Read RanchersHealingTouch Online

Authors: Arthur Mitchell

RanchersHealingTouch (3 page)

His words don't sound very sincere. Face it: this was a big fuck up. I know it, he knows it, everybody
knows it. I have to do better tomorrow...

Sadie stays in her room for dinner, settling for a couple fruit bars ferreted away from his kitchen. The same uncertain dreams of a tall menacing man doing forbidden business occupy her all the way until sunup.

The next day, the kitchen is empty, but breakfast is waiting. She barely eats anything, wondering if he's so disgusted by her performance that he's left for the fields early to avoid her.

The sun is just beginning to lift itself up into the sky when she heads out. Today, they're putting her in the big barn to gather animal feed with another man.

“The feeder's like a big funnel. It separates the crap from the gold – as much as you can call animal food gold, anyway. Your job's simple: catch everything good that comes out in these sacs.” The skinny man who introduced himself as Charlie stretches a long crooked finger up to the ceiling. “I'm going to go up in the loft. Careful now. It can come pretty fast once we get going.”

“I'll do my best.”

She means it. As soon as she moves to the corner where the metallic tube comes down from the floor above, she stops.

The pile of thick bags she's supposed to use for catching the feed is much bigger than expected.

Worse, there's no way to easily catch her partner's attention, short of screaming her lungs out and hoping her voice passes through the old wood.

It's okay. I can do this. No more screw ups for this girl.

Each sac can hold almost twenty pounds of grains. She holds it open beneath the pipe-like opening, waiting for the scratchy sound above to translate into something useful.

The food, mostly corn, tumbles into her sac fast. Within a minute, it's halfway filled, with no sign of slowing.

As soon as the pellets and kernels pile near the top, she clamps it off and shoves another sac beneath the tube, tying off the first while it begins to fill. With a shallow toss, the full bag lands near the wall.

The fast and furious labor reminds her of working in a warehouse, or perhaps a shipping facility with a ceaseless conveyer belt. The devilish pace keeps her moving.

The humid day doesn't help. After filling five sacs, she's drenched with sweat. All the parts inside her that protested the day before are back, howling with discontent.

Is he ever going to take a break? This is breakneck crazy. No, I must've been a city girl. My body
isn't designed for this.

Clenching her jaw, she breathes deep and forces the thoughts away as she ties off another bag.

City girl or not, Sadie won't give up. Letting Brax down again isn't an option.

She focuses on her inner resolve, moving like an extension of the machine. Bag by bag, the feed gets packaged, and soon the finished sacs are stacked high against the wall.

It's hard to stare at the corn for too long. The waterfall of yellow bits draws her eyes hypnotically.

Instinctively, she pauses and reaches toward the stream, letting the rapid current pass through her spread fingers.

“Oh my God. No!”

Sadie tumbles backward, flatting the half-filled sac. Feed spills everywhere. It keeps coming for more than a minute, completely burying the stunted bag in a small mountain.

Grasping her temples, she raises her head toward the ceiling and screams with all her might. A few seconds later, the feed stops.

Charlie rushes downstairs and finds her splayed out on the ground. He drags her up by the shoulders.

Sadie sees the frightened expression in his eyes. She's shaking uncontrollably. It feels like every inch of her is covered in hive-like goosebumps.

“I...I'm sorry. I can't do this today. I need to go!”

Disappointment is the last thing on her mind as she takes off. Fear reigns, and nothing else.

It only takes her a couple minutes to reach the house, but it feels like spanning miles to get there.

Flustered and breathless, she collapses near the entryway. She hopes Brax isn't in the house – he usually isn't during the day. Anything to keep him from hearing her sobs.

That texture, those movements...I know them like my own soul. But it shouldn't make me break like
this. God, just where the hell did I come from?

On shaky knees, she drags herself up to the guest room and collapses. This time, her sleep is mercifully blank, sluggish and empty as her heart slowing with vacant adrenaline.

It's well after sundown when Brax wakes her. His hand glides down her back, tender but firm. The soft pressure sends her leaping up from the blackness.

“Hey, it's okay. I just came to check up on you. Charlie told me what happened.”

She rubs her eyes. It's hard to meet his dark gaze. Even though he's truly concerned, the

disappointment is there, staring at her like the barrel of a gun.

“I don't know what came over me. I really don't, Brax. One minute, I was filling the bags fine, letting the feed pass through my fingers. I freaked out.”

The mattress sinks beneath this weight as he sits next to her. His hat comes off in his hands, resting on his lap. In the shadows of late evening, he looks like a severe cowboy from another age, deep in contemplation.

“You're going to have to confront your demons at some point. Not today, and not for me. But for yourself – whenever you're finally ready.”

“I know,” Sadie says softly. His words surprise her.

This is humiliating. I know he means well...but I just want to crawl away and disappear forever.

“What now?”

“Well...I can't let you stay here for free. I'll be damned if I'd turn you out, though. You're going to get another chance to carry your weight. It's too bad we don't know what your triggers are.”

A crooked smile cuts across her face. “Yeah. Guess I really am a crazy person.”

“Hey.” Suddenly, his hands are coiled around her wrists, tight and possessive. “Look at me.”

Shaking, she meets his eyes, forcing back the hard lump in her throat.

“Whatever happened to you, I'm sure it's not your fault. You're a good person, Sadie. Even if you aren't sure who you are.”

“I wish I had your confidence. Sometimes I think you know me better than I know myself...whoever I am.”

He releases her hands, giving her a parting shake of the wrists. His touch is electric, warming. The painful emptiness that comes when he lets go chills her.

“Keep trying. One of these days, you'll wake up and find that I'm right.” Shifting up from the bed, he walks to the door and stops. “You need to keep your strength up too. I'm bringing you some dinner.

Don't fight me on this.”

“Thanks.” She swallows her pride one last time.

After eating a sausage and potato casserole with some fruit, she has a quick shower. The steel water knob is turned to cold.

Icy jets spatter her bare flesh, running off her curves in rivulets that awaken every dormant nerve in her depths. She closes her eyes and receives the glacial misting like a baptism.

When her toes are curled from the cold, she notices the heat further up her body. Sadie grasps the wall, desperate to ignore the raw fire kindled beneath her belly.

Not the right time or place. Come on, body. Give a girl a break.

I'm sure this depression or whatever the hell I have is doing all sorts of crazy things to my sex drive.

She turns and spreads her fingers. Now, the water hits her back, so cold that the droplets are like hail to the touch.

If she can't bring herself to satisfy her lusts, then maybe she can freeze them out.

A shy smile lights up her face and she tips her head toward the faint fluorescent light above the mirror. The discomfort stirring in overworked muscles clarifies everything, though it can't silence her thoughts.

I can't get him out of my head. No one has ever cared this much. Certainly not that tall menacing
man in my dreams, whoever he is.

Maybe I need a man's touch. If it can't cure these problems, at least it can take me far away from
them, deep into a better place.

Slowly, she runs one hand across her sleek thigh. Beneath the frigid sheen of water, heat pulses, crawling up to her swollen lower lips where it melts into sultry wetness.

Sadie turns several more times. The motion is just enough to dislodge the wild urges churning in her blood – for now.

Laying flat on the bed with her body cooled several degrees feels good, especially in the humid night. The guest room's vents are less than optimal. The air conditioning wafts up just enough to be tolerable, but the air remains stuffy.

Drunk on tension and stagnant heat, she drifts off to dreams filled with naked men riding tall black steeds. She's standing on a lonely porch in the Dakota prairie, watching them chasing after sleek gray wolves.

The chase lasts all night. When one of the riders finally catches up to a huge gray beast, he lifts his dark hat high above his toned neck, giving out a whoop of triumph.

She doesn't see what happens next. It looks like the wolf is trampled under the horse's hooves and disappears.

Next thing she knows, the godly figure is off his horse and coming toward her, wearing nothing but a tight clinging pair of jean shorts.

“Got something for you, beautiful.” Brax's voice calms her.

In his right hand, he's carrying a huge bucket filled with sparkling water. He reaches for her head, urging her down to her knees with his big hand pressed firmly on her shoulder.

“You're going to feel so much better...”

The freezing water crashes over her, a seemingly endless stream that freezes her in place. When she looks up at the empty bucket and the sweat glistening on his broad chest, she sees herself reflected in his eyes.

Everything about her posture drips lust. She reaches for the hem of her sopping wet dress. It's become an unnatural barrier that needs to come off, but the landscape is beginning to collapse behind him.

“Huh?” Sadie rolls and hears the alarm clock's kettle bell chime.

Groggy, she rises and sits on the edge of her bed. It's a new day, unstoppable as the orange glow wavering cross the hills.

Outside, Brax has given her yet another task to see if it's a better fit. Dinkie carefully guides her over to the fence, shooting her wary glances and a lot of forced politeness.

The distrust is mutual. Sadie stiffens, careful to put aside their last spat for the rancher's sake, without lowering her guard.

“See this pen over here?” He lifts his plump hat, pointing to a huge gated enclosure a couple yards away. “I'm going to run the cattle through these walls.”

“Got it. What do you need me for?” The weight in her chest sinks a little lower.

I have a bad feeling about this.

“You're the lynch-pin. When I run 'em down the path here, you're gonna hold the gate. Soon as they're all inside, you slam it shut. Here, let's do a practice round.”

Dinkie moves to the gate and snaps off the lock, spreading the door wide until it touches the wall. He waves to her, gesturing to place the rusty bars in her hands.

“Give it a good push. Best one you can muster.”

Her heels dig deep into the soft soil. It's much heavier to move than it looks.

She growls, hoping her bones don't break from the exertion. Slowly, the gate begins to swing back toward its notch. She slides along with it.

Finally, it clicks into place. She slumps against the top bar. Behind her, Dinkie's rowdy laughter curdles the air.

“Not bad. But you gotta be faster than that! Took you almost a whole thirty seconds to get it shut.

That's more than enough time for a big bull to poke his head out.”

“Let me try again.”

She turns, wielding her most determined stare. Dinkie's irritating smile vanishes.

“Alright. I'll give you a couple more practice runs. But then we gotta get moving. We got a whole herd that's supposed to be out here for inspection within the hour.”

Every practice round, she manages to move it a little faster. The shrieking hinges blast her ears as it fights her the whole way toward its resting place.

“I need...just a minute to recover.” She hates gulping for breath in his presence, exposing her weakness.

“Catch your breath, now. I'm gonna round up Pete to help me drive them in here. I'll try to shuttle them deeper into the pen so they don't bother you. Fast as I can.”

A few minutes later, she's replenished her oxygen – and just in time. The ground shakes with thunderous hooves.

A large mass of long horned cattle run toward her. Sadie tightens her fingers around the top of the gate, making her hands rigid and ready for their onslaught.

Please let this thing fall into place. I need to do right today. There might not be another chance...

Most of them are powerful males. Dinkie jogs alongside their ranks.

He speeds them through the opening, holding the long taser high above their heads and letting the electricity crackle through the air. The animals know the sound.

Gradually, their numbers thin, and they're nearly all inside. Dinkie cups a hand across his mouth and yells over to her.

“Swing the gate! We gotta move now!”

Sadie groans with the old metal, kicking at the earth as furiously as the cattle. It moves fluidly, and for a second it looks like everything is perfect.

Near the end, the last bull turns.

She jumps back right before one of its horns slashes through an opening between bars. The beast snorts, dangerously close to her face.

With a scream, she topples backward. The bull jerks its head again, causing its hard spear to clang against the metal.

“The gate, woman! The gate! Get up and keep swinging.”

Dinkie lunges forward, trying to catch the other end so he can push back. But the bull is too quick.

It explodes outward, doubly enraged now that its horn is free. The beast races past the portly man, but not before grazing his shoulder. Her partner screams in agony.

“No! Hold on.”

The gate clicks and she double checks the lock. It holds.

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