“Thank you so much for coming,” Annalise said, grabbing the hands of her grandmother’s best friend. Her smooth skin felt warm in Annalise’s, and her lavender-scented perfume reminded her of her aunt.
“I’m so sorry,” the woman said, brushing her wrinkled fingers against Annalise’s cheek. The action brought a bit of comfort during a difficult time. Today, they had buried Annalise’s grandmother, her last family member, and it was one of the most difficult days of Annalise’s life.
“She’s in a better place now,” Annalise said. It was what she’d been telling herself since her aunt passed. It was the only thing that got her through the grief. This was the second time Annalise had planned a funeral in a year.
At least last time, I wasn’t doing this alone, she thought, her heart heavy with sadness.
“I’m going to go say hello to the deacon,” she said, shaking her grandmother’s friend’s soft hands once more. Annalise wasn’t really planning to go talk to the deacon. He had performed a beautiful service, and she should thank him for his kind words, but she wasn’t in the mood.
Her grandmother had been interred in the family crypt, and the actions of it all felt so final that it had finally broken her. Not that she could be allowed to break. Annalise was now the woman of the house, and she needed to conduct herself accordingly. The people packing into her home were there to pay their respects, which left little time for Annalise to break down. She wished for nothing more than to have a good, long sob in her room, but alas, she could not.
“Annalise,” a deep, masculine voice called from behind her. Annalise turned and felt her heart plummet to her feet as she caught sight of John Miller. John was dressed in black mourning clothes, making his golden hair shine even brighter than normal. He held his hat in his hands, wringing the wide brim around his fingers. He looked nervous, which Annalise found odd considering the circumstances.
“John,” she said, politely acknowledging his presence. She couldn’t muster up much more. His face fell at her tone, and she instantly felt bad for not being warmer towards him.
“How are you?” he asked.
Annalise tried her best to smile, but she feared that it turned out to be more of a grimace than a smile.
“I suppose that’s a silly question,” he said, after a long pause.
“I’m well,” Annalise said. “As well as I can be, I suppose.”
She did her best not to make John feel badly about his question. Many people were unfamiliar with death, and they didn’t know how to deal with it.
“Is there anything that I can do?” John asked.
Annalise shook her head. “Everything had been taken care of,” she said. A year ago, she had laid her beloved uncle to rest. Before that, she’d buried her mother and father. She had seen more death in her nineteen years than she cared to think about.
John and Annalise stood in awkward silence, staring at one another, each one trying to figure out what to say. “Well, I suppose I should make sure that everyone has enough to eat,” she said. Annalise turned on her heel to start making her way towards the kitchen, but before she could get very far, John’s hand reached out and grabbed hold of her arm, stopping her with a light grip.
“Wait,” John said. His grip was light, but Annalise still raised a dark eyebrow at it. “I was hoping that we might talk,” he said.
She sighed. She had a feeling she knew what he wanted to speak about, and her grandmother’s funeral was simply not the place to have such a conversation, especially with all of her grandmother’s busybody friends milling about.
“I know that it’s not the best time,” he said. His hands were wringing the brim of his hat once more, and Annalise suspected that the entire thing was going to be ruined by the end of their conversation.
“It is very much not the best time,” she told him.
“I simply want to know if you feel for me as I do you,” he said.
She sighed once more. A day before her grandmother’s passing, John had asked for her hand. He’d startled her with the question when he asked. John had been courting her for a month, but they’d hardly spent enough time together for him to so readily propose marriage. Annalise had asked him to give her time to consider his offer, but then her grandmother passed, and she found herself spun around and thinking about everything but marriage.
John was staring at Annalise, clearly hoping for some sort of response, but she was simply not sure of what to say. She cared for John, but she did not know if mild affection was enough of a foundation for a marriage.
“I haven’t been able to think on your offer,” Annalise said.
John’s face fell, and she instantly felt terrible. “Annalise…” John walked forward until there was just a breath of space between the two of them.
“I promise I’ll continue to think on it,” she said. “I just can’t at this moment.” Annalise used her eyes to plead with him.
In truth, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to marry John. He was a handsome man. He came from a good family and was a pillar in their community. Her grandmother would have been happy to see her off and married, but something just did not feel right about John or any of the other suitors who had offered her marriage.
Time is running out, Annalise thought. Most of her friends were already married off, and some even had children.
“I can wait for you,” John said. He was so sweet, and it broke her heart.
“Thank you,” she told him, and this time her voice was earnest and full of happiness. A smile instantly spread across John’s face, and the sight of it made her feel better. Though she wasn’t certain about John, she did not wish to hurt him.
“Do wish for me to accompany you into the kitchen? I can help with the staff,” he said.
It was a sweet offer, but one that she did not intend to take him up on. Annalise needed to be alone. She needed a moment to breathe and gather her thoughts. She needed time to mourn, which no one seemed to understand.
“I’ll be alright,” she told him, giving him a small smile. Annalise began moving away before John could insist.
Turning on her heel, Annalise walked further into her home. Her black silk mourning dress swooshed behind her as she left John staring at her back.
As Annalise passed her grandmother’s friends and various community members, each one giving her a sad smile, she realized that nothing would ever be the same again. Soon they would all leave, and Annalise would be alone. An overwhelming sadness overcame her, and as she pushed into the kitchen, she allowed her tears to fall.
The hot Montana sun beat down on Clay as he herded the last of the cattle towards their pasture. “Never thought I’d say this,” one of the men said, “but I’ll be glad when winter rolls through here.”
Clay laughed before wiping a bit of sweat off of his brow. His large, white, ten-gallon hat shielded his skin from the sun, but it didn’t do much to protect him from the heat. “We’re almost finished here,” Clay said. He kicked his heels against his horse, urging the animal onward. Though he was trying to make the best of it, he too needed a break.
“Don’t let Big Tom hear you talking about a break,” one of the men grumbled.
Clay bit his tongue. He was the ranch foreman, so in many ways, he was one of them. He wouldn’t destroy their trust by ordering them to bite their tongues when it came to their boss, but Clay was different than a lot of the men under him. Clay had grown up on Big Tom’s ranch. His mother had worked for Big Tom since Clay was a boy, and when she died, Big Tom was kind enough to give Clay a job. Because of that, Clay was loyal to Tom. He was more loyal to Big Tom than he’d ever been to anyone.
“Let’s head back,” Clay said. There was plenty of work to be done, but they all needed a break from the heat. They needed water and to stretch their legs after riding for several hours, and Clay needed to talk to Big Tom.
The big house came into view, and Clay sighed. The cattle weren’t very far from the main pastures, which was what he needed to talk to Big Tom about. These days, the land around the ranch which had been public for years was starting to grow smaller and smaller.
Smallholders were popping up, buying small plots of land for their own usage and marking them off with barbed wire. This kept Big Tom’s cattle from grazing farther than normal, and it was making him nervous. Big Tom wasn’t the type of man to conform, but Clay prayed that he could talk some sense into him.
“Y’all go off and get yourselves some Adam’s ale. I’m going to go find the big augur.” The men all grunted in agreement as they got off their horses. Most of them walked towards the shade where they could grab a drink from different pails, while Clay began walking towards the main house.
Big Tom was sitting on the porch, whittling away and chewing on the end of a pipe. It had taken years for Clay to convince Big Tom to give him the foreman job. He liked to be in charge of things, but one day, he’d decided it was time to take a step back, and he’d ceded a bit of control.
“Clay,” Big Tom said, as Clay walked towards the porch. “How’d moving the cattle go?”
Clay smiled. He knew that it killed Big Tom to sit back and allow others to take on more of the work, but the scorching heat was too much for the older man so he didn’t have much of a choice.
“Went fine,” Clay said.
Big Tom grunted as he shaped the wood. He’d taken to whittling on the days when he needed to stay in the shade. He said it kept his hands and mind from wandering towards work. Clay suspected that it was his excuse for staying on the porch where he could oversee them.
“Have a seat,” Big Tom said, gesturing towards the empty rocker on the porch. Clay smiled as he sat. When he was a boy, he’d sit in the rocker next to Big Tom and listen to his stories about the ranch. Clay had been fascinated by the majesty of the ranch since he was a boy, and Big Tom’s stories only served to heighten it.
“We need to talk,” Clay said. He was nervous. He hated to disappoint the man who had given him so much, but he didn’t have much of a choice. Big Tom might want to ignore the problems on the ranch, but Clay couldn’t.
“Did the cattle get settled?”
Clay nodded. “They did.”
Clay released a heavy exhale. The heaviness of the air seemed to settle into his chest, and as he looked out towards where the men were laughing and congregating, he wanted nothing more than to head out and join them. Sometimes, being out of the gang made Clay feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
“The land is getting smaller,” Clay said.
Big Tom said nothing. He simply continued to whittle away at the piece of wood in his hands. Clay couldn’t tell what he was making. He never could.
“If more smallholders pop up…” Clay trailed off as Big Tom snapped off a large chunk of the wood. It hit the porch hard and skitted across the wooden surface before clinking to the end of one of the stairs.
“If more show up, we’ll just keep cutting down their fences until they realize that they can’t come in and steal our land.”
Clay bit his tongue. He’d been going back and forth with Big Tom for months, trying to get him to understand that his desire for the smallholders to go away wasn’t going to happen. More and more men were moving out west and buying up land, and it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.
Big Tom didn’t understand it, but Clay did. Though most of the smallholders only had a few acres, that land could go far for a man who was trying to build his own fortune. Clay too desired to find his own place in the world. If he wasn’t so loyal to Big Tom, he would have purchased his own smallholding. It was his dream to own a bit of property. A place that was solely his.
That would never happen though. Clay would never betray Big Tom. Ever.
“How much land is gone?” Big Tom asked.
“Few acres,” Clay told him. It wasn’t much, but it was enough that it had been noticeable. “They’ve put up a bit of barbed fencing,” he said.
Bit Tom threw his wood and materials down on the side table next to the chairs. “Dangnabit,” he said. Clay was sure that he wanted to say something more, but Big Tom never cursed.
“There’s still plenty of room for the cattle,” Clay said.
Big Tom didn’t seem to be listening any longer. “Next time,” he said, “take a knife with you.”
“To cut the wire.”
Clay said nothing. Big Tom had made up his mind, and Clay suspected that no matter what he said, he wasn’t going to change it. Clay took heart in the fact that they would be moving the cattle to another part of the ranch that had been untouched by the smallholders moving into the area. He’d have some time before he had to do something so drastic.
“I should get back to work,” Clay said. “I’ll check in this evening.”
Big Tom grunted his acknowledgment. “Get yourself some water before you head back out,” Big Tom said.
Clay chuckled. “Will do,” he said, his frustration evaporating with Big Tom’s words. Clay thought of Big Tom as the father he’d never had, and so he would forgive him of anything. Even if Big Tom even asked him to do something against his conscience.
At least for now, he thought, as he walked towards his horse. Clay wasn’t sure if there was ever a time when he would go against Big Tom, but for now, he’d do whatever was necessary to keep the ranch running.
The first night all alone in the house was the hardest for Annalise. She wasn’t completely alone as her grandmother’s staff remained behind, but she was without the family that she had loved so dearly.
That was why she decided to pull out the box of treasures she’d hidden away under her bed the day her uncle had died. The box was filled with her uncle’s journals. For years, he’d written down every single one of his adventures, and they were vast.
When Annalise was a little girl, her uncle had read those stories to her as a way to comfort her from the intense grief that she had experienced when her parents died. He’d told her stories of cowboys and the west, and she’d fallen in love with the tales.
Now, as she sat on her bedroom floor in her thin nightgown, she traced the letters of her uncle’s stories, allowing them to bring her peace. She smiled as she read how her uncle described the beauty of the west.
Though Annalise had never been west, she pictured it in her mind every day. She saw the rolling hills and the red sand that caked the earth. She smelled the pine trees that her uncle described, and she felt the warmth of the sun on her skin as her uncle described traveling from ranch to ranch.
Annalise loved New York City. It was a metropolis that had a pulse and a life that was unmatched by most any other place in the world. The city was vibrant in its own way, but it also held a lot of pain for Annalise. It was a place where she had lost so much.
Sighing, she placed a small kiss on the leather-bound cover of the journal she held in her hands and placed it back in the small trunk she kept under her bed. She allowed her nose to linger on the leather for just a bit. She swore that she could still smell the pipe tobacco that her uncle smoked, and for a moment, tears welled up in her eyes. Getting up from her spot on the floor, Annalise walked softly towards her bed.
Her body and mind were tired but sleep eluded her. Now that her grandmother had been laid to rest, Annalise had to figure out what was next for her. John Miller’s proposal being one of the possibilities.
Unlike most women, Annalise was fortunate enough not to need a husband to secure her station. She’d been born into a wealthy family. Her parents had left a small sum for her upkeep, and her grandmother had inherited a great deal of wealth from her late husband. As the last surviving member of her family, Annalise would inherit all that was left, including the home she resided in.
There was no need for her to marry.
Do I wish to be alone forever? Annalise wondered. It had been that thought alone that kept her from denying John Miller’s proposal the way she had so many others.
Do I wish to be someone’s wife? Annalise wasn’t sure of that either. Though she wasn’t totally against marriage, she knew that the second she said yes, all of her dreams would evaporate. She’d be in New York forever, likely hosting parties and attending balls. She’d have gorgeous dresses and lovely children, but she’d never really do much more than she did now.
That did not appeal to her.
If I don’t marry…Annalise wondered what would happen. Could she go out west alone? She’d be a wealthy woman in her own right, so she could do whatever she wanted; however, Annalise wasn’t sure if she was brave enough to do something like that on her own.
Sighing, she snuggled under her blankets, allowing the goose-feather filled comforter to wrap around her like a warm hug. It was a warm summer, but Annalise’s grief made her crave any sort of comfort.
You don’t have to make any choices tonight, Annalise reminded herself as she blew out her candle. Darkness instantly encompassed the room, and Annalise allowed her eyes to grow heavy. Though her mind continued to race with possibilities for the future, her body, which craved sleep, started to drift off.
No matter what happened in the future, Annalise knew that life as she had known it was over. She was truly a woman now, and she would soon learn what that meant.
“You have to eat,” Louise, Annalise’s maid, told her. She’d woken Annalise early, reminding her that she had a full day ahead of her. Annalise had grumbled the whole morning because of it. It had been late when she’d finally gone to sleep and waking up so early meant that she felt groggy and heavy.
“I told you I’m not hungry,” Annalise said. She pushed her plate of porridge and fruit towards the center of the table with a grumble.
Louise pushed the porridge right back towards Annalise. “You’ll need your strength,” she said.
Annalise sighed. Louise had been with her family for as long as she could remember, and she knew there was no arguing with the older woman. Better to just give in and get it over with, she thought, grabbing her spoon.
“Good,” Louise told her.
Annalise refrained from sticking her tongue out, and instead, sat just a little straighter. She tried emulating her grandmother’s cold grace. After all, Annalise was the mistress of the house now. Her tight posture lasted until the boning of her corset poked into her ribs, and she slouched a bit in her seat to alleviate the pressure.
“You know I hate porridge,” Annalise grumbled. She scooped up a bit of the cold, thick substance but couldn’t bring herself to shovel it in her mouth. She tiled her spoon, allowing the viscous liquid to slap back onto itself. She wrinkled her nose at the sound of it hitting the inside of the bowl.
“Maybe you wouldn’t hate it so much if you ate it before it got cold,” Louise said.
Annalise dropped her spoon back into the bowl. “I don’t think the temperature has much to do with the fact that it is absolutely vile. Do we not have any eggs?”
Louise shook her head. “We used them all for the wake.”
Her words were like a bucket of ice thrown over Annalise, and she instantly felt terrible for being such a brat. Louise had worked hard for the past few days helping her to prepare for the wake, and here she was complaining because she’d served her something that she did not like.
“I can ask the neighbors…” Louise said with a sigh.
I shook my head. “No,” Annalise said. “I’m just having a difficult morning.”
Louis raised an eyebrow, indicating that she didn’t believe her. To prove her wrong, Annalise grabbed a spoonful of the cold porridge and shoved it into her mouth. She swallowed as quickly as she could, trying her best not to grimace.
Before Annalise could swallow another bite, Henry, who had served as her uncle’s valet, came into the kitchen. He was dressed in his usual white shirt and trousers with a black vest and jacket. Since Annalise had known him, he’d always had the shiniest shoes that she had ever seen. Today, though, she noticed a small scuff. It was odd, and though she did not want to she couldn’t help but wonder if this was a sign of something bad slated to come.
“Morning Henry,” Annalise said. “Would you like some porridge?”
“No Miss,” Henry said. His hands were clasped behind his back.
“Is something the matter?” she asked. Henry had a slight grimace on his face, and he looked entirely uncomfortable. Henry was a stickler for proper decorum, so Annalise wondered if he was offended by the fact that she was taking her breakfast in the kitchen rather than the dining room. Her grandmother had always eaten in the dining room, but Annalise hated being alone. Sitting at the head of that long, sad table would just remind her that she had no family.
“There’s a man here to see you,” he said.
“Is it John Miller?” she asked. Annalise hoped it wasn’t. She thought that she had been clear when she’d asked him for more time to consider his offer. After all, her grandmother had just passed.
“It is not,” Henry said.
Annalise waited patiently, assuming that he would tell her who was calling upon her. It was barely seven in the morning and hardly the proper time for anyone to be calling on another person.
Henry remained quiet. Annalise tried her best not to roll her eyes. He was waiting for an order.
“Who is it?” she asked.
Henry shot a quick look towards Louise. It was a look that Annalise would have missed had she not been watching closely for it.
“What is it?” Annalise asked, her voice stern. Henry was hiding something, and just like his scuffed shoe it made her nervous.
“He says he owns the house.”
“What?” Louise shouted.
Annalise laughed. She couldn’t help herself. She’d heard of things like this happening once a young woman became wealthy and alone, but she wasn’t worried about it. Though she was without family, her relatives had placed people around her who would protect her and her inheritance from the grifters who came to her door.
“Did this man say who he was?” she asked.
Henry shook his head.
Annalise sighed. She had a busy day ahead of her. A meeting with her family lawyer, followed by a dress fitting for the local charity ball. She did not have time to deal with this, but it seemed that she had no choice.
“Henry, please show this man to the sitting room,” Annalise told him. She stood up from her chair shaking imaginary wrinkles out of her dove gray dress. “I will talk to him in regard to this matter.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t let him into the house,” Louise said.
Annalise appreciated her concern, but she brushed it aside. “He’s likely some grifter hoping to line his pockets with some of my inheritance by scaring me.”
“Then, send him away!” Louise said. Her eyes were large and fearful.
Inside, Annalise wasn’t quite as brave as she pretended to be. Like Louise, she worried about what was happening. She did not want to allow a stranger into her home, especially when she resided alone.
Be brave, she thought to herself.
Annalise was determined to get past her fear. She was not going to allow it to rule her. If she did that, she might as well accept John’s offer and sequester herself in his home.
No, Annalise thought to herself, as she walked towards the sitting room. I will not become some man’s ornament. I will handle this situation and prove to everyone that I’m more than able to take care of myself and my fortune.
Sitting at the dining room table, Clay inhaled the smell of roasted chicken, potatoes, and fresh bread. His mouth watered, and he wanted nothing more than to dig into the feast laid out before him. After a hard day of labor, his stomach was clenching for substance.
“We should just eat,” Big Tom grumbled. He too was looking at the food with hunger in his eyes.
“I’m sure Bert will be along soon,” Aunt Mable said. Mable was a stout woman with light colored hair that had grayed at the temples. She was Big Tom’s sister and had come to live on the ranch after the death of her husband. She helped raise Big Tom’s son, Bert, whom they were all waiting around the table for.
“Food’s gonna get cold,” Big Tom said.
“We can wait,” Mable bit out, throwing her brother a stern, no-nonsense look.
Clay’s eyes shifted back and forth as he watched them argue. Aunt Mable and Big Tom were constantly going at it. He wondered how they’d managed to spend so many years together without killing each other.
“Clay’s been out in the hot sun all day working, and now you are asking him to wait for my good-for-nothing son before he gets a hot meal?” Big Tom said.
Clay fought the urge to slide down in his seat. While Big Tom had served the role of surrogate father, Aunt Mabel had been another mother figure in his life. She would have no problem boxing him round the ears, even if he was a grown man.
“Clay can eat,” Aunt Mabel said.
“I’m fine,” Clay said. He did not want to be in between the two of them. He loved Aunt Mabel, and he respected Big Tom.
Lucky for Clay, he did not have to say anything. Bert, Big Tom’s son, came through the door a moment later. Bert was dressed in all black, looking like some sort of villainous cowboy. Bert looked nothing like his father. Big Tom was a tall man with dark features. Bert was slight and fair. Unlike his father, he wasn’t serious about anything.
“Something smells good!” Bert said, jovially, as he came towards the table. He stumbled a bit, and Clay sighed. He had been helping for a good meal and a nice night’s sleep, and the second he smelled the ale on Bert’s breath he knew that he wasn’t going to get either of those things.
“You’re late,” Big Tom said, his voice hard and stern. “And drunk.”
“Thomas…” Aunt Mabel warned.
Big Tom ignored her. He usually did. Aunt Mable coddled Bert. She’d come to the ranch when he was still a baby, and she still saw him as the infant who’d lost his mother rather than the grown man who lacked any sense of responsibility.
“I lost track of the time,” Bert said, as he slid into a chair. He immediately began grabbing food from the center of the table, piling his plate high with chicken and potatoes. Big Tom’s eyes narrowed on him, and even Clay, who normally put up with Bert’s bad behavior, felt himself growing irritable at Bert’s actions.
“Pa, you’ll never believe what happened to me!” Bert said. He grabbed a bit of chicken in his hand and shoveled it in his mouth.
“Clay,” Aunt Mable said softly, passing him the bowl of potatoes. Clay took it with a smile. He knew that Mable was trying to apologize for Bert’s selfishness. Not that there was a need to do so. Clay had lived at the ranch long enough to become used to Bert’s behavior.
“I want to know why you are here and blue,” Big Tom bit out. His anger was palatable, but as usual, Bert didn’t pay it much mind.
Clay wasn’t sure if that was due to the ale he’d ingested or just his usual self-centeredness.
“I’m right as a daisy,” Bert said. “I won fifty beeves playing Faro.”
Clay instantly worried that Big Tom would combust. His face grew red with anger, and his hand closed into a fist at the table. Clay waited for an outburst, but it never came. Instead, Big Tom threw down his fork and left the table.
Big Tom leaving was the thing that finally got Bert to look up from his food. “He’s angry,” he said.
Obviously, Clay thought with internal sarcasm. Bert wasn’t a dunce, but he acted like it so much that Clay often felt bad for him. He knew that Bert meant well, but he’d spent so much of his life coddled and cared for that he didn’t know what hard work really meant. At twenty-seven, it was starting to become a problem.
“How and when are these cattle being delivered?” Clay asked.
Bert shrugged. “I think the guy said tomorrow.”
Clay released a long, low exhale. He didn’t bother to get any information about his winnings? Clay had a bad feeling about this whole situation. He was thankful that Bert didn’t owe anything to one of the black hats in town, but he worried that he might have gotten the ranch into a situation that they wouldn’t be able to deal with. Wouldn’t be the first time.
“Did you see the cattle?” Clay asked.
He needed to get more information, so that he could prepare the men for tomorrow’s intake. Something that required a tremendous amount of work and usually only happened once or twice a year.
“I didn’t,” Bert said, “but I know this guy. He sells cattle from here to California. He ran into a bit of bad luck tonight, but what’s bad for him is good for us.”
Clay expected him to let out of whoop of excitement and thanked his lucky stars that he didn’t.
“Someone should go and get Tom,” Aunt Mabel said. “His food is getting cold.”
She gave Clay a pointed look, and she knew that she meant for him to go and find Big Tom and talk him into coming back to the table and have a meal. He looked longingly at the meal before getting up from the table. This wasn’t the first time that he’d ignored the hunger in his stomach in order to make sure that the ranch continued running in peace and harmony.
“I’ll go,” Clay said.
Aunt Mabel gave him a kind look, and he knew that he was going to get a piece of pie out of this.
Walking out of the main house, Clay expected to see Big Tom sulking on the porch. It was what he normally did when Bert did something idiotic. Instead, he was standing out in one of the pastures, staring out at the land.
Clay sighed. He knew that Big Tom must be really angry. The sun had set, and the ranch was swathed in darkness. Though he didn’t need light to get around the ranch, Clay appreciated the moon leading the way for him.
“Did you get a bit to eat?” Big Tom asked. He didn’t turn. He was leaned against one of the only fences on the property looking out at the land. Clay could see the outline of his features, which looked harsh in the moonlight.
“Bert means well…” Clay said. He didn’t know how else to talk to Big Tom about Bert except to make excuses for him. Bert wasn’t Clay’s favorite person, but Clay felt bad for him. He couldn’t imagine how it would feel to constantly be on the receiving end of Big Tom’s ire.
“Bert isn’t prepared to take over this ranch,” Big Tom said.
Clay wasn’t sure what to say to that since it was something that he agreed with. For years, Clay had deluded himself into believing that if he worked hard enough, he might one day be able to take over the ranch. When he was a younger man, he thought that he might be able to convince Bert not to want it and Big Tom to hand it to him. Now though, Clay knew better. He’d never take over. Bert was heir, and no matter how ill-prepared, he’d be the one taking over upon Big Tom’s demise.
“I hate to say that about my own son. I’ve got the blue devils over it, but there’s no denying that Bert ain’t ready to be in charge,” Big Tom said.
“One day he’ll learn,” Clay said. He wasn’t sure what else to do.
Big Tom shook his head. “I’m not getting any younger, and I’m worried what will happen if…”
“Nothing is going to happen to you,” Clay said.
Big Tom turned and smiled. He placed a heavy hand on Clay’s shoulder. “If I could, I would leave this place to you,” he said.
Clay inhaled sharply. Big Tom had alluded to the fact that he would prefer to leave things to Clay, but he’d never outright said it.
The two of them stood in the moonlight. The weight of things between them felt heavy, but neither of them felt the need to say anything more.
In the moonlight, Clay could see the age on Big Tom’s face, and it made his heart heavy. Standing there he vowed that he would do all that he could to ensure that Bert would be able to take over the ranch. Even if that meant he never worked on the ranch again.
“A Lady’s Adventure for Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
New York socialite Annalise Turner is shocked to discover that instead of inheriting a large family fortune, she has received nothing more than a mess. With no money and no prospects, she decides to join a marriage agency in the hopes of finding stability, adventure, and most of all, a husband. Annalise is determined to make the best of the situation, but when she meets her husband-to-be, Bert Phillips, her dreams for a peaceful life collapse. Her only glimmer of happiness in her everyday misery comes in the form of a kind man, Clay, that she initially thinks is her future husband. Will she choose to accept her fate or will she find the courage to show what lies deeper in her heart? Will she follow the yearning for adventure she’s always harbored in her heart?
Clay Watson has been Phillips’ ranch hand his entire life. Dealing with Bert and his despicable behavior has been a complete nightmare but he is too loyal to the family to walk away. Out of nowhere, Annalise appears as Bert’s mail-order bride, brightening Clay’s life! Although he feels shaken to his core by her very presence, he is painfully aware that being with her is not an option. Will he manage to suppress his growing feelings? How could he protect Annalise from a miserable future?
Now, Clay and Annalise have to reconcile their budding romance with the fact that she’s promised to another. Will they choose to follow their hearts or will they leave their love behind for the sake of duty? Will they allow themselves to find a true soulmate in one another, despite all odds?
“A Lady’s Adventure for Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.