Hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands. They stretch out along the enormous empty landscape, grazing up along the hills flanking either side of the main building. I’ve heard of ranches with huge numbers of cattle but this… I’ve never seen anything like it.
Slowly I drive down the hill toward the main house. I’m not here for the cattle but I still can’t stop staring. They’re slowly moving away from the house, which makes sense, probably getting herded out to wilder, fresher land. I’m sure there are cattle dogs and cowboys out there, taking care of the animals and driving them to safe spots for grazing.
I pull my truck up outside the main house. There’s a horse paddock and a barn nearby and I can probably guess that’s where I’ll be headed. As I step out, a man comes out from the main doors and leans up against the main house’s porch, watching me for a second. I stare back at him, actually a little startled by the way his eyes take me in.
The man’s tall and broad with a well-groomed five o’clock shadow on his handsome cheeks. His skin’s tanned from working outside all day and his hands look rough as he wrings them out in front of him. His eyes are a gorgeous, crisp morning blue and there’s a hint of a smile on his incredibly handsome face as I look back at him. The man is handsome, way more handsome than I thought anyone would be out here.
I’ve seen gorgeous men in the city. Hotshot young doctors, even a few famous patients, but this man…
He’s by far the most attractive thing I’ve ever seen. And he’s just dressed simply in a thin plaid shirt rolled up at the elbows and faded blue jeans with brown muddy work boots.
“You the vet?” he calls out.
I hesitate a second then nod. “That’s me.”
He comes down the steps toward me. He’s tall, easily over six feet, and as muscular as a linebacker. I can’t stop staring at his chest and wonder just how much muscle he’s got hiding under that shirt. I feel myself blush and have to look away.
“I’m Connor,” he says, extending a hand.
I shake it. “You’re the owner?” I ask, trying not to sound incredulous.
He grins a little bit. “What’d you expect?”
“Someone… older, I guess.”
He laughs. “Fair enough. I get that a lot.” He cocks his head. “What’s your name?”
“Holly,” I finally say.
I was told I’d be seeing Connor Wood, the owner of Wood Ranch. I assumed that meant I’d be meeting with some grizzled, gnarled old rancher that’s been working the land forever. This man is probably closer to thirty-five. I have no clue how a man his age is running one of the most successful cattle ranches in the whole state.
“Uhm,” I say, trying to snap myself out of it. We drop our hands away and the roughness of his skin still lingers in my palm. “I was told there was a horse.”
Connor’s face darkens a bit as he looks over at the barn next to the paddock. “That’d be Dodger,” he says.
I nod and walk back to the bed of my truck and grab my bag with all the tools I might need. Connor leads the way over to the barn. We step inside, into the dimly lit building, and the smell of the horses hits me right away.
It’s a really good smell. Hay, hair, manure, and sweat. There are a few horses stabled and a few more empty enclosures that look like they’re normally used. Connor leads me to the back corner where a man’s wiping down an old horse that’s practically gray in the face. The man looks up and smiles.
He’s older, in his sixties, the sort of man I was actually expecting. His green eyes sparkle as he walks over to me.
“This is Bryant,” Connor says. “My wrangler.”
“More than just a damn wrangler,” Bryant grunts and shake my hand. “How do you do.”
“Holly,” I say.
“You’re the horse doc?” he asks, eyeing me skeptically.
I nod and meet his gaze. “Sure am.” A man like Bryant probably has fifty years of experience with horses. He probably knows as much as I do, if not more, so I can’t show him that I’m nervous.
He chuckles softly, shaking his head. “Long drive out from Bozeman,” he comments.
“It’s not too bad,” I counter.
“Your boss tell you what you’re getting into?”
I shake my head. “Just said it’s a horse owned by a big client so I’d better not fuck it up.”
Bryant and Connor both laugh. Connor eyes me appreciatively.
“Sounds like Roy,” Bryant says then grins at me. “Well, anyway, he’s all yours.”
Bryant walks off and disappears outside.
“He really didn’t tell you, huh?” Connor says, walking into the stall. He takes over wiping Dodger down while I feed the horse a bit of hay from my hand, gently stroking him.