Dave gently swayed back and forth, his fingers skillfully moving over the black and white keys of the family piano. He thought he was alone in the room. He was at first, but midway through the song, he sensed someone coming in behind him. It might have been the rush of fresh air that blew softly over his bare hands, or it might have been the sweet scent drifting through the air as soon as she came in the room.
He continued playing. Making beautiful music for Nora made it all the more pleasant for him. Whenever he was feeling nostalgic, he’d come into the parlor, sit at the piano and play. If Nora were hiding somewhere, even as a little girl, she would come out and listen. He’d learned to play all on his own, a natural talent he discovered when he was just ten years old.
His little sister was naturally shy, one of the purest and sweetest spirits Dave had ever met. He doubted he would ever know another woman quite like his Nora-bug.
He closed his eyes as he neared the end of the song, his fingers flying over the keys with skill and precision. He could feel the music moving through him; he needed no sheet music to follow.
When the song was over, Dave rested his fingers on the keys, drifting out an ending tune that faded into nothingness, leaving the sounds of his music echoing in the air around him. Satisfaction slipped through him. It always made him feel good to play.
He felt small hands on his shoulders and looked back to see Nora smiling at him. Her curly brown hair was pulled back in a messy bun, strands hanging loose around her pale face, tracing her slender cheeks. Her smile made her cheekbones even more pronounced.
Dave wished she could gain some weight. She looked unhealthy when she was too thin.
“Nora, darling, how are you today?” he asked, twisting his neck so he could place a kiss on her fingers.
“Better now that I’ve got to hear you play, Dave. I love that song. It is so good to have you home. I wish you had never gone away.”
Dave nodded, turning on the piano stool so he was sitting sideways, looking up at her without craning his neck. She was dressed in a baby blue dress that came down just below her knees, white stockings and black slip-on shoes.
He assessed her and gave her a smile. “You know I would have been here if I could have been, Nora. But I’m here now. That should be all that matters, right?”
Nora shook her head, her eyes down. “Yes, but … I don’t want you to leave again.”
Dave reached out to take his hat from the top of the piano. He plopped it on his head. “I won’t be leaving again. I have a ranch to run now.”
Nora blinked innocently at him. “Pa’s foreman is still on the job, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, of course, he is.” Dave gave her a quizzical look. “I guess you think that means I don’t have to do any work, huh?” He grinned, reached out and touched her gently on the end of her small nose as he stood up. “Well, you’d be wrong, little missy. As a matter of fact, I’m late now. I gotta get out there.”
“Aww, I wish you would spend a little more time with me. You used to always have time for me.”
Dave felt a twitch in his heart. He tilted his head to the side and ran one hand down her long curly brown hair. It was true he’d been able to spend more time with her before. But their uncle, Robert, passed and their father, Mason Myers, went across the county to get his brother’s affairs in order. There was no telling how long he’d be gone and Dave, as the oldest son, had to take on the responsibility of the ranch.
Returning to his childhood home after being gone for years made Dave feel more nostalgic than he’d ever been. He wished he’d returned before his uncle died, but he’d been in correspondence with the man, so he wasn’t at a complete loss. He would treasure those final letters he’d received while he was away.
Nora’s health had never been very good. She was the kind of child that attracted every type of disease, no matter how far away the virus might be spreading. There could be an outbreak in California, and Nora would be the first in Ten Springs, Texas, to get it.
It wasn’t a huge thriving city, like Denver or Los Angeles, but it was big enough for a virus to spread quickly once it reached the atmosphere. The Myers family spent a lot of time trying to keep Nora’s environment clean and healthy.
“Do you have time to stay and talk to me for just a little bit?”
Nora’s voice was soft and pleading. Dave had a hard time saying no to her. Their father taught Dave and his brothers the meaning of respect for women. He treated his wife and daughter as if they were treasures that could not be replaced, should never be damaged, and should be taken care of with kid gloves.
He nodded. “I think I can rope out a little time for my sister. What do you want to do? Go for a walk? Or are you tired? We can sit in the garden.”
Nora nodded at his last suggestion, her smile radiating from her pale face. “I’d like to sit in the garden. It’s a beautiful day, though I think it might rain later.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a little rain,” Dave said. “We need it for the crops and the pasture. Won’t do to have dry lands out here.”
Nora nodded her head in agreement. Dave held out his arm, his elbow crooked toward her. She slipped her small hand around it and held onto him as they crossed the foyer and went to the front door. He opened it for her and swept his hand out dramatically for her to go through.
She giggled. “Why thank you, kind sir.”
“Anything for a beautiful lady,” Dave said, cheerfully.
The two walked arm in arm down the six steps to the grassy front lawn. A long wide circle made its way around the lawn, with the dirt road put there for the buggies and horseback riders. The circle was nothing but neatly cut green grass with a large fountain of leaves placed in the very middle. Dave had always admired his father’s decorative skills. He didn’t plan to change anything.
His mother preferred things to stay the way they were anyway. The last thing he wanted to do was upset either of his parents.
“Did you have a good time while you were gone, Dave?” Nora asked.
He didn’t answer her right away. His time away from the family hadn’t been one of pleasure or leisure. He’d spent most of his time working, with his hands, using his muscles and his brain equally. He didn’t know how to tell Nora the truth and make her understand. She was like a sensitive flower that would wilt under too much sun or too much rain.
“I enjoyed myself to an extent,” he said. “But mainly I was working and missing my family.”
“I’m glad you are back here. I wish you would stay. Tell me you’ll stay.”
Dave pressed his lips together, lifting the corners slightly. “I have no plans to leave, Nora. I’m here until the good Lord wants me to move on. And that might not even happen. I like my little town of Ten Springs, even if it is growing bigger every year.”
He looked up at the mountains in the distance, remembering when he and his brothers explored those woods as youngsters. He knew every acre of his family land like the back of his hand. He loved his home. He’d unwillingly left the last time.
He had no plans of making that mistake again.
“I don’t think the Lord is going to call you away again, Dave,” Nora said in a soft but confident voice. He looked down at her with gentle eyes.
She shook her head vigorously. “No. He’s not going to take you from me twice. The next time around, I’ll be the one to go.”
The words didn’t sit well with Dave. He looked away, hiding his frown from her. If Nora left Myers Mountain, there would only be one reason.
And that was too unbearable for Dave to think of.
Margaret Ross giggled, hiding her smile behind her hand. She was gazing at herself in the mirror. Her younger sister, Laura, had taken handfuls of Margaret’s hair and piled them on top of her head in an insanely messy style that was making both girls laugh.
“I don’t think I’ll set any new trends tonight, Laura,” Margaret gasped through her laughter. “Jackson would be so angry with me for taking the attention away from him. It’s his birthday, you know. And you know how he always is on his birthday.”
Laura nodded, allowing Margaret’s strawberry blonde hair to fall in long curls over her slender shoulders. She turned away from the mirror, moving across the room to her own dressing table. She was using face powder for the first time and was very excited about it.
Margaret thought it amusing but would never let Laura know it. Her younger sister didn’t need anything to make her skin radiate. She was naturally beautiful, with platinum blonde hair, big blue eyes, and rosy red lips. She was slender and moved with grace and style. Margaret was told she and her sister shared that same grace, but she’d always felt a little clumsy.
Well, compared to Laura, anyway. Margaret was a few inches taller, and her curves were a little more defined than Laura’s, but in most ways, they resembled each other a great deal.
“You won’t have any trouble finding a husband someday, Laura.”
Laura met her sister’s eyes in the reflection of her mirror. “Oh, Margaret. I don’t know. I am so … oh, what if I am too much for the boys to handle?”
Margaret shook her head, giving Laura a confident smile. “Don’t be silly. You are a refined, beautiful woman now. A young woman, of course, but that’s what most men want, isn’t it? A beautiful young woman to have on their arm when they go out?”
“I don’t know if that’s what men want or not.” Laura sighed, staring into her own eyes. “I don’t know any who’ve told me that. Men don’t even talk to me. I won’t know what to say or how to act or …”
“You will just be yourself.” Margaret crossed the room quickly and grabbed her sister by the shoulders. She bent over and squeezed Laura in a warm hug. “You won’t need to put on an act. You can be your natural, charming, sweet self, and you will attract just the right man for you. Now that you’re old enough, Ma and Pa won’t be as worried when you start talking to boys.”
Laura turned in her seat, hanging one arm over the back of it and gazing at her older sister. “But just because I’m old enough doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing.”
Margaret pulled the brush through her hair in long strokes, watching the way it bounced back into its long curls after each time. Her mother called her hair her “lion’s mane”, a thing to be treasured all her life. She had vowed long ago to take the best care of it she possibly could.
“None of us know what we’re doing, Laura,” she said wistfully. She wished she could find a knight in shining armor, a prince to sweep her off her feet. But so far, she’d found no such man, not even one she was interested in dining with a second time. She could barely stand the presence of her brothers. Some strange man sitting across from her, judging how she ate, how she looked, how she spoke … it was daunting.
And here she was pushing her sister to think it was easy and normal.
“I’m not going to say it’s easy, Laura.” Margaret turned around so she was facing her sister, assuming a similar position in her dressing chair. “How could I say such a thing? I’m not yet married myself.”
Laura nodded. “That’s right. And Ma always says it’s up to you to do it first. You have to get married before I do.”
Margaret shivered and then hoped her sister hadn’t seen her do that. Laura was already nervous enough. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen. And I don’t want you waiting on me, either. If you find a good man, don’t feel like you have to keep it hidden on my account.”
Laura giggled, her cheeks flushing a light pink color. “Oh, Margie. That’s not going to happen. You are older and more beautiful than me. You’ll find a man soon, and I won’t even have to think twice about it when I decide to fall in love.”
Margaret liked the sound of Laura’s optimism. She wished she shared it. She would give anything to make that decision, to find the man of her dreams and fall in love.
“The right man is out there, Margie,” Laura said in her light, airy voice. She lifted her blue eyes and looked at the ceiling, blinking rapidly, a far-off look on her face. “Just think of it. He might be standing in front of a mirror right now, practicing what he wants to say when he finds you, the woman he’s been looking for, waiting for, all his life …” She turned her eyes back to her sister. “And you’re going to meet him! Because it’s destiny. It’s fate. There can be no other outcome but that the two of you meet and fall in love.”
“That’s so sweet,” Margaret said, smiling at her sister. “It’s like a beautiful fairy tale.”
Laura shook her head. “It’s not a fairy tale, Margie. It can come true. You just have to believe.”
Margaret just nodded. She would let her sister have the last word. She found it useless to argue over trivial things, especially when they made Laura so happy.
“All I know is Ma will be upset if I don’t at least try,” Margaret said, setting the brush down in front of her and resting her chin on the back of her hands as she propped her elbows on the table. She looked at her reflection, assessing herself. She wasn’t a plain girl but didn’t consider herself to be as attractive as her little sister. Her hazel eyes weren’t extraordinary in any way; her heart-shaped face wasn’t remarkable in any way. It was only her hair that marked her “crowning glory”. It was the only thing about her looks she was particularly proud of.
“Andrew and Sammy want us to hurry up and get married,” Laura mumbled. Margaret heard the distinct change in her voice and glanced at her sister in the mirror.
“What do you mean? Have they said something to you?”
“There’s talk of some man, someone we used to know, I guess? He’s returned after being away a long time, and for some reason, it revived some old feud Pa had going on. I don’t really know a lot about it.”
Margaret furrowed her brow, trying to remember her father mentioning a feud between their family and another. Vaguely, in the back of her mind, her memory flashed of something … but she didn’t quite grab onto it. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with her, and she hadn’t made it her business to find out.
What did she know about land and ranch business, anyway?
“Why does it matter to our brothers if we get married sooner rather than later? What could that possibly have to do with this feud they’re complaining about?”
Laura shook her head, an innocent look on her young face. Margaret tried to rein in her questions. She had more, but chances were slim Laura could answer even one of them with any real knowledge. She, like Margaret, didn’t pay a lot of attention to what their brothers talked about. Neither Jackson nor Samuel was extremely attentive to their sisters other than to make sure they were dressed like proper ladies and behaved appropriately.
It wasn’t that her brothers didn’t love them. She was sure they did. But Jackson and Sam had their own lives, and they were focused completely on their own accomplishments and successes. They wanted to reach their goals, and Margaret was not one to deny them that right.
It was just that sometimes she wished she had their support, instead of feeling pressured to find a man, get married and move out of the ranch house.
That was, of course, the plan eventually. But until she found a man to love that loved her in return, the ranch was her home, and she wouldn’t be pushed to leave.
“I hope Jackson has a good time tonight,” Laura said out of the blue, pulling Margaret from her depressing thoughts. “He has been so excited for this day. Now that he’s 25, he’s going to take some of the business over. That’s what I heard him and Sammy saying anyway. I wasn’t meaning to listen. I just happened to be on the other side of the shrub when they went walking by. And I didn’t tell them to stop right there and keep on talking.”
Margaret held in her laughter, giving her sister a serious look.
“Well, I wasn’t trying to overhear,” Laura said in an insisting voice. “I really wasn’t. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because they didn’t say anything about you or me. Jackson was talking about how excited he is to take over part of the cattle portion and how he was looking forward to driving the cattle to auction for the first time without Pa on his tail about it.”
Margaret lifted her eyebrows, staring at her sister’s reflection. Laura shrugged and turned around, looking in her mirror.
“It’s what he said, not what I said. And I think he’s right. He should be able to drive the cattle without Pa’s help. He’s been doing it for as long as I can remember.”
At 22 years of age, Margaret could remember when Jackson was too young to ride along with his pa when he drove the cattle to auction in the heart of Ten Springs and sometimes to the bigger surrounding cities. She remembered when Jackson was young enough to run around after her making horse or dog noises, trying to scare her but making her laugh more often than not.
Jackson could say she needed to marry all he wanted. He wasn’t married either. Where were his loving bride and his family? If he said anything harsh to her, she would tell him what she was thinking.
As the thoughts crossed her mind, she knew she was lying to herself. She respected her brothers too much to ask them to stop pushing her. They cared about her, just like her pa, and they wanted what was best for her. She could handle their needling for a while longer.
Anxiety slid through her as she thought about what they would say to her and Laura tonight. She did not believe either of them realized how much it hurt her feelings when they pointed out she did not have a man or even the prospect of courting in her future. If she thought they were like that, she was afraid she wouldn’t care for them, wouldn’t love them properly or respect them as her brothers.
Their hearts were in the right place. It was what she had to believe.
Finally, she stood up, taking a step to the side and sliding her chair in under the table. She looked at her sister as she grabbed a light scarf from the back of her chair and flung it around her neck.
“I’m ready, Laura. Shall we go downstairs?”
“Oh, yes!” Laura replied in an excited voice. She jumped to her feet and dashed across the room, flinging the door open and running through. Margaret turned to pull the door closed, noticing Laura had neglected to push her chair under the dressing table before leaving the room.
Margaret’s mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Ross, went all out in expense to make Jackson’s 25th birthday a big celebration. They’d invited almost everyone in Ten Springs, and almost everyone was in attendance. Margaret doubted anyone turned down the chance to come to the Ross Mansion. It was nestled in the corner of a mountain, almost as if the mountain had formed out of the house, instead of the other way around.
It was a unique structure, and Margaret was proud it was the property of her family. The rooms were inadvertently cold because of the earth packed against the exterior walls. Each room had a large stone fireplace with a flue that led to a long pipe that stuck up in various places through the earth. The ventilation system was an invention of her grandfather’s, the original builder of the mansion in the side of the mountain.
Margaret stepped out onto the veranda with her sister by her side, but Laura was quickly whisked away by a small group of friends her age. She giggled at them, glancing over her shoulder at Margaret as she left as if to apologize for not wanting to grow up yet. She was just sixteen. It was all right for her to have some fun while she still could.
Laura had never been a troubled girl. She was respected and well-liked in Ten Springs. The entire Ross family was admired by the township and the people residing there. She felt blessed to be a member of the family.
Margaret went down the steps to the grassy lawn and crossed to a bench that had many balloons tied to both armrests. Any more balloons and Margaret would have been afraid the bench would lift and float away.
Not with her weight on it, though, she thought, dropping to sit on the curved wooden seat. She folded her hands in her lap and looked around. There were so many people there she recognized, only a few she didn’t. She saw her father’s business partners, the women in her mother’s sewing circle, some of the young people from the lumber and blacksmithing fields of work. They worked with Jackson and Sam.
Her eyes stopped briefly on Jackson, who was holding a cup of red punch in one hand and gesturing wildly with the other. Several times, Margaret was sure he’d dump the drink on his shirt or his sleeve but as animated as he was, not a drop fell from the tip of the glass.
He looked so excited, so happy. She wondered if she would feel that way when she was his age. Jackson was only a few years older, but he was content and happy in his existence. He didn’t seem to want more. Unless it meant to expand on the ranch. They could, he’d explained several times, grow the ranch up into the side of the mountain on the right side, where it was more level. But that would mean taking down the mansion, or at least part of it, and restructuring the very mountain that sheltered them from the worst storms.
Pa would never go for that. Neither of her parents would agree to such a thing. She hoped Jackson wouldn’t be the kind of son who made efforts to seize control and start construction anyway. He was aggressive, somewhat of an upstart who just might do something like that.
“Look at you!”
Margaret stopped and smiled at an older woman. She tried to place the woman’s name in her mind, but it escaped her, so she just smiled and nodded as the woman spoke.
“It’s been too long, Margaret. You were just a young girl last time I saw you! I haven’t been in town, you know. I left Ten Springs some seven, oh, eight years ago, I guess. Maybe longer. No, I think about eight years, yes, eight. And you were about your sister’s age, I think. Little Laura just running around in her little dresses and stockings back then.”
Margaret searched her mind for a polite way to leave the conversation but couldn’t think of anything. She just kept nodding and smiling, agreeing with whatever the woman was saying. A wave of relief swept through her when she heard her brother Sammy’s voice behind her.
“Aunt Maggie!” he said loudly, throwing out one arm and wrapping it around the older woman’s thin shoulders. Their aunt looked up at him with a wide grin, patting his short bearded chin with her long fingers.
“Samuel, look at you. Growing into such a big, strong man. Why, I remember you when you were …”
“Knee high, yes, Auntie, I know. You tell me every time you see me. I’m sad to say I haven’t grown an inch in years! I hit six foot two and just stopped, can you believe it? I guess I’ll be short forever.”
He bent over and placed a kiss on his aunt’s wrinkled cheek, winking at Margaret. She giggled, noticing he was at least a foot taller than their great-aunt. Her memories of the older woman ran through her mind now that she knew who she was. She was a little ashamed. Her great-aunt Margaret, sister to her father’s mother, was who she was named for.
“I think Robert is looking for you, Aunt Maggie,” Sammy continued, bending at the waist and pointing across the courtyard to an older gentleman who Margaret had to admit, looked a bit disheveled. His gray hair was sticking up in little tufts around his head, and he was looking all around him, a confused gaze in his eyes.
“Oh dear,” Aunt Maggie said, turning her eyes to the older man. “I must go settle his mind. Robert. Oh, Robert, dear!” Aunt Maggie shuffled away from the two of them, waving one hand frantically in the air, a soft handkerchief clutched in her long fingers.
Margaret was reminded of waving a flag of surrender. She turned to watch the old woman move away, crossing her arms over her chest and shaking her head. She glanced at her brother, who put one hand on his waist, kicking his suit jacket out behind his hand and shifting all his weight to one leg. He had a look of pure satisfaction on his face. He gave her a half-grin.
“That’s how you get away from Aunt Maggie. I thought you would have figured that out by now, Mags.”
Margaret shook her head. “I don’t have a keen mind for cleverness like you do, Sammy. But thank you. I was beginning to lose focus. Soon, I would have been nodding blindly without even registering what she was saying.”
“I’ve had that happen to me,” Sam said in a confessing voice. “And it’s a sticky situation to get out of if you’re caught. But don’t worry. I saved the day. Now, how about we go get some punch? I know you and Laura want to look your best, so be sure you’re careful with it.”
Margaret pulled her eyebrows together but said nothing. It was normal for Sam and Jackson to treat her and her sister like they were young and needed direction. Sometimes it annoyed her, but she never said anything. She was sure they both meant well.
They got to the punch stand, a beautiful fountain of flowing red liquid moving down from tier to tier before pooling in the bottom bowl, looking refreshing and delicious. Margaret hadn’t realized how dry her throat was until she saw it bubbling in the etched leaf-shaped bowl.
Sammy handed her a cup, and she drank from it quickly, delighting in the berry taste that filled her mouth.
“Oh, this is very good punch!” she exclaimed, putting one hand up to cover her lips. Sammy nodded, drinking from his cup before replying.
“Yes, it is. Ma commissioned that little restaurant down in the square in Ten Springs to make it here at the ranch. So it’s real fresh.”
“I love it.” Margaret finished her glass and poured some more for herself.
She turned away from the punch bowl, looking for her sister and her other brother. The crowd had grown some. She didn’t see either of them.
“So who’s gonna be your young man, Mags?” Sammy asked in a teasing voice. “You gotta find yourself a man. What else are you good for?”
Margaret felt her cheeks coloring. She knew Sammy was joking with her. But sometimes, he didn’t seem like he was kidding. Sometimes, he sounded serious. She glanced at him, and though his voice was humorous, the look on his face wasn’t.
Her stomach turned over, and she swept her eyes over the crowd. “I don’t know, Sammy. I haven’t met the right man yet.”
“You’ve got to find someone soon. You know Laura won’t wait, and you really need to be married first. Ma and Pa expect it. You don’t want to disappoint them.”
Margaret frowned. A thousand replies ran through her mind, but she could speak none of them. Sammy demanded her respect. That’s what her parents taught her. Sammy and Jackson were her elders, even if they were only a few years older.
“I don’t want to disappoint them,” she admitted, feeling weak and embarrassed. She wanted to find a man just as much as her family wanted her to find one. But good men didn’t just fall out of the sky into a woman’s lap.
“I know you don’t,” Sammy continued. Margaret tried to ignore the pressure she felt. It doubled when she saw Jackson heading toward them. If he heard what she and Sammy were talking about, he would surely jump in with his own opinion, echoing what her other brother was saying.
He was smiling so big. She didn’t want to bring his mood down. She leaned closer to Sammy and said quietly, “Let’s not talk about that in front of Jackson. It’s his birthday, and I don’t want him thinking about anything negative.”
Sammy nodded, giving her an understanding look. “That’s good thinking, Mags. I’ll drop it for right now. But I know a couple men and I’d like to … Jack! How’s the day goin’ for ya?”
Sammy reached out and slapped his brother on the shoulder several times. Jackson’s returned grin beamed from his face.
“It’s been a good party so far,” he exclaimed. He turned his eyes to Margaret. “What do you think of the punch? Is that the best tasting you’ve ever had?”
Margaret nodded, relieved he hadn’t heard what they were talking about. She just wanted to have a normal conversation with her brothers. It wouldn’t be long before they were all off on their own, living their own lives, never seeing each other, married with their own families.
She wanted to treasure the time she had with them while she could.
Her brothers bantered back and forth with each other. She turned her eyes and swept them over the crowd, looking for Laura. She was probably still with her group of friends. Margaret wished they hadn’t whisked her away so quickly. It would be nice for the four of them to talk for a little while.
Things would change soon. She knew it; she could feel it.
She hoped she would fall in love. She prayed that was the change she felt in the air.
Two hours later, Margaret looked with regret at the long table of snacks and treats her mother and the other women of Ten Springs put together for the celebration feast. They had been eating for two hours straight, at least that’s how Margaret felt about it.
She put her hand on her stomach and pulled in a deep breath, glancing at her table companions. It was a round table large enough to hold six people. Her brothers were across from her, Laura to her immediate right and the other two chairs were occupied by their cousins, Mary and Amelia. Both were what Margaret called “nose-high” because they were haughty and squandered their father’s wealth wherever they pleased.
Margaret wasn’t fond of her cousins, but polite behavior dictated she tolerate them the best she could. She was ignoring them, for the most part, occupying her mind with the many delicious snacks being revealed for dessert.
“You’re a clever boy, Jackson; you do know that, don’t you?”
Margaret’s attention came back to the table when Amelia leaned across the table, resting her ample bosom on top as if she wanted them all to see her cleavage, and used a seductive voice to ask her cousin the question.
“I have been told,” Jackson said in a cheerful voice. “But do tell me, cousin, how am I so clever now? You must be referring to something in particular.”
Amelia giggled, wickedly. “Oh, you know what I’m talking about, Jackie boy. That …” She cleared her throat. “Breakout over at Myers Mountain. The way their hunting cabin was … shall we say, ransacked? I wonder … how many more little things can go wrong over there?”
Margaret frowned but made sure her face was turned away from her companions.
Jackson laughed. “Oh, you mean that. I mean, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Yes, that’s what I mean.”
The rest of the group laughed. Even Laura. Margaret wondered if Laura even knew what they were talking about.
Margaret thought it was some of the most beautiful land on earth. Nothing could compare to the sun resting gently into night behind Myers Mountain, sending rays of every color stretching across the sky.
She sighed inwardly, picturing the beauty in her mind. She wished her father and brothers weren’t so vindictive toward the Myers family. She was willing to bet they weren’t as bad as the rumors made them out to be.
She’d never met any of the family and knew very little about the situation. All she knew was that her father had been feuding with Mason Myers, owner of the Myers Mountain Ranch and, as far as she knew, the entire mountain behind the compound he lived on. What the exact nature of the feud was, Margaret didn’t know.
She’d never been interested.
But it annoyed her that men from Myers Mountain were coming to her ranch and sabotaging little things here and there and in retaliation, her brothers would do the same. Always little things that could be blamed on natural circumstances, like cows getting out, coyotes or foxes in the henhouse … It was almost like pranking between schoolboys. But ransacking the Myers’ hunting cabin seemed a bit much.
Margaret had no interest in joining in the frivolity. She didn’t think pranks were funny and sometimes they cost the Myers or her family money in repairs and damages.
“How long are you going to keep doing things like that and allowing them to come back on your property?” Amelia asked, her voice whiny and brash at the same time. “I wouldn’t allow it. Pa wouldn’t allow it. Not even once.”
“Well, your pa ain’t our pa,” Sammy said. “And there’s nothin’ wrong with the way Pa’s handling things. They just gotta realize they can’t compete with us. They need to take their business somewhere else.”
“I don’t understand,” Mary spoke up for the first time. Margaret turned her eyes to her other cousin, surprised by the pleasant tone of the young woman’s voice. “Why are you mad at him? Why are they mad at you? How did it start?”
Margaret moved her eyes to Jackson’s face, giving him a sharp look. She tilted her head to the side and lifted her eyebrows. “Yeah, Jackson. Tell us. I’d really like to know, too.”
She waited, studying his face. It made several twitching moves before her oldest brother turned pleading eyes to Sammy, who was stretched back on the chair, his legs out in front of him, one arm on the table. He tapped his fingers on the fabric of the tablecloth and shook his head, giving Jackson a disgusted look.
“Because him and Pa been competing at the cattle market for years. Didn’t just stop at the buyin’ and sellin’, though, they been enterin’ steer in the competitions every year and tradin’ the honors back and forth because some years ours are better and some years his are better.”
Sammy chuckled, dropping his eyes back to his fingers.
“And then Ma got involved. So they had four children, and Ma and Pa have four children. They have one son more, which Mr. Myers took as a win.” He glanced at Laura, who dropped her eyes for a moment. “And Ma competes against Mrs. Myers in all the competitions at the state fair and such, too. It’s always been that way. I think it’s fun.”
“There’s nothing fun about sabotaging someone’s property,” Laura said, softly.
Margaret wished she could say something, the way Laura seemed so willing to do. She wanted to speak up, but her brothers were very harsh sometimes. She didn’t want to hear their criticisms. Even Laura speaking up for what they thought was right brought them down on both girls.
She felt a nervous twitch in her chest when Sammy turned rebuking eyes to Laura. “You don’t know anything about it, Laura. You’re just a little girl. The day you or any other woman runs a big ranch like this and tries to keep a family going, then we can talk. But you’re a little girl who needs to find a husband so she can have her own family.”
“Women can do a lot of things around the ranch,” Laura protested weakly, looking at Margaret for support. Margaret gave her a sympathetic look and shook her head.
She felt horrible, not standing up for her sister, who was probably right. A woman could run a ranch if she were shown the proper way to do it. It didn’t have to be a man. She was worth more than just being a wife and mother. Although those things would be wonderful, too.
Margaret looked away from them all. She had no idea what her future was going to be like. She didn’t want to be pressured into marriage, though. When the right man came along, she would know it.
Hopefully, it would happen soon. As soon as she was courting, she wouldn’t have to feel pressured by her brothers or her father. She would soon be a spinster according to them, and not one of them claimed her. Each one said she would be on her own, looking for ways to fend for herself.
It didn’t feel like they loved her very much. But she knew, in her heart, if that really ever happened, they would take care of her. They wouldn’t let her die in the streets.
She glanced over her shoulder, watching Jackson and Amelia trade stories about the best revenge they ever got on someone. Each story started with a reason why the person acted the way they did in the first place. It wasn’t about getting revenge. It was about getting back at someone who defended themselves.
Margaret was disappointed in her brother.
“So I hear that boy is finally back, have you seen him yet?”
Her attention returned when Mary asked them all the question, her eyes roaming between them. Margaret looked at her brothers, who were both shaking their heads.
“Are you talking about David?” Jackson asked. “I didn’t know he was back. He’s been gone a long time.”
Margaret couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen David Myers. It had to have been at least seven years.
“How long has it been?” Sammy asked, mumbling, his eyes blank as he thought back. “I think he disappeared from the social scene about four, maybe five years ago? Don’t know when it was he left after that.” Sammy tilted his hat back on his head, squinting when the sun hit his face. “Man, that’s some hot sun we got there.”
“Where did he go?” Mary asked curiously.
Margaret once again looked at her brothers. Neither seemed to have an answer. Sammy shrugged. “I didn’t keep track of the fella. He wasn’t really my friend. He talked to you more than me, Jackson. You ever find out what happened to him?”
Jackson pulled the corners of his lips down. “Nope. Never asked. Don’t know why I would. We weren’t really friends. I just knew him from the schoolhouse. We used to pick on girls together.”
“You know full well David Myers never picked on any girls,” Margaret said quietly. She wasn’t amused by the squeaky tone of her own voice. “He was a nice boy. He was always defending those girls you picked on. You just went along with it because you knew he was a nice guy and you never meant any harm.”
Jackson stared at Margaret, his eyebrows lifted, creating a crease in his forehead. “You’ve been thinking about this a while, haven’t you, Margie? Yeah, I guess that’s about right. He didn’t pick on girls, much. Him and his brothers didn’t do much more than work.”
“So you don’t hold anything against him then?” Mary asked.
“Of course they do!” Amelia exclaimed. “He’s a Myers! None of them are to be trusted.”
Mary squinted at Amelia. “You just say that because Dave Myers never showed any interest in you, Ami. You know it’s true.”
Amelia huffed, widening her eyes and shaking her head at the Ross siblings. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. If I’d wanted Dave Myers to court me, he would have.”
Mary snorted, turning narrowed, knowing eyes to Margaret, who had a hard time not bursting out in laughter.
“Now, don’t you go questioning me, Mary!” Amelia said. “You are embarrassing me.”
Sammy stood up suddenly, pushing his chair back with his legs. He leaned over the table, tilting his cowboy hat toward his cousin, a big grin on his face. “I think you got that covered, cousin. I’m gonna go get some desserts. Who’s coming with me?”
Margaret shot to her feet, anxious to get away from her distasteful cousins. Jackson came around the table holding his hand out to her, and the two hurried away from the table, leaving a shocked pair of cousins looking after them.
Margaret giggled, looking up at Sammy.
“They aren’t the most pleasant of relatives, are they?” Sammy asked.
“No, I reckon they aren’t,” Margaret replied, scanning the table of pastries, cakes, pies, cupcakes, and puddings. “Oh my,” she breathed quietly. “I’m going to be so fat tonight.”
“Love Beyond Hate in the West” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Margaret Ross, the daughter of a wealthy rancher, is gifted with an enchanting voice. Due to her romantic nature, marriage seems like a distant reality opposed to her family’s expectations. Everything in her life seems to flow smoothly. Up until a derailed stagecoach would almost cost her life, if it wasn’t for a handsome, mysterious man who moved her aside. The minute they set eyes on each other, they both feel a nonverbal powerful vibe. Who is the attractive man that saved her life?
Dave Myers is a competitive hard-working young man with a very sensitive hidden side. Having a deep connection with his sister is the reason why he respects women dearly and always has the urge to protect them. To his misfortune, following his father’s orders, he has mingled himself in a rival war with a neighboring rancher. His plans will drastically change when Margaret will unexpectedly enter his life Will he succeed in materializing what he had in mind?
Margaret’s and Dave’s relationship is a definite betrayal to their families. They have been rivals for more years than they can remember and the hatred rules their hearts. Small acts of Dave’s kindness could be the first step towards ending the senseless war their parents have been waging against each other. Will it bring them closer together or the hostilities will dominate over their love?
“Love Beyond Hate in the West” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.