A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing. Joan Johnston
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I’m always surprised when secondary characters in a book insist on having their own story told. Harriet Alistair and Nathan Hazard showed up in Never Tease a Wolf, and I couldn’t resist telling the rest of their story in A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but the two romantic adventures take place simultaneously, so you’ll once again be seeing Abigail Dayton and Luke Granger from Never Tease a Wolf.
Those of you who’ve been reading my Bitter Creek series—The Cowboy, The Texan and The Loner—will note that Harriet and Nathan are also engaged in a feud over the ownership of land, this time for grazing sheep, that’s been ongoing for generations. It’s a theme inherent to the settlement of the West, where land was there for the taking, and the strongest claimed what they could.
I hope you’ll enjoy this modern-day love story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
The Do’s and Don’ts for the Western Tenderfoot at the beginning of each chapter come from The Greenhorn’s Guide to the Woolly West by Gwen Petersen, and are used with permission of the author. I am also indebted to Gwen for the invaluable background information provided in her equally hilarious guide to ranch life, The Ranch Woman’s Manual. Both books are available from Laffing Cow Press in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I would also like to thank Jim Rolleri of the County Extension Service in Big Timber, Montana, for generously parting with every brochure on sheep ranching he could find in his files. Finally, I would like to thank Jim Overstreet, a banker in Big Timber, Montana, who was kind enough to have lunch with me at The Grand and suggest the sort of financial foibles to which a sheep man can be prone.
What do newcomers find abounding in Woolly West towns?
Answer: Quaintness and charm.
Nathan Hazard was mad enough to chew barbed wire. Cyrus Alistair was dead, but even in death the old curmudgeon had managed to thwart Nathan’s attempts to buy his land. Cyrus had bequeathed his tiny Montana sheep ranch to a distant relative from Virginia, someone named Harry Alistair. For years that piece of property had been an itch Nathan couldn’t scratch—a tiny scrap of Alistair land sitting square in the middle of the Hazard ranch—the last vestige of a hundred-year-old feud between the Hazards and the Alistairs.
Nathan had just learned from John Wilkinson, the executor of the Alistair estate, that Cyrus’s heir hadn’t let any grass grow under his feet. Harry Alistair had already arrived in the Boulder River Valley to take possession of Cyrus’s ranch. Nathan only hoped the newest hard-nosed, ornery Alistair hadn’t gotten too settled in. Because he wasn’t staying. Not if Nathan had anything to say about it. Oh, he planned to offer a fair price. He was even willing to be generous if it came to that. But he was going to have that land.
Nathan gunned the engine on his pickup, disdaining the cavernous ruts in the dirt road that led to Cyrus’s tiny, weather-beaten log cabin. It was a pretty good bet that once Harry Alistair got a look at the run-down condition of Cyrus’s property, the Easterner would see the wisdom of selling. Cyrus’s ranch—what there was of it—was falling down. There weren’t more than five hundred sheep on the whole place.
Besides, what could a man from Williamsburg, Virginia, know about raising sheep? The greenhorn would probably take one look at the work, and risk, involved in trying to make a go of such a small, dilapidated spread and be glad to have Nathan take it off his hands. Nathan didn’t contemplate what he would do if Harry Alistair refused to sell, because he simply wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
As he drove up to the cabin, Nathan saw someone bounce up from one of the broken-down sheep pens that surrounded the barn. That had to be Harry Alistair. Nathan couldn’t tell what the greenhorn was doing, but from the man’s agitated movements it was plain something was wrong. A second later the fellow was racing for the barn. He came out another second later carrying a handful of supplies. Once again he ducked out of sight in the sheep pen.
Nathan sighed in disgust. The newcomer sure hadn’t wasted any time getting himself into a pickle. For a moment Nathan considered turning his truck around and driving away. But despite the Hazard-Alistair feud, he couldn’t leave without offering a helping hand. There were rules in the West that governed such conduct. A man in trouble wasn’t friend or foe; he was merely a man in trouble. As such, he was entitled to whatever assistance Nathan could offer. Once the trouble was past and they were on equal footing again, Nathan could feel free to treat this Alistair as the mortal enemy the century-old feud made him.
Nathan slammed on the brakes and left his truck door hanging open as he raced across the snowy ground toward the sheep pen on foot. The closer Nathan got, the more his brow furrowed. The man had stood up again and put a hand behind his neck to rub the tension there. He was tall, but the body Nathan saw was gangly, the shoulders narrow. The man’s face was smooth, unlined. Nathan hadn’t been expecting someone so young and…the only word that came to mind was delicate, but he shied from thinking it. He watched the greenhorn drop out of sight again. With that graceful downward movement Nathan realized what had caused his confusion. That was no man in Cyrus Alistair’s sheep pen—it was a woman!
When Nathan arrived at her side, he saw the problem right away. A sheep was birthing, but the lamb wasn’t presenting correctly. The ewe was baaing in distress. The woman had dropped to her knees and was crooning to the animal in a low, raspy voice that sent shivers up Nathan’s spine.
The woman was concentrating so hard on what she was doing that she wasn’t even aware of Nathan until he asked, “Need some help?”
“What? Oh!” She looked up at him with stricken brown eyes. Her teeth were clenched on her lower lip and her cheeks were pale. He noticed her hand was trembling as she brushed her brown bangs out of her eyes with a slender forearm. “Yes. Please. I don’t know what to do.”
Nathan felt a constriction in his chest at the desperate note in her voice. He had an uncontrollable urge to protect her from the tragic reality she faced. The feeling was unfamiliar, and therefore uncomfortable. He ignored it as best he could and quickly rolled up his sleeves. “Do you have some disinfectant handy?”
“Yes. Here.” She poured disinfectant over his hands and arms.
Nathan shook off the excess and knelt beside the ewe. After a quick examination, he said flatly, “This lamb is dead.”