Southern Nights

Barbara couldn't deny it. "I didn't know there were ranches this large in Florida."

"There have been ranches in Florida, and cowboys, before the first white man ever discovered there were tumbleweeds in Texas. Ponce de Leon brought the first boatload of Andalusian cattle here in 1521. The shoot-outs, the lynchings, the rowdy saloons were all romanticized in Westerns, but it all happened here first." His gaze skimmed her face with wicked arrogance. "Driving cattle across palmetto prairies, fighting wolves and malaria fever and swamp mire that would suck up a full-grown steer, sitting around a campfire beneath trees ghostly draped with moss didn't appeal to the Zane Greys and Remingtons who built the myth of the cowboy."

"Florida is oranges, Disney World and Miami Beach, not cowboys." Barbara's image of her native state was undergoing a whole new evaluation.

"Cow hunters or cracker cowboys, that's what they were usually called. Cow hunters for the obvious reason that so much of this land was unfenced that they had to hunt the high grasses, swamps and cypress forests for the cows. Cracker cowboy comes from the rawhide they carried—" Jock's hand touched the side of his saddle and Barbara noticed the coiled whip tied there "—and the cracking sound the whip made that could be heard for miles when the cowboys were rounding up cattle. The three things a cowboy needed then he still needs today—a good horse, a whip and a good cow dog."

"And Sandoval Ranch is yours." Barbara looked at him. She had always been aware of the strength in him, but now she saw the command the heavy responsibility of being in charge of all this resting easily on his broad shoulders.

"Yes." In that single word there was a wealth of pride and possession, understated and simple.
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