A/N: Hey all! This is what happens when FallingSnow Winter over on fb posts a manip of Edward as a cowboy, i.e., Cowboyward, on my fb page. This was the only way I could get him out of my head and move on with life. :)
The following will be six chapters and an epi, posting every day starting today, so we should be done by Saturday, which is a good thing because I'll be on a cruise ship come Saturday afternoon.
Betad by my fellow cowgirl, Michelle Renker Rhodes.
Most characters belong to S. Meyer.
Open Range – Chapter 1
We only went ten miles today; aimed for fifteen but that coffee-boiler Jake let a quarter of the herd get past him. Took us the better part of the afternoon to round'em all up again. Abilene's still 'bout 500 miles away and I'm aching from the long days and longer nights.
Damn that deadbeat, Jake; so slow molasses wouldn't run down his legs.
Now I lay under the huge Cypress; staring up at the black sky peppered with thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights. My right hand wraps around my pecker and I try to ignore the sounds of cattle bellowin' and gruntin' at each other so I can pretend that it's that pretty whore - the one that winked at me back at the saloon a couple 'a hundred miles back while Emmett, Jasper and me were getting roostered up with some of that oh-be-joyful - that's keeping me warm.
Not that I fiddle around with whores – Pa taught me better 'n that. The three women I've been lucky to have had have all been good, God-fearing, Christian women who simply needed a man's love without the promises or bindings all that business usually entails. Generous women, they were, and I won't begrudge them their choices.
Anyway, it's been months since I had me a real woman, so you'll pardon me if it's that pretty saloon girl I'm imaginin' with her warm parts wrapped tight around my aching pecker, 'stead of my own dry, callused hand.
Next mornin', the sun glares down at us viciously, like we done it wrong in another lifetime or sum'n. The herd feels it too, grumbling and moaning more than usual, wanderin' round like lost sheep and we're the shepherds – which I suppose we are.
The heat's got the horses movin' like turtles as well. Mine here sort of waddles from side to side, shiftin' me east to west while I try to guide these here cattle in as straight a line as possible when I'm as directionless as they are. By mid-afternoon, the sun's rays glare through my hat, make my shirt stick to my chest, wet and heavy with sweat 'til I can't stand it no more and remove the offendin' object, throwing it high up into the sky. I watch it float across the open range before landin' under my horse's hooves silently. Now the godforsaken sun flames across my shoulders, burnin' down my back sum'n' dreadful - but 'least I can breathe.
'Least, I can breathe for a couple 'a minutes.
Jake, slower than a crippled turtle in snow, has lost the upper hand with his group yet again. He's yellin' and cussin' at them, but they've taken off for who knows what. Who told this shoddy cattleman to hit the open range is beyond me.
Emmett and I both kick our boots into our ride's sides at the same time, chasin' after them pieces of meat while Jake looks on – stupid eyes wide open. Well, maybe he'll learn sum'n after all, but we all know May Bees don't fly around in July.
"Whoa! Easy there! Easy there!"
Me and a couple of the other men round them cattle back, little by little, Jasper and some of his men pushin' from one end and me from the other while Emmett takes the back end by his self, but that one there's a cattleman to the manner born, so I ain't concerned. However, Jas and me could readily use another hand; that's why Jake's here - useless as a tree stump though he is.
Out of my periphery, I see a horse swiftly headin' our way, gallopin' at full speed like its rider commands the wind itself, and while my brothers and I struggle to get this herd back on track, I'm partly grateful for any help and partly wary of a jobless cattleman lookin' for us to fork over good dinero for a quick round-up. Good thing I've got my weapon ready to go just to the left of me, hidden by my saddle, 'case we meet up with just such a mudsill or a few angry Indians.
I look up at the rider cuttin' through like the devil, unable to make him out from under the wide-rim 'bout two sizes too big for his head. Small guy, can't be more than my ma's height – which explains why he's so light on that there horse –
-'cept when he's about twenty feet away his features become visible, and I suck in a sharp breath of air because he is a she.
Big brown eyes meet mine for a split second before she lets out a "Haaaa!" and starts wrangling them cattle like she owns them and they will obey or so help me. Her horse deftly sidesteps the meat, pushing them this way before guiding them that. My brothers and I only stare for half a minute before resuming our jobs.
Jake is still as useless as a wool blanket in July.
"Haaa! Haaa!" she orders about, her voice fierce like a growl, yet almost like a melody. Can't see too much of her face due to the hat and the strands of hair blowing wildly all about her. She kicks her boot into her mount with authority, but not with malice, and the horse moves swiftly and as precisely as she orders it.
Within a half hour, we've gotten the cattle under control once more. For a few minutes, we ride in silence only punctuated by the occasional suckin' of teeth to guide our mounts as well as the cattle's constant whining.
But my head knows no such quiet. What in the world is a woman – a girl really – doing out here helping us with the cattle no less, dressed like a vaquero on his way far south?
When this cattle girl finally removes her hat and shakes her head out, long, chocolate hair comes loose and slaps itself against a sun-kissed face that should be on an angel, not a cowhand. I blink and stare like a total jack-ass because the sun has decided to shine every single one of its rays over her, and so I must look.
I ain't no namby-pamby, 'case that's what y'all are thinkin'. I have never known myself to be in love. The three, wonderful, generous women who let me poke around inside them – Tanya, Kate and Rina - were not objects of my undying affection, though I deeply appreciated the favor that they were bestowing on me. I am a practical man of twenty-four years on this here Earth, and while I know that one day I may have to settle down and take a wife, I am aware that the life I lead is not ideal for most married folks. Plenty a grass widow come about from my way of life: women who can't deal with a husband away for months at a time, who rightfully wonder what that husband does on his time away: who's warmin' his body and keepin' his pecker workin' and such. My Ma and Pa have made it work but that right there is the exception not the rule for conjugal bliss. I've resigned myself to the fact that my wife will come second in my life and will either deal with it - or leave.
Point is, I don't spend my nights dreamin' of my angel, of the one woman meant for me.
But hell if this woman before me don't look like she just rode her horse down from the kingdom of heaven and donned a brown wide-rimmed hat, boots and canvas pants for the trip.
"You got water for me?"
I slowly come to the realization that she's spoken – and her words are directed in my general direction. She scowls my way when I fail to answer in the generally acceptable time frame in which one usually does so when asked such a basic inquiry.
"Edward, give her your canteen," Jasper hisses, and I quickly fumble for my leather jug, removing the cap with unusually – and upsettingly – clumsy fingers before holding it out to her.
She glares at me warily, not quite meetin' my eyes, yet doesn't make a move to take it.
"Well, go ahead, you're the one who asked for it," I smirk.
Behind me, I hear Emmett's quiet chuckles – which stop directly when her eyes flash his way.
She looks at me again, eyes shifty as if she's trying not to look at me direct, and with a soft poke of her boot, guides her mount my way. Her hand reaches out for the canteen and when it does, her eyes move to my bare chest.
Her cheeks turn bright red, and she snatches the jug from me almost angrily before putting it to her mouth.
And there go the sun's rays again when she tilts her head up and drinks thirstily from the canteen, her long neck smooth and beckonin' while her throat moves as she swallows…and swallows…and swallows…
By the time she finally finishes, my own throat is as dry as prairie grass in the winter.
She scowls at me again before replacin' the top on the jug and throwin' it at me. Now normally I've got the quickest reflexes of all the Cullen boys, which is sum'n, I'll tell you, but today I almost let the darn thing fall to the ground.
"Jack-ass," she mutters, and with an expert suck of her teeth, taps her horse and turns it about.
Once more, I know not what to say, my head all balled up the way it is, when she calls out behind her.
"My pa has a ranch not five miles from here. Got plenty of space for the cattle to graze. Ya'll are welcome to take a rest there, have a decent, hot meal and a bath 'fore you're on your way again in the morning."
Emmett, Jasper and I look at one another. We've got six other ranch hands with us for this run, and a cook who's not too bad, but there's only so many ways you can boil a potato. The last warm bath I had was 'bout three hundred miles and three weeks ago, on a trip my brothers and I took to town for supplies while the rest of the cattlemen watched the herd. We spent the night in a boarding house and I had me a hot bath in a tub that I enjoyed a'plenty – that is, until the boarding house owner's wife decided to pay me a surprise visit, offering to scrub my back and other unmentionable body parts. Now while it'd been a few months since I had me a woman, I don't fiddle with other men's wives either, 'specially when I'm staying under their roofs, so despite the fact that my pecker was throbbin' and beggin' me to let her wash it nice and clean, I had to respectfully turn her down.
She wasn't lonely for too long, however. Emmett got her screamin' nice and loud just a half hour or so later, while I was still in my lukewarm tub. She was so darn loud that her husband did hear and chased us out in our birthday suits with the barrel of his rifle pointed ready in our direction. Jas and I cussed Emmett something vicious all the way back to camp, but he was good and sated and couldn't of cared less.
But I guess it's taken my brothers and I entirely too long to answer for the cattle girl's likin'.
"Or ya'll can just go on your merry way and eat beans and potatoes again and take cold baths in the river along with your cattle. Suit yourselves."
"Wait!" I call out, sum'n like desperation in my voice that I know I gotta get under control unless I wanna hear my brothers and the rest of the men teasing me sum'n merciless. I kick my mount into motion and catch up with her, where she rides with her chin held high, eyes directly ahead.
"That's a mighty generous offer, and my brothers and I would be much obliged."
"Follow me then," she says, and finally, her eyes meet mine.
They're so dark it's as if the sky itself has somehow taken up shelter in there. Deep as a black ocean.
We simply hold each other's gazes for an immeasurable moment of time.
But then she blinks and drops her gaze, her eyes now roamin' up and down my bare chest unabashedly, studyin' my body as if we're the only two creatures here on God's green Earth. Abruptly, she blinks again and her eyes grow wide, and when she looks back up at me, it's as if she's remembered that we are not in fact alone out here on this open range. Her beautiful cheeks turn bright red once more, and her nostrils flare.
"Try to keep your men and cattle in line this time, will you?"
And with that, she kicks her mount again and grunts out a command, movin' up ahead of me and leavin' me staring in her wake.
Those last five miles of the day stretch out for hours – specially in this heat. The cattle are tired and hungry and I'm mighty grateful for this cattlewoman's sudden appearance because the herd, as well as the men, needs a real break.
Well, I'm grateful for her appearance for the break and for more.
We come upon a large, white ranch in the distance, and four riders come out to meet us, rifles hanging low in their hands, and my own hand grips the handle of my rifle as I'm sure my brothers and the rest of the men are doing right about now. We come too far with this here herd to give it up to five men and a woman – regardless of how beautiful that woman may be.
But the sudden tension minimizes, if not completely disappears, when the cattle girl rides up to the man in the middle – an older man with hair as dark as hers and an equally dark, thick mustache – and positions her mount parallel to his, throwin' her arms around his shoulders.
My brothers and I slow our horses, waitin' and watchin' a few feet away.
"Where you been, Isabella? I was fixin' to come find you."
The man's voice is full of reproach – but also of deep affection.
"I found some cattle drivers needed help and invited them back, Pa. The herd's tired."
The man's mustache twitches from side to side before his eyes move up to us. He holds us in his gaze, not unfriendly-like, but with the understandable wariness a man such as him should reserve for an unknown group such as ours.
"Who are they?" he asks, eyes still on us.
"I'm not sure, Pa." She suddenly looks contrite.
He shakes his head. "Isabella…"
"I'm Edward Cullen," I interject quickly. "These here are my brothers, Emmett and Jasper. We come from-"
"San Antonio," he finishes for us. "Yes, I've heard of the Cullen Ranch. You headed for Ablilene."
It's not truly a question, for where else would we be headed on this trail, but I respond, "Yes, Sir," anyhow with a nod.
"Mm," he grunts. "Had my own herd head up there couple a' weeks ago."
We watch each other.
"I'm Charles Swan."
"Much obliged to meet you, Mr. Swan," I say, because 'course I've heard of Swan. He's one of the biggest ranchers in Oklahoma.
"Your animals can graze here and your men are welcome to set up on the land for the night. You and your brothers will be our guests for supper...and are welcome to stay in the main house with us before you continue your drive in the morning."
"We'd be much obliged."
"Mm," he grunts again, and then turns his horse around, making his way towards the big, white ranch.
"Ayudarles con el Ganado y los caballos," the girl, Isabella, instructs the other men, "y despues traerlos a la casa."
The men nod their understanding and head our way. Isabella's eyes shift in our direction, locking on mine.
"They'll help you with the cattle and horses and show your men where to set camp, then you and your brothers can come down to the house."
"Thank you…Isabella," I nod with a crooked smile, tippin' the rim of my hat to her.
She holds my gaze for a few seconds…and then chin held high, turns around and catches up to her father.
Disclosure: I know nothing about cowboys and cowgirls and cattle drives and ranches beyond the hour or so of research I performed for this short story. So I apologize if I get anything glaringly wrong.
Don't forget, we'll have daily postings. Another update tomorrow. :)
And for those waiting for A&A, it will resume next month, as soon as I'm back from vacay and have the kids settled back in school. (And we'll also have the next outtake to TCL.) :)
Link to 'Stories by Pattyrose' is on my profile page.