All great love affairs begin with a first meeting….
The steers were not far off, beyond the boundary line, yes, but not so far that Anna couldn’t get around them and turn them back toward the property if Tex would hurry up just a little.
“All you have to do is trot,” she said, nudging him with her lower leg. Tex took the movement to mean he should immediately bolt toward the fence. He did so at full speed, leaving her to cling more than ride as he cleared the fence in a single bound.
The cattle scattered as she and Tex raced toward their little group, splintering off into several different directions. Anna couldn’t care about that in the moment, she was far too focused on riding out Tex’s second bolt. There was no way the horse would have behaved this way when her father rode him. She remembered Tex as a yearling, all gawky legs and willing attitude. The beast beneath her seemed a far cry from that cheerful young horse. Perhaps he was grieving too.
“You’re not going to feel any better by killing me,” she shouted at him. “Now cut it out!”
Tex’s gallop changed to a more sedate canter, just in time for several steers to go over a ridge.
Though she was still moving at quite a clip, Anna managed to turn her head to look as a woman with long blonde hair came riding across the plane. She rode like she was wearing the horse, not like Anna, who bounced along as best she could and tried to keep her seat. For a second, Anna completely forgot about the cattle, entranced by the arrival of a stranger whose beauty seemed entirely out of place in the rough terrain. She was tall, with broad straight shoulders and a small, neat bosom which moved with the rest of her bounding body as she came closer. She was followed by a black and white sheepdog which loped along behind her with apparent ease.
Her face held strength, it wasn’t hard or square, but there was a certain angular quality to the set of her eyes and the way her wide lips were twisted in a friendly wry smile that made Anna sigh with a mixture of admiration and relief. Help was at hand, she could sense it. Tex could too, apparently, for he wasted no time in joining up with her chestnut steed and drew to a halt just as she did.
“What are you doing?”
Up close and personal, Anna realized that the woman was a little older than she was, maybe by five years or so. Her age showed a little in the kindly wrinkles about her eyes and mouth, signs of a life spent smiling and laughing.
“Getting the cows in,” Anna said, shamefaced.
“Those are steers,” the woman said in an attractive Australian accent.
“Cows, steers, whatever,” Anna said crossly. “They’re out, and I’m getting them in.”
“You’re about to chase them into the next county is what you’re doing,” the woman said before emitting a piercing whistle. “Git away, Dash!”
The collie took off at high speed, body shaped like a bullet, his legs moving so fast they were almost invisible as they pounded at the ground, taking a wide berth around the pack of steers. The woman sat there looking self satisfied as her dog looped around, cutting the cattle off and turning them back toward home.
“You need a dog,” she said when she was satisfied things were fixed. “I’m Tamsan.”
“Anna,” Anna said, extending her hand for the shaking. It was shaken firmly and warmly. “You’re not from around here.”
“Nope. I come from the land down under.” Tamsan beamed widely, as if that was a very good thing.
Anna liked her smile. Anna liked her. A lot.
“You want to take it from here?”
It took a second for Anna to realize Tamsan was talking about the cattle. They had slowed to a slow trot and were heading back toward their home range.
“I’m thinking you don’t know how to fix the fence they probably got out of, am I right?”
“I’ll come with,” Tamsan said, charmingly taking charge. She spurred her horse forward into a fast canter transitioning into a gallop. Anna tried to follow suit, but two bolts were enough for one day. She let Tex follow along after Tamsan at an extended walk, his head bobbing up and down quite happily.
After a minute or two, Tamsan looked back over her shoulder and slowed to a halt, waiting for Anna to catch up.
“You can’t ride.” It wasn’t a judgment, just a statement of fact.
“I’m on the horse, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, you’re on the horse, but you have no idea how to ride that thing.”
Anna scowled. “It’s been a while, but I think I know what riding is.”
Tamsan lifted a dark brow in Anna’s direction. Not a word passed her lips, but Anna got a feeling low in her stomach that told her she’d gotten herself into some form of trouble.
“You need lessons,” Tamsan drawled.
“Are you offering?” It was a bold question, but Anna wasn’t above being bold sometimes – especially when it could mean spending time with an attractive stranger, and maybe getting Tex under control too.
“I could be,” Tamsan winked. “Depends if you can behave yourself or not.”
Anna felt her insides turn to warm goo. Maybe it was the accent. Maybe it was the languid drawl. Or maybe it was just how sinfully attractive Tamsan was, but Anna was completely and utterly besotted. She felt her face flush as Tamsan slowed her mount right down to a walk and meandered closer.
“Can I what?” The question came from a dry mouth.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
Tamsan chuckled. “That I believe.”
They were slowly nearing the fence line where the wires were curled away from the posts. The steers wandered through with complete disinterest, leaving only the matter of repairs to deal with.
“Someone cut these,” Tamsan frowned as she dismounted
“Well I’m guessing the cows didn’t chew their way through,” Anna said, distracted by the cute rear in tight jeans displayed before her as Tamsan bent over. As if sensing Anna’s stare, Tamsan looked over her shoulder.
“Sarcastic little thing aren’t you?”