The wagons passing in the cobblestone streets sounded noisier than ever before.
Struggling to stay focused, Liam shot a glare at his window before turning back to his desk. He had it built a few years back thinking that it would be perfect for his office with all the case files he would require as a lawyer in Boston.
But now, it didn’t seem big enough.
He ground his teeth while he looked around for the accounting book. He needed to review a few numbers from two years back and needed that book quickly before he lost his train of thought again.
Papers and books and folders and more. His desk had been like this for the past three months now. There had not been time to see new clients or handle any cases. He had no meetings at the courthouse down the street, and there was no money coming in. This should have given him the time, the space, and the quiet he needed to sort through everything in his books. Everything should have been perfect.
The more he tried to clean this mess up, the bigger it seemed to grow.
His sandy hair fell into his gaze as he tugged at the ends of his mustache. It was a terrible habit, and he knew he needed to stop. But he couldn’t help himself with all this stress consuming his life.
Every minute was spent sorting out this mess of his. Or rather, Liam told himself, his partner’s mess. He had opened a new law firm after working at another for five years once he had passed the bar.
Mr. Kinley Adams had been at that law firm for years. He was close to retiring, even. A good man and a hard worker who had never made it to partner. So, when Liam had invited him to leave, Adams had eagerly accepted the new offer.
Everything had been going so well for their first year.
He had been able to gather clients, win most of the suits, and was on track to make great strides. A few journalists had even come by to write a few pieces on how well his little firm was doing. Liam had eagerly begun interviewing for another lawyer to join them and help with the load when things started to go wrong.
It started with a few bills.
Then there were some worried clients and some angry people. The problem grew until he knew he had to deal with a bigger issue at the root: money was missing. And if it wasn’t him, then it was Adams.
Sighing, he looked up to see his assistant, Stewart, in the doorway. The young man was thin with a dark mop of hair sitting haphazardly on his head. He was shy and somehow managed to take on every task put on his scrawny shoulders.
“Come in.” Liam waved a hand. Any sort of break would be appreciated.
He was probably never going to find the account book by this time. Eventually, he would have to give up this work to retire for the evening. He had given up his place of residence last month to handle some due payments, and so all he had now was a cot in the backroom. He had nothing more there. No wife, no family, no one who cared what happened to him.
“I brought you your mail,” said Stewart as he arrived at the desk. He frowned at the spacious mess before choosing to hand over the small pile to Liam directly.
“Ah.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to be receiving any more mail. Anything that arrived lately mostly just included threats, bills, and nothing more. “Wonderful. Thank you. And Stewart?”
The young man smiled earnestly at him. He had little experience but a large family he helped to take care of. As a hard worker, anyone would be lucky to have him. And hopefully, someone else would.
Liam hated to do this, but he had no choice.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed as his shoulders slouched. “I am. But I have to let you go. You know I don’t have money coming in. It just keeps going out and out. I would rather you were able to find something better for yourself, something that will pay. Once things turn around, then I’ll try to hire you back.”
Stewart’s face fell as he listened. Finding decent jobs with good pay in Boston was difficult, after all. The two of them working together had been like a happy accident. But it was ending now. It had to.
“Wait.” Liam stood up. He had a few dollars somewhere, he recalled. There had to be enough to pay Stewart what he rightfully deserved. It meant he might fall behind on a payment or two, but surely the man needed something. Shuffling around the paper, he tried to remember where he had seen it last. Was it between the pile of phone numbers? Or something else? “I have something somewhere I should be able to …”
But the assistant, now former, shook his head. “It’s all right, Liam. Keep it, whatever it is. And thank you.”
Liam looked up to see the pained smile of the man before Stewart offered a final nod and disappeared out of the room.
Once more, he was on his own. Liam gave up looking for the money. It would be around three dollars, he supposed. That was part of his savings, which he was quickly draining. He tried to swallow his pride, but it was difficult.
There was no way to have known that Kinley Adams was going to steal from him. Liam reminded himself of this repeatedly, though it brought him no relief. The man had stolen from their business as well as several of their clients.
Somewhere in the mess was a letter ripped to pieces. Adams had left on a train to the north. He had wanted to retire in comfort he had written in the letter and deserved it after serving the people of Boston all his life. The man had claimed that because Liam was young and clever, he would be fine and recover quickly. It was only fair, the man had said.
If Liam ever found his partner again, he wasn’t sure what he would do. He only knew that it wouldn’t be pretty.
And in the meantime, he was busy cleaning up the mess. There were debts to pay, people to apologize to, and more. Already two former clients were threatening to sue him, which wouldn’t help anyone. A few had been willing to forgive what happened, but most were angry. He couldn’t blame them. Adams had left him behind to rot.
“What am I going to do?” he muttered under his breath as he shuffled the papers around.
Get married when you’re ready, his uncle had told him once. And when you do, marry rich. It makes it worth the trouble.
Uncle Richard Plyer was his father’s second cousin, a widower with money in the bank. Liam had just been a young man of ten when his father sent him away from Oklahoma to Boston after years of fighting one another. Uncle Rich had taken Liam in to make sure he was educated properly.
When the man died, Liam used the money left behind to start this firm.
He wondered what his uncle would say in a time like this. The man was probably rolling in his grave. A stern man who liked nothing more than to frown and glare at innocent bystanders, Uncle Rich had at least given Liam a chance with this life.
And he had messed up somewhere along the way.
Fiddling through the mail, he wondered if he could get away with simply throwing some of his debts in the trash. A wry smile climbed onto his face at the idea. If only life were that simple.
Then he stopped, reading the scrawl on the last envelope.
Liam frowned. “It can’t be …”
He hadn’t seen that handwriting in almost two years. Checking the front and back, he looked for a name. But there wasn’t one. Incredulous at the idea of suddenly hearing from back home, he ripped open the letter.
He checked the signature first. Clumsily written with a crooked ‘E,’ it could have been written by none other than Elijah. His younger brother was writing to him after all this time.
The last time they had seen each other was at the train station when his father sent him away. Little Elijah had been just six years old. His dirty blond hair had looked like a haystack from a morning tussle with the pigs, and there were tears in the younger boy’s eyes when he’d grabbed Liam for a tight hug.
Though he tried to recall, Liam wasn’t sure what his brother’s last words to him were.
But at least he had letters. Every now and again, Elijah would send him something through the mail. When they were younger, there would be a letter every month. But, gradually, they had gotten older and much busier. It hardly helped that Liam often forgot to write back.
“Huh.” He flattened the creases and began to read.
I’m afraid it’s happened. Pa is dead. He passed away just a few days ago. Infection in his lungs, the doc said. Should have sent a telegram when it happened, but I didn’t have the time. There’s been work to do. He’s buried in the town near Ma and our other Ma.
The ranch is faring all right. I always left the busywork to Pa, you know. He does numbers better than myself, so I’m spending my days in the office trying to remember how to add up. Maybe it’ll fix itself.
I just thought you should know about Pa.
Oh, and the lawyer stopped by. Do you remember Mr. Fink? He brought Pa’s will. Didn’t realize he had one. Anyway, he left you part of the ranch. It would be mighty nice to see you again if you think about coming back. Might be nice to have an educated man out here.
I think, in the end, Pa wasn’t mad with you.
The letter was short and filled with misspellings. It was definitely from his younger brother. Elijah would be around twenty-four now, Liam realized in amazement, seeing as he was twenty-eight.
Immediately, that depressed him. Twenty-eight years old with nothing to show for it. He had an education, and that was it. No home, no family, and no career. He would be lucky not to be run out of town at the moment.
He slumped in his seat as he read the letter over again, considering what Elijah was saying. The younger man used to fall asleep in the barn growing up because he loved the animals and being outside so much. Liam had written a long letter when his brother decided to stop attending school, but that hadn’t dissuaded him. Elijah had clearly chosen a different type of path.
And now, that was a problem for him.
There was a ranch to manage now that their father was gone. Liam tapped his chin thoughtfully. Though his brother didn’t say so, it was clear how much he needed some help. Elijah could manage the men and the animals on the ranch, but that was only half the work. Someone needed to manage the business aspects.
Liam remembered shouting at his father that last night there about how he would never come back. But he hadn’t considered the thought that someday the old man would no longer be around.
Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. He eased into the idea slowly to come to terms with it. Going back there was too obvious to ignore. He needed to get out of town for a bit and find some money. If he had the rights to half the ranch, then he could use those earnings to finish paying off the debts and bills.
Hope soared through his chest. Summer was right around the corner. He could leave, gather the money he needed while helping out his brother, and then come back with everything paid off.
That would be the chance he needed to restart the firm. He could get his life on track once again after a few months. Soon all this pain and misery would be forgotten.
Liam chuckled. He could hardly believe it.
This was perfect, he thought; it was the miracle he had been waiting for.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Delphine flinched at the sound of her father’s voice before she slowly turned to look over her shoulder in the hallway. Her hand tightened on the cold metal of the doorknob. Heart hammering in her chest, she managed to smile at her father.
“I’m going out.”
His eyes narrowed. The tall, thin man stalked forward with his hunched shoulders. In one hand, he held a partially-filled glass, and the other carried a newspaper. “Out where? At this time of day?”
It was hardly past noon, but Delphine had a feeling he wouldn’t like being told this. He could find an excuse to be grumpy whenever he desired.
She blinked and tried to think quickly. “Of course. I’m leaving to go … pick up flowers. For the hallway. The lilies we have are beginning to wilt. See?”
“I don’t care about flowers,” her father said sternly. “I care that you’re leaving the house midday without an escort. People will think the worst of us. Especially me. You’re taking a carriage, are you not?”
“I wasn’t going to … but I can,” Delphine stumbled over her words. She thought after growing up in this home that she wouldn’t be so nervous around her parents. But she felt her stomach clench as though to tell her that some things would never change. “I’ll call for it now.”
Ever since her older brother and sister had left home when they were younger than she was now, the energy in the house had changed. Delphine found herself constantly in trouble and always being punished if she wasn’t careful.
Her father squinted at her before turning his head slightly toward the dining room. “Margot! Where are you? Did you say that Delphine could leave for the day? Surely she should be in school or something like that. Someplace proper for a young lady. You should see the way she’s dressed.”
It was New Orleans, where most folks walked, and only the annoying people would bother with a carriage.
“Delphine doesn’t attend school any longer. She’s grown now. She’s not in that yellow number, is she?”
Footsteps sounded down the stairs as Delphine saw her mother headed down to talk with them. The older woman’s lyrical voice and graceful moves were blatant reminders of the once-famous opera singer. She still sang on special occasions, but most of the time spent lazily painting on the garden roof.
“That yellow washes you out, Delphine, dear.”
She wasn’t wearing a yellow dress, but it still annoyed her. Delphine pursed her lips so she wouldn’t tell them how her mother had purchased that dress. Instead, she eyed her parents warily. The tension seemed to be mounting in the hall, especially with her mother’s arrival. If she didn’t get out of there soon, then most likely she would be trapped inside for a few days.
“Ah.” Delphine fidgeted as her mother peered at her and then made a face before saying, “It doesn’t look like you brushed your hair, but I suppose the blue is all right on you. Where did you say you were going? You must know I’m hosting a garden party tonight, and I want you here for it.”
Trying to ignore the steel edge to her tone, Delphine nodded. “Of course. I’ll be here tonight. But I must go now.”
“Go now? You don’t talk to us like that,” her father said as he took a step toward her. “You know better, Delphine. If you want to be treated like a lady, then you had best start acting like one. Or your privileges will be revoked. Do you understand?”
She watched as his hand holding the newspaper roll reached up and brushed against his belt. Whether he was doing this on purpose or it, it sent a clear message her way. It had been years since he had used that on her, but she could still feel the burn on the back of her legs.
“Of course, Father. Yes, Father. Goodbye,” she added and stepped out the door before they could stop her.
Then she had to start moving. Hurrying down the lane, Delphine made it out of their gate and down the street without looking back. No one called after her. Once she turned the corner, she allowed herself to take a deep breath. They had never come this far to force her back home.
If she stayed away long enough, then her parents would forget all about being irritated with her. With their family being rich so that her mother and father didn’t have any obligations, they had turned to a life of leisure. For her, however, it was something else.
Delphine fidgeted with her long sleeves absently. The day was warm already for a spring morning, she thought, and it was best if she prepared herself for the coming summer. It was doubtful she would ever wear short sleeves again. No one would want to see the marks on her arms, and it wasn’t as if she wanted to show them off.
“Stop paying them any mind,” she scolded herself.
She shook her head to push her parents out of her thoughts. They couldn’t talk her down or scold her or hurt her so long as she was out of the house. This reminder lifted a burden off her shoulders as she hurried down the street. It only took her two more turns before finding the right house.
“Ah, Delphine.” Mrs. Moulin chuckled when she opened the door. “Come in. Opal was just speaking of you. She’s off in the sunroom.”
Delphine beamed. “Thank you, Mrs. Moulin. It’s lovely to see you.”
“And you, dear!” the woman called after her.
She made her way eagerly through the house, turning past the kitchen to the sunroom. It was a lovely little home that the Moulins lived in. Half the size of Delphine’s and much cozier. She had happy memories in every room here from her fun with Opal Jackson, the Moulins’ niece whom they had raised.
Opal Jackson sat curled up on her favorite cushion with a few papers in her lap. Though two years younger at seventeen, the young woman was charming and sweet. Her blonde hair curled all around her like a mane that would not be tamed. Hearing Delphine’s footsteps, she looked up to show off her wide green eyes.
“Delphine!” the young woman cried out before standing up hastily. “Oh, how did you know I needed you?”
Though she had come hoping to stop worrying about any troubles like she usually did, Delphine found this would not be the case. She caught sight of her friend’s tears on her cheeks just before Opal ran and hugged her tightly. Delphine caught her just in time with a slight grunt before wrapping her arms around her.
“I didn’t … what happened?” she asked. “Are you all right?”
A small whimper escaped Opal. “I’m an orphan, Delphine. Oh, I can’t believe it. I never thought … I mean, maybe I knew that I would never see my father again. He would never leave the ranch, and I, well, I had no plans on returning. Oklahoma, can you imagine? That was such a long time ago. But never in my life did I think I would lose him. He’s my father, Delphine. First, my mother, and now him. I suppose I have my aunt and uncle, but they … oh, what will I do?”
“Oh dear,” Delphine murmured as she stroked her friend’s hair softly. “I’m terribly sorry, Opal. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Did you just learn of this?”
Sniffling, Opal straightened up and then led her over to the cushions. Then she handed over the letter and envelope.
Delphine accepted them. She put them in her lap while she held hands with Opal to comfort her. The first thing she noticed was the dirty smudges on the letter. It was short, hardly a page long, written in clumsy handwriting. Clearly, it was written by a man, but she wasn’t certain about what type of man.
She scanned it, trying to understand better how she could help her friend. But there was little in the letter that she could read, let alone comprehend.
Someone by the name of Elijah wrote that her father had died of an illness, had already been buried, and she now owned half the ranch.
Opal had inherited half a ranch. That was incredible.
“My goodness,” was all she could say. Delphine turned to look up at her friend. “Your father left you some property. That’s good to have, an income of your own. But I’m sorry about your father, dear.”
“What would I do with a ranch?” Opal shook her head before carefully wiping away her tears. “I don’t know what to do there. My memories are scarce of the ranch, and it’s been so long. I suppose my brother is still there tending to it, but what am I supposed to do?”
Ah, that’s who Elijah was. The two of them had decided long ago to talk little of their families. But now, Delphine recalled Opal’s childhood. Her mother had passed away when she was young with a father who didn’t know how to raise a daughter. So he had sent her to her mother’s sister, Mrs. Moulin. There was a brother or two left on the ranch, but that was all Delphine could recall.
She shook her head. She hadn’t lost family before and didn’t know how to help.
“I’m sorry, Opal,” she murmured with a sigh. “I’m sorry for your loss. You can stay here, you know. This is your home. Your aunt and uncle love you dearly. But if you want to go back, you could. You could see your childhood home, talk with Elijah … would that bring you peace?”
Her friend thought about it for several minutes. Sniffling, she eventually offered a small nod.
Opal said, “I think you’re right. Maybe I should go back. At least to visit and see the ranch I’ve inherited, I suppose.”
Delphine gave her a hopeful smile. “Yes, that could be lovely.” Then a thought struck her. While her parents still lived, she couldn’t escape them. She had known this since she was ten years old and tried to run away down the street. They had found her quickly and locked her in her room for a month.
But perhaps there was another way to freedom. She felt her heart skip a beat as she said, “And I’ll come with you, so you’re not alone.”
Her friend gasped. “Oh, I couldn’t ask that of you! It’s so far away, and you have a life here.”
Quickly, Delphine shook her head. “You’re part of my life,” she explained. Her words were true, as well as the desperation she tried to quell. “I can’t bear to have you travel all that way on your own. Your aunt and uncle are busy here with their business, so it must be. We can make an adventure of it,” Delphine added hopefully.
* * *
Convincing Opal to let her come along had been the easy part.
What came next was finding a way to escape her family’s home at last so that she would never have to return. Delphine had never even considered leaving New Orleans. It was the only home she had ever known.
And it had not been a good one, she reminded herself.
The determination grew within her every day as she plotted her way out of town. Certainly, once she was on that train, they wouldn’t be able to bring her back. Finally, she would be free of them.
Delphine had tried for years. She had considered a few gentlemen who wished to court in the hopes of getting married, but she found herself fearful of putting herself into another dangerous situation. So she had turned them down. Then she had started saving up money to leave, but her father kept a meticulous record and had caught onto her secret stash. That had happened twice.
So she would go to Oklahoma.
Part of Delphine wasn’t entirely sure she even knew where that was. But it was far away, and she could get there safely with Opal. The plan fell quickly into place once she had spoken with Mr. and Mrs. Moulin, who were more than grateful for her help.
She pooled together some money for her ticket and began packing. They waited a week, and then it was time to go.
Delphine had to leave early that morning, claiming to visit the mayor’s daughters, whom her father always wanted her to visit, in order to avoid suspicion. Her bag was dumped out the window and then picked up silently so no one would see it. Then she made her way down to the train tracks where Opal was parting tearfully with her aunt and uncle.
“Can we just walk on?” her friend asked once they were alone on the platform.
Glancing around, Delphine shook her head. She always had the answers between them, she knew, but she wasn’t certain how much longer that would last. They were veering quickly into unfamiliar territory. “No. We have seats, don’t we? Assigned seats.”
“Of course,” Opal said with a nod. “All right. Well. I suppose it’s time, isn’t it?”
“Indeed.” Delphine could hardly keep the smile off her face. She linked arms with Opal, and then they boarded. Keeping her eyes open, she directed them to their seats and made sure everything was in its proper place. There was room for some luggage overhead as well as beneath their bench.
Having done some research the day before, Delphine shared all that she knew in the hopes of stopping Opal with her fidgeting.
“Lovely story,” her friend murmured as she glanced out the window. “I’m sorry, I know I can’t seem to focus. I’m terribly nervous.”
Delphine chuckled. “That’s all right.” She felt the same way. If one thing went wrong, she felt certain she would toss up any breakfast she had eaten that morning. “Let’s talk then. What do you remember about your home?”
“No, in Oklahoma,” she corrected Opal.
The young lady flushed. Straightening up, she nodded. “That’s right. It’s what I meant. Oh, bother, what do I remember? Faces, mostly. My brother Elijah was very silly. He would play games with me, too. My father always had a book in his hand, even when he was talking to the ranch hands. It was a very big house with a lot of windows. There was green everywhere out there. Not a lot of other colors, but it was all right, I suppose.”
When she trailed off, Delphine leaned forward slightly as she tried to find something to say to reassure Opal. They couldn’t bail on this now. “I’m sure Elijah will be thrilled to see you.”
“Perhaps. Oh, and Liam.” Opal frowned. “I don’t remember what he looks like. Isn’t that strange? He’s my brother, and I don’t have an idea about … maybe he had dark hair? I don’t know. Maybe I’m thinking of my father. If only …”
Bringing up family was her mistake. Delphine winced for having mentioned anyone. She shook her head and gave Opal’s hand a pat. “Let’s talk about something else, shall we?”
So they did. The trip would take two and a half days between all the stops it needed to make, which gave the two of them plenty of time to talk. Delphine kept the conversation off family as they discussed their home, the world outside their window, and recalled memories from the past.
Her heart drummed as loudly as the chugging of the train. She was free of New Orleans and her parents at last.
Scratching his head, Elijah studied the sight before him.
He stood near the edge of the loft within the barn as he tried to sort out what was going on. Though it looked clear enough to be a problem, he just didn’t know how it had happened. It hardly seemed possible.
“And you’re sure?” he asked the foreman, Marcus. “You couldn’t find more grain anywhere else?”
It seemed like only yesterday that they had several twenty-pound bags lined up against the wall. To already be out seemed impossible. Surely the horses hadn’t eaten that much since the last time he had looked. Granted, Elijah couldn’t quite remember when he had last gone up into the loft.
“I’m sure.” Marcus nodded with his hands on his hips. “We’re on the last one right now. George just opened it and let me know that he had taken the last one down from here. That’s why I came to get you, Elijah.”
Usually, it was someone else feeding the horses. He didn’t spend too much time in the barn, he knew. There were simple jobs to handle in there like cleaning up the stalls, tending to pigs in the outside pen, and cleaning up any messes made along the way. Though he liked the hard work, Marcus was more than willing to assign someone else like Terrance or Mikey to handle those chores.
Maybe that was the problem.
Though Elijah loved being on the ranch more than anything, especially being under the sun, sorting through supplies and the like was not something he spent a lot of time thinking about. He had always left that sort of concern to his father, William Jackson.
But the man had passed away two weeks ago.
So two weeks ago, Elijah had to take charge. He might have had an older brother and a younger sister, but they had left several years ago to start new lives elsewhere. It was up to him to manage the ranch, the Crooked Creek Ranch. His stomach rumbled with unease as he wondered what to do now. It was a question he had been asking himself since his father died. He knew how to do his job in roping up the cattle and taking care of his horse. There was nothing he couldn’t convince an animal to do since he spent so much time with them. He could do anything he needed as a cowboy except to keep track of supplies.
“Well,” he said finally, the reluctance hanging off his tongue. “I suppose I should do something.”
Marcus raised his eyebrow. “Do you want me to do something, Elijah?”
It was terribly tempting to agree to, Elijah thought, but he knew that he couldn’t just hand off these new responsibilities because he didn’t want them and had no idea how to manage them. Marcus already handled the spacious ranch well with the twenty ranch hands currently employed.
“No,” Elijah sighed, inwardly groaning. “It’s my job. I should have noticed we were low. I will go and … find more … somewhere.”
The foreman turned to him with a gleam in his eye. Trying not to grin, he asked, “Do you mean Ingram’s Feed Store?”
Of course, that’s where he would find more grain. How had he not thought of that? “Of course,” Elijah said as he cleared his throat. “Yes, Ingram’s. Right there in town. In San Xavier, I’ll go there.”
“It’s on the west corner of Main past the saloon and haberdashery,” the man beside him said with a chuckle. “I’d say that we need at least twenty to get us through for a while. We don’t want to have to keep returning to town for more, do we?”
Again the man had a point.
Nodding, Elijah finally dropped his arm. “All right, I get it. Twenty bags, then. Is that all we need? I’d hate to make more trips into town than necessary; a packhorse, you said. Besides, I don’t like the idea of being gone too long from Lucy.”
“Your cow?” Marcus shook his head. “Just because Lucy is pregnant doesn’t mean you have to worry about her, Elijah. She’s already birthed three calves before. I think she’ll do just fine this time around as well.”
He had been there with Lucy for all eight years of her precious life, from the moment she was born and through a couple of illnesses as well. There was no other cow like her; she had a real personality, and he didn’t like the thought of seeing her suffer.
“I hope so,” Elijah said with a sigh. “But I hate risking it. You’ll keep an eye on her while I’m gone, won’t you?”
Marcus raised an eyebrow. “For the afternoon? I suppose I can check in on her.” They stepped back towards the ladder. “While you’re in town, you know, maybe you should see about purchasing two more lanterns. We also need tobacco for the men, a dozen yards of rope, plus a few pounds of bacon and cornmeal for the chuck wagon. And two more hammers.”
He was halfway down the ladder but stopped as his foreman kept talking. Elijah looked up at the man incredulously.
“Since when did we need all that?” he demanded. “Have you been waiting to tell me this?”
The man shrugged, looking down at him. “Maybe.”
There was that gleam again. Shaking his head, Elijah took a moment to climb down the rest of the ladder. He stood back as Marcus headed down after him. It gave Elijah a minute to think about that long list. Though he remembered Mikey saying they were low on tobacco and George had broken one of the hammers last week, somehow he hadn’t connected the dots to understand that someone needed to purchase them.
Elijah thought about his foreman’s offer to go into town in his place and regretted turning him down. But he wouldn’t retract that now. Maybe he would have sent out one of the men had he had more time to think about this; his father had often assigned someone else to run errands in his place.
Except they were out of supplies they needed, and it was his fault. He managed the farm, and he needed to get everything taken care of.
“All right. Just write it down,” Elijah started to say. He stopped when Marcus grabbed a folded piece of paper from his pocket. A short laugh escaped his lips as he accepted it, shaking his head. “Marcus! You should have said something sooner.”
“I was waiting for you to figure it out,” the other man chuckled. “Come now, Elijah. You’re more than a ranch hand here, and we all know it. I’m supposed to report to you, not the other way around. We’re letting you know about what we need, and it’s up to you to decide what happens next.”
That hardly made sense to Elijah. If they needed it, then they would get it. Things were always breaking on a ranch with all the hard work that took place there. But no one could do their job well unless they had all the necessary tools there. Though he wasn’t sure about balanced costs, he knew this was important.
“All right, well, I’ve decided that I have to go purchase everything on this here list.” Elijah waved the piece of paper around pointedly with a grin. “I’ll take the wagon and come back this afternoon. It shouldn’t take too long, I think. You’ll keep an eye on Lucy?”
“Of course,” Marcus agreed.
Satisfied, Elijah brought out his horse as well as their packhorse to hook them up to the smaller of their two wagons. He stuck his hat on his head, put the piece of paper in his pocket, and started out. When he passed the house, he ran inside to grab a few dollars before climbing back onto the headboard.
It was a pleasant spring day. Enjoying the greenery all around him on his ride, Elijah whistled and sang a few songs to himself on the way into town.
San Xavier sat right on the edge of the Oklahoma and Texas border. He just couldn’t remember exactly where that line was, seeing as it didn’t quite matter. It was a good home and good land; that was the important factor. Everyone knew it, too. His grandfather had started the ranch as a young man, continuously growing it. Over time, folks from all over had settled down in the nearby valley. It was just two years back when they got themselves a train station.
Elijah glanced toward it when he arrived by Ingram’s.
He had never been on a train before and wondered if he would ever ride one. Then he grinned at the crazy notion. He liked riding a horse, and he liked his home. There was no reason for him to be going anywhere else.
Hopping down, Elijah headed into the store to make his purchases. Ingram’s had doubled in size since opening. He still remembered helping build the second floor a little over ten years ago. Humming, he found his way around the aisles to talk with Ingram and his wife about everything he needed to purchase. It took a while to get everything into his wagon, but soon it was done.
“Thank you.” He waved to the couple as they returned inside. “Take care!”
Before he could loosen his horses from their post, a voice called to him from behind. “Is that you, Elijah?”
He turned to find Ethan Kendelson there. The Kendelsons had the largest ranch found anywhere in the neighboring territories. Ethan was the only child and was well-liked in town. He was a charming sort of fellow and always seemed to be making friends.
Grinning, Elijah waved. “Howdy. Sure is. How are you, Ethan?”
The young man, just a few years older than his twenty-four, waved him over. “Come on over and let me buy you a drink.”
Thinking of Lucy, Elijah wanted to say no. But he also didn’t like to be rude. He weighed his options for a minute before shrugging. One drink couldn’t take too long.
“All right,” he allowed with a wide grin of his own.
He crossed the street to where Ethan was standing. The young man was shorter, maybe around five foot ten, with perfectly combed brown hair and what looked like a brand new suit.
“Good.” Ethan nodded as he opened the door to the saloon beside him. “It’s been a while. I was hoping to see you soon.” The two of them walked in, taking seats at the bar. “After your father passed, I wasn’t too sure what might happen to the ranch of yours. Roger? Two whiskeys, please.”
Elijah shrugged. “I’m handling it, of course.” Then he put on a good-natured grin. “Or rather, I’m trying to. I had to run into Ingram’s for a few supplies I’d forgotten about. Marcus had to remind me, I’m afraid.”
The man beside him snorted. “Well, that’s one way to run a ranch. Haven’t you grown up there all your life?”
“Sure, but I never paid some errands much mind. It’s the animals that make the ranch run, you know,” Elijah added earnestly. “You can’t have a ranch without the cows. It’s important they’re always taken care of. Your horses, too. You need them to get around, don’t you? Without animals, well, you’re in for a bit of trouble. Everything else is by the wayside.”
Roger, the bartender, dropped by their two whiskeys. “Not if you can’t feed them,” Ethan pointed out before taking a drink. He let out a laugh, shaking his head. “If I were you, I’d get my head on straight. Or someone might come for your ranch.”
Sniffing the whiskey, Elijah shrugged. “Oh, that’s all right. Anyone is welcome to visit.”
He took a small drink of his own before noticing that Ethan was studying him. There was a strange expression on his face, though Elijah wasn’t quite sure what it meant. So he smiled and raised his glass.
“Thanks for the drink,” he offered. “That’s mighty kind of you. Now, if you’re not out buying oats for your ranch like I am, what are you doing here?”
The two of them talked casually for a few minutes until Elijah gradually finished his whiskey. He was glad there wasn’t much of it since he didn’t care for strong drinks too often. His whiskey was sharp and lingered on his breath, so he ordered a sarsparilla and drank it before telling Ethan it was time for him to leave.
Elijah stepped back outside before fixing his hat on his head. It had grown warmer with the sun rising high in the sky. Bright, too. He squinted and looked around when he heard an unfamiliar sound.
He looked over to find the screech of brakes on the train as it pulled into the station. Smoke plumed into the sky. Squinting, he took a few steps forward to watch it. There hadn’t been too many occasions for him to see it coming through before.
The world really was changing, Elijah thought. His mind spun as he thought about his own life and how so little of it had gone as he expected it to. His parents had passed away, his siblings were far away, and now he was managing the family ranch. He was just wondering if it could change anymore when he caught sight of the people stepping off the train.
Less than ten other folks were climbing down onto the open station. Most of them wore faded denim uniforms. They weren’t the ones who caught his eye. It was one in particular who made him do a double look.
“It can’t be,” Elijah muttered as his eyes widened.
A small grin made its way onto his face as his hands settled on his hips. Though he hadn’t seen his older brother since they were kids, he would recognize that face anywhere.
Liam had come home.
“A Ranch Full of Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Delphine Babbit needs to escape her abusive parents, longing for peace and safety at all costs. When her best friend, Opal, returns to her hometown, she seizes this unique opportunity to join her, although she doesn’t know what to expect. While trying to adjust to her new reality in Oklahoma, she gets tangled up in her feelings for Opal’s handsome older brother, who seems rather distant and arrogant. Can Delphine break down his walls and find the stability and love she has been looking for all her life in his arms?
Liam Jackson’s future seems impossible to handle ever since his business partner’s deception. When he discovers that his estranged father has passed and left him the family ranch, he accepts it with a heavy heart, desperate to save his business. Upon his arrival, a disheartening surprise awaits him, making him question his decision. Nevertheless, his unexpected interaction with a beautiful and tender woman helps him overcome the pain in his heart, giving him a reason to stay. Will he manage to let go of the past to build a future with the woman who sees beyond his mask?
Both Delphine and Liam are unprepared and heartbroken when they start feeling strong, new emotions for one another. Together, they must choose what truly matters in their lives. Can Delphine be the blessing that Liam is searching for, and Liam be the knight in shining armor that she needs? With friends and rivals on their heels, can they find the everlasting love they have craved for, for so long?
“A Ranch Full of Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.