Animal Helpers, Wyoming Style

226868899949994132_wOvbIobW_bFancy had worked a full day even though it was only noon. Before Eliza cleaned up for dinner she gave Fancy a long drink, then took her to the barn where Frank had said she could give her a stall. She forked some hay into the manger, added a little grain, then backed Fancy into the stall. She took her saddle off and brushed the horse from head to tail in long, steady strokes. Shep lay at their feet and watched, his head resting on his paws, while Fancy munched contentedly.

Suddenly Fancy’s head came up and Shep came to his feet, both facing the barn door. The hairs on the back of Eliza’s neck prickled, just like the ones that stood up on Shep’s neck. The dog growled, a long, low growl. Fancy pawed the ground with one hoof, as if itching to move toward the shadow in the barn doorway.

“It’s just me,” came a woman’s voice. “Honestly, Shep, you’d think you’d get used to me by now.”

Frank’s sister stepped into the light that came through the open window. Eliza let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Well, hello,” she said. She dropped the brush with the other tack and stepped out of the stall to greet Jude. She latched the stall, removed her gloves, and extended a hand. “I’m Eliza O’Malley.”

“I’m Julia McGee.” The grip on her hand was firm – firmer than any other’s woman’s handshake, at least in Eliza’s experience.

Especially firm considering the young, slight woman before her. She couldn’t be twenty. Her light red hair was pulled back in a simple clasp at the back of her neck. Her skin was pearlescent, not a wrinkle in sight.

“Happy to meet you, Julia.”

“Jude, actually. Everyone calls me Jude.”

“Jude, then. I just finished putting my horse up. I hear dinner is ready. Was Allen useful to you in the kitchen?”

“More than useful. He is a master with a paring knife, and his pie crust may be the best I’ve ever had.” Jude’s mouth turned up in a smile and her green eyes shone with pleasure.

Eliza laughed. “I’m glad. I’m next to useless, so I figured you could use his help.”

“You didn’t look useless out there in the herd,” Jude countered. “You and your horse moved like one, and with Shep’s help you made quick work of sorting out the calves.”

Shep was still on all fours, hair on the back of his neck at alert. Behind her Fancy’s hooves struck the ground again. If these were the animal helpers…

But no, this couldn’t be the evil Mildreth. This was Frank’s sister, born in his household when he was a young man, not a time-traveling enemy. She shook off her discomfort.

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