The Lady and the Cowboy

Free The Lady and the Cowboy by Catherine Winchester

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Authors: Catherine Winchester
after dinner, so they could talk more and get to know each other but as usual, she retired to bed with an oil lamp to read by.
    “Is something wrong with Ruth?” he asked his mother when they were alone.
    “ Not as far as I know and I think she enjoyed her ride today. Will you be doing it again?”
    “ I suppose we could. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
    “If you want, I’ll make you a picnic lunch to take with you, and then you can stay out longer.”
    “We’ll see,” Sam smiled, although he was still unsettled by Ruth’s unusual behaviour.

Chapter Nine
    Ruth’s muscles protested terribly the next morning, especially her thighs, but she was determined to ignore them and carry on. She had gone to bed early the nigh t before, tired from her day of riding, so she was the first up this morning. She quickly dressed in her outfit from the day before and headed for the tool room. She collected a wheelbarrow and pitchfork and headed to the closest barn.
    She had never actually mucked out before but she had watched many times as the grooms did it , and it didn’t really seem that hard. She tethered each horse outside of their stable with a head collar, then picked up the muck and wet straw and placed it in the barrow, before returning the horse to their stall. When she had done the first row of stables, she emptied the barrow onto the manure pile. Some of the manure was ploughed into the kitchen garden and the rest was sold to local farmers.
    She returned to the barn and mucked out the opposite row of stalls. She was already feeling hot and sweaty by the time she was done, despite the early hour and relative cool and seeing a kerchief hanging around, grabbed it and wiped her brow. Like the others, she then tied it around her neck, for easy access.
    She topped up the straw in the stalls that needed it, then she began to empty the water buckets and refilled each one at the water pump. She was just putting the bucket back in a palomino horse’s stall when Sam found her.
    “What the devil are you doing?” he demanded.
    Ruth placed the bucket in the stall, bolted it behind her, pushed the hair off her face and wiped her brow before turning to him.
    “What does it look like?” she asked.
    She hadn’t emptied the second barrow yet, so it was blatantly obvious what she had been doing.
    “Mamma’s got breakfast ready. We thought you’d overslept.”
    “I woke up early , so I thought I’d make myself useful.”
    He narrowed his eyes, wondering what was going on with her. When he didn’t speak again, she headed for the next stall, picking up the water bucket.
    “Breakfast is ready,” he repeated.
    “I only have three more stalls to go,” she answered calmly.
    Sam took the buckets from the last two stalls and accompanied her to the drain and water pump so she would be finished quicker.
    To Ruth though, it appeared that he was showing her that since he could carry two buckets, he could work faster and better than she could, proving how inferior she was.
    When all the horses in the first barn were watered, she followed him back to the house.
    “My,” Mamma smiled when she saw Ruth. “Looks like someone already worked up a sweat.”
    “She was mucking out the barn,” Sam said, his tone indecipherable.
    “Good honest work,” Mamma proclaimed. “Bet you’re hungry now though.”
    Ruth nodded and proceeded to tuck into a large breakfast.
    Now as well as her thighs aching, her arms were protesting too, but she ignored it.
    “We have a rota for mucking out,” Sam explained as they ate. “Two hands take one barn each every morning. I’ll put you on it if you want.”
    Ruth looked at him, trying to decipher if he was humouring her or teasing her, but his expression was inscrutable.
    “It’s only fair,” she answered.
    Sam nodded. “You still want to go into town tomorrow, Mamma?”
    “I do,” she smiled. “We need some kitchen supplies and beeswax and… well I have a list somewhere.”
    “Do you

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