Etched across the top of the fine stationery were the initials T.P.F.S., and below the initials,
in perfect penmanship, the letter Ambrose Teller anticipated receiving.
He read the letter and placed it on his desk. The leather chair squeaked as he leaned back,
rubbing his temples.
“Oh, Lord, help us,” he muttered. “I never dreamed an eastern gentleman would want the
ranch. Elmyra Barron is not going to be happy. I sense trouble ahead – bad trouble.”
Cassidy Hart leaned on a post, waiting for the morning train to arrive. She wore her hat
tilted over her eyes, not to protect them from the sun, but from the judgmental stares of the
“Let them stare. Soon I will be out of this town.”
Good fortune had come to Cassidy through the person of Ambrose Teller. Ambrose was
among the handful of people in town who showed kindness to Cassidy. He hired Cassidy to haul
the belongings of the new owner of the Foster Ranch – a Mr. Steele – from the freight house to his
new home. Gladly, she accepted the offer, hoping to make enough money to leave town and get a
new start elsewhere. Today would be her final job, meeting the train and delivering Mr. Steele to
Cassidy heard lewd laughter from a group of men as they meandered along behind her.
They gathered close to where she stood, and ogled her. She hugged her arms across her chest and
tried to ignore their presence.
Relief came when she heard the whistle announcing the train arriving on time.
Spewing out steam, the train came to a stop a few feet from where Cassidy stood. She
straightened up and waited to meet her employer.
Cassidy watched as passengers filed off the train.
A large woman stepped on the station platform, followed by a row of children who scurried
behind her like ducklings following their mother. Next, an older distinguished man emerged from
the train, and Cassidy believed he might be her employer until she saw a woman greet him with a
When the sea of people diminished, Cassidy thought maybe her employer missed the train.
Then she eyed a tall young man dressed in a tweed suit and wearing a bowler hat. He appeared out
of place and lost. Cassidy never beheld a man dressed in such fine clothes, except on a Sunday, or
if someone was getting married or buried.
His eyes darted around, searching the crowd. Cassidy suspected he might be the man she
searched for and approached him.
“Mr. Steele?” she called to him.
He turned and smiled. She extended her hand to him, and he gave her a puzzled expression
as if he had never shaken hands with anyone before.
“Mr. Teller hired me to haul the freight you shipped to your ranch, and today I’m taking
“Oh, excuse me,” he said, shaking her hand. “I am a bit surprised. I expected to meet a
“Why?” asked Cassidy.
“Well, miss, I guess I consider the work you do man’s work. Also, I was told to meet a
Cassidy Hart, and I assumed that was a man’s name.”
“I’m Cassidy Hart, and why do you think Cassidy is a man’s name?”
He smiled. “My, you are an inquisitive child; do you always ask ‘why?’”
“Yes, if I get what you are asking me. I don’t know what ‘inquisitive’ means, but I do ask
‘why?’ if I don’t understand something. Besides, how else am I gonna learn? Oh, and by the way,
I ain’t a child. I’ll be twenty on my next birthday.”
“Pardon me. I did not mean to offend.”
“It’s all right. You didn’t offend me.”
“Well, shall we start over, then?”
“What do you mean?” she said.
“So, you are Cassidy Hart?”
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Thornton Prescott Foster Steele.”
“Are all of those names yours?”
“Yes.” Thornton chuckled. “They are all mine.”
“Gee, I bet it took a long time to call you to supper.”
Thornton threw his head back and laughed. “Miss Hart, you are delightful. I expect we will
be great friends.”
Cassidy never met a man like Mr. Steele, with his fine clothes and fancy talk. He was what
most folks would call a dandy. But Mr. Steele caught Cassidy’s attention in unexpected ways. She
measured five feet four inches and he towered over her, making him she believed, well over six
feet tall. Raven black hair peeked out from under his hat and his eyes shown a cool gun metal blue.
His jaw line was strong and his face appeared serious, but relaxed when he smiled. Mr. Steele was
a handsome man. Cassidy never took much notice of men. After all, what man would want her?
But she did take notice of Mr. Steele, which made her feel a bit uncomfortable.
“Do you agree, Miss Hart? Miss Hart?”
“What? Oh, I’m sorry.” Cassidy blushed.
“Do you expect we will be great friends?”
“Maybe. I’m sorry again, I guess you ain’t what I expected either.”
Thornton laughed. “I guess we both received a surprise today.”
“My wagon is over there, I will load your belongings and then take you to your ranch.”
“What’s the matter?” Cassidy asked.
“I am sorry, I do not mean to be rude, but any man who would let a young lady carry his
belongings is not a gentleman. Also, my dear Cassidy, you are a bit on the small side and my trunks
and some of those crates are heavy.”
Cassidy swallowed her temper.
“I may be small in size, but I am plenty strong and why shouldn’t a girl carry crates or help
move a trunk?”
“I am sorry, miss. I am sure you are strong and, yes, a woman can carry crates and help
move a trunk, I suppose, except when a man is present. A woman should always be treated as a
“Well, you don’t hafta worry about that with this here gal. Cass ain’t no lady,” a voice said.
The group of men who eyed Cassidy approached the pair during their exchange.
“Shut up, Hershel, you jackass,” Cassidy said. “And stop leering at me or I’m gonna tear
that grin off your face along with that nasty mustache and shove it up your ass.”
“Miss Hart, please. Ladies do not use such language,” Thornton said.
“Like I told you, mister, she ain’t no lady,” the man said.
“Miss Hart, would you please bring your wagon closer so I can load my belongings?”
“Sure,” Cassidy muttered.
She took a few steps when Hershel grabbed her around the waist.
“Ah, Cass,” he said as he nuzzled her hair, “ya sure smell purty.”
“And you smell like a horse’s ass, now let me go!”
“Now, Cass, come on, don’t be mad at your man, Hershel. I’m just have’n fun. Come on,
how about a kiss?”
“You ain’t my man, you pig!” Cassidy pushed him off of her and spat in his face.
Hershel wiped his face with his sleeve.
“Guess I’m gonna hafta teach ya some manners.”
He pulled back his arm and let go a punch toward Cassidy, but before Hershel’s fist met
her chin, a large hand wrapped around it.
Cassidy turned to see Thornton Steele gripping the man’s fist in his hand.
“A man should never strike a lady and I do believe you owe Miss Hart an apology.”
It took a couple of tugs for Hershel to free his fist from Thornton’s tight grip.
“Stay out of this, mister, or I will hafta teach ya a lesson too.”
“I take it you will not apologize to Miss Hart.”
“Yeah, ya can take it. Now get out of my way, I gotta finish learning Cass how to treat a
“You just try, you lowlife bastard!” Cassidy shrieked.
“Miss Hart, please, I will handle this, and I told you ladies do not curse.”
“Look, Mr. Steele, I might be working for you, but I fight my own battles.”
“Not this time, Miss Hart, now be quiet while I take care of this problem.”
Cassidy was unsure if the tone of his voice or his serious expression caused her to back
down, but she was not happy about it.
“Well, boys,” Hershel said to the group of men with him. “Guess I’m gonna to teach Mr.
Fancy Pants here a lesson.
Laughter came from the group and Hershel held up his fist.
“I hoped we could settle this peacefully, but if you insist on violence, that is what you will
receive,” Thornton said. “If you please, Miss Hart, hold my hat and jacket.”
Cassidy could not believe what was going to happen. This man intended to fight for her –
something no one had ever done – and he was likely to be beaten to death. Hershel was a big man
and he never lost in a fight. Cassidy wanted to protest, to tell him not to fight, but something about
Mr. Steele’s demeanor told her that would be unwise.
After he handed over his hat, he removed his jacket. Cassidy’s eyes widened at the sight
of his broad shoulders and his bulging arm muscles that threatened to rip through his shirt.
“Last chance to change your mind,” Thornton said.
“I ain’t no coward,” the man said.
“As you wish.”
Thornton rolled up his sleeves and raised his fists.
Cassidy lacked the desire to see her employer pummeled, but she was unable to close her
Hershel swung first.
Thornton dodged it. Second swing and he dodged again.
Thornton bounced from foot to foot. Cassidy once observed people move like Thornton
when they were dancing, but this was the strangest way to fight she had ever witnessed.
After the third swing and miss, Hershel’s friends yelled at him.
“Come on, Hersh, don’t let that dandy get you.”
“What’s wrong, Hersh? Why don’t you git him?”
“Be still, mister. Stop that jump’n around,” Hershel demanded.
“Are you ready to end this?” Thornton asked his opponent.
“Sure am, just as soon as you be still so I can knock you out.”
“I’m sorry you said that.”
One blow by Thornton to the jaw stunned Hershel, and he stood frozen like a statue for a
moment, then his eyes rolled up and he fell flat on his back. Thornton knocked him out cold with
Hershel’s friends stood with their mouths gaping open. No one had ever knocked out their
“Anyone else want to bother Miss Hart?” Thornton asked the group.
The air grew silent except for the sound of shuffling feet.
“No,” some of the men muttered as others shook their heads.
“Good,” Thornton added. “Now, I would like you men to help load my belongings on Miss
“What about Hersh?” asked one of the men. “Are we just gonna leave him there?”
“He will come around eventually. In the meantime, gentlemen, just step over him. Thank
you for holding my hat and coat, Miss Hart, we will be on our way in a moment.”
“Just one damn moment,” Cassidy said, finally getting her voice back.
“Miss Hart, I must insist that you watch your language.”
“Never mind about my language. What gives you the right to get into my business?”
“I came to your assistance, Miss Hart, and I consider it my business, any gentleman’s
business, to come to the aid of a woman being harassed.”
“Not this woman.”
“Miss Hart, we caused enough of a spectacle today. Let us discuss this on the way to my
“Okay, but be ready to hear a lot of discussing.”
“Miss Hart.” Thornton chuckled. “I love the way you speak.”