A Cowboy in Manhattan - By Barbara Dunlop
As the pickup truck rocked to a halt in front of her family’s Colorado cattle-ranch house, Katrina Jacobs started a mental countdown for her return to New York City. In the driver’s seat, her brother Travis set the park brake and killed the engine. Katrina pulled up on the silver door handle, releasing the latch and watching the heavy passenger door yawn wide-open. Then she slid gingerly down onto the gravel driveway, catching most of her weight on her right foot to protect her injured left ankle.
A week, she calculated. Two weeks, max. By then she would have done her duty as a daughter and a sibling. Her ankle would be in shape. And she could get back to her ballet company in Manhattan.
Katrina hated Colorado.
Travis retrieved her small suitcase from the truck box. From experience, she knew it would be covered in stubborn grit, just like everything else in Lyndon Valley. She could vacuum it as much as she liked, but the dust would remain.
She wrenched the stiff door shut and started to pick her way across the uneven ground. She’d worn a pair of navy suede Gallean ankle boots, with narrow toes, low heels and kicky little copper chains at the ankles. They topped a pair of skinny black slacks and a shiny silver blouse.
She probably should have gone with sneakers, blue jeans and a cotton shirt, but she couldn’t bring herself to traverse both JFK and Denver International looking like a hick. She wasn’t often recognized in public, but when she was, people inevitably snapped a picture. Between cell phones and digital cameras, everyone in the world was potential paparazzi.
In his faded blue jeans, soft flannel shirt and scuffed cowboy boots, Travis fell into step beside her. “You want to take Mom and Dad’s room?”
“No,” she responded a little too quickly. “I’ll bunk with Mandy.”
Katrina hadn’t lived at home full-time since she was ten years old. That summer, with the support of her rather eccentric aunt, she’d enrolled in New York’s Upper Cavendar Dramatic Arts Academy, a performing-arts boarding school for girls. Maybe it was because she’d left home so young, but to this day, she was intimidated by her stern, forceful father. His booming voice made her stomach jump, and she was constantly on edge whenever he was around, worried that he’d ask an embarrassing question, mock her career or make note of the fact that she was an all-around inadequate ranch hand.
Her father was away from the ranch right now, having just moved to a rehab center in Houston with a leading-edge stroke recovery program. There he was impressing the staff with his rapid improvement from his recent stroke. Still, the last thing Katrina needed was to be surrounded by his possessions.
“He loves you,” said Travis, his voice gentle but his confusion evident. “We all love you.”
“And I love you back,” she returned breezily, as she took the stairs to the front porch, passing through the door into the cool, dim interior of her childhood home. It was large by ranch house standards, with a big, rather utilitarian entryway. It opened up into a large living room, with banks of bright windows overlooking the river, a redbrick fireplace and enough comfy furniture to hold the family of five children and often guests. The kitchen was spacious and modern, with a giant pantry and a big deck that led down to a rolling lawn. And upstairs, there were six bedrooms, though one had been converted into an office after Katrina had left for good.
She knew love was compulsory. But the truth was, she had nothing in common with the rest of her family. They saw her as some spoiled, fragile princess who couldn’t even ride a horse, never mind toss a hay bale or swing an ax straight.
For all that she was a principal dancer in a ballet company that regularly sold out New York City’s Emperor’s Theater, and that she’d made the cover of Dance America and the Paris Arts Review, in Colorado she’d never be anything but the girl who couldn’t make it as a ranch hand.
“Hey there, Kitty-Kat.”
Before she could respond to his greeting, her oldest brother, Seth, swooped her up in his strong arms.
“Hi, Seth.” Her hug was slightly less enthusiastic. She was embarrassed by the childhood nickname her two brothers had bestowed upon her.
He let her go, and she stepped aside with a determined smile on her face. The smile faltered when she caught sight of a third man behind him. A