Roy Wortham is a spoiled rancher's son who's never done an honest day's work in his life. When his father decides it's time Roy grew up, he's sent on a cattle drive with the ranch's best hands.
Joe Gibbs expects Roy to demand special treatment on the drive. To his surprise, Roy asks to be treated just like one of the hands. He wants to learn the ropes so he can take over his father's empire one day.
Joe's grudging respect for the boss's son slowly turns into friendship. Is Roy interested in being friends ... or could he be after something more?
Roy winced as he swung his leg over the saddle and dropped to the ground. He wasn't used to spending quite this much time on the back of a horse, even though he'd been riding since he was tall enough to climb onto the mounting block and clamber onto an animal. At least they could relax now that they'd caught up to the chuck wagon again. Cookie was supposed to be one of the better cowboy chefs, though he'd never cooked for the family dining room. Mother had insisted on a French chef for that, and Father had indulged her as he always did.
Roy tied his horse to the nearest mesquite bush and grabbed a tin plate from the stack on the wagon's tailgate. It wasn't until he was seated with a filled plate that he glanced around to find the other cowboys had delayed their meals to strip the gear from their horses and turn them into the remuda to graze. None of them said anything, but some of their glances brought heat to his cheeks. He should probably have done the same before getting in the chow line, but he'd been so damned hungry after that long day's work.
He tried to eat as quickly as he could, but Cookie pulled out a couple of apple pies and he had to go back to get a slice. By the time he'd filled his empty belly, Roy was dismayed to find his horse wasn't where he'd left the animal.
"I took care of your mount," Frank Malone said from the fireside as Roy stood looking around in bewilderment. "We have to make sure they're in top condition for the drive. I'll get you a different animal in the morning so you don't wear any one horse out before we hit Kansas."
That made sense. Roy muttered his thanks and went to set up his bedroll. Most of the cowboys were still chowing down, so Roy picked a good spot close to the fire. As he pulled off his boots and settled down on the blankets, he couldn't help but notice that a few of the cowboys were still shooting resentful glances his way. Now what were they mad about?
He figured everybody else would turn in right after dinner, too, but one of the cowboys broke out a guitar and they started singing. Even old Frank Malone joined in with a passable baritone. Roy listened for a while, then rolled himself in his blankets and drifted off with the soft music lulling him to sleep.
He woke to Cookie's bellow. "Up and at 'em, boys. Last one to the table gets the bacon grease."
Roy yawned and stretched. It felt like he'd been sleeping on a slab of cold rock instead of in the soft sand by the warm campfire. He felt about fifty years old, creaky and aching in every bone. He shook out his boots to be sure none of the native wildlife had crawled inside while he'd been sleeping, then shoved his feet into them. He pulled on a clean shirt and pants, then staggered to the wagon for breakfast.
Once again, he sat with his filled plate to see that the rest of the cowboys had rolled up their bedrolls before getting in line. Their horses were saddled and ready to ride. Roy blushed as Frank strode to the campfire leading two animals. Everybody else had saddled their own mount, and here was the trail boss doing his work for him. Maybe that was why everybody had been glaring last night. They figured Frank was molly-coddling him, and it was probably on Mother's orders.
Roy had learned a few things while he was away at school, and one of them was that most of them though he was a spoiled little Mama's boy -- at least for the first few months. He'd ended up with a lot of resentment for Mother's pampering and a determination to learn how to act more like a man. That had led to the riding club, the boxing club, the gun club, and the hunting club. Before his freshman year was out, the same boys who'd started out teasing him were clapping him on the back and congratulating him for his marksmanship and his skill.
Now, he was starting to suspect that Father's employees might feel the same way about him. He'd forgotten that most of them had known him as a youngster, when Mother had kept him tied to her apron strings and made certain that he kept away from the dangers of a working cattle ranch, no matter what Father had wanted.
Roy wasn't certain how to convince the cowhands that he wasn't a Mama's boy any longer, except by working hard and trying to help as much as he could. He had to admit, now that he was on the way to Kansas, that he actually had little actual understanding of what went on during a cattle drive. It hadn't seemed that hard on paper: slowly work the herd along the trail until you arrived in Kansas and sold them. Now, he could see that it wasn't so simple.