More than a year later…
Driving down the long empty road Victoria repeated the same sentences over and over, trying to build herself up.
“You can do this. You are the boss man… Woman. You are going to see your property for the first time ever. They cannot hurt you. You are strong,” She laughed and shook her head, “Ha! What a joke. I’m going too probably faint and they’ll call the cops about a crazy woman.”
It had been little over a year since her mother’s death and she still struggled with the loss every day.
But remembering all her conversations with her mother in the last days, she decided she was right. She needed to go out and see the world… Alright, the country, the world could wait. With her mother’s ashes safely in the back of the car – she still wasn’t ready to scatter them – she drove towards her first destination.
Her grandparent’s stud farm.
She had inherited it when she was just fourteen, the year her grandfather died. Her grandmother died a few years before him.
Over the years her mother had dealt with the income she got from the place, but she never touched it. She had her own money, she didn’t need her daughter’s.
Joyce would call for regular updates and she would be the one they contacted if they needed permission to do any work.
When her grandfather, Marshall passed Joyce had been in contact with the lawyer. He had told her of the two work hands which were running it until she was ready to take over.
She remembers the lads, as the elderly couple often talked about them when visiting.
After being satisfied that the ranch was in good hands, with her daughter’s permission, she made the twenty-something men an offer they couldn’t refuse.
They would run and live on the ranch, take half of the profits and Victoria would get the rest put into an account for herself. The money was more than the men could dream of. With studs which were the fastest racers, best bred, every person wanted them to breed their mare or buy a pony from one of their equally well-bred mares.
The money came in lots and often.
But due to both her anxiety and her mother’s protectiveness Victoria had never actually been to the ranch. But that was going to change now. She was going to visit, spend a few days and check how things were in person. She didn’t care about the money, she had only just started to use it. That was what was financing her trip. But she would still have a good amount left over.
And that’s not including her other savings.
She was visiting to make sure they weren’t conning her. Money a bother or not, she would not have to con men ripping her off. But it was all well thinking that and planning it. It was a whole different matter actually doing it.
She could laugh now, remembering when her mother’s lawyer had tried to speak to her about her life insurance. When she had gone to speak nothing came out, she had an anxiety attack and fainted. She woke up with a paramedic over her.
Having enough, she finally spoke to her GP and he had referred her to a therapist who specializes in debilitating shyness. With the therapists help, she could now speak to a person without fainting. Well, mostly. It still wasn’t a perfect, but she was getting better slowly. Very slowly, too slowly for her liking. In all honestly she found it harder to speak to women than men. Women always seem to judge more, or so she thought by the reactions she would get when she stuttered and tried to speak.
She had only spoken to people about business, shopping or travel related things, nothing personal – other than her therapist and GP, but she was trying.
But drawing closing to the ranch her anxiety was getting worse and worse.
She had not spoken to them personally but from what little she heard, they were scary, mean. Well, her grandparent’s loved them, but to everyone else… Not so much. And from conversations her mother had with the small town’s lawyer, her grandparent’s lawyer, the men had grown worse with age. Becoming more withdrawn, antisocial, cold and mean. She was told they were all, but hermits and the townsfolk called them the mountain men.
She laughed at that, imagining to very hairy yeti-like, dirty men with bad teeth.
It was a wonder they made any money if the rumors were true.
All these things made her worry more than she would normally in recent months. But she had convinced herself everything was going to be alright. She had called ahead to tell the lawyer she was coming to town. He was a good man and had helped her deal with the business since her mother passed, she was looking forward to meeting him.
But she made sure to tell him not to notify the men, she didn’t want them to change anything. She wanted to see everything as it was every day.
Using the directions he gave her she came to a long dirt road. Slowing the car she took a deep breath, this was it. The last stretch which lead to the ranch. She was beginning to regret her choice to come but seeing the beautiful area she pushed her doubts to the back of her mind.
“This is it, Pippy,” She spoke to the black Dodge truck, she was driving, the same one that once belonged to her mother. Not really a woman’s car but they both loved it.
“Moment of truth.”
She came to a stop in front of a barn, close to a house only a minute later. All she could do was sit looking the beautiful, scenic area over.
“Why would Mama ever think this place was dangerous?” She thought out loud. Minus the grey sky and threatening rain clouds, everything looked perfect.
Stepping out of the car she felt a chill, she was only in a white and red floral print sun dress because it was August and the height of summer.
But the way the weather was today you would be forgiven for think it November, December time.
Fighting back a shiver, she looked around trying to find someone to speak to.
“Hey!” A deep baritone voice from behind her made her heart stop in terror momentarily.
“What are you doing here?” A second voice, equally deep said, footsteps drawing closer as was her heart attack.
One thing she had learnt already and she hadn’t even turned around was that the rumors were right, they were arses.
“I…” The words died in her throat when she turned around to see two hulking men, well over six foot, probably closer to seven. They were a mass of muscles and tattoos, she was surprised to find they were equally handsome in the face department.
But with blank expressions and staring down at her tiny five foot one inch frame she was well out of her comfort zone.
“Yes?” The slightly taller man with short brown hair, blue eyes asked her expectantly.
“I.. I.. A… Am…” She strutted unable to get a coherent sentence out. She just was thankful she hadn’t fainted, yet.
Their hard stare wasn’t helping her at all she took a deep breath and clenched and unclenched her sweaty hands before trying again.
This time was worse than the last. Instead of words, a small squeak escaped her mouth, she wanted to cry…
What was she talking about wanting she was going to cry for sure.
A hint of a smile crossed the shorter man’s face. He had shaggy light brown hair, grey eyes
“Where’s your mother, little miss?” He asked kinder, but still had a hint of annoyance in his eyes.
She wasn’t surprised by the question, her small height along with what her mother called ‘a baby face’ often meant she was mistaken for someone in their mid-teens rather than twenties. At the mention if her mother her eyes welled up.
She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t do anything. She should have died, not her mother. Lord, she wished she was here to help her. She would know what to say.
As though answering her prays a second car pulled up beside hers.
A moment later a friendly looking man in his sixties stepped out.
“Great. What’s he want?” One of the men mumbled.
Kraven eyes raked over the young girl’s body when she was distracted.
He knew he shouldn’t that he would definitely look like a complete pervert to her if she noticed, she couldn’t have been more than sixteen. But she was a dream and her chest… It was as though she had the bosom of a much larger, older woman, but it seemed to work. Her backside – what little he saw of it – looked round and perky too. Not like most girls her size, this girl had some curves. Something both he and his best friend Theo always looked for on the rare occasions they would pick up women in town.
He knew without looking Theo was giving her the once over. How come he not?
They may be miserable bastards – as some many of their one-night stands told them when they would kick them out – but they were still men.
“Boys, ma’am,” Thomas Reeves, their deceased employers elderly lawyer and the older couple’s friend greeted while walking over.
He was one of only a few people the two men could bear to speak to for more than five minutes. He reminded them of the good times when they were first taken in by Marshall and Irena Willingham, an elderly couple who ran a stud farm. They were kind and always treated them as their own.
The same could not be said for the beneficiary who they now ran the ranch for.
The woman would either contact them through the lawyer or on the rare occasions one of the men spoke to her she was snobbish and sounded uninterested. She had sounded the complete opposite of the old couple. They were thankful when she decided to not take over or come to live on the ranch. It meant they could continue to run the ranch as Marshall and Irena wanted it to be run.
“Victoria, I presume?” She silently nodded her head, blinking her eyes as though to clear her vision.
The name sounded familiar to the two men, but they couldn’t think of where they had heard it before.
“Let me introduce myself, I am Thomas Reeves and this is Theo and Kraven. They are the ranch managers.”
Her face visually relaxed, “I..I..I…” She struggled again to speak.
Both Theo and Kraven were surprised, they had never before met anyone who stuttered so badly.
“It’s alright,” Thomas stopped in front of her and leaned down to her height. “Take a deep breath and try again.” He didn’t seem surprised at all by the young girl’s trouble to speak.
She did as she was told and tried again. “I…” Another deep breath with closed eyes and reopened them to try again. “It… It is g…Good to meet you,” She managed to say in a tiny voice.
The older man smiled and reached out a hand for her. She nervously took it and shook his hand.
“You too. You look just like you mother when she was younger. But you have Ryan’s eyes.”
“Ryan…?” Theo – the slightly politer one – said the name out loud thinking.
“Marshall and Irena son?” He guessed correctly.
“Yes, this is their granddaughter, Victoria.”
“Vicky, I remember now,” Kraven said seconds later, remembering how they always spoke and referred to their granddaughter as Vicky never Victoria, which is why he didn’t recognize the name properly.
Both men despite their curiousness to why she was there kept a constant nonchalant expression.
But then Theo’s brows furrowed in confusion. He was going to ask a question but Thomas and cut in first.
“You must be tired from the drive. Why don’t we head inside, Kraven or Theo can put the kettle on and you can go freshen up in the bathroom.”
“Of course you can,” He guessed her question. “It is your house.”
Neither man was happy with Thomas inviting a stranger into their home, but it was true. If she were really the owner, she could kick them out if they were too rude.
She looked at the two men with those big hazel eyes.
Both felt themselves soften, she looked scared out of her wits and her eyes full of tears.
For the first time in years, they actually felt something for someone other than each other.
“I’ll show you the way,” Kraven offers surprising his friend and Thomas both, but they hid it well.
“Theo will make a brew and then we can speak properly.”
The two large men lead her towards the large nineteenth-century farmhouse.
Once inside Kraven pointed her in the direction of the downstairs convenience.
“Now boys,” Thomas sat down at the table in the large kitchen. “Let’s talk before she comes back.”