The Ranch Hand By Sedona Fox
Copyright © Sedona Fox, “The Ranch Hand”, Cowboy Lust (Cleis, 2012)
The Solt Ranch was a prime piece of Montana real estate. With his health declining as it was, and no sons to take over the cattle business, John Solt all but jumped at the offer presented to him in a letter from a wealthy businessman in Nevada. Forsythe had made his fortune in the California gold rush and was looking for a more sustainable investment. Like any good investor, Forsythe knew that gold veins could run out at any time, but raising cattle would last for generations. John’s only obstacle was his daughter. Headstrong and independent, she wanted nothing to do with the offer.
“Papa, this is our place! You can’t mean to sell it,” Charlene said, anger stiffening her spine. “I can run it just fine on my own, if you’d just give me half a chance.”
“It’s not a woman’s place to control the operations of a ranch,” John said. “It takes a man’s business sense to keep the respect of his employees. Besides, it wouldn’t be a sale outright. The future of our land depends on you, Charlene.”
Something in his tone made her eyes narrow in suspicion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her father cleared his throat, and she saw his dread as he revealed the second part of the offer. “Forsythe is sending a ranch hand ahead of him to determine the worth of the land and of…you,” he said gently. “He wants your hand in marriage. He wishes to settle down and believes that a union with you will help in the transition of ownership with the workers.”
Charlene’s furious eyes burned with unshed tears. “So I’m just another business transaction? Something to be sold like a head of cattle? How can you even consider such a thing? I thought you cared about me.”
“Charlene, my love for you is why I am considering his proposal. I want to be sure you’re taken care of when I pass. His man is arriving tomorrow, and I expect you to be on your best behavior while he’s here. And please, start wearing something feminine. I can’t have you traipsing around in pants and boots, pretending you’re one of my employees.”
“Papa! How can you do this to me?” She tried to hold the tears back. “I don’t want to marry some fat, pompous businessman. He’s probably old, and hideously ugly too. Why else would he send such a ridiculous offer through the mail?”
“Please do this for me.” John spoke with a dejected voice. “You don’t know that Forsythe is all of those things. He could be perfect for you.”
She sighed as a single tear escaped. “Only for you, Papa.”
Charlene escaped to her room and quietly broke down as she rummaged through the cedar chest at the foot of her bed for something her father would consider appropriate. After choosing a deep blue dress, she laid out the undergarments she would be forced to endure the next day: corset, underskirts, and stockings. She hated each item. They constricted her and made her look fragile. Once she had bathed and dressed for bed, she braided her long brown hair and stared at her reflection in the mirror.
Charlene had thought that, at barely twenty, she still had time to enjoy her youth. But no longer. Now she would be judged according to her worth as the possession of a man she had never seen.
After a restless night, Charlene dressed and met her father for breakfast. She had taken great care with her appearance to please him, even arranging her hair into a loose bun at the crown of her head and held in place with a carved bone comb. As for the ranch hand and his employer, she couldn’t care less what they thought of her. She was already planning to sneak away at every opportunity to perform her usual ranch chores. If the new ranch hand caught her in the act, all the better.
Then perhaps he would take word back to Forsythe that the woman he sought was uncontrollable and boyish. As it was, she felt short of breath from the corset and was unable to eat much. She wanted nothing more than to take a pair of shears to the torturous garment.
“You look beautiful this morning,” John said, smiling his approval. “Thank you. I know how much you detest wearing such things.”
“Only for you, Papa,” she muttered once more, not daring to look at his face for fear she would burst into tears again.
The arrival of Forsythe’s man caused a stir among the workers as he rode past the corrals. John and Charlene stood on the porch awaiting his arrival, the rattling of Charlene’s nerves adding to the suffocation of her clothing. As he approached, she could see that his horse carried not only its rider, but several dusty saddlebags and a coiled rope hanging down the right flank. The rider himself was attired in well-worn leather chaps covering his denims, a light brown bib shirt, and a darker brown oilskin coat. His tan pinchfront cowboy hat shadowed his eyes and obscured his expression.
He brought the steed to a halt, dismounted, and walked up the steps to greet her father. Charlene took in the sight of him: a regular ranch hand type. When he removed his leather gloves, she saw calluses on his palms—this man worked hard. The muscular build that filled out his clothing also spoke to years of hard labor. What astonished Charlene, though, was his height. Her father was taller than most at five foot ten, but this man made him look small—he was at least six foot three.
Removing his hat and stuffing the gloves inside, he held out a hand to John. “Morning, Mr. Solt. Name’s Jesse Broadwell, Mr. Forsythe’s head ranch hand.”
His deep voice had a slight drawl, and its timbre sent a strange chill down Charlene’s spine.
“Morning, Mr. Broadwell. This is my daughter, Charlene.”
Turning to face her, the ranch hand showed her the most disarming smile. “Ma’am,” he said with a nod. “Please, you can both just call me Jesse.”
He hadn’t looked away from her as he spoke the last part, and Charlene couldn’t help but stare. Deep down she knew it was rude, but she couldn’t help herself. Jesse’s blonde hair was just long enough that it fell into his startling blue eyes. His skin was a golden tan, and his smile revealed the most charming laugh lines she had ever seen. The stubble on his face gave him a rugged appearance, but it didn’t take away from his youthful looks. She would have guessed he couldn’t be more than twenty-eight.
“Would you care for some breakfast, Jesse?” John asked, apparently oblivious to Charlene’s lack of manners.
Jesse finally broke their gaze and looked back to the man addressing him. “If it’s all the same to you, sir, I’d like to start familiarizing myself with the operations here. Mr. Forsythe will arrive in a week’s time wanting a full report, so it’s best I begin as soon as possible.”
“Of course,” John said with a smile. But Charlene could hear a hint of sadness. Only one week and the fate of his ranch and his daughter’s future would be decided.
John and Charlene, along with some of the senior ranch hands, spent the morning giving Jesse a tour of the ranch. Charlene stole glances when she was certain he wasn’t looking. But he caught her a time or two, and she would have sworn he’d been watching her too in those moments. She blushed then, but not from embarrassment. There was a heat in his gaze that made her imagine being pressed up against his bare chest, his lips trailing down her throat to the edge of her corset.
At lunch time, he chose to eat with the workers and get to know them and their duties. It was for the best, as far as Charlene was concerned. She couldn’t bear the distraction of trying to share a meal with Jesse. He spent the rest of the day getting into the routine of the ranch, even working through dinner.
John insisted that Charlene take food to Jesse’s quarters, despite her objections. When he said he was fatigued and would be retiring to bed; she conceded out of concern for his health rather than for Jesse’s appetite. She wanted so badly to get out of her uncomfortable clothes and check on things with the employees—she knew they would divulge any worthy gossip about the new arrival. Instead, she did as she was told and walked to the outbuilding that served as guest quarters with a basket of food in her hands.
The door was partially open, and she could see him in the lamplight. His back was to her, and he stood in front of the wash basin shaving away a day’s worth of stubble. He wore no shirt or boots, only a pair of clean denims. She watched as the defined muscles in his shoulders and back rippled with each movement he made with the straight razor.
After a moment he stopped, his eyes meeting hers in the mirror. Rinsing his face, Jesse turned, wiping the water away with a towel, damp strands of hair falling across his forehead.
Suddenly, her corset felt incredibly tight, and she was short of breath. Dear Lord, Charlene thought, no man has any right to look that good. Her eyes traveled the length of his chest to the waist of his trousers, which hung on his hips at a much too tempting level. His chest had the same golden tan as his face—he must have worked without a shirt quite often. She could picture him performing the strenuous tasks of the ranch, a gleam of perspiration enhancing each swell of muscle.
Heat crept into her face, and she started feeling lightheaded. “I…I brought you dinner,” she breathed out. Why did the air seem so thin? It was getting harder and harder for her to drag it into her lungs. She took a few steps forward, setting the basket on the table.
Jesse shut the door and closed the distance between them. “Are you feeling all right?” he asked. “You look a little flushed.”
“I’m fine…I just…” The room seemed to dim in front of Charlene’s eyes. “Damn corset…I can’t…” She wanted to say she couldn’t breathe, but she wasn’t sure the words had actually escaped her lips before everything went dark. She swore she could feel strong arms wrap around her, preventing her from hitting the floor.
Jesse carried Charlene to the guest bed and gently laid her down. He made quick work of unbuttoning the front of her dress and grabbed his boot knife from the side table, slicing the corset’s lacing on both sides. He never understood why women tortured themselves with such a restricting garment and had seen too many suffer the consequences of the fashion. This woman had seemed uncomfortable from the moment they met, and he wondered if she normally adopted more practical clothing. The healthy sun glow of her skin told him she didn’t spend her days doing needlepoint in the shade.
Now that the corset had been loosened, her breathing came easier. Jesse couldn’t help but place his hand on her cheek as he watched her. He tried to tell himself it was to make sure some kind of fever wasn’t causing her distress. Suddenly, he found himself brushing her bottom lip with his thumb. Her skin was like silk, and he wondered if her hair was just as soft. The space where her full lips parted was like an invitation to kiss her, but he held himself back as her eyelids fluttered, slowly opening to reveal her rich brown eyes.
“How are you feeling, Miss Solt?”
“Charley,” she whispered. Was she delirious? Her eyes did still seem a bit glazed. Or was she mistaking him for someone else? That thought disturbed him.
“Everyone calls me Charley,” she continued. “Except for Papa.” Her gaze flickered around the room and back to him, and she seemed more aware of her situation. “What happened?”
“You fainted,” Jesse told her, a slight smirk picking up the corner of his mouth. “Why you women insist on wearing corsets is a mystery to me.”
Glancing down at herself, Charlene’s gaze caught on the open front of her dress and the tattered laces of her corset. The realization of what had happened began to set in, and she sat up quickly, trying to cover herself. The movement placed her face mere inches from his. God, he smelled good. Like leather and soap.
“You should probably take it easy for a few more minutes,” he said. The amusement vanished from his face and his voice sounded just a little deeper.
As he spoke, he moved even closer, and she could feel his warm breath on her lips. Charlene felt short of breath again and closed her eyes. This time she knew it wasn’t the corset.
Jesse’s mouth pressed against hers, gently at first. As her lips parted, he slid his tongue inside and heat instantly swept through her, settling low in her body. She ran her hands along his chest, so hard and masculine, sculpted from years of wrestling livestock to the ground. It made her think of him wrestling her to the ground, the two of them struggling for dominance as their skin touched, sparking even more passion between them.
She entwined her fingers in his hair and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss. Jesse slid his hands up her sides, loosening the corset even more as he progressed. He pulled the comb from her hair, allowing it to fall around her shoulders. He caressed her curls with his fingers as though testing their softness.
Jesse broke the kiss only long enough to move his lips down her throat, gently nipping along the way. Charlene issued a quiet gasp of pleasure. He unhooked the clasps holding together the front of the garment that had started this. Perhaps, she thought, it wasn’t such a bad invention after all.
Freeing her breasts from the rigid boning, he trailed his kisses further down, wrapping an arm around her waist as she arched toward him. The fingers of his free hand found the hem of her skirts and stole underneath to follow the curve of her leg, brushing lightly against the inside of her thigh. Charlene desperately hoped he would slide further up to relieve some of the tension she felt building between her legs.
“You are so beautiful, Charley,” he whispered between caresses.
Such a simple compliment, yet it shocked her back to reality. She froze.
Jesse pulled back to look at her. “What’s wrong?”
“We can’t do this,” Charley gasped. “My father promised my hand to your employer.”
“Without giving you a chance to know him?” The expression on his face was unreadable.
“I barely know you,” she replied. “What’s the difference? And I’m certain your boss will want his ‘property’ to remain intact.”
Deep down she knew there was a big difference. She was extremely attracted to the man in front of her, whereas she might despise the man who was to arrive in a few short days. But she couldn’t allow those thoughts to take seed in her mind. She had to think of her father’s wishes for her well-being. “I’m sorry, I just can’t.”
Charley pushed past him, clasping the front of her dress together as she flung open the door and fled into the night toward the main house.
Jesse followed her path to the doorway, leaning against the jamb as he watched her go. He let out a heavy sigh and shifted the uncomfortable bulge pressing against the denim of his pants. It was going to be a long week.
For the next several days, Charlene abandoned her dresses once again for more practical attire. She needed the hard work to get her mind off of that first night. It wouldn’t do any good to lust after a man she couldn’t have. It was bad enough that, when the deal was finalized, Jesse would be a permanent fixture at the ranch.
As it was, Jesse seemed as unavoidable as her looming fate. He was around every corner as if he had been waiting for her, and on a few occasions, she accidentally brushed against him, stirring the flames once again.
Jesse even joined them for meals, at her father’s request. John wanted to get to know more about the man who would be taking over the ranch, and Jesse was his only source of information.
The ranch hand tried to make it sound as though Forsythe was every bit the gentleman in all his ventures. But of course a loyal employee would say such things. Subtle cues in Jesse’s expressions led Charlene to believe he was less than forth- coming. Things that made it look like he was ashamed of what he said. His inability to meet her gaze made her worry.
The evening before Forsythe was due to appear, she confronted Jesse in the doorway of the guest quarters as he was washing up from the day’s work. Her timing was impeccable. He was shirtless again, and she had to strengthen her resolve.
“What is Mr. Forsythe really like?” she asked without preamble, irritation tightening her voice.
He turned to face her, and it was like the first night was repeating itself. Except now she wore a shirt, pants, and vest instead of the garments she would be expected to wear once again for the businessman’s arrival in the morning.
“He’s everything I’ve said him to be,” Jesse replied, brows raised in curiosity as he walked toward her. “You’ll see for yourself. He’ll give you everything you need or want. He’s been very fortunate with his investments.”
Anger flooded Charlene in a hot torrent. “I don’t care about his money! I don’t want it,” she exploded. “The only things that matter to me are already here. I love doing work on the ranch. Will he allow that? Or am I to be the dutiful wife and wear dresses and host parties? I want my father to be happy, but he’s not unless I am. And I won’t be happy! Not like that. And I want…”
She stopped, terrified of what she’d almost let slip. She turned and stalked through the doorway, heading toward the house. Halfway across the yard, something fell in front of her eyes before tightening around her arms and waist, nearly throwing her off balance. When she caught herself, she realized Jesse had lassoed her. Slowly, he pulled the rope, forcing her back to his doorway.
Once he had her all the way inside, he shut the door and grabbed her arms. He pressed her against the wall, his bare chest so close she could feel his heat.
“Tell me, Charley,” he said huskily. “What else do you want?”
Her eyes widened, and her lips parted slightly as he ran a single finger down the side of her throat and over the swell of her breasts, finally cupping one in his palm while running his thumb over the material covering her nipple. The contact caused liquid heat to pool further south, and she could barely remember the question he had asked. He pressed into her further, his arousal brushing against her stomach.
“Tell me what you want, Charley,” he whispered next to her ear, his breath feathering her jaw.
“I want you,” she answered breathlessly. “Will he give me that?”
He pulled back slightly and looked at her with his captivating blue eyes.
“You have me right now.” Without giving her a chance to respond, he brought his mouth down on hers, entering with his tongue.
This time, she didn’t hold back, matching his passion with her own.
Jesse unbuttoned her vest, sliding it down her arms and letting it fall to the floor along with the lasso.
With her arms freed, Charley slid her hands from his muscled chest around his back, coming to rest on his tight backside. Pulling his hips closer, she could feel his erection grow harder against her.
Jesse groaned deep in his throat. He tugged at her shirt, yanking it free from her pants, breaking contact only long enough to pull it over her head. The garment fell carelessly to the floor as he lifted her hips to push his firm shaft against her core. Her nipples hardened as they brushed against his skin. The material remaining between them created a delicious friction, causing Charlene to grow even wetter.
As though Jesse could sense her arousal, he kissed a path to the fullness of her breasts, taking a nipple into his mouth and suckling it taut while stimulating the other with his fingers, nearly sending her over the edge.
Charley gasped and wrapped her legs around his waist, arched her back, and rubbed herself against his throbbing erection. Now the last bit of clothing they wore was becoming an annoyance, a barrier to be torn away.
Jesse cradled her in his arms and carried her to the bed, coming down on top of her. Moving his mouth to hers once again, he lifted first one of Charley’s legs, then the other, to remove her boots. He slid down her body to unbutton her pants and pull them off in one smooth motion. Then he undid his own pants, allowing them to drop to the floor before stepping out of them and running his hands slowly up her legs. His steely cock skimmed against her sensitive flesh like the softest velvet, and just the sight of Jesse unleashed a fresh wave of moisture between Charley’s thighs. She wanted to feel his thick arousal inside of her, filling her. But he didn’t enter, and she thought the wait would be the death of her.
“Are you certain you want this? If we keep going, there’s no turning back.”
The look of concern in his eyes was enough to convince her. He must know as well as she what might happen should Forsythe realize she was no longer untouched. But she didn’t care about the consequences.
“If I am to be miserable for the rest of my life, tied to someone I care nothing about, I want to have one night of happiness. I want my first time to be with you,” she said quietly.
A hint of a smile touched his lips.
“You can be very persuasive. I promise to be gentle.”
He reached to the side table and came back with a shiny boot spur in his hand. Before she could question him, Jesse began to lightly roll the spur along her breasts, tickling her erect tips with the rowel. He traced the curves of her ribs and stomach, leaving her caught between laughter and moaning. Moving further down, Jesse trailed along the tender flesh of her thighs, following the path with light kisses. Slowly, he spread her apart, running the chilled metal along her moistened slit.
Charlene bucked in exquisite torture as he rolled it up and down her clit with varying pressure. Before she found her release, Jesse dropped the spur on the floor and sank down, settling his mouth at her core. His tongue laved at her folds, and he sucked and nibbled at her aching mound, gently inserting one and then two fingers inside her. The combined sensations were unrelenting, and she cried out, her body trembling.
Before she could fully recover, Jesse moved up her body again and pressed the tip of his erection against her opening, slipping ever so slowly into her until he was sheathed nearly to his base.
Jesse stilled as Charlene became accustomed to the length of him. After the initial pressure had passed, she pushed herself even further down. She wanted everything he could give her. He pulled out nearly all the way before thrusting in again, and she could feel the tension escalating.
Jesse cupped her buttocks and lifted her, pressing their bodies together as he pushed harder into her, increasing the rhythm, leisurely at first, but growing in intensity. His pubic bone rubbed her mound as he moved, recreating what his mouth had done before. Charley’s muscles clenched around him, and she was nearly frantic as she urged him on, not wanting to lose the sensation of him pumping in and out of her slick opening. Their combined shouts of release echoed as Jesse quickened his pace to an earth-shattering level, and she felt his cock jerk as he exploded inside of her. Together they collapsed in exhaustion, their bodies still spasming, reluctant to separate.
Over the next few hours, they enjoyed each other again and again, filling the night with tender heat. As the sky began to lighten, though, Charley knew she had to return to the house to prepare for Forsythe. As she dressed, tears burned her eyes.
Jesse brushed the hair from her neck and kissed her sensitized skin as she pulled on her boots.
“I wish he was you,” she choked out as she slipped from his grasp.
She ran out before he could stop her.
In the morning, Charley stood on the porch with her father and Jesse as a wagon filled with trunks arrived. She couldn’t meet Jesse’s gaze, and she felt sick when she saw the only person on the wagon.
As promised, she had dressed much as she had that first day. She couldn’t find her comb, though, so her hair hung loose.
Jesse wore what Charley figured was his Sunday best. He looked incredibly handsome. The man driving the wagon, however, was overweight and looked to be in his fifties. Just as she’d expected. Charley wanted to cry.
“You made good time, William,” Jesse commented cheerfully.
“The trains were actually on schedule, if you can believe it.” The other man chuckled. “I admit, I was rather shocked you came to a decision so quickly, Mr. Forsythe. I rather thought you would take another week or change your mind altogether. The telegram was a bit of a surprise.”
Charley looked at Jesse in astonishment.
“What can I say, William? I know something good when I see it,” he responded, looking directly at Charley when he spoke. “Mr. Solt? Charley? Allow me to introduce William Canton, my personal accountant.”
“You’re Forsythe?” Charley sputtered.
He strode toward her. “Your father knew you would react badly to my proposal. We’ve been communicating for months. He thought it best if you got to know the real me before I told you. Broadwell was my mother’s maiden name. I use it when I don’t want undue attention.”
She stared at him in disbelief. He frowned slightly at her reaction. “Charley, please say something.”
Tears began to flow down her face. His shoulders relaxed, and he raised his hands to bracket her cheeks while his thumbs smoothed away her tears. She placed her hands on his chest and felt something rigid in his pocket. It was her hair comb. He had been carrying it with him. “You’re exactly what I want,” she whispered.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and he swept her up, capturing her mouth with his and carrying her toward the guest quarters.
“Well,” John said to William, “I guess the rest is just ceremony.”
The two men laughed as they went inside the main house.