The Cowboy's Double Trouble

By: Judy Duarte

Chapter One

A snarl, a hiss and a cat’s frantic “meeee-owww” shattered the silence in the barn.

Braden Rayburn turned away from the stall of the broodmare that was ready to foal and spotted six-year-old Alberto climbing up the wooden ladder to the hayloft while juggling a squirming orange tabby in his arms. The boy had found the small stray earlier this morning, but clearly, the cat wasn’t up for an adventure.

“No!” Braden called out, hoping to stop an accident ready to happen before any blood could be spilled. “Alberto! Put it down.”

The small boy turned at the sound of his name and froze on the third rung, but he continued to hold the cat. He undoubtedly understood the word no, but that was it.

Alberto—or “Beto,” as his twin sister called him—didn’t speak English. And Braden’s Spanish was limited to a few words, mostly isolated nouns.

“Put the...” Braden blew out a ragged sigh and tried to remember how to say cat in Spanish. “Put the gato down. It’s going to scratch the living daylights out of you.” From the tone of his voice, his frustration was coming through loud and clear.

Fortunately, Beto seemed to finally understand and climbed down. Still he held the poor critter that didn’t appear to be the least bit relieved by their descent, so a bite or a scratch was imminent.

“Let the gato go.” Braden used his hands in his own form of sign language and motioned as he added, “Down.”

Reluctantly, the boy released the cat. But the frown on his face indicated he wasn’t happy about doing so.

“Where’s your sister?” Braden asked. Then, attempting to bridge the language barrier, he added, “Bela? Dónde?”

The boy pointed to the corner of the barn, where his twin sat, holding a black cat, undoubtedly the tabby’s littermate.

What was wrong with people who dropped off their unwanted animals near a ranch, assuming the owner would be grateful to take in another critter to feed?

Having grown up on this horse ranch near Brighton Valley, Braden was all too familiar with what ranchers like him and his late grandpa had to put up with.

Ironically, he thought about the twins and how they’d ended up with him, and he slowly shook his head. Not that he couldn’t afford them or didn’t care about their emotional well-being, but he was completely out of his league when it came to dealing with young children, especially when there was a serious communication problem. But then again, the twins had been raised in Mexico, so the language barrier was to be expected.

He glanced at the boy and girl, who were now sitting together with the stray cats and jabbering a mile a minute, although Braden had no idea what they were saying. He wished he did, though. And that he could talk to them, explain how sorry he was that their parents had died.

Three months ago, Braden hadn’t known they’d been living in a Mexican orphanage—or that they’d even existed. But once he and his half siblings had found them, the older Rayburns had decided to bring them back to the States and provide them with a home.

Now, two weeks later, here they were in Texas. They’d been staying in Houston with Jason, Braden’s older half brother. But Jason and his wife were now on a business trip in Europe, while sister Carly was on a cruise with her new husband’s family. So the only one left to look after them was Braden.

He’d like to reassure them that they were with family now, but he was limited to pointing, miming and, when his memory of high school flashcards came through for him, uttering a Spanish word or two.

Yet in spite of the struggle to communicate and more than a twenty-year age difference, the kids running around his barn and chasing a couple of cats had something in common with him and his half siblings.

They all had the same father.

Wasn’t that just like their old man to have a second family in another country? Charles Rayburn may have been a successful businessman with a net worth of nearly a billion dollars, but he’d been a real failure when it came to making any kind of lasting commitment to a woman.

When Jason headed to the airport with his wife, he left Braden in charge of the six-year-olds. And then he’d driven off like the guy who’d dropped off the two stray cats.

Okay, so it wasn’t the same thing. Beto and Bela were family. And there was no way Braden would want them to be taken in by strangers, although that’s what they were. And if the twins didn’t pick up English quickly, they’d never really get to know each other.

Still, even though Braden had agreed to keep the kids until Jason returned, he’d panicked at the thought of being left in charge of his newfound little brother and sister. What if he failed them—like his... Well, his father hadn’t exactly deserted him. He’d come through with the child support and money for braces, swim lessons or summer camp. But Charles Rayburn had been so caught up with his business ventures that he’d never attended a school play, a football game or even a graduation.

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