Read Cowboy For Hire Online

Authors: Alice Duncan

Tags: #pasadena, #humorous romance, #romance fiction, #romance humor

Cowboy For Hire

Cowboy for Hire

Book #1 in the “Dream Maker” series

 

Alice Duncan

 

 

 

Cowboy for Hire

Copyright © 2010 by Alice Duncan

All rights reserved.

 

Copyright
©
2001 by
Alice Duncan

All rights reserved.

 

Published 2001 by Kensington Corp.

A Zebra “Ballads” Books

 

Smashwords Edition November 29, 2010

 

Visit
aliceduncan.net

 

 

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One

 

Pasadena, California

May, 1905

 

Sunbeams filtered through the slatted ceiling
of the Orange Rest Health Spa’s elegant pavilion, casting a
brilliant patchwork pattern of light and shadow on the white wicker
tables and the people seated at them. The San Gabriel Mountains
loomed in the near distance, looking remarkably green and friendly
for a mountain range. The heavenly scent of orange blossoms and
honeysuckle mingled with the robust aroma of roses to create an
almost mystical atmosphere when combined with the variegated light
and the overall beauty of the pavilion and its surroundings.

Amy Wilkes thought that if she were dealing
with anyone other than the obnoxious human crocodile snarling at
her from his white wicker chair, her spirits would be as bright and
cheery as the sun itself. She wasn’t, and they weren’t. Horace
Huxtable was the most recalcitrant, worst mannered, least
respectful bully of a patient ever to sully the portals of her
uncle Frank’s health spa. What’s more, he was a drunkard and a
lecherous old goat. And he was rich. Rich, rich, rich. It wasn’t
fair, and Amy detested him.

“Mr. Huxtable,” she said in her sternest
tone, despising the task and wishing she could use less refined
methods to make him behave—hammering him on the head with a blunt
instrument, for instance—“you must drink your orange juice.”

“Oh, must I?”

Amy imagined he’d practiced his sneer in
front of a mirror in order to polish it to such a high gloss.
“Yes.”

“The stuff is vile.” His sneer transformed
into a glower and he reminded her of a sulky child. “Damned if I
will.”

She glowered right back. “My uncle prefers
that his guests refrain from the use of profanity on his premises,
Mr. Huxtable.”

“I don’t give a crap what your uncle prefers,
you damned little prude.”

With her lips pressed together in a tight
line, Amy frowned down at the man who was here at her uncle’s
health spa in Pasadena in order to dry himself out. He was here of
his own volition. No one could force a person to take the cure.

Personally, Amy wished Huxtable would just go
away and drown himself in a butt of malmsey—whatever that was—like
that fellow in
Richard III
. He wasn’t cooperating in his
health regimen to the least degree, and Amy had thought from the
moment he staggered through the front door that he was both horrid
and egotistical.

Motion picture actors
, she thought
grimly,
ought to be locked away so they can’t contaminate the
rest of us
. They were a new breed, motion picture actors, but
Amy had already encountered enough of the species to have formed a
strong opinion about them.

“Orange juice is the elixir of life, Mr.
Huxtable,” she said primly, reciting a line from her uncle’s
colorful brochure.

“Elixir of life, my ass,” rumbled the
well-known actor in his deep and melodious voice which ought, in a
just world, to have belonged to some fellow who deserved it.

Again, Amy recoiled from his language. “Well,
really!”

He chuckled. “Now, now, girlie. You’re too
innocent for this world, do you know that?”

“I know no such thing, Mr. Huxtable. I do,
however, know that you’re paying a good bit of money to stay here
and restore yourself to some kind of health.”

“who the hell are you, anyhow? Mary Baker
Eddy?”

Amy drew in a deep breath, recalling the copy
of
Science and Health
residing upstairs in her bedroom. Her
aunt, an ardent disciple of Mrs. Baker Eddy, had given it to her,
and Amy always felt guilty for not reading it more often. Today,
however, she wished she’d brought it here with her. She’d thump Mr.
Huxtable over his hard head with it.
That
might do him some
good. It would make her feel better, at any rate. “It would do you
no harm to read her book, sir.”

“Pshaw.” Huxtable waved that way. “My
ass.”

“It seems to me you should be trying to
profit from this experience, not fight every attempt to help you
recover.”

“Recover, my ass.”

Feeling saving, Amy said through gritted
teeth, “I see you have a limited vocabulary.”

He laughed.

“Anyhow, what about the money? Don’t you care
about wasting your money?”

If Amy had enough money to spend a month at
her uncle’s fancy health spa, she’d consider herself rich beyond
avarice. It was her goal never to be insecure again in her
lifetime, and she furiously resented people who wasted what she’d
give her eyeteeth to possess.
She
wouldn’t drink away a
fortune.
She
, unlike Horace Huxtable, was a reasonable and
sensible human being.

He waved that one away, too. “I’m not paying.
The Peerless Studio is.”

“Then you ought to be cooperative. In fact,
you ought to be grateful. I’m sure they won’t appreciate you
wasting this opportunity and squandering their money.”

“Balderdash. They need me.”

Amy wrinkled her nose and refrained from
making the statement she believed his words deserved.

Huxtable, caught up in his own thoughts and
indifferent to anyone else’s opinions, said, “If this bilgewater is
so wonderful, I’ll let
you
drink it, my adorable Miss
Wilkes.”

Amy gave up. She knew she shouldn’t. Part of
her job here was to see that the patients—she’d begun to think of
them as inmates, actually—ate properly and drank their daily quota
of orange juice. Most of them were suffering from the same excesses
as was Huxtable—too much food and drink. That, to Amy’s mind, was
grossly unfair, considering how many people in the world went to
bed hungry every day and had perishingly little with which to
sustain themselves. Children died every day from starvation—Amy
herself might have starved to death if her wonderful aunt and uncle
hadn’t rescued her—and Amy conceived of wastefulness as a
crime.

But were her uncle’s patients grateful? Did
they cooperate in their own recovery and redemption? Did they take
full advantage of this beautiful health spa? Did they eat their
oatmeal and drink their orange juice with the appreciation it
deserved? Did they study the health magazines Uncle Frank
distributed in an effort to help them regain their well-being?

No. Most of them were defiant and
uncooperative at least some of the time. Mr. Horace Huxtable, noted
theatrical actor and lately to be seen on celluloid in nickelodeons
across the country, seemed to go out of his way to be
impossible.

She lifted her chin. “I shall leave you here,
then, to contemplate the nature of your health. And I should advise
you to begin looking kindly upon orange juice, Mr. Huxtable. If
what I read in the newspapers is true, the whole nation will be
liquor-free soon.” Although she knew she shouldn’t—after all,
according to her uncle, the customer was always right no matter how
wrong he was—she smirked.

“God, what a thought!” Huxtable gave a
visible shudder.

“I think it’s a perfectly splendid one.” She
whirled to go and almost bumped into a tall, slender, brown-haired
man modishly dressed in a light-colored summer motoring suit, with
a driving scarf wound around his neck, and carrying a pair of
motoring goggles. Amy chalked him up for another movie fellow,
disliked him for it, nodded curtly, and marched off to deal with
Mrs. Fellows, who might be fat, silly and self-indulgent, but
wasn’t nearly as cantankerous as Horace Huxtable.

Martin Tafft, the fashionably dressed
gentleman, whipped off his soft cap and said, “I’m very sorry,
ma’am,” to her stiff back, but she didn’t turn around or
acknowledge his apology. He sighed, deducing at once that Huxtable
had said or done something to scandalize her. How typical of the
overbearing brute. Nevertheless, Martin had a job to do, so he got
at it.

“Huxtable,” he said with a friendly smile.
“You’re looking well today.”

He looked like a dipsomaniacal wastrel,
actually, but Martin couldn’t bring himself to say so aloud since
Huxtable could cost the Peerless Motion Picture Studio a lot of
money if he didn’t dry out soon. Huxtable was only forty-two years
old, for heaven’s sake, and he had within his vanity-stuffed body a
wealth of talent. It was a shame, both for Huxtable himself and for
Peerless, the studio for which Martin labored, that he seemed
determined to drink himself into an early grave.

“I feel like shit,” Huxtable answered back,
lifting his glass of orange juice. “Do you see this?”

“Yes.”

“It’s repellent stuff. Whoever invented the
orange ought to be shot.”

“I think God has that distinction,” murmured
Martin. “I doubt if a shot would do any good.”

“A shot would do me good,” the actor
growled.

“Nonsense. Booze will be the death of you.”
Martin breathed deeply and sat when Huxtable waved him at a chair,
looking around with interest. “It sure smells good around here.
Orange blossoms, I presume. This place is very pretty.”

“Hunh.”

So much for beating around the bush. Martin
got down to brass tacks. “I came to tell you the latest
developments with
One and Only
.”

At last Huxtable seemed to be interested. His
bloodshot eyes focused on Martin. “Have you found a proper
cowboy?”

“Yes. Or, rather, yup.” Martin smiled.
Huxtable didn’t. Martin sighed again. “He’s a young, gingery fellow
named Charles Fox, and he’s been working on a ranch in Arizona.”
Martin decided not to make any mention of what kind of ranch it
was, feeling certain that Huxtable would sneer.

“Ah.” Huxtable squinted narrowly. “A handsome
lad, is he?”

This was tricky, mainly because Charlie Fox
was
very
handsome. He sure took the shine out of Huxtable in
his current condition. But the celluloid could hide many flaws, and
so could theatrical makeup, and Huxtable was already a well-beloved
character—thank God his many fans didn’t know him personally—so
Martin didn’t anticipate any chance of Charlie making a better
impression on the public than the leading man in the movie. “He’s
fairly good-looking,” he said noncommittally.

Huxtable huffed with irritation. “God, I hate
this stuff.” He lifted his orange juice glass again and drained it.
Then he gave an eloquent shudder and burped. “What they need to do
is mix some gin in it. Make it palatable.”

Martin, who had been dealing with actors for
several years, was not daunted by Huxtable’s boorish manners. He
plowed on. “We still need to find you a leading lady—”

Huxtable held up a hand. “Done.”

His mouth already open to continue the
leading lady line, Martin used his breath to say, “I beg your
pardon?”

“I’ve done that part of your job for you,
Martin old boy. I’m sure you noticed that pretty little filly you
just bumped into?”

“We didn’t actually touch,” mumbled
Martin.

“Pity, that, but you’ll try harder next time,
I’m sure.” He gave Martin a lascivious wink, from which Martin did
all he could not to shrink. “I want her to star with me.”

Martin stared at Huxtable for a moment, then
turned in his chair to see if he could catch sight of the young
woman with whom he’d narrowly avoided contact. She was at present
standing beside an elderly woman at a table on the other side of
the room, smiling attractively. She was a striking girl, probably
around eighteen or nineteen, with thick, reddish-brown hair piled
on top of her head, and very nice eyes. Martin couldn’t see their
color from where he sat, but it didn’t matter what color anything
was since, on celluloid, it all came out black-and-white. Her
lashes were thick, too, and wouldn’t require much makeup.

She had a superb figure and looked dignified
in her narrow black skirt and prim white shirtwaist with a high
collar encircled by a tidy black bow tie. She actually fit the
description of the leady lady in
One and Only
admirably.
Still, Martin had grave doubts about asking her to act in a movie
with Horace Huxtable, who would probably eat her alive and spit out
the pieces.

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