kaoru whispered.
"Of course, look, you can see the Star S Ranch house now." He whistled with appreciation. "This guy is richer than I thought."
Kaoru shrugged. "Money isn't everything."
Sano grinned at her as he parked his Bronco. He got out and walked around to her side to open the passenger door and help her down. "Come on shorty," he teased as he helped her to the ground. "I know money isn't everything, but if we don't want to go to a pauper's jail for Dad's debts we had better earn some quick!"
The step-siblings walked side by side towards the Ranch house. "Where is everyone?" Kaoru asked, not seeing any other people. Surely a ranch this size would have people milling about at all times.
Sano placed a brotherly arm around her slender shoulders. "Saitou told me most everyone would be out in the fields today. He should be inside working on the books."
Kaoru nodded absently and began to run her fingers through her long ponytail, as was her nervous habit. Sano tugged the hair gently with a teasing smile that quickly faded with a somber expression. "Kao, he hates women. So, just be careful. I had to do a lot of sweet talking to let him allow you here."
She shifted at the remark. "Why would he hate women?"
Sano shrugged. "I'm not sure, I tried to ask around. He was once married, about ten years ago. I think she left him." He frowned. "Maybe you should wait in the truck."
Kaoru's hands flew to her hips and she rounded on her brother. It was a rather comical scene since he was nearly an entire foot taller than she was. "Listen here Sanosuke, this is going to be my home too. I'm not going to wait in the truck like some puppy dog."
Amused laughter drifted towards them from the front door. An effeminate young man was shaking his head at them, short brown hair bobbing in the action. He nodded at them in greeting. "The name is Kamatari, I'm his highness' cook and butler rolled into one. You must be Sanosuke and Kaoru."
Sano's hands dug into his pockets, as was his nervous habit. "Yeah," he agreed.
Kamatari smiled at them warmly. "You don't need to wait in the truck Kaoru, however, I would recommend that you not speak unless spoken to and don't take anything that man says personally. He's going to resent you for the simple fact that you're a woman."
Kaoru snorted at the reply. "I hate being judged for something I can't help."
Kamatari placed a hand at the small of her back once she reached the stairs and guided her inside. "It can't be helped, but just don't let it get to you."
The young man led them further into the richly furnished ranch house. It was obviously designed in masculine tones with leather and dark wood being the general theme. Over the hearth several swords were displayed.
Kamatari knocked raptly upon a particular door and was given a grunt in response. "Mr. Sanosuke and Ms. Kaoru are here."
"You can let him in, get rid of her. I don't want to see her." Came the cold reply from inside. Kamatari cast Kaoru a rueful smile and held the door open for Sanosuke. The tall cowboy entered and closed the door behind him.
Kaoru shifted nervously. "Don't let it bother you. Come on, follow me and I'll show you where you'll be sleeping," Kamatari coaxed as he led the young woman down the hallway and up the stairs.
"Isn't there a separate house for the foreman and his family?" Kaoru asked uncertainly. She wasn't too keen on being in the same house as a man who hated her without even giving her a chance.
"There was, but it burned down to the very foundation a few months ago in a lightning storm. It was the damnest thing. I never actually had seen lightning strike before!" He exclaimed with a grin at her discomfort. "I'm just teasing, the last foreman was a bit of a drinker and set his own house on fire while he was here alone while the boss was away at a conference."
"That would explain why he wanted a new foreman," Kaoru replied with a small giggle in spite of herself.
"That's the attitude! This is your room." He opened a door to reveal a beautiful room with a canopied bed and dark royal purple comforter and curtains. The dark mahogany wood was absolutely gorgeous.
Kaoru's mouth gaped. "Wow, I've never seen anything so beautiful." She looked around the room in awe before looking at Kamatari with her brows drawn together in confusion. "I thought Saitou hated women. Why would he have such a room in his home?"
"Well actually I decided which room to give you. This was originally the room of his fiancé, but she never even stepped foot in the room. I don't see any reason for you not to have it." He smiled like a Cheshire cat.
"I thought he was married," Kaoru began.
Kamatari looked down the hall to make sure no other ears could hear. "He had the room decorated for her when she agreed to marry him for when he would be out of town on business. He didn't believe a woman should have to sleep in her husband's bed without him there as well. They went on their honeymoon and she didn't come back with him."
"What happened?" Kaoru asked curiously.
"None of your damned business," a new voice rejoined.
Kamatari visibly paled and gave a brief bow before running out of the room and down the hall, leaving Kaoru abandoned to deal with the angry volcano before her.
A tall, lean, muscular man stood in the doorway. He completely ignored his butler and glared at Kaoru with narrowed amber eyes. A cigarette was positioned within his thin lips as he smoked casually while glaring.
If it wasn't for his 'winning' personality, Kaoru would have considered him ruggedly handsome with his chiseled features, high cheekbones, straight nose, and firm jaw. She swallowed as her attention was drawn to his well toned chest, as it was exposed to the midsection.
"Done getting your fill of eye candy, sweetheart?" Saitou remarked in a gruff voice full of venom.
"Excuse me?" Kaoru asked indignantly, hands flying to her hips in reflex.
A light brown eyebrow arched at her attitude. "You heard me. Let's just get a few things straight," Saitou began with a slow, easy drawl. "I don't want you here, but I sympathized with your brother's situation. I don't want to see you so make yourself scarce. Do your job and we won't have any problems."
Kaoru stood silently and bit her cheek to keep from retorting to the arrogant man.
"Nothing to say, sweetheart?" Saitou sneered. His wicked grin disappeared before she could even register that it was there. "I don't need some harlot seducing my men either. If I hear anything about the sort you're out of here. I don't care what the circumstances." He turned on his heel and was about to leave when he stopped at the sound of Kaoru's voice.
"Living with an arrogant bastard who hates me without cause isn't my ideal situation either I'll have you know. I will be all too happy to not see you again during our stay here. As far as your men go, they better stay away from me. I have no intention of getting involved with some lady-killer cowboy." Kaoru glared at the man's back as he stood stone-still in her doorway.
Slowly, Saitou turned around and locked eyes with her. Sapphire and amber clashed violently. Kaoru began to tug on the long sleeve of Sano's flannel shirt that she had borrowed in the truck. It hid her figure and she knew that Saitou couldn't possibly accuse her of trying to seduce him while wearing such clothes.
"I'm not a harlot and most certainly not YOUR sweetheart," Kaoru continued when it became clear that the older man wouldn't answer.
"Make sure you remember that you are here as a charity case. I don't want some woman around here," Saitou informed her coldly. He turned back and left, but Kaoru's last words reached his ears.
"I wouldn't be here if my brother didn't need me," she said quietly.
Saitou's hands formed tight fists at his sides. His nails dug into his palms so deeply that blood was almost drawn. He did not want some woman coming here and disturbing his carefully balanced life. He returned to his study and found Sanosuke sitting at the leather chair where he left him.
The young man looked at him nervously. The dark haired youth hadn't wanted Saitou to talk to his sister. That was surprising to Saitou, most people constantly tried to introduce him to women. That was the problem with having so much money. Everybody wanted a piece.
"Look Saitou, sir," Sanosuke started. "I really do need this job, but Kaoru is the most important person to me in the world. We're all each other has. If you can't treat her with some dignity you can take this job and shove it where the sun don't shine," Sano growled rising to his feet and standing eye to eye with the other vertically inclined man.
Saitou cocked a brow at the young man's brazen attitude. He was slightly impressed at the level of loyalty to some woman who obviously didn't deserve that loyalty. "Very well moron, you have the job and I won't make your sister's life hell as long as she steers clear of me and doesn't distract the men."
Sano cracked his knuckles in anger at the insinuation of Kaoru's character. "She's not like that, but I don't think you'll have to worry about her coming near you." He smirked. "She probably hates you as much as you hate her."
Saitou wasn't sure why that remark hurt so much. He just met the troublesome woman and knew that she was only going to cause him problems. He learned long ago that all women were treacherous, which is why he avoided them so much. The only problem was that didn't seem to deter them from him.
He lit another cigarette. "Kamatari will show you to your room and you can move your things in. You're hired. Dinner is at seven every night in the dinning hall." He moved past his new foreman for his desk to continue his bookwork.
Sanosuke didn't leave just yet and lingered at the doorway uncertainly. He cleared his throat and earned his boss' attention. "Kaoru eats with us, right?" He needed to make sure.
"No, the men eat in the dining hall. She can eat in the kitchen with Kamatari."
Sano's dark brows drew together. "Then I'll eat in the kitchen as well."
"Like hell you will. If you want to eat, you'll eat with the other men that work on this ranch. You need to get to know one another," Saitou reasoned as he continued with his calculations, seeing the discussion closed.
"Kaoru will be working with the men as well, or did you forget. She handles a horse even better than I can," Sanosuke argued. He was going to defend his sister, even if it meant he would lose this job. Pride was important.
"I don't need a woman doing man's work," Saitou remarked with an icy, cutting edge.
"What the hell is she supposed to do then?" Sanosuke roared.
Saitou shrugged. "How the hell should I know? I made it perfectly clear that I don't need a woman on this ranch. Just make sure she stays out of my way." He paused and looked at Sano. "By the way, you can hire more hands for the round up, it starts pretty soon. See you at dinner."
Sanosuke walked out of the room and shut the door behind him. He ran his fingers through his unruly dark hair and saw Kaoru standing a few feet from him. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, but he knew she would never shed them. She smiled weakly at him and he put his arm around her shoulder to walk out to the Bronco to get their things.
"I'm sorry, Kao," Sanosuke told her softly.
Kaoru's thin shoulders shrugged under his muscular arms. "It's fine, really." She grinned at him mischievously. "Maybe I can go under the ruse of a mysterious cowboy that you hire for round up."
Sano chuckled at her idea. "I was thinking the same thing, missy."
Once they reached the Bronco Kaoru continued, "He wants me to stay out of his way. If I'm in the disguise of someone else then I can't run into him."
"If he finds out we'll probably be thrown out of here faster than you can tie your tennis shoe," Sano commented. Kaoru frowned at the reply and Sano only laughed and ruffled her silky, dark hair. "What's the point of living if we avoid the risks though?"
Saitou snapped his pencil in half in his frustration. The fire in those sapphire eyes haunted him. He really liked Sanosuke. He'd make an excellent foreman and he really could use someone as hard a worker as him. The only disadvantage was that a woman had to be part of the deal.
But, he wasn't being unreasonable with his requests. She would only be a distraction to his cowboys. He remembered all too vividly what happened years ago when he allowed a woman on this ranch.
He remembered looking past and ignoring all the problems she caused and the distractions of his men. But, on his honeymoon he discovered the truth and he realized that all women were a trouble best left alone.
"Damn her!" he growled as he threw his broken pencil at the wall. He didn't want to think about her treachery, but that Kaoru woman was going to bring it all back. Those were memories he successfully avoided for nearly a decade. He didn't need some silly tomboy to bring them back.
A/N: I've been wanting to write a Saitou/Kaoru fiction and also something along the theme of a Diana Palmer cowboy romance book, so this was the result. My wonderful friend Kanzen ne Tsuki will also be participating in writing this baby. Hope you enjoyed the first chapter of Life at Saitou's Ranch! BelleDayNight