By Jon Del Arroz

Why a woman would wear flowing red skirts on a tour of a ranch, Irving Patterson would never understand. Still, he learned early in his career to be careful when questioning his betters. If Nathaniel Morgan’s daughter wanted to look like someone gallivanting at a debutante ball, it was her right.

Tallulah Morgan sloshed through the pasture in front of him, hiking her skirts to avoid getting any mixture of mud or manure on them. She paused to survey the stables. “Well, this’ll do nicely,” she said.

Irving narrowed his eyes at the stable. What could she be thinking? He’d heard of the party she’d thrown at the casino after some heavy winnings at the Twenty-One table. Perhaps a new ballroom? “What for, Mrs. Morgan?”

“It’s Miss Morgan. I swear, if I have to remind another soul that I’m not that elderly hussy Lillian, I’m liable to do something unladylike.”

“Won’t happen again, ma’am.”

“It’d better not. As I said before, Mr. Irving, I’m here to learn the business. Lula Morgan, Ranch Manager,” she said, sweeping her hand across the sky in front of the barn as if there should be a sign echoing her words.

Miss Morgan had been on the payroll for a few weeks, but she had no official duties. “Pardon, Miss Morgan, but do you have any experience in ranching?“

lulaShe flashed a smile as fake as could be. “Not as of yet, but Lillian wanted to give me some responsibility. I aim to take the bull by the reins, as they say.”

“By the horns, ma’am.”

“Same difference.” Miss Morgan flipped her wrist dismissively. “The point is it’s a ranch. How difficult could running it be?”

Irving adjusted the brim of his hat. “Miss Morgan,” he said, “ranching is hard work. It takes years to get the hang of it and it’s downright physical. I’ve worked ‘em over twenty years and know the ropes better than just about anyone. Best to start out shoveling manure, mucking stalls, and picking out hooves. You have to get a feel for the animals before tackling anything else.”

Miss Morgan brought her fingertips to her lips, letting the softest of laughs escape. “Oh, Mr. Patterson, you’re quite the joker. I told you I’d be managing this ranch. Since you rightly pointed out how experienced you are, I’m confident you can handle all that other work.”

Irving grimaced. Sure, he could handle the work and likely her overseeing it, but this idea was dangerous. “We should probably check with Mr. Baine before you start … managing.”

“Mr. Patterson, what’s my last name?”

“Morgan.”

“And what is the name of this company?”

“Morgan Cattle Company.”

“Then you understand that my word is law here?”

Irving hesitated and then nodded cautiously. “Of course, Miss Morgan,” Irving said. Tallulah Morgan had herded him as sure as he’d done with the cattle. He prayed it wouldn’t lead to the slaughter house.

Miss Morgan smiled bright as day. “Excellent. Let’s get to work.”

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