The Lady and the Cowboy

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Authors: Catherine Winchester
Ten
    Ruth’s muscles were almost screaming with pain by the next morning but she ignored it and got dressed for her day.
    She hesitated over her wardrobe for a long while, wondering what to wear. All the dresses she’d brought with her were too ‘fancy’ for the ranch and she didn’t want to alienate the locals. There was no way she was going into town wearing her breeches, no matter how often she was assured that a lot of women in these parts did. In the end she opted for her riding habit, although she wore bloomers below the skirt as they would be cooler than breeches, and she substituted the Stetson for the top hat. She tied her curly hair back with a ribbon.
    Mamma smiled approvingly at her and served a big plate of food. To her own surprise, Ruth ate it all.
    “I’ll be as big as a horse in a few months,” she teased.
    “Horses are hard work,” Mamma said. “You can’t go doing a man’s work on a woman’s portions.”
    Mamma ’s portions weren’t much smaller but she too worked hard, in the house and the kitchen garden and when she wasn’t helping Cassy with the washing or ironing, she was cooking up jam or preserving some beef. Mamma was rarely still until after dinner.
    They took the cart into town, so that they could load the supplies in the back for the return trip, but Sam, Mamma and Ruth could easily fit on the bench. Three of the ranch hands wanted to come but rather than sitting in the cart, they rode behind them. It puzzled Ruth since they had ridden in the back to attend the barn dance, so she asked Mamma once they were in town and the hands had ridden off.
    “It’s so they can return in their own time. Chances are they’ll spend the day in the tavern and the night in the arms of one of Miss Ellie’s girls.”
    Ruth blushed.
    “And you trust them?”
    “Sam does,” Mamma answered. “He says they need to blow off steam sometimes and he knows they’ll look after the horses. Chances are they’re being stabled behind Miss Ellie’s tavern right now. She does a brisk trade in ranch hands.”
    Ruth didn’t know how she felt about that. Men had needs, she knew, and at least the hands weren’t tricking these women into bed. It was an exchange of money for services, just like with a house maid. Her brother had kept a mistress since he returned from university, as had her brother-in-law whilst she lived with him and her sister. In fact, the only man that she would bet money didn’t have sex outside of marriage, was her father and that was only because he spent most of his free time with her, so she almost always knew his whereabouts.
    She pushed such thoughts aside for the moment, so that she could focus on the town. Almost everything was made of wood and covered in a layer of dust, although in all honesty, it did look like people tried to keep their homes nice, or at least clean, it was just so difficult when the ground was so dry and dusty.
    Horses rode up and down the street, pedestrians nodded to each other as they passed or stopped for a chat. It would look much like any day in London, were it not for the unusual buildings and dirt road.
    They dropped Ruth off by the post office so she could send her letters and she arranged to meet up with them at the general store, a few shops down. The first thing she noticed about the shop was the sheer volume of Wanted posters. Ruth paused for a moment to peruse them. Some looked brand new, whilst others had clearly been up a while and were faded and slightly torn. The crimes ranged from cattle rustling and horse theft, to murder and bank robbery, and each picture of the outlaws seemed even more unsavoury than the last. Ruth turned away and headed for the counter.
    To the letter for her lawyer, she added the details he would need to send her grandmother’s stipend then sealed the envelope, handed the letters over, paid and left.
    When she entered the general store, Mamma was at the counter with a long list of supplies and Ruth joined her, although

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