Cowboy Enchantment - By Pamela Browning
Near the California-Nevada-Arizona border, 1910
The dry desert air has preserved the scroll well, though the ink has faded to brown.
“What is it?” asks the young rancher, who cannot read a word of Spanish.
“Ah,” answers the elderly priest with a twinkle in his eye. “It contains an old legend telling the reason we call this place Rancho Encantado—the Enchanted Ranch.”
The rancher shuffles his feet in the dust. “Well, Padre Luis, we thought it was a pretty name,” he replies. His bride waves fondly from the window of the old adobe hacienda, one of several buildings on their newly purchased spread in the desert area known as Seven Springs.
“A pretty name? Yes, I suppose it is. But this place received that name because good things happen here. Unusual things, unexplained things.”
“Just…things. But they are things that touch the soul.”
“Oh. Well, it’s good of you to tell me. But this legend of yours sounds like so much guff.” The rancher is eager to escape the loquacious priest, who arrived unexpectedly to hand over the land deed and the Spanish scroll. He is glad for the school and hospital that Padre Luis founded here, but he and Betsy have no need of the school yet, and he hopes they will never need the hospital.
The priest seems eager to explain. “The legend came about because of what happened at Cedrella Pass. A lot of people died there when the West was being settled. A Shoshone woman took it upon herself to reverse the curse.”
“Yeah, that’s great. So are you telling me there’s something special in the water?”
The priest raises his eyebrows. “Quizas. Perhaps.” He smiles mysteriously and winks. “But more likely, it’s something we always carry with us, something wonderful, something within the human heart.”
While the rancher is mulling over this pronouncement, the priest heaves his bulk up onto his mule. “Remember, this is a special place,” he says.
The rancher stands watching as the rotund priest rides down the long driveway toward the dusty track that serves as a road. Then, with a shrug, he rolls up the parchment and heads for one of the outbuildings, unused at present except for storage.
He’ll toss the parchment scroll into one of the old trunks there. Then he’ll forget about it. He has a ranch to run, after all, enchanted or not.
Erica Strong sauntered into the Last Chance Saloon and shimmied onto a bar stool. Her jeans revealed a rounded derriere, and her shirt was unbuttoned to show impressive cleavage. Just for effect, she reached up and unfastened one more button. She wasn’t wearing a bra.
The rugged cowboy on the next stool edged a little closer, his interested gaze straying to her throat and lower. He was perfect—strong chin, blade of a nose, sculpted lips—and on his head he wore a battered Stetson hat. She batted long eyelashes, stuck out her chest and waited for the inevitable invitation.
“Can I buy you a drink?” His voice was deep and sexy.
She slid off the stool, her breasts grazing his sleeve. “Yeah, cowboy,” she said as her heart started skipping beats. “I’ll have a margarita, heavy on the tequila.”
A slow smile lit his features, and his eyes held a lurking twinkle.
“I’ll have more than that,” he said. “What are you doing this evening? Are you up for a little fun?”
Rain pelted the taxi, and the windshield wipers scraped back and forth, back and forth. The cabdriver hummed tunelessly to himself, adding to the clamor of the usual New York rush-hour traffic. Unfortunately the saloon scene was only a daydream—a frequent and wistful daydream. And so was the cowboy.
“You want to get out here? Walk the rest of the way? The traffic, it cannot move.” The driver blinked at Erica in the rearview mirror and lifted his shoulders in an expressive shrug.
“No,” Erica said firmly. “I want you to take me to my office like I told you.”
“Okay, okay.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, bored.
Erica pulled her wet coat closer around her. She’d been unprepared for rain and was shivering now. She tried to summon up a repeat of the cowboy-and-saloon daydream, but it had slid beyond her reach. For a moment she hated reality and that there was no saloon, no cowboy and no cleavage.
Outside, the city loomed dark and gloomy, another watery and dank February day during which Erica had hopped from conference room to boardroom and taken innumerable calls on her cell phone from people who didn’t know who she was.
Correction. They knew who she