Kat woke to tiny feet kicking at the blanket. She reached under the material and caught the offender, tickling the bottom of her foot. Amidst the girl’s giggles, Kat rose from the bed and dug through the carpetbag for a robe. Finding it, she pulled the plain material over her arms.
The aroma of bacon drifting in the air set her stomach to growling. She settled Abby to the floor and taking hold of her hand, they padded down the stairs to the kitchen.
Rachel was there, peering intently through the glass pane of a tall narrow window; dark hair framed her attractive, though sun-weathered face. Kat caught a fleeting glimpse of Dallas as he cut across the yard toward the corral. Why would he be at the house? She coughed lightly to announce her presence, startling the housekeeper whose lips pressed into a self-conscious smile.
“Mrs. Masters.” She motioned to the table and chairs in the center of the room.
“Good morning. Please call me Kat. I’m glad you’re here, I assumed I’d be the only woman.” She took a seat with Abby on her lap.
“I’ve worked many years for Chance, but it can get lonely.” Rachel placed a plate of pancakes and bacon within easy reach. “But I think this little one just might liven up the place.”
“She’s not much trouble now, but she’s growing like a weed.” Kat laughed. “Anyway, I hope you like children.” Please say you like children.
“Yes, I do,” she said, turning to a corner cupboard.
Although Kat didn’t know enough about the housekeeper to trust her, she considered it a start.
Rachel open one of the cupboard doors and removed a folded paper from the shelf. “Jake returned to town last night to take care of the livery horse and he asked me to give you this.” She handed it to her.
Kat scanned the contents of his short script.
Kat, stay put. I have business to handle at the sheriff’s office. I will return in a day to discuss our plans. Jake.
She crinkled the paper and crammed it into her pocket.
The morning passed and by afternoon, they ventured out to the corral. Rachel stopped to pinch off the stems of several wildflowers that had sprung up next to the rock path.
The men tipped their hats. Kat figured they’d never know how much the unexpected, yet ordinary gesture, made her feel welcome.
While she held her steady, Abby perched on the top rail of the fence and pointed to the longhorn cattle.
Dallas spoke first. “Ma’am."
"Good afternoon. We’re giving Rachel a break from our chatter. I hope we’re not in your way."
"No ma'am.” His eyes drifted to Rachel for a moment before he screwed the lid on a salve jar and wiped his hand on a burlap bag. "Three of our men are checking the cattle south of here. They’ll be gone for a couple of days.” Dallas motioned to the older wrangler. “Joe is treating a cut on the mustang’s leg.”
Joe dipped his hat. He brushed the silver hair from his temples, cupped his hands over his mouth, and blew softly against them, imitating a birdcall.
“Birdie.” Abby wiggled her legs and her airy giggle carried...