Cowboy Coming Home

Chapter 1

Do not be unequally yoked. Light can’t mix with dark. Be God centered. God always first. Communication, commitment, loyalty , listening to each other’s viewpoints and settling disagreements before going to bed. – Ruth Carter Warrenton, Va

Glory Baldwin didn’t see the calf.

That was the problem.

Although, to be fair, the calf wasn’t there when she put the cow in earlier.

Regardless, she should have been paying attention, but her sister Lavender had shouted, “Three more trailers just pulled in. We need that cow moved right away, and you need to come out and help us.”

Glory had waved her hand, letting her sister know she’d heard, then she’d gone about moving the cow.

People were milling around in the penning area, but they were mostly people Glory knew, and they knew to stay out of the way when they were moving animals. The livestock auction that her family ran was scheduled to start ten minutes ago, but typically they didn’t start on time. Usually people were still arriving with their animals at the start time.

Which is what was happening now, and Glory needed to move this single cow into a pen with several others so they had this pen for a herd of goats that was on a trailer right now waiting to be unloaded.

The new guy had put the cow in, and he put it in the goat area. Which had been fine before the goats had arrived and needed it.

Glory wasn’t watching when she opened the gate and walked in the pen. It was way too big for a single cow anyway. They used it for goat herds.

Making a note that the light bulb above the pen was out, and it would need to be replaced tomorrow, she walked in, glancing out of the pen and down the aisle at her sister who was heading toward the unloading area.

Maybe the dim lighting was the reason she didn’t see the calf lying in the straw.

Wet, but with the afterbirth cleaned off.

“Look out!” a deep male voice said, drawing her attention away from the calf that had just caught her eye—her brain hadn’t had time to process what it was and where it came from—and toward the voice rather than toward the cow.

Out of her peripheral vision, she saw the cow coming for her.

Sometimes things happened and it felt like they were happening in slow motion in a person’s head, while real life never slowed down.

That was one of those times for Glory. Since she knew the cow was coming, and she knew her feet needed to run, but she hadn’t gotten the signal from her brain to her feet, and she stood rooted to the floor for what felt like five minutes but was probably only a second or so.

A body came from her left, plowing into the neck of the cow, just as the black head came within inches of Glory’s stomach.

Her feet finally got the memo, and she ran to the side of the pen, one foot on the bottom board, but she didn’t throw herself over; instead, she glanced over her shoulder to see what became of the person who had attacked the cow that was attacking her.

Later maybe she would shake her head over that one. Working in a sale barn, she would have said she’d seen everything.

This wasn’t the first time she’d been attacked by a cow, but it probably was one of the closer times, and all because she hadn’t been paying attention.

Growing up, her dad always, always told her, “Keep your eye on the cow. Don’t ever take your eye off the cow.”

She hadn’t listened.

It hadn’t gotten her, but some other one might.

The man, tall, wearing a T-shirt and faded jeans, with square-toed cowboy boots, and a ball cap, had run into the cow, knocking her off course enough for Glory to get away.

But the way the cow had turned when he hit her had knocked the man off balance, and Glory turned in time to see him sprawled on the ground, rolling immediately toward the fence.

Smart man, not taking the time to get up. Except, this was the goat pen, the fence was farther away than it usually was, and there wasn’t enough room between the boards for the man to get through.

The cow, truly upset and scared now, and driven by instinct to do anything to protect her baby, stopped, glanced at the calf on the ground, then back to the man.

She lowered her head and ran toward him.

Glory saw it, but the cow had smashed the man into the fence as he’d started to stand to get over it and ground her head into his rib cage before Glory got a shout out of her mouth and was able to move herself forward.

She thought she heard a crack, but she hoped she was wrong. Because it was almost certainly the man’s ribs.

Knowing that it should have been her getting smashed into the fence, if the man hadn’t saved her, she couldn’t turn away, even though the mama cow was scared and would almost certainly attack her as well.

At least she was on her feet and had a decent chance of getting away now that she was paying attention.

Hopefully, she could at least get the cow turned around. Surely, the shouting would get someone coming toward them. Someone to help, and if the man couldn’t get himself up, someone would be there to drag him away if she could keep the cow away from him.

Her movement caused the cow to look at her but not leave the man. Glory knew what would draw the cow to her. She switched directions, and rather than lunging at the cow, she took three steps toward the calf.

The mama wanted to protect her baby, and nothing would draw a mama like something going toward her precious little one.

That was the instinct driving her now. And that was the instinct Glory played on.

She was no match for a sixteen-hundred-pound cow. But she liked to think her brain was bigger.

She was using it now, because brute strength wasn’t going to get her anywhere.

Sure enough, the mama swung around, faster than one would think a clumsy cow would be able to swing, and charged toward the human by her baby.

Glory got out of the way, backpedaling as fast as she could. She smacked into the fence, her hands automatically gripping it and her foot going to the bottom rung.

The cow didn’t chase her, standing over her calf, and she stood where she was, trying to see if the man could move.

The cow was in her way.

“Come on, mama,” she said. “Come get me.” She wasn’t taunting. Well, maybe she was. She felt pretty secure in her position—secure that she could get over the fence before the mama got to her. But she didn’t really want the mama to do that, because she’d want to turn back toward her calf right away, and the man might catch her eye.

Moving a little along the fence so she could see around the side of the cow, Glory caught movement in the dim back corner. At least the man wasn’t dead.

She hadn’t really thought he was, since the cow had gone after his chest.

That wouldn’t kill him right away.

It would be more of a slow death.

He’d end up in the hospital with pneumonia, a punctured lung, internal injuries, and he’d never get better but just fade away.

Even strong, young, and healthy men sometimes couldn’t pull through when their chest was smashed.

She’d seen it.

Thankfully, this cow didn’t have horns, or the man might need an undertaker rather than an ambulance.

The cow hadn’t moved, and Glory could see the man was up, one arm crossed high over his stomach, like he was keeping the pain in, and standing slightly hunched over, like straightening hurt, and he just couldn’t do it. But rather than going to the gate or throwing himself over the fence, he was looking for her.

“Get on the other side,” he said, his words strong but laced with pain.

Like a sturdy metal gate that was slightly rusted.

“I can make it before she gets to me,” Glory said right away, not wanting the cow to turn around. She stood over top of her calf, and she’d probably be fine as long as no one made a move toward her. “You get out of there.”

“You first,” the man said, his tone commanding and brooking no argument.

She probably knew him, although she hadn’t gotten a good look at him and still couldn’t see, but most likely he was a rancher from the area. One she’d dealt with before. One whom she might even have gone to school with, although he definitely wasn’t someone she worked with every week.

She’d recognize all of those; they were as familiar to her as her own brother.

Shoving her heel on the first fence board, she pushed up, keeping her face toward the cow, not giving her back.

That was the worst thing a person could do when they were chasing cattle and were worried a cow was going to charge—to give a cow their back. Cows might charge a person facing them, but they definitely would charge a person’s back.

Apparently they’d never watched westerns.

As soon as her butt was on the top rung, she called out, “I’m good. You get out.”

She wanted to be there if the cow moved or turned, because the man was in no condition to get away.

He glanced up, his face dark under his hat, but she could see the stubble and the dark eyes. He made sure she was out of danger before he climbed the fence, much slower than she had, swinging a leg over. Even from her position on the other side of the pen, she could see the pain he was in as he moved his body.

As soon as he had one leg over the fence, she figured at the very worst he could roll off the top, over to the other side, so she swung her legs around and hopped down, moving through the pen she had just landed in, past a herd of goats, who moved out of her way, hopping over that fence before she came around to look at the man.

The whole time, she was pulling her phone out of her pocket and calling Clint, who didn’t miss an auction and was also a volunteer first responder. If a person in Sweet Water called the ambulance, he’d be the one going to get it. It seemed silly to call 911 to have an ambulance dispatched when Clint was here and could take this fellow to the hospital in his truck with the flashing blue light.

“Yeah,” Clint answered his phone.

“Come down to the goat pens, please. I’ve got someone who’s been smashed by a charging cow, and I think he probably has some broken ribs and possibly other injuries.”

“On my way,” Clint said, and she didn’t bother to say goodbye, knowing he wouldn’t.

“If that was for me, you’re wasting your time,” the man muttered as he came to the fence of the pen he was in, the two nannies who stood there with him eyeing him balefully.

“You’re hurt. You need to get checked out.”

“I’m fine,” he said.

She wanted to roll her eyes. That was typical of men around here. They were “fine.” They might have a severed artery and a knife sticking out of their heart, but they were fine. Always fine.

Like it was a badge of honor to not go to the hospital.

“Well, you’re gonna have to get through my mom, because she’s not going to want to find out that you got attacked by a cow and didn’t go to the emergency room.”

“Send her to me. I’ll let her know,” the man said, raising his eyes and looking for the first time full in Glory’s face.

Armstrong Brandt.

She knew him, although he wasn’t a regular at the sale. His wife had left him last summer, going back east, because she didn’t feel fulfilled being a wife and mom and being stuck at home.

Maybe there was more to the story, but that’s all Glory had heard. Immediately she started looking around for his little boys. Four of them. The oldest being six or eight. She wasn’t sure.

And there they were. She’d been on her phone, and she hadn’t seen them smashed back against the pen on the other side, their backs flush against it, their eyes wide.

Their dad had probably told them to get back and stay there, and the boys had listened.

“If you’re worried about your boys, we can keep an eye on them. Someone will take care of them.” She stopped short of saying she would do it herself. He might not appreciate that since she was the reason he was hurt to begin with. Also, of all the people in their family, Rose was the one who was great with kids. Not Glory.

They seemed to love Rose naturally, even if they’d never met her before.

Glory, not so much. She wasn’t terrible with them, but it wasn’t an automatic love as soon as they set eyes on her, the way it always was with Rose.

The man scrunched his face up. He’d gone through the gate of the pen and now stood in the aisle.

It wasn’t hard to see from the set of his shoulders and the tension on his face that he was in a lot of pain.

“I take it Armstrong is the one who got attacked?” Clint said as he walked up to them.

“That’s right. She got him pretty good. He was twisted, and she shoved him into the fence,” Glory said, describing it as best she could, even though she’d seen it over her shoulder.

“I’ll be fine. My ribs are a little bruised, but they’ll be fine.”

“I thought I heard a crack,” Glory said.

Armstrong’s eyes flew to hers. Like he had known about the crack but hadn’t thought anyone else had heard.

“Then we definitely want to check that out, especially if there’s a possibility they might be broken. You don’t want to pierce a lung or get an infection. You can end up with more problems than just broken ribs,” Clint said seriously, although he stayed with his hands in his pockets, a casual stance, because he knew as well as Glory did how stubborn men around the area could be. And that he was just as likely to not have a patient to take to the hospital as he was to have one. Unless they were unconscious, it wasn’t a given.

“I’ll be fine,” the man insisted, a stubborn tilt to his chin, his eyes hard.

She’d heard Armstrong’s ranch was successful, and she’d never heard of any problems associated with him, other than his wife walking out.

“What’s going on?” Mrs. Baldwin, Glory’s mom, stepped up.

“Nothing.”

“He got smashed into the fence.”

“I think Armstrong needs to go to the ER.”

Armstrong, Glory, and Clint all spoke at the same time.

Mrs. Baldwin raised her brows and looked around the little circle.

Her eyes landed on the boys that still stood against the fence, worried looks on their faces, with the oldest holding the youngest close to him in a brotherly embrace.

Her serious gaze returned to the man holding his ribs. “Armstrong, I know you don’t want to hear this, but I really want you to go to the ER. It has to do with our insurance. They will check you out, and if there’s nothing wrong, they’ll send you right home. In the meantime, Glory will make sure your kids are okay. She’s good with children, and kids always enjoy the sale anyway.”

“My kids will enjoy the sale, but I don’t want to leave without them.” His teeth gritted. “I wasn’t staying around much longer anyway, because they need to go home and get to bed.”

“I’ll make sure they get home. I’ll make sure they get to bed, and I’ll stay until you get back,” Glory said. With her mother’s blessing, she would take care of this and see it through until the end.

“The two oldest have school in the morning.”

“I’ll make sure they get on the bus,” she said reasonably.

“If I call the ER, and they’re waiting on you when we get there, it won’t take long. An hour, two, tops. It’s a small hospital, and they know how the people around here are. They don’t mess around for the sake of messing around.” Clint’s words were the nail in the coffin, because Armstrong lifted his chin and jerked it a little in assent.

No one had a problem recognizing that for acquiescence, and everyone moved.

Armstrong, his arm still around his upper stomach, his face still pinched tight, walked over to his boys.

Glory’s mom moved back as Glory followed him over, taking a deep breath and hoping she didn’t look scary to the little kids. Wishing Rose were here. At least until they got used to her.

“This is Miss Glory, and she’s going to be taking care of you, probably at least until bedtime. I should be back by morning, okay?”

The oldest nodded. The second tallest boy scrunched his face up, but when he saw his older brother nodding, he did too. The younger two just looked scared.

“I promise I’ll be back. Okay?”

At the looks on the boys’ faces, Glory’s chest pinched. She remembered that Armstrong’s wife had left, and probably the boys worried that he would leave and not come back, too.

It made her sad and also made her determined to do her very best for these little motherless children.

“When you’re with me, you get free food, so if you guys like hamburgers and French fries with cheese or ketchup, I’ve got you covered,” Glory said, not sure if that was the best way to talk to kids, but food always made her feel better.

The boys just looked at her, none of them moving to come with her, as Clint checked Armstrong and her mom stood still, giving them time to adjust a little.

“There’s also cake, and I know where they hide the candy,” she said in a conspiratorial tone.

That made the oldest one smile, although his hand squeezed tighter around his little brother.

“There’s candy?” the second oldest said.

“There sure is. What’s your name?” she asked, figuring that she probably ought to find their names out before their dad left, since she might not be able to understand them or figure it out herself.

“Benjamin,” the little boy said.

That shouldn’t be hard. The second child was named Benjamin, second letter in the alphabet. She was terrible with names, always had been, and felt a little pressure, because she really needed to get this right.

“Nice to meet you, Benjamin,” she said, holding her hand out.

Benjamin just looked at it for a minute. A cow mooed from somewhere down the aisle, and behind them, a couple of goats baaed.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, shaking her hand.

“That’s Adam,” Armstrong said. “And then you have Caleb and Daniel. Alphabetical.” There wasn’t any emotion in his voice at all.

She wondered if it was deliberately devoid because of his wife? Or maybe he was just an unemotional person. Maybe that’s why his wife had left.

Regardless, she held her hand out to each individual boy. Adam shook it, but Caleb and Daniel just looked at her.

“Let me guess, you guys are four, six, eight, and ten?” she asked, taking a wild guess.

“No. I’m eight,” Adam said seriously.

“And I’m six,” Benjamin said.

Caleb held up four fingers, and Adam shook Daniel’s shoulder, whispering loud enough for everyone to hear, “Tell the lady how old you are.”

Daniel stuck a thumb in his mouth and held up three fingers with the other hand.

They were pretty close in age, but Glory’s sisters, along with Coleman, her brother, had all been close in age as well.

It made it harder for the parents, which is something she understood as she got older, but much nicer for the kids who had built-in playmates in their family.

“You think everyone’s going to be okay if we hit the road now?” Clint spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Yeah. You guys gonna be good?” Armstrong said, his voice holding that same tender tone that he had when he talked to his kids, so different than when he talked to the adults around him.

They nodded stiffly, the anxiety still on their faces, as Armstrong straightened and ruffled the hair of all of them before looking at Clint.

“Let’s go.” He started walking toward the door, strides that probably would have normally been straight and strong and confident crimped a little from the obvious pain he was in, and his arm still wrapped around his stomach. He leaned forward slightly as well, but otherwise, it was hard to tell that he’d been hurt.

“I’m concerned he might go into shock,” her mother said from beside her.

“I’ve been thinking the same thing. He seems like he’s not in much pain at all, but I’m almost positive I heard a crack, although I suppose it could have been a board. I didn’t check. I think he’s a lot worse off than he’s letting on.”

“They always are,” her mother said, shaking her head.

Her mom had built the auction and livestock business with Glory’s dad. When her dad died, she’d taken over, dealing with everything, with Coleman at her side and the girls helping in everything they did.

They didn’t stare as the men walked away but turned toward the kids.

“I need to get back to the paperwork if you have these boys?” her mother asked.

“Yeah. We’ll be good. I was trying to move that cow out. When she came in, it was just her, but now it’s her and her calf, so it’s gonna be a little more complicated to get her moving around.”

“Yeah. We might have to hold her for a week. I don’t think we’re going to be able to run them through the arena, and we probably don’t want to anyway. I’ll check her number and talk to whoever brought her in.” Her mom walked over, looking at the tag on the cow’s back and pulling out her phone.

Probably to write the information down.

“Have you boys seen a calf before?” Glory asked, assuming that they probably had, since they lived on the farm with Armstrong, but she couldn’t remember whether he’d been a crop farmer, or whether he had had pigs or goats or something else.

She just knew she’d seen him before.

“Not one that was just born,” Adam said.

“Well, this one was just born in the last hour. Because the mama came in, and it was just her. Now she has a baby.”

“Can she break through the fence?” Benjamin said.

“No. These boards are pretty sturdy. But you don’t want to put your arm or hand through the fence. Make sure you stay back. Just look through the cracks.”

The mom would probably be okay as long as no one tried to get close to her baby, although sometimes cows would get a little crazy when they were penned up. Especially with a little one to protect.

At the very worst, the kids might get their finger smashed if they were holding onto a board, but as long as they didn’t stick their head through, they’d be fine.

The boys lined up along the fence, careful to stay back, Adam still holding on to Daniel.

They stood and stared at the cow. She’d licked her calf. He was trying to stand, but she paused and looked at them, her eyes deceptively placid.

“It can’t stand up. There’s something wrong with it,” Caleb said, and those were the first words he’d spoken. For four years old, she thought he talked pretty well, but she hadn’t been around a whole lot of children other than helping Rose with her Sunday school class and occasionally teaching junior church.

“It’s brand new. It has to learn how to stand up,” Glory said, and then she added, “Do you remember when Daniel was born? He couldn’t stand up.”

“No. I don’t remember that.” Caleb looked at his brother like the idea that he once upon a time hadn’t been able to stand was outrageous.

Daniel had a thumb in his mouth and leaned back against Adam.

They stood and watched the calf for a little bit until it was able to get up. Standing on wobbly legs, it looked so adorably confused that it had been safe and warm just moments ago, and now the coldhearted world intruded.

The boys seemed to get a little restless though, so she asked, “Are you guys hungry?”

She got some nods, so she said, “Can I carry Daniel?”

“Daniel. Let the lady carry you,” Adam said, pushing his little brother.

Daniel pushed back against Adam, and Glory grinned. She probably wasn’t going to get him to trust her enough to let her carry him around.

“My name’s Glory,” she said, figuring they might not have heard their dad the first time and they could at least get that so they didn’t have to keep calling her “the lady.”

“Can I carry you?” She bent down a little to Daniel, deciding she wouldn’t know if he’d let her unless she tried.

To her surprise, Daniel took another look at her, sucked on his thumb, and walked the two feet slowly toward her.

She was able to pick him up, grab a hold of Caleb’s hand, and herd the rest of the boys out of the aisles.

Whatever they were going to do with that cow and calf, whatever they were going to do with the herd of goats they needed to move, didn’t seem to be her concern anymore.

Maybe, if she had time as soon as she got the boys some food, she’d text Lavender and Orchid, her twin sisters, and let them know where she was. But her mom had probably already taken care of it.

These boys were her project tonight; they were worried about their dad and feeling a little lost. She wanted to help them as much as she could.