Under the Cowboy's Control

By: Lynda Chance


"Boss. You better come with me and see what we got down at the bunkhouse." Jim leaned over and spat a stream of tobacco juice in the dirt.

"What's up that you can't handle? I've got grease up to my armpits." He glanced up and gave his foreman a cursory look and then went back to what he was doing.

"Got us an illegal that's beat up pretty bad. Juan found him along county road up by the north pasture. I think you better come take a look."

"Call the sheriff. He'll be out in thirty minutes, or he'll send the border patrol." Travis stood and picked up a rag and started wiping his hands.

"I don't know if we should do that, Boss. He's just a kid, probably only a teenager and he told Juan he's not illegal. Says he's an American citizen. I think you should come take a look. He don't look Mexican. Except for the black hair. He's sunburned, but he's got white skin. I think we ought to find out for sure before we call Sheriff Parker. You know how he is. Bastard thinks you're guilty unless you can prove your innocence. I don't think this kid would stand a chance in his custody. If what he's saying is true, then he risked a lot walking all this way. We might be sending him to his grave if we turned him in and he got sent back." Jim turned and spat on the ground again.

Travis tossed the rag on the tractor seat. "Shit. Okay. I really don't have time for this crap. Let me get cleaned up and I'll be down there in a few minutes."



****



Selena clutched her hoodie to her chest and tried to breathe without blacking out.

She looked around at the five cowhands crowding in the back of the room, all staring at her with curious eyes. She sat on a narrow bunk in the corner of a small room with her back against the roughhewn wood. Bunks just like she was sitting on lined one wall. A large table with chairs took up most of the space on the other side.

She had been sitting here for the last hour ever since the man named Juan had found her on the side of the road. He had asked her about her injuries, questioning her in Spanish, and then gently lifted her and put her in the truck and brought her here. The move had sent arrows of agony through her ribs. She had briefly blacked out once.

When she left Mexico, she hadn't intended to masquerade as a boy. The thought never even crossed her mind. She only wanted to blend in. Putting her hair up in the baseball cap had been designed for comfort. Her hair was long and thick and she knew it would be hot.

But when the man had said, w hat's your name, boy, some feminine instinct made her answer, Manuel.

She never intended to lie. It just slipped out of her mouth. She hoped it would give her some sense of protection.

Looking up now at the room filled with five rough men in various ages and sizes, she was glad she had told the lie. They were inquisitive enough about her without knowing she was female. She saw their eyes, studying her intently.

Now she sat on the bunk and waited for the Segundo to bring back the boss who would make the decision whether or not to call the authorities about her.

She thought maybe that was the best thing, but Juan kept telling her otherwise. He was very old, about sixty, and he was the only one who spoke fluent Spanish. He was very gentle and nice to her, and he reminded her of the grandfather in Mexico she remembered from when she was younger. She would trust his judgment. She really had no other choice at the moment. She could understand most English words, but she hadn't learned to speak it properly yet. Juan was the only one here she could easily communicate with.

Juan said the boss was a fair man, and everything would be fine if she truly was a citizen. She could tell the older man was skeptical. And that presented a problem.

If she let them see the papers she kept inside her Bible, they would find out she was a girl. For now pretending to be a boy was probably her safest course.

The door clicked opened and the Segundo named Jim walked in followed by another man. Her eyes settled on the second man and watched him look around the room and find her. Her breath tangled up in her throat when his eyes found hers. Deep, dark, velvet brown eyes watched her. The impact of those dark brown eyes was disturbing. He was intensely masculine, and Selena gripped the hoodie to her chest more tightly.

Well over six feet of cowboy prowled toward her. His hair was dark, and he had on a ragged white t-shirt with no sleeves. He wore faded Wranglers and his boots were dirty and scuffed. His biceps bulged as he stopped at the end of the bunk and crossed his arms over his chest.

He had rough good looks, with several scars marring his face. One slashed down the left side of his face, a thin line that showed against his tan. Another dissected his bottom lip, leaving it puffy and white. His eyes were beautiful and deep brown, his eyebrows arrogant hooks above them.

Her gaze slowly moved down his body, trying to assimilate the size of him. His shoulders were wide, his hips narrow, and steely muscles ran up and down his length. Her heart skipped several beats, and then wildly began pushing blood through her veins. Her hands began to tremble where she clutched the jacket to her and the breath hitched in her throat.

She looked back at his face and found him still watching her.

Selena lowered her eyes in self-defense.



****

Travis looked from the dejected figure on the bunk to the men hanging around the room.