Billionaire and the Cowgirl

By: Ella Goode

Maybe Cane had been right all along. Loving him was the worst mistake of my life.



“Maisie, you know this fence wasn’t knocked down on purpose.”

Maisie Russell gives me a withering look from under her hat. “I do know that, but this is the fourth time in a month that bull has gotten into my pasture.”

“Which is why we’re going to build it out with reinforced timber, but with all the supply chain issues, the material won’t be here for another week. Why don’t you show me where the damage is and my boys can fix that while we wait for the new fencing.”

“Your bull is rubbing up against this tree. My granddaddy planted this forty years ago for Mawmaw, and if your bull has anything to say about it, the darned oak isn’t going to see forty-one.”

I bend down to inspect the spot on the trunk where the bark has been rubbed away. The tree doesn’t look good, not because of my bull but because the tree’s got oak wilt. Left unchecked, this could take down all of the oaks, including the ones on the Justice property.

“Maisie, come here and take a gander.” I gesture the woman over. I point to the darkened spot. “You’ve got oak wilt.” I grab a leaf off the ground that is yellowed around the veins, making a fishbone pattern in the center. “There’s veinal necrosis on your leaves too.”

She gasps and covers her mouth. “No,” she declares behind her hand.

I straighten up and stick the leaf in my pocket. “I’ll get someone out here to give your baby an injection, but it’s probably going to have to come down. We might want to do some trenching to isolate this tree. We’ll hire a forester to inspect all of the trees on your property and ours. If you can spare it, you may want to walk your land and check the trees out yourself. Look for these darkened patches on the trunks or see if the leaves have this fishbone veining or yellowing around the edges. It’s spring. Leaves shouldn’t be turning or falling off.”

Maisie grimaces, but like any good rancher, she takes the bad news in stride. “I’ll get right on it.”

“We’ll send over help if you need it. Let me know.”

“Where are you off to?” she calls after me as I pull myself up on my horse.

“Got to check some other trees.” I wave my hand and gallop off. Oak wilt can spread a mile at a time from the damned beetles, and Astor has a cluster of them in her back yard, including one that has a swing on it that her dad set up when Astor was little.

One of Astor’s memories of her mom includes being pushed on that swing. It’ll ruin her if that tree has to be cut down.

The house looks empty when I arrive. I park on the side of the gravel road and hop the fence. It’s not hard. The fence line is breaking down all along the road. I have some rope and wire in the back of the truck, so I can at least prop a few of the wooden posts up, but I’ll need to bring the power auger the next time to set the posts into the ground with some cement and gravel.

A few of the horses whine at me as I jog across the property, and one pretty mare named Shelly trots over to push her nose at my pocket. “Sorry, babe, rushed over too fast and didn’t bring you a treat. I’ll catch you next time.” I pat her velvety snout and scratch behind her ears. She shakes her head in irritation. She’s a pretty girl, a rare grulla, and needs to be treated right. I give her another pat. When I sneak over to Astor’s place to do small repairs that I hope she doesn’t notice, Shelly is one of the girls I pay extra special attention to. She’s one of Astor’s favorite mares. The Quarter Horse’s special gray markings have produced a string of beautiful foals which have kept Astor’s farm afloat even as her dad chases one bad business deal after another.

I leave the girl behind and enter Astor’s back yard. The oak trees look good. No signs of the dark oval spore mats on any of them, including Astor’s tree. As I’m running my hands over the coarse bark, a screen door slams shut. In the fading light, I spot Astor striding toward me.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asks.

“Maisie Russell’s got oak wilt, and I came straight over to see how your baby is doing.”

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