The Secret Behind Their Bond (Preview)

Chapter One

“Gosh, we are almost out of steak here, Tilly,” Nia Coles called out from the kitchen. “If you are going to the cookhouse, can you ask them to send some over, please?”

“Sure thing,” Tilly answered and came into the kitchen. “I will bring some eggs over as well. I told Ben I would check the barns today, and I can do that at the same time.” She looked at her friend, who was also the family cook. “What are you making now?”

“Just some pastry to make pies.” Nia laughed. “You wanna try it?”

“Not likely, thanks,” Tilly replied with a grin. “We don’t want to poison the family.” The times when Nia had attempted to teach Tilly how to cook had all been disastrous, and the girls often joked about it. Nia had come to work for the ranch when Tilly’s father and brother could not eat what Tilly made any longer. The whole family had been eating in the cookhouse with the hands.

“It is a good thing that I cannot cook,” Tilly said. “I would not have such a good friend.” Nia gave her a quick hug as she came over to the table with the pie dish.

“And I have a job that I like.” 

Tilly told her that she would give the living room a good clean when she came back.

“But I will check the barns and find the eggs first.” She took the basket for the eggs and set off to do the job she really loved, and that was checking the stock and the ranch. 

It was always a pleasure to Tilly to walk around the ranch. Her father had worked hard and built a prosperous spread. The ranch house was well cared for, and Tilly was pleased that she could manage that, but the ranch was her first love. The barns were smart, clean, and tidy, and the animals well- kept and fed. They had a good supply of quality horses trained to work the stock, and there were chickens and pigs. The ranch was almost self-sufficient.

Her dad was in the stalls with one of the horses, and she went over to see what was wrong.

“Hiya, Tilly. Can you hold his head, please? I just need to keep him still until I fish out whatever is hurting the foot.”

Tilly spoke to the animal and held him steady. The stone was wedged firmly into the hoof, and it took her dad some minutes to remove it.

“That is a nasty sharp piece of stone.” Tilly turned it over in her hand. “Is his foot cut?” The hoof was just sore, and her father put the horse in a stall so that he could not walk around a lot. “I told Ben I would check the barns for you.”

“Thanks,” her dad said. “I will ride over to the Maddison place and talk to Jim. There have been a lot of robberies lately. I wonder what he has heard.”

“We have a lot of hands. It would surely be quite hard for anyone to rob us without being seen,” Tilly observed and looked around.

“And the safe is in the house and well hidden,” her dad added. “Tell Ben where I have gone when he comes back from checking fences.” Then he added that he might take on a few more men to ensure they were protected. He went off, and Tilly did her checks on the barns and stables, looked at the fences near the house, and collected the eggs.

She popped into the cookhouse to ask for some steaks for Nia and went back to hand them over.

“I am going to just exercise a couple of those horses for dad,” she said. “Will do the cleaning when I come back.”

“Oh yeah.” Nia grinned. “I know what you would rather be doing.”

“Riding horses any day of the week,” Tilly agreed and went off to do a job she really enjoyed. Two men were cleaning out the stables, and she told them she would take out Turk first and then come back for Morris.

“That Turk is a handful,” Albert Goodwin told her. “I can do Morris if you want to concentrate on the harder one.”

“Okay, thanks. If we do those two, I will give you a hand with the hay.”

“I’ll just keep on forking out the rubbish,” the other man called Jerry shouted. “You two just do the easy stuff.” He grinned as he said it, and they saddled the two horses.

Albert had not worked for the place long, but he had proved himself to be a hard worker. He had worked for them before when he was fifteen but left to try his luck elsewhere. When he came back he had been taken back on. Jerry had worked for them since he was a teenager and stayed.  

Albert said he would go in one direction, and she could go another. She laughed and said she would meet him at the far side of the corrals after the horses had ridden off some energy. She wheeled Turk about with one hand and looked for all the world like someone riding in a rodeo. The hand watched her go and shook his head. He went in the other direction, and Morris was as good as gold. It gave him the chance to look around the place from horseback. Life looked different from the back of a horse.

Tilly took the chance when she was out of sight to take Turk up to a full gallop, and she knew the gelding enjoyed it as much as she did. She let him stretch and stood in the stirrups. The wind streamed through her hair, and she was completely at home. 

I wish dad would let me take over the horses. Ben really finds it a chore. But there was no point in dwelling on it. Her dad wanted his son to take over the ranch, and Tilly knew that would not change. Then she saw her brother riding in from the range and waved. The pair trotted back to the corral and met up with Albert.

“We have exercised these two for you,” Tilly told him, “and now we will fork the hay. That way you can turn your horse into the corral and grab a bite to eat.”

“Thanks, Sis,” he said, and the three horses went into the corral. Tilly grabbed a fork along with the men and threw fresh straw into the stalls, and then put hay in the racks for later.

“Good job done,” she said. “Now I have to clean the living room.” She pulled a face, and the two men laughed and joked about a woman’s work.

“Trouble is that this woman is more at home with the animals.” She said it with a grin and went to do her cleaning.

Even though it was not her favorite pastime, the living room was gleaning with polish and had fresh plumped cushions and covers on the chairs when her dad returned from Maddison’s with two men. Ben saw them arriving and came inside to see what their dad had to say.

“My son, Ben, and daughter Tilly,” he said to the men and told his children that the sheriff knew they were looking for hands and recommended these two.

“Eddie Hodge,” the first man said and offered a hand to shake. Tilly shook his hand, and for some reason, that made her smile. The man smiled back. He was a good-looking guy with dark hair and hazel-colored eyes. His eyes smiled, and the skin creased at the corners. She suddenly realized that she had held his hand rather longer than expected and took it away to shake the one offered by the second new worker called Carlos.

“They both have worked on ranches before,” her dad told them, “and know what to do on horseback.”

“Grew up on a ranch,” Eddie added, and Carlos said that he had worked the Mexican ranches before heading into Texas.

Ben offered to show them to the bunkhouse and introduce them. He took the new hands away, and Nia called to tell him that dinner was almost ready. Tilly and her dad headed for the dining table, and she asked if he had heard about the robberies. He nodded as Nia put a plate in front of him.

When Ben arrived back to eat, their dad said that the Lazy S had been robbed. 

“The house robbed, and the safe cracked open, but they do not know how. They took a bunch of valuable horses and anything from the house they could carry and sell. Jewelry, guns, and other stuff like that. They took saddles from the stables as well.”

“Good Lord,” Ben said. “How did they manage that without being caught?”

“It must have taken time and quite a lot of robbers,” Tilly added. Her dad stopped eating and looked at them both. 

“I have brought two extra men, and we will keep a man on guard duty all the time. He can do work near the house but ride around the perimeter and watch for anything suspicious.” He hesitated. “They held the mother and two daughters hostage until they had taken what they wanted.”

“Were Sally and Clara hurt??” Tllly asked anxiously.

“No, but they were very frightened,” her dad said. “We have worked hard for a lot of years to build this place. I am not about to let it go without a fight.”

“We should keep the men together in the morning, and you can tell them what we are doing,” Ben said.

“We have Nia as well as the two married women who live in the bungalows here with their husbands.” She told Nia briefly what her dad had found out when she brought dessert. The girl bit her lip and looked worried.

“We are putting men on guard,” Ben told her. “Don’t worry. The place is always busy.” She nodded and went back to work.

Ben’s dad asked him to check on some figures for him.

“I will just finish off what I started this morning, and you can cast your eye over my totals.” The whole family knew Ben’s one talent that none of the others could match was his skill in mathematics. He could look at a list of figures and add them instantly. He could spot when there was a mistake and found it so easy that it was never a chore to help out with the accounts. It was the one part of running the ranch that Ben really enjoyed. He was happy with his head in a book of numbers.

“Ben loves doing the accounts, Dad. Can I maybe look after the horses when he does the figures for you?” 

Garth Carver shook his head. “I know you are a great rider, and you love the horses, but one day you will marry and have a family. Ben will have to run everything then.”

“In the meantime,” Ben joined in, “it would be a great help if Tilly took over the training. She gets more out of them than the rest of us can.”

“I took Turk out earlier,” Tilly told him, and Albert did Morris for me. The rest had been worked and were all fine.” She hesitated. “I would like to start with the youngster. She needs to know how to respond, or she will be too old.”

“And that takes a lot of time,” Ben added. “It really would be useful if Tilly took that on.”

Their dad looked at the two of them backing each other up and shook his head.

“Okay. I know when the two of you stick together, I am beaten.”

The three of them were very alike in their looks. Tilly was the blue-eyed blonde of storybooks. She was about five feet five inches tall, while her brother was a darker blond with gray eyes. Garth Carver had passed on these looks to his family, but his hair had turned gray instead of blond.

“Oh, thank you,” Tilly cried and gave her dad a hug.

“Give me those books,” Ben said and winked at his sister.

Chapter Two

Nia and Tilly often spent some time together in the evening. They did a little bit of embroidery or similar work but really it was a girl’s little bit of gossip time, and they often sat on the veranda with a cold drink. Some of the hands were still finishing off for the day, and the ranch was settling for the evening.

The pair were at school together and had always been friends. Nia’s mom and dad had been there for Tilly if she needed an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on. Her mother’s cooking skills had been given to Nia, and she had jumped at the chance to be a cook at the ranch.

“Sally, Clara, and their mom must have had a really bad scare,” Nia said. “I wonder how much was stolen.”

“And how the robbers knew when to make the raid,” Tilly added. “Apparently, most of the men were away bringing in the herd nearer to the ranch for branding and checking.”

“Your dad seems to be making sure that we always have people on the lookout for anything unusual.” 

Tilly agreed and suggested they have a walk over to see Mary and Sarah. Sometimes the men picked up more information than her dad could find from other ranchers. The girls left their sewing pieces on the seats and strolled across the spacious yard to the other buildings placed around the corrals and stock areas. The barns and stables were on one side of the corals, and two bungalows with little gardens fenced around them stood on the other side. Mary Kennick was on her knees in the front garden. She stood up and dusted her hands.

“Howdy, girls. Coffee, wine, or lemonade?” she asked. 

“Oh, wine please, Mary. Shall I give Sarah a call?” Tilly didn’t wait for the answer but went over to the next cabin and knocked on the door. Sarah Delaware held the toddler in her arms when she answered the door.

“Have you got time to come and drink with the girls?” 

Sarah broke into a broad smile.

“Oh, yes.” She looked over her shoulder. “This boy is yours while I go and talk to the girls,” she said to her husband, Jonny, thrusting the little lad into his arms. She took off her apron, patted her hair, and wandered outside. “Jonny actually likes having little Patrick to himself.”

Tilly put her arm in Sarah’s.

“You are one lucky woman,” she said. “That Patrick is adorable.” She laughed. “And Jonny is not bad either.” The girls giggled as they went up the front steps into the next house. Mary poured drinks, and her husband said he would go and play a hand of cards in the bunkhouse.

“Coward,” Tilly said but grinned as she said it and accepted a glass of wine.

“Did you hear about the robbery at the Lazy S?” Nia asked as she sipped her lemonade and accepted a piece of cake to go along with it. The other women had heard the news, and as it turned out, the men had picked up a few more details.

“The sheriff said that there had to be someone who knew that the hands were all away from the house,” Mary said. 

“They never hurt the women and didn’t seem concerned with, you know doing anything awful,” Sarah added. “But they knew where to find the money, jewelry, and other things worth anything.”

“Mrs Clartence had a very expensive coat from New York, and they took that as well,” Mary told them.

“Gosh, they must have known about that. A man would not choose an expensive coat from a wardrobe unless he knew which one to take.” 

The four women talked about the other bits and pieces of news that their husbands had picked up from the rest of the men. One or two had been into town on errands to do with the ranch, and the whole place was full of news of the robbery.

“The sheriff recommended the two men that Dad brought back with him. There had been other robberies, and he was going to take on extra crew anyway.”

“On a lighter note,” Mary added, “there is a traveling show coming to town next week. It would be a nice change to go and see what it was like.”

“If we went with enough people to ensure we were safe, Dad might let me go,” Tilly replied.

“They would need enough left here to guard the ranch, though,” Nia said.

After chatting about clothes, little Patrick, and other stuff, Sarah said she had better go back and make sure Patrick was in bed.

“Jonny gets him all excited and then he cannot go to sleep.” Nia and Tilly thanked Mary for the drinks and detoured across to the corral so Tilly could speak to the young mare that she was to start training.

“She is so pretty,” Nia said, and fished out a carrot from her pocket. “I knew you would talk to her on the way back. The carrot was halved between April and her mom, Bets. Some of the crew were sitting outside the bunkhouse and came across.

There was more talk about the robbery, and the whole crew seemed happy to be on alert.

“This is a bigger ranch than the Lazy S. More of us and harder to rob,” Jerry, who had been cleaning the stable earlier, remarked.

“We are well organized as well,” Albert Goodwin added.

“I don’t mind being on guard if that is what the boss wants,” Eddie Hodge, the newest crew member told them. 

“I think Dad will get everyone together in the morning so that we all know what is going on,” Tilly told them. She smiled at Jerry and Albert. “I have official permission to start training the youngster.”

“You got your way then?” Jerry grinned, and Tilly nodded happily.

“As long as she doesn’t cook, her dad is happy,” Nia joked and gave her friend a nudge.

“Okay, okay. So I cannot cook. If I was stranded on my own, I would just eat bread and eggs.”

“You would have to buy the bread,” one of the others joked, and Tilly threw her hands in the air.

“I will challenge any of you to a riding contest, though, or ask if you would like Turk as your regular ride.” She laughed as they all backed off that one.

“What youngster are you training?” Eddie Hodge asked, and she pointed across to the corral.

“Little April there. She seems to be quite a smart little character. I am looking forward to it.”

“I’ll go and put them inside,” Jerry said, and Eddie offered to come and help. The two girls went along as well, and Tilly gave the young mare a stroke on the nose. Turk snickered from the stall at the other end, and she went to talk to him.

“Love ya, big fella,” she told the gelding.

“This one,” Jerry said, coming alongside, “is a terror. None of the men want him even though he is a big strong horse.

“He is a sweetie underneath the bravado,” Tilly said. “You are all too rough on him, and he fights back. He is a clever boy. He hates it when you pull hard at his mouth.”

Eddie held out a hand to the horse, who sniffed it and snuffed a little bit.

“He’s a big boy,” Eddie said. “And I would think he is strong.”

“He is strong, but if you ask him to do things, he does them. He has a lovely long stride when he gallops. Like floating on air.”

“And a mighty good kick when he feels like it,” Jerry added. Tilly laughed and said she was training him to kick or buck on command.

“You are not doing that, are you?” Nia asked, and Tilly shook her head.

“Don’t want to frighten Jerry,” she joked and dodged the pretend punch. The two men walked over to the house and said goodnight.

“The new man seems okay,” Nia said.

“And not frightened of Turk. He likes horses. Turk can always tell.”

“Good looking as well,” Nia said and picked up her sewing to take inside.

Ben had finished the work on the accounts and was having a beer with his dad. Nia popped her head in the door and brought a tray with some cold meat, bread, and pieces of pie.

“I am off to my room unless you need anything else,” she said.

“No, this is just what we wanted,” Garth Carver told her. “Goodnight.” Tilly and Ben said goodnight as well, and Nia went up to her room consisting of the entire attic space, and she loved it. It was where she lived, and she had a small sitting area as well as the bedroom. She was making a crochet throw for her seat and sat beside the lantern to make a little progress with it. 

Downstairs the talk went back to the robbery and what precautions they should take. Tilly mentioned the traveling show and asked her dad if he thought they could go.

“There has been no mention of people being attacked on the road. The robberies have all been at ranches, farms, or other business places.” It seemed the sheriff had heard that a flour mill had been robbed in the same way.

“You could take a few men that wanted to see the show as well. I wouldn’t mind going along myself. It would make a bit of a change,” Ben told his sister. “Who else wants to go?”

“Mary, Sarah, Nia, and me, and I think probably Jerry and one or two others.”

“Enough of the hands would want to go to make it safe for you, and the four of you could ride in the carriage.”

“There would be plenty of the crew left to guard this place,” her dad added. “Find out who wants to go.”

“The new man seems to like horses,” Tilly said, changing the subject. “Turk snickered at him.” 

Her dad shook his head.  “You really trust that creature.” He sighed. “None of the men want him as he is an unreliable worker.” He paused and smiled at his daughter. “I will officially sign him over to you, and he can be your own horse.”

“Oh, Dad. Thank you. Thank you. She went over and kissed her dad on the cheek. “I am training the youngster, and I own Turk. How wonderful.”

“And I think that Dad is happy for you to take on looking after the horses. It is sensible if we do the jobs we like. I will sort the accounts, and you can see to the horses. Dad can go on supervising everything.” Tilly looked from her brother to her dad and widened her eyes.

“So, we are sort of a team? That would be really good.”

“I still think that finding you a husband who can give you a decent life is what we need,” her dad told her and saw her face drop slightly.

“Don’t spoil it, Dad. I am only nineteen. The right man will turn up some time.” The man relented and told her he would try out the teamwork and use the time to make sure they were all safe.

Thanks,” she said and decided to go to bed when things were going well. She left father and son having another beer together and sat on her bed thinking about owning Turk. She turned out the paraffin lantern and went to the window in the darkness. The ranch was quiet, and apart from a light in the bunkhouse windows and the two cabins, there was nothing to see. She was about to draw the curtains when something moved beside the barn. Her heart did a little catch, and she peered at the spot where she thought she saw something. She gazed and gazed at the spot, but nothing happened, and she concluded that it had been a trick of the darkness or her imagination.

Slipping into bed, Tilly forgot about it. It was daylight that woke her from a sound sleep, and she looked out the window.

“I will just have a look over there,” she said quietly as she remembered the movement.

Chapter Three

Tilly looked up as a fresh wind blew her hair and strode over to where the movement had been. There was nothing to see, and she let the little worry go, thinking she was seeing things in the darkness. The wind started to blow harder, and then she saw the dark clouds looming in the distance. Tilly ran over to the house and called to her dad that a storm was brewing. He hurried to the bunkhouse and called everyone outside to secure the place. 

“Take the horses inside and bar the doors to the barns,” Ben shouted to the men, and Tilly went back to the house to close all the shutters and bring any loose buckets or tools inside that might be swept up by the wind and cause damage. The wind was increasing by the minute, and she saw that the horses were all inside and the doors barred. The men were shooing the chickens inside and fastened the pigs in their stone enclosure.

The rain started in big, heavy, drops, and it could be heard beating on the roof.

“Inside,” her dad shouted as he and Ben ran for the house. Tilly banged the door closed behind them, and they dropped a bar into place on the back and front doors. Then they waited as the storm grew louder and sounded like an engine thundering down the railroad tracks. There was nothing they could do but wait and hope that things would hold out against the storm’s power. Nia, Tilly, and the two men paced about in the living room and resisted opening the shutters to see if things were holding up. Tilly grabbed for her dad as the house actually moved with the force of some strong gusts.

“Oh Lord,” Nia gasped as another enormous gust saw the wooden frame of the ranch house shake.

“This has got to be the worst of it,” Ben said and put an arm around Nia’s shoulders. “Hold your nerve. The building has been through these storms before.”

“I hope the stock are alright,” Garth said.

“And the fences,” Ben added. “That gust was not as bad as the one before.” They all waited for the next big blow, and it did seem to be a little less fierce.

It seemed like waiting for eternity, but in the end, the wind seemed to slacken. The rain was still coming down but with less intensity. Garth risked opening the back door and looked outside. The crew was risking the same from the bunkhouse. Tilly grabbed a jacket as her brother and dad had done and ran for the stables to check the horses. The buildings had held up and were intact, but the horses were terrified and kicking in their stalls.

“Better to let them calm down,” she said. Outside, the damage was worse because fences had been torn away by the wind. The ground was a sea of mud, and Garth Carver told the men to grab the horses and give them a walk around to settle them.

“Then we will have to go and find the stock and see what fences need mending. It could be worse, though. The houses and barns are intact.” He turned to Tilly and told her to take the new hands and show them where everything was kept on the spread. “Ben and I will have to go with the crew.”

She nodded and said they would manage. Carlos and Eddie came over to the stables and asked what she needed doing. The place was strangely quiet after the fright of the storm, and then the men all rode away. Nia came out and said she would make breakfast for them.

“While Nia does that, let us bring out the horses and put them in two of the corrals. The others have broken fences. Then we will eat and let the stock settle. I will let out the chickens and the pigs,” she added, and Carlos said he would run and do that and meet them at the stables.

Nia went back to the kitchen as Eddie and Tilly headed for the barns.

“My little one. That was your first nasty storm.” Tilly stroked the foal and the mother and then took the mother outside with the little one following behind. “Leave Turk for me, but the others will all be fine.” She called to the two hands, and they managed the horses into a safe place. “Leave the one who was lame in the stall. He should be okay.”

The three of them looked at the stock and were satisfied that the fear had gone.

“It’s the wind and the noise they hate,” Eddie said. “Do you need a hand with the big fella?”

“He seems to like you, so it might be a good idea,” she said and smiled. “It is quite an honor to have that gelding accept you.”

“I like horses,” he told her. “My uncle brought me up from when I was twelve, and as he is a sheriff, we had horses on hand all the time.” He stopped himself from saying more as his uncle had sent him here, and he had to be very careful. He wondered fleetingly why he wanted to tell this girl about himself and then pushed it to one side. He had never really known a lot of women well. That was how he intended it to continue.

They went inside the stable, and Turk was shuffling about in the stall.

“Come on, Turk boy,” she said quietly. “This is Eddie, and he likes horses, so behave yourself.” She took the head halter and moved the big animal out of the stall. Eddie stood back and smiled faintly as she continued to talk to the horse as if he were a person all the way to the paddock. The hand stayed close enough to her to help if it was needed, but it was obvious that the gelding adored her. He walked sedately along and through the gate as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

Nia called from the kitchen door, and they went to eat.

“Mercifully, the place stayed in one piece,” Tilly said and told the two men to have a seat at the kitchen table. Nia joined them as well.

“I’ll walk around with you when we have eaten,” Tilly said. “Dad asked me to show you where we keep everything and how the ranch works.” She looked at them. “You must have been on ranches before. I guess you will soon find your way around.” Carlos explained about the ranches he had worked on in Mexico, and she asked him a few questions about them.

“Tilly knows the ranch inside out,” Nia remarked. “She will give you a good tour of the place.”

“Dad thinks I should be a good daughter all the time and not try to be a ranch hand. I do prefer to be a part of the crew.”

“You can’t help what is in your nature, though,” Carlos replied, polishing off the breakfast. “That was good, Nia.” Tilly laughed and said that it was a good job that Nia had cooked and not herself.

“Nia is here because I can’t cook. Dad, Ben, and I all ended up eating in the cookhouse when I was in charge of the kitchen. I might have poisoned everyone.” 

The men laughed.

“The storm came just as we were all thinking about these awful robberies. The women were held hostage. I am glad to be able just to cook again,” Nia joined in. “There are the two of us here, and two of the hands are married and have the bungalows.”

“What robberies did he hear about?” Eddie asked, and he listened as they told the news for the Lazy S.

“Apparently the mother and daughters were held hostage as the gang robbed the ranch. They took horses as well as money and jewelry.”

“I wonder how many there were,” Eddie replied. “They must have had quite a lot in the gang to take horses.”

“Quite a few,” Nia told him. “They took saddles and quite heavy things as well.”

“Guns from the house as well. There was a stock of good rifles. That is why Dad took you two on to make sure we had enough people around.”

“And now everyone has had to go and see to the stock,” Carlos added. “We had better look around.” The two men thanked Nia and followed Tilly around the spread as she pointed out where they branded and treated the herd, where the holding pens were, and how the barns were used for storage.

Tilly was enthusiastic about the ranch, and it came through as she talked. 

“The small barn is just the chickens and the things like wagons and tools. The second one is the stored vegetables and corn. The third doubles up as a stable when we need more space, and the two bungalows are for the two married hands.”

They checked out the pigs and the horse in the stall. They stopped after the tour, and she pointed to the broken corral fences.

“Can you mend those first, please? They will be needed when the rest come back. Wood and tools are in the second barn.”

“Sure thing, Boss.” Carlos grinned at her, and she warmed towards the man. Eddie thanked her for the tour and said just to call if she needed anything.

“If we are working at the corrals, we can keep an eye out for anyone arriving.”

“Good point,” she answered. “I will work with the youngster, and then I will know the horses have forgotten the storm. We can all see anything suspicious.”

The two men carried out what they needed from the barn, and she saw them chopping away at the broken parts as she took April to the side of the yard where there was green grass to walk on.  She put a long rein onto the youngster before walking the filly around in a circle and holding a long slender whip in her hand to gently stop and start the horse. She was completely immersed in what she was doing and never saw that two strangers had appeared at the gate until a shot rang out, and she jerked to a stop. 

She gasped and pulled the filly towards her on the long rein and saw Eddie walk towards her with gun in hand. He was looking at the gate and spoke without moving his gaze away from the visitors. The gun was pointed unwaveringly at the men on horseback.

“Put the filly away and find some cover,” Eddie told her, and she quickly did as he asked.

 Carlos had a gun in hand and was following across the yard. She came away from the corral and joined him as they all went towards the gate.

“I shot at the gatepost and not at any person, but that can change. What is your business here?” Eddie was calm and determined, showing no concern at all.

“I don’t know you,” Tilly said. “This is the Carver family ranch. Do you need to see someone here?”

“Not causing trouble and not drawing a gun,” one of the men said. “I think you are looking for extra hands, and we are looking for some work.”

“How did you hear about us wanting extra help?” Eddie asked.

“Plenty of talk in town about the robberies at ranches,” the second man said. 

“I don’t think we can hire anyone without a recommendation,” Tilly said. “The storm has caused some disruption here today. I have to say sorry, but we are fully staffed now.”

The first man touched the brim of his Stetson and said they were staying in town at the lodging house if any more men were needed.

“Sorry to cause you any bother.” The two of them turned their horses and walked quietly away. Eddie cast a quick glance at Tilly to see if she was okay and saw that the two women in the bungalows had come out and were watching what was happening. Mary had a rifle in hand.

“Go and see the two ladies there, and I will just follow on foot and make sure they are really going away.” Eddie slipped through the gate, and Carlos said he would stay on guard until he came back.

“Two shots in the air will bring me running to help,” Carlos told him. Eddie nodded and stepped into the cover of the bushes to go down the entrance track without being seen.

“Be careful,” Tilly said quietly and went with Carlos to where Mary and Sarah were waiting.

“The Secret Behind Their Bond” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Tilly Carver always preferred working at her father’s ranch rather than conforming to society’s expectations. The peace she enjoys comes to an end, though, after a series of alarming robberies are committed in the town. Could the two extra hands hired by Tilly’s father prevent an attack or will their ranch eventually become the next target?

All Tilly expected was assistance and protection; falling in love was never in the cards…

Determined to discover whether someone is helping the gang from inside, deputy Eddie Hodge goes undercover at the Carver family ranch. As soon as he meets Tilly though, he is immediately won over by her unique spirit and kindness. Could her charm end up distracting him from accomplishing his secret mission?

It’s only a matter of time before his hidden identity comes to light…

Upon finding out who Eddie really is, Tilly insists on joining the perilous investigation. As they dig into the truth behind the string of crimes though, they become overwhelmed by the feelings growing between them. With the crooks too clever to be caught and the ranch in danger, could love and happiness prevail?

“The Secret Behind Their Bond” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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