“It’s too much work, Chad.” Ethan grumbled.
“Give her a try, that’s all I’m saying.” The tall cowboy tipped his hat. “She’ll more than earn her keep.”
Ethan huffed. He could use the extra hands, just not women’s hands. Then again, if extra hands in the kitchen freed up Addy, that meant less headaches for him to handle later in the week. “Fine.” He allowed. “But if she-”
Chad put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loud enough to make his companion wince. His explanation came by the way of a slender rider on a little pinto trotting over the dusty ground.
“She’s good.” The tall man snickered. “Like I said, even the men love working with her. She follows every order and rides like a man.” He shrugged. “She’s restless though, thought she could give you a try.”
Ethan turned as the rider drew up before them and swung down from the saddle, reins in hand. She flashed a smile from beneath a new wide-brimmed leather hat.
“Ethan, Miss Faith Druitt. Miss Druitt, Ethan Templar.”
“Faith’s fine, sir.” The young woman touched the brim of her hat, a gesture seeming both natural and not in the same glance. The curious pinto hung his head over her shoulder, nibbling at her shirt collar. “Much obliged.”
“He’ll take good care of you.” Chad promised, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Be careful.”
Ethan sighed. It wasn’t that unusual to see a woman out of skirts and laces, this was unclaimed land after all. He turned on his heel, beckoning to her. “You can help out in the kitchens today-” he began.
“Kitchens? That’d be awful, sir. I’m not much good in a kitchen and—well, I can do laundry.” She scratched her chin. “and I’m good with cleaning and such.”
They arrived at the ranch house and Ethan watched her go, leading away the pinto and wondering whether his wife would murder him before or after dinner. He had a vague idea of what her reaction to the boyish girl would be.
He stabled the horse, returning to his original intentions. The barn roof needed repairs and he preferred to tackle that chore personally. There were two hired men he selected to assist him and as he worked, his mind returned to the strange cowgirl.
Chad had called her a lady. Ethan wondered what had brought his old friend to such a conclusion.
“Mr. Templar?” Faith stood in the barn courtyard, squinting up at them. “Finished in the kitchen. Mrs. Templar said I ought to come give you a hand.”
Ethan sighed. Against his better judgment, he inquired about her preference to heights and experience with roofing. She happily reassured him that she’d be helpful.
Not only helpful for that day, but the following day and the one after that.
Ethan was pleasantly surprised to find Faith’s handiwork accenting his busy ranch. She couldn’t lift much, but her other strengths made up for it. She was light on her feet, quick with her hands and had an uncanny horse sense he had to admire.
The girl was a godsend.
She helped with everything. There was no job too difficult or too small and her habit of whistling often brought smiles to those who awaited her approach. She could size up a situation within minutes and offer a decent opinion.
Ethan couldn’t believe it’d only been two weeks since he’d agreed to try her out. Now the young woman stood before him, strawberry-blonde curls hidden beneath her hat.
“I was wondering-” he mused. “Why do all of this? Surely you-”
“I like being under the sky, Mr. Templar.” She rubbed her freckled nose. “Like breathin’ the fresh air and I like knowin’ that I’m making use of all that the Lord gave me. I’d go stir-crazy if I had to sit in a house.” She flexed her fingers. “I also like it here. Your ranch is different than all the others I’ve visited these past few months—I’d like to stay.”
“Please? I’ve tried to be helpful and-”
“Then stay.” He smiled. “You’ve been invaluable. I can’t turn down a girl who gave up her free afternoons two weeks in a row to muck out stalls and hang the washing. Thankless, necessary jobs, but you did them. If you want to stay that badly, I won’t tell you otherwise.”
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