Excerpt from Love Thy Neighbor: “The wayward son has returned to the backwater, undignified town. Something I can do for you, Duncan?” The low, angry tone echoed in the sickeningly familiar cocking of a firearm. He glanced at the porch of the house to see a slim, boyish looking woman holding a carbine aimed at his chest.
Tom studied the perpetual burr under his saddle - Rylee Parys, short cropped black locks curled around her sunburned face in the humid air. A line of dust ran along the tip of her small nose, and her chapped and cracked lips were pressed together in a tight line. Despite her boyish looks, there was something about her that, even without a gun to his chest, made his pulse pound. The familiarity of that sensation unsettled him, and he shifted in the saddle. This wasn’t a game, and they weren’t children.
“You wanna put that down before you hurt yourself?” Tom asked as he eased his hand up his thigh, to the Colt he wore tied down. The last thing he wanted was gun play, but he wasn’t about to let the fool woman shoot him. In his jacket pocket the letter the other ranchers and farmers had written crinkled and rustled with the sway of his body in the saddle. The words cramped together were filled with disgust and hatred for the foolishness of the young woman who refused to listen to their counsel.
“What do you want? Ain’t anything here to stare at?”
“Came to talk about those mongrels of yours out in the field. They managed to knock down half a mile of fencing last night and two of my best mares are gone.” Tom waved a hand at the pasture. “Taken by that stallion you’re protecting. Ain’t nothing but a walking disease upon the land.” He noted the flash of fire in her eyes and sighed. Getting her riled up was not his intent, and with her armed, it would prove hazardous to his health. Heaving a tired, put upon sigh, he pushed thoughts of his horses aside and turned to the matter he’d come for. “Now there was a town meeting the other night and the neighbors are getting mighty tired of this situation, and have asked me to come by and talk to you. I figure you’re a reasonable woman. We should be able to, uh, fix the problems.”
“Well, Mr. Duncan,” the girl spat venomously, “I suggest you trot yourself right out after those mares. I ain’t about to round up those nags you call horses. My stud has more sense than to go looking for mares in your stable. Ain’t one tough enough to cross a creek much less survive a season with the herd. And as for what your drinkin’ buddies think of the stock, you tell ‘em that if I see any of them on my land I’m gonna shoot first and ask questions later. Do you understand, Mr. Duncan? Now then, you’re trespassing on my land.” She stepped closer to the edge of the porch. Her eyes narrowed into furious slits of cobalt blue. “You come back and I’ll put enough holes in you to drive a wagon through.”
“Now, Rylee Parys, you wait a minute,” Tom snapped. Anger prickled hot and sharp along his nerves and he shifted in the saddle. His gaze steady, he eyed the unyielding woman before him. “I mean to get my mares back, missy, and there ain’t a thing you can do. Either you return ‘em or I’ll fetch Marshal Jackson up here and have him deal with it. The choice is yours.”
“Ain’t nothing to say. As long as those animals are on my property they’re protected. They’re all good solid stock, and they’re tougher than anything in your fine stables. I’m don’t aim to let anyone shoot ‘em just because they don’t fit into your breeding program. Now I don’t reckon you’re accusing me of stealing your horses, so I think you’d best ride on.”
He clenched his fists around the saddle horn to stop the itch he had to reach out and brush a stray lock off her forehead. “You payin’ for the damage? Those mares are worth a lot of money and I ain’t standing by and let that mangy stallion have ‘em. Not to mention the fence, the time it’s gonna take my hands to fix it and the loss of grass from them grazing on my land. The price of repairs will bankrupt you before the fall harvest. You can’t afford to have nothing this winter.”
“You deaf or something?” She hissed and stepped down off the porch. “I wasn’t born yesterday, Duncan. I ain’t about to let anyone take anything off my land, that herd included. They belong to me, were born and bred on this land, and wear my brand and by God--”
“Miss Parys, I assure you, I am not interested in discussing this with you. I want both of my mares back, my fence fixed, and that herd gone. You either do it or I will. We haven’t even got around to discussing the water yet.”