Texas June 1896 

“This doesn’t look good.”

Ivy gently set the hoof back down on the grassy road and patted the mule’s side. “No wonder you’re limping, Jubal—it ’pears like you’ve picked up a honey of a stone bruise.” 

The mule turned around to nip at her, but she avoided him easily enough. Although Jubal might be ornery at times, he usually wasn’t mean. Unfortunately, these weren’t usual circumstances. 

Maybe she shouldn’t have set such a demanding pace this past day and a half, but she’d hoped to make it to Turn about in two days’ time. A woman traveling alone for this distance, even if she was dressed as a boy, was vulnerable to gossip and worse.

But it looked as if she was doomed to spend another night on the trail.

“Not that anyone’s gonna notice we’re late,” she told Jubal, “since no one is expecting us exactly. I’m just anxious to find out what the mysterious inheritance is that this Drum Mosley fellow is holding for me.”

Ivy gave the mule’s side another pat as he brayed out a complaint. “I wish there was something I could do to make you feel better.” They were a day-and-a-half’s ride from home and headed in the opposite direction. It had been several hours since they’d seen signs of people or habitation, so she figured they’d be better off pressing forward. “Guess we’ll just have to get by as best we can.”

She turned to her other traveling companion, also of the four-legged variety. “Well, Rufus, I guess I’ll be walking the rest of the way alongside you.”

The dog barked in response and she rubbed his head, comforted by the feel of his shaggy coat and the trusting look in his eyes.

“Let’s hope we find a homestead with neighborly folks who won’t mind strangers bunking in their barn.” She straightened. “At least there’s lots of good foraging to be had this time of year.”

She took off her straw hat and wiped her forehead with her sleeve. It might be the first week in June, but the summer heat had already set in.

How far had they come since they’d started out at dawn yesterday? Other than a couple of short breaks, they’d only stopped when darkness made it unsafe to travel last night. They broke camp at daybreak this morning and she estimated it was getting on to four o’clock now. Surely they were getting close to Turnabout. Which meant it would be time to exchange her britches for a skirt soon.

She glanced down at Rufus. “Whatever this inheritance is, it sure better be worth all this trouble. ’Cause we could really use some good luck about now.”

She patted Jubal’s neck. “Wouldn’t it be something if we could return home with enough money to rebuild the barn and buy a new milk cow? That would sure make Nana Dovie’s life a lot easier.”

Grabbing the reins, Ivy looked the mule in the eye. “I know you’re hurting, but we need to make it a little farther before dark.”

She moved forward and lightly tugged. To her relief, Jubal decided to cooperate. She glanced down the narrow, deserted road as she absently swatted a horsefly away. They hadn’t seen so much as a fence post or wagon rut since before noon. Apparently this shortcut to Turnabout wasn’t well used. But surely they’d spot some sign of civilization soon.

Not one to enjoy long silences, Ivy shared her thoughts aloud. “It’s been a wearisome day and you two have been great companions. Don’t think I don’t appreciate it. In fact, I have a special treat for each of you that I’ll hand out as soon as we stop for the night.”

She glanced at Rufus, padding along beside her. “It would be nice if you and I ended up with a barn or shed to sleep in tonight, don’t you think?”